But he had taken it away from Chitipur at too late a day to save Ballantyne. Ballantyne had, after all, had good cause to be afraid while he possessed it, and the news had not yet got to Salak's friends that it had left his possession. Thus he made out the history of Captain Ballantyne's death. The tape machine, however, might have ticked out a mere rumour with no truth in it at all.
That's the way he got it burglaries all round Bombay." "I see," said Thresk. "Salak's in prison now?" "He's in prison in Calcutta, yes. But he's awaiting his trial. He's not convicted yet." "Exactly," Thresk answered. "This photograph is a valuable thing to have just now." Ballantyne threw up his arms in despair at the obtuseness of his companion. "Valuable!" he cried in derision.
"I thought the matter over on the journey down to Bombay, and I came to the conclusion that since the photograph might be wanted at Salak's trial I had better take it to the Governor's house at Bombay. But Government House is out at Malabar Point, four miles from the quays. I took the photograph out myself and so I missed the boat.
While we sipped our morning coffee, Java hotel coffee has improved since Miss Scidmore anathematised it in 1899, the sun's rays began to peep over the shoulder of the Salak, and dispelled the morning mists on river and valley. The Salak's fretwork crater stood out entirely clear his form a purple background to the picture gradually unfolding itself. Nature was everywhere awake.
"Oh," said Ballantyne with a sneer. "You've got a conscience too, eh? Well, I'll tell you. I don't think that photograph will be needed at Calcutta." "Are you sure of that?" "Yes. Salak's friends don't know it, but I do." Thresk sat still in doubt. Was Ballantyne speaking the truth or did he speak in fear?
The history of the photograph, its importance at this moment when Salak's trial impended, and Ballantyne's conviction of the extreme danger which its possessor ran a conviction established by the bold attempt to steal it made under their very eyes was laid before the stipendiary. He sent the case to trial as he was bound to do, but the verdict in most people's eyes was a foregone conclusion.
Especially because it's the only one in existence and the negative has been destroyed. So Salak's friends are naturally anxious to get it back." "Do they know you have it?" Thresk asked. "Of course they do. You had proof that they knew five minutes ago when that brown arm wriggled in under the tent-wall." Ballantyne's fear returned upon him as he spoke.
"He's a Mahratta Brahmin from Poona. They are the fellows for brains, and Salak's about the cleverest of them." Thresk looked again at the photograph. "I see the picture was taken at Poona." "Yes, and isn't it an extraordinary thing!" cried Ballantyne, his face flashing suddenly into interest and enjoyment.