“It is a good plan,” said Bala Khan, when the conversation was fully translated to him. “And once the elephant is back in the compound I’ll send a dozen men back for the rogues. Ah! they will play with me; they will steal into my town, overcome my guards, take the apple of my eye! Ramabai, thou art a friend indeed. Haste and Allah fend for thee! Umballa may arrive with an army, but he shall not enter my gates.”
Guided by a servant, Bruce and Ramabai set off for the opium den. The proprietor understood exactly what they desired. There were times when men entered his place who were in need of a long sleep, having money tucked away in their fantastic cummerbunds.
So, mounted upon five swift camels, the party started off on a wide circle. Whether they caught the brigands at the well or on the way to their mountain homes was of no great importance. Ramabai was quite certain that the result would be the same. The colonel grumbled a good deal. Supposing the rascals did not smoke; what then?
“They will smoke,” declared Ramabai confidently. “The old rascal of whom we bought the opium has entertained them more than once. They are too poor to own pipes. Have patience, Colonel Sahib. A good deal depends upon the success of our adventure this morning. If I know anything about Umballa, he will shortly be on the march. Bala Khan has given his word.”
Had it not been for liberal use of opium the night before, the brigands would not have tarried so long at the well; but they were terribly thirsty, a bit nerve shattered and craved for the drug. The chief alone had fully recovered. He cursed and raved at his men, kicked and beat them. What! After all these weeks of waiting, to let sleep stand between them and thousands of rupees! Dogs! Pigs! Did they not recollect that Bala Khan had a way of nailing thieves outside the walls of his city? Well, he for one would not wait. He would mount the sacred white elephant and head toward the caves in the hills. Let them who would decorate the walls of Bala Khan. The threat of Bala Khan put life into the eight followers, and they were getting ready to move on, when one of them discovered a small caravan approaching from the west.
Camels? Ha! Here was a chance of leaving Bala Khan’s city far in the rear. And there would be loot besides. Those helmets were never worn by any save white men. The chief scowled under his shading palm. Women! Oh, this was going to be something worth while.
When the caravan came within hailing distance the chief of the brigands stepped forward menacingly. The new arrivals were informed that they were prisoners, and were bidden to dismount at once.
“But we are on the way to the city of Bala Khan,” remonstrated Ramabai.
“Which you left this morning!” jeered the chief.
“But I am selling opium there!”