"Yes, indeed." They shook hands. "Sit down, please." Creighton gestured to a chair, then sat back behind his desk. "Thank you for coming over here. I'm afraid we have a problem."
No announcement that Clark was dead, at least. Maybe he'd be able to face "Yes?"
"Professor Clark discussed his plans with me here in Umballa, before he left. Once he'd spoken with the curator at the museum in Lahore, though, he seems to have changed plans. He was seen in Jammu, briefly, but after that there are no reliable reports. He seems to have vanished. I was hoping you might know a bit more about the professor's intentions."
Creighton's words took the form of a statement, but they were nevertheless a question, and Marley took them as such, and gave the man a slight nod. "A little. The professor's original plan was to travel and gather folklore. That was still the plan, but from his telegram it seems he'd heard a tale in Lahore of a so-called 'Forbidden Valley' in the Himalayas. He went to Jammu to learn more, and I guess he found it, because he said he'd follow the river north into the Himalayas."
"What river?" Creighton asked.
Marley shook his head. "He never said, and I haven't received another telegram in nearly two weeks, now." He suppressed a weary sigh. "How am I going to catch up with him when I don't even know where he's gone? How am I going to explain to Alice if something happens to him?"
"The professor's daughter Alice is my fiance. She asked me to keep him out of trouble." Marley took a deep breath. "What am I going to do if something's happened to him?"
"I see." Creighton paused a moment, thinking. "If you wish to find him, perhaps I can be of some assistance."
Marley perked up. "That's swell! Thank you. Any help at all would be appreciated."
"I'll ask one of my associates to make some inquiries." Creighton jotted a quick note on a piece of paper, then folded it and handed it to Marley. "Go to Jammu and check into the Hotel Jammu. One of my associates, Mister Rendell, has an office in the bank across the street. Hand him this note. He should be able to help you from there."
"Thank you, Colonel."
"No, thank you, Mister Marley. We all want to see Professor Clark safe and sound once more. He's made many contributions to the study of the peoples of India, and we'd like to see that continue."
It was only as he was packing his things at the hotel that Marley stopped to wonder why Creighton was so interested in the matter at all, and how he'd heard the rumors about Professor Clark. But the thought quickly dissipated, leaving his still-cloudy mind as the bustle of preparing to depart pushed it away.
The journey to Jammu went easily enough for Marley, though it took several days. The railroad only took him part of the way. A horse got him the rest of the way. After weeks of necessary idleness, the ride on the horse left him very tired by the time he reached Jammu. It was with great satisfaction that he reached the hotel Creighton had recommended and retired for the evening. Four weeks had passed since he'd been left in Umballa. Marley wondered where Professor Clark had gotten to. And on that thought, he lapsed into a long, restful sleep.
copyright (c) The Other Sean