Two days later we left the train. Hitching rides, we crossed southern India, headed toward Bengistan. Jolting rides on rutted roads jarred our spines, and we longed for the plush comfort of the trains.
However, we found compensation in scenic beauties--the mountains, the verdant valleys, the vivid hues of the tropics.
Sprawled in the back of an oxcart one day, we sang, all but Basil, who sat alone, deep in thought.
Vincenzo Starretti conducted us in the Soldiers' Chorus from Faust. I must say we sang well, though softly, not wishing to alert the driver to our prescence.
Then we began a lusty pirate tune, but there was an interruption.
Basil jumped up, shouting, "Pirates! That's the answer! Turkish pirates, the terror of the seas!"
"You've ruined the music!" said Starretti sternly.
"I'm sorry. The word pirate gave me a clue. Elyod wished the world to know he was alive on his island. He had a ship built to replace the wrecked one, and sent captain and crew to Euphoria with the news. He also sent some pretty things made on the island, such as the golden goblet and the vase. But the ship never reached Euphoria, for on the way--"
"Pirates! Turkish pirates!" we all cried.
"Precisely. Their favorite sport was to ram a ship, transfer the cargo to their own ships, and make the captured mice walk the plank. Often they would sink the ship, letting everyone drown!"
"Horrible!" said I. "With Elyod's captain and crew dead, no one knew the King still lived."
"As for the vase found in Turkey," said Basil. "pirates often hid their loot inland and then forgot where. But where is the Island of Pygmy Cats?"
Lord Adrian's eyes twinkled. "If all cats were pygmies, this world would be a better place!"
"Hear, hear!" we cried, but Young Richard, who had been studying his maps, pointed to the road.
"Our jumping-off spot! Beyond it--Bengistan!"
We left the lumbering oxcart and plunged into the underbrush. Bumpy roads were bad, but dense jungle was worse. The going was rough, with grass and roots so thick we had to use our axes.
At nightfall we heard the eerie calls and whoops of birds, and dared not light our lanterns. Some of the birds might be fond of mice--too fond! But luck was with us that long night--no one was eaten.
At dawn, near the border of Bengistan, Basil appointed Cherbou and General Garmize leaders of two groups. They were to find an unguarded place.
"Once over the border," said Basil, "you must organize the native mice. They all hate Ratigan for holding their Maharajah hostage. Dawson and I will let ourselves be captured. We'll probably be prisoners in the palace, where I'll find a way to rescue the Maharajah. When next we meet, Bengistan shall be free. Good-bye and good luck!"
All went as planned. Basil and I were arrested at the border. Captain Doran, a London criminal, recognized us at once.
"What a catch!" he sneered. "The great detective, Basil of Baker Street, and his friend Dawson! Guards, take them to the palace!"
We were prodded along at bayonet point and then flung into one of the palace dungeons, as dark and dismal a place as ever I'd seen, lit by one candle.
"We'll be having a visitor soon," said Basil, and he was right. Half an hour later the rusty iron door clanged open.
A tall, stoop-shouldered mouse entered, wearing a crown--Ratigan, the brains of the mouse underworld!
The brilliant criminal smiled mockingly as he faced the famous detective.
"When last we met, you were the victor, Basil. Now the tables are turned! It's King Ratigan who rules, and you, the champion of law and order, who's the loser. Haven't you learned your lesson yet? Join up with me, Basil! I admire your great mental powers and your genius as a detective. If you and I should pool our brains, we'd rule the entire mouse world. What do you say?"
"Never!" cried my friend. "My whole life is dedicated to fighting the evil for which you stand. I'll do my best to put you and your gang in jail for the rest of your lives!"
Ratigan's smile vanished. "You'll regret those words, Basil of Baker Street. For all I care, you can rot in this dungeon forever!"