"Where do you suppose they are heading for?" asked the engineer.
"The devil or the deep sea," replied Jim, humorously inclined.
"If they follow this direction, it will be the deep sea for certain," remarked Berwick, "for this trail is making straight for the bay, or I miss my guess."
"I bet anything that those two guys are planning to reach the Sea Eagle, and there will be a boat lying in some cove to take them out," said Jim decisively.
"Surely Captain Broome wouldn't have the gall to bring your captured yacht into the bay right under the nose of the authorities," said the engineer.
"Huh!" grunted Jim; "that wouldn't be anything extraordinary for old Broome to do. He'd delight in it; and another thing, according to my idea the authorities and Captain William Broome ain't on such bad terms but what they can shut an eye to some of his performances. Besides it was his ship in the first instance," concluded Jim with a grin.
"A pirate don't have any title, anyhow," remarked the engineer.
"Maybe he does in San Francisco," remarked Jim with great simplicity.
At this Jim's chief engineer laughed heartily.
"That would be true doctrine enough for my native town of New York," he said.
"Well, howsumever, Captain Broome don't need any title. He keeps what he has and takes what he hasn't."
"You are an epigrammatist, Jim," said Berwick, smiling.
"Won't I ever outgrow it?" asked Jim anxiously.
"No, you will get worse as you become older," declared his friend.
"Gee, that's a bad outlook. Well, where there is life there is hope," replied Jim; "no use nosing this trail along, we have got the general direction and we want to get to the beach just as soon as we can so as to head those fellows off."
The two of them then started on a brisk trot and in a short time they heard the roar of the surf on the sand. But about a quarter of a mile from the beach they came to a halt, for a high fence barred their way.
"Hello, what does this mean?" inquired Jim with interest.
"It means we have come on someone's private estate," remarked the engineer, "and judging from the sharpness of these iron spikes, they are not at home to ordinary folks like us."
"I can just make out the house," remarked Jim, "and it looks like a big one."
There was the indistinct loom of the house through the fog; it appeared to be made of brick, with white trimmings and a huge chimney in the center clad with ivy. This was a good many years ago, and no remnant of this place remains to-day, for fire and earthquake wrought the ruin of this mansion, long before the catastrophe of 1906.
"Let's walk around this estate before it gets completely dark," said Jim, "which will be pretty soon now."
"You don't suppose that those two misguided pirates live here, do you?" questioned the engineer.
"Hardly," admitted Jim, "but they might be hiding in the yard."
"It would be tough work getting over," said the engineer, "especially with what is coming from the direction of the house." Jim looked and pulled his friend down behind the parapet of stone in which the iron fence was set.
"Perhaps it won't see us," said Jim in a low voice. But they were a wee bit too late to escape detection. Between the shrubbery there came at a menacing lope, a huge, yellow-white, bloodhound, with hanging dew laps, and following him a great Dane whose velvety black form held a real ferocity. They leaped high with their forefeet against the iron fence, striving frantically to reach the two men on the other side.
"They are more dangerous than the mountain lion, those dogs," said Berwick.
"I'm very glad to be on this side of the fence," admitted Jim. "We wouldn't stand much show without our guns."
"I thought you ate them alive," laughed John Berwick, referring to the incident in the wood.
"It was to keep you from being eaten up yourself," grinned Jim. "Say, Chief, let's move out of range, or these beasts will rouse the whole country."
"All right, Captain," agreed Berwick, using Jim's sea title, and as they were rather at sea, it was quite appropriate. They reached a large rock that stood out on the plain away from the house, and sat down on it, until the noise of the baying had ceased.
"Did you think to fetch a lunch with you on this festive occasion, James?" inquired Berwick.
"Bah Jove, old chap," replied James, "we left in such haste that it slipped my mind, don't yer know."
"I wish your mind hadn't been so slippery," remarked the engineer. "If you could only have had presence of mind enough to have brought an olive or two."
"I tell you, Chief," said Jim, airily, "I'll have the dinner ready by the time you get your dress suit. But coming down to the plain English of it, I'm starved. Think of the exercise we have had since leaving the restaurant to join our friend on the sidewalk."
"A man who would put you to all that trouble to speak to him is no gentleman," declared John Berwick whimsically.
"He deserves to be hung," said Jim savagely; "anyone who would impose on a trustful nature like yours and make you run over twenty miles of landscape! But cheer up, John, I have a hunch that we will strike a pay streak of grub yet. Let's take one more scout around that mysterious castle yonder and then we will make a bee line for the nearest lunch counter."
"Any time you give the word."
"Well, I suppose that 'all's quiet along the Potomac,' so let's move."
"Agreed, James," said the engineer.
Then the two friends slipped through the soft darkness of the night and fog until they reached the iron rampart of the fence and went past the great gates. There was a gilt monogram on either side and in the center, but these things did not interest them. Then they went on to the south part of the grounds.
"See that, John!" said Jim in a low voice.
"A light in the tower," replied his friend; "now it's gone out again."
They stood watching with breathless interest. There are lights and lights. Some are the mere commonplace of domestic peace set on a round table in a cozy room with children intent on the Frontier Boys. Then there is the weird light of a lantern moving unevenly across a field, or revolving along a hidden lane, and there is something of the dramatic in its yellow flame. Finally there is the light that shines under strange circumstances or peculiar surroundings that has a mystery of its own, a beacon of danger, or of sudden death.
"It is again on this side, only higher up," announced Jim; "somebody going up those stairs, that's what it is."
In a few moments the powerful lamp illuminated an upper room and they saw the interior distinctly. But what fastened their attention was the sight of a head that showed just above the sill of the windows. It must be the head of a child to reach no higher. But what would a child be doing up in that lonely tower. Jim gripped his companion's arm.
"It's that infernal Mexican, Berwick!" he whispered.
"No other!" said his friend. "And that light is a signal."
"Can't be seen far even if the fog is thinner," objected Jim.
"Broome is close in," said the engineer decisively.
"It may be to serve as a guide for some party coming over the lonely moor," said Jim with much shrewdness.
"Go to the head of the class, James," remarked Berwick; "that's a sound guess for a fact."
"Guess nothing," retorted Jim; "that's a deduction as they say in the school books. What in the deuce is that up there now!"
A canine head was outlined in an open window and then the big hound gave tongue that went far into the night. His senses told him that an enemy was lurking near.
"My! what a mark for a shot!" whispered Jim.
Then they heard a sharp command in Spanish and both the dog and the Mexican disappeared from view.
"We had better move along, Jim," said the engineer, "or we will be on the hot end of a chase ourselves." Without a word Jim started, but he would not run far.
THE MAN IN THE GULLY
The two friends disappeared in the fog, in a southerly direction from the house and after going for about a quarter of a mile, Jim called a sudden halt.
"Hold on, John," he said, "there is something coming our way."
"I don't hear anything," replied Berwick. "What does it sound like?"
"It's a vehicle of some kind," declared Jim.
"Now I hear it," admitted the engineer, "and I reckon that it is a carriage of some kind."
"This is as good a place as any," remarked Jim. "It's lucky there is a fog because there is no cover to get behind."
"Coming direct our way," said the engineer, as the thud of horses' feet could be heard distinctly, and the low roll of wheels over the ground.
The two comrades moved quickly to one side, and they saw emerge from the fog a high-stepping team drawing a closed carriage. The horses shied at what they saw at the side of the way, but the coachman pulled them quickly to their course and drove rapidly on. It was impossible to get even a glimpse of the occupants of the carriage.
"Me lord Duke," said Jim, "going to his ancestral castle."
"That's surely where he is bound for," declared the engineer.
"There goes the gate," cried Jim, as the sound of the iron closing came to his ears.
"The plot thickens," remarked the engineer; "that wasn't an ordinary turnout by any means."
"We will investigate this business before morning," determined Jim, "but there is nothing gained by rushing,—better let things settle. What do you say, John, to getting something to eat?"
"I'm with you there," agreed Berwick. "I may have been hungrier in my life before, but I can't remember."
"No Russian Duke this time to help you out, eh?" queried Jim.
"Don't mention that," cried the engineer; "I'm in no need of an appetiser."
If you have read "Frontier Boys in The Sierras," you will recall the chief engineer's account of his experience while traveling from St. Petersburg to the frontier, when he appropriated the Grand Duke's hamper while his Highness was wrapped in the deep stupor of sleep. He had told it with much nerve and vivacity, and Jim could recollect very clearly the scene in the warm engine-room of the Sea Eagle, with the stormy rain sweeping the decks outside, and the good old crowd of Juarez, and the boys, listening to the engineer.
"I have a hunch that we are going to get something to eat soon," remarked Jim encouragingly.
"Shall we strike the trail back to the city, and return in the small wee hours to call on our friends in the castle?" asked Berwick.
"No need of that," replied Jim; "I am sure we can find a place to eat down by the beach."
They had a little difficulty in finding a break in the cliffs that walled the water front, but finally they discovered a cleft in the solid rock and they were able to make a steep descent over broken bowlders. They were halfway down when Jim stopped so abruptly that the engineer stumbled against him.
"See that man sitting against that rock," he whispered; "he looks as if he were asleep."
"Maybe drunk," remarked John Berwick.
"Or a sentinel for the castle," put in Jim.
He felt around at his feet until he picked up a suitable rock, then closely followed by the engineer, he approached cautiously the figure against the rock, then Jim deliberately went up and looked into the man's face.
"He's dead," said Jim in a quiet voice. "I've seen too many like him not to know."
"Who do you suppose got him," queried the engineer.
"Those friends of ours on the hill, no doubt," said Jim. "Yes, it's their work," he declared, as he ran his hand along under the man's coat; "stabbed in the back." The unfortunate fell heavily against Jim's shoulder and one of his legs straightened out convulsively.
"You have a pretty fair quality of nerve, my friend," remarked the engineer in cool admiration.
"Strike a light, John," said Jim, "and see if we can get a line on this poor fellow."
The engineer drew a pretty trinket of a match box from his upper vest pocket and struck a match near the face. There was such a direct living look in the man's half-closed eyes, that the engineer dropped the match with an involuntary expression of surprise and shock.
"What's the matter with you, John?" asked Jim with a touch of sharpness in his voice. The engineer was a man of usual nonchalant nerve, whose bravery had always seemed a by-product of his nature and not due to an effort of the will, which gave point to Jim's question.
"I am getting shaky in my old age, Captain," replied the engineer.
"No danger of that," replied Jim.
Again a match was lit and this time Berwick held the flame close to the dead man's face. They saw that he was not over forty years of age, with a heavy square jaw, a full straw colored mustache, and hazel eyes. He wore a light gray fedora hat and his suit was also of gray, loosely worn. He was squarely built, and slightly below the middle height. There was absolutely nothing to indicate his business, or his station in life. Whatever possessions he may have had on him had been taken.
"What was the reason for this, John?" questioned Jim, as he gently laid the dead man back against the rock.
"Robbery?" suggested Berwick.
"They are none too good," replied Jim, "as I can testify from personal experience. But I reckon that there is more back of this than that.
"Now I may be mistaken, but in my opinion this man was a United States detective and he was hot on the trail of this gang of pirates and smugglers. I used to know a number of these fellows in New York and there is something about them that marks them to my mind."
"I bet you have hit it right," said Jim, "but why did they not hide the body?"
"Possibly they are so safe in this section that they don't take the trouble to cover up their crime," remarked the engineer tentatively.
"Or they may be intending to come back to-night and dispose of the body," said Jim.
"That's more apt to be it," agreed the engineer.
"It might be a good scheme to lie in wait for a while, and see if any of these hounds come back on their trail," suggested Jim.
The engineer of the Sea Eagle who was at present out of his element, drew a deep sigh and likewise drew up his belt a couple of holes, which was his alternative for a meal, that he seemed fated to go without. The unsympathetic Jim grinned at his comrade in arms.
"I tell you, Chief," he said, "we will catch one of these grand rascals and cook him a la cannibal."
"I would be most happy to," replied the engineer suavely and savagely.
"We will move down the ravine a ways," ordered Jim.
"My idea was that they would come down from the top of the cliff," said the engineer with cool criticism.
"That was my idea, too," said Jim cheerfully; "then we might follow them without too much chance of being caught ourselves."
"You are certainly long on strategy, James," remarked the engineer.
"Hello, Berwick," exclaimed Jim; "there is a light ahead."
Sure enough on the beach at the mouth of the ravine shone the yellow light from a small square window. They crept up carefully to the place. It was rather a curious affair. It was simply two old street cars joined together by a wooden vestibule; one was used as a sleeping room the other was a tiny beach eating place. Jim looked in cautiously through the window and his eyes widened and his hand went involuntarily to where his revolver usually hung. He remained there a full half minute taking in the scene within while the engineer stood a little ways back in apparent indifference, but he was carefully taking in the whole situation. A short distance away the waters of the bay were lapping through the darkness onto the beach.
He noticed that there were a number of heavy tracks going towards the door of the odd little restaurant, and they were quite recent. He listened intently to hear, if possible, who might be inside, but while he could distinguish voices, there were only a few noncommittal sounds. He wondered what the captain found so interesting, but just then there came a scuffling of chairs on the floor within and the sound of guttural voices. Jim drew back suddenly, and in evident alarm. The door was slowly opened and a heavy figure dressed in sailor garb lurched out into the darkness followed by a stealthy form.
"I wonder what mischief the old man is chawing on?" It was the forward deck of the Sea Eagle, and the speaker, Old Pete, the sailor, of unsavory memory. "He's been as savage as a bear with a sore head two days past, and that means he's brewing some sort of devilment."
"Maybe he's watching to trail some craft going out with a rich cargo," said Jack Cales, of likewise deleterious recollection, who was seated on the forward hatch, opposite the ancient mariner who was himself resting on a coil of rope.
"I dunno about that," said Pete, puffing meditatively on his black, stunted pipe; "according to my notion it's something ashore. Old Hunch was aboard airly this mornin', and that greaser is a sure sign of trouble. Reminds me of a croaking black raven. I'd like to wring his wry neck for him. He ain't fit to associate with respectable pirates like us."
"I don't see why the cap'n sets such store by him, anyhow," protested Jack Cales.
"It's an unhung gang of bloody cutthroats the old man's got ashore," remarked Old Pete. "I wouldn't want any trafficking with them."
There was something amusing in this feud between the rascals on ship and ashore, something like the rivalry between the navy and army.
"Shut your jaw," said Cales peremptorily; "here comes the cap'n now."
To the earlier readers of "The Frontier Boys," he is a familiar figure but he is well worth introducing to those who are meeting him for the first time. Captain William Broome, familiarly known as Bill, or the old man, was a remarkable person. There was a strange softness in Captain Broome's tread, like that of the padded panther, as he came forward along the main deck. He appeared like a man always ready to get a death hold upon a nearby enemy, both wary and using unceasing watchfulness. This was evident in the crouching gait of his powerful figure. His arms had the loose forward swing of a gorilla's, indicative of enormous strength.
"That man a pirate!" you exclaim at the first glance. One who carried the blackest name along the coasts of the two American continents as a wrecker and smuggler; who in the days before the Civil War had brought cargoes of slaves from Africa, and who had enjoyed more marvelous escapes than any man in the history of piracy, with the exception of Black Jack Morgan? "Impossible!" you say. "Why, that man is nothing but an old farmer," you cry in disappointment. "He ought to be peddling vegetables in a market!" But just wait.
True enough, Skipper Broome had come from a long line of New England farmers, hard, close-fisted, close-mouthed men. Young Broome had broken away from the farm, and followed his bent for seafaring, but to the end of his rope, and his days, he kept his farmer-like appearance, and he affected many of the traits of the yeoman, which he found to be, on more than one occasion, a most useful disguise.
Let's take a look at him, as he comes along the deck of the Sea Eagle. The heavy winter cap, which he wore in season and out of season, pulled well down on his grizzled head, gave him a most Reuben-like appearance. Corduroy pants are thrust into heavy cowhide boots. The deadly gray eyes, no softer than granite, have become red-rimmed from spasms of fury and rendered hard by many scenes of coldly-calculated cruelty.
"Yaw two gents enjying the balmy air for'ard, on your bloomin' pleasure yacht?" inquired Captain William Broome, who had a turn for broad sarcasm.
"Jus' smokin' a few peaceful pipes, sir," replied Pete, who was allowed a certain amount of leeway with his master, as he had been with him in the African trade, and as boys in New England, they had lived on nearby farms.
"This ain't no time for peaceful meditation," said the captain; "you git aft and keep a sharp eye abeam, and if you see any boat creepin' through the fog, even if it's an innercent looking fishin' boat, you report it to the mate."
"Aye, aye, sir," replied Pete as he stowed his pipe in his capacious pocket, and maneuvering a safe distance from the captain's foot, went on his mission. Then Broome spit carefully around on the deck.
"Here, Cales, you loafer, clean this yere deck up," he growled.
Thus, having made himself pleasant to all hands, he went forward and, leaning heavily on the rail, looked shoreward as if expecting a messenger of some kind. It was impossible to tell the exact position of the Sea Eagle in the immense bay of San Francisco. One thing was certain, that it was not near the shore where the castle stood on the cliff, for the current and the depth of water made it impossible to anchor. However, it was near some shore, for the sound of the surf could be heard distinctly. Five minutes passed and then the captain raised himself up with a grunt of satisfaction. A long trim boat had slipped quietly from the enveloping fog into the quiet circle of the sea around the yacht.
The oars were not muffled but they made as little noise as though they were. It was rowed by four men, quite evidently foreigners; brown men, two with rings in their ears, and the others were splendidly built fellows, who rowed as easily as they breathed. These latter were Hawaiians, who are as native to the sea and its ways as the cowboys to their own western plains. They were part of the mixed crew which the old pirate had got together for reasons of his own. The said reasons being that such a crew could not very well combine to mutiny or to rob him of his ill-gotten wealth.
In the stern of the ship's cutter was an entirely different looking man from the kind with whom Captain Broome was generally associated. If the man had been a priest or a parson his presence in such company would have been no more surprising. He had the appearance of a well-dressed gentleman, probably a professional man of some kind. His features were good and his dress impeccable.
Against the chill fog he wore a dark overcoat, with silk facings, and a black derby hat. At his feet, on the bottom of the boat, was a long black leather bag, somewhat like those which physicians carry. Yet he was not a doctor, for it was generally the enemies of Captain Broome who needed the services of a physician.
The boat glided gently by the perforated platform of the gangway and was held firmly by the oarsmen, while the stranger stepped with a quick, precise step from the small boat. The captain was on hand and greeted him with a certain awkward courtesy, for politeness was not in his line.
"Glad to see yer, Mr. Reynolds," he said, giving him a grip from his horny hand; "hope you didn't get damp from the fog, crossin'."
"It's nothing, Captain," replied the man-crisply, an amused sneer hidden under his mustache; "fog is my element. It agrees perfectly with my delicate health."
"I'm relieved to hear it," remarked Captain Broome gently. "Come up to my cabin, sir, and I'll give you a drink of something that will clear the fog for you."
The professional gentleman, from the city, followed his sinister host up the gangway and into his cabin, while the boat pushed away from the side of the yacht, bowed softly to the gentle swell of the sea. It was like a carriage that is waiting for the return trip. The two Hawaiians were laughing and joking in characteristic good humor, which is entirely different from the boisterous jollity of the darkies.
They were having sport by laughing at their passenger. His neatness of demeanor and style of dress seemed to furnish them with much amusement. With their quickness for giving nicknames, they called him, "Mr. Blackbag," and the captain was known to them as Roaring Bull. They were very apt, as all Hawaiians are, to see the defects of character and weak points of those white people who came under their observation.
Meanwhile the captain and his guest sat in the latter's cabin, discussing matters that will soon concern us gravely. This cabin, as perhaps the reader remembers, was a good sized room. A large table of cherry wood was against one side, with a few maps and books on it. A broad bunk was curtained off with red draperies. There was a scarred sea chest against the opposite wall, fastened by a heavy padlock. On this the captain was firmly seated.
To complete the description I may say that the room was paneled in white, and contrary to what you might expect, the cabin was absolutely neat. Broome's visitor had turned the swivel chair halfway from the desk, and was directly facing the hard-faced captain, who had taken off his heavy cap, showing his bald and polished dome of thought that glowed red under the light of the big, swinging, brass lamp. The shuttered window was closed against the dim daylight outside. This was a secret conclave and with good reason. Upon the table at Mr. Reynold's elbow the black satchel was opened. Its contents at first glance were not startling. But wait!
THE LAWYER AND THE PIRATE
The contrast between the two men as they sat facing each other was really dramatic; the rough hewn captain, in his countrified garb, and the city man correct in dress and quiet in manner; but as to which was the most dangerous villain it would be hard to decide off hand.
Mr. William Howard Reynolds was primarily a lawyer, but he was likewise agent and adviser for several organizations whose aims were not high but very direct. He had been of aid to Captain Broome several times before, had smoothed over several unfortunate affairs with the local authorities on behalf of his client and had been liberally rewarded for so doing. Where finesse and criminal adroitness were concerned he was of the greatest use to the captain of the Sea Eagle.
It was doubtful if he had ever been engaged in a more nefarious scheme than he had in hand upon this particular occasion. As he sits facing the captain with the light slanting across his face let us take a square look at this man, so that we shall be able to recognize him if we should chance to meet him again.
As has been said he was well attired, and with his light weight overcoat off, he is seen to be dressed in a dark cut-a-way coat with a white vest according to the custom of that remote time. He wore upon the forefinger of his left hand a peculiar serpent ring, whose ruby eyes seemed really to glow in the light. He used this ring finger on occasion to drive home a convincing argument.
His own dark, close set eyes always followed the line of this gesture with telling effect. It was these eyes together with a cruel mouth, at one corner of which lurked a treacherous sneer, that showed the true character of the individual, for aside from these two features his face was not an unpleasant one. The forehead was high and well developed, the chin square and masculine. The wiry, but carefully brushed hair was already becoming gray around the temples. So much for Mr. William H. Reynolds, so far as his mental and physical photograph goes.
"Well, Captain Broome," he said, leaning forward with the weight of his hands upon the arms of the chair, "what is your scheme in this business?"
"I haven't any, Mr. Reynolds," replied the captain mildly; "you know that I am a plain man, just a simple, seafaring old codger and am greatly afeared of being shanghaied ashore by some of the villains that reside there."
The lawyer threw back his head and laughed harshly.
"I've noticed that it is the plain, farmer looking chap, that's the deepest often," he said, "but I know that you didn't invite me out to your yacht for afternoon tea. Let's get down to business."
"As I said, I ain't got a scheme, but I'll give you the facts and let you hatch the scheme." There was an unconscious contempt in the captain's voice, which the keen lawyer was quick to recognize, but did not care to resent. His client was too valuable to risk a breach with, so he merely tightened his jaws, and waited for the captain to begin.
At this juncture in the interview the captain got up quickly from the locker on which he had been seated. The motion was so sudden and menacing that the lawyer plunged his hand into the black bag on the table. Broome, if he noticed this action, gave no sign but crouched noiselessly to the door, opened it suddenly and rushed out upon the deck.
There was the sound of a low growl as of an uncaged animal, then a scuffling sound followed by a thud. In a moment the old pirate returned to his cabin, shut the door, and sat down as if nothing had happened, as indeed was the fact according to his idea of things. Meanwhile Cales, the sailor, who chanced to be cleaning the deck not far from the captain's cabin, picked himself up from the scuppers, whence he had been flung by Broome. He was bleeding and dazed, but not so dazed but what he could heap maledictions upon the head of his superior officer. Even in his wrath, however, he did not dare to speak above a hoarse whisper. The lawyer surmised what had happened but he made no comment as his genial client sat himself down again upon the sea chest.
"These are the facts, Mr. Reynolds, and I'll be brief because it is my nature." The captain leaned forward heavily on his knees, and spoke in harsh confidence to his attorney, or rather agent, who listened intently, but with an inscrutable face. "There's a rich Mexican with a Spanish name, Senor da Cordova, over in the city right now and he has been trying to make a dicker with me to get hold of my yacht. He's interested in helping those Cuban niggers who are fighting the Spaniards and he thinks this yere boat might come in handy in the business, and she would, too; there's nothing faster sailing these waters anyhow."
"He's coming a long ways around to get his cruiser," remarked the lawyer coolly.
"The other side is watched, and it ain't easy to pick up the right kind of craft anyway, without payin' a ransom, and this old Dick wants to drive a hard bargain, says it is a good cause and all that, but I ain't got no interest in those Cuban niggers."
"I follow you," said the lawyer, "but that isn't what you wanted me to help with."
He knew his client thoroughly.
"You're right it ain't," replied the captain with emphasis; "I made the contract to carry the shooting irons and we are loaded ready to sail, but the Senor's got a gal."
The lawyer looked keenly at his client.
"It's a case of kidnaping, then," remarked the lawyer with as much unconcern as if referring to an attack of measles.
"Yer have the right idea, Mr. Reynold's," said the candid mariner; "the gal's daddy sets a heap of store by her, and he'll pay something handsome to git her back, more than he would for this steam yacht of mine, twice over."
"Tell me how the land lies, Captain, then I'll give you my terms."
Captain Broome speaking in a low, growling voice, gave him the necessary details, and then with his bushy eyebrows knitted together he watched the other man with grim intentness. Mr. William H. Reynolds sat for some time with his head thrown back and half-closed eyes, gazing upward at the ceiling, and then he began to whistle softly with a slight hissing sound.
"It's the devil in him getting up steam," mused Broome; "he sees his way through all right."
Indeed he did, but he did not inform his valued client that he was well acquainted with the agent of the Cuban insurgents, who had come West to meet the Senor da Cordova, for he had no intention of belittling the difficulty of the task assigned him.
"How much?" inquired Captain Broome, in a noncommittal voice. These two wasted no time on formalities, they had been in too many transactions for that. By way of reply, the lawyer held up five fingers. Immediately the Yankee master put up three and a half by doubling his little finger, but the attorney remained firm.
"You'll get ten thousand out of this, you old reprobate," he said frankly, "and I take the risk. Take it or leave it, I've got some other matters to attend to immediately."
The captain grunted, he hated to pay, especially without a long bargaining, but he knew his friend well enough to realize that it was a waste of valuable time, and that one might just as well try to bargain with a graven image. Slowly he drew out a leather pouch from his capacious pants' pocket and opening it placed—How many twenty dollar gold pieces, Reader, to make five hundred dollars? Well, Tom, what is it? "Fifteen." You Johnny? "Twenty-five." Quite right.
They made a brave sight piled up in the light upon the table, but they did not stay in evidence very long for after noting each one carefully, he put it in the black bag, until they were all properly shepherded.
"Would you like to have this business finished to-day, Captain?" inquired the lawyer.
"You're right, I would," said Broome with emphasis.
"Make it a thousand, and I'll guarantee to do it," replied the lawyer. The captain's jaw fell.
"It is worth it, for the risk is double," returned the lawyer.
"I haven't anything like it with me," declared the captain. "I'm no gold mine."
"Give me your note then," said Reynolds, "payable in fifteen days."
"I tell you what I will do, Mr. Reynolds, I'll make it for three hundred; and more I can't do."
"Agreed," said the lawyer.
"Have a drink on it," urged the captain, hospitably, and feeling fairly well satisfied with his bargain.
"No time for that," replied the lawyer abruptly; "you'll be at the castle not later than ten and I'll make my part of the contract good. Tell those niggers of yours to dig in and row some going back."
The captain evidently gave them sound instructions, because they made record time, cutting through the fog at a slashing gait.
AN ODD RESTAURANT
Let us now return to our friends, Captain James Darlington and Chief Engineer John Berwick, of the good yacht, Sea Eagle, the latter now in the bad hands of Pirate William Broome. We left them crouching in the fog outside the car restaurant on the beach. Two men had come out into the fog. The first a big sailor as was evident by his gait, as well as his costume, and the man who followed in his wake was of a slinking type, and may have been a beachcomber. Jim could not make up his mind whether these two were members of the pirate crowd or not.
The two friends watched them until they merged into the darkness and fog, going towards the water and not in the direction of the castle. For one moment Jim got the idea that the smaller man meant mischief towards the big sailor, but he did not attempt to follow the pair for there was other fish for them to fry that night. After a minute's wait the engineer made a move as if to go towards the door of the queer little restaurant, but his comrade laid a restraining hand on his arm. Jim had learned due caution from his past experience with the Indians and treacherous border men, and for all he knew these two men might return after a short time, and make trouble for them. Ten minutes passed in perfect silence though the engineer began to feel extremely restive from hunger. Finally Jim rose to his feet.
"I reckon we will board this car, Pardner," he determined, "if you happen to have the fare."
"They've got the fare inside there," replied the engineer sententiously, "that I want."
Jim laughed, and then taking another look through the window to assure himself that no one else was inside, he opened the door and followed by his friend went in. It was a quaint looking place, lighted by a big ship's lamp in the center of the ceiling, that shed warmth as well as light. It had been a really large and spacious car, and there was plenty of room for the long, clean lunch counter, which was adorned with several clusters of condiments, salt and pepper shakers, and a heavy china sugar bowl. These surrounded a tall red ketchup bottle and a black sauce bottle.
There were likewise two small tables with several stools around them. At the far end of the car on either side of the heavily curtained portion, were two stained glass windows, one blue, and the other red. Both had the same design, that of a knight in full armor on a prancing horse, and a long lance at half cock, as it were.
"Vell, poys, vat you vant, eh?" questioned the short, fat German, in his white cap and apron, from behind the lunch counter. It was clear that he was not favorably impressed with these new customers, who were muddy, wet and bedraggled, from their long chase of the afternoon and evening. But do not make a mistake; it was not their character, which Fritz Scheff viewed askance; they might be cutthroats and villains of the deepest dye, and it would not worry him any in the least. But could they pay? that was the question.
John Berwick grasped the situation with sufficient clearness.
"What do we want, Old Sport?" he replied, airily; "everything you've got on the bill of fare. Here's a bill for a beginner." And the engineer threw a five dollar currency certificate on the clean wood counter.
The German's little, black eyes opened as wide as was possible, which was not saying much; he was not used to such lavishness on the part of customers. However, he was cautious, for such was his nature. He held up the bill to the light and then gave it a slight tug. This nettled Jim, who did not sympathize with his friend's extravagance at times.
"Donner and Blitzen mein freund," roared Jim, who used such language as came to his hand; "you old counterfeit. Get busy, we're hungry. And, another thing, you can stow that bill my friend gave you, but you've got to give him back what's coming to him."
"Which will be mighty little," said Berwick humorously, "because my appetite is growing some."
The proprietor's big red neck grew choleric under Jim's remark, but by a quick transformation he swallowed his wrath, and became a smiling and complacent host.
"Anydings you vants shentlemen is yours. Just give me de order."
He handed each of them a rather soiled menu in a frame and the two gaunt travelers regarded the list with a moment's deep interest.
"A Hamburg steak to start with," said the engineer, "and three fried eggs on the side not to mention some black coffee and hashed brown potatoes."
"The same here, friend," remarked Jim, "only put me down for two eggs."
"Bless me! what a delicate appetite, James!" exclaimed Berwick.
"I'm looking to something else, John!" replied Jim.
"Wise lad," remarked the engineer, "but do you know, as I can't have my dress suit on this auspicious occasion—"
"You mean suspicious," cut in Jim with a grin.
"Never mind that now," continued the engineer; "what I was going to say was that a plain—"
"High neck," interrupted Jim.
"Any old neck wash would be truly acceptable," concluded the engineer.
The proprietor heard and heeded.
"Eh, Anna, come here," he cried in stentorian German. There was a gentle shuffling sound and a creaking of a board from the direction of the other car or room and a large figure appeared in the curtained doorway.
"What is it you want, my Fritz?" questioned the placid and housewifely Anna, taking in the newcomers with a quiet gaze.
"The shentlemen of honorable wealth, Frau Scheff, would like to wash their esteemed countenances," he explained with ironical deference.
"Ach! that is good," said Mrs. Scheff with a fat good-natured smile; "trouble yourselves to come with me."
"By the time you shentlemans are washed and improved, the supper will be ready," said the proprietor.
The engineer was greatly amused by this stout German couple and showed it by a slight smile, but Jim who always had a native respect for decent and kindly people no matter who they were, had no intention of joining his friend in any humorous byplay in regard to the stout house frau.
She led them through the short passageway into the other room. One end was curtained off for the bedroom, with snowy white curtains tied back with pink ribbons.
Everything about the two little rooms was marvelously clean and neat. There was a big round globe lamp on a black oak table, ornamented with the quaint carvings of the Fatherland, on the standard. Nearby was a capacious rocking chair where the good frau had been sitting, and her knitting was on the table. On a cushion in front of the chair was a huge gray striped cat, comfortably curled and sound asleep. Jim who loved all animals could not resist stroking it and then gave its ears a twitch which made his catship raise his big head and open his mouth in that silent feline protest, which is so amusing.
"Ah, the Kaiser Fritz is a very spoiled cat. Is it not so liebchen?" and she lifted him bodily from his comfortable cushion. But the Kaiser was decidedly peeved by all this attention and showed it very plainly.
"Ach! you are a tiger! a French tiger! you deserve not the good name of Fritz!" and with a temper as quick as her kindness, she threw him into the chair.
"The Kaiser Fritz is a fine animal, Frau Scheff," said Jim pleasantly; "I should like to own him."
"He eats as much as two kinder," said the frau with a sigh, "and he is not so grateful. Now you two gentlemen make yourselves welcome. Here are plenty towels."
Jim and the engineer thanked her, the former briefly, the latter with a pleasing grace that he could use when he so wished. But it was to be noted that while she surveyed John Berwick with a careful and noncommittal eye, she regarded Jim with a simple kindness that fairly beamed, which is not insinuating that the chief engineer of the Sea Eagle was a rascal but that he did not have the straightforward sincerity characteristic of Jim.
There were indeed towels enough hanging on the rack by the washstand, which with its drapings of white and blue was so dainty, that Jim regarded it as much too fine for mere washing.
"Look at this blue and white china washbowl and pitcher, Jim," remarked Berwick in a casual tone. "It is really beautiful. It is made in a town, in southern Germany, where I once spent a couple of months."
"Seems to me you have been everywhere on this created earth, John, and say," continued Jim, "see that mountain of a feather bed covered with the snow of the coverlet. You know that they make those in southern France where once I spent some months." The chief engineer grinned.
THE GOOD FRAU
After a thorough wash, the two compatriots felt very much refreshed, and looked less like street urchins or sea urchins, and more like themselves. Only one thing troubled the chief engineer, as he rubbed his hand reflectively over his chin and face.
"I would feel quite respectable now if I only had a clean shave. You know for a fact, Jim, that I can think much more clearly when my face is smooth. But that is something which you don't have to bother about, Jim, no reflection on your years, my lad," he concluded, with a smile.
"Better not be," replied Jim gruffly, coloring up, for be it known that James was sensitive on the point of being young. Funny thing, boy nature, anyway. John Berwick opened his eyes at Jim's tone, and then a quizzical look came into his face. There was no denying that Berwick had at times a vicious temper, but he was always good-natured where Jim was concerned, and never resented the latter's occasional flare of temper, which was greatly to his credit.
"You'll feel all right, Captain," he said gravely, "when you get your emptiness lined with beefsteak."
"I'm a chump to flare up for nothing, Chief," deplored Jim; "next time I do it give me a swift push into the alley." The engineer only shook his head good-humoredly, while he was giving his brown mustache a final twist before the glass; Jim was looking with interest at a photograph of a lad upon the wall. A well set up boy, with a grave, straightforward look.
"That is my Fritz," said a voice behind him. It was Frau Scheff. "He has been away from home now two years. His father was very strict with him and he love the sea, so he go away from home in some ship. He would be about your age, my lad, but not so tall. Perhaps some time you see him, and tell him, please, his mother break her heart to see him." Her voice trembled, and for a moment she pressed her hands against her eyes. Jim had a deep-seated aversion to any show of emotion, but this simple yearning in a mother's voice affected him deeply. His eyes filled with moisture for a moment.
"I promise you to keep your son in mind, Frau Scheff," he said in a quiet voice, "and it may not be at all impossible that I should some day meet him. Was there any certain mark by which I might recognize him?"
"Fritz had a scar about an inch long over his left eye, which he got when he was a little fellow," said the mother, "but ach! why do I make you to feel sorry with my troubles. Come! by this time my husband has your supper done." She regarded Jim with a benevolent smile and led the way through the narrow passage into the little restaurant. The savory smell of cooking greeted the hungry outcasts as they entered the car restaurant.
"Shentlemans, your repast is served." He waved his hand towards one of the little tables, which had on it a spotless white tablecloth, and the necessary implements for attacking the grub.
"Ah! it looks very good, Herr Scheff," said John Berwick, who could be very gracious when he wished. "Your name should be chef; you deserve it, my friend."
The German made a short bow and his round face crinkled into a smile.
"It is enough that you are pleased, honorable sir," he said.
"Ach, Fritz!" exclaimed his wife, "why do you give these friends of ourselves such knives and forks? I will get some of our own."
"Now don't you bother, Mrs. Scheff," said Jim; "these will do all right for us."
"Ach! no! no!" she exclaimed, shaking her head; "they will not do. The sailors bite the forks as though they eat them. I go get our own."
And she did. They were of heavy silver, with a quaint monogram on the handles of the forks. No doubt heirlooms of several generations back. Without more ado the two friends began with hearty appetites on the two portions of steaks, the delicately browned potatoes, and the eggs. Everything had a delicious taste, for, aside from their hunger, the meal was excellently cooked.
"I will make the coffee, Fritz," said his wife, "and how would you like some German pancake?"
"We would like nothing better," agreed the engineer.
"I'm good for any kind of a pancake," said Jim heartily, and he was not exaggerating, either.
How good that coffee did smell, and it tasted equal to its aroma. As for the big, flat, German pancakes, with their coating of powdered sugar and side dishes of apple sauce, pleasantly tart with sliced lemon,—well, Jim always had the tantalizing memory of them when in other days he was furiously hungry, which latter he was destined to be on more than one occasion. Jim, nevertheless, had not forgotten the business in hand, even while eating.
"Herr Scheff, could you tell me about the people who live in the castle upon the bluff above you?" he questioned.
A cold shadow came over the German's round face. It was evident that at heart he was anything but a genial man given to much talk.
"I do not make my head ache about what I don't know," he replied; "my business is to cook for whoever pays me. That's all I say."
"Oh! I see!" exclaimed Jim, somewhat taken aback. He noticed that Frau Scheff seemed somewhat uneasy, but nevertheless she made no effort to speak.
"Herr Scheff, how about that man with the gray suit, for whom you got a lunch to-day, shortly after noon?" asked John Berwick.
For a moment the German's face took on a decided pallor, and then his expression took on a blank, noncommittal look. There was no getting behind that stolid wall. He shook his head heavily.
"I know nothing about that; maype you are a reporter, eh?"
John Berwick laughed heartily.
"You do me too much honor, Herr Scheff," he said; "I have not the gifts of imagination or the requisite nerve for such a profession."
"Ach! but Fritz—" his wife began, but she stopped with a sigh at the malevolent look her husband shot at her.
Not willing to make trouble for the kind-hearted German woman, Jim and his friend refrained from making any further inquiries. In the course of time they finished their meal, and prepared to leave, feeling like new men and fully ready physically for anything that might be in store for them. The proprietor had regained his surface good humor, and seemed anxious to make the two strangers forget his abruptness.
As for his wife, she was her usual warm-hearted self, and there were tears in her eyes when she said good-by to Jim. "Don't forget my little Fritz," she urged, and Jim promised, and this seemed to give her much comfort.
The two comrades then left the warm shelter of the curious little restaurant. Outside it was misting heavily, but little did they mind it, as they were warm and dry and well-fed. Indeed, they were now doubly anxious to make an end of their strange adventure.
"Herr Scheff was a very uncommunicative old bird," remarked Jim, dryly, as they trudged over the wet, heavy sand towards the cliffs.
"Just what was to be expected," replied John Berwick; "you might just as well try to get water out of the Sahara as information out of Herr Fritz. He would give the devil a meal as quick as he would a parson and ask no questions for conscience' sake. You would never find out that he had ever entertained either. That's business with that class, you know."
"Business be hanged, then!" exclaimed Jim hotly. "I bet anything that the poor man we found murdered in the gulch up here did get a meal from him."
"Certainly," replied the engineer coolly; "and what's more, he knows a whole lot about the gang that infests that castle on the cliff."
"Well, the old clam can keep his information," remarked Jim. "I propose to find out for myself what these rascals are up to. That's the only way."
"You are right there, Jim," replied Berwick.
"We want to go a little careful now," remarked Jim, as they came to the mouth of Dead Man's Gulch.
Noiselessly the two comrades climbed up the dark cleft, over the slippery rocks, until Jim came to a halt.
"That man isn't here now, John," he said in a low voice.
"They've sneaked him off while we were below," remarked the engineer. "It behooves us to be on the lookout."
Somehow, the disappearance of the body of the dead man seemed to give a sense of danger that was everywhere present in the darkness, as if their enemies, though elusive, were near at hand.
"Well, here we are," exclaimed Jim, with a breath of satisfaction, as they reached the tall fence surrounding the castle on the bluff.
"It seems to me that we are only where we were before," said the chief engineer, in a low voice.
"We won't be there much longer," remarked Jim, with determination; "follow your leader, and look out for the dog; he bites."
This time James Darlington took a new tack, crawling along in the opposite direction from the big gate and keeping well hidden. Followed by John Berwick, he went cautiously along for a distance of a hundred yards, and then Jim halted, and with very good reason, for he had come to the edge of the cliff, but not exactly to the end of the fence.
There was an iron obstruction in the way, that barred them from getting further. It was a fan-like spread of sharp iron spikes, such as you sometimes see in these days, separating the roofs of adjoining tenements on the Island of Manhattan. It appeared an impassable obstacle and indeed it was, as the powerful Jim and the agile engineer had to admit after a careful investigation.
"No use impaling ourselves on that thing," said Berwick. "It's pretty clear that the folks in there don't wish to be disturbed."
"More reason for disturbing 'em," asserted Jim briefly. "That Mexican is inside and has my valued possessions. I intend to get them back."
"I admit the logic, go ahead."
It might have been possible for Jim to have scaled the high fence with its pointed iron spikes, but it was not practicable for the shorter John Berwick.
For a little while Jim sat on the ground thinking, trying to find some way out of the difficulty.
"If we only had a rope," remarked the engineer; "we could make it."
"Yes," replied Jim, "and then use it to hang the greaser with. That is what I call a beautiful thought."
"We haven't enough clothes to spare, to tear up, either," put in Berwick.
"You are right, John," remarked Jim. "It is a little bit too damp and foggy for that."
Jim began pacing up and down for a few minutes, then he reached some decision.
"You stay here, John, for a few minutes," he said.
"I hate to stay alone here in the dark," remarked Berwick humorously.
Jim grinned, then he strode away along the cliff, and quickly disappeared in the darkness. Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed, and then he appeared unexpectedly in front of the engineer.
"Hello, what have you got there?" inquired Berwick; "looks to me like you were going to start a garden."
"I found these vines growing over some rocks back there," Jim explained; "as we haven't any rope they are next best."
"Good boy! I would never have thought of that," said Berwick.
"We have used it before," said Jim; "when we were on the frontier."
"But will it hold?" remarked the engineer. "I'm no heavy weight, but I am not a fairy either."
"Wind 'em together and they will do," replied Jim.
In a short time, he had got one end of the improvised rope over one of the iron spikes, then he criss-crossed them and got the other end over the next spike, making a very respectable ladder.
"You first, John," ordered Jim.
"All right, me lad, and if those hounds in the yard nab me, you must do something to distract their attention."
"I'll attend to them," replied Jim confidently.
"Here goes, then," said the engineer, and with the liveliness of a cat he was up and over, and Jim followed.
"Now," exclaimed the engineer, "we are in for it. What is our next move?"
"Take in this rope," replied Jim practically; "maybe we can use it in our business."
His friend patted James on the back to show his appreciation. Then they together got most of the vine down, and Jim made a neat coil of it. Then before they went on they waited, listening for any sound that might indicate life of any kind about the castle, but it was absolutely dark and silent.
In all probability the dogs were somewhere about, or at least one of them would surely be on guard. Jim knew that the first thing to do was to locate these hounds, for if they were to get on their trail the game would be up, aside from the danger of being attacked by these ferocious beasts, who were in reality as strong as a mountain lion and much more courageous.
First they must find some sort of shelter. The enclosed yard was a large one, including about eight acres, with trees and shrubs set here and there and a fountain in the center of the driveway. This latter they would hardly use, unless they needed a bath. Where the two comrades had got over the fence was on the north side of the house, and about one hundred and fifty yards distant.
At half the distance to the house was a clump of bushes in the center of which rose a tall tree. Back of the castle a short space was a stable built of brick. At first Jim thought of making it his base of retreat and observation but gave it up for the present as he was fearful that one of the dogs might be there or chained near it. As a matter of fact, one of the big hounds was lying with his nose to the ground not far from the double door of the stable. It may as well be stated that this building was at the foot of a sharp slope below the castle and its back wall was built on a line with the bluff.
"Come on, John," said Jim finally; "we will make for that clump of bushes with the tree in the center."
"Aye, aye, sir!" replied the engineer softly.
Jim threw himself on the ground and began to crawl imperceptibly towards the bushes and the engineer followed in as close an imitation of his leader as possible, and about six feet behind him. The grass was four or five inches high and they looked to be only a couple of inconspicuous and inoffensive logs. Jim did not make the mistake of cranching swiftly through the darkness, for motion was the one thing that would attract the attention of even an unwary eye. So much James had learned from his old-time enemies, the crafty and patient Indians.
Once they got a bad scare when they had worked along for half the distance undertaken. Jim and his comrade became aware of the hulking yellow form of one of the huge hounds, as he stalked into the open about fifty yards from where they lay in the short grass. Luckily what little wind there was blew from the southwest, so that it could not aid to betray them.
The beast evidently did not have them in mind, and was unsuspicious of their nearness, as he was looking in the direction of the big gate, but only a short turn about the grounds and he would pick up their trail and then the two comrades might as well resign from their present position and retire over the fence if possible. It would seem as if he were looking for someone to come from the direction of the road. Then to the relief of Jim and the engineer the hound hulked heavily towards the gate.
When he reached it he placed his fore feet high upon a cross bar and gazed through, evidently on the lookout in a friendly, not an inimical way. Then he turned and loping near to the house disappeared in the direction of the stable, and this gave Jim and the engineer their chance to reach the coveted clump of bushes.
"He is surely looking for someone," said the engineer, as they straightened up in their shelter of overhanging leaves.
"Lucky he wasn't hunting for us," remarked Jim. "It would have been all off if he had."
"Or we would be off," put in the engineer frankly.
"Come on, John; let's crawl through this clump and see what is on the other side," ordered Jim.
"Lead on, MacDuff," assented Berwick.
"My name is plain Duff, I'll have ye to know," replied Jim, catching his friend playfully by the throat.
For some reason they both felt a thrill of high spirits go through them and it showed in their speech and actions. If Jim had stopped to consider he would have remembered that high spirits at a time like this always indicated some unusual peril ahead. It had been so on many previous occasions and this peculiar thrill of every fiber was the distillation of the very wine of danger. They had reached the middle of the clump of bushes; Jim leading, when our friend received the shock of his young life, and it startled him through and through.
Jim's hand as he had crawled forward, clutched the foot of a man who was in hiding in this selfsame clump of bushes. James acted instantly, realizing instinctively the danger, the extreme danger of the situation. He leaped forward for the man's throat and to his utter surprise the body lay perfectly limp.
"Great Heavens!" he exclaimed, "this man is dead."
"It's the poor fellow from the gully, below," said the engineer, after an examination; "there's no mistaking him."
"But how did he get here?" questioned Jim, with suppressed excitement and alarm.
"That's simple," replied his friend. "These bandits who live here, brought the body up at the first convenient chance and left it here for the time being, but they may come for it any time so we had better be on the lookout for trouble.
"We don't have to; it is always on the lookout for us," replied Jim briefly and with truth.
"There's someone directly ahead," remarked the engineer, "or I miss my guess."
"Just wait a minute, Chief," said Jim; "I want to size up this castle before making the next move."
"You don't observe any anxiety on my part to go anywhere do you, Captain?" questioned Berwick.
"Quiet as a kitten," replied Jim with a grin, and then without any further remarks, he crawled past the form of the unfortunate man, until he reached the edge of the copse, and gathering a low bush around his shoulders so that he appeared to be a part of the natural scenery himself, he observed the castle closely with the eye of a trained scout.
The fog was rifted by the wind so that he could see with sufficient clearness the outlines and details of the high brick castle. As has been said, they were on the north side, where there was the large stained glass window that lit the grand staircase, and now shone with a faint radiance.
There was also a line of broad mullioned windows, their round, thick glass in circles of lead, gleaming like opals when the full light was within, but now cold and ghostly in the dimness of the fog-laden night. These windows were some twenty feet from the ground, and Jim's keen eyes regarded them with special interest. Further along and somewhat lower were the smaller windows, evidently of the kitchen, and near the ground several more heavily barred.
After a few minutes of observation, Jim returned to his companion, his mind fully made up.
"Well, James, what do you make of it?" queried his friend.
"I'll make more of it a little later," replied Jim; "I'm going to move on the enemy, right away."
"Very well, I'm ready," remarked the engineer. "When you can't go back with safety or stand still it is a good scheme to go forward."
"But I want you to wait here, John," explained Jim; "there's much less chance with two than one. In case I need you I'll yell."
"If you don't happen to be gagged," replied his friend cheerfully.
"Never you fear about that," returned Jim confidently; "there's none of that gang that is going to get me so quick but that there will be something doing on my part first."
"Nothing surer than that," replied the engineer heartily. "Luck to you, Jim," gripping his hand, "and I'll be in reserve here when you want me."
"Good old Chief," said Jim, returning his friend's grip; "now I'm off."
Without any further words Jim crawled to the edge of the thicket, leaving John Berwick in the grewsome company of the dead man, but Berwick took up a position where he could see the tall, shadowy figure of James Darlington as he advanced straight toward the stronghold of this gang of unmerciful pirates.
"That boy has them all beaten when it comes to unqualified nerve," muttered the engineer to himself; "the best fellow in an emergency I ever saw, and that's something."
James would have felt proud to have heard his friend's eulogy, but his mind was fully taken up with the problem he was facing. He must get into that house without delay; to stand long where he was meant sure detection in a short time. If he had only possessed his revolver, he would have felt more comfortable.
"Have to get or borrow a gun from one of those chaps inside there," he mused with shrewd humor.
He was now directly below the long mullioned window, but as he was not a little birdie with wings, he could not fly, and had to climb.
"Here's luck," he said; "this vine is bigger than I thought it could be. Takes California to grow a vine like a tree and that's a fact."
Indeed, the vine that spread its dark green splendor over the whole north side of the great structure and wrapped itself around the giant chimney had a stem that was more like the trunk of a small tree and very tough and fibrous. Jim did not hesitate, but quickly removed his shoes, and with both free hands, noiselessly climbed up towards the window, sustaining his weight partially on the rough jutting bricks until he finally reached in safety the broad sill of the mullioned window.
"So far so good," he murmured, "now to get inside."
Very slowly and cautiously he pushed on the lower part of the center window and it gave easily enough, the gang in foolhardy security never dreaming that an enemy would dare approach their stronghold, much less come into their very castle. Indeed, their confidence was in some measure justified, for their head and chief, old Captain Broome, was very powerful through this section, had strong friends among the officials in the city and was safe from being bothered by the authorities. As for private enemies, he could very well take care of them himself.
So without any trouble at this point Jim slipped through the window and was within the castle of his bitterest enemy. He let himself down from the window, to a settee, and thence to the floor. By the dim light from the windows he saw that he was in a long, rectangular-shaped room, evidently lined with bookcases, and in the dimness at one end loomed the outline of a huge fireplace. For the moment Jim felt a thrill of excitement go through him. There was something in the fact that he was alone and unarmed in the house of his foes, quite enough to give him this sensation.
Suppose that you were standing in the darkness in a cage where some lions were stretched out asleep but liable to awake at any moment, you might be excused if you had a few shivery thrills, and so it was with Jim.
It was evident that this room was not in general use and our adventurer could not have chosen a better place to land as it were.
He stopped only long enough for his eyes to become accustomed to the lack of light and then he made sure that there was nothing in the room that would serve him for a weapon.
"Might take a dictionary and throw some of the hard words at 'em," he remarked with his usual humorous twist of imagination when in a tight place.
Then he cautiously opened a door which led into a long, wide corridor that was decidedly dark, except at the further end, where shone a faint light. Keeping close to the wall, he went softly along until he came to the main staircase, which surprised Jim with the winding sweep of its magnificence and the beautiful stained glass window above it. But there was that in the large hall below that made him draw back.
There was stretched out on an immense rug, the other hound, his nose between his paws and his watchful, red-rimmed eyes upon the great door leading from the hall to the out-of-doors. No wonder that the sight of him made Jim pause and draw back into the darkness of the upper corridor. One suspicion, and the huge beast would take the staircase in three leaps, and neither quickness, strength nor prowess could have saved Jim if once the hound had caught his trail.
"Gosh, I've got to find a weapon somewhere!" Jim mumbled to himself; "this won't do at all."
By this time his eyes had become thoroughly accustomed to the dim light and as he turned back he stopped and his heart beat with something almost akin to fright. Now our friend James Darlington was not superstitious by nature, but if that dim, silvery white figure was not a ghost, what in Sam Hill could it be?
It stood perfectly quiet to one side and about half way down the hall, evidently looking straight at Jim, but making no move to attack him. What was Jim to do? He could not retreat down the staircase to the main door, for that was to fall into the jaws of the hound. Neither could he reach the library in safety.
THE BANQUET HALL
Then Jim looked up at the wall which was paneled in some light wood and there his eyes saw something that gave him the clue. He straightened up and moved quickly towards the ghostly figure.
"How are you, Brian de Bois Guilbert?" he said as he came up. "I should like to borrow your suit of armor if you don't mind."
The audacity of James. It was a gigantic suit of armor, and for the moment Jim thought of trying to get into it, but he gave it up. Perhaps as a last resort he might use it, to strike terror into the superstitious greasers and cutthroats who were making their foul nest in this once beautiful home.
It would be perfectly useless for him to try and put it on in the hall, for it would make clangor enough to arouse the deaf or the dead. So Jim very gently wheedled the image of the late Sir Brian inch by inch towards the library and finally got it inside. Luckily there was only a few feet to go, but it took Jim the better half of an hour. This incident of the armor goes to show how carefully Jim was looking to a possible chance in the future. Our old college chum, Jim, was certainly strong on strategy.
"Now, you stay here, Brian, old Boy," he said, "until I come back; if you don't I'll Ivanhoe your old block for you."
Then Jim slipped out in the passageway once more, and went immediately to the place in the hall from whence he had sighted the armor man. There on the wall were medieval weapons—battle-axes, swords and poniards. These were what had given Jim his clue as to what the ghostly figure really represented.
"I reckon that I will have to appropriate some of this hardware, before I explore any further."
He finally selected a small and exceedingly keen poniard, also a short, heavy sword, and thus equipped he was ready for what might come, which as he well knew was apt to be the unexpected. As he stood motionless in the dark hall, with its dimmed radiance at one end, he was sure that he heard the faint sound of voices, which is not saying that the voices were faint by any means.
As he went cautiously along, the sound of the voices came no nearer, but they did not grow less distinct. This puzzled Jim exceedingly.
"I'd give my hat to be able to locate this serenade," he remarked to himself; "it sounds most peculiar."
James went slowly along, feeling the wall as he went, and all at once his fingers came to a slight break in the smooth wood, and the voices became slightly clearer and Jim was positive that he heard the thrum, thrum of a guitar. He ran his fingers up and down near the minute break, until they touched a small wooden button. He hesitated a moment before pressing it, not knowing what might happen nor what might possibly be on the other side.
"Nothing venture, nothing have," he said, and standing to one side he pressed the button and the door came quietly back.
"Well-oiled piece of machinery that," thought Jim; "I wonder who uses this stage entrance anyhow."
Then there came distinctly and clear the voices of several men singing a Mexican song and Jim saw several steps leading to a lower level under a low-arched passageway. He also heard besides the singing the low voices of men speaking and the occasional moving of a chair. He was soon to solve this particular mystery.
Moving cautiously along he reached the end of the short passageway and there he saw that it opened on a balcony that ran across one end of a high vaulted room, embellished with a beautifully carved ceiling of oak. As the balcony was quite high up and shut in by big panels of wood about four feet in height, he could not see the floor below.
Jim dared not raise his head to see who were in the room, which was evidently intended originally for a banquet hall and not a den of thieves. However, he was not long in doubt as to what to do, for he slipped the poniard from its sheath, and began to cut a hole through the wood in front of him and it did not take him long to have a place large enough to see perfectly what was going on below. He took one long earnest look.
"Gosh," he muttered to himself, "what a chance, what a chance; if I only had my revolver with me, I'd corner that gang in short order." And so he would.
Now this is what he saw, by the light of a mammoth fireplace filled with great logs that sent a weird, but beautiful light glowing and then wavering in shadows across the high arched ceiling. A few feet back from the wide high fireplace with its roaring flame were four men playing cards. They sat around a table, and three in appearance were villainous cutthroats, probably Mexicans by their dark visages, swaggeringly armed with knives and revolvers, with gaudy handkerchiefs knotted at their throats.
The firelight showed the flash of their cruel eyes and teeth at some stroke of fortune in the play, and Jim, who was not unaccustomed to see and deal with dubious citizens, felt that right below him was the hardest bunch that ill fortune had ever brought across his path. He was not forgetting either the Apaches with whom he and his brothers had enjoyed more than one fracas in the great Southwest.
But what the observer regarded with greatest interest was a group of three well back in the shadow, and he needed none to tell him who that short, squat figure was. He held a guitar, and was accompanying his own songs while the other two joined in the refrain. It was his bete noir, the Mexican dwarf who had recently robbed him, and out-maneuvered him on two occasions at least.
Strange to say that if you did not see him, and only heard his voice you would be certain that he was a lithe, Spanish cavalier, of the "oh Juanita" type of lover, for his tone was neither guttural nor harsh but smooth and melodious, and to-night for some reason he was inclined to sentimental songs of the serenade kind, but this reason was soon to appear.
"Who gets the Senorita Manuel, the one who came in the carriage this evening, as though to a ball?" queried one of the players at the card table. The words were spoken at an interval between games.
Jim almost stood up in his sudden enlightenment and wrath but he bethought himself in time and with whitened knuckles he drove the poniard held in his hand deep into the wood of the floor. This, in a mild way served to express his feelings. At the question the dwarf swaggered into the full light of the fire.
"I, Manuel de Gorzaga, will have the senorita, my voice will charm her, and my money please her."
Jim could hardly restrain a scornful laugh at the audacity of the dwarf, but he noticed that though the others regarded him askance they did not ridicule him, but seemed to have a certain fear of his malignity, and his cunning craft. Jim saw that he was clean shaven now and that he moved his head back and forth in front of his hump, like an ugly hooded bird, and his shadow was distorted on the high vaulted ceiling into something horrible and of ill omen. To complete the picture, it is necessary to say that he was dressed in gorgeous fashion in a suit of slashed velvet, and a resplendent sash around his waist.
There was a marvelous celerity in his every movement, so that he was like nothing so much as a richly colored spider, that darts from shadow to pounce upon its victim. Jim vowed that he would not leave the castle that night until the Senorita da Cordova, if a prisoner, was freed from the power of this contemptible creature. But he was to find the adventure which he had planned more difficult than was expected and that was saying a good deal.
"How about the senorita's nice little nurse, Senor Manuel da Gorzaga?" questioned one of the card players, with a sneer. "Perchance that person may have something to say to your pretensions."
The dwarf regarded his questioner with a venomous look and then spat emphatically on the floor, but he gave no reply except by an expressive drawing of his fingers across his throat.
"The Duenna's throat is iron," replied the other speaker to this pantomime; "she guards the captain's treasures like the dragon the golden apples."
"I, too, am valuable to that old shark of the seas," replied the Mexican, in most uncomplimentary terms to his master captain, William Broome. "I know his many secrets, and it was I, Manuel, who got the treasure from that long-legged, white-headed gringo" (Jim grinned at this description of himself), "who would make one meal of the brave captain if it were not for me, who am too wise for his thick head."
"Good for you, Humpty Dumpty," said Jim, under his breath, "you won't have to hire anybody to blow your trumpet for you. Sorry I can't stay, old chap, to hear the rest of your interesting and eloquent speech."
Jim now had one purpose in mind when he gracefully withdrew, and closed the door behind him and stood in the upper hall once more and that was to find where in the castle the Senorita da Cordova was. James waited for a minute in the broad hall, not only to get accustomed to the darkness, but to make sure that there was no one coming, or waiting for him.
Our friend had not been taught by harsh experience to no purpose. Nor had he fought the crafty Indian, and failed to learn something of their strategy. So he closed the door as tenderly as a mother, who fears to waken her sleeping babe, and then stood as still as stone waiting, watching, listening. Well it was that he did so. What was that gray bundle across the hall and lying in front of the door opening into the library?
At first glance Jim thought that it might be the hound, but it was not that. It looked more like a shapeless bundle of old clothes. Then under the directness of his gaze the thing stirred, a head was slowly lifted, and like the gradual resurrection from the cerements of death a figure half rose, and a gaze from the gray hood that seemed to burn was fixed upon him.
Next the figure half raised, moved straight and steadily in his direction, noiselessly, but with terrible intentness, direct towards him. Jim did not move. What was the use? It was his purpose to avoid all disturbance or fracas, which would surely wreck his plan now for the rescue of the senorita. He would see what this creature meant and he merely moved his hands lightly, one to grasp, the other to defend a possible thrust at his heart or throat.
To say that he was cool and unmoved would not be true; his heart thumped and he could feel the blood beat in his ears, but he was not trembling or unmanned, though curious chills crept all over his body. This person had advanced now half the way toward him, moving with the same half bent posture, and the left hand gripping the gray cloth at the throat, forming a hood. Then the woman, within three feet of him, raised her face, and looked at him with the wildest eyes ever set in a human visage. They were shot with horror, terror and an insane desperation. By the half light from the end of the hall Jim could not tell whether she were young or old.
Her face seemed to be lighted by her terrible eyes, and from her robe one lean hand crept, half curved as though to claw. It seemed as if at any instant she might scream and clutch him and something must be done forthwith. Jim returned her gaze soberly, but not defiantly, and there was no fear in his eyes. For a moment she paused, a curious questioning showing in her glance.
"I wish to see and speak to a young girl who has been brought to this place," he said quietly. "I am her friend, and would do neither one of you any harm. You see many things and you believe me and know that I speak the truth."
That was a simple speech, but there was more wisdom in it than appears on the surface. It was spoken directly and was phrased to grip with confidence the woman's poor broken mind; and notice also, that there was nothing to unduly excite her by a show of sympathy or to arouse her by denouncing her oppressors, for she was no doubt another victim who had been held for a ransom that had not been forthcoming.
She made no direct reply to Jim, but only threw her head back and laughed noiselessly with wide opened mouth. Then leaving the spot she glided to the staircase and bent down listening intently. As if satisfied she returned in a moment and beckoned Jim to follow her, which he was only too willing to do.
She was a strange guide and might lead him to his destruction, but he was determined to follow her at all hazards for he must find the senorita and that quickly. So he kept only a short distance behind the gray crouching figure.
Going through the main hall they came to a fairly broad staircase, leading to the third floor, thence along a hall dimly lighted to a narrow winding stair, that brought the two of them to a round platform of stone with rooms on three sides. This place was badly lit by a tallow candle, held by a miner's holder, stuck into the wall.
The woman crouched in front of one of the doors, with a wicket in it, whence Jim heard a low voice repeating something over and over, and the sound of it thrilled him for he recognized it as the voice of the Senorita Cordova, praying softly for deliverance. It pierced through Jim's heart, the pity and the pathos of it, and for a moment his eyes were blinded with tears. The next moment he was himself again, as he well needs be. He pushed gently aside the grating covering the aperture in the door itself, so that he was able to see in. It did not require much of a slit for that purpose, and he was able to get a good look at the interior, which was like a cell, with low arched, white-washed ceiling.
It was not a forbidding room either, for at one end was a latticed window with diamond panes, and in the ivy that grew outside it you might imagine the little birds twittering in the summer time. The floor was covered with a heavy rug and a candelabra of a dozen candles gave a pleasant light. The room or cell was heated by coals glowing in an old-fashioned brazier.
Although there were two persons visible, what fastened Jim's eyes was the figure of the Senorita da Cordova. She was kneeling before a prie dieu near the casemented window, in evening dress such as she wore when she got into the carriage. She had supposed that she was going to be taken to her father, and instead had been brought to this desperate castle. Her dress of white was ornamented with lace, and there was a bracelet of odd antique design on her rounded arm that made Jim gasp.
He knew where she had got that. It was his present to her, one of the many treasures that he and the other Frontier Boys had found in that mysterious mountain in the interior of Mexico. Why did she wear it? But in regard to that interesting question he had no time to think at this juncture. She looked pale as she knelt there, but hers was a natural pallor and did not mean fear. The graceful figure with a rope of pearls twined in the dark hair was to remain in James Darlington's memory for many a year.
The other figure was that of a tall, gaunt woman, hard featured with reddish brown hair. Jim noted the powerful looking hands and arms and felt sure that she was not an antagonist to be regarded lightly. At that moment the woman rose suddenly from the chair in which she had been seated and Jim saw that she was nearly his equal in height.
"Is that you, you crazy fool?" she questioned in a harsh voice, coming to the wicket and shoving it back. Jim dodged down, hoping that she would unbolt the door but she did nothing of the kind.
"Oh, ho! you're here are you, walked into the cap'en's trap have you, young fellar? I'll tell you one thing, you'll never get out of this house, because nobody wants you enough to pay a ransom. Got that straight, Bub."
Jim had had all kinds of experiences, but this was the first time that a woman's tongue had begun to be sharpened on him and he did not relish it in the least. He felt small and insulted, so mad that he began to see things zig-zag way and was tempted to do something rash, and in fact he did call out.
"Never fear, Senorita, I will get you out of this place."
He saw her clasp her hands and turn towards the door when the sight of her was eclipsed by the bulk of her jailer.
"So it is you, Senor Jim, with the light head."
"It isn't red anyhow," he replied with humorous indignation.
"Ha, ha," she laughed, "you scored that time anyhow."
Jim took this opportunity to throw his weight against the door with all his strength; it sagged, but the bar held.
The woman was furious as she glared out at Jim.
"I could throttle you, you sassy, long legged cub," she yelled, "only I got orders from the cap'n to stay in this here room, and I obeys him."
She made a quick motion with her hand to a place near the jamb of the door.
"Run, Senor, for your life," cried the poor demented woman; "the Devil and his dogs are coming."
Jim saw that he must make his escape instantly or be caught helpless like a rat in a trap to be done to death. He fled with all his speed, and Jim was no slouch of a runner. Down the narrow stairway he sped, and along the hall to the second floor. The question was, could he reach the library where he had climbed in, before the gang in the banquet hall came rushing up the main staircase.
The chances were against his doing this for the pursuers had only half the distance to go and they would be certain to respond to the alarm with much promptness. The Mexican dwarf was notorious for the swiftness of his attack, so that it looked bad for our friend Jim. He must reach that room or what would happen?
BRIAN DE BOIS GUILBERT
There was just one thing that saved Jim at this juncture. It was an incident which he did not guess at the time and I am not sure that he became aware of it in later life, and yet there are reasons to surmise that he may have heard of it.
As has not been related, the big guardian of the senorita in the cell high up in the tower, had started to give the alarm to the gang in the banquet hall by pressing a button near the door. James Darlington had seen her make the move to ring, and his alarm had been added to by the cry of warning from the crazy woman. He had to run for his life as the reader well knows.
So much Jim was aware of but he did not see what had happened when the red headed woman started to give the alarm. The Senorita da Cordova was not a cowed and spiritless girl and in spite of the terror of her situation, when she saw the intention of her jailer she glided the length of the cell with remarkable swiftness and caught the arm of the woman. The senorita was not a delicate creature either, and in spite of her apparent pallor, she showed a lithe agility in struggling with this giant of a woman, who had the strength of two ordinary men and was probably nearly the equal of the redoubtable Jim himself.
After a struggle lasting some minutes, the girl was thrown with severe violence against the wall of the cell and lay there stunned and bleeding from a cut on the forehead, but her efforts had given Jim time to reach the library which he had to pass and bolt and lock the door to it, before ever the chase began. Meanwhile the unfortunate woman who had been of so much help to Jim had time to flee to a remote corner of the house, where she would be free from pursuit.
James had determined to make his escape the same way he had gotten in, join his comrade, the engineer, who was outside and together plan a new attack. Perhaps they could get the aid of the Federal authorities.
At that moment Jim's eye fell on the hollow figure in armor which he had dubbed Brian de Bois Guilbert, and he determined instantly to carry out the plan that had first occurred to him, which from its very wildness might spell success. At least try it he would; anything was better than leaving the young Spanish girl in the hands of this evil crew, especially as the Mexican dwarf had openly declared his intention of making love to her.