by B. A. McEldowney 2003
This is a draft, Version 2003.11.24
The third day of summer vacation was the beginning of our search for the most unusual kind of treasure. It had been alive, but wasn't now; it had gotten Papa into real trouble, and part of it was already dug up and discovered. Here we were, my cousin, Logan, and I, landing in the right spot to try to find the rest of it.
When I say landing, that's exactly what I mean, because the plane was putting down its wheels on the grass runway. I couldn't believe my eyes. The pilot was telling about the two hills on either side of us, one large and one small. At the same time, he steered the plane so close to them that I thought the wings would touch. He said the greenish soil in that area is where a dinosaur had been dug up. Because of Papa's secret, I knew that was right.
"Hey, Blair," said Logan, peering out of the window. He was bouncing up and down. "Those are the hills that Papa told us about. We thought we'd have look everywhere to find them, but the pilot just showed us the green soil. That's where Papa found his secret treasure. Now we know where to can look."
All around us people were unfastening their seat belts and standing up. Some of them smiled at us when they heard Logan's excited voice as if they were thinking, "What a sweet little boy (he's eight, but short for his age so everyone thinks he is about six). The young boy thinks he's going to find a treasure, how cute."
"Hush up, Logan," I whispered. "That's were Papa dug it up, but we have to find out where he moved it and buried it again. Remember?"
"Oh, yeah," said Logan. He pulled his backpack out from under the seat in front of him and patted the zippered top pocket. "and we've got our clues right here."
All during our trip from America, we had read and reread all of our notes about what Papa had told us. Being twelve years old, I took the responsibility for writing it all down. I had been pretty good at pumping him for every detail he could remember. We had looked again and again at the pictures of where he used to live and where he had hidden the treasure. Papa had even drawn a map, but he couldn't remember the exact dimensions. He kept reminding us that it had been very dark that night and he was trying to hurry before he was discovered.
"Do you see the people who are meeting you out there?" the flight attendant asked us as we reached the top of the steps to leave the small plane.
Earlier today, Papa's friend, Abbra had helped us change planes at our first stop in India, New Delhi. Evidently the rules are different for kids traveling alone in India because we didn't have to have the packet of signed papers from the airlines like we did in America. We got on an Air India plane. Abbra said that Mother would be waiting for us.
"Oh, yes. There's Mom. She came ahead of us two weeks ago," I told her. "She's right there with something in her hands." I couldn't tell what she was waving around.
"Those are garlands-you know-flowers made into necklaces. You'll get many garlands if all of the people with her are waiting for you. I think your adventures are just beginning. Have a happy time," she said.
"Thanks. Adventures are on the horizon," I said as I impatiently pushed Logan to go faster down the steps. I didn't realize what a forecast that was. The good adventures were about to start, but so were the scary ones. If I'd known then what I know now, I might have not been in such a hurry.
Mother's friends were ecstatic and crowded around us putting garlands over our heads and hugging us.
They went on and on. Logan and I could hardly see each other as people surrounded us. The beautiful flower necklaces piled higher and higher on our necks-almost to our ears. Logan began sneezing. Mother's friends kept laughing and chatting. They took off Logan's garlands in case he was allergic to them and said they'd hold them for him. I wanted to keep mine on. They smelled as sweet as the best perfume I had ever smelled.
There must have been thirty or forty people all around, not counting the children. I felt like a celebrity and noticed that some of the other passengers who had been on the plane were watching us. Probably they were wondering who we were, getting all this attention.
I knew Mother was in the crowd somewhere waiting to give us her hugs. She had always wanted me to come here to India to see where she grew up. I personally had longed to come for several reasons. One was that it sounded so mysterious and different from my hometown, Dallas. Second was because Mom had had so many interesting things happen to her when she was my age. I wanted to check them out. Could that many exciting adventures have really happened to her? The most important reason, though, was Papa's secret.
"How was the trip?" Mother asked as she finally reached us. "Did you watch many movies? Was the food good?" She was so full of questions, she didn't even wait for our answers.
"Did you know it was 17 hours until the first stop?" asked Logan. "And then about ten hours more before we got to Delhi? We watched four movies and played lots of games."
"The food was great," I said. "The strange thing was that they woke us up to get us to eat sometimes. The time kept changing and the meal times got all mixed up."
"Mom. How is Prama?" I asked, suddenly remembering why Mother had made the trip earlier.
Prama was Mother's best friend when she was growing up. She had become very ill a couple of weeks ago and Mother had rushed over here to be with her.
You see, Mother is American, but she was born in India. She lived here until she was seventeen. Her dad, who Logan and I call Papa, had a company that made movies, TV and radio programs. It was fun to hear the stories Mom told us about her house, her friends, and her very different school, but the best story was from Papa about the treasure.
Prama and her family had visited us in Dallas last year. Her daughter, Rita, is my age. We became best friends.
It was a miracle that Logan and I had been able to persuade both sets of our parents to let us come. I was so glad we could travel together because the long trip would have been impossibly tiring without him. We had planned our "attack" on our parents, as soon as Papa had dropped the hint that he'd like us to find his lost treasure.
This is how we won them over.
Logan had already been on a trip with his dad to Africa to go hunting. Logan is a crack shot. He's especially talented for his age, everyone says and they admire him for that ability. His parents knew he loved to travel. I wondered how he could stand to go hunting because he really liked animals a lot. At home, he has more pets than I do. He has a pet python, two little pink pigs, and his cat, Seema. I just have my dog and gerbils.
I guess the hunting appealed to him because he liked being very good at something at his age. Anyway, he promised his dad he would find out about hunting in India. He didn't mention his real reason-to find the buried treasure.
Luckily, Logan is daring, too, just like me. I'm always ready for adventures and jump at the chance to see new places, especially if they are far-off and different. It's good for traveling that I'm not shy around new people, though Logan is sometimes. Reading and music are favorites with me. We both like bicycling and roller bladeing. And as we were to find out, having good balance and lots of energy would come in handy, too.
Twisting Dad's arm to let me come wasn't easy, but I managed to persuade him. One of his favorite activities has always been to quiz me on current events or whatever I'm learning in school. Sometimes that's a pain, but in this case, it helped. I told him I'd be sharp on foreign affairs if I could take this trip. He was impressed that I planned to take notes, too. That was in case so much happened that I couldn't remember it all. A good idea, as things turned out.
"Is Rita here?" asked Logan, looking around.
"Not at the moment. She's with her mother at a special health clinic near-by. She'll be back here to Jabalpur tomorrow to be with you, I'm sure," said Mother. She pulled me away from the still chattering crowd and we started walking toward the cars.
"Prama is a little better now." Mother said quietly to me. "I was able to help get her admitted right away to the clinic."
I imagined Mom was a big help to her friend. I hoped Prama would be better soon. I could hardly wait to see Rita.
Logan was walking in front of me toward a van with a rather tall boy who kept turning around and watching me. He looked about my age, or maybe a little older. He frowned a couple of times and was guiding Logan along quite fast. He didn't seem to be part of the celebrating spirit of the others around us. I sped up a bit and let Mother sort out people who were getting into various vehicles. But when I got to the van, they weren't there. I glanced around, but I had lost track of them.
There were people everywhere, some still patting me on the shoulder, smiling and being very polite and welcoming. Most spoke English, but some were talking away in Hindi.
One lady tucked flowers into my headband. "So pretty with your blue eyes and soft brown hair. You have gold in your hair, too," she said.
It really was a party atmosphere. Somewhere there was loud music with a lot of drums. Mother's friends were really dressed up-men in bright colorful shirts and tops, and women in beautiful silk saris with gold or silver threads in the borders. Both wore lots of gold jewelry. The afternoon sun was hot and reflected off the plane and cars and the strange greenish hills. I had to squint.
I noticed a lot of different smells, too. One was food- sweet, sugary, almost like cotton candy at a fair. The other was probably perfume from flowers along the fence. No, I realized, it was incense. There was probably a little shrine near-by. Mother used to light incense to remind her of India and to create just the right atmosphere when she fixed us Indian meals. Even when I was very young, I knew that incense signaled something special was about to happen.
I stopped and looked around. I could hardly believe I was actually here in this far-away place. One moment later, the adventure began.
Logan was gone. Out of sight. Nowhere. I realized Mother was running around more frantically than just arranging rides.
"I saw him a couple of minutes ago and thought he was getting into that van," I said.
"He's with Prama's nephew, Ranjit. He's O.K," a plump Indian woman said. "They went over there." She pointed toward the shorter of the two hills.
I looked where she was pointing and couldn't believe my eyes. The two boys were half way up the hill-Logan right behind the frowning tall boy. You could see they were climbing a path which wound back and forth.
"I'll get them, Mom. Wait for me, Logan," I yelled. I dashed across the runway and followed them up the hill. I could see Logan's mouth moving and he was waving his arms around as he talked. Oh, I hoped he wasn't telling that boy our secret.
It was hard trying to catch up. The strange green soil was grainy like sand.
"You won't believe this, Blair," shouted Logan as I got closer. "This is Ranjit," he said as I reached them. "He says this is the exact place the dinosaur was dug up."
They were standing on the edge of a large hole at the top of the hill when I reached them. As far as I could see, there were many dug up areas up and down the hill and on around. There were mounds of the green soil around them.
"The British excavated a dinosaur here several years ago. They took it to London. Our Indian dinosaur. They have it in a museum. Except for a few bones. They will award those if they are found." Ranjit spoke very precisely, with a strong accent.
"What do you mean, a few bones?" I asked. "What do you mean-award those?" I was glaring at Logan and trying to get in a position to tell him to be quiet and not say a single word to this scowling boy about our secret.
"Hey, let's look around." Logan took off running between the holes and around the mounds as he was talking. I followed him. I know that my gymnastics classes helped me because in some places, it was very narrow, but I was able to balance carefully. I was trying to hear if Ranjit was going to answer me about the awards and follow Logan at the same time.
"Come back, Logan. Mom's waiting. Ranjit can tell us more in the van," I demanded, but Logan wasn't listening. I kept close behind him and finally he stopped.
"Hey, where's Ranjit?" he asked.
We both looked back. We had gone beyond the curve of the hill and couldn't even see the airport any more. Ranjit was nowhere in sight.
I began to get a little scared. We shouldn't have come so far. Logan was as agile as I was, but what if Ranjit had slipped and fallen into a hole? What if it had caved in? What if it were a deep hole and he got hurt?
Logan and I started back. Which way had we come? We looked the footsteps we had made, but a wind had started blowing. The dry hot air was disturbing our marks in the green grainy soil.
"Ranjit, where are you?" I called. The yellow sun was glaring. It got harder and harder to see our tracks. When I looked into the black holes we were passing, the brightness made it difficult to see anything down in them. We started running a little, still trying to follow our footprints.
Suddenly we couldn't see any more footprints of our shoes. We stopped. Logan took off up the hill. I thought we should go down around the hill.
"Let's stay together." I called. "Wait. Come here. I see something."
There was a flat area just below me and I could see a running-type shoe print in the weird soil. I tried to remember what shoes Ranjit was wearing. A little ways over, was a shoe.
"Listen." Logan jumped down beside me and lay on his stomach peering into the hole near the shoe. It sounded as if someone was coughing. "Are you there, Ranjit?" he yelled.
"My shoe became untied. It is off my foot. I have slipped and I have fallen into this hole," Ranjit's voice came up to us. "I am so sorry." I almost started laughing at his exact words and accent, but I know my sense of humor is a bit out of place at times.
"Blair, you hold onto my ankles and I'll see if I can reach him. Then you can pull us up," said Logan.
No way, I thought. I was sweating a little and I knew my hands were too slippery to hold onto Logan. Besides, I wasn't strong enough to pull them both up.
"Do not move and cause further distress," said a voice above us. We jumped in surprise and both of us almost fell in, too. We hadn't heard this bearded man with a turban coming. He was right beside us. He began talking in Hindi rapidly to Ranjit and he didn't look very happy. Then he switched to a gentle tone which sounded like he was coaxing Ranjit to follow his directions.
He lay down on the green grainy soil and reached down. He could not reach far enough. He took off his belt and gave some more instructions. Ranjit's head appeared. He was holding on desperately to the belt and walking his legs along the side of the hole while he was being pulled up. Logan and I reached over to grab his arms and help him.
Ranjit was covered with grains of green sand and still coughing a little. He sat down and put on his shoe. I think he was trying to cover his embarrassment.
"Thank you babu-ji," he said to the man.
"Come with me. Put your feet behind me." the man said. We walked single file with Ranjit holding on to the back of his trousers. Next was Logan and then me. I couldn't help it-I got the giggles at our strange parade. Logan only made it worse by exaggerating the way he was putting his feet just like their's. He was so much shorter, he had to take giant strides. And of course, he wiggled his hips and made goofy noises. Then he got the giggles, too.
Mother was waiting with all her friends. I think they couldn't decide whether to scold us or act relieved. We had another round of hugs before we all piled into the cars and vans to take off. Mother said we were going to a welcoming reception.
As I watched the last few people get into their cars, another large man with a turban walked by our van. He talked to first man who had rescued Ranjit. He had something in his hand-a stick or a knife? I couldn't tell. He kept slapping it in one hand. I wondered if they were policemen or security guards. His back was turned to me, but I could hear that he was upset. He said something in an angry voice to the first man. Something about "off limits" and "no foreigners" and then "watch them." I didn't like the sound of that. Did it have anything to do with us being up where some of the dinosaur bones were missing?
"Chuts-little kids. I have to be their guide and show them around." I could hear Ranjit's voice in the next room of the Bhasker's house where we were staying after this reception. Logan and I were piling our plates with snacks. "I wanted to play tennis this summer and now I must do this child-care for Aunt Prama."
"Oh, quit whining. They're lots of fun. They took our family to Six-Flags when we visited them in Dallas," said an Indian girl who sounded familiar.
I peered around the corner and Ranjit saw me. He nearly dropped his plate of food.
"Rita," I screamed as the girl turned around and I recognized her. We jumped up and down and hugged each other. "I was afraid you'd be at the clinic all the time with your Mom. I really wanted to see you."
"You're here, really here. I can't believe you were able to get your Dad to let you come. How'd you do it? Logan, too. You two are so smart." Rita grabbed Logan and hugged him.
"Tell me about your secret mission you're on. We've got so much to talk about." Rita and I were twirling around in circles holding hands. We were really good friends, especially since we both have our own email addresses and have been emailing each other ever since her visit to America last year.
I pulled her away from Ranjit. He was still scowling. Now he started hanging around us when he heard the word "secret." I wished I hadn't mentioned anything in my email about our special reason to come right now.
"Later. Wait till we're alone," I said. "First of all, can you go around with us tomorrow since it seems Ranjit has the dismal job of entertaining us?" We both giggled at his embarrassed look.
"Yes, I am here for two days," she said.
"Where are we going first, Ranjit?" I asked in a sugary tone of voice.
He suddenly became very business-like. He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket.
"We can do what you wish, of course. But I have written down some ideas. Narmada River to see ancient temple with carved statues. Boat ride to see amazing marble rocks with Hindu sacred mark of Humaman's foot. Mahan Mahal palace and Happy Valley. Then . . . ." he was reading down a long list.
Rita interrupted. "But they want to see where their Mother used to live and where their Grandfather had his movie company first, I think."
"I have my duty to show them these important historical and cultural places," Ranjit said. He looked cross and I thought he was even more unpleasant than before.
I felt someone tugging on my arm. Logan looked upset. He had put on his baseball cap backwards and pointed to it. Suddenly I remembered that this was one of the signals we had decided to use when we wanted to pass important information to each other.
"Give me a minute," I could see Rita and Ranjit arguing as we walked out onto the veranda.
"I'm tired and my stomach aches. I don't want to see all those places. I want to go home," he said. He looked exhausted.
"Look. Everything is new and different here. We're really worn out from our trip. Besides, we need to decide what to do first to begin looking for the treasure. We won't let Ranjit boss us around. We only have a couple of weeks here. We'll choose what we want," I said.
Logan was collapsing on the floor. I wasn't too worried because I knew he liked to exaggerate sometimes. "Look. We've already seen the hill where Papa found his dinosaur bone in our first few hours here. So we're on our way."
Logan perked up. "Yeah, and we can get an award if we find the bone," he said. "But we have to follow the map and dig it up. There's the box of jewelry hidden with it, too, remember?" He had cheered up a little bit and then got worried again.
"Let's tell Mom we need to get some sleep right now." I headed back inside pushing Logan ahead of me. "It's 6:00 at night here, but 8:00 in the morning at home. We're on the opposite side of the world, remember. Wow, we've been up all night," I said, "Come on. Tomorrow's another day, Mom always says. Who knows what's what we'll find next."
I wanted to quiz Ranjit about the award. I wanted to see Rita some more, too. But that would have to wait until my brain could get some rest. Now I know why people say adventures are interesting and fun, but hard work, too.
Early to bed, early to rise-another of Mom's favorite sayings and it was really true. Both of us went to bed early according to Indian time and then woke up at about 3:00 a.m. We were wide-awake, too. I knew it was because of the time change. It was really cool to be awake so early when everyone else was sound asleep.
"Let's make our plans for the day, Logan," I whispered.
"Put on some dark clothes so we won't be seen so easily and carry your shoes." he whispered back. "Bring the clues."
What was he up to? I figured he'd been scheming already when I saw he had a flashlight. He grabbed two bananas from the dining room table as we headed out the front door.
"Follow me," whispered Logan. The moon must have been full, it was so bright outside. There were the usual cricket noises, and a far-away dog barking but otherwise it was really quiet. We sat down on the driveway to put on our shoes and eat our bananas.
"This is where there are cobras and pythons and jackals," I said, remembering some of Mom's stories. I was spooking myself. "What are we going to do?"
"Give me the map," said Logan. "I think this is the corner that Papa drew." He spread it out and pointed out some of the landmarks. "The house we're in is here - remember the big old bungalow with verandas all around? It was in one of the pictures. Back there is the covered walkway to the outside kitchen. I was checking that out last night. If we find the halfway mark and then walk 50 steps toward-what direction do you think? Toward the road or back toward the garden?"
That was one trouble. Papa couldn't remember exactly where he had buried his dinosaur bone. He thought it is was in the garden of the big bungalow, but which side, he didn't know.
"We'll try both ways," I said. I like being practical in working out problems. We started pacing, counting our strides. It was hard going with all the bushes and trees in the way. We were so excited, we wanted to hurry. We couldn't decide what length to make our strides. My regular size step was like a giant jump to Logan's. Twice when I looked back, I saw that we were going crooked from the starting point. We had to backtrack and start again.
After 50 steps we were supposed to find the remains of a marble fountain which had been on the grounds of a palace called Govind Bhavan. Papa had bought some of the palace property to use for his movie company. The main part of the palace was across the street. Mom used to play there when she was a little girl.
I told Logan to explore around while I stood still to mark the place we thought was the 50-step point. A minute later he found the fountain. It had a round bowl like a bird bath, but much bigger. The top where water had splashed out was broken. I pushed leaves away and the white marble glowed in the moonlight. I sat on the edge and imagined how beautiful it would have been back in the days when the royal family lived there.
Logan turned his flashlight on and off as he paced the next steps according to the map. I was afraid that if someone saw it, they would think it was a code being flashed out here. I kept hearing noises - a whistling sound from behind the kitchen, a bang from the house like a door closing, tree branch rustling.
I was about to call to Logan to come back when something bit my leg. I slapped at it, holding back a yell. It really stung. My fingers hit something that moved-a wasp, a caterpillar, a spider, a scorpion? Now my fingers were stinging.
Talk about pain. I gasped and choked out "help" and "ow, ow, ow" trying not to be too loud. I was hopping and staggering around, but Logan didn't seem to be anywhere close enough to notice. I decided quickly that this might be a very poisonous creature. We'd better forget our mysterious nighttime search. Suddenly Logan reappeared out of the shadows.
He looked excited. I moaned and pointed to my bite. I frantically rubbed it. The stinging was spreading. The bump was growing bigger. I tried to keep from screaming, but the itch was growing worse.
"Did you find the next place marked on the map?" I asked between groans.
"The fountain is here and 20 strides that way I came to the Banyan tree. Papa marked a tree on the map, but the one there now is huge. It's that kind of tree where the branches hang down and make new trunks, you know. Then the map said to take 12 steps away from the tree parallel to the street. I did kept following the other directions when bam, I ran into something."
Logan pushed back his cap and shined the flashlight on his forehead. He must have been in as much pain as I was because there was an ugly red quarter-sized bump there.
Before I could react, there was a tremendous loud bang. It was an explosion or a gun shot. It came from the direction where Logan had just been. Now I was really scared.
I took off running in the direction of the house and stopped only when I reached the covered walkway from the kitchen. Logan was not beside me as I had expected. Looking back, I could see that he had stopped about half way and was hiding behind a tree. The moonlight showed him clearly from where I stood. Just beyond him, beyond where the tree branches cast a dark shadow, I could see something else clearly. It was a man with a gun.
Three thoughts struck me at the same time. One was that I my pain was worse because I had added scratches from my run through the garden to the sting in my leg. Second was that Logan had just about found the treasure site when he bumped his head, I hadn't had time to find out what it was. Third was that this seemed like a scary movie on TV and that this wasn't really happening to me. My heart was pounding hard and I was gasping for breath so loudly, I hoped the man couldn't hear me.
He stood perfectly still. From what I could see, the man was turning his head slowly to look around and he seemed to be listening instead of moving. No one stirred. We all three waited silently.
I began to worry that Logan would get impatient and do something risky. Sure enough. In a high fake voice like a little kid, Logan called out, "Hey, mister. Stop. Don't shoot any more. It's me. I'm not doing anything wrong."
I was amazed at his sing-song-y voice. It was quite clever and did the trick. The man lowered his gun so that it pointed to the ground. He walked toward where Logan was still hiding. I guess Logan wasn't taking any chances because he waved his hat around the tree trunk, sort of like a truce flag, but he didn't go out yet.
The man looked dangerous to me. He growled out some words in Hindi as he took huge strides toward Logan. He was quite tall with very broad shoulders and probably had lots of muscles in his arms. His heavy boots crashed nosily. I was trembling, I was so terrified. I kept thinking I should do something to save Logan from this giant.
Just as the man reached down, yanked Logan out from behind the tree and began to shake him, I thought I saw a bright red bird flash by me. Then another one, blue and yellow. Huge birds - no, people. I realized two figures were streaking by.
One person was shouting in Hindi in a high panicky screech and another was yelling in an angry low voice. The two surrounded Logan and the man. I couldn't tell whether they were helping beat up Logan or were hitting and shouting at the man. Logan landed on the ground at their feet and rolled away from the man.
Of course, I had to race over, too. It turned out that the red bird was Rita and the other one was Rangit in his school sweatshirt of blue and yellow. By the time I got there, Rita was brushing the leaves and sticks off Logan's clothes and everyone was talking at once.
It was beginning to get light-sunrise, I realized. More people had heard the commotion and were running over from the house-Mother, the cook, the Singhs who have lived here since Papa left, and some others.
It seemed that everyone was talking at the same time. Mother told us the man was the night watchman, the chowkidar. She argued with him that he hadn't needed to shoot the gun. She spoke first in English and then in Hindi. Wow, she remembered the language well
Ranjit chimed in. He told us that some foreigners had been caught lately up on the near-by ridge where the Indian army is stationed. A newspaper article a few days ago said that they were spying and trying to get military secrets. The article warned citizens to watch out for strangers who were in places they weren't supposed to be. He said that's why the chowkidar was so nervous when he caught us sneaking about in the middle of the night.
Rita lost her temper. Her black hair flipped back and forth as she defended us. She said we weren't strangers, that we were kids and couldn't possibly be doing any harm. She was switching back and forth from Hindi to English. She stamped her foot as she shouted at first at the chowkidar and then at Ranjit.
I suddenly panicked. Logan had been holding the map in one hand and the flashlight in the other. Then the watchman had grabbed him. I saw Rita pick up the flashlight. Had he dropped the map, too?
Trying not to be obvious, I walked around the tree, looking on the ground.
I could see Logan was impressing everyone with his explanation that we had been wandering around because we couldn't sleep, being mixed up with the time zone changes. He must have realized I was giving him one of our pre-planned signals because he broke off abruptly and asked the chowkidar if he could see his gun. As I started search for the map, I had folded my arms across my chest as if I were hugging myself. That was our signal to be careful.
Logan was keeping an eye on me as he talked to the Chowkidar. Ranjit translated for him.
"That rifle is old, isn't it?" he asked. "Could I see it? I think it's a British .303 Infantry Rifle like one my Dad had showed me in a picture."
"World War II," said the Chowkidar proudly, holding it out for Logan to see.
As he was examining it, Logan winked at me. He patted his back pocket and raised his eyebrows several times. Great, he had caught on that I was worried about the map. He must have picked up and slipped into his jeans pocket. What a relief.
Mother was horrified at Logan's swelling bump. I showed her my "fearsome bite." I was still worried that the creature that wounded me was poisonous especially since there were red streaks running up and down my leg. Mother was sympathetic and disappeared into the house to find some ice for Logan and soothing cream for me. She couldn't believe that we both were hurt within 24 hours of arriving.
I realized that Ranjit glaring at me. He had been sneaking glances at me the whole time. Suddenly he came right up to my face asked what I was looking for.
"The flashlight," I said. Then I suggested he and Logan get our camera. It was obvious that the chowkidar was amazed that Logan knew about guns. Logan was trying to ask him questions about the rifle. He could take a picture of it to show his dad. Everyone started off toward the house.
Rita told me that she had slept over last night so we could spend more time together. I motioned to her to come with me. I figured this was my chance to grab her and let her in on more of our secret. We could probably use some help. Getting our treasure wasn't going to be as simple as we had thought.
Rita and I grabbed an orange for a snack as we passed through the dining room. We settled ourselves on the wicker chairs on the upstairs veranda just above the front door. It was a porch that Mother had off her bedroom when she was growing up. The air was wonderfully fragrant with honeysuckle. The vines looped over the railing and hid us from view.
"Now tell me all about this secret your Papa told you," said Rita. "I can't wait."
"Okay. As far as I know, Papa never told anyone except family about it. So you've got to swear to keep it to yourself," I said. Rita nodded. "First you need to take the oath that all us kids take before we tell a secret."
I had her hold out her first two fingers on each hand and then put them across each other so they looked like the pound sign, #. Then I did the same. I put my fingers over hers. I taught her the oath and we both said it together:
Earth and water and fire and air
Then I quickly shared our secret with her. I told her that years ago Papa and his film crew were out early on an Easter Sunday. His church was having a sunrise service. They set up cameras to record the sun coming up and the whole program. They were on Chota Simla, the hill where we flew in yesterday- the small hill."
"I know where it is," Rita nodded. "Keep your voice down-I hear people in the house."
I started whispering. "The men scraped the gritty green soil around in several places to flatten the hillside for the cameras. When they were packing up afterwards, Papa stumbled on something sticking up near one of the tripods that was holding a camera. It looked like an old bone. It was quite long-about three feet, he said. He was so curious about it, he went home and got a shovel and went back. He dug it up."
"What was it - a dead person?" Rita asked.
"No. A dinosaur bone. He found out that years ago, some English archeologists had excavated some bones that they thought might be from a prehistoric animal that might be a dinosaur. Some of them were back to do more digging. That strange green soil was a clue that a dinosaur had been there," I said.
"Did he give them the bone?" Rita asked.
"No. This is the exciting part. He wanted to keep it for himself, at least for a while. Right then he had to go back to the States for a meeting, and he thought maybe he'd keep it until the whole dinosaur was dug up and then talk to the British guys about it. So he decided the safest thing to do was to hide the bone, to secretly bury it until he could come back to get it. And that's when he got into trouble."
I started talking fast because I could hear Logan calling me.
"Papa asked one of his photography students to help bury the bone. One night, they dug a deep hole - about six feet deep. They had a lot of trouble because the first place they dug had underground pipes from a big marble fountain. The second spot had Banyan tree roots.
"They finally got the hole dug. Papa's friend had wrapped the bone in heavy cloth, burlap, I think, and they put tar on it. Papa said the ends of the bone seemed to have been chewed by something-maybe ants. They didn't want it to disintegrate any more.
"Papa buried something else precious there, too. It was a metal box with some unusual beautiful jewelry. He said that years before, during the fighting when India became independent from the British, a jewelry store owner that he knew well, had begged Papa to help him. His store was burned by a crowd and he escaped with only a few things. He trusted Papa to keep the box safe for him until he could return.
"Anyway, as Papa and his friend were filling the hole with dirt, a couple of policemen arrived. They thought Papa was burying something suspicious-a dead animal or person or something like that. It took a lot of fast talk to get them to leave. Then a few days later they showed up with more questions. But Papa had already left for America. There was even something in the newspaper saying he might be arrested when he returned for fleeing the country before they could talk to him some more."
At that moment, Logan and Ranjit found us. I could tell Logan wanted to talk to me again about something. His baseball cap was turned backwards. Ranjit was irritated, it seemed, because he scolded Rita for disappearing. He kept jabbing his finger at his watch.
"We have schedule to follow. Breakfast quickly," he said frowning.
I wanted to get Logan away from the others to see what he had to discuss with me, but we obediently ate breakfast first. A van and driver were waiting to take us off sightseeing, which I guess Ranjit had helped arrange. Just as we were leaving, I remembered that Logan had discovered something when he bumped his head and then the Chowkidar had fired his gun. That's what he wanted to tell me, I thought. What did he find out?
The van ride to the Nerbuda was the coolest and scariest that I had ever had. It reminded me of a computer game I played at home where obstacles loomed up suddenly and weird figures jumped in my way. I had to keep pressing the button wildly and hoped what I was doing would turn out all right.
This road was packed and as crazy as a one of those games. It's always this way on market day, according to Rita. She explained that the farmers were bringing in their produce from the villages. The town people came to do their weekly shopping.
Cows, carts of all kinds, trucks with vegetables and fruit, women with gold pots balanced on their heads, dogs, people walking, all seemed to be veering to the center of the road. What a jumble. We drove past stores and offices, on toward the edge of town. Bells on the animals jingled; people called to one another. A group of school kids all dressed alike walked along together singing and shouting a song at the top of their voices.
The driver honked his horn continuously and Ranjit leaned out of the window yelling to people to get out of the way. Logan and I were amazed at the sights and confusion. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, smiling and laughing as they all went toward the bazaar. Sometimes people banged the side of the van. The young children called out "Mickey Mouse" and "Hello, How are you?"
I couldn't believe all the different odors. Vendors held up food they wanted to us to buy. There were animal smells and dust. I liked the occasional whiffs of spices and flowers. Clothes were bright colors, especially in the glaring sun. It was hot already this early in the morning.
The driver managed to speed along, weaving through the crowd. I wondered if there were any rules of the road here.
Suddenly we jerked to a stop. A horse cart, a tonga, was broken down in front of us, one of the two large wheels zigzagging off to the side of the road. Three women tumbled off the back seat and stood up screaming at the poor driver who was stroking the neck of the horse, trying to calm it. What confusion.
I was surprised to feel two strong hands grab my shoulders from behind. Someone was steering me toward the side of the road. I couldn't turn enough to see who it was. I started yelling to let me go and then tried to call to Logan and Rita. It was so noisy, I couldn't even hear my own voice. I managed to stiffen my legs and dug my heels into the road, but I couldn't get him to stop.
I kept being shoved through the crowd. I guess people must have thought it was a game because no one reached out to help me. I tried to ask the person where he was taking me, who he was and what was going on, but nothing helped.
I was pushed to the edge of the road to a narrow path between two huge trees. It went down steeply for about 15 feet. I was half falling and half being guided down the gravel trail. At first it was dusty and then became muddy farther down. There were thick bushes and trees on either side and I grabbed on to some branches to keep from falling. It was dark, too, since the trees kept the sun out.
At the bottom, I felt like I was in another world. There was a wide dark green river, glistening in the sunlight. Right opposite were cliffs of stone. The water sparkled and the rocks glowed with colors of yellow, blue and green in the stone.
It seemed terribly quiet after the noisy crowd above except for splashes of water around several large boulders in the middle of the river. I wouldn't like to try to tackle those rapids in a canoe, I thought.
I realized the man had let go of me and turned to see who he was. An Indian man in T-shirt and jeans stood there looking quite pleased with himself."Your mother said you took a picnic to the river. I was trying to catch up to you," said the man. "I am Inu. I was a student of your grandfather. I have a message for you."
"You scared me to death," I snapped back at him. "I thought you were kidnapping me."
"I am sorry. You were dizzy, I thought. About to faint. Crowds in India can be very frightening," he said.
Me faint? No way. I'm no weakling. I was still frightened, but tried to act calm. I told him all I wanted now was to find Logan and Rita again. He smiled and pointed along the river bank. There, about 100 yards down, I could see some figures that looked like them. Thank goodness. The van was parked behind them. Maybe that was the scenic spot where we were to have lunch. They seemed to be jumping up and down and waving to me. I couldn't hear what they were saying from that distance.
I started down the rocky, slippery edge of the river toward them. Inu reached out to help, but I let him know quickly that I could find rocks to walk on and was perfectly capable of going along by myself. He grinned and said something about independent American girls, but I didn't pay any attention. I was really cross at him for halfway kidnapping me.
"Watch out for the crocodiles," Logan said as I reached him. "See them over there?"
Really, I couldn't believe my eyes. There must have been a whole crocodile family peacefully sunning themselves in the mud on the banks of the river in front of us. They weren't terribly big, but their long pointed snouts looked dangerous. There were two babies, looking like leathery twins and four or five others.
"Keep away," Ranjit said, crossly pulling Logan's shoulder as he got much closer, trying to take a picture. "They move fast when they are hungry. They are worse than your alligators. One of them attacked a boy and bit off his leg when he fell into the water one week past."
I suddenly realized that we were surrounded by a crowd of kids-mainly boys, but some little girls, too. They stood staring at us, as fascinated by us as we were by the crocodiles. Everywhere we moved, they followed us. Ranjit shouted directions to go toward a small flat motorboat by the dock. Their faces looked dazed. Did we seem like a show to them? Big black eyes, beautiful long eyelashes on many of them, I thought. But why were they so interested?
I looked around for Logan who really had a knack for disappearing. Then I saw him standing at the edge of the dock talking to the kids who now were gathering around him.
"And in American, crocodiles wear clothes," he was saying. "We're not afraid of them."
"Oh, ah, yes, yes," his audience murmured all together. I think some of the older ones were translating for the others. Now Logan was getting warmed up. He was enjoying this.
"Yes, and they put on hats and jackets and ride around in cars-convertibles, of course," he said.
"What is this thing, convertible?" A boy about Logan's age asked him.
I realized this was really getting out-of-hand. It looked like the boat was ready along the dock. I grabbed Rita's hand and called to everyone to get in. Ranjit was giving instructions that we were not to put our hands in the water if we wanted to keep our fingers. As if we couldn't figure that out for ourselves, I thought.
Waving good-by to all the kids, we dutifully listened to Ranjit and Inu tell us all about Marble Rocks, as this place was called. I'd like the gold marble from here for my future kitchen counter, I thought. Some of the stone was dazzling white and occasionally, a deep blue or light green. Our boat slowly put-putted down the river as we admired the narrow gorge we were entering. When we went around a bend, the walls of marble were so close, it was shady and dark.
Inu pointed out some special rock formations way up high. One looked like an elephant's foot.
"See that other big mark, also like a big animal's foot?" he asked. "It is called "Hanuman's Leap." He told some of the story about the beautiful young gueen named Sita who was kidnapped by the evil king of Ceylon or Sri Lanka as it is called today. The monkey-god, Hanuman, jumped this river when he was rescuing her. That was his footprint as he came by here."
"That sounds like a great story," I said. "Rita, would you help me get a copy of the book that has all of those stories?"
"Sure," said Rita. "It's a part of the Ramayana. You could read it while your're here."
I remembered Mother telling us about Ram and his beautiful wife, Sita and about their adventures wandering around India. She also mentioned some wide falls. They must be close by, I thought because it was getting foggy and misty.
We went around another bend and all of us gasped. A perfect rainbow appeared in front of us. It was huge with brilliant colors. Water was splashing wildly down a falls that was very wide. The torrents of water tumbling downward were happily noisy-it seemed the water drops were dancing and laughing as they sparkled and fell to the river. The spray blew on us as we went as close as the boatman dared. It was refreshing.
"Hey, look," said Logan, pointing to a huge black rock in front of the falls. "That looks like an elephant having a shower."
We were getting wet from the spray by the time the boatman turned us around. As we headed back around the bend where the river was quieter, we heard a loud splash. Way up above, a figure, black against the sky was waving at us. Another splash. Was he throwing rocks?
Ranjit looked worried. He told the boatman to hurry and get us back. He tried to act calm, but I heard him complaining to Inu that he was having trouble keeping us to our important schedule. Things kept happening that were unexpected.
Who was that up on the cliff and was he just having fun or what, I wondered. Suddenly a third splash. There was the sound of a voice far above us, but no one could tell what it was saying. The boat chugged along and soon we rounded the final bend of the river. We could see the dock.
Logan leaned against me. "I'm starved, aren't you?" he asked. "Ranjit says we have to climb up there to eat our picnic."
He pointed about halfway up the hill. As we landed, Ranjit and Inu jumped out and dashed to the van. They and the driver hauled out the picnic baskets. They called to us to follow them up the hill.
Logan pulled my arm and I suddenly noticed he had his cap on backwards again. Time to talk again.
We trailed behind the others as we wanted to talk privately. Logan rubbed his forehead. "Remember when I bumped my head last night? You won't believe this. There's a house built right over the spot where Papa's map says that the treasure is hidden."
This was bad news. I never thought we wouldn't be able to find our dinosaur bone! All this way and now what could we do? Logan pulled the map out of his pocket and showed me exactly where he had gone. He had taken twelve strides from the Banyan tree, turned, and was beginning to walk the ten steps toward to the far wall that showed on the map. After seven steps, bam. He bumped into the corner of a house. I hoped I didn't look too discouraged because I didn't want Logan to give up.
"When you and Rita were talking this morning, I told your Mom. She said the house was built after Papa had left India. She said she'd help us find this student of Papa's that helped him bury the bone, pronto. She was trying to remember his name," said Logan.
We puffed and panted as we climbed after the others.
"Maybe we're in luck," I said. "After he scared me half to death, Inu said he had a message for us from Mom. He says we'd want to know it right away. We'd better catch up to him."
"Fifty-six, fifty-seven, fifty-eight . . . ." Rita and Ranjit were counting their steps loudly as they climbed up the hill.
"Come on, help us count," said Rita. "When we get to 150 steps, we'll reach the temple."
"Stop now." said Ranjit just as we started counting with her. "This is the picnic place. We eat first."
I must have looked irritated at his commands because he added quickly, "Remember the number of steps to this place. You can count the rest of them up to the temple after we eat. You must speak to Inu. Did you know that he has a good surprise message for you?"
He nodded to Inu as if they had some secret between them.
I began to worry. Did Ranjit know what we were doing? Or was he just acting bossy like a grand tour master?
Inu couldn't wait. He beaconed us over to the edge of the picnic area and pretended to show us the waterfall. Rita and Ranjit got out the lunch.
"Your mother said to talk to you alone. She said you will find your Papa's friend at the temple up there." He pointed to the top of the hill. "Today he is shooting a film at this very spot," he said, pleased at our excitement. "This person you want to find sent a messenger to the house this morning saying that he has a clue for you that is very important. I did not understand. She said it is about unburying something?"
We pretended to be puzzled. We didn't want to give away what we were doing.
Inu continued. "I will help you find him. We were both students of your Papa. This friend you seek is a director now, in charge of movie production." He laughed at our astonishment. "He has a crew here at Bhedhaghat. That is our name for Marble Rocks. They are at the famous temple called ChausatYogini temple." He pointed again beyond our picnic spot to where the steps continued on up the hill.
He chuckled when we tried to pronounce the long names. Rita called us to eat and Ranjit asked what we were talking about. Boy, he's curious. I think he's suspicious that we are up to something. He wants to know what it is.
Ranjit told us about the unique temple as we ate. He said there is no other temple exactly like this one-only some similar ones that used to exist in Khajaraho in another area of India. And this temple is old, too. According to research, it's more than a thousand years old. It dates back to the 10th or 12th centuries, he boasted.
"Not old as our dinosaur bone," I whispered to Logan. Ranjit glared at me for interrupting him.
I finished my sandwich in a hurry. It was delicious, like pita bread rolled up with spicy filling. I tasted some of the wonderful fresh colorful fruit-mangoes, papaya, guavas, bananas and pineapple, but I was in such a hurry to keep on our mission, I really wasn't all that hungry.
Logan must have felt the excitement, too, because took off, counting the steps as he disappeared up the hill. Ranjit and Rita were not far behind. She yelled to me that the van driver would pack up the leftover food for us. Good. Usually I was the responsible one who finished up the chores, but not this time. Inu challenged me to a race and we were off.
As I rushed up the winding road, I wished I could afford the time to stop to look in the little shops here at Marble Rocks. They had such interesting and beautiful souvenirs. I saw carved dazzling white jewelry boxes and pale green statues of dancing girls that looked as if they were made from marble from the river cliffs. I really wanted something which help me remember this fun day. But no time now, I guessed. We had a quest to fulfill.
Chapter 9 Filming
For an instant, when I reached the temple, I thought I was in a MTV video. It was unreal. I couldn't have imagined the scene before me.
There was a big circle of old stone-carved statues of goddesses. I was amazed at their yoga-like positions. I wondered if maybe Mom got her idea of doing yoga classes from here. Their dress or rather undress seemed pretty daring to me-for being 1000 years ago.
The first thing I noticed, though, was that someone, sometime had ruined their faces. Literally. They smashed off their features so they were like the blank-faced people you see sometimes in modern art.
In the middle of the circle, there were ten exotic dancers twirling around. They had bells on their ankles. Their gold and silver bracelets jangled rhythmically as they moved in unison. Their silk costumes were brilliant colors, which glowed because of the spotlights shining on them. They showed up clearly against the plain grey stone statues and walls behind them. Strangely enough, their hand movements looked exactly like the poses of the goddesses.
Logan was staring in astonishment at the drummers. They were sitting on the ground with the rest of the musicians, three of them with 2-3 drums of various sizes in front of them. The beat was slow and mysterious when we arrived, but got faster and faster and more complicated. Logan had a tubla just like the ones they were playing that Mom had given him back home. I imagine he'll be trying to have some drum lessons before we go back to the States.
Rita was swaying with the dancers. She was mesmerized. Inu nudged me and at first, I thought he was trying to get me to copy their movements and dance, too. He pointed across, beyond the cameras to where a tall man, hunk handsome, I thought, was standing with his hands on his hips, watching. He suddenly motioned something with his hands-a chopping sign, which stopped all the action. I guess it meant "cut."
The man had a low pleasant speaking voice. I could tell he was definitely the person in charge. He had two dancers change places and had a long discussion with a cameraman.
Ranjit tapped me on the shoulder. "Sixty-four goddesses in this circle," he said, "Chakra puja was performed here. See, over there, the spray from the waterfall? Listen, it is like thunder. You can hear it now because it is quiet."
He didn't realize it, but as he was giving his tourist-guide talk, his voice had been quite loud. Everyone turned to look at us. They were obviously surprised we would interrupt the filming.
Logan hid behind me. I was so embarrassed. I'm sure my face was beet red. We didn't want to draw attention to ourselves this way. "Sorry, sorry," I said.
The handsome director turned and saw us. He grinned and waved as he walked over and gave us both a big hug.
"Welcome. Blair? Logan? Pleased to meet you. I'm Sam, short for Samayananda. Never mind my last name. It's too long to remember, too. You didn't get hit by my message, did you?" he asked.
We obviously looked baffled. He threw his head back and laughed loudly.
"I threw those rocks to get your attention when you were boating. I called to tell you to come up here, but you probably couldn't hear what I was saying. The Singhs told me that you two had arrived in Jabalpur. I think I know what you want from me."
I talked really fast so he wouldn't spill the beans and tell everyone our secret.
"We're sorry we disturbed your filming," I said. "We're really glad to find you, but you're busy now and we'll be glad to wait."
"The sun's the right brightness to shoot these scenes right now, but not later," he said. "Stick around and watch this afternoon. You'll see how your Papa taught me to work. We'll have tea later. I have much to tell you."
Rita and I got caught up in the excitement of the shooting although we couldn't quite understand what was happening in some of the scenes. There was a plot in the movie as well as well as the dancing. We found out that the story was about a Queen who lived in a palace near-by long ago. She might have used a hidden passageway to come over to this temple. When they heard about that, Logan and Ranjit took off exploring.
It was fun, but it was hot, too. After a while, we were a little tired and impatient. Inu realized how long we'd been there. He told us he'd ask Sam how much more time we would need to wait. He surprised us when he returned.
"Sam had to leave to set up for tomorrow, but he asked me to give you this letter," he said, handing me a piece of paper.
Logan dashed over and pulled me away from the others. We tried to decipher the note. What was it-a code? It said:
Chapter 10 Madan Mahal
Big green eyes peered at me through the white mosquito net around my bed. In the pale light of early morning, Logan's head seemed to be floating in space.
"Don't scream," he said. "Let me in. I've figured out the message from Sam."
Both of us tugged at the netting. It was like a huge tent over my bed, coming down from a high frame to where it was tucked under the mattress. Kind of spooky, but fun to sleep inside. Mother had explained the reason for sleeping under mosquito nets. Jabalpur was one of the worst areas in the world for malaria which comes from a mosquito bite. She was sick with malaria she was my age. Before we had left for this trip, she had added mosquitoes to her list of "things to be careful of" in India-along with snakes and scorpions.
"The letters at the end of his note were scrambled. They spell dinosaur bone when you change them around properly, see?" Logan said.
Sure enough. Sam had been clever enough to know we didn't want everyone in on our secret search. We wondered, though, what he meant. Was our dinosaur bone buried again at Madan Mahal? Or were we meeting him there so that he could tell us about it before he began filming the next scenes of his movie?
Logan and I rushed to get ready.
"There are bicycles of all sizes in the shed," Mother said as she observed us anxiously pacing while we waited for Ranjit to arrive. "The directions are easy. We always used to bike to Happy Valley for picnics. It's at the foot of Madan Mahal. Go ahead. I'll tell Ranjit you were eager to get going. He can find you later."
Good deal. Ranjit had already filled us in on the legends of Madan Mahal during supper yesterday evening. We'd be better off without having him around snooping. He'd probably try to listen to what Sam was telling us. This way we'd beat him there.
I had a hard time keeping up with Logan. He could weave in and out of the hundreds of bicycles on the road faster than soap slipping out of wet hands. I thought everyone must ride bicycles to work or school. Mother said it was about six miles. The last stretch easy because it was not crowded at the edge of town. By the time we spotted the "Happy Valley" sign, we were alone on the road.
We found it rough going once we turned off the highway. The land became more hilly. There were rocks of all sizes on either side of us. Some were enormous boulders. Before long we started walking and pushing our bikes. Almost at the same moment, we both both gave up. We decided to hide our bikes behind one of the large rocks and go on by foot. No use pushing them along.
"Here's an elephant rock," said Logan, grinning. "We'll be able to remember that our bikes are behind this one. I liked that strange story, didn't you?"
Last night, Ranjit and Rita had competed with each other trying to tell us the various stories about Mahan Mahal and Happy Valley. Ranjit said the Queen, who was named Rani Durgavati, lived in the palace here. She had bravely defended her kingdom against a northern King who wanted to invade and capture her, along with all of her soldiers and people.
Rita said that the king was much richer and stronger. He had many more horses, soldiers and elephants. Back in those days, they used elephants to carry people and weapons for battles. This was long ago, about 700 ago. The Queen sent out her spies and found out that the Moghul king was unbelievably powerful. She prayed to her gods in desperation the night before the big battle was going to take place. In the morning when he arrived, all he could find were hundreds of rocks, large and small. No people or animals were anywhere around. No soldiers or queen were there. Just a deserted palace and village. He didn't win after all, did he?
Ranjit said that he thought it was a nonsense tale. Mother told us that it's a legend that some people believe is true.
"Look. There's the famous balancing rock," shouted Logan, who again was way ahead of me.
The rock resembled an enormous fat sausage that was somehow delicately balanced on a lower boulder. It looked as if it were teetering and would topple over with the slightest pressure. We climbed up and pushed and shoved with all our might. Of course, it didn't budge. I wondered how many hundreds of people through the centuries had tried to push it off.
"Solid as a rock," Logan teased as he took off climbing up the hill. In a few minutes I passed him, eager to see the palace with its elephant stables. Rita had warned us that it was crumbling and falling down, but the main part of the palace was still standing. I got there first and was all the way up to the second level of the ruins when Logan sped by.
At the top, from the high third and fourth stories, we could see six huge arches which framed the large stables built out of rock for the elephants. Best of all, was the was view of a gorgeous blue-green lake down in Happy Valley. The pretty little island in the middle was called Pleasure Island, Rita had said. No wonder Mother loved coming here. Her best times, she said, were when she and her friends explored the underground passage. The queen, it was said, used to slip down to the lake to bathe and swim, sometimes on moonlit nights, by using the special passage.
"I wonder if we can find the opening of the passageway up here. We could go down it and see if Sam's at the bottom," I said to Logan. I wished that Rita were with us. She might have known where to look, but today was a day she was spending with her mother.
"Let's see if we can find it," said Logan. "Remember, Sam said he's shooting some scenes at one of the secret passages-the one that goes to the temple from here at Madan Mahal. Maybe he's down at the lake. We still have time before we're supposed to meet him at 10:00."
I tried to think logically where the entrance might be hidden. It could be inside the palace, I guessed. Possibly the Queen would be trying to escape from other people to go bathe privately. We scrambled in and out of rooms, stumbling at times on uneven slabs of stone. We banged on doorways, but no luck. Some of the walls and ceilings had disappeared through the years and only bits of the floor remained.
I wandered around imagining the walls around me. There was a stone stairway leading up to nowhere, but not a single passageway down. We explored outside, too. Nothing looked like an opening, only the skeleton of rooms that used to be, but had been abandoned ages ago. It was eerie.
Suddenly my watch alarm went off. I always liked to set it for important events. We wasted no time heading down to find Sam. I had a feeling we were about to experience something unusual.
Chapter 11 Happy Valley
A few minutes later we heard music and voices. We ran down the road so fast, I was sure we were going to tumble head over heels. Following the sounds, we chose a path that was only two tire tracks into the woods. Sure enough, the shooting that day was to be where the passageways came out near the lake. We found some of Sam's crew noisily setting up cameras.
We couldn't wait to talk to Sam who was giving directions. He spotted us and motioned for us to go to a picnic table loaded with food. I looked around for Ranjit, but luckily, he hadn't arrived yet.
"I am happy to see you here at Happy Valley," said Sam. He laughed cheerfully. "Come. We'll talk while we have breakfast. I have a long story to tell you and not much time."
He handed us plates and we chose several curious looking triangular shaped, stuffed pastries and fresh fruit. He led us to another picnic table farther away from the hustle and bustle.
He must have seen that we were anxious to hear what he would say.
"Don't worry. No problems. You will be happy today." Sam brought us tea as he was talking.
"Eat these samosas. You'll like them. You call your food like this 'Hot Pockets.'" He chuckled again. "And this is chai tea. Special flavor-delicious."
We hadn't realized how thirsty and hungry we were after our bike ride and exploring. But we were even more hungry to find out about our dinosaur bone.
"You were upset when you discovered the house had been built over the bone, yes?" he asked.
Logan nodded vigorously.
"Then you can imagine that I was shocked when I found that out, too. About six months ago, I went to the Singh's house to talk to them about the movie we are now filming. Suddenly, I saw a house being built near theirs. It was right on top of where your grandfather and I had buried his dinosaur bone. I rushed outside to find the construction manager."
We were interrupted by two cameramen who needed directions. Sam talked to them and then continued.
"I learned that the builders had not dug down as far as six feet where we had buried the bone and box. Also, it seemed to me that only the corner of the house, about two feet, was built over our bone. It didn't look like it would be too far under the house for us to try to retrieve it. The trouble was that they had compacted the earth before building the house. The contractor said there was no way I could dig under that corner by myself. He said he'd have to give me permission. He demanded that his decisions must be followed and he said that only his men could dig. He was very insistent that I follow his requirements. Also, his equipment must be used. Red tape."
Another interruption, this time an actress asking how soon she needed to be ready. Boy, was she beautiful-lots of make-up, especially around the eyes. I wondered if I could be made-up like that, just for fun. Mom could ask Sam about that later, I hoped.
Sam continued. "Red tape-lots of pesky problems. But I was as determined as you two are, to rescue our important bone. The solution is sometimes to butter up the problem person, as you say in America."
I guess we looked confused.
"A little bakshesh did the trick-coins, money. The contractor, like many of us, could use extra rupees and when I explained that I would pay for his services, he was cooperative. He followed my directions as to where to dig. Of course, he wondered what was in the weird cloth and tar bundle as well as the locked box that he dug up. No problem-I had made him happy with the extra reward. He promised to keep quiet and not tell anyone that I had dug up something very unusual. I was very pleased. I retrieved our bone!"
Logan and I automatically clapped our hands at that great news and yelled, "Hurray." Several people started over to see what was going on, but Sam waved them away.
"Trouble was, a couple of days later a policeman arrived at my door to find out what I had unearthed. No, no. Don't panic," he said. Logan and I must have looked frightened.
I was doubly upset because at that moment, I saw the van with Ranjit drive up. In a flash, though, I had a plan.
"Tell Logan the rest of the story and what we need to do next to get our treasure," I told Sam. "I'll head off Ranjit. Logan, turn your cap around as a signal where the coast is clear."
As I hurried over to intercept Ranjit, I heard Sam telling Logan not to mind that Ranjit was bossing us and following us around. He said something about Ranjit being proud and nationalistic like all boys his age, whatever that meant.
Ranjit couldn't believe it when I put on the biggest act of my career! I was smiling and charming. I congratulated him on being a super-duper tour guide. I assured him that we'd be forever grateful that he had filled us in on all the history and legends of Jabalpur so superbly. I could butter up a person as well as anyone.
To tell the truth, I think I overdid it a bit. Ranjit was tremendously pleased, though. He actually began to relax and act pleasant. He started toward Logan several times, but I steered him over to the lake and asked lots of questions about fish and birds and the bright pink lotus flowers. I wanted to give Sam time to explain everything to Logan.
"You will see how very talented Indian artists are this afternoon. I will show you the beautiful and clever methods Indian artists employ to use nature in their art. The museum is on our agenda today. You will see that the lotus flowers are in many paintings. They are symbolic. I will direct you to them," he said. I couldn't stop his going on and on. He could really show off.
He turned and headed toward Logan and Sam.
"What's this?" I quickly picked up a creamy white drink off the food table and shoved it into his hand, turning him back in the opposite direction toward the food table. "This looks like a 'Smoothie' like we have in the States."
"It is better than your ice cream," he said. "Taste. It is mango lassi. Wonderful treats we have in our country. Somethings very old, somethings very new."
I was afraid he was about to launch into another lecture when Logan casually strolled up to us. He greeted Ranjit and told him about our exploring the palace. A couple of minutes later, he turned his cap around and headed off toward the filming.
I had a frightening thought as I followed him, keeping an eye on Ranjit who was filling his plate with food. What if Ranjit knew what we were looking for and had some underhanded plan in mind? We'd better get going while he was busy eating.
Chapter 12 Found and Lost
I could hardly wait to find out what Sam had told Logan. Suddenly, I felt a tug on my arm.
"Follow me." Logan's words floated back to me as he sped toward the path that led up to Madan Mahal. I was puffing, but caught up eventually. After all, my legs are a lot longer than his. Still, he's really fast.
"Look for two rocks about the size of a cheeta." said Logan. He was panting, too. "Sam said that they'd look a little bit like two animals looking at each other. There."
Sure enough. The rocks looked like grey animal bodies with skinny heads and big paws. Logan veered off the road and squeezed between them. I was right behind. We found a narrow path going slightly upward between scraggily trees and ran along it for about two minutes before we had to stop and catch our breath.
"Tell me what Sam said," I begged. "Is the dinosaur bone safe? And the box? Are we close?"
Logan kept nodding. "Sam gave them to this old hermit who lives near here in a cave. He used be his religion teacher. I think I can remember the way to get there, but we've got to hurry. Sam says he meditates real early every morning and then goes on long hikes."
"How'd you get away from pesky Ranjit?" I asked.
"What'd you say to him, anyway? He told me you're beautiful," Logan collapsed, rolling around on the ground, he was laughing so hard.
"Hey, I am. Besides, I just decided to fool him and act nice. You know, to throw him off the scent. Come on. Where do we go now?"
Logan jumped up and dashed on through shrubs and bushes, muttering to himself. I had a sudden burst of energy, too. He seemed pleased when he discovered a different path that wound between two tall red flowering trees. After a moment, he pointed ahead. We could barely make out a tunnel far beyond, down a steep incline.
It was hard to get to it. Vines dangled in our way. There was a rushing stream beside us as we tumbled downwards. The path disappeared, but by that time we were almost there. We grabbed onto branches and vines as we skidded and slid downward to the dark cave.
I picked up a stick and slashed at huge spiderwebs covering the entrance. Two lizards dashed into nearby cracks. A beetle and some tiny bugs scurried out of the black opening as I cautiously stepped inside. Usually, I like insects as long as they don't bite or sting, but my leg still smarted from early this morning. I was determined to keep going.
Just inside the shadowy cave was an uneven rocky floor and what looked like broken pottery pieces. Otherwise, it didn't appear that anyone had been around for decades.
"Wrong cave, I guess," Logan said. "There's supposed to be a view of the lake and a plants in a garden."
I'm pretty adventuresome and kept inching my way farther inside. It was cool and damp. Dark, too, but I was sure that I could see daylight at the back.
Logan grabbed my shoe and stopped me. "Scorpions and snakes, remember? Don't go in there."
I admit I was glad he did. I backed out.
"Look. Isn't that the lake over there? Someone's calling us." he gasped.
What on earth is he thinking now, I wondered. A strong breeze had started up. I could barely make out arms wildly waving. It seemed that a woman with long hair was frantically flinging her arms back and forth, beckoning us to come.
"Oh, I forgot. We were supposed to go across the stream first and then look for a cave." Logan was already jumping on rocks, crossing the gurgling water. He scrambled up the bank on the other side. I followed, trying to ignore the dust blowing in my eyes.
"Salaam. Greetings." The voice was soft, so close to us, we were startled. Standing in the shadows was a thin white-haired man with dark black eyes. He had on sandals, brownish pants and shirt and held a big stick in his hand. Just beyond him, we could see the lake and sure enough, another cave. The woman, though, turned out to be tree trunk and branches that had fooled us from a distance. One surprise after another.
"Are you Sam's teacher?" I began. I realized we didn't know the name of the person we were looking for. This man looked pleasant enough in spite of the big stick. I wondered if he were the hermit. He smiled and nodded, and motioned for us to follow him. He led us to a cave that was certainly less scary than the first one. I breathed a sigh of relief.
"Come and sit. Relax. You've had a strenuous hike trying to find me. I can guess that Sam sent you. I will give you some refreshment." he said. He had a peaceful, calm manner. As he spoke, he pulled out some cushions and put them on the ground for us to sit on.
We introduced ourselves. He told us his name was Dawa and that he was a Buddhist. Every year he spends several months in solitude and mediation. Amazing to me.
Dawa picked up a strange green ball which he said was good to eat. It was the size of an apple, but knobby, almost like a weird fruit from outerspace. He broke it in half and handed us each a piece.
"This is Sita Phul, the nector of the goddess Sita. It is the sweetest, most delicious fruit on earth. Taste it. Watch for the seeds. I will get your special possession that you are seeking." he said. He stooped down a little to get into the cave and disappeared from view.
Since he didn't hand us spoons, we weren't sure how to manage a bite, but I'm always daring. I tipped it up and scraped some out with my teeth. The white mushy inside was smooth as pudding, creamy, and absolutely the best tasting fruit I've ever had.
"Divine. It is really fruit of the goddess," I told him as he reappeared. Then I forgot all about it in excitement. Dawa came out holding a long narrow gunnysack. Dirt and black stuff, which I guess was tar, made it look like an ancient treasure.
"Here's your dinosaur bone," he said, proudly producing it for us.
"Here's our dinosaur bone," I echoed triumphantly. I raised it above my head like a trophy. We felt like we had run a long hard race to find it. We were grinning victoriously. I could hardly wait to email the great news to Papa. He'd be thrilled. He'd be so happy that we were such good detectives. He'd realize that we had worked hard to find it.
"Our dinosaur bone is bigger than I thought." Logan took the wrapped bone from me and stood it up with one end on the ground. The other end reached up to his chin. It was that long. Before he could say anything else, our happiness exploded.
In a flash, Ranjit jumped down from a rock at the edge of the cave. He snatched our treasure from Logan.
"This is my dinosaur bone. I claim it in the name of India. I will return it to our citizens who are the rightful owners." He yelled and whirled around holding it above his head.
Logan and I hurled ourselves at him at the same time. I punched him in the chest and Logan held onto his belt, aiming kicks at his shins. We screamed and shouted. Now we knew what he was up to all along. He was a fake friend. He had schemed all along to snatch it from us.
Ranjit retaliated and twisted away from us. He yanked his knee up and out. It caught me under my chin and I flew backwards. I rolled down the hill a little ways. I banged against a stone and then sat up, my arms and legs shaking.
"Children, children, stop now," Dawa said. Suddenly his tone of voice changed. He sounded concerned, worried, frighteningly serious. "Blair. Do not move."
For a moment, I couldn't figure out why he was staring at me so intently. He seemed to be concentrating on walking toward me cautiously and slowly. Then I saw the horrified look on Logan's face. Ranjit was staring at me strangely, too.
I didn't dare move. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a swaying shadow. I turned my head slightly to look over my right shoulder where everyone seemed to be focusing. Then I saw it. Only about three feet from me on the rocky ground was a coiled black snake. It was barely rocking back and forth. Its beady little eyes were fastened on me. It was a cobra.
"Oh, why didn't I listen to Mother more," I wailed. I couldn't remember what she said to do. Keep very still? Run as fast as I could? I couldn't think. I was frozen with fear. I just kept staring back at the cobra.
"If I had my gun, I could shoot it," Logan shouted.
Before I could panic more, amazingly and unbelievably, a wide black board slammed down between the cobra and me. The snake hissed and struck the board. Dawa pushed the board at the snake and gently scooted it down the hillside as if he were a golfer pushing it into a golf cup.
"We must revere all life, all creatures even if we think they are harmful," he said. "Fortunately, I keep my cricket bat by my side to remind me of my more active days many years ago. It has come in handy several times. Now, children, come to your cushions. Sit and calm down."
My heart was pounding. My legs were shaking. I felt weak. Logan pulled me up to the cave. We sat close together, glaring at Ranjit. He smirked and held on to our dinosaur bone tightly as he sat down.
Dawa surprised us. He quietly lifted the wrapped bone from Ranjit's hands and put it on a small table near the opening of the cave.
"Tea time," he murmured in a soft voice. He placed a pot of water on what looked like an outdoor grill. "You three will have a surprise when Sam comes for tea in a few moments."
I looked at Logan. I knew he wanted to grab our dinosaur bone and run, just as I did. We wouldn't get far, though. Ranjit was too much bigger and stronger and faster. I just couldn't believe our bad luck. How could there be even more surprises in store for us?
Chapter 13 Our Bone, Our Treasure
Fate. Kismet. What will be will be. That's what Rita had said when I was first suspicious of Ranjit and what she'd be saying now if she were with us, I thought.
Rita had explained that here in India, many believed that they could find out what their lives would be like from the moment they were born until they died. They could go to special astrologers who would map out a person's life. All sorts of things would be taken into account such as the exact date and time a person was born and all kinds of signs that existed at that time. I thought that was fascinating and put that on my list of "things to find out more about."
Rita said that everything happening to us was proceeding according to a hidden plan. She was sure that everything would work out O.K. in the end.
I wasn't so sure. I was stunned and mad that Ranjit had claimed our treasure. Was it our destiny to lose our dinosaur bone?
I wished I would have known ahead of time that we'd have our hopes dashed. We had planned to arrive home triumphant. What a disappointment. What a mess. I tried to think of something encouraging to say to Logan. He was sitting on the ground near me with his head buried in his arms, which rested on his knees. I heard him whisper to himself something about Ranjit being a traitor and being mean. He wouldn't touch his hot tea.
I tried to figure out a plan while we waited for Sam to come. Maybe we could bargain for the bone. I was about to breathe a sigh of relief at that thought when I remembered the box. Wow! I had forgotten about the second part of our secret treasure-the box. Where was it? Ranjit might claim our box of jewelry, too.
Something was racing towards us from the jungle. It was Sam, leaping through the woods as fast and easily as a deer. He was panting hard when he crashed through to the clearing where we sat.
"Whew. All finished for today." Right away, he noticed our sad expressions and lack of enthusiasm. "It's so quiet. Are all of you meditating? What a good influence you are, Dawa. You have already taught these youngsters to be still."
Dawa handed him a cup of tea.
Sam turned to me and handed me an envelope as he collapsed on the ground, leaned against the cave wall and sipped his tea.
"Blair, Logan, you'll have to read this email from your grandfather. Your Mother had a messenger deliver this news a couple of hours ago. She asked me to read it and get it to you."
Sam had handed a bag to Dawa. "Here are some delicious jalebis that she sent, too." He turned back to us.
"Did Dawa tell you I had these surprises for you? There's a certificate in the envelope, too, that you will be most happy to receive."
Not even the temptation of tasting Mother's favorite India dessert could stop Logan and me. We grabbed the envelope from Sam, yelled thanks and quickly slipped out of view from the others to look over our messages.
Wow. The news couldn't have been better. Hallelujah! We were thrilled. After a private triumphant war dance, we put our heads together to plan how to make our marvelous announcement. We decided to pretend that we'd known all along some of the details that the email.
We strolled casually down the hill together, acting as if nothing important had happened.
"I'll try some of those jalebis now," I announced. "And I hope that is chai tea. I've fallen in love with the spicy flavor." I smiled at Logan. "Here, these are so good. Try one. They're amazingly sweet, a little crunchy. Delightful."
Logan giggled. "It looks like a big orange pretzel." He took a bite. "Yum. These taste like they're made from a sweet recipe from the gods." He was having a good time acting cool.
Ranjit was annoyed. "Whatever you say, I want to take my dinosaur bone to the property authorities. NOW."
We just smiled.
"Sam," I said as if I were about to make a formal speech. "Thank you for protecting our treasures. Dawa, thank you for guarding them until we could come."
I liked drawing this out dramatically. I spoke to everyone. "We are very happy to inform all of you that just this year a ." I had to read from the email.."a paleontologist at the University of Chicago announced the identification of a new type of dinosaur called Rajasaurus Narmadensis."
"And, believe it or not," Logan chimed in, "the dinosaur from Jabalpur is one of the new kind. They've found only two of this type of dinosaur in the whole wide world."
I had to steal a glance over at Ranjit. He was scowling again, not sure whether he liked the turn of events or not.
I went on. "Since they want all the bones they can find from Jabalpur, we're donating our dinosaur bone to them. Papa has just written to us that the scientists..." here I read again.. "are going to reconstruct as much of the dinosaur as possible. They're working on the skull right now. This will be reported in a special National Geographic article soon."
"Sam, you get the money they're awarding for bones that are turned in since you had to pay that construction manager to get our dinosaur bone dug up." Logan said.
"No, no." said Sam. "My pleasure. We will donate the rupees to the Indian historical society. They'll need it for the new museum where the dinosaur will eventually be shown. If you two hadn't been persistent, your grandfather and I might never have pursued obtaining the bone again."
Logan grabbed his teacup and waved it in the air. "Hip hip hurray," he said, leading us in a cheer.
"Oh, I forgot," I said in a sugary sweet tone of voice. I whipped out the certificate. "More good news about the box of bangles that was buried with our dinosaur bone. You tell them, Logan."
Logan read off the certificate. It stated that the gold and silver bangles had been authenticated as old and valuable. We hadn't realized that Papa had taken several to be analyzed while he kept the others secure.
Logan continued. "Papa says the bangles probably belonged to the Raja's family from Jabalpur. The designs were complicated and beautiful. Some bangles were set with semi-precious jewels."
"That is very good," grumbled Ranjit. "but the jewelry in the box belongs only to my country. Give it to me. I will take it to the correct authorities."
Logan ignored him as showed the certificate to everyone. Then he told them that Granpa reported that he was going to return the box of jewelry to the royal family. He grinned at me when he read Papa's email saying that the family planned to give all the jewelry to the museum. He peeked sideways at Ranjit to see what effect that announcement would have.
I didn't tell the rest of the news, though. I wanted to share it with Rita first. Papa had remembered seeing this exact jewelry in the paintings in the murals in the grand hall at the Govind Bhavan palace which was across the street from where Mother lived. The ancestors of the Raja's family had worn these exact bangles in the portraits. The Raja recognized them, too. He was so pleased, he told Papa that he was having replicas of the bangles made for all the women in his family. He wanted me to have one, too. I was thrilled. Imagine having a bracelet like real royalty used to wear.
I felt a shiver of satisfaction.
"Tomorrow we go further into the jungle," Ranjit announced suddenly. Didn't he ever give up? I guess he wasn't too upset now that he knew the results of our search would stay in India. "This afternoon we will see the museum where the bangles will go."
"Wait." I said. "Does anyone here remember I was just about bitten by about a most dangerous snake this afternoon? I could have been killed!" I think I was having a delayed reaction because suddenly I felt more terrified than I had right afterwards. "I'm exhausted. Give it a rest, Ranjit."
He grinned. "Not the most poisonous snake in India, but a big one. A bad experience for you, yes. However, the gods favor you today. You are unusual American girl, I think. Sensible. Brave."
Logan rolled his eyes and acted as if he were choking on his jelabis. Secretly, I thought maybe I had misjudged Ranjit just a little.
He was still talking in his lecturing voice. "Tomorrow you must see this jungle place, yes. You know many animals from the Jungle Book-Sher Khan, the tiger, and Begheera, the black panther? You know Rudyard Kipling? You see the movie? Just over there beyond the lake will be the Jungle Book..what do you call it in America? Theme park?" He pointed beyond the Happy Valley lake.
He could see we were startled. "Yes. This is the jungle that Kipling wrote about. You must see this jungle before India becomes like Disney. People will change everything. Come? In the morning?"
I sighed contentedly as we said thanks and goodby to Dawa. He promised to show us the entrances to the secret passageways if we'd visit him again. Logan wanted to take pictures and asked if Dawa would help us find another cobra.
I had a good feeling. Different people, unusual food, great places, new friends, strange happenings-I couldn't have asked for more. It was as true as I had thought. A lot could happen here in a short time.
There were more adventures on the horizon, I was positive. I was ready.
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Webbed by Philip McEldowney