Chapter 20




I MAKE MY ESCAPE


I had plenty of time to run away. I do not know why I did not do so; but the fact stands that I remained where I was until they had finished Captain Selover. Then I took to my heels, but was soon cornered. I drew my revolver, remembered that I had emptied it in the seal cave--and had time for no more coherent mental processes. A smothering weight flung itself on me, against which I struggled as hard as I could, shrinking in anticipation from the thirsty plunge of the knives. However, though the weight increased until further struggle was impossible, I was not harmed, and in a few moments found myself, wrists and ankles tied, beside a roaring fire. While I collected myself I heard the grate of a boat being shoved off from the cove, and a few moments later made out lights aboard the Laughing Lass.

The looting party returned very shortly. Their plundering had gone only as far as liquor and arms. Thrackles let down from the cliff top a keg at the end of a line. Perdosa and the Nigger each carried an armful of the 30-40 rifles. The keg was rolled to the fire and broached.

The men got drunk, wildly drunk, but not helplessly so. A flame communicated itself to them through the liquor. The ordinary characteristics of their composition sprung into sharper relief. The Nigger became more sullen; Perdosa more snake-like; Pulz more viciously evil; Thrackles more brutal; while Handy Solomon staggering from his seat to the open keg and back again, roaring fragments of a chanty, his red headgear contrasting with his smoky black hair and his swarthy hook-nosed countenance--he needed no further touch.

Their evil passions were all awake, and the plan, so long indefinite, developed like a photographer's plate.

"That's one," said Thrackles. "One gone to hell."

"And now the diamonds," muttered Pulz.

"There's a ship upon the windward, a wreck upon the lee, Down on the coast of the high Barbare-e-e,"

roared Handy Solomon. "Damn it all, boys, it's the best night's work we ever did. The stuff's ours. Then it's me for a big stone house in Frisco O!"

"Frisco, hell," sneered Pulz, "that's all you know. You ought to travel. Paris for me and a little gal to learn the language from."

"I get heem a fine caballo, an' fine saddle, an' fine clo's," breathed Perdosa sentimentally. "I ride, and the silver jingle, and the seņorita look----"

Thrackles was for a ship and the China trade.

"What you want, Doctor?" they demanded of the silent Nigger.

But the Nigger only rolled his eyes and shook his head. By and by he arose and disappeared in the dusk and was no more seen.

"Dam' fool," muttered Handy Solomon. "Well, here's to crime!"

He drank a deep cup of the raw rum, and staggered back to his seat on the sands.

"'I am not a man-o'-war, nor a privateer,' said he. Blow high, blow low! What care we! 'But I am a jolly pirate and I'm sailing for my fee,' Down on the coast of the high Barbare-e-e."

he sang. "We'll land in Valparaiso and we'll go every man his way; and we'll sink the old Laughing Lass so deep the mermaids can't find her."

Thrackles piled on more wood and the fire leaped high.

"Let's get after 'em,' said he.

"To-morrow's jes' 's good," muttered Pulz. "Les' hav' 'nother drink."

"We'll stay here 'n see if our ol' frien' Percy don' show up," said Handy Solomon. He threw back his head and roared forth a volume of sound toward the dim stars.

"Broadside to broadside the gallant ships did lay, Blow high, blow low! What care we? 'Til the jolly man-o'-war shot the pirate's mast away, Down on the coast of the high Barbare-e-e."

I saw near me a live coal dislodged from the fire when Thrackles had thrown on the armful of wood. An idea came to me. I hitched myself to the spark, and laid across it the rope with which my wrists were tied. This, behind my back, was not easy to accomplish, and twice I burned my wrists before I succeeded.

Fortunately I was at the edge of illumination, and behind the group. I turned over on my side so that my back was toward the fire. Then rapidly I cast loose my ankle lashings. Thus I was free, and selecting a moment when universal attention was turned toward the rum barrel, I rolled over a sand dune, got to my hands and knees, and crept away.

Through the coarse grass I crept thus, to the very entrance of the arroyo, then rose to my feet. In the middle distance the fire leaped red. Its glow fell intermittently on the surges rolling in. The men staggered or lay prone, either as gigantic silhouettes or as tatterdemalions painted by the light. The keg stood solid and substantial, the hub about which reeled the orgy. At the edge of the wash I could make out something prone, dim, limp, thrown constantly in new positions of weariness as the water ebbed and flowed beneath it, now an arm thrown out, now cast back, as though Old Scrubs slept feverishly. The drunkards were getting noisy. Handy Solomon still reeled off the verses of, his song. The others joined in, frightfully off the key; or punctuated the performance by wild staccato yells.

"Their coffin was their ship and their grave it was the sea, Blow high, blow low! What care we? And the quarter that we gave them was to sink them in the sea, Down on the coast of the high Barbare-e-e,"

bellowed Handy Solomon.

I turned and plunged into the cool darkness of the caņon.




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