Hastily Jim lit the wax candles on the mantel, that sent their soft gleam through the long, beautiful room, and gave him sufficient light to work by. Now Jim was not only deft, but desperate. How he got into that suit of medieval armor, he could not tell. It would be doubtful if he could have done so in cold blood, but he was spurred on by the terror of the situation. It was just like a man pursued and in danger of immediate capture by his enemies, who comes to a chasm that in ordinary moments he would not think of attempting to cross, but he leaps it because he has to, or fall into the hands of those who pursue him.
As the renegades rushed through the wide hall, with roar of harsh voices, the big hound in the lead, Jim was nearly all saddled and bridled and ready for the fray. It was with a strange feeling of exultation and also of safety that James Darlington found himself thus accoutered and discovered that he could move with comparative ease in the glittering armor on which shone the lights of the candles from above the fireplace.
It was easy to imagine Jim, who was large enough in his own proper person, and now a figure of gigantic size, to be a hero of old Romance; who with three plumed helmets, unheralded and unknown enters the lists to rescue the oppressed and beautiful heroine from the hands of the ruthless destroyer.
Perhaps Jim was a hero, but I will give a considerable sum to the boy or girl who first finds in the many thrilling narratives of "The Frontier Boys," our friend James spoken of or referred to as "our hero." But to leave this realm of fancy and to come back to the practical world of our narrative.
Jim knew that the time allowed him was apt to be very short before he would be compelled to make his debut in his new character, as the man with the iron jaw, mailed fist and steel legs, so he gripped his heavy sword, which none but he could wield (see Walter Scott, who preceded the present writer by some years). I hope you will forgive this jesting, but Jim was a great hand to make fun in the very presence of danger, a trait peculiar to the American character, and so I may be pardoned for following in his footsteps, for I, too, am an American.
Jim advanced toward the door, and he was thoroughly pleased and encouraged to discover that he could move with comparative ease though not noiselessly of course. But what did a little noise inside the room amount to, when there came the roar of the pursuers outside, for they had returned upon Jim's trail, guided by the hound.
The crisis had now come. The huge beast knew that his prey was inside, and he rushed against the door with all of his maddened bulk, and his great bark boomed through the castle, and filled with fury the Mexican bandits who raged on the outside; then came the voice of their leader.
"Back, you fools," he cried; "away from that door."
They were quick to obey, and at that instant there came the sharp report of a pistol; the bullet splintered through the thick casement but it glanced from Jim's steel breastplate, but this attack aroused him to action. With a thrill and tremor of the nerves which he could not repress, he drew back the bolts and with a cry, the impulse of his humorous excitement, "Desdichado to the Rescue!" he flung the door wide open, and stepped with clanging stride through the smoke into the dimly lit hall.
To have seen that great steel-clad figure moving with sudden life would have struck terror to even the stoutest hearts, and shaken the steadiest nerves. But these superstitious Mexicans were driven almost out of their excitable minds by the sudden horror of this seeming apparition. Of one accord they fled, gibbering, towards the stairs, one falling in a faint from fright before he reached them. Even the dwarf who was not afraid of the Powers of Darkness themselves, retreated slowly, sullenly and suspiciously down the hall.
But there was one of all that gang who did not flee, and that was the valiant hound. He sprang full for Jim as the latter stepped from the room into the hall. Jim was not altogether unprepared for this, for he had reckoned that the hound would be the one to make him trouble. If it had not been for the protection of the armor which he wore it would have gone hard with the youth.
But his own strength with the added weight of his suit of mail enabled him to meet the fierce rush of the beast without losing his footing. It also saved his arm and shoulder from being torn by the grip of the animal's jaws. It only dented him as the expression goes. Then with a short arm thrust of his sword he put the hound out of business. Determined to follow up his advantage and make the rout thorough, he advanced to the head of the staircase.
The dwarf had just reached the foot of the stairs, and looking up he saw the giant figure in armor and with a snarl he took quick aim and fired, the bullet glancing from the helm of Jim's armor and making a long furrow in the plaster of the ceiling.
Jim had no idea of quietly standing there as a tin target for his enemy to fire at. There was, he noted, a small marble bust on a pedestal near the top of the staircase. This he seized in his iron grasp and hurled it at the elfish figure in the hall below. Now James was "quite some" thrower as they say in the state of Jersey. The dwarf was marvelously quick, too, but the white flash of stone came near getting him and as he dodged he slipped and fell and the bust busted in all directions, one fragment cutting his cheek, with its sharp impact.
"Look out, Jim! Look out quick!" so a friend would have cried but it was too late.
While the men had all fled in utter fear, a woman was coming quickly to retrieve their reverse. "Red Annie," as she was known, strong, strident and feared by everyone within the castle, was on the trail. She was not to be fooled for an instant by this figure in armor. Noiseless as a lioness she crept up behind Jim and as he half turned to find another weapon to his hand he saw her, but not soon enough. With a mighty shove she sent him toppling down the stairs. However, Jim was able to partially save himself by gripping at the balustrade.
There was but one way of escape now and that was by the front entrance. Jim regained his feet but by the time he reached the lower hall, the woman had rallied the brown and white renegades with taunts and fierce ridicule, and they came again into the attack.
"Take him alive," cried the dwarf; "we will have some sport with him before he dies."
"I won't die till my time comes," mumbled Jim; "as for the sport, I'll have that myself."
There were at least twelve of the cutthroats who swarmed into the hall, some of them reenforcements, men who had been sleeping in other parts of the castle, and who had been aroused by the racket. Among them was a huge fellow with a bristling red mustache, close cropped black hair, and sinister dark eyes, all surface and no depth.
"Jack, darlint," cried the woman, "hit that jinted piece of hardware a blow with a shillayleh, and show these Manuels and proud Castilians that it's a holler sham."
"I'll do it for the honor of the ould sod, Annie, me gurl," he cried to his wife, for such she was.
Jim was pretty thoroughly aroused by these taunts, and he did not wait for the onslaught of the gallant son of Hibernia, but plowed his way through the snarling Mexicans, who would have pulled him down, and with a quickness that took the big Irishman by surprise, smote him with a heavy swing upon the side of his fortunately thick head; that is, fortunate for him, and down he went full length, crushing two small, protesting "Manuels" in his fall. He was the victim of the iron hand, minus the velvet glove.
But now a trick was brought into play which Jim himself had used once or twice in the course of his adventurous career. While he was busily engaged with the matter in hand, he suddenly found his arms pinioned by a rawhide lasso, cast by the expert hand of Master Dwarf. In a minute he was utterly helpless, unable to move arms or legs, and then how the Mexicans came into the attack!
With Southern fury they struck at the iron Jim with feet and fist, and then they wrung their injured hands and nursed their bruised toes, until Jim could not help laughing, in spite of the seriousness of the situation; but he did not laugh long.
The ordeal began quickly for him, and he realized that there was no escape for him from the hands of his ruthless and revengeful enemies. It was impossible for John Berwick to help him; indeed, the engineer would be fortunate to escape himself. Besides him, there was absolutely no one within several thousand miles who could bring him help.
If only Jo and Tom and Juarez were near, the old frontier combination, he would not despair of being rescued; but Jim repressed quickly any thought of his brothers and friend, for the recollection would be sure to weaken him, and he needed all his fortitude at this point, when cruel Death and he stood face to face once more, and seemingly for the last time.
It was a dramatic scene, as well as one of terror, in the splendid banquet hall, where Jim awaited execution. The blaze was leaping upward in the great fireplace, and the ruddy spread of light showed the tall figure of James Darlington, bound hand and foot, with his back to the northern end of the banquet room. The armor had been torn off from him with bruising force. The side of his face was torn and bleeding, the work of Red Annie's husband when his opponent was helpless.
Jim had steeled himself for what must come, and he had to admit that he would just as soon be back in Colorado in the hands of the Indians as in the power of the present gang. At least as far as the dwarf was concerned, there was more of personal hatred than in the case of the red men. And where natural cruelty is urged on by a desire for revenge, then look out.
"We will try this game first," cried the dwarf, "and see how brave this white-headed gringo is."
The others laughed and made wagers on their skill, all except the Irishman, who glowered at the Mexicans and then at Jim. It was not a pastime he was expert in. The hunchback took a step forward with his dagger poised over his shoulder, and holding it by its sharp tip. Then it flashed red straight for Jim's eye, apparently, but it would have missed his head by a hair's breadth if he had stayed quiet.
But he was free to move his head and instinctively he dodged; this roused the Mexican to perfect fury, and he grabbed a poniard from the man next to him, and aimed for the body. There was murder in his every move, there was no mistaking that. It looked as if Jim's time had certainly come.
But what of John Berwick, the former chief engineer of the Sea Eagle? Why did he not make some effort to aid his friend, and superior officer, Captain Jim? Let us go back a ways, and we will find an answer to this query. As you remember, when Jim started to find his way into the castle, he left Berwick in a clump of bushes not far from the house.
In one way he was alone, and in another he was not, for there was the body of the unfortunate secret service man, who had lost his life in the gulch below, not far from the beach. But most people would have chosen to be alone rather than in such company.
The engineer watched Jim as he climbed up to the broad window and disappeared with a wave of his hand. For a time he listened, on edge for some outbreak, and expecting every minute to see Jim take a flying leap from some window, accompanied by a salute of fireworks and pistol flashes. Once or twice he was positive that he heard a cry or a sound of a struggle in the great silent house, but nothing came of it.
It was cold standing there, motionless. He did not want to attract possible attention by moving about, and a thought came to him upon which he acted. His silent companion had no use for apparel. He secured the heavy gray coat and put it on over his own. His hat he had lost, and substituted that of the officer.
An hour or more went by. He found himself growing very sleepy, and no wonder, if we recall what a strenuous twelve hours he had just gone through. Nor did he have the stimulus of interest that Jim had to keep him keyed up. He fought against this sense of overpowering drowsiness, that was like a heavy adversary that was slowly pressing him into unconsciousness.
It had him by the wrists tiring him, weighing on the pit of his stomach, numbing the back of his brain, making his limbs as heavy as ponderous lead. It seemed to the wearied engineer that there was nothing in this world to be desired but a good sound sleep; he fought against it desperately, but after a long struggle he suddenly succumbed; his head dropped, and he lay prone in the grass, apparently as lifeless, as the unfortunate a few feet distant.
When he awoke it was with utter bewilderment. Where was he, with grass and trees and shrubs all about him? That certainly was a pistol shot which had aroused him. Then he came to his senses, sprang quickly to his feet, and pushed his way through the copse until he got a clear view of the castle. There he saw faint gleams of light through the broad windows of the room, which Jim had entered.
In a moment he had heard enough to convince him that there was serious business going on in the castle, and that "the captain," as he sometimes called Jim, was in certain danger. Now, John Berwick did not have the natural headlong courage of Jim, but he was a man of great coolness and nerve, when the occasion demanded it. He resisted the impulse to rush boldly into the house, for he saw that it would be foolhardy, as he was unarmed, and it would only be making a bad matter worse.
He stood with his head slightly bent, gently whistling to himself; his hands in his pockets, as if nothing of importance was going on in the gloomy, looming castle a few feet away, but John Berwick was thinking, and his thinking, it chanced, was apt to be to some purpose. Then a curious smile came over his face, that was not exactly pleasant, and with fair reason.
The engineer had come to a decision, and hit upon a plan. He and the dead man were about of the same build, practically of the same height, and superficially they had a similarity of appearance, and he was dressed in his coat and hat. The latter he grasped firmly and pulled well down over his face. The coat and hat were the only conspicuous things about him.
Just now there was a sudden terrible clangor in the castle.
"Sounds like somebody was discharging the cook," he remarked with whimsical humor, "and that she was throwing the hardware around."
This tumult, as the reader well knows, was our esteemed friend, James, falling downstairs in his full suit of armor, which was sufficient to account for the racket. It did not take Berwick long after that to get ready, and you would have been certain that it was none other than the dead detective come to life, as he stooped hurriedly across the lawn. He did not try any roundabout way of making entrance into the castle, but ran directly to the massive front doors, hoping to find them unlocked, but in this he was doomed to disappointment.
It was no time to waste any precious moments on ceremony; he must act, and act immediately. There were on either side of the main door long panels of glass. John Berwick made use of the stout stick, his only weapon, which he had picked up from the midst of the copse, and broke the long panel glass into smithereens.
Under ordinary conditions the noise would have been sufficient to attract the attention of anyone in the banquet hall, in spite of the heavy doors and their equally heavy hangings of cloth of purple, but at this precise moment the parties therein were so intent on the tragedy that was about to be consummated there, that they would not have been diverted by even a much louder noise than that caused by the breaking of that slender panel of glass.
John Berwick was of slight and wiry figure, and was able to shove his way through, a feat that would have been impossible for Jim, even with the most determined intentions in the world. Within a half minute Berwick stood crouching in the hall, and then he crossed the space swiftly, through the open door, the purple curtains parted, and there advanced into the center of the banquet hall, the gray-clad figure seemingly of the dead detective.
The deadly dagger which the Mexican Dwarf poised to transfix his victim was never flung, but dropped with a metallic clatter from his palsied hand. Even Jim was dazed for a few seconds by this strange apparition, and then he could have given a yell of joy and of boundless relief. It was one of the few dramatic moments of his life, which had been filled with exciting incidents, which is an entirely different thing from being dramatic.
The first look at John Berwick, wearing the detective's coat and hat, the latter pulled well over his face, had appalled and paralyzed the gang of dastards, who were about to execute cold-blooded murder, and as he advanced upon them this fear was changed into frenzied panic. Trampling over one another at once they fled by way of a door at the end of the room, near where they were gathered. The supposed detective gave up the pursuit after they were utterly routed, and returned to where Jim stood bound.
"How did you ever think of it, old chap?" cried Jim, as soon as the rope that bound him had been cut by his friend.
"It chanced that I was prepared," replied Berwick. "I heard that horrible clatter in the house, and got in as quickly as I could."
"That clatter was Brian de Bois Guilbert tumbling downstairs," said Jim gleefully.
"Eh?" questioned Berwick, his eyes opening wide as he gazed at Jim in the dawning belief that the experience he had gone through had unsettled his mind.
"Oh, I'm not crazy, Chief," exclaimed Jim. "I'll explain later; now for getting the senorita out of the hands of these villains."
"She is here? Then I'm ready," rejoined Berwick, "but let's get a weapon or two before we start. We may need them."
Jim had now regained the use of his stiffened muscles, and together the two comrades went to the end of the long room.
"This is yours, Jim," he said, as he stooped and picked up the weapon which the Mexican had dropped.
"Sure it is," replied James. "My friend, Manuel, was about to hand it to me."
"It's poisoned, look out for it," said the engineer, as he handed the blade to him gingerly.
"Here's a revolver," cried Jim, "that one of the gents dropped in his hurry. Shy only one cartridge, too," he concluded, after a hasty examination.
Thus equipped, they started on their quest, and though very inadequately armed they both felt heartened by the presence of the other. It is a desolate business, facing danger alone with no one to back you up, or with whom you can take counsel. True comradeship is one of the best things in the world.
The two friends move quickly across the floor, but, by comparison with the danger that is approaching, they seem merely to crawl. You long to shout a warning to them, do anything to urge them on. They reach the door of the banquet hall, and then they are quick to act, and with good reason.
"What durned son of thunder broke that thar glass?" There was no doubt whose voice that was. It belonged to the redoubtable Captain Broome, and to no other. It was his stopping to look at the broken glass that gave the two comrades their chance.
"Busted in'ard," he commented shrewdly, and then his gray, red-rimmed eye, with its gleam of steel, caught sight of Jim and the engineer, as they came through the door of the banquet hall. With a roar of wrath he was inside, followed by six of his sailors; then his humor changed as he saw Jim looking down from the head of the stairs.
"Very good of you, Mr. Darlington, to visit me in my humble home; sorry I wasn't here to welcome you," he remarked suavely.
"Oh, I've made myself quite at home, Captain," replied Jim. "Nice place here; wouldn't you like to trade it for my fine sea-going yacht in the harbor?"
The captain grew red in the face at this piece of persiflage, and under the stress of excitement he swallowed his quid of tobacco and likewise his wrath, at Jim's coolness.
"Waal, son, that's extra kind of you, ain't it, boys?" and he looked over the hard beaten crew at his back.
A loud guffaw of derision greeted this remark, and it was Jim's turn to feel like swallowing something, only it was not a quid of tobacco, for that was a foreign substance he never indulged in, but he made another bold move by way of reply.
"Well, Captain, as you won't consider a dicker with me, I've got a friend with me who represents the United States government. Perhaps he will buy your chalet here by the sea."
John Berwick, who had been standing in the shadow back of Jim, gave a grunt of surprise at the audacity of this move, but he was game, and stepped quietly into the limelight. Captain Broome stood for a moment in open-jawed surprise, and then he dropped his byplay of grim politeness with startling suddenness. A shot rang out, and a puff of smoke drifted across the hall. The bullet zipped close to John Berwick's head.
"Don't fire yet," warned Jim; "come quick."
He led the way swiftly down the hall, determined to make one last effort to save the senorita, though it would have been easy enough for him to have saved himself and his comrade by dashing into the library, barring the door, and climbing down by the way which he had come up, but to Jim's credit, be it said, the thought of such escape never crossed his mind.
As they ran, Jim had the presence of mind to swerve for a second and grab the hound which he had killed a short time before and drag it out so that it lay crossways of the hall; then on they dashed, while the lumbering sailors, better for climbing masts than for sprinting, came awkwardly on their trail.
The pursuers had only started on the level of the hall when a volley of six shots flashed in sudden flame in the direction in which Jim and his friend were running. Two came unpleasantly near, but this only added a zest to the race, and Jim laughed with a snort of disdain.
"You fellows shoot like Chinamen," he yelled in derision, which remark reached the ears of Captain Broome and his gang with forcible distinctness. It served to blind them with fury, and the next moment the captain fell forward over the dead hound, and three of his gallant sailors sprawled over him, for which piece of awkwardness they were berated and kicked and cuffed by their irate employer.
"What dumb fool left that hound there!" he yelled when he saw the obstruction by the light of a full lantern that one of his men lit. "He's been pizened."
"Cut in the neck, Cap'n, that's what killed the beastie."
It was only too true, as the old pirate saw, and he went into a fit of rage that left him inarticulate; but from the way he shook both gnarled fists in the direction in which Jim had fled, it was clear that he knew who was responsible for the death of his hound, and who had placed it where it was. With a sudden sense of superstition his memory went back to the fate of his great gorilla of the cavern that once had guarded his treasure in a cave in one of the islands off the coast of California. It was this same big, humorous, blond-headed boy, who had several times outwitted and beaten him, though not always, for the hard-bitten old salt horse had now gotten his yacht back from Jim's grip, and, through one of his agents, had a few days ago relieved him of his treasure. Now, in spite of daring and long-headedness, the captain seemed likely to defeat the youth's present intention of freeing the Senorita da Cordova from his cold, calculating and cruel grip.
At least it was not certain that James Darlington was to win her release; however, he had before fought against odds quite as desperate and won. We shall see. However, there was no question as to the bitter chagrin of Captain Bill Broome as he took up the broken pursuit.
IN THE CELL
James did not stop to gloat over the momentary holdup of his enemy, but followed by his comrade, he sped around the turn of the hall, then up to the second story to the narrow winding stairway, winding between stone walls, towards the cell where the senorita was under guard of the tall, red-headed Amazon.
As he reached the landing a bitter surprise awaited him. The door of the room was wide open. Not a soul was there. The bird had flown. Instantly Jim turned and started to descend the stone stairs. What his intentions were it would be difficult to say. It would have been a long and hard task to have found out in which room, out of the many, the senorita was now held prisoner, even if he had had leisure to look, but under the circumstances with enemies on all sides it was impossible.
Already the captain and his men were near the foot of the winding stair, and from the other direction came some of the panic-stricken Mexicans, who had heard the voice of Captain Broome ringing through the house.
It doubtless gave them renewed courage to find that he was on deck; besides, they would have been afraid to have him discover them lurking in fear about the premises, and then, too, they had motives of their own for joining in the chase now that reenforcements had arrived.
"Back up, Jim," cried John Berwick; "the dogs have got us cornered."
"Hold 'em off," exclaimed Jim; "take one shot; save the rest."
He leaped back to see what way of escape there might be without retreating into the cul de sac of the cell. He caught a projection in the stone above the landing in an effort to reach the glass skylight. At that moment there came a quick shot below him, and the report roared and reechoed in the winding stairway. There was a yelp like that of a wounded animal, and one of the Mexicans fell backward down the stairs, not mortally wounded, as he thought he was.
For a moment the mob was held back, and then Captain Broome himself took the lead; he contributed the force and fury of the charge, and the Mexicans the loud yells and exclamations of burning wrath.
"This is the only way out, Jim," cried Berwick, making for the empty cell. "No time to waste climbing up stone walls."
Jim saw the force of this; he leaped down to the landing, and as the leaders of the charge came surging around the curve in the stone stairway, he and Berwick rushed into the cell, slammed and barred the door, as the enemy came against it with a dull thud.
There was no chance to make a barricade, as there was scarcely any furniture in the cell. Nothing would have pleased Jim better than that means of defense. There were just two things to do, either surrender or to try the window.
Jim would never think of the first; death was better than that. It was only a question of a few minutes before the door would be down and their capture or death certain. Nothing needed to be said. Jim put out the dim lamp as Berwick reached the leaded casement window.
In a moment they were out on a narrow balcony of iron, but green with ivy and a rambler rose, that hung and nodded near the casement. The dim light of morning was seeping through the heavy folds of fog, and spreading in steel-like patches over the dark-hued Pacific.
Even in this moment of danger they were glad to breathe in the fresh air. If only the fog was thicker it might be of help to them; if they had only looked landward their hearts would have been lighter, for there in huge rolls of gray the fog was moving, thick, impenetrable, over the ground, and in a short time, probably not over a minute, the castle and the whole coast would be enveloped.
But the two had to do something immediately, and could not stand there admiring the scenery. Above them rose the high peak over the window, and higher yet the hip of the roof. A glance was sufficient to show Jim that they did not want to get up any higher in the world than they were. Below them was the ridge of another roof, about a distance of a dozen feet; a dizzy drop, but they had to do it; there was no other way.
"I'll go first," determined Jim, "and then you follow."
At that instant, a red glow shone through the thick round glass of the casement, and the door fell with a crash. Jim climbed out, and holding to the lower edge of the balcony, without the slightest hesitation, dropped. His feet struck on the slant, and his hands gripped the ridge and he pulled himself up. The engineer was already dangling in the air, holding on to the edge.
"Now," cried Jim.
A moment after the casement had burst out, the engineer let go, Jim steadied him as he struck, and exerting all his strength barely kept the two of them from sliding down and out. The fog was already upon them with its thick enveloping whiteness, and they could not see more than two feet in either direction. It was indeed a case where fortune appeared to favor the brave.
"They're down there all right," cried the captain in his harsh voice; "we've got 'em where they can't get away. Don't shoot, lads, we'll take 'em alive."
A roar of approval met this declaration.
"Give me a lasso, Manuel, and hurry, or I'll take the end of it to you," roared the captain.
Jim put his hand on his comrade's shoulder and whispered:
"I want that lasso," and he edged along until he was directly underneath the balcony, then he rose slowly to his feet, which, in his wet stockings, did not slip. Manuel, indeed, had hurried, for no sooner had Jim risen to the height of his precarious position than he saw the rope dangling downward like a snake. He let it alone until he believed that it was paid out to the full.
Then he gripped it with both of his powerful hands, and gave it a yank, as though he were ringing out the old year. It pulled the sailor who was paying the rope out bodily out of the balcony, and only the agility and strength of the captain kept him from falling into the hands or upon the head of the enemy below, but in the struggle he let go of the rope.
Jim, with his treasure firmly in hand, now moved rapidly along the ridge of the roof to a chimney, paying no attention to the uproar on the balcony above, nor to the shots that, with a dimmed report, tore harmlessly through the gray garment of the fog. It did not take them long to tie the rope around the chimney and then Berwick slid down past several windows and with a drop of ten feet was on the ground once more. In a moment Jim was standing by him. His first act was to seek out and put on his shoes.
"Over the fence now, Captain?"
"No," replied Jim, "we won't give up the fight till we're beaten."
"Better get, while we have the chance," protested the engineer earnestly.
"Come quick; I have a scheme," announced Jim. "We won't run yet."
"No faster than molasses in January," said the engineer irritably.
"Take it easy, John," said Jim soothingly, with a pat on the shoulder; "we'll come out all right, my boy."
It was as though Jim were the older of the two, but it was the quality of leadership in him that made him hearten his comrade. Berwick responded, his good nature instantly restored.
"Go it, Cap. I'll see you through this if it takes my head and both feet."
"Thank you, John," replied Jim, gripping the other's hand. "It won't be as bad as that, I hope."
Then they started directly for the fence, to the complete surprise of the engineer, for Jim had declared against that route most emphatically; but Berwick made no protest, for, as James had said that he had a scheme, he knew it would soon develop. He noticed that his leader made no effort to disguise his footprints as they ran, and so it was not a shock to him, when they reached the fence, to see that Jim made no attempt to scale it. He stopped a moment to listen for any sign of pursuit.
IN THE MOW
"All quiet along the Potomac," remarked Jim, as no disturbance was heard from the direction of the house.
"Not a sound was heard, not a funeral note," added the engineer, with his usual whimsical humor.
"I bet that there will be a few funeral notes for that fellow who let go the rope," put in Jim.
"Not to speak of what would happen to us if old Broome should get his hand on we 'uns," remarked the engineer casually.
"He's just mad enough to chaw iron," grinned Jim. "Well, now, here's for a little acrobatics."
Jim leaped up to the stone and cement parapet in which the iron fence was set, taking care to leave a few mud traces on the cement; then he went along for some little distance from iron bar to iron bar, and when he rested he did not do so on the wall, so that all trace of their trail was practically lost, even to the nose of a bloodhound. John Berwick followed him with greater agility than Jim showed, for he was much lighter, and very wiry, so that it was easy work for him compared with the heavier Jim.
Berwick did not guess what their destination might be, though he had some idea that Jim's scheme was to get down to the beach, but how this was to be done without getting outside of the grounds he could not figure. Then close by he saw the faint outline of a building through the fog, and he thought for the moment that they had come back to the house; however, he recognized it as the stable. This building was a rustic affair, built with logs that still had the bark on, and had originally cost much more than a stone or brick structure would.
"Here we are," said Jim in a low voice; "now look out for the hound."
"I don't believe that he is here now," said Berwick.
This proved to be the case, and they were able to slip into the stable without anyone being the wiser. It seemed like a refuge to the two comrades after the hazards that they had run during the past few hours. And even Jim was fagged and worn, and now that there was time for reaction his face showed it. There were deep cuts of fatigue in his cheeks and his eyes looked haggard. They also burned, and his head was full of a sort of vacant daze, from sleeplessness.
"I don't know, John, whether I'm hungrier or sleepier, but if I had to choose I think that I would select a nap."
"You have had it a lot harder than I have, old chap," said the engineer; "take a lay-off and get some sleep."
"I believe I will," agreed Jim; "I don't imagine that we will be disturbed for some time at least."
There was plenty of hay in the warm, dusky mow, and a cozy, safe place to rest in.
"I tell you what, Chief," said Jim, "let's both take a sleep, and then we will be fresh for what may happen next."
"It wouldn't take much urging," replied the engineer; "I'm half dead for sleep myself, but we had better make the doors secure first, in case they should look for us here."
"No," rejoined Jim, "leave everything open; if they came to the stable and found it locked on the inside, they would know, for sure, that we were in here."
"But suppose some of the gang come in here while we are asleep, they would be certain sure to hear one or both of us snoring."
"That's right enough," agreed Jim, "but I tell you what we can do, we'll crawl down under the hay, get close to the wall, and our loudest snores would be smothered."
"I guess you're right," agreed Berwick. "So lead on and I will follow."
"This reminds me of when I was a boy," declared Jim; "when we used to tunnel in the hay to hide in the old barn on the back lot."
"When you were a boy," exclaimed Berwick, in good-natured raillery. "How old do you consider yourself now, I should like to know?"
"Oh, I've lived in heartbeats, not in years," said Jim; "that makes me about a hundred years old."
"It strikes me that it takes a good deal to make your heart beat faster than usual," remarked the engineer; "you are a cool hand if there ever was one." This was a sincere tribute.
Then the two comrades began to work back under and through the hay, keeping close to the south wall, so that the hay showed no sign of having been disturbed, and in a short time they had burrowed their way clear through, until they reached the back wall. How comfortable and cozy it was in the warm, dry hay! Jim stretched his weary length out with a sigh of relief.
"Ah, John, isn't this great? After being through what we have," exclaimed Jim.
"It is fine," agreed Berwick, "to get into a safe, warm place like this when you have been in constant danger, as we have, and cold and wet besides. Here goes for a good sleep."
And the word was hardly out of his lips when he was sound asleep. Jim looked at his watch by means of a crack of light that came in between the logs, and saw that it was twenty minutes after six. And then, lulled by the sound of the waves at the base of the cliffs, he too sank into a deep, dreamless sleep.
He never thought of sleeping beyond a couple of hours, but he had not counted on the effect of his extreme fatigue, and the sudden cessation of the constant strain the two had been under for nearly eighteen hours. So hour after hour went by and still they slept in the cozy and soft dryness of the hay, that has no equal as a bed for the truly weary.
It was after two in the afternoon that something happened that roused them; otherwise they might have slept until night, and indeed it was almost as dusk as night, for the fog which had lifted in the morning closed in thicker than ever, so that in the homes and offices of the city the gas lamps and jets were burning.
Jim awoke with a start, utterly and absolutely bewildered. Where he was he could not guess; his mind was a confused daze of fragments of events that had happened during the night of adventure and excitement. Then he came to himself and remembered how they came in this strange place. His hand reached out and touched the foot of his sleeping comrade. But what had roused him? There had been something; of that he was certain. So he kept perfectly still, listening with the utmost intentness; then he started slightly, for there was repeated the noise that had roused him from his sleep. It was a low, terrible croon, like "o-o-h—o-o-h," repeated and repeated, and every once in a while its monotone was broken by a sharp shriek.
Rested though he was, and not liable to nervous tremors, Jim felt his flesh creep at the uncanny sound. It came, as far as he could judge, from the open space in the mow not far from the ladder that led up into the loft. But what it was he could not guess, nor its object in coming to this particular spot. One thing was probable, that it had nothing to do with them, and was not indicative of someone on their trail, but it was no pleasant companion to have in that dusky loft.
He wished that John Berwick might wake, but he did not want to disturb his much-needed rest until necessary. At that moment there came that horrid shriek, and, as if in reply to it, the engineer struggled up with a loud yell. Jim had to shake him vigorously to bring him out of his very natural nightmare. The sound outside had suddenly stopped, and Jim heard a rustling, creeping noise, and then all was silence.
"What in the deuce was that?" whispered Berwick.
Jim made no reply, only put his hand on his friend's shoulder. He could imagine this object rising up and peering through the dusk, trying to make out what that other noise might be, then evidently not much worried about it. After a short interval, it began its peculiar croon again.
"I don't know what it is, John," replied Jim to his friend's repeated question; "it has been going on some time before you waked. You must have heard it in your sleep, and that is what gave you that nightmare."
"It must have been that," remarked the engineer, "because it could not have been anything that I have eaten." There was no doubt about the humor of this. They were able to talk together in low tones, for this object outside seemed to be more concerned with its own troubles than anything else.
"How long have we slept?" queried Berwick.
"Bless me if I know," replied Jim, "and it is so dark in here now that I can't make out the time."
"Well, I reckon that it is high time to get up, anyhow," remarked Berwick.
"It is more a question of getting out than of getting up," remarked James, with his usual quaint humor.
But at this point Berwick put a hand of caution on Jim's shoulder, for he was sure that there was something on hand.
LOOK DOWN AND NOT UP
THE engineer was entirely right. There was somebody knocking at the gate, as they are wont to say in romantic novels, but in this particular case it was the barn doors where the noise was heard. They were rolled back and then came the sound of loud voices, or, to be accurate, they were rather shrill.
"That's the Mexicans," declared Berwick; "they are on our trail."
"We will make them get off," remarked Jim grimly.
"Better throw them off," said the engineer wisely.
"Gosh ding, I don't see how we are going to get out of here now if they decide to make a search of the premises," remarked Jim; "we are in for it."
John Berwick was on the point of saying something about "I told you so," but he thought better of it, for you remember that it had been his idea to fasten the stable when they first came in. "I guess the only thing for us to do is to make a rush for it when they discover us," said Jim, "and trust to our luck which seems uncommon bad of late."
"Due to turn," said Berwick; "it's run against us long enough."
The men's voices below had suddenly ceased, and then there were signs of a vigorous search on the lower floor. It was only a question of a little time when the search would reach the hay loft, where our two friends were in hiding, and then—
"I'm going to crawl around and see if I can't find some way of getting out of this trap," declared Jim.
"All right, I'll stay here and guard our common fireside," replied the engineer with his queer twist of humor.
"Speaking of firesides," remarked Jim; "if they would only set fire to this place they would surely get us."
"It would be a case of roast pig, as Charles Lamb says," put in John Berwick.
"The two would go well together, was he a sheep or a mutton," said Jim coarsely, for be it known James was not much of an authority on English literature, the only classics with which he was fully acquainted being, "The Frontier Boys in Every Part of the World," which, with Shakespeare, forms a complete library.
"I fear you are nothing but a Bravo, James," remarked his friend.
"What's that?" Jim inquired. "Some other time will do just as well," he declared, "I am going scouting."
Suiting the action to the word, he started to crawl along the wall, and it did not take him long to get free of the hay, and raising his head, he saw something that made him draw down hurriedly, and take the trail back to where his comrade was waiting.
"What luck?" asked Berwick.
"Not a place where a rat could crawl out," remarked Jim, "but you just wait. I think there is something going to happen."
There did, but it was not exactly what was expected. It was evident that the search below was over, and after a brief parley, heavy feet could be heard coming up the ladder. At the moment that the leader's head appeared through the opening, a gray and ghostly figure rose with its weird, shrill cry of rage that startled the two comrades safely hidden in the hay.
The effect upon the intruders can be easily guessed. These superstitious Mexicans had known vaguely of a woman haunting this castle by the sea. Sometimes they had seen a gray, creeping figure at the end of the hall or heard a piercing cry ring out at midnight, and now this creature was about to spring upon them and curse them to the bottomless pit. There was a cry of fright, and in leaping back, the man near the top of the ladder knocked over the one below, and he in turn the next, so that it was like when a ball hits the King Pin and the others are sent sprawling.
The searching party fled in panic and dismay out of the barn, and nothing could have persuaded them to have set foot in those haunted walls again, no, not even the threats of the redoubtable Captain William Broome himself. What the outcome would have been had the captain been on hand, it is difficult to say, for it was commonly supposed that he was in fear of nothing.
"Well, what did I tell you, Jack?" questioned Jim smiling grimly. "There was something on hand sure enough."
"What under the canopy was that thing doing?" exclaimed John Berwick. "It gave me the creeps, and that is a sensation that does not bother me very much these days."
"That was the story of a haunted house," replied Jim, "but it is safe enough now since our friends, the enemy, have fled. Let us go out and see for ourselves if you aren't too timid."
"Anybody who survives the excitement of following your fortunes for a few weeks cannot be very timid," replied Berwick candidly.
Jim grinned, but made no reply, and in a few moments they emerged from the hay into the dusk of the loft. For a few seconds they made out nothing, and then from the deeper shadow a dim figure took shape, and advanced towards them. Jim was the nearest to her, and Berwick was very well pleased that this was so. Jim showed no uneasiness.
"Thank you for driving them away," he said quietly, peering down at the strange face that looked up at him from its hooded gray, and then she laughed at him with insane mirth. It would have done severe damage to less hardy nerves than those which our "hero" possessed. Jim regarded her with unwavering kindness, which seemed to reach through the gray cloud of her unhappy condition, much as the clear sun penetrates the mist.
"The old devil has gone," she volunteered.
"Ah, the captain," said Jim to Berwick quietly.
"She could mean no other," agreed his friend. "Perhaps we had better follow his example."
"And the young lady?" questioned Jim.
There was a nod of the head, and even while they were speaking, the woman had faded back into the shadows. They did not disturb her, for it would be to no purpose.
"How had we better get out of here, that is the question," continued Berwick.
"I thought we might go out the back way," remarked Jim.
"How, jump?" inquired Berwick, who remembered the cliff, one hundred feet sheer descent, that bounded the precincts of the castle, except that shut in by the iron fence.
"It won't be hard," said Jim, "if we can find a rope around here, and I think we can."
"If we do, we will keep enough to hang the captain with," said Berwick grimly.
"There's a souvenir hanging from the chimney," said Jim with a grin.
"Better leave that for Santa Claus," remarked the engineer thoughtfully.
"Santa Claus doesn't come to California," replied James; "they don't have Christmas weather here."
"Get lost in the fog, that's a fact," remarked Berwick.
"Come," cried Jim, "let us find some rope."
Down the stairs they went, and it did not take them long to discover a tar-hued rope coiled in one of the empty feed bins.
"Here's our treasure," said Berwick; "it belongs to the old sea dog evidently. I suppose you want me to hold it, while you climb gracefully down."
"Hardly," mocked Jim. "I'd land so suddenly that it would drive my heels into my head. Here's a sliding window at the back here. Let's see how it looks below."
At the word, Jim pushed back the window and poking his head out took a good long look.
"Overhangs the water," exclaimed Jim as he pulled back.
"Let me have a peek," said the engineer, and looking down he saw the waves rushing in against the black rock of the cliff a hundred feet or more beneath. When the water withdrew there was a wet stretch of sandy cove, and then the waves came in with a foaming rush.
"It's pretty near high now," said Berwick, as he pulled his head in.
"I don't think it would be much of a trick to get around that projection of the cliff to the beach," remarked Jim.
"Maybe," replied Berwick noncommittally, with a slight shrug of his shoulders.
"You can swim like a fish," put in Jim who had noted the shrug of his comrade's shoulders.
"But I was thinking of you, my poor friend," replied the engineer. "What would become of you if the hungry ocean should seize upon you with its white and foaming teeth?"
"Oh, I'd wade out," remarked Jim nonchalantly.
"Humph," grunted Berwick; "by the way, Jim, I think I can find something of real interest here."
He got down on his knees and began very carefully to brush away with his hands the debris on the floor.
"You ain't lost that diamond ring I gave you?" questioned Jim in mock anxiety.
He, too, got down on the floor and began to dust for himself.
"I've found it," cried Berwick; "just get your hulk off this door."
Jim obeyed promptly, exclaiming, "Hully Gee, it's a trap!"
"What would you expect?" replied the engineer. "The captain could use this nicely in his line of trade I'm thinking."
"That is where that poor fellow would have been sent, whom we found in the gulch," exclaimed Jim.
"Certain thing," agreed his friend.
"I've got an idea," said Jim, lying flat on the floor. He stuck his head through the trap door while his friend held him solicitously by his legs so he could not do the sudden disappearance act.
"I can fix it," declared Jim as he pulled his head back; "just let me have the end of that rope."
The engineer did as requested, and Jim slipped the rope's end around one of the log joists and tied it securely.
"It will be a good thing to have this fastened here, in case we should have to come back," remarked Jim.
"Which I hope we won't until we get something to eat," said Berwick, who was not so young and enthusiastic as to find sufficient food in an adventure as Jim did.
"Might fish through here," remarked Jim.
"Yes, with a bent pin," replied the engineer caustically, "as far as getting anything to eat."
Jim laughed gleefully.
"Well, I'm off, or down rather," he said, his face growing sober. "You're next, Chief."
A SQUARE MEAL
However, before Jim began his descent, he cut off some of the rope.
"That might come in handy, you know," he said.
Then without any more adieu he let himself down, caught the edge of the trap, then dropped, seizing the rope and thus hand over hand until he was within a few feet of the water, then watching his chance as a wave receded, he dropped onto the sand and at top speed made around the projecting cliff. It extended, however, farther than he had thought, and the returning water caught him and it was only by his exerting himself to the utmost that he was able to grip a narrow outcrop of the rock from the face of the cliff. Instantly he thought of his comrade, who was much lighter than himself, and though he could swim it would not help him much against the fierce rush of the water. A little above him there was quite a wide ledge. This he gained as quickly as he could. Meanwhile John Berwick had let himself through the trap door, closing it down, and began his descent of the rope.
"Look out, John!" came Jim's voice from an unexpected quarter; "it's dangerous around that curve. I'll fling you a rope if you don't make it."
"Aye, aye, sir," cried the engineer; "here goes."
Then he dropped on the skirt of the retreating waves and dashed around the promontory, but the water coming back caught him. However, he got further than Jim because he was even quicker and more active. Nevertheless, the charging water clutched him all the more fiercely because of the nearness of his escape, and it took him up towards the beach side of the cliff.
"Catch it," yelled Jim, flinging him the rope.
But to his surprise and dismay, the engineer made no effort to seize the rope. Perhaps, thought Jim, he was already overcome, but this was not the case. Berwick, who was an excellent swimmer, had a plan of his own, for he was not bewildered or frightened and he had noted one or two things even as the wave caught him. He would not catch the rope flung to him because of the chance of dragging Jim off his perch in spite of the latter's great strength, and then, too, he was liable to be hurled against the cliff and be badly injured, so he let the wave carry him back, exerting himself so as to be brought nearer the beach on the return. Being a splendid swimmer, as has been said, he made it with a few yards to spare between the edge of the cliff and the sand. Jim drew a big sigh of relief when he saw his friend safe and prepared to get out of his own difficulty. He was able by careful climbing to edge and work his way down until at last he was within a twelve-foot leap of the beach. This he did with ease, lighting gently in the soft sand.
"Why, John, you look damp," he said as his friend joined him. "Been in swimming?"
"I always like to take a salt bath before eating," replied his friend; "gives you a relish for your dinner, you know."
"By Jove, if you are going to get any more relish for your meal, I will be hanged if I am going to pay for it," said Jim with a laugh.
"Come on," said Berwick, paying no attention to Jim's persiflage.
Away they trudged across the sandy beach towards the funny little restaurant of two cars where they had eaten the night before. Whatever surprise the stout German may have felt at seeing them altogether soaked and disguisedly dirty, and likewise alive, he showed none; he was strictly business.
"Vell, gentlemans, and vat vill you haf this time?" he inquired.
"Everything you've got," said Berwick shortly.
"A salad and after dinner coffee for my friend," put in Jim, "and I will take"—and here Jim enumerated a bill of fare that would have done credit to two men.
"The same for me," said the engineer, imperturbably, when James had finished his little spiel.
"I denk you gentlemens are hungry," said Herr Scheff, as he saw a chance to make a big profit.
"Mein Gottness!" it was the voice of Frau Scheff, "mein kindlins, you are drowned, poor tings, come, fix you fine and gute. You go ahead and cook dem blenty," she commanded her husband as she saw a frown on his forehead.
He knew that tone of voice and obeyed. The two comrades followed her into the cozy bedroom.
"I vill haf to give you mein Herr's clothes, it's all I haf," and she smiled broadly.
"Thank you, Frau Scheff," replied Jim; "while ours are getting dry it will give us more room to eat."
"Aye, dot is a true wort," and she laughed with a jolly, shaking heartiness.
It was comical beyond words when they made the change in clothing, while Frau Scheff had gone to the front to help her husband to prepare the meal for the two guests. The engineer, who was short, was almost lost in the voluminous trousers of mein host, and could have easily tied them around his neck, while another pair came to half mast on the long-legged Jim, and were much too large so that they flapped like a sail.
"Talk about dressing for dinner, John, you ought certainly to be pleased," said Jim with a grin.
"No time for humor," declared the engineer; "I am too weak to laugh."
At this saying, he tripped in his newly acquired garments and fell full length, and Jim over him. They were both so exhausted from laughing they could scarcely get up. Jim was the first to arise and he helped up the other "end man," for that was the character the two suggested to each other. When they got in the quaint restaurant car, the proprietor accepted their appearance with professional gravity, only growling under his breath, "It's a wonder Lena didn't let them have mein best suit."
What a repast the two comrades found on the little round table in the corner, covered with a snowy cloth! Two big thick tender steaks well garnished with potato salad, the handiwork of Frau Lena Scheff, creamed potatoes, huge cups of delicious coffee and a grand finale of broad, sugar-frosted, German pancakes.
By the time this feast was finished their own garments were thoroughly dry, and as lightning change artists they appeared in their own clothes, renewed in body as well as in appearance.
"We have fed and slept," said Berwick, "and ought to be ready for the next move."
"Herr Scheff," questioned Jim, "do you happen to know where we can get a good rowboat?"
This gave to his comrade some indication of what the next move would be.
"Yah! Yah! mein freund," replied the German, who felt as gracious as it was possible for him to feel. "You go down the beach haf a mile and you find a fisherman and him got two very nice boats."
Thanking their German acquaintance, they spoke a hearty good-by to Frau Scheff who bade them a cheerful and affectionate farewell, making them promise to come to the restaurant when they needed food, clothing or shelter. The two comrades started down the beach, continuing until they came to a sheltered cove where, in a small, ship-shape hut, they found a weazened old fisherman who regarded them with taciturn scrutiny when they told him what they wanted.
"For a couple of days you want my boat? All right, I charge you five dollars."
Jim readily agreed to this.
"We haven't got much sense," exclaimed the engineer suddenly. "If we are going on a cruise we ought to have some provisions." Jim hit his skull a sound rap.
"Dunkerhead," he exclaimed. "I tell you, John, when we select the boat we will row up to Frau Scheff's and lay in a supply. That must have been my original plan, but I forgot it," concluded Jim brazenly.
Berwick threw back his head and laughed heartily.
"There is no getting away from it, Jim, you have a good opinion of yourself."
This gave Jim a certain shock as the expression of his face showed.
"I was only joshing," he said, and there was a slight sense of hurt in his tones that Berwick was quick to recognize.
"That's all right, old chap," he said, "your head is level."
This straightened out, they went and took a look at the old sailor's two boats in the cove. One was painted white with a red stripe, and the other was as black as a Venetian Gondola.
"That's a beauty," exclaimed Jim enthusiastically, looking at the lines of her, and he pointed to the black boat.
"She oughter be, I built her myself," said the old sailor, "and I know somethin' about boats, too."
"Got speed?" ejaculated Jim.
"Enough to burn a streak across this bay, boy."
Jim laughed good-naturedly, and the old sailor was evidently pleased with his appreciation.
The bargain completed, the two comrades were about to board the craft when the old sailor of the cove interposed.
"I reckon you ain't in any sort of a hurry. If you start across the bay now before it gets plumb dark old Bill Broome is liable to ketch yer," and the aged fellow gave Jim a shrewd look from under his grizzled eyebrows.
"I guess that he wouldn't really do us any damage," replied Jim, with an assumed carelessness.
"I should think that you would have to look out for him, yourself," put in the engineer; "he's just as likely as not to drop in on you sometime, and take your two boats and such ballast as you have stowed away in your cabin, that he might take a fancy to."
"Him," said the old sailor with indescribable contempt; "why, old Bill wouldn't come within a mile of my cabin, unless he was drug here. I had quite a set-to with him a few years ago, and since thet time he don't even pass the time of day with me." He was quick to see that he had roused the deep interest of his two visitors. "Come in to my cabin, while I smoke a pipe," he continued, "and I'll tell yer about that fracas between old Broome and myself."
"Certainly we will come in," said the engineer; "we are in no rush that I know of."
"Suits me," agreed Jim tersely.
They entered the cabin through a low doorway that caused Jim to stoop his proud crest as it were. The interior was snug and cozy with brown-hued walls and wooden beams that gave the room the appearance of a ship's cabin. A large lamp swung from the center of the ceiling gave a tempered light through a green shade.
There were several nautical prints upon the wall, and in front of a small stove, wherein glowed coals through its iron teeth, lay on a rug of woven rags a huge yellow cat stretched out at full and comfortable length. Everything was scrupulously neat about the place, and kept in ship-shape condition. The old man seated himself in a hacked wooden chair with semicircular arms and a green cushion. Jim took his place on a sea-chest, once green but now much faded, and with heavy rope handles, while the engineer occupied the other chair. After the sailor's wrinkled old wife had brought in some coffee for his two guests, and he had filled his short black pipe, he began his narrative of his once-time scrap with Captain William Broome, of unpious memory.
"That was one of the most unusual jobs I ever tackled when I took command of the Storm King for J. J. Singleton."
"That's the famous mining man, who used to live in San Francisco," remarked John Berwick.
"The same fellow," continued the old sailor, "and in spite of his money he had a lot of sensible ideas. You see, old 'J. J,' as he was known hereabouts, had three sons, the oldest seventeen, and their mother being dead for some years he brought 'em up according as he thought best. Had 'em work in one of his mines learning to run an engine and earning their own money. The youngest was on a big cattle ranch that the old man owned down in the southern part of the state.
"He told the boys that when they earned a certain amount they could put it into a steam yacht and what was lacking he would make up. Maybe those kids didn't work hard for some years until they had what was needed. I had been in command of one of Singleton's coasting ships and the old man picked me to take charge of the Storm King, which was the fool name of the yacht that they invested in, but there was nothing the matter with the boat herself.
"'Teach 'em navigating, Captain,' he says to me in his final instructions, 'and give 'em a taste of the rope's end if they ain't sharp to obey orders.'
"But shucks, I had no trouble with them boys, they weren't like rich men's sons, but knew what hard work meant and could obey orders as well as give 'em. The oldest one's name was John—about your size," pointing to Jim, "but one of those sandy complected chaps, with white eyelashes and cool, gray eyes and no end of grit. The other two named Sam and Joe, were active, competent lads, and they had brought with them a friend off the cattle ranch, whom they called 'Comanche,' and I want you to know that boy was some shot with a revolver, rifle or cannon.
"Well, the second day out was where Captain Bill Broome put in an appearance. He was a smuggler and cutthroat in those days, and did a little kidnaping on the side."
"He hasn't reformed yet either," put in Jim.
"Not him," agreed the narrator; "he thought that he would make a rich haul on this occasion if he could get hold of the three Singleton boys and hold them for ransom. As soon as I saw the long, gray Shark, which I was quick to recognize, and noticed how she hung on our course, I knew what the game was and, as she had the speed on us, I saw that it was a case of fight or surrender. I can tell you it wasn't a pleasant situation for me. I felt my responsibility and I didn't want to face old Singleton if anything happened to those boys. I told 'em exactly what we was facing, and it would warm your heart to have seen the spirit they showed.
"The oldest one declared that their father would never give up one cent if they surrendered until their ship sank under 'em, and I guess the lad was right. Now we had three cannon aboard, a long, black, six pounder mounted aft, which the boys had named 'Black Tom,' and two smaller brass cannon forward on the bridge deck on either side. I had grinned at these guns when they were first taken aboard, considering that they were part of a kid game, and said to the old man that I wasn't qualified to command a man-of-war and that we might be able to trade the brass pieces for an island to some chief in the south seas, but now I saw that they might come in handy, and enable us to land a few kicks in old Bill's side even if he got us later, as was almost certain, for he was sure to have the range on us.
"I could see a long, wicked gun that the Shark carried forward, and there were three cannon on a side; these I could make out clearly through my glass. 'I'll navigate the ship,' I said to John Singleton, 'and you fight her.'
"'Agreed to that, sir,' he answered, gripping my hand, and I was soon to learn that he was no kid at the fighting game either. It was now about eleven of a clear morning, with a smooth and slightly rolling sea; the Shark was drawing up slowly and steadily, and was about five miles astern.
"'I reckon it will be an hour and a half before she gets within range, Captain,' said John Singleton.
"'Just about that,' I replied, wondering how he had estimated it so closely, but he was one of the most practical chaps I ever saw.
"That will give us time for a good sound feed," remarked John. 'But I don't feel like eating, Jack,' protested his younger brother, Sam.
"'Sure you've got to eat, Sam,' replied John; 'this game isn't going to be anything like as fierce as what you and I have faced in the mining camp. Take my word for it, you won't be fit for anything unless you have a square meal.' I couldn't help but admire the way in which the lad put heart into his brothers, and I felt confident that he would more than hold his end up when it came to the fighting. However, it seemed to me, the contest could end only one way and as a forlorn hope, I steered southwest on the chance of cutting across the course of one of the Pacific steamers, but all I succeeded in raising was the sail of a Borkentine low down to the south and a few points west.
"About half past two that afternoon the trouble began. The Shark was nearing the half-mile limit; a long, gray boat of iron, built for speed and stripped of all superfluous tackle.
"'They are getting ready to show their teeth,' remarked John, pointing to a group of three men in the bow.
"Besides the men in the bow of the Shark, there were several in the waist leaning over the rail and sizing up the Storm King with cold and calculating eyes.
"'Let's give 'em a shot, John,' I heard Joe urge.
"'No hurry,' replied his brother; 'don't let them worry you into wasting any ammunition.'
"In a few minutes John Singleton turned to me, 'could you turn her course a few points to the north, Captain?' he asked.
"'Certainly,' I replied.
"'Thank you,' responded the lad, 'I've a plan and it won't take over five minutes.'
"Then he and his friend, Comanche, lowered one of the ship's boats on the starboard side, where it was sheltered from the sight of the enemy by the deck cabins just abaft the midships. In this boat were two rifles, heavily loaded and ready for action. What the boy's scheme was I did not foresee but it was to develop a short time later.
"Upon the quarter deck of the Shark paced the figure of Captain Broome, with his long, swinging gorilla-like arms. Suddenly he stopped, put his hand to his mouth and shouted an order to the men in the bow of the ship. Then came the quick move of one of the men. A flash leaped from the mouth of the forward gun, a dull detonation, and a white cloud of smoke curled back over the bow of the Shark, while the shell plunged into the water directly in front of our prow.
"'That's for us to heave to,' cried John; 'give him our answer, Comanche, and give it to him hard!'
"Comanche obeyed with belligerent willingness, and with an accuracy of aim that was utterly surprising to old Bill Broome, for the round shot struck his boat amidship, and it fell back into the water. The distance was too great to do execution, but a yell of triumph went up from the boys on the deck of the Storm King.
"'Just a little higher next time,' cried Jack Singleton; 'sweep the rascal's decks for him.'
"It was good advice and now the fight was on, and it was like a real naval engagement, with the constant bark of the guns, the heavy clouds of white sulphurous smoke rolling over the quiet sea between the combatants, and the thrusting flames from the mouths of the guns flashing into the smoke. But the fire of the enemy was becoming more accurate and deadly, and it was a question of only a few minutes before a well-directed shot would completely disable us.
"'Pull down our flag, Captain,' yelled John Singleton; 'let him come alongside.'
"It seemed to me the only thing to do, and in a couple of minutes the long gray Shark had slipped through the smoke on our portside. Old Bill could not resist the temptation to make some remarks before he boarded us.
"'I'd like to know, Cap'n, what you, and your parcel of kids mean by attacking me on the high seas, me going along peaceable, just enjoying a fishin' cruise for my health. I'll take it out of yer blasted hide for making me this trouble, and I'll baste them pretty boys of your'n to a finish, or my name ain't Bill Broome!'
"'Which it ain't,' I says, and I proceeded to hand him out a line of talk that kept him eager to say something else about my character.
"You see I noticed that John and Comanche had disappeared just as the Shark hove alongside, and I intended to give them all the time I could, and I could of yelled when I see'd John creeping up behind the Cap'n; and the next second he had felled him with the butt of his rifle, and Comanche had done the same for two of the men who were standing in the waist of the ship, joining in our previous conversation.
"Well, it wasn't ten seconds before I was aboard with four of my crew and it was no time before we had possession of that ship. Now you see the purpose of John Singleton in lowering the boat when he did. He had used it to slip around the stern of the Shark and to slip up on Bill Broome and his crew."
"Great work," cried Jim, in admiration, "but what did you do with 'em when you had them caught?"
"That didn't bother us long," said the old fellow; "we didn't want their company, and we had to fix it so they wouldn't bother us, so we put their engines out of commission, so they had to use their small sails; broke their cannons, and threw all their ammunition into the sea, and left them, to their own devices."
"Where is the Storm King and her crew now, Captain?" asked the engineer with evident interest.
"Cruising down in the South Seas, I reckon."
"Some time we may run across them, eh, Chief?" questioned Jim.
"Stranger things have happened," replied Berwick with a knowing grin.
"Well, I don't intend to let John Singleton beat me at the game with our mutual friend, Captain Broome," remarked Jim, as he rose to his feet.
"The old chap was right enough," remarked Jim, as the two of them sent the beautiful boat over the slightly rolling waters of the gray, sodden-hued bay towards Frau Scheff's. "If money can buy her, I am going to own this boat. There is no telling when we might find use for her, if we ever go down into the South Seas."
"You want something bigger than this low, black, rakish craft if you are going to be a pirate in the South Seas," remarked Berwick caustically.
"Indeed, yes!" agreed Jim. "I'm sure going to have the Sea Eagle over yonder," and he nodded his head in the direction of the open bay.
"When Captain Broome gets done with her?" questioned Berwick slyly.
"Perhaps sooner; I dunno," said Jim gloomily.
They beached their long, low, black craft on the sands below the restaurant of Herr and Frau Scheff, and from that base of supplies laid in a liberal stock of provisions, enough to last for a day at least. There was some ham, a loaf of bread, butter and an apple pie. Sauerkraut they had to politely refuse, for, as Jim said in an aside to his friend, "There was no disguising their trail from the enemy if they carried that." But they had plenty of other necessities, including tea and coffee. They were also loaned a few necessary cooking utensils, and thus equipped, they launched out in their skiff once more.
JIM BOARDS THE PIRATE
"Whither away, Brother?" questioned John Berwick, as they bent gently and rhythmically to the oars.
"I thought we might lay alongside the Sea Eagle, and invite Brother Broome to surrender," suggested Jim.
"All right, I'm with you, as I can't walk ashore," replied John Berwick.
However, instead of rowing straight in the direction of the Sea Eagle, Jim bent a circuitous course around her. It was now growing towards evening and a heavy fog was rolling in even then over the sea towards the Golden Gate. The two comrades in a short time reached the western shore of the bay near which the Sea Eagle lay anchored.
Here they rowed slowly along, looking for some place to camp. At first the shore was high and rocky, but after rowing for nearly a mile they came to a small inlet where a tiny stream trickled down from a hidden spring above in the woods. There were pines and sycamore trees both, and altogether it was a delightful place for a camp. Jim's trained eye took it all in at a glance.
"Here's where we haul in, John," he said.
"It looks good to me," agreed Berwick.
Indeed, it was an excellent place, well sheltered, and with good water. The rest they had with them.
"What time are you going to make your attack, Jim, my boy?" asked Berwick.
"I fancy any time between eleven and one would do," said Jim. "That will give us time to get in a couple of hours' sleep at least. It's just as well to store up a little rest. There is no telling what will happen; when we once get started it may be a week before we get another chance."
"Correct," said Berwick; "which watch shall I take, Captain?"
"The first," said Jim, "if you don't mind."
"But I do mind," said Berwick quickly, "when I'm told."
While Jim sat watching some hours later, with everything quiet except the gentle lapping of the water along the rocky shore, his mind reverted to the incidents of the past few hours, but quickly changed to the distant scene of his home.
"I wish I had Jo and Tom with me, and Juarez, too; it looks to me as though there was going to be a change of scene soon, and then we will need 'em by way of reenforcements." He brooded thus to himself over his home folks and the chances of the future until it was time for them to reconnoiter the enemy if nothing else was done. "I have given John three-quarters of an hour longer than he expected," he said as he looked at his watch. "It is now a quarter of twelve."
Berwick responded promptly to the call of time.
"Jove!" he said, "I don't see how you can pick up the Sea Eagle or anything else in such thick weather."
"It would not be easy if we struck out direct from this inlet," replied Jim, "but I'm going to keep along the shore to a point that I made a note of coming in, and then row direct out; we can't lose her."
They did accordingly, but they had to row very slowly, so that Jim could be able to make out his landmark.
"There it is," he said. "See, here is a point of rock that juts out; there is no mistaking it."
"What is your plan?" asked the engineer.
"There is only one thing to do," replied Jim; "we are not taking this exercise for our health. We will drop along the Sea Eagle, board her, find where the senorita is, and row her ashore."
"Are you sure she is on the yacht?" queried Berwick.
"Nowhere else," replied Jim stoutly. "You don't suppose that old Broome would leave her in the castle after the alarm we raised. The reason he didn't search for us around the premises was because he had gone off to hide on the Sea Eagle."
Nothing more was said, and they rowed slowly from the point of departure until they saw the faint loom of the Sea Eagle through the night and fog. There was a light astern and two forward, one on the starboard and the other on the port, while a fourth shed a dim light from the masthead.
There was no sound, whatever, and no figure in sight, which was not remarkable, considering you could see no distance whatever on account of the thick fog, but Jim was seaman enough to know that there was sure to be someone on the bridge, and a watch forward. Berwick brought the boat gently along the side near the stern rail and Jim was aboard in a jiffy. Then the engineer pushed off for a few feet where he and the black boat could not be seen, and waited in ambush for what might happen. He believed that Jim stood a good chance to rescue the senorita, a much better chance, in fact, than when she was held captive in the castle. Once get her into the boat and they, too, would make sure of her safety.
Jim felt a thrill as he once more set foot on the well-known deck. He felt strong enough to take her back single-handed, and what would he not have given to be on the bridge again, with Jo and the rest of the old crew on deck, and the Sea Eagle pushing her nose out through the Golden Gate, heading for the enchanted regions of the tropic seas.
But Jim took only a moment for such romancing. There was grim and hard work ahead before he could ever be master of his own boat again. He knew the ship as a hand does a glove, and in this there was a great advantage. He cautiously tried the doors of the staterooms on the upper deck. In one he made out the lean figure of the second mate in his bunk, sound asleep. At that moment he saw the door of the captain's cabin open. Jim glided aft and crouched low near the capstan, where he was hard to be distinguished from a coil of rope.
He saw the squat figure of Captain Broome with the long, swinging, gorilla-like arms revealed in the light which shone from the interior of the cabin, and then he slammed the door and strolled forward towards the bridge. Jim held his breath, hoping he would not come his way.
When the old pirate had disappeared, Jim completed his search of the deck staterooms, but the senorita was in none of them. The only thing that remained for Jim was to search the rooms leading from the main saloon below. He rather mistrusted going down there, and he had most sincerely hoped that the girl would be in one of the deck rooms, then his task would have been comparatively easy, but it seemed as if luck was breaking against him.
He went cautiously but quickly along the deck until he reached the stairway leading down into the cabin. There was the large lamp lit in the saloon, but turned very low. As he cautiously descended into the saloon his heart went into his throat at the sight of the gaunt woman with the red hair who had been the senorita's jailer in the castle. She was apparently asleep on one of the divans, but Jim would have much rather seen anyone else on guard than this redoubtable woman whose vigilance had been his undoing before. It might have been possible to have outwitted or defeated a man, but he really was in some awe of this Amazon.
The first thing for Jim to do was to determine which of the four cabins opening off the saloon was the prison of the senorita. He could not go from one to the other opening the doors, for the woman on guard would be sure to hear, nor could he say after the manner of children, "My mother told me to take this one."
It was like the suitor of Portia in the "Merchant of Venice," who was forced to choose his fate from one of three chests with misleading mottoes on them. But there was no time to lose. Should he take a chance? There seemed no other way. However, Jim was an experienced scout, as the reader well knows, and his skill could be put to use inside of walls as well as out on the desert or in the pathless mountains, where he might be searching for some obscure trail.
He crawled over the heavily carpeted floor on his hands and knees to the first door, but he found no trace to guide him. The second seemed to reward his scrutiny, for the nap of the rug showed the imprint of feet and the brass knob of the door was somewhat tarnished.
At that moment he heard the sound of heavy feet upon the stairway. He knew that tread; he had heard it before. There was no hiding-place except under the hanging of the heavy tablecloth, and with a quiet celerity, Jim slid under its protection just as the woman stirred from the divan, and then the captain's heavy, growling voice made itself heard as he came down into the saloon.
"I'm going to pull anchor out of here to-morrow, Ann," said the skipper; "it's jest about time."
"What hour, Brother?" asked the woman.
This startled Jim, who had not guessed that this woman was any relation of the redoubtable Bill Broome, and that so human a word as "Brother" could be applied to the old pirate had never entered his head. This rawboned woman was quite the equal of her brother, and her life had brought out that hardness and cruelty that is latent only too often in the New England character.
To her question the captain replied, "Not later than four if we are to get clear. I'm going into Frisco on a little business first."
"Do we take the gal?" questioned the woman, following his thought in some obscure way.
"Then she is here," mused Jim.
"Part way, anyhow," he rumbled in his harsh voice. "Every day of bother getting rid of her brings up her price."
Jim felt the hot blood of rage warm the roots of his hair. The cold-blooded cruelty and calculation of it made him long to get hold of the old codger. Perhaps he would in a moment.
"Git me something to eat, Ann, old gal," he said. "I'd better begin to lay in ballast for to-morrow."
The captain took his seat at the table, and put his feet squarely on the unsuspected Jim. Then came the explosion.
"By tarnation thunder, there's somebody under thar," he exclaimed, rising to his feet.
Jim crawled from under as quick as he could, and with a sense of sullen fury he saw the game was up for a second time. If he had cared to escape without striking a blow he did not have a chance. As he emerged the captain was on his back with all the ferocity of a hyena.
"It's that blasted young beggar again," he yelled. "We'll do him good this time."
THE END, A NEW START
Jim, well fed and rested, was up to his full strength, and to this was added his fierce anger against the captain. Not on his own personal account, but because of his heartless cruelty towards the captive girl whom he had in his power and was holding for ransom. With a twist Jim got hold of the back of Captain Bill Broome's neck, and by means of a mighty wrench he got the old wretch around in front of him, breaking free from his hold. Jim sent him staggering back.
As the captain, regaining his footing, rushed forward like an enraged bull, Jim Darlington measured him with a crashing blow on the jaw that sent him dazed against a sharp edge of woodwork that cut his scalp and laid him out for the moment. Drawn by the racket, the first and second mate came tumbling down, and joined in the attack, but Jim knew a trick or two about boxing and surprised them with lightning blows that they did not know how to block. He was hampered, however, by a lack of space. Nevertheless, as they came to close quarters, jarred and bleeding, Jim was able to fling them off, the sinews of his powerful frame working in perfect unison.
Just at the moment he was free, he stumbled over the prostrate body of the captain, who thus accomplished more by his prone position than when he was on his feet and in the midst of the fray. At this juncture, the Amazon sister jumped into the fight. She had run up on deck for a purpose, when the fight started, and returned with a marlin spike. Jim was so involved with the two mates for a few brief seconds that he did not see her, and would not have paid much attention if he had, he was so full of the struggle in hand.
As Jim stumbled, before he could regain his feet, the woman brought down the marlin spike with a glancing blow on the side of his head. The boy dropped as though dead. There was no doubt of the strength of the captain's sister. She was evidently more than a match for any man aboard, and it was little wonder that the youth lay like a log, the blood streaming from a cut on the side of his head. He had not heard the shriek of the senorita as she threw open the door of her cabin prison and saw Jim lying almost at her feet.
As she stooped to his help (she was no hysterical girl to faint at the sight of blood), she was thrust violently back, after a short struggle, by the captain's sister, and locked in the cabin. However, she did not weep or wring her hands, but she became suddenly, even ominously quiet, her eyes shining in the pallor of her face with a luminous light. Meanwhile, there was a council of war outside in the cabin as to the disposal of their prostrate enemy.
Old Captain Broome had recovered enough to enable him to stand up, holding on to the table, but he was still swaying somewhat, and was an ugly looking customer with his cut face.
"Better put him in the hold until we get out to sea," said the Amazon sister.
"I reckon he's done for this time," said the captain; "he oughter be if you gave him one of your love taps, Anne," he concluded, with a ghastly grin.
The woman bent down and coolly felt the boy's pulse, and pushed back the lids of his eyes, with no more show of feeling than if he had not been a human being.
"He ain't quite done for," she said, getting to her feet.
"Then he will be, durn soon," declared the old captain venomously. "Here, Bill, you and Gus take him up on deck and throw him over. That sure will finish him. One of you take his feet and t'other his head, and Ann will give you a hist up the stairs. I'm too joggled to help any, but I will give him my blessing as he goes over, that is, if you don't feel too squeamish to do it."
The two mates laughed at this with great heartiness.
"I will say this for that young feller, he was some fighter," remarked Bill. "I have handled some hard specimens in my time, but he was the toughest yet. He handed me and Gus a couple of cuffs that made our jaws wobble."
They got the limp figure up the stairs with the Amazon's help, but she did not follow, but went below to get her brother something to eat as his strenuous day had begun, and he stood in need of immediate ballast. The scene just enacted might have been a daily occurrence from her perfect indifference, as indeed scenes of violence no doubt were, but none of the men could equal her in sangfroid.
Now they were on deck. Which way would they turn, to the right or left rail. They did not know it, but it would make all the difference in the world which side they would choose.
"I tell you, boys, you can throw him overboard in front of my cabin; that would just suit me to the ground," said the captain.
"Aye, aye, sir," replied the amiable pair of mates.
It was accomplished in short order. There was a heave of the shoulders, and then a heavy splash into the dark waters beneath. No one heard or heeded a low wailing cry from the prisoner in the cabin. She knew what had happened. She flung the small port hole open as Jim fell and the water from the impact splashed into her face. Then to her unspeakable relief she saw a black boat glide to where the figure came up, and she saw that he was in safe hands.
With a quick motion she knotted her daintily-scented handkerchief and tossed it into the boat as it swept by. It had her monogram on it, and the engineer was quick to seize the handkerchief as well as the import of it.
"I will give it to him, Senorita," he said in a low voice. Then the boat was one with the darkness, and was gone from her sight, but she was happy knowing that Jim was safe. She was not thinking of herself and her own danger at the time, as is the way of some women.
John Berwick, the engineer, had had an anxious time while Jim had been conducting his seance on board the ship, and it was his prompt action that had saved his friend. It was some luck, too, that the three rascals aboard had not sighted the slender dark boat, but they were dazed somewhat, due to the effect of Jim's fierce attack upon them, and likewise the two comrades deserved a little luck considering how fortunate their enemies had been of late.
Berwick lost no time in pulling for the shore, and had no difficulty in finding the outjutting rock which was the point of departure.
* * * * *
It was a full two hours before Berwick could bring Jim fully around, and then the latter sat by a bright camp fire in the cove, pale and drawn, with a handkerchief tied around his injured head. He was drinking some coffee, but as yet he could not eat anything.
"Who was the guy, John, who first called women the weaker sex?" inquired Jim, in a faint and injured tone.
"Some chump who probably died a sadder and a wiser man," replied his friend.
"I only wish the gentle Annie back there had given him a tap with the shillalah," remarked Jim.
Finally, by the time the fog thickened, Jim was himself once more and the two comrades had determined upon their course. They had this advantage in that they knew, from what Jim had overheard, something of the immediate plans of Captain Bill Broome and his evil crew, and what actually occurred will be fully and graphically told in the "Frontier Boys in the South Seas." Furthermore, at this particular time, the captain believed his enemy drowned beyond all possibility of a doubt; therefore, he would not be on his guard against him in the future, and would know of no need to hurry his departure.
"All aboard now, John," said Jim. He rose stiffly to his feet. "We will row across the bay to the city and charter a fast craft to follow these beggars. I guess there will be a surprise in store for those blooming pirates in a few days."