Chapter XVIII. Coffee for Three.




The situation was one which demanded instant action.

The snake was a dangerous one, and very much aroused, and it might at any instant do Sam great harm.

The poor boy was speechless and motionless, for the reptile had caught his eye and held him as by a spell.

It was Tom who acted. Heedless of the danger, he leaped forward and aimed a kick at the snake's head.

The reptile was caught fairly and squarely, and the head went down with an angry hiss. Then Tom stepped upon it, but the snake squirmed loose and uttered another hiss, louder than before.

"Take him off! Take him off!" screamed Sam, now recovering his voice. "Don't let him bite me."

He would have caught the snake himself, and so would Tom, but the hands of both were still tied behind them.

By this time Captain Langless emerged from the cave, pulling out a pistol as he did so.

Arnold Baxter had not offered to fire a second shot. Now, he was out of danger himself, he did not seem to care what became of the Rovers.

Crack! crack! It was the captain's weapon which spoke up, and the two shots, fired in rapid succession, did their work thoroughly. The first took the snake in the neck and the second in the head, and in a twinkle the long, slippery body unwound itself from Sam's leg and began to turn and twist on the ground.

"Good for you!" gasped Sam, when able to speak again. "Ugh! what an ugly thing!" And he retreated to the opposite side of the pool, along with Tom.

"He was a nasty one," replied Captain Langless, as he coolly proceeded to reload his pistol. "I might have killed him in the cave, only the light was bad."

"Is he--he dead?" came from behind some rocks, and Dan showed a white face and trembling form.

"Yes, he's dead," answered Arnold Baxter. "I came pretty close to hitting him," he went on, bound to say something for himself.

"I--I thought there was a whole nest of them," continued Dan. "If I had known there was only one, I would have stood my ground."

"Of course--you always were brave," answered Tom sarcastically.

"See here, Tom Rover, I don't want any of your back talk," howled the bully, his face turning red.

"Come, don't quarrel now," said Captain Langless, so sternly that Dan subsided on the instant. "The question is, are there any more snakes in that cave?"

"Send Dan in to investigate," suggested Sam, with just the faintest touch of his old-time light-heartedness.

"Me?" ejaculated the individual mentioned. "Not me! I wouldn't go in there for a million dollars!"

"Perhaps we had better find some other cave," said Arnold Baxter. "You said there were several around here."

"This is as good as any," answered Captain Langless. "If you are afraid, I'll go in myself," and turning, he disappeared once more into the opening, lantern in one hand and pistol in the other.

He was gone the best part of quarter of an hour, and came back covered with dust and dirt.

"The old spot is pretty well choked up with rubbish," he said. "But there isn't a sign of another snake around, nor of any wild beasts. Come," and he motioned Sam and Tom to follow him.

"I don't think it fair that you should leave us helpless," said Tom. "At least untie our hands and let us each get a good stick."

"So you can fight us, eh?" cried Arnold Baxter. "We are not such fools."

"You have your pistols," put in Sam. "And what could we do on a lonely island and without a boat?"

"The lads are right--it's not fair to leave them helpless when there may be other danger at hand," interposed the captain. "If I unloosen you, will you promise not to run away?"

"The promise would not amount to anything!" sniffed Dan.

"We won't run away for the present," said Tom honestly. "But you can't expect me to remain a prisoner here--not if I can help myself."

The candor of the youth compelled Captain Langless to laugh, and, taking out a knife, he cut the ropes which bound the lads' hands.

"You won't need sticks, I am sure of it," he said. "Come, I will lead, and you"--nodding to the Baxters--"can bring up the rear."

No more was said, and in a minute more all were inside of the cave, which proved to be fifteen feet wide, about as high, and at least two hundred feet long. At the lower end were a turn and a narrow passageway leading to the darkness beyond. The ceiling was rough, and the lantern cast long, dancing shadows over it as they advanced. Sam could not help but shiver, and Tom looked unusually sober.

That the cave had once been used as a rendezvous of some sort was plainly evident. At the back was a rude fireplace, with a narrow slit in the rocks overhead, through which the smoke might ascend. Here were several half-burned logs of wood, and two tumble-down boxes which had evidently done duty as benches. On a stick stuck in a crack of the wall hung an old overcoat, now ready to fall apart from decay.

"Rather unwholesome, I admit," said the captain, with a glance at the others. "But a roaring fire in yonder chimney-place will soon alter things. And when I've had one of the men bring some blankets and stores from the Peacock, it will be fairly comfortable."

"Do you mean to keep us here?" demanded Tom.

"We do," answered Arnold Baxter. "And you can thank your stars that you have not been taken to a worse place."

"It's a jolly shame. Why don't you kill us off at once, and be done with it?"

"Because you are worth more to us alive than dead."

"We won't live long if you keep us here," put in Sam. "It's enough to give a fellow the ague."

"We will start a fire without delay," said the captain, and then, turning to Arnold Baxter, he continued: "Can you find the way back to the ship?"

"I think I can," returned the other. "Years ago I was used to tramping the gold regions of the West."

"Then you had better go and tell the mate to bring along that stuff I mentioned before I left. You can easily carry the stuff between you. I'll build the fire and, with the aid of your son, watch the two prisoners."

So it was arranged, although Arnold Baxter did not fancy the task of carrying stuff to be used for the Rovers' comfort. He left his pistol with Dan, who kept it in his hand, ready to shoot should Sam or Tom make the slightest movement toward getting away.

As Captain Langless had said, the fire made the cave far more comfortable, taking away the feeling of dampness and lighting up all the nooks and corners. From a distance the boys heard a faint falling of water, and were told that it came from a spring hidden at the rear passageway.

It was a good hour before Arnold Baxter returned, lugging a fair-sized bundle, and followed by the mate of the Peacock with an even greater load. They had several blankets and a basket of provisions, and likewise a few cooking utensils.

"Evidently out for a stay," muttered Tom, as he looked at the things.

"They are for your use," was Captain Langless' grim reply. "After this I reckon you'll cook for yourselves."

"Do you expect us to remain in this cave night and day?"

"You'll remain whenever things look suspicious outside."

"Then you'll let us go out otherwise?"

"If you behave yourselves."

It was not long before Tom and Sam were left in the cave alone. The mate of the schooner was placed at the entrance on guard, armed with the captain's own pistol. Then Captain Langless and the Baxters withdrew, talking earnestly. Tom and Sam could not catch the drift of the conversation, although they heard the words "by mail" and "we must get the cash" used several times.

"They are bound to make money out of this affair, if they can," remarked Tom, when he and Sam were alone once more.

"I've a good mind to knock that mate down and take the pistol from him," said Sam.

"And get shot for your pains? Besides, if we took away the pistol and put him out of the fight, what next? We haven't any boat to get away in."

"Yes, but I don't intend to remain here a prisoner forever."

"No more do I, but we can do nothing just now. Let us see what kind of a meal we can make out of the provisions brought to us."

The prospect of a meal brightened up both lads, and they set to work with a will, and soon had coffee made. There were bread and butter and some canned beef and beans, and they ate heartily.

The mate sniffed the coffee, and remarked that it seemed good.

"Have a cup," said Tom cheerily.

"No funny work, boy," and Cadmus looked at the boys suspiciously. "No break like that you tried on me before."

"No, I won't run, honor bright," answered Tom, and then the mate took the coffee and drank it with much satisfaction.

As he set down the cup he gazed fixedly at both Tom and Sam for several seconds. Then he drew himself up as if he had come to some mental decision.

"I've got a plan to propose," he said slowly. "Do you want to listen or not?"

"What sort of a plan?" asked both.

"A plan to get you out of the clutches of Captain Langless and those Baxters," was the answer, which filled Tom and Sam with deep and sudden interest.



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