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´╗┐Title: Hunting the Skipper - The Cruise of the "Seafowl" Sloop
Author: Fenn, George Manville, 1831-1909
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Hunting the Skipper - The Cruise of the "Seafowl" Sloop" ***

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Hunting the Skipper, by George Manville Fenn.



CHAPTER ONE.

H.M.S. "SEAFOWL."

"Dicky, dear boy, it's my impression that we shall see no blackbird's
cage to-day."

"And it's my impression, Frank Murray, that if you call me Dicky again I
shall punch your head."

"Poor fellow!  Liver, decidedly," said the first speaker, in a mock
sympathetic tone.  "Look here, old chap, if I were you, I'd go and ask
Jones to give me a blue pill, to be followed eight hours later by one of
his delicious liqueurs, all syrup of senna."

"Ugh!" came in a grunt of disgust, followed by a shudder.  "Look here,
Frank, if you can't speak sense, have the goodness to hold your tongue."

The speakers were two manly looking lads in the uniform of midshipmen of
the Royal Navy, each furnished with a telescope, through which he had
been trying to pierce the hot thick haze which pretty well shut them in,
while as they leaned over the side of Her Majesty's ship _Seafowl_, her
sails seemed to be as sleepy as the generally smart-looking crew, the
light wind which filled them one minute gliding off the next, and
leaving them to flap idly as they apparently dozed off into a heavy
sleep.

"There, don't be rusty, old fellow," said the first speaker.

"Then don't call me by that absurd name--_Dicky_--as if I were a bird!"

"Ha, ha!  Why not?" said Frank merrily.  "You wouldn't have minded if I
had said `old cock.'"

"Humph!  Perhaps not," said the young man sourly.

"There, I don't wonder at your being upset; this heat somehow seems to
soak into a fellow and melt all the go out of one.  I'm as soft as one
of those medusae--jellyfish--what do you call them?--that float by
opening and shutting themselves, all of a wet gasp, as one might say."

"It's horrible," said the other, speaking now more sociably.

"Horrible it is, sir, as our fellows say.  Well, live and learn, and
I've learned one thing, and that is if I retire from the service as
Captain--no, I'll be modest--Commander Murray, R.N., I shall not come
and settle on the West Coast of Africa."

"Settle on the West Coast of Africa, with its fevers and horrors?  I
should think not!" said the other.  "Phew!  How hot it is!  Bah!" he
half snorted angrily.

"What's the matter now?"

"That brass rail.  I placed my hand upon it--regularly burned me."

"Mem for you, old chap--don't do it again.  But, I say, what is the good
of our hanging about here?  We shall do no good, and it's completely
spoiling the skipper's temper."

"Nonsense!  Can't be done."

"Oh, can't it, Ricardo!"

"There you go again."

"_Pardon, mon ami_!  Forgot myself.  Plain Richard--there.  But that's
wrong.  One can't call you plain Richard, because you're such a
good-looking chap."

"Bah!" in a deep angry growl.

"What's that wrong too?  Oh, what an unlucky beggar I am!  But I say,
didn't you see the skipper?"

"I saw him, of course.  But what about him?  I saw nothing particular."

"Old Anderson went up to him as politely as a first lieutenant could--"

"I say, Frank, look here," cried the other; "can't you say downright
what you have to say, without prosing about like the jolly old preface
to an uninteresting book?"

"No, dear boy," replied the young fellow addressed; "I can't really.
It's the weather."

"Hang the weather!" cried the other petulantly.

"Not to be done, dear boy.  To hang calls for a rope and the yard-arm,
and there's nothing tangible about the weather.  You should say--that
is, if you wish to be ungentlemanly and use language unbecoming to an
officer in His Majesty's service--Blow the weather!"

"Oh, bosh, bosh, bosh!  You will not be satisfied till I've kicked you,
Frank."

"Oh, don't--pray don't, my dear fellow, because you will force me to
kick you again, and it would make me so hot.  But I say, wasn't I going
to tell you something about old Anderson and the skipper?"

"No--yes!--There, I don't know.  Well, what was it?"

"Nothing," said Frank Murray, yawning.  "Oh, dear me, how sleepy I am!"

"Well, of all the aggravating--"

"That's right: go on.  Say it," said Murray.  "I don't know what you
were going to call me, dear boy, but I'm sure it would be correct.
That's just what I am.  Pray go on.  I'm too hot to hit back."

"You're not too hot to talk back, Franky."

"Eh?  Hullo!  Why, I ought to fly at you now for calling me by that
ridiculous name _Franky_."

"Bah!  Here, do talk sense.  What were you going to tell me about old
Anderson and the skipper?"

"I don't know, dear boy.  You've bullied it all out of me, or else the
weather has taken it out.  Oh, I know now: old Anderson went up to him
and said something--what it was I don't know--unless it was about
changing our course--and he snarled, turned his back and went below to
cool himself, I think.  I say, though, it is hot, Dick."

"Well, do you think I hadn't found that out?"

"No, it is all plain to see.  You are all in a state of trickle, old
chap.  I say, though, isn't it a sort of midsummer madness to expect to
catch one of these brutal craft on a day like this?"

There was an angry grunt.

"Quite right, old fellow.  Bother the slavers!  They're all shut up
snugly in the horrible muddy creeks waiting for night, I believe.  Then
they'll steal out and we shall go on sailing away north or south as it
pleases the skipper.  Here, Dicky--I mean, Dick--what will you give me
for my share of the prize money?"

"Bah!" ejaculated the youth addressed.  "Can't you be quiet, Frank?
_Buss, buss, buss_!  It's just for the sake of talking.  Can't you
realise the fact?"

"No, dear boy; it's too hot to realise anything?"

"Well, then, let me tell you a home truth."

"Ah, do!  Anything about home and the truth would be delicious here.
Wish I could have an ice!"

"There you go!  I say, can't you get tired of talking?"

"No, dear boy.  I suppose it is my nature to.  What is a fellow to do?
You won't."

"No, I'm too hot.  I wish every slaver that sails these muddy seas was
hung at the yard-arm of his own nasty rakish schooner."

"Hee-ah, hee-ah, hee-ah! as we say in Parliament."

"_Parliament!  Parler_, to talk!" grunted the other.  "That's where you
ought to be, Frank, and then you'd be in your element."

"Oh, I say!  I was only politely agreeing with you.  That was a splendid
wish.  The beasts!  The wretches!  But somehow they don't get their
deserts.  Here have we been two months on this station, and I haven't
had so much as a squint of a slaver.  I don't believe there are any.
All myths or fancies--bits of imagination."

"Oh, there are plenty of them, lad, but they know every in and out of
these mangrove-infested shores, and I'll be bound to say they are
watching us day by day, and as soon as we are lost in one of these foggy
hazes it's up with their lug sails, and they glide away like--like--
like--here, what do they glide away like?  I'm not as clever as you.
I'm at a loss for words.  Give me one--something poetic, Frank."

"Steam out of a copper."

"Bah!"

"What, won't that do?"

"Do?  No!  There--like a dream."

"Brayvo!  Werry pretty, as Sam Weller said.  Oh, here's Tommy May--Here,
Tom, what do you think of the weather?" said the lad, addressing a
bluff-looking seaman.

"Weather, sir?" said the man, screwing up his face till it was one maze
of wrinkles.  "Beg pardon, sir, but did you mean that as one of your
jokes, sir, or was it a conundydrum?"

"Oh, don't ask questions, Tom, but just tell us plainly what you think
of the weather."

"Nothing, sir; it's too hot to think," replied the man.

"Quite right, May," said the other midshipman.  "Don't bother the poor
fellow, Murray.  Here, May, what do you fellows before the mast think
about the slavers?"

"Slippery as the mud of the river banks, sir."

"Good," said Murray.  "Well spoken, Tom.  But do you think there are any
about here?"

"Oh yes, sir," said the man; "no doubt about it.  They on'y want
catching."

"No, no," cried Murray.  "That's just what they don't want."

"Right you are, sir; but you know what I mean."

"I suppose so," said Murray; "but do you chaps, when you are chewing it
all over along with your quids, believe that we shall come upon any of
them?"

"Oh yes, sir; but do you see, they sail in those long, low, swift
schooners that can come and go where they like, while we in the
_Seafowl_ seem to be thinking about it."

"Poor sluggish sloop of war!" said Roberts.

"Nay, nay, sir," said the man, "begging your pardon, she's as smart a
vessel as ever I sailed in, with as fine a captain and officers,
'specially the young gentlemen."

"Now, none of your flattering gammon, Tom."

"Begging your pardon, gentlemen," said the man sturdily, "that it arn't.
I says what I says, and I sticks to it, and if we only get these here
blackbird catchers on the hop we'll let 'em see what the _Seafowl_ can
do."

"If!" said Roberts bitterly.

"Yes, sir, _if_.  That's it, sir, and one of these days we shall drop
upon them and make them stare.  We shall do it, gentlemen, you see if we
shan't."

"That's what we want to see, Tom," said Murray.

"Course you do, gentlemen, and all we lads forrard are itching for it,
that we are--just about half mad."

"For prize money?" said Roberts sourly.

"Prize money, sir?" replied the man.  "Why, of course, sir.  It's a
Bri'sh sailor's nature to like a bit of prize money at the end of a
v'y'ge; but, begging your pardon, sir, don't you make no mistake.  There
arn't a messmate o' mine as wouldn't give up his prize money for the
sake of overhauling a slaver and reskying a load o' them poor black
beggars.  It's horrid; that's what it just is."

"Quite right, May," said Roberts.

"Thankye, sir," said the man; "and as we was a-saying on'y last night--
talking together we was as we lay out on the deck because it was too
stuffycatin' to sleep."

"So it was, May," said Roberts.

"Yes, sir; reg'lar stifler.  Well, what we all agreed was that what we
should like to do was to set the tables upside down."

"What for?" said Murray, giving his comrade a peculiar glance from the
corner of his eye.

"Why, to give the poor niggers a chance to have a pop at some of the
slavers' crews, sir, to drive 'em with the whip and make 'em work in the
plantations, sir, like dumb beasts.  I should like to see it, sir."

"Well said, Tom!" cried Murray.

"Thankye, sir.  But it's slow work ketching, sir, for you see it's their
swift craft."

"Which makes them so crafty, eh, Tom?" cried Murray.

"Yes, sir.  I don't quite understand what you mean, sir, but I suppose
it's all right, and--"

"Sail on the lee bow!" sang out a voice from the main-top.



CHAPTER TWO.

BOTHER THE FOG.

A minute before those words were shouted from the main-top, the
low-toned conversation carried on by the two young officers, with an
occasional creak or rattle from a swinging sail was all that broke the
silence of the drowsy vessel; now from everywhere came the buzz of
voices and the hurrying trample of feet.

"It's just as if some one had thrust a stick into a wasp's nest,"
whispered Frank Murray to his companion, as they saw that the captain
and officers had hurried up on deck to follow the two lads' example of
bringing their spy-glasses to bear upon a faintly seen sail upon the
horizon, where it was plainly marked for a few minutes--long enough to
be made out as a low schooner with raking masts, carrying a heavy spread
of canvas, which gradually grew fainter and fainter before it died away
in the silvery haze.  The time was short, but quite long enough for
orders to be sharply given, men to spring up aloft, and the sloop's
course to be altered, when shuddering sails began to fill out, making
the _Seafowl_ careen over lightly, and a slight foam formed on either
side of the cut-water.

"That's woke us up, Richard, my son," said Murray.

"Yes, and it means a chance at last."

"If."

"Only this; we just managed to sight that schooner before she died away
again in the haze."

"Well, that gave us long enough to notice her and send the _Seafowl_
gliding along upon her course.  Isn't that enough?"

"Not quite, old fellow."

"Bah!  What a fellow you are, Frank!  You're never satisfied," cried
Roberts.  "What have you got in your head now?"

"Only this; we had long enough before the haze closed in to sight the
schooner well."

"Of course.  We agreed to that."

"Well, suppose it gave them time enough to see us?"

"Doubtful.  A vessel like that is not likely to have a man aloft on the
lookout."

"There I don't agree with you, Dick.  It strikes me that they must keep
a very sharp lookout on board these schooners, or else we must have
overhauled one of them before now."

"Humph!" said Roberts shortly.  "Well, we shall see.  According to my
ideas it won't be very long before we shall be sending a shot across
that schooner's bows, and then a boat aboard.  Hurrah!  Our bad luck is
broken at last."

"Doesn't look like it," said Murray, who had dropped all light flippancy
and banter, to speak now as the eager young officer deeply interested in
everything connected with his profession.

"Oh, get out!" cried Roberts.  "What do you mean by your croaking?  Look
at the way in which our duck has spread her wings and is following in
the schooner's wake.  It's glorious, and the very air seems in our
favour, for it isn't half so hot."

"I mean," said Murray quietly, "that the mist is growing more dense."

"So much in our favour."

"Yes," said Murray, "if the schooner's skipper did not sight us first."

"Oh, bother!  I don't believe he would."

"What's that?" said a gruff voice.

"Only this, sir," said Roberts to the first lieutenant, who had drawn
near unobserved; "only Murray croaking, sir."

"What about, Murray?" asked the elderly officer.

"I was only saying, sir, that we shall not overhaul the schooner if her
people sighted us first."

"That's what I'm afraid of, my lads," said the old officer.  "This haze
may be very good for us, but it may be very good for them and give their
skipper a chance to double and run for one or other of the wretched
muddy creeks or rivers which they know by heart.  There must be one
somewhere near, or she would not have ventured out by daylight, and when
we get within striking distance we may find her gone."

The lieutenant passed the two lads and went forward, where he was heard
to give an order or two which resulted in a man being stationed in the
fore chains ready to take soundings; and soon after he was in eager
conversation with the captain.

"Feeling our way," said Murray, almost in a whisper, as he and his
companion stood together where the man in the chains heaved the lead,
singing out the soundings cheerily till he was checked by an order which
resulted in his marking off the number of fathoms in a speaking voice,
and later on in quite a subdued tone, for the haze had thickened into a
sea fog, and the distance sailed ought to have brought the _Seafowl_
pretty near to the schooner, whose commander might possibly take alarm
at the announcement of a strange vessel's approach.

"I'm afraid they must have heard us before now," said Roberts softly.
"Ah, hark at that!"

For as the man in the chains gave out the soundings it was evident that
the depth was rapidly shoaling, when, in obedience to an order to the
helmsman a turn or two was given to the wheel, the sloop of war was
thrown up into the wind, the sails began to shiver, and the _Seafowl_
lay rocking gently upon the swell.

"Bother the fog!" said Murray fretfully.  "It's growing worse."

"No, sir," said the seaman who was close at hand.  "Seems to me that
it's on the move, and afore long we shall be in the clear, sir, and see
where we are."

The man's words proved to be correct sooner than could have been
expected, for before many minutes had passed, and just when the mist
which shut them in was at its worst, the solid-looking bank of cloud
began to open, and passed away aft; the sun shot out torrid rays, and
those on board the _Seafowl_ were seeing the need there had been for
care, for they were gazing across the clear sea at the wide-spreading
mangrove-covered shore, which, monotonous and of a dingy green,
stretched away to north and south as far as eye could reach.

"Where's the schooner?" exclaimed Murray excitedly, for the _Seafowl_
seemed to be alone upon the dazzling waters.

"In the fog behind us," said Roberts, in a disappointed tone.  "We've
overdone it.  I expected we should; the skipper was in such a jolly
hurry."

Frank Murray took his companion's words as being the correct explanation
of the state of affairs; but they soon proved to be wrong, for the soft
breeze that had sprung up from the shore rapidly swept the fog away
seaward, and though all on board the sloop watched eagerly for the
moment when the smart schooner should emerge, it at last became plain
that she had eluded them--how, no one on board could say.

"It's plain enough that she can't have gone seaward," said Roberts
thoughtfully.  "She must have sailed right away to the east."

"Yes," said Murray thoughtfully.

"Of course!  Right over the tops of the mangroves," said Roberts
mockingly.  "They hang very close, and there's a heavy dew lying upon
them, I'll be bound."

"Oh, yes, of course," said Murray.  "She couldn't have passed in through
some opening, I suppose?"

"Where is the opening, then?" cried Roberts shortly.

"I don't know," replied his companion coolly; "but there must be one,
and the captain of the schooner must be quite at home here and know his
way."

"I wish my young officers would learn to know their way about this
horrible shore instead of spending their time in talking," cried an
angry voice, and the two midshipmen started apart as they awoke to the
fact that the captain had approached them unheard while they were
intently sweeping the shore.

"Higher, my lad--higher up," cried the captain.  "The cross-trees, and
be smart about it.--Yes, Mr Murray, you're right; there's a narrow
river somewhere about, or perhaps it's a wide one.  Take your glass,
sir--the opening is waiting to be found.  What do you think of it, Mr
Anderson?"

"I don't think, sir.  I feel sure the schooner has come out of some
river along here, caught sight of us, and taken advantage of the mist to
make her way back, and for aught we know she is lying snugly enough,
waiting till we are gone."

"Thank you, Mr Anderson," said the captain, with studied politeness,
"but unfortunately I knew all this before you spoke.  What I want to
know is where our friend is lying so snugly.  What do you say to that?"

"Only this, sir--that we must run in as far as we can and sail along
close inshore till we come to the opening of the river."

"And while we sail south we shall be leaving the mouth behind, Mr
Anderson, eh?"

"If it proves to be so, sir," replied the first lieutenant gravely, "we
must sail north again and again too, until we find the entrance."

"Humph!  Yes, sir; but hang it all, are my officers asleep, that we are
sailing up and down here month after month without doing anything?
Here, Mr Murray, what are you thinking about, sir?"

The lad started, for his chief had suddenly fired his question at him
like a shot.

"Well, sir, why don't you answer my question?"

"I beg your pardon, sir," replied Murray now.  "I was thinking."

"Yes, sir, you were thinking," cried the captain passionately.  "I know
you were thinking, and saying to yourself that you had a most
unreasonable captain."

Murray was silent, and the first lieutenant and the other midshipman,
after exchanging a glance, fixed their eyes upon the monotonous shore.

"Do you hear me, sir?" thundered the captain, as if he were speaking to
the lookout at the mast-head instead of the lad close to him.  "That was
what you were thinking, was it not?  Come: the truth."

He bent forward to gaze straight into the boy's eyes as if determined to
get an answer.

"Yes, sir," said the lad desperately, "something of that sort;" and then
to himself, "Oh, murder!  I'm in for it now!"

"Yes, I knew you were, Mr Murray," cried the captain.  "Thank you.  I
like my junior officers to speak out truthfully and well.  Makes us
place confidence in them, Mr Anderson, eh?"

"Yes, sir," growled the chief officer, "but it isn't always pleasant."

"Quite right, Mr Anderson, and it sounds like confounded impudence,
too.  But we're wasting time, and it is valuable.  I'm going to have
that schooner found.  The sea's as smooth as an inland lake, so man and
lower down the cutters.  You take the first cutter, Mr Anderson, Munday
the second.  Row or sail to north and south as the wind serves, and I'll
stand out a bit to see that you don't start the game so that it escapes.
You young gentlemen had better go with the boats."

Murray glanced at the old officer, and to the question in his eyes there
came a nod by way of answer.

"You always have the luck, Franky," grumbled Roberts, as soon as they
were alone.

"Nonsense!  You have as good a chance as I have of finding the
schooner."

"What, with prosy old Munday!  Why, he'll most likely go to sleep."

"So much the better for you.  You can take command of the boat and
discover the schooner's hiding-place."

"Of course.  Board her, capture the Spanish--"

"Or Yankee," said Murray.

"Captain!" snapped out Roberts.  "Oh yes, I know.  Bother!  I do get so
tired of all this."

Tired or no, the young man seemed well on the alert as he stepped into
the second cutter, and soon after each of the boats had run up their
little sail, for a light breeze was blowing, and, leaving the sloop
behind, all the men full of excitement as every eye was fixed upon the
long stretches of mangrove north and south in search of the hidden
opening which might mean the way into some creek, or perhaps the
half-choked-up entrance into one of the muddy rivers of the vast African
shore.



CHAPTER THREE.

THE CUTE VISITOR.

The first cutter had the wind in her favour and glided northward mile
after mile along a shore thickly covered with the peculiar growth of the
mangrove, those dense bird-affecting, reptile-haunted coverts, whose
sole use seems to be that of keeping the muddy soil of the West Afric
shores from being washed away.

The heat was terrible, and the men were congratulating themselves on the
fact that the wind held out and saved them from the painful task of
rowing hard in the blistering sunshine.

Murray's duty was to handle the tiller lines as he sat in the stern
sheets beside the first lieutenant, and after being out close upon three
hours he began to feel that he could keep awake no longer--for his
companion sat silent and stern, his gaze bent upon the dark green shore,
searching vainly for the hidden opening--and in a half torpid state the
midshipman was about to turn to his silent companion and ask to be
relieved of the lines, when he uttered a gasp of thankfulness, and,
forgetting discipline, gripped the officer by the knee.

"What the something, Mr Murray, do you mean by that?" cried the
lieutenant angrily.

"Look!" was the reply, accompanied by a hand stretched out with pointing
index finger.

"Stand by, my lads, ready to pull for all you know," cried the
lieutenant.  "The wind may drop at any moment.  You, Tom May, take a
pull at that sheet; Mr Murray, tighten that port line.  That's better;
we must cut that lugger off.  Did you see where she came out?"

"Not quite, sir," said Murray, as he altered the boat's course a trifle,
"but it must have been close hereabouts.  What are you going to do,
sir?"

"Do, my lad?  Why, take her and make the master or whatever he is, act
as guide."

"I see, sir.  Then you think he must have come out of the river where
the schooner has taken refuge?"

"That's what I think," said the lieutenant grimly; "and if I am right I
fancy the captain will not be quite so hard upon us as he has been of
late."

"It will be a glorious triumph for us--I mean for you, sir," said Murray
hurriedly.

"Quite right, Mr Murray," said his companion, smiling.  "I can well
afford to share the honours with you, for I shall have owed it to your
sharp eyes.  But there, don't let's talk.  We must act and strain every
nerve, for I'm doubtful about that lugger; she sails well and may escape
us after all."

Murray set his teeth as he steered so as to get every foot of speed
possible out of the cutter, while, sheet in hand, Tom May sat eagerly
watching the steersman, ready to obey the slightest sign as the boat's
crew sat fast with the oars in the rowlocks ready to dip together and
pull for all they were worth, should the wind fail.

"That's good, my lads," said the lieutenant--"most seamanlike.  It's a
pleasure to command such a crew."

There was a low hissing sound as of men drawing their breath hard, and
the old officer went on.

"We're not losing ground, Mr Murray," he said.

"No, sir; gaining upon her, I think."

"So do I--think, Mr Murray," said the lieutenant shortly, "but I'm not
sure.  Ah, she's changing her course," he added excitedly, "and we shall
lose her.  Oh, these luggers, these luggers!  How they can skim over the
waves!  Here, marines," he said sharply, as he turned to a couple of the
rifle-armed men who sat in the stern sheets, "be ready to send a shot
through the lugger's foresail if I give the order; the skipper may
understand what I mean."  And the speaker, sat frowning heavily at the
lightly-built lugger they were following.  "I don't see what more I can
do, Mr Murray."

"No, sir," said the midshipman hoarsely.  "Oh, give the order, sir--pray
do!  We mustn't lose that boat."

"Fire!" said the lieutenant sharply; and one marine's rifle cracked,
while as the smoke rose lightly in the air Murray uttered a low cry of
exultation.

"Right through the foresail, sir, and the skipper knows what we mean."

"Yes, capital!  Good shot, marine."

The man's face shone with pleasure as he thrust in a fresh cartridge
before ramming it down, and the crew looked as if they were panting to
give out a loud cheer at the success of the lieutenant's manoeuvre, for
the little lugger, which was just beginning to creep away from them
after a change in her course, now obeyed a touch of her helm and bore
round into the wind till the big lug sails shivered and she gradually
settled down to rock softly upon the long heaving swell that swept in
landward.

As the cutter neared, Murray noted that the strange boat was manned by a
little crew of keen-looking blacks, not the heavy, protuberant-lipped,
flat-nosed, West Coast "niggers," but men of the fierce-looking tribes
who seem to have come from the east in the course of ages and have
preserved somewhat of the Arabic type and its keen, sharp intelligence
of expression.

But the midshipman had not much time for observation of the little crew,
his attention being taken up directly by the dramatic-looking entrance
upon the scene of one who was apparently the skipper or owner of the
lugger, and who had evidently been having a nap in the shade cast by the
aft lugsail, and been awakened by the shot to give the order which had
thrown the lugger up into the wind.

He surprised both the lieutenant and Murray as he popped into sight to
seize the side of his swift little vessel and lean over towards the
approaching cutter, as, snatching off his wide white Panama hat, he
passed one duck-covered white arm across his yellowish-looking hairless
face and shouted fiercely and in a peculiar twang--

"Here, I say, you, whoever you are, do you know you have sent a bullet
through my fores'l?"

"Yes, sir.  Heave to," said the lieutenant angrily.

"Wal, I have hev to, hevn't I, sirr?  But just you look here; I don't
know what you thought you was shooting at, but I suppose you are a
Britisher, and I'm sure your laws don't give you leave to shoot peaceful
traders to fill your bags."

"That will do," said the lieutenant sternly.  "What boat's that?"

"I guess it's mine, for I had it built to my order, and paid for it.
Perhaps you wouldn't mind telling me what your boat is and what you was
shooting at?"

"This is the first cutter of Her Majesty's sloop of war _Seafowl_," said
the lieutenant sternly, "and--"

But the American cut what was about to be said in two by crying in his
sharp nasal twang--

"Then just you look here, stranger; yew've got hold of a boat as is just
about as wrong as it can be for these waters.  I've studied it and
ciphered it out, and I tell yew that if yew don't look out yew'll be
took by one of the waves we have off this here coast, and down yew'll
go.  I don't want to offend yew, mister, for I can see that yew're an
officer, but I tell yew that yew ought to be ashamed of yewrself to
bring your men along here in such a hen cock-shell as that boat of
yourn."

"Why, it's as seaworthy as yours, sir," said the lieutenant
good-humouredly.

"Not it, mister; and besides, I never go far from home in mine."

"From home!" said the lieutenant keenly.  "Where do you call home?"

"Yonder," said the American, with a jerk of his head.  "You ain't got no
home here, and it's a mercy that you haven't been swamped before now.
Where have you come from?--the Cape?"

"No," said the lieutenant; "but look here, sir, what are you, and what
are you doing out here?"

"Sailing now," said the American.

"But when you are ashore?"

"Rubber," said the man.

"What, trading in indiarubber?"

"Shall be bimeby.  Growing it now--plantation."

"Oh," said the lieutenant, looking at the speaker dubiously.  "Where is
your plantation?"

"Up the creek yonder," replied the American, with another nod of his
head towards the coast.

"Oh," said the lieutenant quietly; "you have a plantation, have you, for
the production of rubber, and you work that with slaves?"

"Ha, ha, ha, ha!" laughed the American, showing a set of very yellow
teeth.  "That's what you're after, then?  I see through you now,
cyaptain.  You're after slave-traders."

"Perhaps so; and you confess yourself to be one," said the lieutenant.

"Me?" said the American, laughing boisterously again.  "Hev another try,
cyaptain.  Yew're out this time.  Ketch me trying to work a plantation
with West Coast niggers!  See those boys o' mine?"

"Yes; I see your men," replied the lieutenant.

"Them's the stuff I work with.  Pay 'em well and they work well.  No
work, no pay.  Why, one of those fellows'd do more work for me in a day
than one of the blacks they come here to buy up could do in a week."

"Then slave-traders come here to buy, eh?"

"Yes, they do," replied the man, "but 'tain't none of my business.  They
don't interfere with me, and I don't interfere with them.  Plenty of
room here for both.  Yew're after them, then?"

"Yes," said the lieutenant frankly.

"Phew!" whistled the man, giving his knees a slap.  "Why, you'll be
after the schooner that came into this river this morning?"

"Possibly," said the lieutenant, while Murray felt his blood thrill in
his veins with the excitement of the position.  "What schooner was it?"

"Smart sailing craft, with long rakish masts?"

"Yes, yes," said the lieutenant; "I know all about that.  A slaver, eh?"

The American half shut his eyes as he peered out of their corners at the
British officer, and a queer smile puckered up his countenance.

"Slaving ain't lawful, is it, mister?" he said.

"You answer my question," said the lieutenant testily.

"Means confiscation, don't it?"

"And that is not an answer," cried the lieutenant angrily.

"Yew making a prize of that theer smart schooner from her top-masts down
to her keel, eh?"

"Will you reply to what I say?" cried the lieutenant.  "Is she a
slaver?"

"Lookye here, mister," said the American, grinning.  "S'pose I say
_yes_, you'll jest confiscate that there schooner when her skipper and
her crew slips over the side into the boats and pulls ashore."

"Perhaps I may," said the lieutenant shortly.

"Exackly so, mister.  Then you sails away with her for a prize, eh?"

"Possibly," said the lieutenant coldly.

"And what about me?"

"Well, what about you?"

"I can't pull back to my rubber plantations and sail them away, can I?"

"I do not understand you, sir," said the lieutenant sharply.

"No, and you don't care to understand me, mister.  `No,' says you, `it's
no business of mine about his pesky injyrubby fields.'"

"Why should it be, sir?" said the lieutenant shortly.

"Exackly so, mister; but it means a deal to me.  How shall I look after
you're gone when the slaver's skipper--"

"Ah!" cried Murray excitedly.  "Then she is a slaver!"

The American's eyes twinkled as he turned upon the young man.

"Yew're a sharp 'un, yew are," he said, showing his yellow teeth.  "Did
I say she was a slaver?"

"Yes, you did," cried Murray.

"Slipped out then because your boss began saying slaver, I suppose.
That was your word and I give it to yew back again.  I want to live
peaceable like on my plantation and make my dollahs out of that there
elastic and far-stretching projuice of the injyrubbery trees.  That's my
business, misters, and I'm not going to take away any man's crackter."

"You have given me the clue I want, sir," said the lieutenant, "and it
is of no use for you to shirk any longer from telling me the plain truth
about what is going on up this river or creek."

"Oh, isn't it, mister officer?  Perhaps I know my business better than
you can tell me.  I dessay yew're a very smart officer, but I could give
you fits over growing rubber, and I'm not going to interfere with my
neighbours who may carry on a elastic trade of their own in black rubber
or they may not.  'Tain't my business.  As I said afore, or was going to
say afore when this here young shaver as hain't begun to shave yet put
his oar in and stopped me, how should I look when yew'd gone and that
half-breed black and yaller Portygee schooner skipper comes back with
three or four boat-loads of his cut-throats and says to me in his bad
language that ain't nayther English, 'Murrican, nor nothing else but
hashed swearing, `Look here,' he says, `won't injyrubber burn like fire,
eh?'  `Yes,' I says, civil and smooth, `it is rayther rum-combustible.'
`So I thought,' he says.  `Well, you've been letting that tongue of
yours go running along and showing those cusses of Britishers where I
anchor my boat and load up with plantation stuff for the West Injies; so
jes' look here,' he sez, `I've lost thousands o' dollars threw yew, and
so I'm just going to make yew pay for it by burning up your plantations
and putting a stop to your trade, same as yew've put a stop to mine.  I
shan't hurt yew, because I'm a kind-hearted gentle sorter man, but I
can't answer for my crew.  I can't pay them, because yew've took my ship
and my marchandise, so I shall tell them they must take it outer yew.
And they will, stranger.  I don't say as they'll use their knives over
the job, and I don't say as they won't, but what I do say is that I
shouldn't like to be yew.'  There, Mister Officer, that's about what's
the matter with me, and now yew understand why I don't keer about
meddling with my neighbours' business."

"Yes, I understand perfectly," said the lieutenant, "but I want you to
see that it is your duty to help to put a stop to this horrible traffic
in human beings.  Have you no pity for the poor blacks who are made
prisoners, and are dragged away from their homes to be taken across the
sea and sold like so many cattle?"

"Me?  Pity!  Mister, I'm full of it.  I'm sorry as sorrow for the poor
niggers, and whenever I know that yon schooner is loading up with black
stuff I shuts my eyes and looks t'other way."

"Indeed!" cried Murray.  "And pray how do you manage to do that?"

"Why, ain't I telling on you, youngster?  I shuts my eyes so as I can't
see."

"Then how can you look another way?"

The American displayed every tooth in his head and winked at the
lieutenant.

"Yew've got a sharp 'un here, mister.  I should keep him covered up, or
shut him up somehow, 'fore he cuts anybody or himself.  But yew
understand what I mean, mister, and I dessay you can see now why I feel
it my business to be very sorry for the black niggers, but more sorry
for myself and my people.  I don't want to be knifed by a set o' hangdog
rubbish from all parts o' the world.  I'm a peaceable man, mister, but
you're a cap'en of a man-o'-war, I suppose?"

"Chief officer," said the lieutenant.

"And what's him?" said the American, jerking his thumb over his shoulder
in the direction of the midshipman.  "Young chief officer?"

"Junior officer."

"Oh, his he?  Well, I tell you what: yew both go and act like
men-o'-war.  Sail up close to that schooner, fire your big guns, and
send her to the bottom of the river."

"And what about the poor slaves?" said Murray excitedly.

"Eh, the black stuff?" said the American, scratching his chin with his
forefinger.  "Oh, I forgot all about them.  Rather bad for them, eh,
mister?"

"Of course," said the lieutenant.  "No, sir, that will not do.  I want
to take the schooner, and make her captain and crew prisoners."

"Yew'll have to look slippery then, mister.  But what about the
niggers?"

"I shall take them with the vessel to Lagos or some other port where a
prize court is held, and the judge will no doubt order the best to be
done with them."

"Which means put an end to the lot, eh?" said the American.

"Bah!  Nonsense!" cried Murray indignantly.

"Is it, young mister?  Well, I didn't know.  It ain't my business.  Yew
go on and do what's right.  It's your business.  I don't keer so long as
I'm not mixed up with it.  I've on'y got one life, and I want to take
keer on it.  Now we understand one another?"

"Not quite," said the lieutenant.

"Why, what is there as yew can't take in?"

"Nothing," said the lieutenant.  "I quite see your position, and that
you do not wish to run any risks with the slaver captain and his men."

"Not a cent's worth if I can help it."

"And quite right, sir," said the lieutenant; "but I take it that you
know this slaver skipper by sight?"

"Oh, yes, I know him, mister--quite as much as I want to."

"And you know where he trades to?"

"West Injies."

"No, no; I mean his place here."

"Oh, you mean his barracks and sheds where the chief stores up all the
black stuff for him to come and fetch away?"

"Yes, that's it," cried Murray excitedly.

"Have the goodness to let me conclude this important business, Mr
Murray," said the lieutenant coldly.

"I beg your pardon, sir," said Murray, turning scarlet; "I was so
excited."

"That's one for you, mister young chief officer," said the American,
grinning at the midshipman, and then turning to the lieutenant.  "These
young uns want sitting upon a bit sometimes, eh, mister?"

"Look here, sir," said the lieutenant, ignoring the remark; "just listen
to me.  I want you to guide me and my men to the foul nest of this
slave-trader and the town of the black chief."

The American shook his head.

"You need not shrink, for you will be under the protection of the
English Government."

"That's a long way off, mister."

"But very far-reaching, sir," continued the lieutenant, "and I promise
you full protection for all that you do.  Why, surely, man, you will be
able to cultivate your plantation far more peacefully and with greater
satisfaction with the river cleared of this abominable traffic."

"Well, if you put it in that way, mister, I should," said the man, "and
that's a fine range of rich land where the black chief has his people
and their huts.  I could do wonders with that bit if I could hold it
safely.  The rubber I'd plant there would be enough to--"

"Rub out all the black marks that the slave-trade has made."

"Very good, Mr Murray," said the lieutenant, smiling pleasantly, "but
this is no time to try and be smart."

"Eh?" said the American.  "Was that what he was aiming at?  I didn't
understand; but I tell yew that there is about a mile of rich syle there
which if I had I could make it projuice a fortune."

"Look here, sir," said the lieutenant, "I have no doubt about the
possibility of your being helped by the British Government to take
possession of such a tract after we have done with it."

"Why, you don't mean, Mister Chief Officer, that you will let your
British Lion put his paw upon it and stick to it till you've done with
it, as you say?"

"No, no, no," said the lieutenant, smiling.  "I mean that the British
Lion will put its paw upon the horrible settlement in this way and will
root out the traffic, and we shall only be too glad to encourage the
rise of a peaceful honest culture such as you are carrying on."

"You mean then that you'll root out the slaves and burn the chief's
town?"

"Most certainly," said the lieutenant.  "And help me to get hold of that
there land?"

"I believe I may promise that."

"And take care that the Portygee slaver cock has his comb cut so as he
dursen't meddle with me?"

"I feel sure that all this will follow if you help us to capture the
slaver, and point out where the abominable traffic is carried on."

"Shake on it," said the American, thrusting out a thin yellow hand with
unpleasantly long nails.

"Shake hands upon the compact?" said the lieutenant good-humouredly.
"Very good;" and he gave the yellow hand a good manly grip.

"Then I'm on!" cried the man effusively.  "But look here, yew're in this
too;" and he stretched out his hand to Murray.  "Yew're a witness to all
your chief said."

"Oh, all right," said Murray, and he let the long, thin, unpleasantly
cold and dank fingers close round his hand, but not without a feeling of
disgust which was expressed by the making of a grimace as soon as the
American turned to the lieutenant again.

"That's settled, then," said the latter, "so go on at once and lead
while we follow."

"What!" said the American, with a look of wonder.

"I say, go on and guide us to the slaver's nest."

"What, just alone like this here?"

"Yes, of course.  You see we are well-armed and ready to board and take
the schooner at once.  Fire will destroy the chief's town."

"Well, you do 'maze me," said the American, showing his teeth.

"What do you mean?" said the lieutenant sternly.  "Are you going to draw
back?"

"Not me, mister.  That's a bargain," said the man, grinning.  "I mean
that you 'maze me, you Englishers do, by your cheek.  I don't doubt you
a bit.  You mean it, and yew'll dew it.  Why, I dessay if yew yewrself
wasn't here this here young shaver of an officer would have a try at it
hisself.  You would, wouldn't you, youngster?"

"Why, of course I would," said Murray proudly; and then, feeling afraid
that his assertion might be looked upon as braggadocio, he hastened to
add, "I--I--er--meant to say that I would try, and our brave fellows
would take the prisoners."

"Nay, nay, yew would," said the American.  "There ain't nothing to be
ashamed on in being brave, is there, mister?"

"Of course not," said the lieutenant.

"Of course not," said the American; "but look here, sirree, it's no good
to lose brave men by trying to do things that's a bit too strong and
starky for you."

"What, do you mean that the schooner's crew would be too strong for us?"

"Nay, not me, mister.  Yew'd chaw them up safe.  But there's the black
king; he's got close upon a hundred fighting men, chaps with spears.
He'd fight too, for though they ain't got much brains, these niggers,
he'd know you'd be going to do away with his bread and cheese, as you
may say.  No, sirree, I ain't a fighting man; rubber's my line, but I
want to _get_ hold of that bit of syle--make sewer of it, as you may
say; and if I'd got that job to do I should get another boatful of men
if you could.  Don't know of a British ship handy, do you?"

"Of course.  My captain is off the coast not far away.  You did not
suppose that we came alone?"

"Oh, I didn't know, mister.  Could you bring your captain then?"

"Yes."

"And another boat?"

"Of course."

"Then if I was you I should tell him to sail up the river."

"What, is there water enough--deep water?" asked the lieutenant.

"Whatcher talking about?" said the man contemptuously.  "Why, didn't you
see me sail out?"

The lieutenant shook his head.

"Think o' that!" said the American.  "Way in's bit narrer, but as soon
as you get threw the trees you're in a big mighty river you can sail up
for months if yew like.  I have heerd that there's some falls somewhere,
but I've never seem 'em.  Water enough?  My snakes!  There's water
enough to make a flood, if you want one, as soon as you get by the
winding bits."

"The river winds?" said the lieutenant.

"Winds?  I should think she does!  Why, look yonder, mister," continued
the man, pointing.  "It's all trees like that for miles.  You've got to
get through them."

"Deep water?" asked the lieutenant.

"Orful!  On'y it's 'bout as muddy as rivers can be made."

"And you assure me that you could pilot us in and right up to the
slaver's stronghold?"

"Pilot yew?  Yew don't want no piloting; all yew've got to do is to sail
up in and out through the big wilderness of trees.  Yew wouldn't want no
piloting, but if you undertake to see that I have that chief's land, and
clear him and his black crews away, I'll lay _yew_ off his front door
where you can blow his palm-tree palace all to smithers without losing a
man."

"And what about the slaver?" asked Murray.

"What about her?  She'll be lying anchored there, of course."

"With any colleagues?" asked the lieutenant.

"Whatche'r mean--t'others?"

"Yes."

"Not now, mister.  There's as many as four or five sometimes, but I only
see her go up the river this time.  Yew should have come later on if you
wanted more."

"The slaver is up the river now, then?" said the lieutenant, looking at
the man searchingly.

"Yes, of course," was the reply, as the American involuntarily gave a
look round, and then, as if taking himself to task for an act of folly,
he added laughingly.  "If she wasn't up there she'd be out here, and you
can see for yourselves that she ain't."

"You could show us the way in?" said Murray.

"Why, didn't I say I could?" replied the man sharply.

"Yes; but I should like to have a glimpse of her first," said Murray.

"What for, youngster?  To let her know that you're coming?  You take my
advice, mister, and come upon her sudden like."

The lieutenant gazed intently upon the man.

"Yes; I should like to reconnoitre a bit first.  With your assistance we
ought to be able to run our boats close up under the shelter of the
trees and see what she is like."

"See what she's like, mister?  Why, like any other schooner.  You take
my advice; you'll slip off and fetch your ship, and I'll wait here till
you come back."

Murray looked at the man searchingly, for somehow a sense of doubt began
to trouble him as to the man's trustworthiness, and the lad began to
turn over the position in his mind.  For though the man's story seemed
to be reasonable enough, an element of suspicion began to creep in and
he began to long to ask the lieutenant as to what he thought about the
matter.

But he did not speak, for the keen-looking American's eyes were upon
him, and when they shifted it was only for them to be turned upon the
lieutenant.

"Wal," he said at last, "whatcher thinking about, mister?"

"About your running me up to where you could point out the schooner."

"But I don't want to," said the man frankly.

"Why?" asked the lieutenant sharply.

"'Cause I don't want to lose the chance of getting that there mile of
plantation."

"There ought to be no risk, sir, if we were careful."

"I dunno so much about that there, mister.  Them slaver chaps always
sleep with one eye open, and there's no knowing what might happen."

"What might happen!  What could happen?"

"Nothing; but the skipper might hyste sail and run his craft right up
towards the falls.  As I said, I never see them, but there must be falls
to keep this river so full."

"But we could follow him."

"Part of the way p'raps, mister, but he could go in his light craft much
further than you could in a man-o'-war."

"True," said the lieutenant; "you are right."

"Somewhere about," said the man, showing his teeth.  "There, you slip
off and fetch your ship, and I'll cruise up and down off the mouth of
the river here so as to make sure that the schooner don't slip off.
She's just as like as not to hyste sail now that the fog's all gone.
She'd have been off before if it hadn't come on as thick as soup.  Say,
'bout how far off is your ship?"

"Half-a-dozen miles away," said the lieutenant.

"That ain't far.  Why not be off at once?"

"Why not come with us?" asked Murray.

"Ain't I telled yer, youngster?  Think I want to come back and find the
schooner gone?"

The lieutenant gazed from the American to the midshipman and back again,
with his doubts here and there, veering like a weather vane, for the
thought would keep attacking him--suppose all this about the slave
schooner was Yankee bunkum, and as soon as he had got rid of them, the
lugger would sail away and be seen no more?

"You won't trust him, will you?" said Murray, taking advantage of a puff
of wind which separated the two boats for a few minutes.

"I can't," said the lieutenant, in a whisper.  "I was nearly placing
confidence in him, but your doubt has steered me in the other direction.
Hah!" he added quickly.  "That will prove him."  And just then the
lugger glided alongside again, and the opportunity for further communing
between the two officers was gone.

"That's what yew have to be on the lookout for, mister, when yew get
sailing out here.  Sharp cat's-paws o' wind hot as fire sometimes.
Well, ain't you going to fetch your ship?"

"And what about you?" said the lieutenant.

"Me?" said the man wonderingly, and looking as innocent as a child.

"Yes; where am I to pick you up again?"

"Oh!  I'll show you.  I'll be hanging just inside one of the mouths of
the river, and then lead yew in when yew get back with yewr ship."

Murray softly pressed his foot against his officer's without seeming to
move, and felt the pressure returned, as if to say--All right; I'm not
going to trust him--and the lieutenant then said aloud--

"But why shouldn't you sail with us as far as our sloop?"

"Ah, why shouldn't I, after all?" said the man.  "You might show me your
skipper, and we could talk to him about what we're going to do.  All
right; sail away if you like to chance it."

The lieutenant nodded, and a few minutes later the two boats were
gliding about half a mile abreast of the dense mangrove-covered shore in
the direction of the _Seafowl_, and only about fifty yards apart.

"You'll be keeping a sharp lookout for treachery in any shape, sir?"
said Murray, in a low tone.

"The fellow's willingness to fall in with my proposal has disarmed me,
Mr Murray," said the lieutenant quietly, "but all the same I felt bound
to be cautious.  I have given the marines orders to be ready to fire at
the slightest sign of an attempt to get away."

"You have, sir?  Bravo!" said Murray, in the same low tone, and without
seeming to be talking to his chief if they were observed.  "But I did
not hear you speak to the jollies."

"No, Mr Murray; I did not mean you to, and I did not shout.  But this
caution is, after all, unnecessary, for there comes the sloop to look
after us.  Look; she is rounding that tree-covered headland."

"Better and better, sir!" cried Murray excitedly.  "I was beginning to
fidget about the lugger."

"What about her, Mr Murray?"

"Beginning to feel afraid of her slipping away as soon as we were out of
sight."

"You think, then, that the lugger's people might be on the watch?"

"Yes, sir."

"Quite possible," said the lieutenant.  "Well, we have her safe now."

"Yes, sir; but won't you heave to and wait?"

"To be sure, yes, Mr Murray; a good idea; and let the sloop sail up to
us?"

"Won't it make the captain storm a bit, sir, and ask sharply why we
didn't make haste and join?"

"Most likely, Mr Murray," said the lieutenant quietly; "but if he does
we have two answers."

"The lugger, sir."

"Yes, Mr Murray, and the discovery of the schooner."

"Waiting to be boarded, sir," said the midshipman.

"Exactly, Mr Murray.  Any one make out the second cutter?"

"Ay, ay, sir!" cried Tom May.  "There she is, sir--miles astarn of the
_Seafowl_, sir."

"I wish we could signal to her to lay off and on where she is."

"What for, sir?"

"There may be one of the narrow entrances to the great river
thereabouts, and the wider the space we can cover, the greater chance we
shall have of preventing the slaver from stealing away."



CHAPTER FOUR.

THE YANKEE'S FOOD.

"Grand, Mr Anderson," said the captain, after a time.  But his first
words had come pouring out like a storm of blame, which gave the first
lieutenant no opportunity to report what he had done.  "Yes: could not
be better sir.  There, we are going to capture a slaver at last!"

"Yes, sir, if we have luck; and to stamp out one of the strongholds of
the accursed trade."

Then the captain became silent, and stood thoughtfully looking over the
side at the indiarubber planter's lugger.

"Humph!" he ejaculated, at last.  "Rather a serious risk to run, to
trust to this stranger and make him our guide."

"So it struck me, sir, as I told you," said the lieutenant.

"Let me see, Mr Anderson, did you tell me that?"

"Yes, sir, if you will recall it."

"Humph!  Yes, I suppose you did.  But I was thinking.  Suppose he plays
us false."

"Why should he, sir?"

"To be sure, why should he, Mr Anderson?  All the same, we must be
careful."

Meanwhile, Murray was being cross-examined by his brother midshipman,
who looked out of temper, and expressed himself sourly upon coming
aboard.

"You have all the luck," he said.  "You drop into all the spirited
adventures, while I am packed off with prosy old Munday."

"Oh, nonsense!  It is all chance.  But didn't you see anything, old
chap?"

"Yes--muddy water; dingy mangroves; the tail of a croc as the filthy
reptile slid off the tree roots into the water.  That was all, while
there I was cooking in the heat, and listening to old Munday prose,
prose, prose, till I dropped off to sleep, when the disagreeable beggar
woke me up, to bully me about neglecting my duty, and told me that I
should never _get to_ be a smart officer if I took so little interest in
my profession that I could not keep awake when out on duty."

"Well, it did seem hard, Dick, when he sent you off to sleep.  I
couldn't have kept awake, I know."

"I'm sure you couldn't.  But there: bother!  You couldn't help getting
all the luck."

"No; and you are going to share it now."

"Not so sure, Frank.  As like as not the skipper will send me away in a
boat to watch some hole where the slaver might slip out.  So this Yankee
is going to act as pilot and lead us up the river to where the schooner
is hiding?"

"Yes, and to show us the chief's town, and the place where he collects
the poor unfortunate blacks ready for being shipped away to the Spanish
plantations."

"My word, it's fine!" cried Roberts excitedly.  "And hooroar, as Tom May
has it.  Why, the lads will be half mad with delight."

"And enough to make them," said Murray.  "But I say, how does it strike
you?"

"As being glorious.  Franky, old fellow, if it wasn't for the look of
the thing I could chuck up my cap and break out into a hornpipe.  Dance
it without music."

"To the delight of the men, and make Anderson or Munday say that it was
not like the conduct of an officer and a gentleman."

"Yes, that's the worst of it.  But though of course we're men now--"

"Midshipmen," said Murray drily.

"Don't sneer, old chap!  And don't interrupt when I'm talking."

"Say on, O sage," said the lad.

"I was going to say that of course, though we are men now, one does feel
a bit of the boy sometimes, and as if it was pleasant now and then to
have a good lark."  As the young fellow spoke he passed his hand
thoughtfully over his cheeks and chin.  "What are you grinning at?" he
continued.

"Not grinning, old fellow; it was only a smile."

"Now, none of your gammon.  You were laughing at me."

"Oh!  Nothing!" said Murray, with the smile deepening at the corners of
his mouth.

"There you go again!" cried Roberts.  "Who's to keep friends with you,
Frank Murray, when you are always trying to pick a quarrel with a
fellow?"

"What, by smiling?"

"No, by laughing at a fellow and then pretending you were not.  Now
then, what was it?"

"Oh, all right; I only smiled at you about your shaving so carefully
this morning."

"How did you know I shaved this morning?" cried the midshipman,
flushing.

"You told me so."

"That I'll swear I didn't."

"Not with your lips, Dicky--_Dick_--but with your fingers."

"Oh!  Bother!  I never did see such a fellow as you are to spy out
things," cried Roberts petulantly.

"Not spy, old chap.  I only try to put that and that together, and I
want you to do the same.  So you think this is all glorious about yonder
planter chap piloting us to the slaver's place?"

"Of course!  Don't you?"

"Well, I don't know, Dick," said Murray, filling his forehead with
wrinkles.

"Oh, I never did see such a fellow for pouring a souse of cold water
down a fellow's back," cried Roberts passionately.  "You don't mean to
say that you think he's a fraud?"

"Can't help thinking something of the kind, old man."

"Oh!" ejaculated Roberts.  "I say, here, tell us what makes you think
so."

"He's too easy and ready, Dick," said Murray, throwing off his ordinary
merry ways and speaking seriously and with his face full of thought.

"But what does Anderson say to it?"

"He seemed to be suspicious once, but it all passed off, and then the
skipper when he heard everything too talked as if he had his doubts.
But now he treats it as if it is all right, and we are to follow this
American chap wherever he leads us."

"Yes, to-morrow morning, isn't it?"

"No, Dick; to-night."

"To-night--in the dark?"

"I suppose so."

"Oh!" said Roberts thoughtfully, and he began to shave himself with his
finger once more, but without provoking the faintest smile from his
companion.  "I say, Franky, I don't like that."

"No; neither do I, Dick."

"It does seem like putting ourselves into his hands," continued Roberts
thoughtfully.  "Oh, but I don't know," he continued, as if snatching at
anything that told for the success of the expedition; "you know what
Anderson often tells us."

"I know what he says sometimes about our being thoughtless boys."

"Yes, that's what I mean, old fellow; and it isn't true, for I think a
deal about my duties, and as for you--you're a beggar to think, just
like the monkey who wouldn't speak for fear he should be set to work."

"Thanks for the compliment," said Murray drily.

"Oh, you know what I mean.  But I suppose we can't think so well now as
we shall by and by.  I mean, older fellows can think better, and I
suppose that the skipper and old Anderson really do know better than we
do.  It will be all right, old fellow.  They wouldn't let themselves be
led into any trap; and besides, look at the Yankee--I mean, look at his
position; he must be sharp enough."

"Oh yes, he's sharp enough," said Murray.  "Hear him talk, and you'd
think he was brought up on pap made of boiled-down razor-strops."

"Well, then, he must know well enough that if he did the slightest thing
in the way of playing fast and loose with us, he'd get a bullet through
his head."

"Yes--if he wasn't too sharp for us."

"Oh, it will be all right," cried Roberts.  "Don't be too cautious,
Franky.  Put your faith in your superior officers; that's the way to
succeed."

"Then you think I am too cautious here, Dick?"

"Of course I do," cried Roberts, patting his brother middy on the
shoulder.  "It will be all right, so don't be dumpy.  I feel as if we
are going to have a fine time of it."

"Think we shall have any fighting?"

"Afraid not; but you do as I do.  I mean to get hold of a cutlass and
pistols.  I'm not going to risk my valuable life with nothing to
preserve it but a ridiculous dirk.  Don't you be downhearted and think
that the expedition is coming to grief."

"Not I," said Murray cheerily.  "I suppose it's all right; but I
couldn't help thinking what I have told you.  I wish I didn't think such
things; but it's a way I have."

"Yes," said his companion, "and any one wouldn't expect it of you,
Franky, seeing what a light-hearted chap you are.  It's a fault in your
nature, a thing you ought to correct.  If you don't get over it you'll
never make a dashing officer."

"Be too cautious, eh?" said Murray good-humouredly.

"That's it, old chap.  Oh, I say, though, I wish it was nearly night,
and that we were going off at once.  But I say, where's the Yankee?"

"What!" cried Murray, starting.  "Isn't he alongside in his boat?"

"No; didn't you see?  He came aboard half-an-hour ago.  Old Bosun
Dempsey fetched him out of his lugger; and look yonder, you croaking old
cock raven.  We always have one jolly as sentry at the gangway, don't
we?"

"Of course."

"Very well, look now; there are two loaded and primed ready for any
pranks the lugger men might play; and there are the two cutters ready
for lowering down at a moment's notice, and it wouldn't take long for
Dempsey to fizzle out his tune on his pipe and send the crews into
them."

"Bah!  Pish!  Pooh! and the rest of it.  What do you mean by that?
Look, the lugger is a fast sailer."

"Well, I dare say she is, but one of our little brass guns can send
balls that sail through the air much faster.  So drop all those dismal
prophecies and damping thoughts about danger.  Our officers know their
way about and have got their eyes open.  The skipper knows about
everything, and what he doesn't know bully Anderson tells him.  It's all
right, Franky.  Just look at the lads!  Why, there's Tom May smiling as
if he'd filled his pockets full of prize money."

"Yes," assented Murray, "and the other lads have shaped their phizzes to
match.  But let's get closer to the lugger."

"What for?" said Roberts sharply.

"To have a good look at her Indiarubber-cultivating crew."

"Not I!" cried Roberts.  "If we go there you'll begin to see something
wrong again, and begin to croak."

"No, no; honour bright!  If I do think anything, I won't say a word."

"I'd better keep you here out of temptation," said Roberts dubiously.

"Nonsense!  It's all right, I tell you.  There, come along."



CHAPTER FIVE.

TRUSTING A GUIDE.

The two lads made for where they could get a good view of the lugger
swinging by a rope abreast of the starboard gangway, and as they passed
along the quarter-deck, the shrill strident tones of the American's
voice reached them through one of the open cabin skylights, while
directly after, Murray, keen and observant of everything, noted that the
two marines of whom his companion had spoken were standing apparently
simply on duty, but thoroughly upon the alert and ready for anything,
their whole bearing suggesting that they had received the strictest of
orders, and were prepared for anything that might occur.

Roberts gave his companion a nudge with his elbow and a quick glance of
the eye, which produced "Yes, all right; I see," from Murray.  "I'm
afraid--I mean I'm glad to see that I was only croaking; but I say,
Dick, have a good quiet look at those fellows and see if you don't find
some excuse for what I thought."

"Bah!  Beginning to croak again."

"That I'm not," said Murray.  "I only say have a look at them,
especially at that fellow smoking."

"Wait a moment.  I have focussed my eye upon that beauty getting his
quid ready--disgusting!"

"Yes, it does look nasty," said Murray, with the corners of his lips
turning up.  "The regular Malay fashion.  That fellow never came from
these parts."

"Suppose not.  Why can't the nasty wretch cut a quid off a bit of black
twist tobacco like an ordinary British sailor?"

"Instead of taking a leaf out of his pouch," continued Murray, "smearing
it with that mess of white lime paste out of his shell--"

"Putting a bit of broken betel nut inside--" said Roberts.

"Rolling it up together--" continued Murray.

"And popping the whole ball into his pretty mouth," said Roberts.  "Bah!
Look at his black teeth and the stained corners of his lips.  Talk
about a dirty habit!  Our jacks are bad enough.  Ugh!"

"I say, Dick," whispered Murray, as the Malay occupant of the boat
realised the fact that he was being watched, and rolled his opal
eyeballs round with a peculiar leer up at the two young officers.

"Now then," was the reply, "you promised that you wouldn't croak."

"To be sure.  I only wanted to say that fellow looks a beauty."

"Beauty is only skin deep," said Roberts softly.

"And ugliness goes to the bone," whispered Murray, smiling.  "Yes, he
looks a nice fellow to be a cultivator of the indiarubber plant."

"Eh?  Who said he was?" said Roberts sharply.

"His skipper.  That's what they all are.  Splendid workers too.  Do more
than regular niggers."

"Do more, no doubt," said Roberts thoughtfully.  "But they certainly
don't look like agricultural labourers.  Why, they're a regular crew of
all sorts."

"Irregular crew, you mean," said Murray.  "That one to the left looks
like an Arab."

"Yes, and the one asleep with his mouth open and the flies buzzing about
him looks to me like a Krooboy.  Well, upon my word, old Croaker, they
do look--I say, do you see that blackest one?"

"Yes; and I've seen them before, you know."

"But he opened and shut his mouth just now.  You didn't see that, did
you?"

"Yes, I saw it; he has had his teeth filed like a saw."

"That's what I meant, and it makes him look like a crocodile when he
gapes."

"Or a shark."

"Well," said Roberts, after a pause, "upon my word, Frank, they do look
about as ugly a set of cut-throat scoundrels as ever I saw in my life."

"Right," said Murray eagerly.  "Well, what do you say now?"

"That I should like to point out their peculiarities to the skipper and
old Anderson, and tell them what we think.  Go and ask them to come and
look."

"I have already done so to Anderson."

"But you ought to do it to the skipper as well.  Look here, go at once
and fetch him here to look."

"While the American is with him?  Thank you; I'd rather not."

"Do you mean that?"

"To be sure I do.  What would he say to me?"

"Oh, he'd cut up rough, of course; but you wouldn't mind that in the
cause of duty."

Murray laughed softly.

"Why, Dick, I can almost hear what he would say about my impudence to
attempt to teach him his duty.  No, thank you, my dear boy; if he and
Anderson think it right to trust the American, why, it must be right.
If you feel that the nature of these fellows ought to be pointed out,
why, you go and do it."

Roberts took another look at the lugger's crew, and then shrugged his
shoulders, just as the captain came on deck, followed by the American
and the first lieutenant.

The American was talking away volubly, and every word of the
conversation came plainly to the ears of the two lads.

"Of course, cyaptain, I'll stop on board your craft if yew like, but I
put it to yew, how am I going to play pilot and lead you in through the
mouth if I stop here?  I can sail my lugger easy enough, but I should
get into a tarnation mess if I tried to con your big ship.  Better let
me lead in aboard my own craft, and you follow."

"In the darkness of night?" said the captain.

"There ain't no darkness to-night, mister.  It'll be full moon, and it's
morning pretty early--just soon enough for you to begin business at
daybreak.  I shall lead you right up to where the schooner's lying, and
then you'll be ready to waken the skipper up by giving him a good round
up with your big guns."

"And what about the slaves?"

"Oh, you must fire high, sir, and then yew won't touch them.  High
firing's just what yew want so as to cripple his sails and leave him
broken-winged like a shot bird on the water."

The captain nodded, and the two midshipmen, after a glance at the first
lieutenant, to see that he was listening attentively with half-closed
eyes, gazed at the American again.

"Lookye here, mister," he said, "yew must make no mistake over this job.
If yew do, it's going to be pretty bad for me, and instead of me being
rid of a bad neighbour or two, and coming in for a long strip of rich
rubber-growing land, I shall find myself dropped upon for letting on to
him yewr craft; and I tell yew he's a coon, this slave cyaptain, as
won't forgive anything of that kind.  He's just this sort of fellow.  If
he finds I've done him such an on-neighbourly act, he'll just give his
fellows a nod, and in less time than yew can wink there'll be no
rubber-grower anywhere above ground, for there'll be a fine rich
plantation to sell and no bidders, while this 'ere industrious
enterprising party will be somewhere down the river, put aside into some
hole in the bank to get nice and mellow by one of the crockydiles, who
object to their meat being too fresh."

"Ugh!" shuddered Roberts.

"Oh, that's right enough, young squire," said the man, turning upon him
sharply.  "I ain't telling you no travellers' tales.  It's all true
enough.  Wal, cyaptain, don't you see the sense of what I am saying?"

"Yes, sir.  But tell me this; do you guarantee that there are no shoals
anywhere about the mouth of the river?"

"Shoals, no; sands, no, sir.  All deep water without any bottom to speak
of.  But where you find it all deep mud yew can't take no harm, sir.
The river's made its way right threw the forest, and the bank's cut
right straight down and up perpendicular like, while if _you_ were to go
ashore it would only be to send your jib boom right in among the trees
and your cut-water against the soft muddy bank.  Why, it's mostly a
hundred feet deep.  Yew trust me, and yew'll find plenty of room; but if
yew don't feel quite comf'table, if I was yew I'd just lie off for a bit
while you send in one of your boats and Squire First Lieutenant there,
to see what it's like, and the sooner the better, for the sun's getting
low, and as I dessay yew know better than I can tell _yew_, it ain't
long after the sun sinks before it's tidy dark.  Now then, what do yew
say?  I'm ready as soon as yew are."

"How long will it take us to get up to the chief's town?"

"'Bout till daylight to-morrow morn', mister.  That's what I'm telling
of yew."

"Then it's quite a big river?"

"Mighty big, sir."

"And the current?"

"None at all hardly, mister.  Yew'll just ketch the night wind as blows
off the sea, and that'll take yew up as far as yew want to go.  Then
morrow mornin' if yew're done all yew want to do yew'll have the land
wind to take yew out to sea again.  Though I'm thinking that yew won't
be able to do all yew want in one day, for there's a lot of black folk
to deal with, and I wouldn't be in too great a hurry.  Yew take my
advice, cyaptain; do it well while yew're about it, and yew won't
repent."

"Never fear, sir," said the captain sternly.  "I shall do my work
thoroughly.  Now then, back into your lugger and show us the way.  Mr
Munday, take the second cutter and follow this American gentleman's
lead, and then stay alongside his boat while Mr Anderson comes back to
report to me in the first cutter.  You both have your instructions.
Yes, Mr Roberts--Yes, Mr Murray," continued the captain, in response
to a couple of appealing looks; "you can accompany the two armed boats."



CHAPTER SIX.

INTO THE MIST.

Murray thought that the American screwed up his eyes in a peculiar way
when he found that the two boats were to go in advance of the sloop, but
he had no opportunity for telling Roberts what he believed he had seen,
while so busy a time followed and his attention was so much taken up
that it was not till long afterwards that he recalled what he had noted.

The American, upon rejoining his lugger, sailed away at once with the
two boats in close attendance and the sloop right behind, their pilot
keeping along the dingy mangrove-covered shore and about half-a-mile
distant, where no opening seemed visible; and so blank was the outlook
that the first lieutenant had turned to his young companion to say in an
angry whisper--

"I don't like this at all, Mr Murray."  But the words were no sooner
out of his mouth than to the surprise of both there was a sudden
pressure upon the lugger's tiller, the little vessel swung round, and
her cut-water pointed at once for the densely wooded shore, so that she
glided along in a course diagonal to that which she had been pursuing.

"Why, what game is he playing now?" muttered the lieutenant.  "There is
no opening here.  Yes, there is," he added, the next minute.  "No wonder
we passed it by.  How curious!  Ah, here comes the moon."

For as the great orb slowly rose and sent her horizontal rays over the
sea in a wide path of light, she lit-up what at first sight seemed to be
a narrow opening in the mangrove forest, but which rapidly spread out
wider and wider, till as the three boats glided gently along, their
sails well filled by the soft sea breeze, Murray gazed back, to see that
the sloop was now following into what proved to be a wide estuary, shut
off from seaward by what appeared now in the moonlight a long narrow
strip of mangrove-covered shore.

"River," said the lieutenant decisively, "and a big one too.  Now, Tom
May, steady with the lead."

"Ay, ay, sir!" cried the man, and he began to take soundings, one of the
sailors in the second cutter receiving his orders and beginning to
follow the example set.

Then there was a hail from the lugger.

"What game do you call this?"

"Soundings," replied the lieutenant gruffly.

"Twenty fathom for miles up, and you can go close inshore if _you_ like.
It's all alike."

"P'raps so," said the officer, "but my orders are to sound."

"Sound away, then," said the American sourly; "but do you want to be a
week?"  And he relapsed into silence, till about a couple of miles of
the course of the wide river had been covered, sounding after sounding
being taken, which proved the perfect truth of the American's words.

Then the two cutters closed up and there was a brief order given by the
first lieutenant, which resulted in the second cutter beginning to make
its way back to where the sloop lay in the mouth of the estuary.

"What yer doing now?" came from the lugger.

"Sending word to the sloop that there's plenty of water and that she may
come on."

"Course she may, mister," grumbled the American.  "Think I would ha'
telled yew if it hedn't been all right?  Yew Englishers are queer fish!"

"Yes," said the lieutenant quietly.  "We like to feel our way cautiously
in strange waters."

"Then I s'pose we may anchor now till your skipper comes?  All right,
then, on'y you're not going to get up alongside of the schooner this
side of to-morrow morning, I tell yew."

"Very well, then, we must take the other side of her the next morning."

The American issued an order of his own in a sulky tone of voice,
lowering his sails; and then there was a splash as a grapnel was dropped
over the side.

"Hadn't yew better anchor?" he shouted good-humouredly now.  "If yew
don't yew'll go drifting backward pretty fast."

For answer the lieutenant gave the order to lower the grapnel, and
following the light splash and the running out of the line came the
announcement of the sailor in charge as he checked the falling rope--

"No bottom here."

"Takes a tidy long line here, mister," came in the American's sneering
voice.  "Guess your sloop's keel won't touch no bottom when she comes
up."

The lieutenant made no reply save by hoisting sail again and running to
and fro around and about the anchored lugger, so as to pass the time in
taking soundings, all of which went to prove that the river flowed
sluggishly seaward with so little variation in the depth that the
soundings were perfectly unnecessary.

It was tedious work, and a couple of hours passed before, pale and
spirit-like at first, the other cutter came into sight in the pale
moonlight, followed by the sloop, when the American had the lugger's
grapnel hauled up and ran his boat alongside of the first cutter.

"Look here," he said angrily, "yewr skipper's just making a fool of me,
and I may as well run ashore to my plantation, for we shan't do no good
to-night."

The man's words were repeated when the sloop came up, and a short
discussion followed, which resulted in the captain changing his orders.

"The man's honest enough, Anderson," he said, "and I must trust him."

"What do you mean to do, then, sir?" said the first lieutenant, in a low
tone.

"Let him pilot us to where the slaver lies."

"With the lead going all the time, sir?"

"Of course, Mr Anderson," said the captain shortly.  "Do you think me
mad?"

"I beg your pardon, sir," replied the chief officer.  "Perhaps it will
be best."

It proved to be best so far as the American's temper was concerned, for
upon hearing the captain's decision, he took his place at the tiller of
his lugger and led the way up the great river, followed by the stately
sloop, whose lead as it was lowered from time to time told the same
unvarying tale of deep water with a muddy bottom, while as the river's
winding course altered slightly, the width as far as it could be made
out by the night glasses gave at least a couple of miles to the shore on
either hand.

From time to time the first cutter, in obedience to the captain's
orders, ran forward from where she was sailing astern--the second cutter
swinging now from the davits--crept up alongside of the lugger, and
communicated with her skipper; and Murray's doubts grew more faint, for
everything the American said sounded plausible.

The night was far spent when another of these visits was paid, and as
the coxswain hooked on alongside of the lugger the American leaned over
to speak to the lieutenant, but turned first to Murray.  "Well, young
mister," he said; "sleepy?"

"No, not at all," was the reply.  "Good boy; that's right; but if your
skipper hadn't been so tarnation 'spicious yew might have had a good
snooze.  Wall, lieutenant, I was just waiting to see you, and I didn't
want to hail for fear our slave-hunting friend might be on his deck and
hear us.  Talk about your skipper being 'spicious, he's nothing to him.
The way in which the sound of a shout travels along the top of the water
here's just wonderful, and my hail might spyle the hull business."

"But we're not so near as that?" asked the lieutenant.

"Ain't we?  But we jest are!  See that there bit of a glimpse of the
mountains straight below the moon?"

"Yes," said the lieutenant; "but I should have taken it for a cloud if
you had not spoken."

"That's it," said the skipper; "that's where the river winds round at
the foot, and the quieter yewr people keep now the better.  Oh yes, yewr
skipper has knocked all my calc'lations on the head, I can tell yew.
That there sloop sails A1, and she's done much more than I 'spected."

"I'm glad of it," said the lieutenant, while Murray's spirits rose.

"So'm I," said the man, with a chuckle; "and now it's turned out all
right I don't mind 'fessing."

"Confessing!  What about?"

"Why, this here," said the man.  "Your skipper had wasted so much time
with his soundings and messing about that I says to myself that if I
tried to see the business out our Portygee friend would see me mixed up
with it all and take the alarm.  Yewr sloop wouldn't get near him, for
he'd run right up the river where you couldn't follow, and he'd wait his
time till you'd gone away, and then come down upon me as an informer.
D'you know what that would mean for me then?"

"Not exactly," replied the lieutenant, "but I can guess."

"Zackly," said the man, and he turned sharply upon Murray and made a
significant gesture with one finger across his throat.

"Look here," said the lieutenant, "don't talk so much, my friend."

"That's just what I want yew to go and tell your skipper, mister.  Tell
him to give orders that his men are not to say a word above a whisper,
for if it's ketched aboard the schooner our friend will be off."

"I will tell him," said the lieutenant; "but now tell me what you mean
to do?"

"To do?  Jest this; put your vessel just where she can lie low and send
three or four boats to steal aboard the schooner and take her.  Yew can
do that easy, can't yew, without firing a shot?"

"Certainly," said the lieutenant; "and what about you?"

"Me?  Get outer the way as fast as I can, I tell yew.  I'm not a
fighting man, and I've got to think of what might happen if you let the
slaver slip.  See?"

"Yes, I see," said the lieutenant; "but you need not be alarmed for
yourself.  Captain Kingsberry will take care that no harm shall befall
you."

"Think so, mister?"

"I am sure so, my friend.  But now tell me this; how soon do you think
that you can lay us abreast of that schooner?"

"Jest when you like now, mister.  What I've set down as being best is,
say, about daybreak."

"Exactly; that will do."

"Jest what I said to myself.  Daybreak's the time when everybody aboard
will be fast asleep, for they don't carry on there like yew do aboard a
man-o'-war with your keeping watch and that sort of thing."

"Of course not," said the officer.  "Well, then, I may go and tell the
captain what _you_ say?"

"That's jest as yew like, mister.  I should if it was me."

"Exactly.  And you feel sure that you can keep your word?"

"Wish I was as sure of getting hold of that there piece o' territory,
mister, and the nigger chief cleared away."

"Then you don't feel quite sure?" put in Murray.

"Course I don't, young officer.  There's many a pick at a worm as turns
out a miss, ain't there?  How do I know that my Portygee neighbour
mayn't slip off through your boats making too much of a row instead of
creeping up quiet?  You mean right, all of you, but I shan't feel sure
till you've made a prisoner of that chap and scattered the nigger chief
and his men where they'll be afraid to come back.  Now then; you said
something about talking too much.  I'm going to shut up shop now and
give my tongue a holiday till I've laid you where you can send your
boats to do their work.  But I say, just one word more, mister," said
the man anxiously; and the lieutenant felt his hand tremble as he laid
it upon his arm; "yew will be careful, won't yew?"

"Trust us," replied the lieutenant.

"That's what I'm a-doing; but jest you think.  It puts me in mind of the
boys and the frogs in your English moral story--what may be fun to yew
may be death to me.  Tell your skipper that he must take all the care he
can."

"I will," said the lieutenant.

"But look here; perhaps I'd better come aboard and say a word to him.
Don't you think I might?"

"No," was the reply.

"But what do yew say, young mister?"

"I say no too," replied Murray.  "Your place is here aboard your
lugger."

"Wall, I suppose you're right," half whimpered the man, "for we're
getting tidy nigh now, and I don't want anything to go wrong through my
chaps making a mistake.  I'll chance it, so you'd best get aboard your
vessel.  Tell the skipper I shall do it just at daylight.  Less than
half-an-hour now.  Then'll be the time."

"One moment," said Murray, as the lieutenant was about to give the order
for the coxswain to unhook and let the cutter glide back to the sloop.

"Yes, mister; what is it?"

"What's that dull roaring sound?"

"Roaring sound?  One of them howling baboon beasts in the woods perhaps.
Calling its mates just before sunrise."

"No, no; I mean that--the sound of water."

"Oh, _that_!" said the man.  "Yes, yew can hear it quite plain, and
we're nigher than I thought.  That's on my ground over yonder.  Bit of a
fall that slops over from the river and turns a little sugar-mill I've
got.  There, cast off and tell your skipper to look out and be smart.
Less than half-an-hour I shall be taking yew round a big point there is
here, and as soon as it's light enough when yew get round, yew'll be
able to see the chief's huts and thatched barracks where he cages his
blackbirds, while the schooner will be anchored out in front, waiting
for you to have sailed away.  Her skipper will be taken all on the hop.
He'll never think of seeing you drop upon him."

"He'll never suspect that the way up the river will be found out?" said
the lieutenant.

"That's it, mister; but you'll tell your skipper to be spry and careful,
for if yew don't do it right it'll be death to me."

"I see," said the lieutenant rather hoarsely from excitement.  "Now
then, my man, cast off."

"One moment," said the American, and Murray saw him through the paling
moonlight raise his hand as if to wipe his brow.  "You quite understand,
then?  The river gives a big bend round to left, then another to the
right, and then one more to the left, jest like a wriggling wum.  Tell
your skipper to follow me close so as to run by me as soon as he sees
the schooner lying at anchor.  She'll come into sight all at once from
behind the trees like, and whatever you do, run close aboard and grapple
her.  Her skipper'll have no time to show fight if you do your work to
rights.  I'm all of a tremble about it, I tell yew, for it means so much
to me.  There; my work's jest about done, and I'm going to run for the
shore out of the way.  I don't want the Portygee to get so much as a
sniff of me."

"Cast off," said the lieutenant; and as the cutter dropped back free,
the lugger seemed to spring forward into faint mist, which began to show
upon the broad surface of the great river, while the sloop glided up
alongside, one of the men caught the rope that was heaved to them, and
directly after Murray missed their pilot and his swift craft, for it was
eclipsed by the _Seafowl_ as she glided between, right in the lugger's
wake.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

TRAPPED.

"Well, Mr Anderson," said the captain, as the latter briefly related
the last sayings of the American, "that's all plain enough, and in a few
minutes we ought to be alongside."

"Yes, sir, after following the windings of the river, or in other words
following our guide, till we see the masts of the schooner above the
trees."  And the lieutenant stood anxiously watching the lugger, which
seemed to have rapidly increased its distance.  "I presume, sir, that we
are all ready for action?"

"Of course we are, Mr Anderson," said the captain stiffly.  "We shall
keep on till we are pretty close, then run up into the wind, and you and
Mr Munday will head the boarders.  We shall take them so by surprise
that there will be very little resistance.  But I see no signs of the
schooner's spars yet."

"No, sir, but we have to make another bend round yet."

"Yes, of course," said the captain, as he swept the river banks with his
night glass.

"The river seems to fork here, though, sir," said the lieutenant
anxiously.

"Humph!  Yes; but I suppose it's all right, for the lugger keeps on.  We
must be on the correct course if we follow him."

"Beg pardon, sir," said Murray excitedly.  "I caught sight of the masts
of a vessel lying yonder."

"Eh?  Where, Mr Murray?" said the captain, in a low voice full of
excitement.

"Yonder, sir, about half a mile to starboard, beyond the trees on the
bank."

"To be sure!  Tall taper spars.  I see, Mr Murray."

"But the sloop is running straight away to port, sir," said the
lieutenant anxiously.

"Well, what of that, Mr Anderson?  Did not the American tell you that
we were to follow certain bends of the river?"

"Yes, sir, but--"

"Yes, sir, but!" said the captain, in an angry whisper.  "Is this a time
for raising buts?  According to your own showing, the schooner was to be
found at anchor in one of the bends where the black chief's town lay."

"Yes, sir, but I see no sign of any thatched huts."

"All in good time, Mr Anderson.  We shall see the lugger swing round
that next point directly, and then we shall be in full view of our
prize."

The captain turned from his chief officer impatiently, and then in a low
tone issued a few orders with respect to future proceedings, the master
following out the instructions, while the two boarding parties, each
armed and ready, stood waiting for the command which should launch them
on board the now invisible slaver.

"Bah!" ejaculated the captain.  "We are half-an-hour too late.  We ought
to be alongside now.  Hang the fellow, Mr Anderson!  Can he be taking
us the right way round that point?"

"I hope so, sir, but I have my suspicions," replied the lieutenant
anxiously.

"What, that he is playing us false?"

"No, sir, but that he has lost heart and is afraid to pilot us right to
where the schooner lies."

"The scoundrel!  If he has--" began the captain, sharing now in his
subordinate's anxiety.  "Oh, impossible!  He must know better than we
do.  Ahoy, there!" he cried, speaking just loud enough for the lookout
to hear.  "Can you make out where the lugger is making for?"

"Ay, ay, sir!  Bit of a creek yonder, right inshore."

"That's it, sir," cried the lieutenant excitedly; "he has taken fright.
We must run round that bend yonder, keeping to mid-stream."

"Or anchor," exclaimed the captain sharply.  "Why, confound it, man!
The river forks here, and we are in a branch with a current running in
another direction.  Stand by there to lower the anchor!" he roared, "or
we shall be ashore."

The order came too late, for as in obedience to order after order, the
sloop's course was altered and her sails began to shiver, there was a
preliminary shock as if bottom had been lightly touched, then a shiver
which seemed to communicate itself upward from the deck through Murray's
spine, and the next minute the _Seafowl_ heeled over slightly as she
seemed to cut her way onward into the soft mud, where she stuck fast
with the fierce current into which they had run pressing hardly against
her side as it raced swiftly by.

"Trapped!" said a voice from close to Murray's ear, and the young man
turned swiftly from where he had been gazing over the side in the
direction of the further shore, to encounter the first lieutenant's
angry eyes.  "Well, Mr Murray," he said bitterly, "where is that Yankee
snake?"

"Just gliding in yonder among the trees, sir," cried the young man
passionately.  "I suspected him from the first."

"Well, Mr Anderson," said the captain, hurrying up, and as coolly as if
nothing whatever was wrong, "either you or I have placed the sloop in
about as unpleasant a position as it was possible to get.  Now then, how
about getting out of it?"

"We're on soft mud, sir," said the gentleman addressed.

"And with a falling tide, I'm afraid.  There, get to work man, and see
what can be done with an anchor to haul her upon a level keel before the
position is worse, for we shall board no slaver to-day."

"Beg pardon, sir."

"What is it, Mr Murray?"

The midshipman pointed right aft, where the faint mist was floating away
from where it hung about a mile away over the distant shore.

"Well, sir, why don't you speak?" cried the captain, now speaking
angrily.  "Oh, I beg your pardon, Mr Murray; another mist was in my
eyes.  That must be the course of the other fork of the river.  I see it
plainly now.  We have been lured up here and run upon this muddy shoal
in the belief that we shall never get off; and there goes our prize with
her load of black unfortunates.  Do you see her, Mr Anderson?"

"Too plainly, sir," said the chief officer sadly.

For it was now broad daylight and the swift-looking schooner was gliding
along apparently through the trees which covered a narrow spit of land.

"Hah!" said the captain quietly.  "Yes, that's it, Mr Anderson--our
prize, and a beautiful morning for her to make her start for the West
Indies.  Bless that straightforward, timorous, modest American skipper!
Do you know, Mr Anderson, I am strongly of opinion that he commands
that craft and that he will find his way through some of the muddy
creeks and channels of the mangrove forest back to where she will be
waiting for him.  Well, master, what do you think?" he continued, as
that officer came up hurriedly.  "Will the sloop lie over any further?"

"No, sir; that is stopped; but we are wedged in fast."

"So I suppose.  Well, Mr Thomson, it does not mean a wreck?"

"No, no, sir, nor any damage as far as I can say."

"Damage, Mr Thomson," said the captain, smiling at him pleasantly; "but
it does, man; damage to our reputation--mine--Mr Anderson's.  But you
were going to say something, to ask me some question."

"Yes, sir; about taking steps to get the sloop out of the bed in which
she lies."

"Poor bird, yes; but you see no risk for the present?"

"Not the slightest, sir.  The mud is so soft."

"Mud generally is, Mr Thomson," said the captain blandly.  "Well, then,
let her rest for a while.  We are all tired after a long night's work.
Pass the word to Mr Dempsey, and let him pipe all hands for breakfast.
I want mine badly."

There was a faint cheer at this, followed by another, and then by one
which Murray said was a regular "roarer."

"I say," he said to Roberts, "doesn't he take it splendidly!"

"Don't you make any mistake," replied that young gentleman.  "He seems
as cool as a cucumber, but he's boiling with rage, and if he had that
Yankee here he'd hang him from the yard-arm as sure as he's his mother's
son."

"And serve him right," said Murray bitterly.

"What's that, young gentlemen?" said the captain, turning upon them
sharply, for he had noted what was going on and placed his own
interpretation upon the conversation--"criticising your superiors?"

"No, sir," said Murray frankly; "we were talking about punishing the
Yankee who tricked us into this."

"Gently, Mr Murray--gently, sir!  You hot-blooded boys are in _too_
great a hurry.  Wait a bit.  I dare say we shall have the pleasure of
another interview with him; and, by the way, Mr Anderson, I think as we
are so near, we might as well inspect the indiarubber plantations of our
friend.  We might see, too, if he has any more work-people of the same
type as those who manned his galley."

"I'm afraid we should only find them on board the schooner, sir," said
the chief officer bitterly.

"Exactly," said the captain; "but I wonder at you young gentlemen," he
continued--"you with your sharp young brains allowing yourselves to be
deceived as you were.  Those fellows who formed the lugger's crew ought
not to have hoodwinked you."

"They did me, sir," said Roberts, speaking out warmly, "but Murray,
here, sir, was full of suspicion from the first."



CHAPTER EIGHT.

AMONGST THE HORRORS.

The crew of the _Seafowl_ had a busy day's work after a good refresher,
during which officers and men had been discussing in low tones the way
in which "the skipper," as they called him, had let himself be tricked
by the Yankee.  The younger men wanted to know what he could have been
about, while the elder shook their heads sagely.

"Ah," more than one said, "it has always been the same since the
revolution; these Yankees have been too much for us.  There's something
in the American air that sharpens their brains."

Then old Dempsey, the boatswain, who had heard pretty well all that the
captain had said, chewed it over, digested it, and gave it voice as if
it was something new, to first one knot of listeners and then another,
ending with the two midshipmen.

"You see, Mr Murray, and you too, Mr Roberts, it was like this.  That
schooner had just started for the West Injies with a full load of
niggers, when she sighted the _Seafowl_ and knowed she was a king's ship
looking after a prize."

"How could the Yankee skipper know that?" said Murray.  "He could only
get just a glimpse before we were hidden by the fog."

"Cut of the jib, sir--cut of the jib," said the old man.  "What else
could he think?  'Sides, Yankee slaving skippers have got consciences,
same as other men."

"Rubbish, Mr Dempsey!" said Roberts contemptuously.

"Course they are, sir--worst of rubbish, as you say, but there's bad
consciences as well as good consciences, and a chap like him, carrying
on such work as his, must be always ready to see a king's ship in every
vessel he sights.  But well, young gentlemen, as I was a-saying, he
sights us, and there was no chance for him with us close on his heels
but dodgery."

"Dodgery, Mr Dempsey?" said Roberts.

"Yes, sir; Yankee tricks.  Of course he couldn't fight, knowing as he
did that it meant a few round shot 'twixt and 'tween wind and water, and
the loss of his craft.  So he says to himself, `what's to be done?' and
he plays us that trick.  Sends his schooner up the river while he puts
off in that there lugger and pretends to be a injyrubber grower.  That
ought to have been enough to set the skipper and Mr Anderson thinking
something was wrong, but that's neither here nor there.  He pretends
that he was a highly respectable sort of fellow, when all the time he
was a sorter human fox, and lures, as the captain calls it, our sloop
into this sort of a branch of the big river where the current runs wrong
way on because part of the waters of the great river discharges
theirselves.  And then what follows?"

"Why, we were carried by the strange current into the muddy shallow and
nearly capsized, Mr Dempsey, while we had the satisfaction of seeing
the slaver sail away with her crew," interposed Murray impatiently.

The grizzly-headed, red-faced old boatswain turned upon the lad with an
offended air and said with dignity--

"If you'd only had a little patience, Mr Murray, I was going to tell
you all that."

He grunted audibly as he walked away, and as soon as he was out of
hearing Murray cried impatiently--

"What did he want to bore us with all that for?  Tiresome old fogey!
But I say, Dick, you take my advice--don't you get anywhere near the
skipper if you can help it to-day.  He took things very smoothly before
breakfast, but you'll see now that he will be as savage as a bear with a
sore head, as they say, and lead every one a terrible life."

"Oh, if you are going to deal out old saws, young man," replied Roberts,
"you go and teach your grandmother how to suck eggs.  Just as if I was
likely to go near him until he has got the sloop well afloat!"

But what proved to have been every one's opinion turned out entirely
wrong, for the captain had never shown himself to better advantage.

As soon as breakfast was over, and had been partaken of in the most
deliberate way as far as he was concerned, he turned to the officers,
all smiles, and began giving orders in the coolest of fashions and all
guided by so much judgment that by carefully laying out anchors, the use
of the capstan, haulage, and taking advantage of the wind, the sloop
soon rose upon an even keel and rested at last in a safe position.  The
tide that ran up as far as the black king's city did the rest, and the
next day the sloop lay at anchor just where the schooner had been the
previous morning, that is to say, in a position where she could easily
gain access to the sea.

Once the sloop was in safety and the officers had pretty well mastered
the intricacies of the river's course, and the tidal and other currents
which protected the slaver's lair, a couple of armed boats pulled ashore
to examine the place with caution, lest they should encounter some other
trap.

"There's no knowing, Mr Anderson," said the captain, "so at the
slightest sign of danger draw back.  I don't want a man to be even
wounded at the expense of capturing a score of the black scum, even if
one of them proves to be the king."

The captain's orders were carefully carried out, while once more the two
midshipmen succeeded in accompanying the landing parties, to find that
the king's town of palm-thatched hovels was completely deserted.  It had
evidently been a busy, thickly inhabited place, where prisoners were
herded together by the brutal savages who made incursions in different
directions, and held their unfortunate captives ready for the coming of
the slaver.  But now the place was a dreary silent waste, and the trail
well marked showed plainly the direction taken by the native marauders
to some forest stronghold, near at hand or far distant, it was
impossible to say which.

"Pah!" ejaculated Murray, as he sprang back with disgust from the
strongly palisaded enclosure which was evidently the prisoners'
barracks.  "Let's get away, Dick."

"I'm ready," was the reply, "but I say, did you go round the other side
yonder?"

The lad pointed as he spoke.

"No.  What was there to see?"

"Tom May found it out," replied the midshipman, "and I was idiot enough
to go.  Here, Tom," he cried, signing to the generally amiable-looking
sailor to approach; and he strode up, cutlass in hand, musket over his
shoulder, scowling and fierce of aspect.  "Tell Mr Murray what you
showed me over yonder, Tom."

The man's face puckered up as he turned and met Murray's eyes.

"It's 'most too horrid, sir," he said, "and don't do no good but make a
man savage, sir.  There's just fourteen of 'em among the trees there."

"What, prisoners?" said Murray excitedly.

"Yes, sir, and six on 'em got the chains on 'em still."

"Well, what about the armourer?" cried Murray excitedly, turning upon
Roberts.  "Didn't Mr Anderson have them struck off?"

"No, lad," replied Roberts.  "There was only one of them alive out of
the whole fourteen, and I don't think she'll be alive when Munday comes
back."

"Comes back!  I didn't know he had put off again."

"Gone for the doctor," said Roberts.  "Go on, Tom May.  Tell him what
you made it out to be."

"Just this, sir--that they'd got more than the schooner could take away,
and they finished off the sick and wounded."

"How could you tell that?" said Murray, with a look of horror.

"Seemed pretty plain, sir.  All the men had old wounds as well as what
must have been given them to finish 'em yes'day morning, sir, when the
black fellows forsook the place."

"But you said--finished the men who had old wounds?"

"Yes, sir; half healed.  T'other wounds was fresh, and the women and
children--"

"Women and children!" cried Murray excitedly.

"Yes, sir; knocked on the head--clubbed.  Didn't care to take 'em away
with them, sir, when we come."

"Oh, Dick," said Murray, whose face now looked ghastly, "I knew that
there were horrors enough over the slave-trade, but I never thought it
could be so bad as that.  Here, Tom, where is this?  Show me."

"Don't be a fool, old chap," whispered Roberts, grasping his companion's
arm.  "You've heard what Tom said.  I've seen it too, and I could tell
you, but I won't.  It's too horrid to go and see again."

"Yes, it must be horrible," said the young man passionately; "but you
said one poor creature was still alive?"

"Yes, and the doctor's being fetched."

"But something might be done--water--carried into the shade."

"We did all that, sir," said the sailor gruffly.

"Who did?" asked Murray excitedly.

"Well, I helped, sir, and the poor black lass looked at me as if she
thought I was one of 'em going to take her aboard a slaver."

"But didn't you tell her--Oh, you are right, Dick; I am a fool!  She
couldn't have understood unless it was by our acts."

"Oh, don't you worry about that, Mr Murray, sir," said the man eagerly.
"The poor thing took quite a turn like when I knelt down and held my
waterbottle to her lips."

Murray stood looking at the man, with his brow furrowed, and then he
nodded.

"Now then," he said, "where was this?"

"T'other side of this barrack place, sir," said the man; "just over
yonder."

"Show me," said Murray abruptly.

"I wouldn't go, Frank," whispered Roberts.

"I must," was the reply.  "Lead the way, Tom."

"One of our lads is with her, sir," said the man, hesitating.

"So much the better," cried Murray firmly.  "You heard what I said?"

Roberts, who was nearest to the sailor, heard him heave a deep sigh as
he gave his trousers a hitch, and led the way past the vile-smelling
palm and bamboo erection which had quite lately been the prison of a
large number of wretched beings, the captives made by the warlike tribe
who kept up the supply of slaves for bartering to the miscreants.  Those
who from time to time sailed up the river to the king's town to carry on
the hateful trade content if they could load up with a terrible cargo
and succeed in getting one-half of the wretched captives alive to their
destination in one of the plantation islands, or on the mainland.

Tom May took as roundabout a route as he could contrive so as to spare
the young officers the gruesome sights that he and the other men had
encountered; but enough was left to make Murray wince again and again.

"Why, Tom," he exclaimed at last, "no punishment could be too bad for
the wretches who are answerable for all this."

"That's what me and my messmates have been saying, sir; and of course
it's going to be a nasty job, but we're all ready and waiting for our
officers to give the word--Course I mean, sir, as soon as we get the
chance."

"Only wait, my lad," said Murray, through his set teeth.

"That's what we keep on doing, sir," said the man bitterly.  "You see,
it's pretty well all wait."

"The time will come, Tom."

"Yes, sir; course it will, and when it does--"

The man moistened the palm of his right hand, clapped it to the hilt of
his re-sheathed cutlass, and half drew it from the scabbard.  "My!" he
ejaculated, and his eyes seemed to flash in the morning sunshine.  "It's
going to be a warm time for some of 'em.  I shouldn't like to be in that
Yankee gentleman's shoes, nor be wearing the boots of his men where they
had 'em."

"Oh, but these people could not be such inhuman wretches," said Murray
excitedly.  "The murderous, atrocious treatment--the killing of those
poor prisoners must be the act of the black chief and his men."

"Hope so, sir," said the sailor bluntly.  "It's too black to be done by
a white.  But all the same, sir, if the white skipper didn't want his
cargoes, the nigger king and his men wouldn't supply 'em; and here's the
doctor come ashore, sir," added the man, in a whisper.

For the two parties met just at the edge of a clump of trees, within
whose shade the unfortunate creature who had interested the midshipman
in her fate was lying with one of the seamen standing by her head, his
musket grounded and his crossed arms resting upon the muzzle.

"Ah, gentlemen, you here!" said the doctor, nodding shortly.  "Nice
place, this.  Humph!" he ejaculated, as with brows contracting he went
down on one knee.--"There, don't be frightened, my lass," he continued
softly, for as he drew near, the poor creature, who had been lying in
the shade with her eyes half-closed, startled by the footsteps, suddenly
raised her lids in a wild stare of horror and shrank away.  "Poor
wretch!" continued the doctor.  "The sight of a man can only mean
horrors for her."

"Horrors indeed, doctor," cried Murray excitedly; "but pray do something
for her!"

"No," said the doctor gravely.  "Nature is her doctor now."

"What do you mean?" said the young man, half annoyed by the doctor's
inaction.

"That she is in the hands of a kinder doctor than I could be--one who
knows what is best for her.  Look!"

He shrugged his shoulders and turned away.

"Let your men cut a few of those big leaves, Mr Murray, and lay over
her."

"You are too late?" said Roberts excitedly.

"Yes, my dear boy," replied the doctor.  "With such hurts as the poor
girl had received it was only a matter of time.  Ah, I wish to goodness
we had caught that schooner!  It's time all this was stamped out.
There, come away and bring your men.  Oh, here comes Mr Anderson.
Well, what are you going to do?"  For the first lieutenant came up,
followed by some of his men, glanced at the motionless figure and the
action being taken, and turned away.

"What am I going to do?" he replied, frowning angrily.  "Nothing but
communicate with the captain for fresh instructions."

"But aren't we going to pursue the black chief and his people through
the forest, sir, and punish them?" asked Murray, who was strangely moved
by his first encounter with the horrors of a slave encampment.

"No, Mr Murray, we certainly are not," replied the lieutenant, "for the
chief and his men will take plenty of care that we do not overtake them.
Here, come away, my lads; this place is pestiferous enough to lay every
one down with fever."

"Yes; I was just going to give you a very broad hint.  Fire, eh?" said
the doctor.

The lieutenant nodded.

"I must just have a word or two with the captain first," said the
lieutenant, and giving the order, the men began to march to where the
boats lay with their keepers, and a sentry or two had been thrown out to
guard against surprise.

Murray closed up to the doctor, who was looking sharply about him at the
trees which remained standing amongst the almost countless huts.

"Not many cocoanuts, Murray," he said.

"Oh," cried the young man, who felt more annoyed by the doctor's
indifference than ever, "I was not thinking about palm-trees!"

"But I was," said the doctor; "they'll burn tremendously."

"Ah," cried the midshipman, "that was what I wanted to speak about.  Did
you mean to suggest that the place should be burned?"

"Certainly, sir," said the doctor shortly.

"The village--but with the slave barrack?"

"Of course," said the doctor shortly.  "Don't you think it would be
best?"

"I--Oh!  It seems so horrible," began Murray.

The doctor looked at him searchingly, and laid his hand upon the youth's
shoulder.

"I understand, Murray," he said quietly.  "It does seem as you say
repugnant; but it is necessary, my lad, for several reasons, one of the
first of which it that it will be a lesson for the black king."

"But he could soon have another village built."

"Then we ought to come and burn that, and his people with him, if we
could get hold of the wretches.  I'm sure you must have seen enough this
morning to make you feel how necessary it is for this slave traffic to
be stamped out."

"Yes, of course," said Murray, "but--"

"Then take my advice, my lad," said the doctor, gripping the lad's arm;
"leave these matters to your superior officers, and don't look at me as
if I were a heartless brute.  My profession makes me firm, my lad, not
unfeeling."

"Oh, I don't think that, sir," said the lad quickly.

"But you thought something of the kind, Murray, my lad, and I like you,
so it hurt me a little.  You ought to have known that black and white,
good and bad, are all one to a doctor.  He sees only a patient, whatever
they may be.  But in this case I saw that this poor black woman was at
almost her last gasp.  Understand?"

"Yes, I see now, sir, and I beg your pardon," said the midshipman.

"We understand one another, Murray, and--Ah, here is the first luff
doing just what I wanted him to do."

For that officer had gathered his men together in the shade of a clump
of trees where the moving branches blew from off the river in a breeze
that was untainted by the miasma of the marshy ground and the horrors of
the village, for it brought with it the odour of the floating seaweed
and old ocean's health-giving salts.

By this time one of the boats was despatched, and the lieutenant joined
the pair.

"Ah, Mr Murray, you have lost your chance.  I was going to send you to
the captain for instructions, but you were busy with the doctor, so I
sent Mr Roberts.--Giving him a lecture on the preservation of health,
doctor?"

"Just a few hints," said that gentleman, smiling.  "We were taking
opposite views, but I think Murray agrees with me now."



CHAPTER NINE.

"FIRE!  FIRE!"

"Now, Mr Murray," said the lieutenant, "I don't want to expose the lads
to more of this unwholesome place than I can help, so you must use your
brains as soon as we get word from the captain, and see that they start
the fire where it will have the best effect.  This abomination must
disappear from the face of the earth, so where you begin to burn, start
your fire well.  You understand?"

"Yes, sir," said Murray, drawing a deep breath as he glanced at the
doctor and found that he was watching him.

"I can't help it," he said to himself, as he stood alone in the shade
watching the departing boat making for the sloop, "and I don't know that
I want to help it.  It does seem a horrible thing to do, but they're
right, and it's one's duty.  Wish I'd been handy, though, when the first
luff wanted to send his message to the captain.  Dick Roberts does
somehow seem to get all the luck."

It was just a dash of envy; but the feeling did not last, for his common
sense began to make itself felt directly after, as he withdrew his gaze
from the boat to watch the group of sturdy-looking men sharing his
shelter, and all excited and eager as they discussed the events of the
morning and the task they evidently knew that they had to do.

"Yes, it's all envy, and envy is a poor, small, contemptible thing to
encourage.  I wish I had none.  How stupid of me!  One never knows.  It
would have been nice enough to sit back holding the lines and steering
while the lads pulled, but only a lazy sort of a task, and here I am put
in command of half-a-dozen or so of these stout lads to carry out the
captain's orders and see that they do the work well."

Perhaps the fact of his thinking about the men and the work in prospect
made him fix his eyes upon Tom May and think that he would like to have
him in his party; perhaps not, but all the same the man turned his head
just then and met his eyes, gave his waistband a hitch in front and
rear, and then crossed a patch of sunshine and joined him in the shade.

"Yes, sir?" he said enquiringly.

"I did not call, Tom."

"No, sir, but I thought you looked as if you was signalling me.  Beg
pardon, sir; I s'pose you know we're going to burn out this here wasp
nest?"

"I expect so, Tom."

"Yes, sir, that's so, and the lads are getting so hot to begin that we
all feel warm enough to set fire to the place without matches."

"Well, it is hot, Tom," said Murray, smiling, while the man showed his
big white teeth in a broad grin.

"I expeck we shall be 'vided into squads, sir, and there's about
half-a-dozen of my messmates will fall nat'ral along o' me.  Couldn't
manage, I s'pose, sir, to have us under your command, could you?"

"I don't know, Tom," replied the young man.  "You'll see that Mr
Anderson will settle all that."

"Yes, sir; I know, sir; but I thought p'raps that if you happened to be
standing along with us just as if you and us was ready for a start, it
might happen as the first luff, sir, would see as it was all sootable
like.  They're a handy lot, so I promise you, and used to work with me."

"Oh, I know all about that, Tom, and I should be glad to have you."

"Thankye, sir; and you'll try, sir?"

"I will, Tom."

"Thankye again, sir, and I'll tell the lads."

"I make no promise, mind," said the midshipman.

"I know, sir; it's all right, sir.  It'll be like this.  Mr Munday will
take the lead, sir, with one lot; old Dempsey another; you the next, and
then Mr Roberts, sir, and the first luff'll be like tip-top of all.  I
shouldn't wonder a bit, sir, if me and my squad falls to you."

Murray never troubled himself to analyse whether it was accident or
management, but somehow or other he found himself, soon after the return
of the second cutter, in command of six of the best foremast men of the
sloop's crew, headed by Tom May, who bore a lighted ship's lantern,
while each man was provided with a bundle of dry, easily-igniting wood.

The men were drawn up and the first lieutenant gave his very brief
instructions as to the way in which the fires were to be started, the
officers in command being duly urged to exercise all care in making the
conflagration thorough, while at the same time guarding against
surprise.

"You see, gentlemen," said the lieutenant in conclusion, "we have not
had a sight of one of the blacks, but we may be sure that they are in
hiding not far away, ready to take advantage of any sign of weakness;
and their spears are not very sharp, but are handled well and can be
thrown a long way with good aim.  In an ordinary way they would not risk
our bullets, and certainly would not give our bayonets a chance, but I
feel that the sight of their burning village will rouse them up, and
hence an attack upon scattered men is very possible.  I have _no_ more
to say but this; I want the village to be burned to ashes, and every man
to get back to the boats unhurt."

The men cheered, and the next minute they had begun to open out till
they were in line ready to advance, with the now briskly blowing wind,
when a final order was given in the shape of a prolonged whistle from
the boatswain, which was followed by the starting forward of the
extended firing party with their freshly ignited torches blazing high.

"Bravo!" cried Murray excitedly, as he stood with Tom May behind ten of
the bee-hive shaped palm-walled and thatched huts, which were so close
together that five of his men were easily able to fire to right and
left, Tom and another man musket-armed ready to cover them, and their
young leader standing sword in one hand, the lantern in the other, well
on the watch, and at the same time ready to supply fresh ignition to any
of the rough torches which should become extinct.

"Bravo!" shouted Murray, for at the first start of his little party the
torches were applied to the dry inflammable palm fabrics, and the flames
sprang into fiery life at once.  "Good, my lads--good!  That's right,"
he cried.  "Right down at the bottom.  Couldn't be better."

For at the first application there was a hiss, then a fierce crackling
sound, and the fire literally ran up from base to crown of the rounded
edifice, which was soon roaring like a furnace.

"Hooray, boys!" cried Tom May.  "Don't stop to save any of the best
chayney or the niggers' silver spoons and forks.  They belong to such a
bad lot that we won't loot anything to save for prizes.  And I say,
that's it, going fine.  Never mind getting a bit black with the smoke.
It'll all wash off, and that's what these brutes of niggers can't do."

The men shouted in reply and roared with laughter at their messmates'
sallies, as they hurried from hut to hut, every one blazing up as
rapidly as if it had been sprinkled with resin.

Murray's idea was that they would be able to keep on steadily in a
well-ordered line, firing hut after hut as they went; but in a very few
minutes, in spite of discipline, he soon found that it would be
impossible to follow out his instructions.  Once the fire was started it
roared up and leaped to the next hut or to those beyond it.  The heat
became insufferable, the smoke blinding, so that the men were confused
and kept on starting back, coughing, sneezing, and now and then one was
glad to stand stamping and rubbing his hair, singed and scorched by the
darting tongues of flame.

"Hold together, my lads; hold together!" shouted Murray.  "We must look
to ourselves; the others will do the same; but keep on shouting so as to
be in touch."

"Ay, ay, sir!" cried Tom May.  "You hear, my lads?"

Half-heard shouts came back out of the smoke, but it soon became
impossible to communicate with the men with anything like regularity,
for the roar and crackle of the flames grew deafening, many of the
bamboo posts exploding like muskets, and before long Murray had hard
work to satisfy himself that the men were not using their pieces.

"That you, Tom May?" he cried, at last, as he became aware of a dimly
seen figure emerging from the smoke.

"Not quite sure, sir," was the reply, "but I think it's me."

"Where are the lads?"

"Oh, they're here, sir, somewheres, only you can't see 'em.  I've just
been counting of 'em over, sir, by touching 'em one at a time and
telling 'em to shout who it was."

"They're all safe, then?"

"Hope so, sir; but I wouldn't try to go no furder, sir.  Now the fire's
started it's a-going on like furnaces, sir, and it's every man for
himself.  We can't do no more.  Can't you feel how the wind's got up?"

"Yes, Tom; it comes rushing from seaward and whistles quite cold against
the back of my head, while in front the glow is quite painful."

"Yes, sir, and it's growing worse and worse."

"It's my belief, Tom, that this wind will fan the flames till the forest
will take fire before long as well as the huts."

"'Fore long, sir?" said the man, in the intervals of coughing and
choking.  "Why, it's been on fire ever so long, and roaring away right
up to the tops of the trees.  We shall be hearing some of them come
toppling down before long."

"I wish this smoke would blow over, for I can't make out where we are."

"No, sir, nor nobody else neither.  Oh!  Here's one of us, if it ain't a
nigger.  Here, who are you?"

"I'm Jenks, messmet, I think," came hoarsely.  "But I say, where's the
orficer?"

"I'm here, Jenks," cried Murray.  "What is it?"

"On'y this, sir; I just wanted to know whether fresh clothes'll be
sarved out after this here job, for I'm sure as I shan't be decent."

"What, have you got your shirt burned, my lad?"

"'Tarn't on'y my shirt, sir; I'm 'most all tinder, and I had to back out
or I should soon ha' been cooked."

"Keep back, my lads!" cried Murray now, and by degrees he managed to get
his little party all together in what seemed to be an open space where
all was smoke and smouldering ashes, where the men stood coughing, while
the heat was terrific.

"Stand still, my lad; stand still!" cried Murray.

"Can't, sir," growled the dim figure addressed; "it smarts so."

"Tut, tut, tut, tut!" ejaculated Murray.  "Can you make out which way
the sea lies, May?"

"No, sir; I've been a-trying to."

"We can't stay here, my lads, and we must make for the shore.  It would
be madness to go on now."

"That's a true word, sir," growled Tom May.

"I want to know where our chaps are, but I can't hear nothing but the
fire going it.  Seems to me as if we've set all Africa afire, and it's
going on a mile a minute."

"Who knows where the slave barrack lies?" cried Murray.  "It seems
horrible, but we must make sure that the fire has caught there."

"Seems to me, sir," said one of the men, "that we're a-standing in the
middle of it here."

"I know it ketched fire, sir," said May.

"How can you be sure, man?" said Murray angrily, for he was smarting
with pain, and forced to close the lids over his stinging eyes.

"Set it afire myself, sir, and the flames run up the bamboo postesses
which set 'em snapping and crackling and going on popping and banging
just as if the marine jollies was practising with blank cartridge on an
exercise day."

"But are you sure, Tom?"

"Sure as sure, sir.  Mr Anderson never thought it would go like this
here.  He'd got a kind of idee that we should be able to light all the
niggers' huts one at a time, 'stead of which as soon as we started a few
on 'em they set all the rest off, and the job was done."

"Done, my man!" said Murray.  "Why, hark at the roar right away yonder."

"Oh, yes, sir," grumbled the man; "I'm a-harking fast enough.  There she
goes, and as somebody said, I dunno now whether it was me or one of my
messmates, we seem to ha' set all Africa going, and it won't stop till
there's no more wood to burn."

"Well," said Murray decisively, "one thing's very plain: we can do no
more, and we must make for the river."

"But what about orders, sir?" said the man.  "We was to do it thorough,
and see as the whole blessed place was a-blazing."

"Well, it is, my man," said Murray.  "The first lieutenant didn't mean
me to get my men burned as well."

"Skeercely, sir," said one of the men.  "I don't know how my messmates
are, but I feel as if I was a bacon pig after killing time, and the
singeing's done."

"Forward, then, and keep close, my lads.  I think it looks lighter ahead
there.  Keep together."

The midshipman started forward through the blinding smoke, panting and
gasping, while at every step the hot ashes emitted sparks and the heat
became more intense.  But at the end of a score of painful paces a
strong hand gripped him by the arm and a hoarse voice growled--

"Beg pardon, sir, but this here won't do."

"Right, May," cried the midshipman.  "I was just going to say so.  Halt,
my lads.  Here, right wheel!"

_Tramp, tramp, tramp_, with the smoke and sparks rising; and the big
sailor growled again in protest.

"Wuss and wuss, sir."

"Yes.--Let's try this way, my lads."

"This here's wusser still, your honour," growled another of the men.

"Yes: it's horrible," cried Murray.  "Halt!  Now, all together, shout
with me, `_Seafowl_ ahoy!'"

The men shouted, and then again, three times, but elicited no reply, and
the roar and crackle of the blazing forest seemed to increase.

"Here, which of you can make out where the river lies?" cried Murray.

"Not me, sir," grumbled one of the men out of the stifling smoke, "or
I'd soon be into it!"

"Here, once more.  I don't think we have tried this way," cried Murray,
almost in despair.  "Look, Tom May, this does look a little lighter,
doesn't it?--No," continued the lad huskily, and without waiting for the
able-seaman's reply.  "Here, try this way, for the flames seem to be
mounting higher there.  Keep up your pluck, my lads, and follow me.  Are
you all there?"

"Ay, ay, sir!" cried the sailor.  "We're all here, arn't we, messmates?"

"Ay, ay!" came in a deep growl.

"Then follow me close," said Murray.  "Everything depends upon your
keeping together."

"Oh, we'll keep together, sir," said May.  "Won't we, messmates?"

"Ay, ay!" said another of the men.  "But I don't quite like this here
job."

"No, no, my lads; it's horrible for you," said Murray, as he tramped on,
fighting with his despair.

"'Tarn't wuss for us, sir, than it is for you," said Tom.

"Poor fellows!" thought the midshipman, and he ground his teeth with
rage and pain.  "But I ought to have led them better."  Then aloud, as
an idea struck him, "You, Tom, fire a shot upward, and then as he
reloads, the next man fire, as I give orders.  The others listen for the
reply.  Some of our fellows must hear the shots.--Halt!"

The men stood together in the deep gloom, for the smoke rose from around
them in every direction.

Then, heard distinctly above the roar and crackle of the flames, came
the clear sharp-sounding report of the seaman's musket.

"Number two make ready!" cried Murray, and then, "What's that?"  For
something passed them with a faint hiss, and as it seemed to the lad,
stuck in the smoking earth.

"Spear, I think, sir," growled Tom May.

"Impossible!  Piece of bamboo or palm fallen from above.  Now then,
Number Two--Fire!"

There was the sharp report, followed directly by another whishing sound
and a thud in the earth.

"Spear it is," growled May.

"Ay, ay," said another of the party; "and I've got it too!"

"Hush!  Silence there!" whispered Murray excitedly.  "Not wounded, my
lad?"

"Nay, sir," came in a subdued voice, "but it would have stuck in my
shirt, on'y it was gone to tinder and wouldn't hold nowt.  Here it is,
though, sir--nigger's spear, and they can see us, though we can't see
them."

"From which way did it come?"

"Way we're going, sir," said the man, in a muffled voice; and as he
spoke once more came the whish of a well-thrown spear, making another of
the men wince, and proving plainly from which direction the missile had
come.

The imminence of the fresh danger made the little party forget their
sufferings, and with the quickness of highly disciplined men, they were
apt to obey the orders whispered sharply by the midshipman.  They fell
into line, made ready, and at the command given by their officer, six
muskets flashed out, sending their bullets whizzing breast high through
the smoke, out of which, as if crossing them, came as many spears, this
time the deadly missiles being followed by a burst of savage yells.

"Load!" whispered Murray, as the yells were followed by a silence so
strange and nerve-startling that the young officer felt his heart thump
heavily against his breast.

Then, as the whistling of the air arose caused by the driving down of
the cartridges, he bethought himself and uttered a hurried question--

"Any one hurt?"

"Yes, sir," came in Tom May's familiar voice; and the midshipman, new to
the heart-stirring horrors of a real engagement, waited anxiously for
the man's next words.

"None of us, sir," came after what seemed to be a long pause, "but some
o' them got it bad and made 'em yell and run i'stead o' keeping on the
slink."

"Hah!" ejaculated Murray, as he pressed his hand to his painfully
throbbing breast.  "I thought you meant--"

"Our lads, sir?  Oh no; we're all right: the enemy, sir.  That volley
started 'em.  I heard 'em rush off quite plain.  Like us to give 'em
another?"

Murray was silent as he stood straining his eyes and ears, to pierce the
smoke and hear the _whish_ of another spear.

"No," he said, at last, in a low tone full of relief, "waste of powder;"
and then he started, and gave vent to a cry of joy.  "Hear that, my
lads?"  For from some distance away to their left came a shout which
meant in this peril-fraught position, help and the companionship of
friends.

"Ay, ay, sir," cried Tom May.

"Shout, lads--shout!" cried Murray excitedly; and as a hearty _Ahoy_!
rang out the lad winced, for he felt that he had given an order which
would show the enemy once more where they were, and he once more
strained his senses in the full expectation of the coming of another
spear.

But he gave vent to his pent-up breath with a feeling of intense relief,
as instead of the _whish_ of a spear came another hearty "ahoy!" from
certainly nearer at hand, followed by the tramp of feet and the
crackling sound of charred wood.

"Where are you?" came directly after, in a well-known voice.

"Here, sir!" cried Murray.  "Forward, my lads!"  And the men followed
him at the double.

"This way," cried the same voice.  "That you, Mr Murray?"

"Yes, sir," replied the midshipman, halting his men in the smoke,
feeling more than seeing that they were close up to their friends.

"All your men there?"

"Yes, sir.  None hurt," replied the lad.

"That's good!  Spears have begun to fly, for the enemy are creeping up
through the smoke.  You started the huts burning, of course?" he
continued, after a pause.

"Yes, sir; burning everywhere."

"Exactly, Mr Murray.  I think the work has been thoroughly done, and I
am glad you found us, for I am getting to be at fault as to how to reach
the shore.  There, I can hear nothing of our friends, so you had better
lead on.  I suppose they have made for the boats."

"Lead on, sir?" faltered Murray.

"Yes, sir," cried the chief officer petulantly; "and don't repeat my
words in that absurd way.  Haven't we had enough of this stifling
smoke?"

"But I thought you had come to help us, sir."

"To help you, sir?  Why, weren't you firing to let us know the way out
of this horrible furnace?"

"No, sir--at the blacks who were hemming us in and throwing their
spears.  Don't you know the way down to the boats?"

"No, my lad," cried the lieutenant angrily.  "Tut, tut, tut!  What a
mess, to be sure!--Silence there!  Listen.--Well," he continued, after
some minutes, during which nothing but an occasional crack from some
half-burned bamboo reached their ears.  "There, we must give a shout or
two.  I don't know, though, Mr Murray; you said that the blacks had
begun throwing their spears?"

"Yes, sir; so did you."

"Yes, Mr Murray, and if we begin shouting all together we shall be
bringing them again."

"That's what I thought, sir."

"Well, what of that, sir?" cried the officer petulantly; and for the
moment it seemed to the lad that his superior had caught the captain's
irritating manner.  "So would any sensible person.  Here, I have it!
Pass the word for Mr Dempsey.  The boatswain's whistle will bring the
stragglers all together."

"But Mr Dempsey is not with us," suggested Murray.

"Then where in the name of common sense is he, sir?  He had his
instructions--strict instructions to keep well in touch with the rest;
and now in the emergency, just when he is wanted he is not to be found.
Listen, all of you.  Can you hear anything?"

There was plenty to hear, for the half-burned posts of the savage town
or the fragments of the forest still kept up a petillation, and flames
flashed up here and there and emitted more smoke; but no one ventured to
speak.

"Bah!" ejaculated the chief officer angrily.  "We shall never get out of
the smoky maze like this.  Now then, all together, my lads, when I give
the word; a good hearty shout; but every man make ready, and at the
first spear thrown fire in the direction--fire low, mind--Who's that--
Mr Murray?"

"Yes, sir," whispered the lad, who had suddenly laid a hand upon his
officer's arm.  "I fancy I can hear the rustling of steps away to the
left, as if the enemy is creeping nearer."

"Fancy, of course, sir!" snapped out the officer.  "Bare-footed savages
are not likely to be stealing amongst these red-hot ashes."

_Bang_! and directly after _bang! bang_!  The reports of three muskets
rang out in a dull half-smothered way, followed by a piercing yell and a
distinctly heard rush of feet.  Then once more silence, which was broken
by a low hail close at hand.

"Who's that?" cried the lieutenant.

"May it is, sir," responded that individual.  "Here's one on 'em, sir,
as has got it."

"Who is it?" whispered the lieutenant, accompanying his question with an
ejaculation full of vexation.

"Oh, I dunno, your honour--Sambo or Nigger Dick, or Pompey, sir.  But
he'll never answer to his name again.  Here he is, spear and all."

"One of the enemy whom you shot down?" said the lieutenant, in a tone
full of relief.

"Not me shot him, sir, but one of my messmates."

"Speak softly, my man," said the lieutenant, "and be all ready to fire
again.  I'm afraid they've been creeping up all round."

"Not all round, sir," said the sailor, "but a whole lot on this side,
and them three shots drifted them.  There was a regular rush as soon as
the lads opened fire."

"Good," said the lieutenant.  "But they may be coming on again.  Stand
fast, my lads, ready to fire at the slightest sound.  I don't know how
they can stand it, Mr Murray," he added, "for I feel as if my boot
soles are being burned through.--Yes: what were you going to say--that
yours are as bad?"

"No, sir," replied the lad excitedly; "I was going to suggest that the
men who fired should stand fast."

"Why, of course, my lad; but why?"

"Because, sir, they can tell the direction in which they fired, and know
the way in which the enemy retreated."

"Of course, sir; but what good will that do?"

"It ought to be the way in which their friends are gathered, and the
opposite direction to that in which we ought to retreat."

"Good, my lad," said the lieutenant, clapping the lad on the shoulder.
"You'll make a smart officer some day.  I should not have thought of
that.  It may prove to be the way towards the shore.  We'll draw off at
once.  Oh!" he added.  "If a good sharp breeze would spring up, to drive
off this smoke!"

"But wouldn't it set the remains of the fire blazing up again, sir?"

"Here, Murray," whispered the officer pettishly, "you'd better take
command of the expedition.  You are sharper than I am."

"I beg your pardon, sir."

"Not at all.  I'm not so weak as to resent hearing a good suggestion.
You are quite right, my lad.  I only wonder that your brain keeps so
clear in the horrible confusion this smoke brings on.  Here, let's put
your suggestion into use.  Where's Tom May?"

"Here, sir."

"Can you tell which way the enemy retreated?"

"For sartin.  This here nigger's lying on his back with his head pynted
the way his party came from--shot right through his chesty; and there's
a spear, sir, sticking slahntindickler in the ashes as shows the way
which it was throwed from.  Both being from the same bearings seems to
say, sir, as that's the way the niggers would run."

"Humph!" ejaculated the lieutenant thoughtfully.  "Not quite sure, my
man?"

"No, sir, but I heerd them seem to run same way, so I thought it was a
bit likely, sir."

"Likely enough for us to follow, my lad," said the officer; "so lead
off, and keep on in the direction you think that the shore will lie."

"Can't do that, sir," said the man bluntly.  "Only think, sir, as it
will be farthest from where the enemy came."

"Lead on," said the officer shortly.  "It's the best thing for us now.
Forward, my lads.  You, Mr Murray, keep alongside of me.  We'll bring
up the rear."

The retreat began, with the midshipman nowise happy in his own mind, for
he could not help feeling that after all they might be marching into
fresh difficulties instead of towards safety; but before long, as they
tramped on over the heated ashes, suffering badly, for they began to
inhale more and more the heated dust thrown up by their men's feet, they
had something else to think of, for Murray suddenly caught hold of his
officer's arm to check him.

"Don't, do that, my lad," came in response.  "It's as dark as can be,
and if we are left behind we shall be worse off than ever."

"Yes, sir," whispered the midshipman; "but listen."

"I am listening, Mr Murray, and I can hear the crackling of the men's
shoes as they trample up the burning embers.  That's what you hear."

"Yes, sir, but something more."

"Eh?  What?"

"Listen again, sir.  Just stop for a moment."

The officer stopped short on the instant, and then caught the lad by the
arm.

"Forward," he whispered, "and keep step with me.  Close up to the men,
and we'll halt, fall into line, give the brutes time to get within
throwing distance for their spears, and then give them a volley.  You
are quite right, Mr Murray.  Your ears are sharper than mine.  We are
followed, my lad, and if we hear their footsteps cease we must dash
forward to put our movement into effect, for they will have halted to
throw their weapons.--Yes, they are creeping after us quite fast now."

"Yes, sir; I can hear them quite plainly."

"Never mind so long as we don't feel them quite plainly, Murray, my
lad," continued the officer, with a faint laugh.  "I don't know how you
feel, my boy, but I am suffering from a peculiar tickling sensation
about the upper part of my spine.  It is a sort of anticipation of the
coming of a spear; and the worst of it is that we can't run, though I'll
be bound to say you feel as if you would like to.  Now, frankly, don't
you?"

"Yes, sir," said the lad; "I'd give anything to run now, as fast as I
could."

"That's honest, Mr Murray," said the lieutenant, in a low, eager
whisper, and he squeezed his companion's arm.  "But then, you see, we
can't.  That's the worst of being an officer, Murray, with all his
responsibilities.  If we were to run we should throw our men into
confusion by causing a panic.  If the officer shows the white feather
his men will whisk it out directly, and, what is worse, they will never
believe in him again, and that would not do, would it?"

"No, sir," said Murray quietly; "but I've got that tickling sensation in
my back badly now."

"Of course you have, Murray, but not so bad as I have, I'm sure."

"Oh, I don't know, sir," said the lad, rather huskily.

"Better not talk, Mr Murray," said the first lieutenant; "the ashes are
getting into your throat."

"Think it's that, sir?"

"Some of it, my boy.  Well, no: it does not do for officers to be too
sure.  We'll say it is, though.  Nasty sensation, however, that of
feeling your enemies are waiting to hurl a spear through the air with
such an aim that it will stick right into your back."

"Yes, sir; it's a horrible sensation."

"But we must put up with it, Murray," continued the lieutenant, "and be
thankful that chance comes to our help."

"Chance, sir?"

"Yes: the savages may miss us, for we are on the move, and besides, it
is very smoky and hard for them to take aim.  These blacks have very
sharp eyes, but I doubt whether they get more than a shadowy glimpse of
us, even at the nearest.  You see, we have not had a man hit as far as
we know.  But speaking seriously, Murray, my lad, I do think that we
officers have the worst of it, and the men the best.  We have to cover
them and lead them, and a good officer would never think of setting his
men to do anything we would not do ourselves.  There, Mr Murray, I have
finished my lecture upon an officer's duty, and I have only to add that
I think you have behaved very well."

"Thankye, sir," said Murray drily; "but, begging your pardon, sir, what
about you?"

"About me?  Oh, I'm old and seasoned, my dear boy.  And besides, I don't
think that if we had been hit, a spear would kill."

"But it would make a very ugly wound, sir."

"Horrible, my boy, so let's hope none of our brave fellows will be
giving the doctor a job.  Now then, quick; double up to the lads, and
we'll halt and fire, for the enemy are getting too close to be pleasant,
and it's time that they had a check."



CHAPTER TEN.

HARD TIMES.

It was, quite, for the rustling behind seemed to be terribly near, and
it was with a feeling of intense relief that the lad felt his arm
pressed, and fell into step with his officer, who directly after cried
"Haiti" in a low, stern voice, and formed his men in line, before giving
the orders: "Make ready!  Fire!"

Quite time, for spears and bullets crossed, the former in a curve, the
latter direct, and drawing from the enemy yells of mingled defiance,
rage and pain.

"That's give it 'em, sir," whispered Tom May, who was close to Murray,
and he made his rifle hiss as he rammed down a fresh cartridge.

"Any one hurt?" asked the lieutenant, in a low, eager tone.

"I got a spear a-sticking in me, sir," said one of the men, in the same
subdued tone of voice, "but I can't say as it hurts."

"Let me see," said Murray excitedly, and he stepped to where the man was
standing tugging at himself instead of following his comrades' example
and reloading.

"Don't think you can see, sir! it's so smoky.  Would you mind ketching
hold here and giving a good pull?"

As the man spoke, the midshipman did as he was requested, so far as to
take hold of the shaft of a spear.  But there he stopped short, his
imagination suggesting consequences to which he gave voice in a
strangely unnatural tone.

"I daren't draw it out," he said.  "It may be wrong to do so."

"But I can't march with a thing like that all wibble wobble at every
step, sir."

"Then you must be helped, my lad," said Murray hastily.  "If I draw it
out the wound may burst out bleeding."

"Think so, sir?"

"Yes.  You must be helped back till the doctor has seen to you."

"Here, what is it?" said a familiar voice out of the gloom.

"Titely has a spear through his shoulder, sir."

"Tut, tut, tut!  Here, let me look."

"Oh, never mind me, sir," said the injured man; "it don't hurt much,
on'y feels like a scratch; but it's orfly in the way."

"Who's this?" asked the lieutenant.

"Murray, sir."

"Let me see.  Yes: right through, evidently."

"He wants it drawn out, sir," said the midshipman, and he was holding up
the spear-shaft where he stood facing the injured man; "but it would be
dangerous to meddle with it, wouldn't it, sir?"

"Yes, certainly," said the lieutenant.  "He must be helped back.  What's
that?"

"More spears, sir," growled Tom May, as there was the whizz and thud of
the missiles once more.

"Present!  Fire!" said the lieutenant sharply; and a fresh volley was
fired, with the result of a rush of feet being plainly heard from the
enemy, now in full retreat.

"Keep silence, my lads," said the lieutenant, who had been waiting till
the thudding of the ramrods came to an end and denoted that the little
party was once more ready to deliver fire.

Silence ensued, save where Murray stood half supporting the wounded man.

"Here, give it a good pull, Mr Murray, sir," whispered the man.  "I'll
hold a couple o' plugs ready for you to stop the bleeding."

"No, no, my man; you must be patient," whispered Murray sympathetically.

"But I can't be patient, sir.  You don't know what it means."

"Does it pain you so much?"

"No, sir; not so werry much.  I can bear it well enough, but it makes me
feel as if I'd got a skewer through me."

"Silence there," said the lieutenant.

"It's all very fine," muttered the man; and then, leaning towards
Murray, "Say, sir, these here niggers on the coast are cannibals, aren't
they?"

"Yes, some of them, I believe," whispered back the midshipman.

"Don't leave me behind, then," said the man softly, and he uttered a low
chuckling laugh.  "I don't want 'em to come upon me and find a fellow
skewered and trussed ready for cooking."

"Can't you keep that man quiet, Mr Murray?" said the lieutenant
angrily, and he came up to where the pair stood together.  "It's like
telling the enemy where to throw again, for they are wonderfully quick
of hearing."

"I am trying, sir," whispered the midshipman, "but I wish you would
place your hand here."

"Place your hand there, Mr Murray!" said the officer, in a voice full
of vexation.  "I have no time to feel the poor fellow's wound."

"But it isn't quite that, sir," said the lad.  "I can't help thinking--"

"Think, then, sir, but don't bother me."

"I can't help it, sir," whispered the lad excitedly.

"What do you mean, Mr Murray?" said the officer, alarmed by the lad's
excitement.  "Don't say you are wounded too?"

"No, sir, and I don't think that Titely has got anything worse than a
scratch."

"Eh?"

"Feel here, sir.  The spear has gone right through the bandolier and his
shirt from the front and gone out through the shirt and bandolier at the
back, running all up a bit."

"Well, but what about the poor fellow's flesh and bone?" said the
officer excitedly.

"I think it's only gone through the skin, sir."

"Yes, that's right," said the man.  "I telled Mr Murray, sir, as I
didn't think I should bleed much if he pulled the skewer out."

"We must wait for daylight, my lad--till the smoke lifts.  Ah, what are
you doing?"

"On'y wiggling the spear a little, sir," replied the man gruffly.  "Just
give a tug at it.  Does hurt a bit.  I seem to have teared some'at.
There, I knowed it!  You try, Mr Murray, sir; you can lift it like now,
and--yes, that's it.  I'm a-shoving it back'ards and for'ards, and it
moves the cross-belt and my shirt, and nothing else."

"But, my good fellow--" began the officer.

"It's all right, sir.  I've shoved my hand right under my shirt and over
my shoulder.  It's just bleeding a little, but--well, it's about the
humbuggin'est humbug of a wound I ever knowed a chap to have.  Here, Mr
Murray sir, you ketch hold of my cross-belt fore and aft, and if his
honour wouldn't mind giving the spear a haul through the belt I shall be
as right as can be."

The two officers obeyed the man's request and stood holding spear and
belt, but hesitated to proceed farther.

"That hurt, my lad?" said the lieutenant.

"Hurt, sir?  Not a bit.  On'y feels preciously in the way."

"Got hold tightly, Mr Murray?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then, now then."

It took more than one good tug, but after the first tentative trial,
which seemed to cause the man no suffering, the first lieutenant pulled
hard, and at last drew the spear right through the two pierced portions
of the tough buff leather.

"That's your sort, gentlemen," said the man.  "Here, who's got my
musket?"

"Steady, my lad," said the lieutenant.  "Now, then, do you feel faint?"

"Orfle, sir, inside," said the man, "but I want a drink o' water worst."

"But are you in pain?" asked Murray.

"Smarts a bit, but it don't hardly bleed at all.  I'm all right, sir,
only tickles enough to make a chap a bit savage.  Here, don't you worry
about me, sir.  I'm as fit as a fiddle, gentlemen, and I on'y want now
to play the niggers such a toon as'll make them jump again."

"Hah!" ejaculated the lieutenant.  "Only a bit of a false alarm, Mr
Murray."

"Thankye, sir.  Yes, that's right.  Does me good to grip my musket
again."

"Then try and use it, Titely," said the midshipman, "for here they come
again.--Yes, May; we hear them."

The lieutenant's command was given directly after, and again a volley
rang out, this time to check the enemy's advance and drive them back so
thoroughly that the silence was once more intense; and as the party
stood with strained ears, listening, Murray uttered an exclamation.

"What is it, Mr Murray?"

"Firing, sir.  I heard shots."

"Are you sure?"

"I heerd it too, sir," said the injured man.

"Attention there!" said the lieutenant sharply.

"One, two, and three from the left make ready.  Present--Fire!"

The three shots rang out like one, and directly after they were replied
to, the reports sounding faintly enough but perfectly distinguishable
through the distance.

The lieutenant waited while twenty could be counted, and then ordered
the men to fire again.  This drew forth a reply, and so evidently from
the same direction that the order was given for the party to march; but
directly after the lieutenant called _Halt_, for from behind them and
quite plainly from the direction they were leaving, came the deep-toned
_thud_ of a heavy gun.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

"THE SMOKE'S LIFTING."

"Well done, _Seafowl_!" said the lieutenant, and the men gave a cheer
which drew forth a "Silence!" from the officer.

"You're holloaing before you're out of the wood, my lads," he said.
"Ah, there they go again--nearer too.  Those must be Mr Munday's or Mr
Dempsey's men.  Halt, and stand fast, my lads.  Let's give them a chance
to join, and then we can retire together.  No doubt, Mr Murray, about
the direction we ought to take."

"No, sir," replied the midshipman, "and we are going to be quite out of
our misery soon."

"What do you mean, my lad?"

"The smoke's lifting, sir."

"To be sure, my lad, it is.  A cool breeze too--no--yes, that's from the
same direction as the _Seafowl's_ recall shot.  If it had been from the
forest we might have been stifled, after all."

The signals given from time to time resulted in those who had fired
coming before long within hail, and the men who now joined proved to be
a conjunction of the second lieutenant's and boatswain's, who had met
after a long estrangement in the smoke, and without the loss of a man.
Then, as the smoke was borne back by the now increasing sea breeze, the
general retreat became less painful.  They could breathe more freely,
and see their way through the burned forest in the direction of the
anchored sloop.

It was a terribly blackened and parched-up party, though, that struggled
on over the still smoking and painfully heated earth.  For they had no
option, no choice of path.  The forest that lay to left and right was
too dense to be attempted.  There were doubtless paths known to the
natives, but they were invisible to the retreating force, which had to
keep on its weary way over the widely stretching fire-devastated tract
that but a few hours before had been for the most part mangrove thicket
interspersed with palms.  But the men trudged on with all the steady,
stubborn determination of the British sailor, cheered now as they were
by the sight of the great river right ahead, with the sloop of war well
in view; and in place of bemoaning their fate or heeding their
sufferings the scorched and hair-singed men were full of jocular remarks
about each other's state.

One of the first things observable was the fact that to a man all save
the officers were bare-headed, the men's straw hats having suffered
early in the struggle against the flames, while the caps of the officers
were in such dismal plight that it was questionable as to whether it was
worth while to retain them.

Titely, the seaman who had been speared, was the butt of all his
messmates, and the requests to him to show his wound were constant and
all taken in good part; in fact, he seemed to revel in the joke.

But there was another side which he showed to his young officer as,
cheering at intervals, the party began to near the river edge and get
glimpses of the boats waiting with a well-armed party to take them off
to the sloop.

"It's all werry fine, Mr Murray, sir," said Titely, "and I warn't going
to flinch and holloa when one's poor mates wanted everything one could
do to keep 'em in good heart; but I did get a good nick made in my
shoulder, and the way it's been giving it to me all through this here
red-hot march has been enough to make me sing out _chi-ike_ like a
trod-upon dog."

"My poor fellow!" whispered Murray sympathetically.  "Then _you_ are in
great pain?"

"Well, yes, sir; pooty tidy."

"But--"

"Oh, don't you take no notice, sir.  I ought to be carried."

"Yes, of course!  Yes, I'll tell Mr Anderson."

"That you don't, sir!  If you do I shall break down at once.  Can't you
see it's the boys' chaff as has kep' me going?  Why, look at 'em, sir.
Who's going to make a party of bearers?  It's as much as the boys can do
to carry theirselves.  No, no; I shall last out now till I can get a
drink of cool, fresh water.  All I've had lately has been as hot as
rum."

"Hurray!" rang out again and again, and the poor fellows joined in the
cheers, for they could see nothing but the welcome waiting for them, and
feel nothing but the fact that they had gone to clear out the horrible
hornets' nest with fire, and that the task had been splendidly done.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

AFTER THE LESSON.

As the suffering party gathered together upon the river shore
preparatory to embarking in the boats, Murray's first care was to see
that A.B. Titely was placed where he could lie down and rest, and while
looking after the poor fellow, and seeing that he was one of the first
to be helped into the stern sheets of the first cutter, Roberts came up.

"Oh, I say!" he cried.  "Who's that wounded?"

"Hallo!  Who are you?" said his fellow middy sharply.  "Don't disturb
the poor fellow."

"Why, eh?  Yes--no," cried Roberts, with a mock display of interest, "I
was wondering where--well--it can't be!  Why, Frank, you do look a
pretty sweep!  Hardly knew you.  I say: is it you?"

"Is it I, indeed!" growled Murray.  "You're a pretty fellow to try that
on!  Go and look at your face in the water if you can find a still pool.
I might grin at you."

"Am I browned, then--scorched?"

"Are you scorched brown!  No, you are scorched black!  Where are your
eyebrows?  I say, Dick, those two little patches of hair in front of
your ears that you believed were whiskers beginning to shoot--they're
quite gone.  No, not quite; there's a tiny bit left in front of your
right ear."

The conscious lad clapped his hands up to the sides of his face.

"I say, not so bad as that, is it, Frank?  No games; tell us the truth."

"Games?  No, I'm too sore to be making game," cried Murray, and he gazed
carefully at both sides of his messmate's cheeks.  "You're scorched
horribly, and the whisker shoots are all gone--No, there's about half of
one left; and you'll have to shave that off, Dick, so as to balance the
other bare place.  No, no; it's all right; that's not hair, only a
smudge of sooty cinder off your burnt cap.  I say, you do look a beauty,
Dick."

"Oh, I say!" groaned the youth, patting his tingling cheeks
tenderly.--"Here, what are you grinning at, sir?" he cried, turning upon
the wounded sailor angrily.

"Beg pardon, sir.  Was I grinning?" said the sailor apologetically.

"Yes; and he can't help it, Dick.  Don't be hard upon the poor fellow;
he has had a spear through the top of his shoulder.  But you do look an
object!  Enough to make a cat laugh, as they say."

"Well, I don't see that there's anything to laugh at."

"No, old fellow, because you can't see your face; but I say, you can see
mine."

"Humph!" grunted Roberts sulkily, and his fingers stole up to pat the
scorched portions of his face.

"Case of pot and kettle, eh, Dick?" said Murray, laughing, then pulling
his face straight again as he winced with pain.  "Oh, I say, don't make
me grin at you again.  It's just as if my skin was ready to crack all
over.  There, poor old chap, I'm sorry for you if you feel as bad as I
do.  But you began it."

"Beg pardon, then," grumbled Roberts.

"Granted.  But I say, why doesn't Anderson hurry us all on board?"

"I don't know.  Yes, I do," cried the midshipman excitedly.  "The
beggars--they must have quite escaped the fire!  They're gathering
together over yonder, hundreds of them, with spears.  I believe they're
going to make a rush.  Fancy, after destroying the hornets' nest!"

"Then we shall have to kill the hornets," said Murray; and the two lads
were among the first to answer to the boatswain's whistle, which now
chirruped out loudly.

"Here we are, Mr Murray, sir," said Tom May, as the midshipman hurried
up to his little party.  "This is us, sir--your lot."

"Well, I know that," said the lad petulantly, as he winced with pain.

"Beg pardon, sir," said the man.  "Thought you might take us for the
niggers, seeing what colour we are and how our clothes are tumbling
off."

"Yes, we're black enough, Tom, but I hope you don't feel as I do," said
his leader.

"Much of a muchness, sir," said the man, with a grin half of mischievous
mirth, half of pain.  "The first luff said something about hornets, sir.
I don't know much about them insecks, but we chaps feel as if we'd been
among their first cousins the wopses; eh, lads?"

"Ay, ay!" growled another of the men.  "But aren't we soon going to have
a chance to use our stings?"

At that moment the preliminary order rang out--an order which sent a
thrill through the suffering band, making them forget everything in the
opportunity about to be given them for retaliation upon the advancing
body of warlike blacks stealing cautiously forward from the shelter of a
patch of mangroves away to the left, which had from its nearness to the
margin escaped the flames.

"The savage brutes!" muttered Murray, as he drew his sword, and winced
with pain.

"Hold your fire, Mr Murray," shouted the lieutenant.  "Wait, my lads,
till you see the whites of their eyes, and then let them have it sharply
when you hear the word."

But the little volley from the midshipman's party of reserve was held
longer, for the lieutenant's words had little more than passed his lips
when there was a flash, followed by what resembled a ball of grey smoke
from the _Seafowl_ where she lay at anchor.  Then almost instantaneously
came the roar of one of the sloop's bow guns and her charge of canister
shot tore through the sheltering bush-like trees, while a cheer burst
from the shore party, discipline being forgotten in the excitement
caused by what came as a surprise.

The heartily given cheer was followed by another puff of grey smoke, and
the crack of shot through the sheltered trees, the effect being that the
advancing party of the enemy was turned into a running crowd of
fugitives scattering and running for their lives, leaving the boats'
crews to embark quite unmolested, this last example of the white man's
power proving a quite sufficient lesson for the native king.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

A VISIT FROM THE HORNETS.

"Upon my word, Mr Anderson," said the captain, as he had the men drawn
up before him as soon as they reached the _Seafowl_--"Upon my word, sir,
I am delighted.  I entrust you with a couple of boats' crews to carry
out a necessary duty, and you bring me back a scorched-up detachment
only fit to go into hospital."

"I beg pardon, sir," said the chief officer shortly; "only one man
wounded, and his injury is very slight."

"Don't talk to me like that, sir!" cried the captain.  "Look at them,
sir--look at them!"

"I have been looking at them, sir, for long enough--poor fellows--and I
am truly sorry to have brought them back in such a state."

"I should think you are, sir!  Upon my word of honour I should think you
are!  But what have you been about?"

"Burning out the hornets' nest, sir," said the lieutenant bluffly.

"Well, I suppose you have done that thoroughly, Mr Anderson: but at
what a cost!  Is there to be no end to these misfortunes?  First you
allow yourself to be deluded by a slave-trading American and bring the
_Seafowl_ up here to be run aground, with the chance of becoming a total
wreck--"

"I beg your pardon, sir!"

"Well, not total--perhaps not total, Mr Anderson; but she is in a
terribly bad position."

"One from which you will easily set her at liberty."

"Fortunately for you, Mr Anderson; and that is to my credit, I think,
not yours."

"Granted, sir," said the lieutenant; "but do you give me the credit of
being tricked by the slave skipper?"

"Well, I suppose I must take my share, Mr Anderson; but don't you think
it would be more creditable to dismiss these poor fellows at once and
have them overhauled by the surgeon?"

"I do, sir, certainly," said the chief officer.

"Have them below, then, at once, and let Mr Reston do his best with
them.  Only one seriously wounded, you said?"

"No, sir; slightly."

"Good.  But to think of the _Seafowl_ being turned at one stroke into a
hospital hulk.--You thoroughly destroyed the town and the slave
barracks?"

"We completely burned out the wretched collection of palm and bamboo
huts, sir, and the horrible barn and shambles where they keep their
wretched captives.  It was a place of horror, sir," said the lieutenant
angrily.  "If you had seen what we saw, sir, you would have felt that no
punishment could be too great for the wretches."

"Humph!  I suppose not, Mr Anderson.  And that iniquitous Yankee
scoundrel who has slipped through my fingers.  But look here, Mr
Anderson, I am going to find that wretch; and when I do--yes, when I do!
He has had the laugh of me, and I was too easily deceived, Anderson;
but I'm going to follow that fellow across the Atlantic to where he
disposes of his unfortunate cargo.  It's thousands of miles, perhaps,
and a long pursuit maybe, but we're going to do it, sir, no matter what
it costs, and I hope and believe that my officers and my poor brave
fellows who have suffered what they have to-day will back me up and
strain every nerve to bring the _Seafowl_ alongside his schooner, going
or coming.  Hang him, Mr Anderson!--Ah, I did not mean to say that,
sir; but hang him by all means if you can catch him.  We'll give him the
mercy he has dealt out to these poor unhappy creatures, and for the way
in which my brave fellows have been scorched and singed I'm going to
burn that schooner--or--well, no, I can't do that, for it must be a
smart vessel, and my sturdy lads must have something in the way of prize
money.  Look at them, Mr Anderson; and look at those two!  You don't
mean to tell me that those are officers?"

He pointed at the two midshipmen so suddenly that they both started and
turned to look at each other, then stared at the captain again, and once
more gazed at each other, puzzled, confused, angry and annoyed at their
aspect, looking so comical that the captain's manner completely altered.
He had been gazing at his young officers with an air of commiseration,
and his tones spoke of the anger and annoyance he felt to see the state
they were in; and then all was changed; he turned to the first
lieutenant, whose eyes met his, and, unable to maintain his seriousness,
he burst into a fit of laughter, in which he was joined by the chief
officer.  Then, pulling himself together, he snatched out his
handkerchief and wiped his eyes.

"Bah!" he ejaculated.  "Most unbecoming!  I did not mean this,
gentlemen; the matter is too serious.  But for goodness' sake get below
and make yourselves presentable.  Mr Anderson, you ought not to have
laughed.  See to all the poor fellows, sir.  The men must have fresh
clothes served out, and all who are unfit for duty go into the sick
bay."

Then, frowning severely, he turned sharply upon his heels and marched to
the cabin door.

"Well," exclaimed the first lieutenant, "of all--`Mr Anderson, you
ought not to have laughed!'  Well, gentlemen," he cried angrily, as he
turned upon the two young officers, "pray what do you find to laugh at?
Is my face black?"

"No, sir," cried Murray, in a half-choking voice.  "I beg your pardon,
sir.  It seemed so comic for the captain to turn upon you like that."

"Eh?  Humph!  Well, I suppose it was.  I laughed too.  Well, better
laugh than cry over spilt milk.  It's the excitement, I suppose, and
what we have gone through.  Now then, we had better go below and
interview the doctor; but he will be busy over the lads for a long time
before our turn comes."

"I believe the skipper's half-cracked," said Roberts, as the two lads
went below to their quarters.

"Then I'd keep my opinions to myself, old fellow," grumbled Murray; and
then as he seated himself upon a locker he uttered a low hissing sound
suggestive of pain.

"Pooh!  This is a free country--no, I don't mean that," cried Roberts,
pulling himself up short.  "I mean, every man has a right to his own
opinions."

"Yes, but not to give them aboard a man-o'-war."

"Bah!  We're not slaves.  Haven't we come to suppress slavery?"

"I dare say we have," said Murray, "but you'd better not let the skipper
know that you said he was a bit of a lunatic."

"Shall if I like.  You won't be a sneak and tell.  Why, it was ghastly
to see him turn as he did.  One minute he was speaking feelingly and
letting us all see that he meant to spare no efforts about pursuing and
punishing that Yankee skipper, and the next he was laughing like a
hysterical school-girl."

"He couldn't help it, poor old boy," said Murray.  "Old Anderson was
just as bad, and we caught the infection and laughed too, and so did the
men."

"Well, I can't see what there was to laugh at."

"That's the fun of it.  But it is all through every one being so
overstrung, I suppose.  There, do leave off riddling about your cheeks."

"Who's fiddling, as you call it, about one's cheeks?"

"You were, and it's of no use; the miserable little bits of down are
gone, and there's nothing for it but to wait till the hairs begin to
grow again."

"Er-r-r!" growled Roberts angrily; and he raised his fingers to the
singed spots involuntarily, and then snatched them down again, enraged
by the smile which was beginning to pucker up his companion's face.
"There you go again.  You're worse than the skipper."

"Then don't make me laugh, for it hurts horribly."

"I'll make you laugh on the other side of your face directly."

"No don't--pray don't," sighed Murray; "for the skin there's stiffer,
and I'm sure it will crack."

"You're cracked already."

"I think we must all have been, to get ourselves in such a mess, old
fellow.  But it was very brave, I suppose, and I don't believe any one
but English sailors would have done what we did."

"Pooh!  Any fools could have started those fires."

"Perhaps so.  But what's the matter now?"  For Roberts had raised his
face from the water he was beginning to use, with an angry hiss.

"Try and bathe your face, and you'll soon know."

"Feel as if the skin was coming off?  Well, we can't help it.  Must get
rid of the black.  The skin will grow again.  But I'm thinking of one's
uniform.  My jacket's like so much tinder."

A wash, a change, and a visit to the doctor ended with the sufferers
being in comparative comfort, and the two lads stood and looked at each
other.

"Hasn't improved our appearance, Dick," said Murray.

"No; but you must get the barber to touch you up.  One side of your
curly wig is singed right off, and the other's fairly long."

"I don't care," cried Murray carelessly.  "I'm not going to bother about
anything.  Let's go on deck and see what they're about."

Roberts was quite willing, and the first man they encountered was the
able-seaman Titely.

"Why, hallo!" cried Murray.  "I expected you'd be in hospital."

"Me, sir!  What for?"

"Your wound."

"That warn't a wound, sir; only a snick.  The doctor put a couple o'
stitches in it, and then he made a sorter star with strips o' stick-jack
plaister.  My belt got the worst of it, and jest look at my hair, sir.
Sam Mason scissored off one side; the fire did the other.  Looks nice
and cool, don't it?"

The man took off his new straw hat and held his head first on one side
and then the other for inspection.

"Why, you look like a Turk, Titely," said Murray.

"Yes, I do, sir, don't I?  Old Sam Mason's clipping away still.  The
other chaps liked mine so that they wanted theirs done the same.  It's
prime, sir, for this here climate."

"But your wound?" said Roberts.

"Don't talk about it, sir, or I shall be put upon the sick list, and
it's quite hot enough without a fellow being shut up below.  Noo canvas
trousis, sir.  Look prime, don't they?"

"But, Titely," cried Murray, "surely you ought to be on the sick list?"

"I say, please don't say such a word," whispered the man, looking
sharply round.  "You'll be having the skipper and Mr Anderson hearing
on you.  I ain't no wuss than my messmates."

"No, I suppose not," said Roberts, "but--why, they seem to be all on
deck."

"Course they are, sir," said the man, grinning.  "There's nowt the
matter with them but noo shirts and trousis, and they allers do chafe a
bit."

Murray laughed.

"But you ought to be on the sick list."

"Oh, I say, sir, please don't!  How would you young gentlemen like to be
laid aside?"

"But what does the doctor say?  Didn't he tell you that you ought to go
into the sick bay?"

"Yes, sir," said the man, grinning; "but I gammoned him a bit."

"You cheated the doctor, sir!" said Roberts sternly.

"Well, sir, I didn't mean no harm," said the man, puckering up his face
a little and wincing--"I only put it to him like this: said I should
only fret if I went on the sick list, and lie there chewing more than
was good for me."

"Well, and what did he say?"

"Told me I was a himpident scoundrel, sir, and that I was to go and see
him every morning, and keep my left arm easy and not try to haul."

In fact, singeing, some ugly blisters, a certain number of hands that
were bound up by the doctor, and a few orders as to their use--orders
which proved to be forgotten at once--and a certain awkwardness of gait
set down to the stiffness of the newly issued garments--those were all
that were noticeable at the first glance round by the midshipmen, and
apparently the whole crew were ready and fit to help in the efforts
being made to get the sloop out of her unpleasant position in the mud of
the giant river.

As for the men themselves, they were in the highest of spirits, and
worked away hauling at cables and hoisting sail to such an extent that
when the night wind came sweeping along the lower reaches of the river,
the sloop careened over till it seemed as if she would dip her canvas in
the swiftly flowing tide, but recovered almost to float upon an even
keel.  Twice more she lay over again, and then a hearty cheer rang out,
for she rose after the last careen and then began to glide slowly out
into deeper water, just as the captain gave orders for one of the bow
guns to be fired.

"Why was that?" said Murray, who had been busy at his duties right aft.
"Didn't you see?"

"No.  Not to cheer up the men because we were out of the mud?"

"Tchah!  No.  The niggers were beginning to collect again ashore there
by that patch of unburned forest."

"I didn't see."

"That doesn't matter," said Roberts sourly; "but the blacks did, and
felt too, I expect.  Anyhow, they sloped off, and now I suppose we shall
do the same while our shoes are good, for the skipper won't be happy
till we're out to sea again."

"Here, what now?" said Murray excitedly.  "What does this mean?"

"This" meant cheering and excitement and the issuing of orders which
made the deck a busy scene, for the men were beat to quarters ready to
meet what promised to be a serious attack.  For in the evening light
quite a fleet of large canoes crowded with men could be seen coming
round a bend of the river, the blades dipping regularly and throwing up
the water that flashed in the last rays of the sinking sun, while from
end to end the long canoes bristled with spears, and the deep tones of a
war song rhythmically accompanied the dipping of the paddles.

"Why, they must be three or four hundred strong, Anderson," said the
captain.  "Fully that, sir."

"Poor wretches!" muttered the captain.  "I thought we had given them
lesson enough for one day."

"Only enough to set them astir for revenge," said the lieutenant.

"Well, the lesson must be repeated," said the captain, shrugging his
shoulders.  "See what a shot will do with that leading canoe.  We have
come upon a warlike tribe, brave enough, or they would not dare to
attack a vessel like this."



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

DEALING WITH A FLEET.

"I know what I should do," said Murray, as, forgetting the smarting and
stiffness from which he suffered, he stood watching the savage fleet
steadily gliding down stream.

"What?" said Roberts.

"Get out of the river as soon as I could.  We could sail right away
now."

"Cowardly," grumbled Roberts.  "Why, it would be throwing away the
chance of giving the wretches a severe lesson."

"They've had one," said Murray, "and if we sink half-a-dozen of them
they'll be ready enough to come on again."

"Then we could sink some more.  Why, if you sailed away they'd think we
were afraid of them."

"Let them!  We know better.  It seems a bit horrible with our great
power to begin sending grape and canister scattering amongst these
slight canoes."

"Oh yes, horrible enough; but they must be taught that they can't be
allowed to make war upon other tribes and sell their prisoners into
slavery."

"I suppose so," said the lad, with a sigh, possibly due to the pain he
still felt from the late fight with the flames.

"Look at that," whispered Roberts excitedly.  "Why, the skipper seems to
think as you do."

For orders were given, the capstan manned, and the sloop glided towards
the anchor by which they now swung, the sails began to fill and help the
men in their task, and soon after the anchor stock appeared above the
water.

It was quite time, for the canoes were nearing fast, and to the two
midshipmen it appeared as if the enemy would be alongside and swarming
aboard before their vessel had time to gather way.

"Why don't we fire, Frank?" said Roberts excitedly.

"Because we're not in command," replied Murray coolly, as he tried to
measure mentally the length of time it would take for the leading canoe
to reach them, rapidly advancing as it was in obedience to the lusty
strokes given by some thirty paddles which made the water foam on either
side of the frail craft packed with men.

"But it's absurd.  The skipper ought to have given the order long ago."

"And filled the surface with dead and dying men floating and struggling
amongst the shattered pieces of the canoe?"

"Yes: why not?  It's war, sir--war."

"But war when it is a necessity ought to be carried on in as humane a
fashion as is possible."

"With people like this?  Bah!  Why, if they once get aboard they will
spear us to a man, or batter our heads with their war clubs."

"They would if they could," said Murray quietly.

"They will, I tell you," said Roberts excitedly.

"No, they will not, old chap, for the skipper won't let them."

"Oh, you!" exclaimed Roberts, who stamped one foot down upon the deck in
his excitement.  "Why, you are as foolish as our officers."

"Speak gently, or some one will be hearing you," said Murray quietly.

"I want some one to hear me!" exclaimed the lad.  "We are giving all our
chances away."

"That we are not!  I've been trying to calculate how we shall stand for
distance when the _Seafowl_ glides off on the other tack."

"So have I," cried Roberts furiously, "and it will be with the crews of
two of those war canoes on board spearing and stabbing us."

"Indeed!" said Murray, in quite a drawl.  "That doesn't agree with my
calculation.  I make it that they will be about fifty yards astern, and
beyond spear-throwing distance."

"And I tell you that you are all wrong, Frank."

"Well, one of us is, old chap, for certain."

"You!" said Roberts emphatically.  "No, I think not, old fellow.  You
see, too, that I have the skipper's opinion on my side."

"The skipper's opinion isn't worth a pinch of powder.  He's a
crack-brained lunatic.  Here, what do you mean by that?"

"Only to turn my hand into a tompion to stop your fiery, foolish words,
old fellow," replied Murray.  "You'd look nice if any one carried your
remarks to the captain."

"I'm only doing my duty, sir, and am trying to save our ship from the
attack of these savages who are bearing down upon us."

"And setting your knowledge of navigation and the management of the
_Seafowl_ above that of the captain."

"I tell you I have lost faith in the skipper."

"Of the lieutenant--"

"He does not see our peril."

"And the wisdom of our old and experienced warrant officers," continued
Murray.

"There," said the midshipman, "look at that!  Not a shot fired, and
those two leading canoes abreast of us.  There'll be a massacre
directly."

"Bravo!" whispered Murray excitedly.  "Wonderfully done!  You miserable
old croaker, wasn't that splendid?"

A minute before, the lad who had remained cool and self-contained during
what seemed to be a perilous time, had watched without comprehending the
action of the forward guns' crews, who, in obedience to the orders given
by the first lieutenant, seized upon the capstan bars and stood ready to
starboard and port, waiting for something anticipated.

Then as the _Seafowl_ answered to her helm and Roberts was turning
frantic with excitement as he felt that the savages were bound to be
aboard directly, the sloop careened over from the force of the breeze
when her course was altered, there was a dull crashing sound and her
stem cut one long war canoe in two amidships, leaving the halves gliding
alongside in company with some fifty or sixty struggling and swimming
naked savages, some of whom began to climb aboard by the stays, others
by the fore chains; but as each fierce black head rose into sight, there
was a tap given by a well-wielded capstan bar, and black after black
dropped back into the water, to glide astern, stunned or struggling, to
be picked up by his companions in the second boat, which was being
overtaken by others, bristling with spears, while the vessel was a
cable's length ahead and steadily increasing its speed.

"Now then, Dick, what about my calculation?" said Murray, giving his
companion a poke in the side.  "Pretty near, wasn't I?"

"Humph!  Luck--chance," grumbled Roberts ill-humouredly.

"Of course!  But wasn't the captain right?"

"No; he ought to have given the savage wretches another lesson."

"A bloodthirsty one," said Murray.  "Pooh!  Don't be such a savage,
Dick."

"I'm not, sir," retorted the midshipman angrily.  "What are our weapons
of war for unless to use?"

"Oh yes; of course, when they are wanted.  If I were a captain I
shouldn't shrink for a minute about firing broadsides and sinking our
enemies in times of necessity, any more than I should have minded
burning out such a hornets' nest as that yonder; but the captain was
quite right over this business.  Look at the wretched creatures,
regularly defeated."

"They've been allowed to escape, sir," said Roberts haughtily, "and I
feel ashamed of our commander."

"I don't," said Murray, laughing.  "I think he's a peculiar eccentric
fellow, ready to say all kinds of unnecessary things; but he's as brave
as a lion--braver, for I believe lions are precious cowards sometimes."

"Pooh!" ejaculated Roberts.

"And the more I know of him the better I like him."

"And I like him the less, and I shall never rest till I can get an
exchange into another ship."

"I don't believe you," said Murray, laughing merrily.

"You don't!  Why--"

"Pst!  The skipper," whispered Murray.

For the captain had approached the two midshipmen, his spy-glass under
his arm and his face puckered up with a good-humoured smile.

"Laughing at it, eh?" he said.  "That was a novel evolution of war,
young gentlemen, such as you never saw before, I'll be bound.  There; we
might have shattered up the noble black king's fleet and left the river
red with what we did and the sharks continued afterwards, but my plan
and the master's conning of the vessel answered all purposes, and left
my powder magazine untouched ready for the time when we shall be
straining every nerve, gentlemen, to overtake that Yankee's schooner.
That's what we have to do, Mr Roberts; eh, Mr Murray?"

"Yes, sir; and the sooner the better," replied the latter.

"The sooner the better?  Yes," said the captain, nodding; "and if we
have to sink her that will be work more worthy for our metal.  But
patience, patience.  Yes; for sailors like better work than sinking a
few savage canoes.  But, as I said, patience.  You hot-blooded boys are
always in such a hurry.  All in good time.  I'm not going to rest till I
have got hold of my smooth, smiling Yankee, and I promise you a treat--
some real fighting with his crew of brutal hounds.  I'll sink his
schooner, or lay the _Seafowl_ alongside, and then--it will be risky but
glorious, and you boys shall both of you, if you like, join the
boarders.  What do you say to that?"

The captain did not wait for an answer, but tucked his telescope more
closely under his arm and marched aft, to stand gazing over the stern
rail at the last of the war canoes, which disappeared directly in one of
the river bends, while the sloop glided rapidly on towards the muddy
river's mouth.

"Well, Dick, how do you feel now?" said Murray, smiling.

Roberts knit his brows into a fierce frown as if ready to resent any
remark his messmate might make.  But the genial, open, frank look which
met his disarmed him of all annoyance, and he cleared his throat with a
cough.

"Oh, I don't agree with him about the treatment of those blacks," he
said.  "There's a want of stern, noble justice about his running down
that canoe."

"But it answered all purposes, Dick."

"Humph!  Maybe; but it looked so small, especially when we had all our
guns loaded and the men ready for action."

"Patience," said Murray merrily, taking up the captain's words.
"Patience!  You boys--hot-blooded boys are always in such a hurry.  Wait
a bit, old chap, and when we catch up to the Yankee we're to have a turn
at the boarding.  You'll have a try, eh?"

"Will I?" said the boy, screwing up his features and setting his teeth
hard.  "Will I!  Yes!"

"Mean it?"

"Yes, I believe so," said Roberts thoughtfully.  "I felt ready for
anything when those war canoes were coming on, and I believe I should
feel just the same if the lads were standing ready to board the
schooner.  But I don't know; perhaps I should be all of a squirm.  I
don't want to brag.  It all depends.  Those who make the most fuss,
Frank, do the least.  We shall see."

"Yes," said Murray, looking at his comrade with a curious, searching
gaze; "we shall see."



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

THE DOCTOR IS RILED.

It was with a peculiar feeling of relief that all on board the sloop
passed out into the open and saw the dull green banks of the mangrove
forest fading away astern.  For there had been a haunting feeling of
depression hanging over the vessel which seemed to affect the spirits of
officers and men.

"Hah!" said the doctor, coming up to where the two middies were gazing
over the stern rail, "that's a comfort, boys.  I can breathe freely
now."

"Yes," said Murray; "the air seems so much fresher and makes one feel
more elastic, sir.  Gives one more of an appetite."

"What!" said the doctor drily.  "More of an appetite, eh?  I never
noticed that you two wanted that.  Gracious, how much do you want to
devour!"

"Oh, I say, doctor, I don't eat so much," said Murray, protesting.

"No, sir; it isn't _so_ much; it's too much."

"You're mixing us up, doctor," said the lad mischievously, and he gave
the professional gentleman a peculiarly meaning look.  "You were
thinking of Roberts."

"Here, what's that?" said the middy sharply.  "I'm sure I never eat more
than a fellow of my age and size should."

"Oh, I say, Dick," said Murray.  "Hear him, doctor?  Why, I've seen the
mess steward open his eyes sometimes with wonder."

"Tchah!  He's always opening his eyes with wonder, staring at
everything.  He's a regular idiot."

"Ah, well," said Murray, "I don't want to draw comparisons."

"Then don't do it," cried Roberts warmly.

"Don't be so peppery, my lad," said the doctor.

"Well, I don't want to be accused of gluttony or eating to excess."

"Pooh!  Don't mind what he says," said the doctor good-humouredly.  "I
hate excess, but it does me good to see growing boys make a hearty
meal."

"Frank Murray's too fond of bantering, doctor," said Roberts; and then,
involuntarily passing a finger tenderly over the spots where the
incipient bits of whisker had been singed off, "I don't quite look upon
myself as a growing boy."

"Oh, don't you?" said the doctor, rather gruffly.  "I should have
thought you had not done putting on inches.  There, never mind Murray's
chaff.  By the way, why do you keep shaving yourself down the cheeks
with that finger? does the skin feel tender where you were so much
scorched?"

"Yes, doctor, a little," replied the youth innocently enough.

"H'm, yes, but that cream I gave you does good, doesn't it?"

"Oh yes, doctor."

"Nasty scorching you fellows all had.  I quite expected to have some bad
patients--burns and spear wounds.  Lucky escapes, all of you.  That
Titely was the worst, but the way in which a good healthy sailor's flesh
heals up is wonderful.  It's just like cutting into a piece of raw
native indiarubber before it has been fooled about and manufactured up
with brimstone--vulcanised, as they call it.  You lads ought to bear it
in mind, in case you get a cut or a chop.  All that's wanted is to see
that the wound is thoroughly clean and dry, and then squeeze the sides
up together and the flesh adheres after the fashion of a clean cut in
indiarubber.  Ah, I like a good clean cut."

"What!" cried the lads together, as half laughingly they stared at the
speaker in surprise.

"Well, what are you both looking at?  I don't mean that I personally
like cuts; but they're pleasant to get healed up--not like bullet wounds
or ragged holes through a fellow."

"No," said Murray; "not like holes."

"Not that I mind a clean bullet hole through the flesh so long as it
does not encounter a bone."

"Exactly, doctor; so long as it does not encounter a bone," said Murray
drily.

"That's where the trouble begins, sir," said the doctor, smacking his
lips and making the two middies exchange glances.  "You see, you get a
complicated fracture of the bone with tiny fragments that refuse to show
where they are commencing irritation and that sort of thing."

"Yes, doctor," said Murray drily; "but aren't we getting into an
uncomfortable discussion?"

"No, sir, a most interesting one; but when I spoke it was not all about
injured bones or ordinary shot-holes or cuts; I was saying how glad I
was to be out of that river and mangrove swamp where your West Coast
fever haunts the low lands, and miasmatic emanations are always ready to
pounce upon people and set up tasks for the hardest-worked man in the
ship."

"To do what, doctor?" said Roberts.

"I thought I spoke very plainly, young gentleman; I said set up tasks
for the hardest-worked man in the ship."

"But that sounds as if you--that is to say--I--I--You don't mean
yourself, sir?" said Roberts, in a stammering, half-confused way.

"Not mean myself, sir?" said the doctor angrily.  "Why, who else could I
mean?"

"That's what puzzled me, sir," said Roberts, staring.  "Frank Murray and
I have always thought--"

"Here, I say," cried Murray, laughing and enjoying the verbal engagement
that had sprung up like a squall in the tropics, "don't you begin
dragging me into the discussion."

"Exactly!  Certainly not," cried the doctor hotly.  "If there is any
need for it I can tackle Master Murray afterwards.  I am dealing with
you, sir.  You gave me to understand that you did not consider I was the
most hard-worked man in the ship."

"Very well then," cried Roberts warmly, "if you will have it that way, I
don't."

"Oh!  Indeed!" said the doctor angrily.  "Then what about the last few
days, when I am suddenly brought face to face with a score of wounded
men, and with no one to help me but a surgeon's mate or dresser who is
as stupid as men are made?"

"Wounded, sir?" said Roberts.

"Yes, sir, wounded.  Burned, if you like it better.  Singed and
scorched.  It all comes under the broad term of casualties, does it
not?"

"I suppose so, sir," said Roberts sulkily.

"Better tell me that my services were not called for, and that you could
all have done without me.  I call what I have gone through hard work,
and tell you, sir, that it was a time of great anxiety."

"So it must have been, doctor," put in Murray, "and I feel very grateful
for the way you did away with my pain."

"There's a sneak!" cried Roberts angrily.  "Who began to bully me for
dragging him into the discussion?"

"You are the sneak, sir," said the doctor, "for trying to dodge out of
the matter like this.  Murray spoke out like a man."

"Boy," growled Roberts.

"Very well, sir; like a grateful boy, if that pleases you better.  Like
one who appreciates my service and is not ready to turn up his nose at
what such fellows as you call `doctor's stuff,' just as if a medical man
or a surgeon thought of nothing but wasting the ship's stores upon those
who are glad enough to come to them when they are out of sorts, and most
often from their neglect of common sense precautions, or from over
indulgence in the good things of life."

"Precious lot of chances we get to indulge in the good things of life on
board ship!" said Roberts bitterly.

"Let me tell you, sir," said the doctor, shaking his finger at the
midshipman, "that there is nothing better for a growing lad than the
strict discipline and the enforced temperance and moderate living of
shipboard.  Better for you, though, if you had not so much idleness."

"Idleness, sir!" cried the lad.

"Yes, sir.  You want more work.  Ah!  You may sneer.  Perhaps not quite
so much as I have to do, but more than you get.  Yes, sir, when you know
better you will learn to see that the doctor's life is a very arduous
one."

"But you get lots of time, sir, for natural history and fishing and
shooting."

"Not `lots of time,' sir, as you term it, but some time certainly; and
what is that but work in the cause of science?  And look here, Mr
Roberts, whenever I do get an opportunity for going ashore shooting or
botanising, or have a boat out for fishing or dredging, do I not
invariably enlist the services of you or Mr Murray?"

"Hear, hear!" cried the latter, in the most parliamentary way.

"Thank you, Mr Murray," said the doctor.  "I shall not forget this."

"Don't you believe him, doctor," cried Roberts.  "He doesn't mean it.
He's only currying favour."

"Nothing of the kind, sir," said the doctor sharply.  "I flatter myself
that I understand Mr Murray better than you do, sir.  I understand his
temperament quite as well as I do yours, sir, which is atrabilious."

"Eh?" exclaimed Roberts.  "What's that, sir?"

"Black bilious, sir, if you really don't know.  I have studied your
temperament, sir, and let me tell you that you would be doing very
wisely if you came to me this evening for a little treatment."

"But I've only just got out of your hands, sir," cried the midshipman,
in a voice full of protest.

"That was for the superficial trouble, sir, due to the scorching and
singeing.  Now it is plain to me that what you went through in that
attack upon the blacks' town has stirred up the secretions of your
liver."

"Oh, doctor, that it hasn't!" cried the lad.  "And I'm sure that I want
no physicking."

"I think I know best, sir.  If you were in robust health there would be
none of that display of irritability of temper that you evince.  You as
his messmate must have noticed this irritability, Mr Murray?"

"Constantly, sir," said that individual solemnly.  "Oh you!" growled
Roberts fiercely.  "Just you wait!"

"There!" cried the doctor triumphantly.  "You are proving the truth of
my diagnosis, Mr Roberts.  Come to me before night, and I will give you
what you require.  There, you have given me ample reason for strongly
resenting your language, Mr Roberts, but now I fully realise the cause
I shall pass it over.  You require my services, sir, and that is
enough."

"I don't require them, sir," cried the lad, boiling over with passion
now.  "I was hurt a good deal over the expedition, but now that's
better; there's nothing whatever the matter with me; and you are taking
advantage of your position and are about to force me to swallow a lot of
your horrid stuff.  I won't, though; see if I do!"

"You see, Mr Murray," said the doctor, smiling in a way which irritated
one of his hearers almost beyond bearing, "he is proving all I have said
to the full.  There, be calm, Roberts, my dear boy; we have left the
horrible river and coast behind, and a few days out upon the broad ocean
will with my help soon clear away the unpleasant symptoms from which you
have been suffering, and--"

"Not interfering, am I, doctor?" said a voice which made the two lads
start round.

"Not in the least, Anderson; not in the least.  Mr Roberts here is a
trifle the worse for our run up that muddy river, but I shall soon put
that right with our trip through the healthier portions of our globe."

"Through the healthier portions of the globe, doctor!" said the chief
officer.  "Why, what do you mean?"

"Mean?  Only that the West Coast of Africa is about as horrible a
station as unhappy man could be placed in by the powers that be, while
now we are going where--"

"Why, doctor, you don't mean to say that you do not understand where we
are going?"

"I mean to say I do know, sir--away from the swampy exhalations and
black fevers of the horrible district where we have been cruising, and
out upon the high seas."

"Yes, to cross them, doctor," said the lieutenant drily.  "We are going
to leave the black fevers behind, but in all probability to encounter
the yellow."

"What!" cried the doctor.  "I did not understand--"

"What the captain said?  Well, I did, sir.  The skipper has only just
now been vowing to me that he will never rest until he has run down that
slaver."

"Ah!  Yes, I understand that," said the doctor.  "Then that means--?"

"A long stern chase through the West Indian Islands, and perhaps in and
out and along the coasts of the Southern American States--wherever, in
fact, the plantations are worked by slaves whose supplies are kept up by
traders such as the scoundrel who cheated us into a run up that river
where his schooner was lying.  Why, doctor, it seems to me that we are
only going out of the frying-pan into the fire."

"Dear me, yes," said the doctor.  "You are quite right.  Then under
these circumstances, Mr Roberts," he continued, turning sharply round
upon the midshipman, "the sooner you commence your treatment the
better."

"But really, sir," began Roberts, who looked so taken aback that his
messmate had hard work to contain himself and master the outburst of
laughter that was ready to explode.

"Don't argue, Mr Roberts," said the doctor importantly.  "I do not know
how you find him in your dealings, Anderson," he continued, "but as a
patient I must say that of all the argumentative, self-willed young men
I ever encountered Mr Roberts carries off the palm."

"Yes, he has a will of his own, my dear doctor," said the lieutenant,
giving the middy a meaning glance, "but you must take him in hand.  I
prescribe my way; when you take him in hand next you must prescribe
yours."

"I intend so doing," said the doctor, and he walked aft with the chief
officer.

This was Frank Murray's opportunity, and hurrying to the side, he leaned
his arms upon the bulwarks and laughed till his sides ached before his
companion fully realised the fact, his attention having been taken up by
the pair who were going towards where the captain was slowly pacing the
deck with his hands behind him.

"Oh, grinning at it all, are you?" said Roberts now.  "It's very funny,
isn't it!  An abominable, pragmatical, self-satisfied ass, that's what
he is; and are we almost grown-up men to be handed over to be treated
just as he pleases?  No; I'll resign the service first.  Yes, laugh
away, my fine fellow!  You see if I don't pay you out for this!  Oh, go
it!  But you see if I take any of his beastly old stuff!"



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

"COLD PISON."

Roberts kept his word that same evening, for just as the darkness was
setting in and the two lads had walked forward to lean over the side and
gaze down at the unruffled transparent sea and wonder which were
reflections of the golden glory of the stars and which were the untold
myriads of phosphorescent creatures that, as far down as eye could
penetrate, spangled the limpid sea, the lad suddenly gave his companion
a nudge with his elbow.

"What do you mean by that?" asked Murray.

"Look here, and I'll show you."

"Well, I'm looking; but it's too dark to see what you are fumbling
over."

"How stupid!  What a blind old bat you are!  Well, it's a piece of plum
duff."

"Why, you're like a school-boy," said Murray.

"Oh no, I'm not."

"You may say oh no you're not, but fancy me saving up a bit of cold
pudding from dinner and bringing it out of my jacket pocket to eat!"

"Ah, but you have no reason for doing it.  I have."

"What, are you going to use it as a bait?"

"That's it, my son; but I'm not going to use hook or line."

"Then what are you going to do?"

"Throw it over for one of the sharks we saw cruising about before
sundown."

"But what for?  You don't want to pet sharks with cold pudding."

"No.  Guess again."

"Stuff!  Speak out."

"Poison--cold pison."

"What!  Why, you would never see the brute that took it turn up in the
darkness."

"Don't want to, my son," said the lad solemnly.

"Look here, Dick, it's too hot, to-night, and I'm too tired and sleepy
to try and puzzle out your conundrums, so if you want me to understand
what you're about you had better speak out.  What a rum chap you are!"

"I am."

"One hour you're all a fellow could wish; the next you are red-hot to
quarrel.  See how you were this afternoon when the doctor was talking to
you."

"Ah!  I was out of temper then, but now I feel so happy that a child
might play with me."

"Glad to hear it, but I don't want to be child-like, and I don't want to
play."

"Perhaps not, but you'll be interested."

"Fire away, then.  What has made you so happy?"

"I had an idea."

"Well, look sharp, or I shall fall asleep with my head resting on my
arms."

"Well, I'll tell you," said Roberts.  "You see that solid lump of
pudding?"

"I told you before I can't see it."

"Feel it then."

"No, I'll be hanged if I do!  Why should I feel a nasty piece of cold
pudding?"

"Don't be so jolly particular; it's quite dry."

"Look here, Dick, are you going off your head?"

"I thought I was when the idea came, for it set me laughing so that I
could not stop myself."

"Come, tell me what it all means, or I shall go below to my berth.  What
is there in all this?"

"Poison, I tell you."

"Yes, you told me before; but what does it mean?"

"You see that lump of pudding; well, there's poison in it."

"Dick Roberts, I'm hot and easily aggravated.  If you go on like this I
shall be as quarrelsome as you were this afternoon."

"Well, there, it was all my idea that I had this afternoon.  I got that
lump of pudding from the cook, took it down to my berth, pulled out my
knife, put the box on the side of the pudding, and cut out a piece
exactly the size of the box."

"Wh-a-a-t!  You mean you cut a piece out of the box just the size of the
pudding?"

"No, I don't, my son.  You don't understand yet.  Can't you see I'm
talking about a pill-box?"

"Oh-h-h!"

"Now don't you see?  I cut a hole in the pudding and slipped the box in,
and then made a stopper of the pudding I had cut out, and corked up the
hole with the box inside."

"I begin to see now," said Murray.  "A pill-box full of poison to kill
the shark that swallows the poison."

"I don't care whether it kills the fish or no as long as I get rid of
the stuff."

"Now you are getting confused again.  Why should you try to poison a
shark like this?  What good would it do--what difference would one shark
make out of the thousands which infest the sea?"

"Oh, Franky, what a Dummkopf you are, as the Germans say!"

"Don't care what the Germans say, and I dare say I am a stupid-head, for
I can't make out what you are driving at."

"You can't?  Why, I'm going to make the shark take the poison instead of
taking it myself."

"But what poison?"

"Old Reston's: the two blue pills.  Then I shall pitch the bottle of
horrible draught overboard.  I don't care what becomes of that so long
as it sinks to the bottom."

"Oh, I see plainly enough now," said Murray.

"And pretty well time, my boy!  Wasn't it a capital idea?"

"No," said Murray bluntly.  "Stupid, I say."

"Not it, old chap.  Don't you see that it is liver medicine?"

"I suppose so."

"Well, sharks have livers.  They fish for them in the Mediterranean,
take out the livers, and boil them down to sell for cod liver oil."

"Then that's a lie," said Murray.  "Perhaps it's being a lie made you
think of it."

"Why?"

"Because you'll have to tell the doctor a lie when he asks you if you
took the medicine."

"But he won't ask."

"He will, for certain."

"How do you know?  Did he ever ask you?"

"Well, no," said Murray thoughtfully; "I can't say that he did.  He
never gave me any, only touched me up a bit when I was hurt."

"Then don't you be so jolly knowing, my fine fellow," cried Roberts.
"You can't tell if he hasn't doctored you, and I'm quite sure about it,
for I know well from nasty experience of his ways that he will not
bother one with questions as you think.  He gives the fellows physic to
take, and just asks them next day how they feel."

"Well, that's what I say," cried Murray triumphantly.  "Isn't that just
the same?"

"No, not a bit of it.  He just asks them how they feel next day; that's
all.  He takes it for granted that they have swallowed his boluses and
draughts.  He'll ask me to-morrow how I feel, and I shall tell him I am
all right."

"You'll tell him a lie then.  Very honourable, upon my word!"

"Here's a pretty how-de-do, Mr Ultra-particular, with your bully bounce
about telling a lie!  I shan't do anything of the kind.  I shall tell
him I'm all right because I am quite well, thank you.  Bother him and
his horrible old stuff!  I know I should be pretty mouldy and out of
sorts if I took it.  Let him ask the shark how he feels, if he gets the
chance, for here it goes.  Pudding first, which means pills--there!"

A faint splash followed a movement on the part of the midshipman, and
Murray saw the calm sea agitated, and faint flashes of phosphorescent
light appear, while directly after it was as if something made a rush;
the depths grew ablaze with pale lambent cold fire, and Roberts gave
vent to an ejaculation expressive of his delight.

"A shark for a shilling," he cried, "and a big one too.  You see if he
doesn't hang about the sloop and show himself in the morning, turning up
his eyes on the lookout for whoever it was that tried to poison him."

"Turning up his eyes!" said Murray.  "Nonsense!  If it was as you say
the shark would be turning up its white underparts and floating wrong
way up."

"Maybe; but hold hard a minute; it's rather soon to exhibit the other
dose, as old Reston calls it.  I'm not going to make an exhibition of
myself, though, this time, so here goes.  You see if Jack Shark doesn't
go for the bottle as soon as I throw it overboard.  Here goes!"
_Splash_!

"How stupid!" said Roberts.  "I ought to have drawn the cork."

"Oh no," said Murray, laughing.  "I don't suppose the directions said,
to be taken in water."

"Um--no.  But what's to be done?  Look; he's got it."

For as the descent of the bottle Roberts had thrown in could be traced
by the way in which the tiny phosphorescent creatures were disturbed,
lower and lower through the deep water, there was another vivid flash
made by some big fish as it gave a tremendous flourish with its tail,
and the midshipman rubbed his hands with delight.

"He's got it, I'm sure," he cried.  "But what's to be done?  No use to
pitch in a corkscrew."

"Not a bit, Dick," replied Murray cheerily.

"What a pity!  I ought to have known better.  He's got it, but the glass
will stop the draught from having the proper effect."

"Oh no; perhaps not," said Murray, laughing.  "I've read that sharks
have wonderful digestions."

"Well, let's hope this one has.  I shall like to look out for him
to-morrow watching for the doctor, as he squints up from the wake of the
sloop."

"More likely to be looking up for you, old fellow.  The doctor didn't
throw the bottle in."

"Oh, well, never mind that.  I don't suppose the horrible beast knows
the difference.  I've got rid of the stuff, anyhow; that's all I care
about; and nobody knows but you."

"Beg pardon, gentlemen," said a voice out of the darkness; "was you
a-chucking anything overboard?"

There was a short time of silence, for Murray waited so as to give his
messmate a chance to answer the question; but as the latter made no
reply he took the duty upon himself.

"That you, Tom May?" he asked.

"Ay, ay, sir.  Somebody chucked somethin' overboard twiced, and I was
wondering whether it was you gents."

"Why?" said Roberts shortly.  "Couldn't it have been one of the watch?"

"No, sir; they're aft, or t'other side of the ship."

"Well, it was, Tom."

"Oh, all right, sir.  You'll 'scuse me asking?  I only did 'cause the
skipper's very partickler since one of the lads got making away with
some of the ship's stores, and there's no knowing what mischief the boys
might be up to.  Then, o' course, sir, there's nothing for me to report
to the officer of the watch?"

"No: nothing at all, Tom.  Haven't got anything more to throw in, have
you, Murray?"

"Not so much as a single pill," said Murray drily.

"Eh?  No, of course not.  The water's so still and clear, Tom,"
continued the middy hurriedly, "you can see the fish dash after
anything, making the sea flash quite deep down."

"Oh yes, sir, I've seen that.  It's the sharks, sir; there's often one
hanging about right below the keel on the lookout for anything that may
be chucked overboard.  I believe, sir, as they've got sense enough to
know that they may have a bit o' luck and have a chance at an onlucky
chap as slips overboard or gets tempted into having a bathe.  Wonderful
cunning critters, sir, is sharks.  I'm always glad when there's a hook
with a bit o' pork trailed overboard and one's hauled aboard and cut up
to see what he's got inside."

"What!" said Roberts excitedly.  "Ripped up to see what's inside?"

"Yes, sir.  Don't you remember that one we caught 'bout a month ago?  Oh
no, of course not.  You was ashore with the skipper's gig at Seery
Leony.  That there was a whopper, sir, and he did lay about with his
tail, till the cook had it off with a lucky chop of his meat axe.  That
quieted the beggar a bit, and give him a chance to open Mr Jack Shark
up and see what he'd had for dinner lately."

"And did you find anything, Tom?" asked Roberts.

"Find anything, sir!" replied the man.  "I should just think we did!  I
mean, the lads did, sir; I warn't going to mess myself up with the
bloodthirsty varmint."

"Of course not," said Murray mischievously; "but what did they find?
Anything bad?--Physic bottle, for instance?  Bother!  What are you
doing, Roberts?"  For his companion gave him a savage dig in the dark
with his elbow.  "Oh, nothing!"

"Physic bottle, sir?" continued the sailor wonderingly.  "Not as I know
on.  More likely to ha' been an empty rum bottle.  Wouldn't ha' been a
full un," added the man, chuckling.  "But I tell you what they did find,
sir, and that was 'bout half-a-dozen o' them round brass wire rings as
the black women wears on their arms and legs."

"Ugh!" ejaculated Roberts, with a shudder.  "How horrible!"

"Yes, sir; that seemed to tell tales like.  Looked as if Jack had
ketched some poor black women swimming at the mouth o' one of the rivers
as runs down into the sea."

"Possibly," said Murray.

"Yes, sir; that's it.  I did hear once of a shark being caught with a
jack knife inside him.  It warn't no good, being all rusted up; but a
jack knife it was, all the same, with a loop at the end o' the haft
where some poor chap had got it hung round him by a lanyard--some poor
lad who had fell overboard, and the shark had been waiting for him.  You
see, sir, such things as brass rings and jack knives wouldn't 'gest
like, as the doctor calls it."

"No; suppose not," said Murray, who added, after drawing back a little
out of the reach of Roberts's elbow, "and a bottle of physic would not
digest either."

"Not it, sir," replied the man, "onless it got broken, or the cork come
out."

"Er-r-r!" growled Roberts, in quite a menacing tone.

"He wouldn't like it, o' course, sir," said the man, speaking as if he
were playing into the midshipman's hand and chuckling the while.
"Doctors' stuff arn't pleasant to take for human sailors, and I don't
s'pose it would 'gree with sharks.  I've been thinking, though, that I
should like to shy a bottle o' rum overboard, corked up, say, with a bit
o' the cook's duff.  That would 'gest, and then he'd get the rum.  Think
it would kill him, sir?"

"No, I don't," said Murray.  "Ask Mr Roberts what he thinks.  He's very
clever over such things as that; eh, Roberts?"

"Oh, stuff!" cried the middy.  "Nonsense!"

"You might tell him what you think, though," said Murray.  "You know how
fond you are of making experiments."

"Do talk sense," cried the lad petulantly.  "Look here, May, I think it
would be a great waste of useful stores to do such a thing."

"Yes, sir; so do I," said the man; "and that's talking sense, and no
mistake.  Beg pardon, gentlemen, but what do you think of the skipper's
ideas?"

"What about?" asked Murray sharply.  "We don't canvass what our officers
plan to do."

"Don't know about canvassing them, sir," said the man, "but I meant no
harm, only we've been talking it over a deal in the forc'sle, and we
should like to know whether the captain means to give up trying after
the slave skipper."

"No, certainly not."

"That's right, sir," said the man eagerly.  "Glad on it.  But it's got
about that we was sailing away from the coast here, which is such a
likely spot for dropping upon him."

"Well, I don't mind answering you about that, Tom.  Mind, I don't want
my name to be given as an authority, but I believe that Captain
Kingsberry means to cross to the western shores and search every likely
port for that schooner, and what is more, to search until he finds where
she is."

"Hah!" ejaculated the sailor.  "If the skipper has said that, sir, he
has spoken out like a man.  Hooroar!  We shall do it, then, at last.
But I dunno, though, sir," added the man thoughtfully.

"Don't know what?" asked Murray.

"Oh, nothing, sir."

"Bother!  Don't talk like that," cried Murray.  "Nothing is more
aggravating than beginning to say something and then chopping it off in
that way.  Speak out and say what you mean."

"'Tain't no good, sir," said the man sulkily.

"No good?"

"No, sir.  Why, if I was to say what I'd got inside my head you'd either
begin to bullyrag me--"

"Nonsense, May!  I'm sure I never do."

"Well, then, sir, call me a hidjit, and say it was all sooperstition."

"Well, that's likely enough," said Murray.  "You sailors are full of old
women's tales."

"Mebbe, sir," said the man, shaking his head slowly; "but old women is
old, and the elders do grow wise."

"Sometimes, Tom," said Murray, laughing, "and a wise old woman is worth
listening to; but you can't say that for a man who talks like a foolish
old woman and believes in all kinds of superstitious nonsense."

"No, sir: of course not, sir," said the man solemnly; "but there is
things, you know."

"Oh yes, I do know that, Tom--such as setting sail with a black cat on
board."

"Oh, well, sir, come!" protested the sailor warmly.  "You can't say as a
man's a hidjit for believing that.  Something always happens if you do
that."

"I could say so, Tom," replied the middy, "but I'm not going to."

"Well, sir, begging your pardon as gentleman, I'm werry sorry for it;
but there, you're very young."

"Go on, Tom."

"That's all, sir.  I warn't going to say no more."

"But you are thinking a deal more.  That was as good as saying that I'm
very young and don't know any better."

"Oh, I didn't go so far as to think that, sir, because you're a hofficer
and a gentleman, and a scholar who has larnt more things than I ever
heerd of; but still, sir, I dessay you won't mind owning as a fellow as
has been at sea from fourteen to four-and-thirty has picked up things
such as you couldn't larn at school."

"Black cats, for instance, Tom?"

"Yes, sir.  Ah, you may laugh to yourself, but there's more than you
think of about a black cat."

"A black skin, for instance, Tom, and if the poor brute was killed and
skinned he'd look exactly like a white cat or a tortoise-shell."

"Oh, that's his skin, sir; it's his nature."

"Pooh!  What can there be in a black cat's nature?"

"Don't know; that's the mystery on it."

"Can't you explain what the mystery is?"

"No, sir, and I never met a shipmate as could."

"Bother the cat!  It's all rubbish, Tom."

"Yes, sir, and it bothers the man; but there it is, all the same.  You
ask any sailor chap, and--"

"Yes, I know, Tom; and he'll talk just as much nonsense as you."

"P'raps so, sir, but something bad allus happens to a ship as has a
black cat aboard."

"And something always happens to a ship that has any cat on board.  And
what is more, something always happens to a ship that has no cat at all
on board.  Look at our _Seafowl_, for instance."

"Yes, sir, you may well say that," said the man sadly.  "The chaps have
talked about it a deal, and we all says as she's an unfortnit ship."

"Oh, you all think so, do you, Tom?"

"Yes, sir, we do," said the man solemnly.

"Then you may depend upon it, Tom, that there's a black cat hidden away
somewhere in the hold."

"Ah!  Come aboard, sir, in port, after the rats?  That would account for
it, sir, and 'splain it all," cried the man eagerly.  "You think that's
it, do you, sir?"

"No, I don't, Tom; I'm laughing at you for being such an old woman.  I
did give you the credit of having more sense.  I'm ashamed of you."

"Thankye, sir," said the man sadly.

"You are quite welcome, Tom," said Murray, laughing; "but I suppose you
can't help all these weak beliefs."

"No, sir, we can't help it, some of us," said the man simply; "it all
comes of being at sea."

"There being so much salt in the water, perhaps," said Murray.

"Mebbe, sir; but I don't see what the salt could have to do with it."

"Neither do I, Tom, and if I didn't know what a good fellow you are, and
what a brave sailor, I should be ready to tell you a good deal more than
I shall."

"Go on, sir; I don't mind, sir.  I know you mean well."

"But look here; I'm sorry to hear that your messmates think the
_Seafowl_ is an unfortunate craft.  But not all, I hope?"

"Yes, sir; we all think so."

"That's worse still, Tom.  But you don't mean to forsake her--desert--I
hope?"

"Forsake her--desert?  Not me!  She's unlucky, sir, and no one can't
help it.  Bad luck comes to every one sometimes, same as good luck does,
sir.  We takes it all, sir, just as it comes, just as we did over the
landing t'other day--Titely was the unlucky one then, and got a spear
through his shoulder, while though lots of their pretty weapons come
flying about us no one else was touched; on'y got a bit singed.  He took
it like a man, sir."

"That he did, Tom.  It was most plucky of him, for he was a good deal
hurt."

"Yes, sir--deal more than you young gents thought for.  But no, sir:
forsake or desert our ship?  Not we!  She's a good, well-found craft,
sir, with a fine crew and fine officers.  They ain't puffick, sir; but
they might be a deal worse.  I'm satisfied, sir."

"I believe you, Tom," said Murray, laughing, "and there is no black cat
on board, for if there were some one must have seen her or him before
now, and it wouldn't have made a bit of difference."



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

OVERHAULING A STRANGER.

It was the very next morning just at daybreak that the lookout on the
fore-top hailed the deck with the inspiriting cry that sent a thrill
through all who heard, and brought the officer of the watch forward with
his glass.

"Sail ho!"

A short inspection sufficed, and the news hurried the captain and Mr
Anderson on deck.

"A schooner.  The same rig!" exclaimed the captain, without taking his
glass from his eye.  "What do you make of her, Mr Anderson?"

"A schooner, sure enough, sir.  The same heavy raking spars and spread
of sails.  It looks too good to be true, sir."

"Hah!  Then you think it is the same craft?"

"Yes,--no--I daren't say, sir," replied the lieutenant; "but if it is
not it's a twin vessel."

"Yes," said the captain, closing his glass with a snap.  "We'll say it's
the Yankee slaver, and keep to that till she proves to be something
else."

Holding to that belief, every stitch of canvas that could be crowded on
was sent aloft, and a pleasant breeze beginning to dimple the water as
the sun arose, the spirits of all on board the sloop rose as well.
Soon, however, it began to be perfectly plain that the schooner sighted
paid no heed whatever to the sloop of war, but kept on her course,
sailing in a way that proved her to be unusually fast and able to hold
her own so well that the spirits of those on the _Seafowl_ began to sink
again.

"Now we shall see what she's made of, Dick," said Murray excitedly, when
a blank charge was fired.

"Made of impudence," said Roberts quietly; "but there's no doubt about
her being the craft we want," he continued, "for she means to set us at
defiance, and she's going to make a run for it, and you see if she
doesn't escape."

"If she does," cried Murray impetuously, "I shall say it's a shame for
the Government to send the captain out with such a crawler as the
_Seafowl_.  Why, for such a duty we ought to have the fastest sailer
that could be built and rigged."

Directly after, there was another gun fired from the sloop, and the
course of the shot sent skipping over the sea could be traced till it
sank to rise no more, after passing right across the schooner's bows.

The men cheered, for in answer to this threat of what the sloop would do
with her next gun, the schooner was seen to glide slowly round into the
wind, her great sails began to flap, when in quick time, one of the
cutters was manned, with the second lieutenant in command of the
well-armed crew.

Roberts had been ordered to take his place in the stern sheets, and as
he descended the rope he darted a look of triumph at Murray, whose face
was glum with disappointment as he turned away; and as luck had it he
encountered Mr Anderson's eyes.

"Want to go, Mr Murray?" he said, smiling.

"Yes, sir, horribly," was the reply.

"Off with you, then.  Be smart!"

The next minute the lad had slipped down by the stern falls to where the
officer in command made room for him; the hooks were cast off, the oars
dipped, and the stout ash blades were soon quivering as the men bent to
their work with their short, sharp, chopping stroke which sent the boat
rapidly over the waves.

"I don't see the Yankee captain," said Mr Munday, searching the side of
the vessel, which was now flying English colours.

"You think that fellow with the lugger was the captain?" asked Murray.

"Not a doubt of it," was the reply.  "I wonder what he'll have the
impudence to say."

"He'll sing a different song, sir," said Roberts, "if he is on board."

"If?  Why, of course he'll be on board; eh, Murray?"

"Most likely, sir; but won't he be playing fox in some fresh way?  He
may be in hiding."

"If he is he'll come out when he finds a prize crew on board, and that
his schooner is on its way to Capecoast Castle or the Cape.  But I don't
see him, nor any of the sharp-looking fellows who formed his lugger's
crew."

"No, sir," said Murray, who was standing up shading his eyes with his
hand.  "I hope--"

The middy stopped short.

"Well, go on, sir," cried the lieutenant--"hope what?"

"That we are not making a mistake."

"Oh, impossible!  There can't be two of such schooners."

"But we only had a glimpse of the other, sir, as she sailed down the
river half hidden by the trees," said Murray.

"Look here, Mr Murray, if you can't speak sensibly you'd better hold
your tongue," said the lieutenant angrily.  "The captain and Mr
Anderson are not likely to make a mistake.  Everybody on board was of
opinion that this is the same vessel."

"Then I've made a mistake, sir," said the midshipman.  "But that can't
be the skipper, sir," and he drew attention to a short, stoutish,
sun-browned man who was looking over the side.

"Of course it is not, sir.  Some English-looking fellow picked to throw
us off our guard."

But the officer in charge began to look uneasy as he scanned the vessel
they were rapidly nearing, till the cutter was rowed alongside, several
of the crew now plainly showing themselves and looking uncommonly like
ordinary merchant sailors as they leaned over the bulwarks.

Directly after the coxswain hooked on, and the lieutenant, followed by
two middies and four of the well-armed sailors sprang on board, to be
greeted with a gruff--

"Morning.  What does this here mean?"

"Why didn't you heave to, sir?" cried the lieutenant sharply.

"'Cause I was below, asleep," said the sturdy-looking skipper.  "Are you
the captain of that brig?"

"No, sir.  What vessel's this?"

"Because," said the skipper, ignoring the question, "you'd better tell
your captain to be careful.  He might have done us some mischief.  Any
one would think you took me for a pirate."

The lieutenant made no reply for a minute or two, being, like his two
young companions, eagerly scanning the rather slovenly deck and the
faces of the small crew, who were looking at their invaders apparently
with wonder.

"Never mind what we took you for," said the lieutenant sharply, and in a
tone of voice which to Murray suggested doubt.  "Answer me at once.
What schooner's this?"

"Don't be waxy, sir," said the skipper, smiling good-humouredly.
"That's reg'lar English fashion--knock a fellow over, and then say,
Where are you shoving to!  What's yours?"

"H.M.S. _Seafowl_," said the lieutenant haughtily.  "Now then, will you
answer?"

"Of course I will, Mr Lieutenant.  This here is the schooner _Laura
Lee_, of Bristol.  Trading in sundries, machinery and oddments, loaded
out at Kingston, Jamaica, and now for the West Coast to take in palm
oil.  Afterwards homeward bound.  How does that suit you?"

Roberts and Murray exchanged glances, and then noted that the men were
doing the same.

"Your papers, sir," said the lieutenant.

"Papers?" said the skipper.  "All right, sir; but you might put it a
little more civil."

"I am doing my duty, sir," said the lieutenant sternly.

"All right, sir, all right; but don't snap a man's head off.  You shall
see my papers.  They're all square.  Like to take anything?  I've got a
fine bottle or two of real Jamaica below."

"No, sir; no, sir," said the lieutenant sternly.  "Business if you
please."

"Of course, sir.  Come along to my cabin."

"Lead on, then."

The skipper took a few steps aft, and Roberts followed his officer, a
couple of the sailors closing in behind, while two others with Murray
kept the deck in naval fashion, though there seemed to be not the
slightest need, for the schooner's men hung about staring hard or leaned
over the side looking at the men in the cutter.

"Here, I say," said the skipper sharply, "I should have thought you
could have seen plain enough that what I said was quite right.  What do
you take me for?  Oh, I see, I see; your skipper's got it in his head
that I'm trading in bad spirits with the friendly niggers on the coast
yonder; but I ain't.  There, I s'pose, though, you won't take my word,
and you've got to report to your skipper when you go back aboard."

"If I do go back to report, sir," said the lieutenant.

"If you do go back, sir?  Oh, that's it, is it?  You mean if you take my
schooner for a prize."

"Perhaps so, sir.  Now then, if you please, your papers."

The skipper nodded and smiled.

"All right," he said; "I won't turn rusty.  I s'pose it's your duty."

The papers were examined, and, to the officer's disappointment, proved
the truth of the skipper's story.

"Now, if you please, we'll have a look below, sir," said the lieutenant.

"Very good," said the skipper; and he hailed his men to open the
hatches.  "You won't find any rum puncheons, captain," he said.

"I do not expect to, sir; but I must be sure about your fittings below.
This schooner has not been heavily rigged like this for nothing."

"Course she arn't, sir.  I take it that she was rigged under my eyes on
purpose to be a smart sailer worked by a smart crew.  But my fittings?
Here, I've got it at last: you're one of the Navy ships on the station
to put down the slave-trade."

"Yes," said the lieutenant shortly.

"Then good luck to you, sir!  Hoist off those hatches my lad; the
officer thinks we're fitted up below for the blackbird trade.  No, no,
no, sir.  There, send your men below, or go yourself, and I'll come with
you.  You've got the wrong pig by the ear this time, and you ought to be
off the coast river yonder where they pick up their cargoes.  No, sir, I
don't do that trade."

The lieutenant was soon thoroughly satisfied that a mistake had been
made, and directly after, to his satisfaction, the skipper asked whether
the captain would favour him with a small supply of medicine for his
crew.

"I'm about run out of quinine stuff," he said.  "Some of my chaps had a
touch or two of fever, and we're going amongst it again.  It would be an
act of kindness, sir, and make up for what has been rather rough
treatment."

"You'd better come on board with me, and I've no doubt that the captain
will see that you have what is necessary; and he will be as apologetic
as I am now for what has been an unpleasant duty."

"Oh, come, if you put it like that, squire, there's no need to say any
more.  To be sure, yes, I'll come aboard with you.  I say; took many
slavers?"

"No; not one."

"That's a pity.  Always search well along the river mouths?"

"Yes."

"Hah!  They're about too much for you.  Now, if I was on that business,
say I was on the lookout for these gentlemen, I shouldn't do it here."

"Where, then?" said the lieutenant eagerly.

"Well, I'll tell you.  As I said, they're a bit too cunning for you.  Of
course you can sail up the rivers and blow the black chiefs' huts to
pieces.  Them, I mean, who catch the niggers and sell 'em or swap 'em to
the slave skippers; but that don't do much good, for slavers slip off in
the dark, and know the coast better than you do."

"Yes.  Well, what would you do?" said the lieutenant eagerly.

"Do?  Why, I'd go across to the plantations, sir, and lay wait for them
there.  They wouldn't be half so much on the lookout."

"There's a good deal in what you say, sir," said the lieutenant
thoughtfully.  "But where would you watch--round Jamaica?"

"Nay-y-y!" cried the skipper.  "I'd study up my charts pretty
thoroughly, and then cruise about those little islands that lie nigh the
Cays.  There's plenty of likely places where these folk land their
cargoes; and you'd find them easier to work than the West Coast, where
there's a wilderness of mangrove creeks and big and little rivers where
a slaving schooner can lie up and hide.  You go west and try.  Why, I
could give your captain half-a-dozen plantations where it would pay him
to go--places where I've seen often enough craft about the build of mine
here."

"Indeed!" cried the lieutenant.

"Yes, sir," said the skipper thoughtfully.  "Why, of course; I never saw
before how likely you were to take me for one of 'em.  Well, you want to
go, so I'll have one of my boats lowered down and come over to your
brig.  I'll ask your skipper for a bit of quinine, and then if he'll lay
out his charts before me, I'll put his finger upon three or four likely
spots where the slavers trade, and if he don't capture two or three of
their fast boats loaded with the black fellows they've run across, why,
it won't be my fault.  I should like to see the whole lot sunk, and the
skippers and crews with them.  Don't sound Christian like o' me, but
they deserve it.  For I've seen them landing their cargoes.  Ugh!  It
has been sickening, and they're not men."

The skipper's words were broken in upon by the report of a gun from the
_Seafowl_, whose commander had grown impatient from the long delay of
the boat; and hence the imperious recall.

Captain Kingsberry's countenance did not look calm and peaceful when the
boat returned, but the clouds cleared away when the skipper came on
board and a long conversation had taken place over the charts of the
West Indian Islands and the Caribbean Sea.

"Quinine, captain?" he exclaimed at last.  "My good sir, you may have
all the medicine--well, nearly--that I have on board!"

"Thankye, sir," said the bluff skipper, laughing.  "Enough's as good as
a feast of that stuff."

"And I'm very sorry," said the captain politely, "that I had to overhaul
your schooner."

"I arn't," said the skipper.  "I'm very glad, and thankful too for the
physic stuff.  Fever's a nasty thing, sir, and as I said, I'm very glad.
Good luck to you, sir, and good-bye."

"There's no doubt this time, Mr Anderson," said the captain, as soon as
the skipper had gone over the side, "that man's as honest as the day."

"That he is, sir, and so is his schooner."

"Yes, Mr Anderson.  Now, then, let's go back to those charts, and we'll
then make right for the plantations.  I begin to think that we shall do
some business now."



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

RATHER FISHY.

"What!" said the first lieutenant sharply.  "Now, look here, Mr
Roberts--and you too, Mr Murray, for you are just as bad.  You both
give yourselves airs, and though you say nothing you are always showing
off, trying to impress the men with the idea that you are men grown."

"I beg your pardon, sir--" began Roberts.

"Now, don't deny it, sir.  I know it for a fact.  Do you think that I
can't read you through and through--you in particular, Mr Roberts, for
you are far the worst.  Not that you have much to boast about, Mr
Murray."

"I am very sorry, sir," said the latter.  "No, you are not, sir," said
the chief officer abruptly.  "Let's have deeds, not words.  If you were
really sorry that you had been playing the imitative monkey you would
pitch the antics overboard."

"Antics, sir?" cried Roberts.  "Yes, sir--antics.  I said antics," cried
the officer sharply, "so don't repeat my words and force me to do the
same.  A boy's a boy, sir, and a man's a man.  A good boy is a rarity on
shipboard, but very valuable when you get him; and a good man--a really
good man at sea is worth his weight in gold; but I detest a hobbledehoy
who apes the man, and I generally look upon him as worthless.  Don't
grunt, Mr Roberts.  It's disrespectful to your superior officer.  You
might very well follow the example of Mr Murray, who never resents
reproof when he deserves it.  There, you need not make that disparaging
grimace.  You might follow Mr Murray's example in a good many things.
Now, I am sure he would not have come and asked leave like you did.  It
must have been your idea alone."

"I'm afraid I had as much to do with it as Roberts, sir," said Murray
frankly.

"More shame for you to have to own it, sir," said the first lieutenant;
"but I like you to own up all the same.  Still, I don't like two young
fellows who are trying to impress their elders that they are men to be
seizing every opportunity to prove that they are mere boys with all the
instincts wide awake of children."

"I'm very sorry, sir," said Roberts again, this time very stiffly.  "I
am sorry I asked for permission."

"I don't believe you, Mr Roberts," said the officer stiffly.  "Now,
both of you tell me this--are you perfectly efficient in your
navigation?"

Roberts uttered a snort.

"No, sir," said Murray, "of course not.  I'm a long way off being
perfect."

"Then why in the name of common sense don't you seize upon every
opportunity to master that grand study, like a man, and not come
bothering me like a little boy who wants to go out to the pond to catch
tittlebats?  I'm ashamed of you both."

"It was only to have a little recreation, sir," said Murray.

"What do you want with recreation, I should like to know?  Do you ever
see me running after recreation?"

"No, sir," said Murray; "but then, sir, you're a first lieutenant."

"Yes, sir, and that's what you will never be so long as you hanker after
childish pastimes."

"I'm very sorry, sir--" began Murray.

"Don't keep saying you are very sorry; it only makes the matter worse,
when I have so much upon my mind.  It's absurd, gentlemen.  I wonder at
you.  Just because you see a few dolphins and albicores swimming below
the ship's counter you must want to begin playing with the grains.
There, be off, both of you.  What would be the good of the fish if you
harpooned them?"

"Make a nice change for the table, sir.  The cook said--"

"Hang the cook!" cried the officer angrily.  "What are you laughing at?"

"Only smiling, sir."

"And pray what at?  Is there anything peculiar in my face?"

"No, sir," said Murray merrily.  "I was only thinking of the
consequences if we two obeyed your orders."

"Orders!  I gave no orders."

"You said, hang the cook, sir," said Murray.

"Rubbish!  Absurd!  There, I told you both to be off.  I'm not going to
give you leave to play idle boys.  If you want leave, there's the
captain yonder; go and ask him."

"He'd only say, sir, why didn't we ask leave of you."

"And very proper too," said the first lieutenant, "and if he does say so
you can tell him I would not give you leave because I thought it waste
of time for young men who want to rise in their profession.  What was
that you muttered, Mr Murray?"

"I only said to myself, sir, `All work and no play makes Jack a dull
boy.'"

"Yes; very true, my lad," said the officer, with a grim smile.  "I'm not
unreasonable, and I'd give you leave; but perhaps you had better ask
your chief."

"Thank you, sir," said Murray.

"And look here, Murray; if you get permission, be careful.  I don't want
the routine of the ship to be interfered with and my men set hovering
about to pick up a couple of useless idlers, and every one upset by the
cry of a man overboard--I mean, a boy."

"I'll try not to be that boy," said Murray, smiling; and the chief
officer gave him a friendly nod and walked forward.

"Bah!" grumbled Roberts.  "There's favouritism."

"Nonsense!"

"'Tisn't.  He always favours you."

"Not he."

"To turn upon us like that just because it's almost a calm!  A growling
old snarly!  I never saw such a temper.  Now he has gone forward to set
the men to do something that doesn't want doing."

"He's a bit out of temper this morning because the skipper has been at
him about something."

"Yes; I heard him at it.  Nice pair they are, and a pretty life they
lead the men!"

"Oh, well, never mind that.  Tom May has got the grains and the line
ready, and I want to begin."

"A boy!  Apeing a man, and all that stuff!" muttered Roberts.  "I
suppose he never was a boy in his life."

"Oh, wasn't he!  There, never mind all that."

"But I do mind it, sir," said Roberts haughtily, as he involuntarily
began to pass his fingers over the spot just beneath his temples where
the whisker down was singed.  "I consider that his words were a perfect
insult."

"Perfect or imperfect, what does it matter?  Come on, _sir_.  I want to
begin harpooning."

"What do you mean by that?" cried Roberts, turning upon him angrily.

"What do I mean?"

"Yes; by using the word _sir_ to me in that meaning way."

"You got on the stilts, and I only followed suit.  There, there, don't
be so touchy.  Go on and ask the skipper for leave."

"No, thank you.  I don't want to play the idle boy."

"Don't you?  Then I do, and what's more, I know you do."

"Then you are quite wrong."

"If I'm wrong you told a regular crammer not half-an-hour ago, for you
said you'd give anything for a turn with the grains this morning."

"I have no recollection of saying anything of the kind," said the lad
angrily.

"What a memory!  I certainly thought I heard you say so to Tom May; and
there he is with the line and the jolly old trident all ready.  There,
come on and let's ask the chief."

"If you want to go idling, go and ask him for yourself.  I'm going down
to our dog-hole of a place to study navigation in the dark."

"Don't believe you, Dicky."

"You can believe what you please, sir," said Roberts coldly.

"All right.  I'm off, and I shall ask leave for us both."

"You dare!  I forbid it," cried Roberts angrily.

"All right," said Murray, turning on his heel, "but I shall ask for us
both, and if you mean to forbid it you'd better come with me to the
skipper."

Murray waited a few moments, standing watching the captain where he was
marching up and down the quarter-deck, and timing himself so as to meet
him full as he walked forward.

Roberts hesitated for a few moments and then followed closely, looking
fiercely determined the while.

"Well, Mr Murray," said the captain sharply, as he became aware of the
presence of the lad, who touched his cap.  "What is it--a petition?"

"Yes, sir.  A good many bonito are playing about the bows."

"Yes; I saw them, my lad.  Want to go fishing--harpooning?"

"Yes, sir.  Roberts and I."

"Oh yes, of course, my lad.  A good time for it, and I shall expect a
nice dish for the cabin table.  But look here, Mr Murray, I like to
keep to the little forms of the service, and in cases of this sort you
had better ask Mr Anderson for leave.  You understand?"

"Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir," said Murray.

"No, no; I have not given you permission.  Ask Mr Anderson.  He will
give you leave at once."

Murray saluted; the captain marched on; and directly after the two
midshipmen were face to face.

"Then you have dared--" began Roberts.

"Yes, all right," said Murray, laughing to himself, for he noticed that
his companion spoke in a low tone of voice so that his words might not
be heard by their chief.  "Yes, it's all right, only we're to ask
Anderson."

"Yes, I heard what the skipper said, but I tell you at once I'm not
going to stoop to do anything of the kind.  Do you think I'm going to
degrade myself by begging for leave again?"

"No, old chap, of course not," cried Murray, thrusting his arm beneath
his companion's.  "I'll _do_ all that.  But you must come now.  Don't
let's keep Tom May waiting any longer."

"But I tell you that--"

"Hush!  Hold your tongue.  Here's Anderson coming."

"Well, young gentlemen," said that officer, coming up sharply, "have you
asked the captain?"

"Yes, sir, and he said that he would give us leave, but that he should
prefer for us to ask your permission."

"That's right, my lads; quite right," said the first lieutenant,
speaking quite blandly now.  "You'd better start at once, for I don't
think this calm is going to last.  Who is going to help you?"

"Tom May, sir."

"Oh yes, I see.  A very good trustworthy man.  Mind, we shall expect
some fish for dinner."

"He's a humbug, that's what he is," said Roberts angrily.  "Blowing hot
and cold with the same breath.  I've a good mind to--"

"Come and have the first try?  And so you shall, old chap.  Look alive!
We must get a good dish now, and for the lads too."

"Oh, I don't want to have anything to do with it," grumbled Roberts.

But his companion paid no heed to his words, for just then Tom May, who
had been watching their proceedings as he waited until the permission
had been obtained, stepped out to meet them, armed with the trident-like
grains and fine line, looking like a modern Neptune civilised into
wearing the easy-looking comfortable garb of a man-o'-war's man, and
offered the light lissome staff to Murray.

"No, no," cried the lad.  "Mr Roberts is going to have the first turn."

"I told you I didn't--" began Roberts, with far less emphasis, but
Murray interrupted him.

"Best from the fore chains, won't it, Tom?"

"Yes, sir.  Hold on with the left fin and strike with the right."

"Yes, of course.  Now then, Dick, over with you; and don't go overboard,
or I shall have to come after you."

"Better let me make a slip-knot for you, sir," said the man, "so as you
don't lose your line and the grains at the same time."

The midshipman's lips parted for him to make another protest--a very
faint one--but before he had spoken a word the sailor threw a running
noose over his wrist, and, unable to resist the temptation of playing
the part of harpooner of the good-sized fish that were playing in the
clear water not far below the surface, he climbed over the bulwark and
took his place in the chains outside the blocks which secured the
shrouds, gathered the line in loops, and grasped the shaft of the long
light implement, which somewhat resembled a delicately made eel spear,
and stood ready to plunge it down into the first of the swiftly gliding
fish which played about the side.

"I say, Dick," cried Murray eagerly, "don't be in too great a hurry.
Wait till you get a good chance at a big one."

"All right," replied the lad, who at the first touch of the
three-pronged spear forgot all his sham resistance and settled himself
in an easy position with his left arm round one of the staying ropes,
standing well balanced and ready to dart the implement down into one of
the great beautifully-marked mackerel-natured fish, which with an easy
stroke of its thin tail, shaped like a two-day-old moon, darted along
the side, played round the sloop's stem, plunged beneath the keel and
appeared again, to repeat its manoeuvres so rapidly that its coming and
going resembled flashes of light.

"I'll have one directly," said Roberts, after letting two or three
chances go by, "and you, Tom, when I spear one and haul him up, you take
hold of the fish just forward of his tail, where you can grip him
easily."

"Close up to his flukes, sir?" said the man, cocking one eye at Murray
with a droll look which suggested the saying about instructing your
grandmother.  "All right, sir; I'll take care."

"Yes, you'd better!" said the midshipman, who was now all eagerness.
"I'll spear one, Frank, and then you shall take the next turn."

"No, no; get a couple first, old chap," replied Murray, "or say three.
We don't want to change too often."

"Oh, very well, just as you like.  Ha!"

For a chance had offered itself; one of the bonitos had risen towards
the surface and turned sharply preparatory to swimming back to pass
round the stem of the _Seafowl_, and Roberts plunged down his spear; but
he had not been quick enough.

"My word, that was near!  Eh, Tom?" cried Murray.

"Near as a toucher," grunted the sailor, with his eyes twinkling.

"Never mind, Dick; you'll do it next time.  Straight down, old chap; but
you must allow for the water's refraction."

"Oh yes, I know," said the lad coolly, as he gathered in the dripping
line in loops once more and again grasped the light ash pole ready for
another stroke.

As if perfectly satisfied of their safety, a couple more of the bonitos
glided along from following the sloop, and the midshipman made as if to
throw, but hesitated and let the first fish glide beneath his feet, but
darted the spear down at the second, and struck a little too soon, the
swift creature apparently seeing the spear coming and with one wave of
its tail darting into safety.

"Bother!" grunted Roberts.

"Third time never fails, sir," growled the sailor.  That sailor told a
great untruth, for when for the third time Roberts drove the trident he
failed dismally, for in his excitement and hurry he took no care to hold
the three-pronged fork so that it should strike the fish across the
back, so that one or the other tooth should be driven into the flesh,
but held it so that the blades were parallel with the fish's side,
beside which they glided so that the bonito passed on unharmed.

"Oh, hang the thing!" cried the lad.

"Well, strike it first," said Murray, laughing.  "We'll hang it then if
you like."

"Do it yourself, then," growled Roberts angrily, hauling up the line and
trident, before preparing to loosen the noose from his wrist.

"Nonsense!" cried Murray.  "Stop where you are, man.  You were in such a
hurry, and didn't half try."

"No, you come and try.  You are so much more handy with the grains than
I am."

He spoke sourly, but his companion's last words had softened him a
little.  "Stop where you are, man!" sounded pleasant, and he hesitated.

"That's right.  There, tighten the line again.  I want to see you get
one of those big ones, and you are not going to be beaten."

"But I'm not skilful over it, Frank," said Roberts.

"Be skilful, then, my lad.  It's just the knack of it, that's all.  Get
that, and you'll hit one every time.  Won't he, Tom?"

"Yes, sir.  It's just the knack; that's all.  Just look down, sir;
there's no end of thumpers coming along, and if you wait your time, sir,
you're sure to have one."

Roberts knit his brows as he gazed down beneath him at the shadow-like
fish, which now looked dark, now reflected golden and greenish tints
from their burnished sides, and once more prepared to strike; but he
hesitated, and the bonito was gone.

"Here, you're nervous, Dick," cried Murray.  "You're too anxious and
want to make too sure.  Be sharper and more careless.  Just measure the
distance as the next one comes along, make sure of him and let drive."

Roberts said nothing, but set his teeth hard as he balanced the ash pole
in his hand, being careful to hold the spear so that the prongs were
level with the horizon, and was in the act of driving the implement down
when Murray whispered hoarsely--"Now then!"

That interruption proved to be just sufficient to throw the lad off his
aim, and once more he missed.  "My fault, Dick; my fault, Tom.  I put
him out," cried Murray excitedly.

"Yes, sir, that was it," said the sailor.  "He'd have had that one for
certain.  You try again, Mr Roberts, sir; and don't you say a word to
put him out, Mr Murray, sir, and you'll see him drive the grains into
one of them biggest ones."

"All right, Tom.  I'll be dumb as a dumb-bell.  Go on, Dick; there are
some splendid ones about now."

Roberts said nothing, but frowned and set his teeth harder than ever as
he stood up now in quite a classic attitude, waiting till one of the
finest of the fish below him came gliding along beneath his feet, and
then reaching well out he darted the trident down with all his might.
The line tightened suddenly, for he had struck the fish, and the next
moment, before the lad could recover himself from his position, leaning
forward as he was, there was a heavy jar at his wrist, the line
tightened with quite a snap, and as the fish darted downward the
midshipman was jerked from where he stood, and the next moment plunged
head first with a heavy splash into the sea, showing his legs for a
brief space, and then, in a shadowy way that emulated the fishes' glide,
he went downward into the sunlit depths, leaving his two companions
staring aghast at the result of the stroke.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

"MAN OVERBOARD!"

Murray leaned over the side, looking down at the dimly seen figure of
his companion, hardly visible in the disturbed water, and full of the
expectation of seeing him come up again directly.

"What a ducking!" he thought to himself, and his features were
corrugated with mirth.  Tom May too was indulging in a hearty grin,
which however began to smooth into a look of horror in nowise behind the
aspect of Murray's face, for both now began to realise the fact that the
tightened cord at which the harpooned fish was evidently tugging was
rapidly drawing the middy farther and farther down, while the sloop was
steadily gliding onward and leaving the unfortunate youth behind.

It was a time for action, and the moment Murray could throw off the
nightmare-like feeling which held him motionless he sprang upon the
rail, shouted loudly "Man overboard!" and then without a moment's
hesitation plunged headlong down, taking a header into the glittering
sunlit water below.

"A man overboard!"  The most thrilling words that can be uttered at
sea--words which chill the hearers for a moment and then are followed by
a wild feeling of excitement which pervades more than runs through a
ship, awakening it as it were with one great throb from frigid silence
to excited life.  In this instance, as Frank Murray made his spring, his
words seemed to be echoed by Tom May in a deep roar as he too sprang
upon the rail, from which he leaped, throwing his hands on high as he
described a curve outward from the _Seafowl's_ side, and then in the
reverse of his position as his fingers touched the water there was a
heavy splash, and those who ran to the side caught sight of the soles of
his feet as he too disappeared for a short space beneath the rippled
sea.

There was but a trifle of confusion on deck: the orders rang out, but
almost before they were uttered the men were running to their stations
in connection with one of the boats, which was rapidly manned; the
blocks of the falls creaked as she sank down and kissed the water; the
varnished ash blades flashed in the sunshine as they were seized and run
from the rowlocks into regular double lines; and then, as they dipped,
the cutter seemed to be endued with life, and darted forward to the
rescue.

Meanwhile, confused by his sudden drag from daylight into semi-darkness
and confusion, Roberts had recovered himself sufficiently to begin
trying to free his wrist from the thin line which cut into it deeply as
tug, tug, tug, it was drawn tighter and tighter by the harpooned fish,
into whose back the barbed iron prongs had plunged deeply, and, far from
robbing it of life, seemed only to have nerved it and stimulated it with
a power that was extraordinary in a creature of its size.  For the
midshipman, as he struck out with one arm, felt himself dragged beneath
the surface by his victim, whose efforts were directed entirely towards
sounding deeply to seek the safety offered by the darkness fathoms
below.

Tug and jerk, tug and jerk, in the midst of a confusion that grew more
and more wild, as the midshipman strove to free himself from the bond
which held him fast.  The water thundered in his ears in a series of
strange sounds which deepened into one deafening roar.  The power of
thinking of his position was rapidly passing away; the water above him
grew darker and darker; and at last in one involuntary effort the lad
ceased his struggle to free his wrist, and struck out wildly with arms
and legs to force himself to the surface.

It was quite time, and fortunately the efforts of the fish to drag him
down were for the moment weakening, while in response to his wild
struggle the light grew brighter, and just as consciousness was about to
leave him, the lad's head rose above the surface again and he gasped for
breath.

It was life, but the respirations were succeeded directly by a renewal
of the sharp tugs at his wrist, and the water was about to close over
his head again, when he felt the touch of a hand and heard the panting
voice of some one whose tones were familiar, as he was turned over face
upward and his descent was checked.

Then amidst the confusion and his attempts to recover his breath, the
unfortunate lad heard another voice, and the gruff tones seemed to be
those of one giving orders.

"Hooroar, my lad!" came, close to the middy's ear.  "That's good.  Wait
a moment.  My knife'll soon cut him clear."

"No, no, Tom; don't cut.  We can keep him up now.  Shout for the boat."

"They don't want no shoutin', sir.  They'll be here directly."

These words all seemed to reach the ears of Roberts from somewhere far
away, and then the water was thundering in them again, and he began once
more to struggle for life.  Then again he seemed to get his breath in a
half-choking confused way, as he heard the gruff tones begin again.

"I'd better cut, sir, on'y my knife won't open."

"No, no, Tom; we can manage.  Keep his head well up."

"All right, sir.  That was the beggar's flurry.  Dessay he's turning up
his white."

"Hooray!" came like another echo, along with the splash of oars, and
then half consciously Roberts felt himself dragged over the side of the
boat.  There was another cheer, and a strange sound as of a fish beating
the planks rapidly with its tail, while Murray's breathless voice,
sounding a long way off, said--

"My word, he is a strong one!  I am glad we've got him."

Then several other voices seemed to be speaking together, but in a
confused way, and Roberts felt as if he had been asleep, till some one
whose voice sounded like the doctor's said--

"Oh, he's all right now, sir."

"Who's all right now?" thought the lad; and he opened his eyes, to find
himself lying upon the deck with the doctor upon one knee by his side,
and pretty well surrounded by the officers and men.

"Nice wet fellow you are, Roberts," said the doctor.

"Eh?" said the lad, staring confusedly.  "Have I been overboard?"

"Well, yes, just a trifle," replied the doctor.

"Oh yes, I remember now.  Ah!  Where's Frank Murray?" cried the lad
excitedly.

"Here I am all right!" came from behind him.

"Ah!" ejaculated the half insensible lad, and he gave vent to a deep
sigh of relief and closed his eyes.  "I was afraid that--that--"

"But I am all right, Dick," cried Murray, catching the speaker by the
hand.

"Ah, that's right.  I was afraid--somehow--I thought you were drowned."

"There, there," cried the doctor, bending over the lad and patting his
shoulder, "nobody has been drowned, and you are all right again, so I
want you to get below and have a good towelling and then tumble into
some dry things while I mix you up a draught of--What's the matter now?"

Roberts had suddenly sprung up into a sitting position, as if the
doctor's last words had touched a spring somewhere in the lad's spine.

"Nothing, sir--nothing," he cried excitedly.  "I'm all right again now.
I recollect all about it, and how Frank Murray saved my life."

"Oh, it was Tom May did the most of it, Dick."

"Did he help?" continued the lad.  "Ah, he's a good fellow,--Tom May.
But I'm all right now, doctor; and where's the fish?"

The lad stared about him in a puzzled way, for he had become conscious
of the fact that those around him were roaring with laughter, an
outburst which was gradually subsiding, while those most affected were
wiping their eyes, when his last query about the fish set them off
again.

"Why, doctor," said the captain, trying to look serious, but evidently
enjoying the mirth as much as any one present, "who is going to doubt
the efficacy of your medicine after this?  The very mention of it in Mr
Roberts's hearing acted upon him like magic.  Did you see how he started
up like the man in the old tooth tincture advertisement--`Ha, ha!  Cured
in an instant!'"

"Oh yes, sir," said the doctor grimly; "but it's all very fine.  You are
all glad of my help sometimes."

"Of course, my dear Reston," said the captain.  "No one slights you and
your skill; but you must own that it was comic to see how Mr Roberts
started up the moment you said physic."

"Oh yes, it was droll enough," said the doctor good-humouredly.  "There,
Roberts, if you feel well enough to do without my draught I will not mix
one.  What do you say?"

"Oh, I'm all right now, sir," cried the lad--"at least I shall be as
soon as I've changed."

"Off with you, then," said the doctor; and catching hold of Murray's
proffered arm, Roberts and his friend hurried below.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

IN THE DOCTOR'S HANDS.

Before the two middies had completed their change there was a tap at the
cabin door, and in answer to the "Come in" Tom May's head was thrust
through the opening, his face puckered up into a friendly grin.

"Getting all right again, gentlemen?" he said.

"Oh yes, Tom," cried Roberts excitedly, and he eagerly held out his
hand, and catching the sailor by the shoulder dragged him inside.  "I
wanted to see you, Tom, and thank you for saving my life."

"For what, sir?" said Tom sharply.

"For so bravely saving my life."

"Oh, I say, sir," grumbled the man, speaking bashfully, "if I'd ha'
knowed as you was going on like that I'm blessed if I'd ha' come down."

"Why, there was nothing to be ashamed of, Tom," said Murray warmly.

"Oh no, sir; I warn't ashamed to come down.  I were on'y too glad to say
a word to Mr Roberts like and see him come round."

"I'm glad too," said Murray; "and he feels very grateful to you for
being so brave."

"I warn't brave, Mr Murray, sir.  I did nowt.  It was you--it was him,
Mr Roberts, sir.  He sings out, `Man overboard!' and takes a header
arter you, and what was I to do?  He's my orficer, sir, and I was
obliged to go arter him.  You sees that?"

"Yes, yes, Tom," cried Roberts warmly.  "He acted very bravely."

"Oh, drop it!" cried Murray.

"Course he did, sir," said the sailor.  "I on'y obeyed orders."

"Will you both drop it!" cried Murray angrily.  "What's the use of
making a fuss about nothing?  You're all right again, Tom?"

"Me, sir?  Right as ninepence.  Never had nowt the matter with me.
'Sides," continued the man, with a grin, "I had the doctor to look at
me."

"Oh, I say," said Roberts eagerly, "he didn't give you any of his stuff,
did he?"

"No, sir; but he wanted to."

"What did he say?"

"Said it would keep off the chill."

"Yes, and what then?" said the lads, in a breath.

"I telled him, gentlemen, that the first luff had sent Mr Snelling the
purser to me with a dose, and he just grunted at me and went up again.
Oh, I'm all right enough.  What about you, Mr Roberts, sir?"

"Thanks to you, Tom, I'm just as you say you are.  But what about that
fish?"

"Oh, it's in the pot by now.  The cook says it's the biggest albicore he
ever see in his life, and for sartain, gentlemen, I never see one much
more than half as big.  There's bigger ones, of course, somewheres, but
I never see one speared afore as would touch him.  But I say, Mr
Roberts, sir," continued the man, "you do feel all right again, don't
you?"

"Oh yes, quite right, Tom; only a little bit achey about the back of the
neck."

"Course you do, sir.  I felt like that both times when I got pretty nigh
drownded.  That's 'cause you throws your head so far back, and it
strains your muscles, sir.  But never mind that, sir.  It'll soon go
off.  I was going to say, sir, if you felt right enough I should punish
that there fish pretty hard."

"I will, Tom," said the lad merrily; and the man went on deck.

"Ready?" said Murray, as he finished dressing.

"Yes, I'm ready, and at the same time I don't feel so," was the reply.

"Don't feel coming on poorly, do you?"

"Oh no," replied Roberts, "but I don't much care about going on deck
again."

"Why not?"

"There's the skipper, and old Anderson; they're both sure to begin to
grumble now."

"Oh no!  I don't think they'll say anything."

"Well, you'll see," said Roberts decisively; and the lad proved to be
right when the pair went on deck, for no sooner did they appear than the
first lieutenant, who was forward with the men, giving some
instructions, caught sight of them and began to approach.

"Look at that," whispered Roberts.

"Yes, and look at that, Dick," whispered Murray.  For the captain, who
was on the quarter-deck, had apparently caught sight of them at the same
time, and began to make for them.

There was no retreat, for the lieutenant would have met them.  But it so
happened that the latter saw his chief approaching and returned at once
to the group of sailors, leaving the captain to have the first words.

"You're right, Dick," whispered Murray.  "Now for a wigging!"

"Well, young gentlemen," saluted them the next minute; "what have you to
say for yourselves?"

"Thank you, sir," said Murray, drawing himself up and saluting, "we're
not a bit the worse for our little adventure."

"Humph!" ejaculated the captain, looking at him sternly.  "None the
worse, eh?"

"No, sir, not a bit, and I don't think Roberts is; eh, Roberts?"

"Perhaps not, Mr Murray; but perhaps you will allow me to question Mr
Roberts."

"I beg your pardon, sir," said Murray, colouring warmly.

"I do not grant it, sir," said the captain stiffly; "and perhaps you
will be good enough to bear in mind what are our relative positions--
those of commander of this sloop of war and very junior officer.  Now,
Mr Roberts," continued the captain sternly, as he half turned his back
to Murray, "what have you to say for yourself?"

"Only that I'm very sorry to have been the cause of the trouble, sir."

"Humph!  That's better," said the captain, "if your sorrow is real."

"Oh yes, sir; it's quite real, sir," said the youth hurriedly.

"Indeed!  Well, I have my doubts, sir."

"But it really was quite an accident, sir," cried Roberts excitedly.

"Well, do you suppose, Mr Roberts, that I give you credit for purposely
hitching yourself on to that fish and trying to get yourself drowned?"

"Oh no, sir; of course not."

"Don't interrupt me, Mr Roberts," said the captain sourly.

"Why, you asked me a question," thought the lad, "and I was only
answering you;" and he turned very red in the face.

"I have been talking to Mr Anderson about this business, and he tells
me that you both came worrying him for permission to use the grains and
to waste your time trying to harpoon these fish that were playing about
the bows, eh?"

"It was I, sir, who went to ask Mr Anderson for leave."

"I was not addressing you, Mr Murray," said the captain coldly; and
then he continued: "Mr Anderson tells me that he put before you the
fact that you would both have been better employed in continuing your
studies of navigation.  Now, you neither of you had the candour to tell
me this.  Anything but work, gentlemen, and the display of a
determination to master your profession and grow worthy of trust, with
the possibility of some day becoming worthy of taking charge of a
vessel.  I consider that you both--I say both, Mr Murray--took
advantage of my kindly disposition and obtained the permission that Mr
Anderson would have very properly withheld.  Now look at the
consequences of your folly; one of you was nearly drowned; the other was
almost the cause of my losing one of my most valuable seamen in his
efforts to save your lives; and the discipline of my ship is completely
upset--a boat has to be launched, the doctor called upon to resuscitate
one of you; and now what have you to say for yourselves?  Nothing, but
give me the paltry excuse of this being an accident.  I tell you,
gentlemen, that it cannot be considered an accident or mischance, for I
look upon it as being a wilful disregard of your duties, and--er--er--
that will do."

The captain put his hands behind his back and stalked off, leaving the
two lads looking at each other.

"That's nice," said Murray, in a whisper.

"Lovely!" whispered back Roberts.

"And this isn't the worst of it," said Murray softly; "here comes
Anderson."

"Oh, I do feel so bad!" muttered Roberts.  "I'll tell him so."

"Well, young gentlemen," said the lieutenant, coming up, "I hope the
captain has taken you both well to task."

"Yes, sir, he has," said Murray, with a drily comical look upon his
countenance.  "I'm sure if you had heard him you wouldn't think it
necessary to say another word."

The lieutenant gave the lad a severe look, frowning hard, and he was
evidently about to say something sharp, but after being silent for a few
moments his face relaxed and he smiled pleasantly.

"Well," he said, turning again to Murray, "I will take it for granted
that you have both had a thoroughly good talking to, and I will say no
more."

"Thank you, sir," said Murray, with a sigh of relief.

The lieutenant turned upon him sharply.

"Yes," he said, "I suppose you do mean that.  Well, Mr Roberts, I hope
you feel none the worse?"

"No, sir; yes, sir, I--no sir, not at all the worse."

"I am glad of it.  But you had a very narrow escape.  Your life was
saved by Murray's bravery.  A very gallant action, my lad--manly and
brave; but no more of such gallant actions, if you please.  I have quite
enough responsibilities in connection with my duties on this ship
without being worried with a pack of boys risking their lives for the
sake of catching a fish or two, so let me have no more of it.  Do you
hear?  There, you need not speak."

The lieutenant turned short round and marched away frowning, leaving the
lads looking at one another for a few minutes, before Murray whispered,
"Come along forward," with the result that they made for a favourite
spot where, well out of sight of the quarter-deck, they could rest their
folded arms upon the rail and gaze down into the transparent water which
glided by the sloop's cut-water with hardly a ripple, so soft was the
breeze which filled the crowd of canvas that had been set.

"I thought we should get it," said Roberts, after a few minutes'
silence.

"Oh, never mind, old chap," said his companion quietly.  "You got off
pretty easy."

"I did?  Oh, come; it was you who got off easy.  `A very gallant act,'
didn't he say?"

"Something of the kind."

"Yes; `a very gallant act.'  You always get the praise, Frank," said
Roberts gloomily.  "It has always been so ever since we joined.  One is
expected to devote himself in every way possible to learning one's
profession, and for reward one gets bullied and blamed for pretty well
everything.  Nobody ever told me that I had performed a very gallant
act."

"Well, look here, what do you say to me tumbling overboard so that you
can come over after me and save my life?"

"Bother!  Look here, Frank, if you can't talk sense you'd better hold
your tongue."

"If I did you'd only get more rusty.  I say, Dick, I once read about a
fellow being saved from drowning."

"Me, of course," interrupted Roberts, in an angry tone.  "What are you
up to now--fishing for praise of your `gallant act'?"

"Not likely," was the reply, good-humouredly.  "I was going to tell you
about some one who was saved from drowning."

"Well, you needn't.  I know all about it now, thank you, and I don't
want to hear."

"Never mind, old chap; I want to tell you, and it's very interesting and
quite true."

Roberts grunted and gave himself a hitch so as to turn half away from
his companion and stand staring away to sea.

"It said that when the poor fellow was on the deck again--you see, he
had fallen from the yard and they had to lower down a boat so as to get
him aboard, and when they did he seemed to be quite dead--same as you
did."

"Tchah!  Nothing of the kind.  I was only a bit insensible."

"Well, you were quite bad enough," said Murray, "and the doctor had to
bring you round same as this chap; and when he was able to sit up and
talk it was quite curious--"

"I don't see anything curious about a half-drowned chap coming to and
being able to talk."

"No," said Murray, smiling, as he watched his companion intently, "but
that wasn't the curious part."

"Well, then, what was?  Oh, I say, I do wish you wouldn't keep on
prosing about what nobody wants to hear.  There, go on and get it
finished."

"All right; don't hurry a fellow," said Murray.  "I can't dash off
things as quickly as you can."

Roberts wrenched himself round so that he could look fiercely at his
companion, and he spoke with quite an angry snap.

"Is that meant for a sneer?" he said.

"No, my son; not a bit of it, unless it contains just a go at myself for
being so slow."

"Ho!" ejaculated Roberts.  "Well, what's the curious thing about your
chap who had been nearly drowned?"

"They brought him to--" said Murray deliberately.

Roberts gave himself an angry jerk and reached out his hand to snatch at
a marlin-spike stuck just beneath the rail.

"What's the matter now?" asked Murray.

"You'll know directly if you don't finish your twaddling stuff.  You
told me all that before," cried the lad irritably.

"Did I?  Well, you keep on interrupting me so."

"There, go on."

"All right," continued Murray, in the most imperturbable way.  "Well, as
I was saying, that when they brought the poor fellow round--"

"Bravo, oh prince of story-tellers!" cried Roberts sneeringly.  "They
brought him round, did they?  I wonder he didn't stop drowned if he was
surrounded by people who kept on prosing like you are."

"Well, he didn't," said Murray coolly; "they brought him round."

"Here, Frank, old chap," cried Roberts, with mock interest, "it's as
well to be quite certain when you are making history--are you sure that
they didn't bring him square?"

"Oh yes, quite," said Murray quietly; "they brought him round, and it
was remarkable what an effect it had upon his temper."

Roberts turned upon him again quite fiercely.

"He seemed to have turned acid right through, and snapped and snarled at
those about him; and then--"

"Now, look here, young fellow," cried Roberts, interrupting his
companion, "I'm not all a fool, Frank Murray, and I can see quite
plainly enough that this is all meant for a go at me.  Do you mean to
tell me that I have turned upon every one to snap and snarl at them?
Because if you do, say so like a man."

"Well, old chap--" began Murray, smiling.

"Oh, you do, do you?  You've made up your mind to quarrel with me, have
you?  Very well, sir.  I don't want to be on good terms with a fellow
who, in spite of the way in which I have made myself his friend ever
since he joined, is determined to--determined to--Here, this is beyond
bearing, sir.  We're too big now to settle our quarrels, like a couple
of schoolboys, with our fists, but the wretched state in which we are
compelled to exist by the captain's absurd prejudices against settling a
dispute in a gentlemanly way compels one to put off all consideration of
age and position; so come down below.  We can easily get to where the
men will take care that we are not interrupted by the officers; and if I
don't give you the biggest thrashing you ever had, it's because I am
weak from the effects of that accident and being dragged under water for
so long.  Now then, come on, and--don't irritate me any more by grinning
in that absurd way, or I shall strike you before you put up your hands
on guard, and then--"

The lad, who was gazing wildly at his companion, stopped short, for,
half startled now by his brother middy's manner, Murray had laid his
hand upon his arm.

"Steady, Dick," he said quietly.  "You're not yourself, old chap.  I
didn't mean to irritate you.  Don't go on like that; here's the doctor
coming forward, and I don't want him to come and see you now."

These words wrought a complete change, for to Murray's surprise the
agitated lad slipped his wrist free, and brought his hand down firmly
upon that of his companion, to close it in a firm grip.

"Here, Frank," he whispered, "don't take any notice of what I said.  I
couldn't help it.  I don't know what has come to me.  I must be like the
fellow you were talking about, and if the doctor knows, I feel--I'm sure
that I shall be much worse."

"Hist!  Keep quiet.  Let's be looking at the fish.  Look at that."

He pointed downward through the clear water, and making an effort
Roberts leaned over the rail.

"Yes; I see," he said huskily.  "A shark, sure enough."

"Yes; only a little one, though," said Murray aloud.  "I say, isn't it
curious how those brutes can keep themselves just at a certain depth
below the keel, and go on swimming easily at just the same rate as we
are going, without seeming to make any effort!"

"Yes, very strange; very, very strange," said Roberts loudly, and with
his voice sounding husky and faint.  "Hah!" he ejaculated, at last, in a
tone of relief.  "He's not coming here."  For the doctor had suddenly
caught sight of Titely and crossed the deck to speak to the man.

"No, he's not coming here," said Murray quietly.

"I oughtn't to be afraid to meet the old fellow, though, Frank," said
Roberts, with a sigh, "for I must be ill to turn like that."

"Not ill, old chap," said Murray quietly.  "Come on down below."

"Then you think I'm bad?" whispered the midshipman, turning upon his
companion sharply.

"Not bad, but upset by the accident."

"And nearly losing my life," whispered Roberts.

"Yes, that's it.  Come down and take off your jacket."

"Not to fight," said the lad bitterly.  "Oh, Franky!  And after you had
just saved my life!  I must have been half mad, old chap."

"Bah!  Drop it, Dick," said Murray quietly.  "You come down, and turn
into your berth."

"Yes; for a good nap."

"That's right, old chap.  Have a good snooze if you can; but don't mind
if you can't get to sleep.  I'll open the port-hole as wide as possible
so as to get as much cool air as I can into the place.  All you want is
rest.  You don't want the doctor."

"No; that's right; I don't want the doctor."  And then, eagerly taking
his companion's arm, the lad permitted himself to be led below, where he
threw off his jacket and turned into his cot with a sigh of relief.

"Ah," he said, "that's better!  Never mind me now.  Go up on deck, and
if any one asks about me say I'm having a sleep after the ducking."

"All right," replied Murray, and he saw in the semi-darkness that the
middy had closed his eyes tightly but seemed to have to make an effort
to keep the quivering and twitching lids still.

"I say, Franky," came from the cot, after a short pause.

"Well?"

"You're not gone on deck."

"No, not yet.  Come, off you go.  Like a glass of water?"

"No!  No water."

"Well, what is it?"

"I only wanted to say something, Frank," whispered the poor fellow, in a
faltering voice.

"Better not, old chap.  You want rest, and not to bother your brain with
talking."

"Thank you, doctor," said the lad, with a faint smile.  "Why, you're
ever so much better than old Reston.  Yes, I want sleep, for my head
seems to be all of a buzz; but I must say something before I can get
off."

"Well, then, look sharp and say it.  Well, what is it?"

"Only this, Franky, old fellow--"

"Well, what is it?" said Murray, after the pause which followed the last
words.  "There, let it go; I'm sure it will keep."

"No, no," whispered the lad excitedly.  "It won't keep.  I feel as if I
can't bear to say it, and yet that I can't bear to keep it back.  There,
that sounds half mad, doesn't it?  I--I--"

"Is it anything to do with what you said to me a bit ago?"

"Hah!  Thank you, old fellow; you've made me feel as if I could say it
now," whispered the lad hoarsely.  "Franky, I feel as if I've been an
ungrateful beast to you."

"Hold hard, Dick," said Murray quickly; and he laid his hand upon the
one lying close to the edge of the cot.  "I understand how hard it must
be for you to talk about it, and it's just as hard for me to listen.  So
look here, Dick.  You haven't been yourself, lad; when a fellow's a bit
off his head he isn't accountable for what he says.  I know; so look
here.  Am I hurt and annoyed by what you said?  Not a bit of it.  That's
right, isn't it?" he continued, as his hand closed firmly upon that of
the half hysterical lad.  "You know what that means, don't you?"

"Hah!  Yes!" sighed the lad gently; and it sounded to Murray as if a
tremendous weight had been lifted off the poor fellow's breast.

"Then now you can go to sleep, and when you wake up again I hope you
will have forgotten all about it, for that's what I mean to as a matter
of course, and--How rum!" said the lad to himself, for the hand that had
been returning his pressure had slowly slackened its grasp and lay
perfectly inert in his.  "Why, he must be asleep!  Well, I shall soon
know."

As the lad thought this he loosened his own grasp, and the next minute
was able to slip his fingers away.  Directly after he drew back a little
more, and quietly rose from the locker upon which he had been seated
close to his companion's side with his back to the cabin stairs.

Then turning to go up on deck, Murray started to find himself face to
face with the doctor, who had followed the lads down and stepped in
without being heard.

"Asleep?"

Murray pointed to the occupant of the cot without a word, and the doctor
bent low and then drew back.

"That's good," he whispered.  "It was a nasty shock for the poor fellow,
but there's nothing for me to do, my lad.  A few hours' sleep will quite
set him right.  I like this, though, Murray," he continued, laying his
hand upon the lad's shoulder and giving it a friendly grip.  "You boys
are thoughtless young dogs sometimes, but this sort of thing shows that
you have got the right stuff in you--the right feeling for one another."

"Oh, I say, doctor, don't!" whispered Murray.

"Not going to, much," said the gentleman addressed.  "I'm a rough fellow
sometimes, I know, but I notice a deal, and I like to see a bit of
feeling shown at the right moment.  You don't know how it pleases me
when one of our foremast fellows has been laid aside, and I see that a
messmate has sneaked down to keep him company, and take care that he is
not short of tobacco to chew--Hang him for trying to poison a man who
would be far better without it!--Yes, looks as guilty as can be, and
quite shamefaced at having been caught playing the nurse.  It shows that
the dog has got the true man in him, Murray, and though I don't let them
see that I notice anything I like it more than you think.  There,
Roberts is all right," said the doctor gruffly, "but don't stop here
breathing up the cool air I want for my patient.  Come on deck, my lad;
come on deck."



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

"NIGGAH, SAH."

A month passed swiftly away, during which the _Seafowl_ sighted and
chased vessel after vessel, each of which had been forced to lie to in
response to a shot fired across her bows, but only with a disappointing
result--one which sent the captain into a temper which made him
dangerous to approach for a full half-hour after the strangers' papers
had been examined, to prove that she had nothing whatever to do with the
slave-trade.

Then the captain would calm down, and something like the following would
take place:

"Did I speak rather sharply to you when the boat returned, Mr
Anderson?"

"Oh!  Well, rather hastily, sir," said the chief officer drily.  "But
that's nothing, sir.  I'm afraid I was not very polite to you.  I was
horribly disappointed, sir."

"Naturally," the captain cried excitedly.  "Here we are, getting well
within range of the islands where we know this wretched traffic is
carried on, where the plantations are cultivated by the unfortunate
blacks, and we seem bound to encounter a slaver, and yet the days pass
on and we prove to be hunting a will-o'-the-wisp."

"Yes, sir, it is maddening," replied the lieutenant.  "Day after day I
have swept the offing, feeling certain that fate would favour us by
letting the sloop come up with that Yankee, or with one of his kidney;
but disappointment is always the result."

"Yes, Mr Anderson," cried the captain; "always the result.  Never
mind," he continued, speaking through his closely set teeth; "our turn
will come one of these days."  And then with his telescope tightly
nipped beneath his arm he would tramp up and down the quarter-deck,
pausing now and then to focus his glass, take a peep through, close it
again with a snap and renew his march.

"Look at him," said Roberts, one bright morning, as the two lads stood
together well forward, where they fondly hoped that they were quite out
of their chief's way.

"No, thank you, Dick," was the response; "it isn't safe.  He's just in
one of his fits, ready to pounce upon any one who gives him a chance.
Every one is getting afraid of him.  I wish to goodness we could
overtake something and have a chance of a prize."

"Well, we must find something to do soon, lad.  We're right in amongst
the islands, and we shall have to land and hunt out some nigger driver's
nest."

"But we can't do anything if we do.  We daren't interfere with any
plantation where the blacks are employed."

"No, I suppose not; but it would be a glorious change if we got orders
to land at one of the islands and could pick up some news or another."

"What sort of news?"

"What sort?  Why, information that a slaver was expected to land a
consignment, and then--"

"Oh yes, and then!  Well, we shall see."

"Yes, we shall see; but I don't believe any of the planters will give us
a bit of information."

"Don't you?  I do," said Murray.  "There are good planters as well as
bad planters, and I feel full of hope."

"I don't," said Roberts bitterly.  "I think we ought to go back to the
West Coast and watch the rivers again.  We shall do no good here."

But Murray proved the more likely to be right, for after touching at the
little port of one island, where the _Seafowl_ was visited by the
English gentleman who acted as consul, and who had a long interview with
the officers in the cabin, it became bruited through the vessel that
something important was on the way, and after boats had been sent ashore
and a plentiful supply of fresh water and vegetables taken in, the sloop
set sail again, piloted by a fishing boat.  Under its guidance the
_Seafowl_ lay off the shores of what seemed through the glasses to be an
earthly paradise, a perfect scene of verdant beauty, with waving trees
and cultivated fields, sheltered by a central mountain the configuration
of which suggested that it must at one time have been a volcano, one
side of which had been blown away so that a gigantic crater many miles
across formed a lake-like harbour.  Into this deep water, after careful
soundings had been taken, the sloop glided and dropped anchor, the pilot
with his two men hoisting sail directly after receiving pay.

"This is something like," said Roberts, rubbing his hands.  "I wonder
how soon we shall go ashore."

"Almost directly, I expect," replied Murray.

"Why?  What do you know?"

"Not much; only what Mr Anderson let drop to me."

"Let drop to you!" cried Roberts pettishly.  "He never lets things drop
to me."

"Well, what does that matter?  I always tell you anything that I hear."

"Never mind that.  What did Anderson let drop?"

"That the skipper has learned that there is an English gentleman here
who farms a plantation with a number of slaves."

"Well, lots do," said Roberts sharply.

"And on the other side of the island there is a very large sugar
plantation belonging to an American who is suspected of having dealings
with slaving skippers who trade with the West Coast.  What do you say to
that?"

"That sounds likely; but what then?"

"Well, according to what Mr Anderson told me, the skipper will, if he
waits for a chance, be able to catch one if not more of the slavers who
come here to land their cargoes, for this American planter to ship off
by degrees to other planters who require slaves."

"Ah, yes, I see," cried Roberts.  "This Yankee, then, keeps a sort of
slave store?"

"Something of the kind," replied Murray, "and if we are careful I
suppose that the skipper will have his chance at last; only he says that
he is not going to trust any stranger again."

"Well, never mind that," said Roberts, speaking excitedly now as he
scanned the slopes of the old verdure-clad hollow in which the sloop lay
as if in a lake.  "If we are about to lie up here for a time and go
ashore and explore we shall have plenty of fun and adventure, with a bit
of fighting now and then."

"Likely enough," said Murray.

"But I should like for us to have hit upon the place where that West
Coast Yankee brought his cargoes.  There's no possibility of this being
the spot?"

"One never knows," said Murray thoughtfully.

"Too much to hope," said his companion.

"Oh, I don't know.  We've been horribly unlucky, but the luck is bound
to turn some time.  One thing we do know for certain: that Yankee
skipper brings slaves across to the West Indies."

"Yes, we know that."

"Well, this is one of the West Indian Islands."

"A precious small one, though," said Roberts in a depreciatory tone.

"What of that?  We know for certain that there is the owner of a
plantation here who trades in slaves, and there is nothing to prevent
his having dealings with the man we want."

"M-m-no; but there must be several such men as he.  Well, we must get
some fun," cried Roberts, "and if we don't find all we want--"

"We may get something," said Murray cheerfully.  "Now then, which of us
will have the first chance of going ashore?"

"You, of course," replied Roberts bitterly.  "Some fellows get all the
luck.  No, no; I don't mean that, old chap."

"Look at Anderson," cried Murray; "he's taking orders from the skipper.
Hooray, Dick!  See if it isn't for a boat to be sent ashore.  Whose turn
is it going to be?"

That question was soon answered, for the captain, who was pacing to and
fro searchingly overlooking the preparations for a boat going ashore,
suddenly caught sight of the two lads.

"Oh, there you are, Mr Murray!" he exclaimed.  "Well, has not Mr
Anderson given you your orders to accompany the boat?"

Roberts's face puckered up.

"No, sir," said the lieutenant, taking upon himself to answer.  "I
intended to take Mr Roberts with me."

Murray felt disappointed, but all the same he could not refrain from
laughing at the sudden change which came over his fellow middy's face,
to the latter's wonder.

"Oh, I see," said the captain, raising his hat and re-adjusting it in a
fidgety way he had when excited, which was followed by a fresh settling
of the head-covering.  "Quite right; quite right; but here's Mr Murray
growing dull and sluggish with doing nothing; you had better take him
too.  One will help to keep the other out of mischief."

Roberts winced, and turned sharply to glance at Murray angrily, as the
latter hurried to take his place in the stern sheets.

"What's the matter, Dick?"  Murray whispered, as soon as the pair were
in their places.

"Matter?  Any one would think I was a child and ought to have some one
to take care of me.  Now, look here, young fellow, if you grin at me
before old Anderson there's going to be a quarrel."

"All right," said Murray coolly; "but keep it till we get back."

Roberts looked round sharply, but he had no opportunity to say more, for
the chief officer descended to his place, Murray moved aside to let his
comrade take the tiller ropes, the boatswain gave the cutter a vigorous
thrust off, the men lowered their oars, and then bending low to their
task they made the smooth water of the natural harbour begin to rattle
beneath the bows.

The boat was run across beside the heavily forested shores, where,
before long, but after many disappointments, an opening was found which
seemed to be the entrance to a sluggish river, and as they glided in the
overhanging trees soon shut them off from all sight of the sunny bay
they had crossed.  The bright light gave place to a dim twilight which
at times grew almost dark, while the river wound and doubled upon itself
like a serpent, and twice over, after a long pull, the lieutenant bade
the men lie upon their oars, to rest, while he hesitated as to whether
he should go farther.

But all seemed so mysterious and tempting that, in the full expectation
of reaching some town or port belonging to the island, the rowing was
again and again resumed till hours had passed, and at last the chief
officer exclaimed--

"It's like chasing a will-o'-the-wisp, gentlemen, but I cannot help
feeling that we are on the highroad to the interior, and, in spite of
the utter loneliness of the place, I don't like to give up."

"Of course you don't, sir," said Murray, as the men rested upon their
oars, and he scanned the heavily wooded banks.  "I wonder whether there
are any plantations worked by the slaves: I can see no sign of a house."

"No, I was thinking of that," said Roberts, who was sweeping the
distance with a glass; "but there is a bit of an opening yonder which
looks as if the river branched there, and--Hallo!  I didn't see it at
first.  There's some sort of a boat lying moored in that nook."

"Where?" cried Murray.

"Yonder among the trees.  Take the glass, sir."

Mr Anderson took the telescope.

"To be sure: the river does branch there.  Steer for that cove, Mr
Roberts, and let us see what the little vessel is like.  At all events
here is some sign of the place being inhabited.  Give way, my lads."

The men pulled hard, and as they progressed, instead of obtaining a
better view of the vessel, it seemed only to glide in behind the trees
until they were close in and passed up what proved to be the mouth of a
little creek, when Murray uttered an ejaculation.

"What is it, Mr Murray?" cried the lieutenant.

"The lugger, sir!"

"Well, I see it is, my lad.  I dare say its owner's house is close at
hand."

"But don't you see, sir?" cried Murray excitedly.

"Of course I do, but there's no one aboard, apparently."

"Oh, I don't mean that, sir!" cried the lad.  "It's the lugger we first
came upon off that African river."

"What!" cried the lieutenant.  "Impossible!  Run close in, Mr Roberts."
And the men pulled the cutter close alongside the swift-looking boat
with its raking masts and lowered lug sails.

"Humph!" said the lieutenant.  "The same build, the same rig, the same
coloured canvas.  Well, really, Mr Murray, it is a strange
resemblance."

"I'm almost sure it is the same boat, sir," cried Murray.

"That's as good as saying that the Yankee who tricked us so has sailed
right across the Atlantic with the slaving schooner, and we have had the
luck to follow in her track, and caught up to her."

"Yes, sir; I don't think there's any doubt of it," cried Murray.

"Then, if you are right, Mr Murray, the slaving schooner will be
somewhere close at hand."

"Yes, sir; I hope so," replied Murray.  "I am ready to hope so, my lad,
but I say it is impossible.  That was a lugger, and this is a lugger,
and of course there is a certain amount of resemblance in the rig; but
you are jumping at conclusions just because this is similar."

"I think not, sir.  I took so much notice of the boat; but look here,
sir, Tom May was with me when I went forward to speak to the Yankee, and
he would know.--Here, May, isn't that the lugger the American planter
was on when we brought her to?"

The sailor stared hard at the vessel hanging by a line fastened to what
seemed to be a cocoanut tree.

"Same build, sir; same rig, sir.  Might have been built up the same
river, but it arn't the one we saw that day, sir--Wish it was!"

"There, Murray, what do you say now?"

"That I didn't think it possible that I could have been so deceived.
Would it be possible that it could have been built by the same
shipwright, sir?"

"Quite, my lad; and it is quite possible that we may come across a
schooner or two built just like the one we saw escape.  There is no
doubt that many slaving schooners are built in these islands especially
for the trade.  Look out, my lads, and don't miss anything.  There may
be one of them moored safely in a snug creek.--What was that?"

"Nigger, sir," said Tom May.  "I just ketched sight of him squinting at
us among the trees.  There he is again, sir."

This time Roberts had caught sight of a black figure wearing the very
simple costume of a pair of loose cotton drawers, his round woolly head
covered with a broad-brimmed hat formed of extremely thin strips of thin
cane.

"Scared at us," said the sailor, for as the cutter was rowed alongside
of the lugger, the black darted out of sight, but, evidently curious to
know what was going on and the object of the strangers, he peered out
again.

"Ahoy there!" shouted one of the sailors.

That was enough.  The black disappeared once more, but only for a few
moments before he was peeping again.

"You hail him this time, Mr Murray," cried the lieutenant.

"Ahoy there!" cried Murray.  "What boat's that?"

The black clung to one of the trees on the bank of the river and watched
the speaker eagerly.

"He doesn't understand," said the lieutenant.  "I dare say he only
speaks bad Spanish.  But try him again."

"Can you speak English?" cried Murray.

"Yes, massa!"

"Come, that's better," said the lieutenant.  "Try him again, Mr
Murray."  And the lad shouted--

"Whose lugger is that?"

"Massa's, sah."

"Oh!" cried Murray; and then obeying a sudden thought, "Where is the
schooner?"

"Gone sail round um ilum, sah."

"With slaves?" said Murray.

"Gone take big lot black fellow, sah."

"What for?"

"Hoe de cotton, sah; plant de sugar, sah," said the black, showing his
white teeth.

"When will the schooner come back, Sambo?" said Murray.

"Name not Sambo, sah," said the black.

"What is it then?"

"Jupe, sah, Jupiter."

"Ask him where his master lives."

"Yes, sir!--Where does your master live?"

The black rested the heavy hoe he carried among the thick growth of the
trees which rang alongside of the stream, and pointed away into the
dense cover at the back.

"Jupe show massa."

"Is your master away with the schooner?" asked Murray.

"No, sah.  Massa never go to sea.  Cap' Huggum go in um schooner."

"Oh, that's it, is it?" said Mr Anderson.  "Now then, my lad; if we
land you will show us the way to your master's place?"

"Yes, sah.  Massa Huggum's 'long with massa now."

"Who is Master Huggums?" said the lieutenant.

"Massa, sah.  Make um niggah work, sah;" and as he spoke the black
showed his teeth, raised his hoe, and brought the handle sharply against
the trunk of some kind of palm-tree.  "That's de way make um work.  Lazy
rascal go to sleep.  Massa Huggum wake um up."

"Oh, that's it, is it?  Does he wake you up like that?"

The black burst into a hoarse laugh.

"Iyah, iyah, iyah!" he cackled out, and evidently thoroughly enjoying
the questioning, he threw himself down in the thick cane growth, rolled
over and over, and then sprang up again.  "No give Jupe de whip, massa.
Find Jupe fas' sleep.  _Ck, ck, ck_!"

And he threw out one bare foot as if emulating some one who had heavily
kicked a slave who was lying asleep.

The feeling of fear that had made the black dart back into the cover of
the trees had now passed away in favour of a display of eager curiosity,
and he came close to the boat, where he watched the sailors laying in
their oars and the coxswain hook on to one of the trees, while the
officers prepared to land.

"Now, then," said the lieutenant, "show us a dry place; it is all muddy
here."

"Jupe show landum place, sah," said the man sharply.

"Very well, and then you can lead us up to the house."

"Yes, sah.  Take buccra up through plantashum, but Jupe no dare go."

"What do you mean?" said Mr Anderson.  "You offered to go just now."

"Yes, sah; but Jupe forget all 'bout Massa Huggum.  De overseer go in
great big pashum, sah.  Call Jupe ugly black nigger, sah."

"What for?"

"Take buccra officer up to plantashum see de niggers, sah."

"Oh, that's how Mr Huggins or Huggum goes on, is it?  Well, never mind
him," said the lieutenant; "lead us up to your master."

The black showed his teeth again and indulged in his cackling laugh.

"Well, what does that mean, sir?"

"Jupe no dah go, sah.  Massa Huggum say cut him libbah out."

"Never mind Mr Huggins, my lad.  He'd better!  Here, what's your real
master's name?"

"Massa Allum, sah."

"Well, take us to him."

The black shook his head.

"Mass' Allum 'fraid Massa Huggum, sah.  Massa Huggum call um big name."

"Then this Huggins is the real master; eh, boy?"

"Dat's the trufe, sah.  Ebbery boy in plantation 'fraid of Massa
Huggum."

"Well, look here, my sable friend, please understand this: nobody here
is afraid of your Mr Huggins.  Show us the way to the plantation, and
if he dares to touch you I'll take him on board, and the boatswain's
mate shall tie him up and give him the cat--flog him; do you
understand?"

"Mass' say give Mass' Huggum whip?"

"Yes, or any one else, boy.  Now then, show us the way."

"Massa say quite sewer?"

"Yes, quite sure.  Now then, lead on."

The black grinned at everybody in turn, and tramped along by the edge of
the sluggish stream for some hundred yards before stopping short by the
trampled bank which was plainly marked, and the commencement of a rough
path was seen running in amongst the trees.

The lieutenant gave orders for the men to land, a couple of boat-keepers
were left, and the well-armed crew were ready for starting when a black
face suddenly presented itself peering round a good-sized tree-trunk and
gazing curiously at the newcomers.

Murray was the first to catch sight of the fresh comer and draw the
lieutenant's attention to his appearance.

"Is this one of your men, you sir?" cried the chief officer, and he
pointed down the winding path.

The black stared for a moment or two before following the direction of
the officer's pointing hand.  Then catching sight of his fellow black he
uttered a yell, raised his hoe in both hands, and sent the heavy iron
implement whirling along the path, to be brought up with a crash against
a good-sized tree.  But before it came in contact with the trunk the
black at whom it was aimed sprang in among the bushes and disappeared,
while the guide trotted on to where the hoe had fallen and picked it up,
shouting in through the thick growth--

"You let me catch you 'way from your work, you ugly, lazy, black
rasclum, I crack you cocoanut!"  Then striking the haft of the hoe he
had picked up against the tree-trunk to tighten the loosened head, he
turned again to the approaching boat crew.  "Lazy black rasclum," cried
the grinning guide, as if for the benefit of all the newcomers.  "Jupe
gib um toco catch him again.  Massa come along now.--Black dog!  Let me
catch um again!"

The lieutenant frowned and glanced at the two midshipmen, who were
exchanging glances which meant a great deal.  Then with a shrug of his
shoulders he made a sign to the black guide to go on, a sign which was
grasped at once, and the fellow stepped out with his heavy hoe
shouldered and a grin at the lads.

"Jupe make um run fas'," he said.  "Jupe teach um leave um work!"

"Look sharp, sir, and show the way," cried the chief officer angrily.

"Yes, massa; yes, massa," cried the fellow, grinning.  "Jupe show massa
de way.  Jupe de boy teach de black fella do de work.  Lazy rasclum.
Ketchum 'sleep under tree."

"Here, May," cried the lieutenant angrily, "take this black brute
forward a dozen yards and make him show the way and hold his tongue the
while."

"Ay, ay, sir!" growled the sailor, with a grim look, as giving his
musket a hitch and then turning it in his hands he brought the butt
roughly against the guide's chest.  "Now then, Ebony," he cried,
"for'ard it is, and drop all that there palaver.  Lead on and show the
way."

"Yes, sah; Jupe show de--"

"D'yer hear, you black swab!" cried the sailor.  "Show the way to your
master's house, and keep that talking box of yours shut up, or--"

May made an offer at the black as if to bring the butt of the musket he
carried down upon his toes, and accompanied it with so meaning a look
that the guide's eyes opened widely and he was in the act of making a
dash sidewise into the cane brake at the side, but the sailor's free
hand came down upon the fellow's shoulder with a loud clap.

"Ah, would you!" he cried.  "None of that!  Bullets run faster than
legs, my lad."

"That will do, May," cried the lieutenant; "but mind he does not slip
through your fingers."

"No, sir; right, sir," said the sailor, keeping a firm grip upon the
black's shoulder and seeming to steer him in and out along the windings
of the rough track, while the boat's crew and officers followed behind.

"The black fellow disgusted me, gentlemen," said the lieutenant, turning
a glance at the lads.  "Jack in office generally proves to be the worst
tyrant."

The distance from the creek proved far greater than the officers
expected, and they threaded the forest for hours before they came upon
cultivated plantations dotted with black figures hard at work, and
evidently superintended by men of the same type as the guide, who moved
forward quietly and quite cowed by the stern-looking seaman who had him
in custody, and who at last stopped short pointing at a long, low,
well-built house half hidden amongst the trees and beautiful enough to
raise an exclamation from Murray.

"Yes, the place looks beautiful enough," said the lieutenant, "but I'm
afraid its beauty depends upon the supply of poor wretches who are
forced to labour beneath the burning sun with the lash as a stimulus
whenever they show signs of slackening.  Oh, here we are," continued the
speaker.  "Is this the redoubtable Mr Huggins?"

"No, sir; I should say it would be Mr Allen," replied Murray.

"Yes, you must be right, Mr Murray," said the lieutenant.  "He looks
more like a sick man than the owner of a slave plantation."

For a quiet, subdued-looking individual in white cotton garments had
stepped out of a wide window with green painted open jalousies, to take
off his Panama straw hat and stand screening his eyes with his hand.

The next minute the officer had halted his men in front of the place,
and May touched his hat.

"Let the prisoner go, sir?"

"Yes: we can find our way back;" and as the sailor slackened his grasp
and gave his head a jerk in the direction of the well-tilled fields, the
black made a bound and dashed off, turning sharply before reaching the
edge of the trees which backed up the house and seemed to shelter a
range of buildings, to raise his hoe and shake it threateningly at the
sailor.

"That man ought not to behave in this way," said the gentleman who had
stepped out.  "Has he been insolent to you, sir?"

"More unpleasant than insolent," replied the lieutenant.  "I have
required him for a guide to find your house, sir."

"Ah!" said the former speaker slowly, as he looked slowly round.  "You
are an officer from one of the King's ships?"

"Yes, sir; exactly so," replied the gentleman addressed.

"And I presume that your ship is off the island.  Can I be of any
service to you?"

"Well, yes," said Mr Anderson, "by giving me the information I am
seeking."

"I shall be glad to do so, sir, of course.  May I ask what you require?"

"Information about the slaving that is carried on here.  I see you
employ many slaves."

The stranger winced slightly, and then bowed his head.

"Yes," he said; "I have a large tract of cultivated land here in sugar,
cotton and a little coffee, but I have a right to employ slave labour
after the fashion of many of my fellow-countrymen."

"No doubt, sir," said the lieutenant firmly, while the two midshipmen
and the boat's crew stood listening and looking on--"slaves born upon
your estate."

The owner of the plantation winced again, and then in a nervous
hesitating way continued--

"I have employed slave labour for many years now, sir, and I hope with
humanity and quite in accordance with the law."

"I am sorry to say, sir," said the lieutenant, "that my captain has been
otherwise informed.  He has been given to understand that at this
plantation and in connection herewith a regular trade in the unfortunate
blacks is systematically carried on."

"Do I understand, sir," said the planter, in the same low hesitating
fashion, "that you are connected with one of the King's ships whose
object is to suppress the slave-trade?"

"Yes, sir; that is quite right."

"Will you step in, sir?" said the planter.  "You are heated with your
walk in the hot sun, and your men must need refreshment."

The lieutenant shrugged his shoulders and said gravely, "I am here, sir,
to do my duty."

"Yes, of course, sir," said the planter; "and I beg you will not think
that I am trying to bribe you in any way.  I am not surprised at this
visit.  I have expected it for years.  I am sorry, sir, but I must own
it: I am not my own master."

At this moment another figure appeared upon the scene in the shape of a
little thin yellow-complexioned man, dressed like the planter in white
cotton, and wearing a similar hat of Panama make.  He stepped out of the
French window where the late speaker had appeared, but with a quick,
eager movement, and as he stood glancing sharply round the lieutenant
and the midshipmen simultaneously gave a start which seemed to be
communicated to the whole of the party, and with a thrill of excitement
running through him Murray whispered sharply--

"Our friend the Yankee, Dick!"

"Yes," whispered back that individual, "and we're going to hold him
tight."

As for the lieutenant, he took a couple of steps forward, and exclaimed
in a sarcastic tone of voice--

"How do, sir!  I think we have met before."



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

THE OVERSEER.

The American turned quickly at the officer's words, and looked at him
curiously.

"Met?" he said, without the slightest sign of recognition.  "Very like,
sirr," he added, in a peculiar drawl; "where was it?"

"You do not seem to remember," said the lieutenant.  "Let me refresh
your memory: a few weeks back, off the coast of Africa."

The man half-closed his eyes and stared hard at the first lieutenant and
then at the two middies in turn.

"Last year, yew mean, squire?" he said.  "No: don't seem to know you
again."

"Then I shall have to refresh your memory a little more.  Mr Murray,"
continued the officer, "who do you say this man is?"

"The indiarubber planter, sir, who played us that trick."

The man turned sharply upon the lad.

"And who do you say he is, Mr Roberts?"

"The skipper of the lugger, sir, who guided us up the African river."

"There," said the lieutenant; "will that do for you?"

"I guess I don't know what you are talking about, mister," said the man
sharply.  "You said something about a trick.  Is this some trick of
yours?"

"Why, confound your impudence, sir!" cried the lieutenant hotly.  "How
dare you speak like this to a King's officer!"

"Don't get in a fuss, mister," said the Yankee coolly.  "We don't deal
in King's officers here, and don't want to.  Here, Mr Allen, you're an
Englishman; these people are more in your way.  What do they want?"

"It is the lieutenant of a ship that has cast anchor here, Huggins,"
said the gentleman addressed agitatedly.  "It is about the slaves."

"Eh?  About the slaves?  Our slaves--your slaves?  Well, what about
'em?"

"Yes; about the slaves we have here.  You understand?"

"Not me!  Not a bit.  He's been talking to you, has he?"

"Yes--yes."

"Well, then, you'd better finish the business.  Tell him I don't want to
trade any away.  We've got no more than will get in the crops."

"Speak to him," said the other, who seemed to grow more nervous and
agitated.

"Oh, very well.  Look here, mister; you've come to the wrong shop.  I
don't understand what you mean by making believe to know me, but I don't
know you, and I'm not going to trade in blacks with any British ship.
Understand?"

"Understand, sir?" cried the lieutenant, who was growing scarlet with
heat and wrath.  "It seems to me that you do not understand.  Pray, who
are you?"

"Business man and overseer of this plantation for my friend here, Mr
James Allen, who trusts me to carry on his affairs for him, being a sick
man just getting over a fever.  There, I don't want to be surly to an
English officer, though I never found one civil to me.  You've dropped
anchor off here, and I suppose you want water.  Well, if you do I'll put
a gang of my slaves on to help your men fill their casks."

"I am exceedingly obliged to you, sir," said the lieutenant
sarcastically.

"Wal, that's spoke better," said the American.  "And if you want some
fresh meat and vegetables you can have a boat-load or two if you like to
pay for 'em with a chest or so of tea.  You'd like a few bottles o' port
wine, too, for your complaint, wouldn't you, Allen?" he continued,
turning to the pale, nervous man at his side.

"Yes--yes," faltered the poor fellow.

"Really, you are too condescending," cried the lieutenant.  "Mr
Roberts--Mr Murray--did you ever hear the like of this?  Here, May--
Titely--what do you say to this American gentleman?"

Tom May took off his straw hat and gave his curly hair a rake with his
fingers, while Titely stared with all his might.

"It caps me, sir," said the latter, while Tom May looked at the
American, then at the two middies in turn, and shook his head.

"Well, sir, why don't you speak?" cried his officer angrily.

"'Cause it's such a rum un, sir."

"Bah!  Speak out, man, and don't hesitate.  You remember seeing this man
before?"

"Well, sir, I seem to ha' seen him afore, and then I don't seem, and get
kind o' mixed up.  Sometimes it looks like him and sometimes it don't
look like him, sir.  Beg your pardon, sir, but would you mind asking my
messmate here--Titely?"

"Bah, man!  The sun has made you giddy."

"Well, skipper, when you like I'm ready for an answer.  Want the water
and fresh vittles?"

"My dear Huggins," said the trembling owner of the place, "it would be
far better if you explained to the King's officer--"

"You leave me and the King's officer alone, James Allen," said the
American sturdily.

"But I'm sure--" whispered the planter.

"So'm I.  You keep your tongue between your teeth, and I dessay we can
settle matters.  Look here, Mr Officer, I'm boss of all the business
here, and you needn't take no notice of this gentleman.  I telled you
that Mr Allen has been in bed with fever, and it's left him, as you
see, very shaky upon his legs.  Your coming has upset him and made him a
bit nervous.  Here, I'll put in a word for him, poor chap.  Jes' you ask
your skipper to give him a small bottle o' quinine.  You won't want
paying for that, being charity."

The lieutenant turned his back upon the speaker angrily, and spoke to
the feeble-looking planter.

"Look here, sir," he cried, "you are nominally owner of this plantation
and the slaves upon it."

"Now, look here, mister," said the American angrily; "I spoke civil to
you, and I offered to help you and your ship with what you wanted in the
way of fresh meat and vegetables.  What's the good of returning stones
for stuff?"

"My good fellow, will you be silent," cried the lieutenant, "and let me
deal with your master?"

"My master!" snarled the American.  "I am my own master, sirr.  I tell
you I'm boss of all this here show, and if I like to turn nasty--"

"My dear Huggins--" interposed the planter.

"Shut your mouth, you old fool," growled the American, "and don't
interfere."

"Why, you insulting scoundrel!" roared the lieutenant.  "Here, Mr
Allen--that is your name, I believe?--you had better leave this matter
in my hands, and I will settle it."

The American stood listening with his eyes half closed and a peculiarly
ugly look upon his countenance, while the planter made a deprecating
sign with his hands.

"I see very plainly, sir," continued the lieutenant, "that this insolent
Yankee is presuming upon your weak state of health and assuming a power
that he cannot maintain.  You have been placing yourself in a position
in which it would be better to--"

"Now see here, stranger," burst in the American, "I'm a man who can
stand a deal, but you can go too far.  You come swaggering here with a
boat-load of your men and think that you're going to frighten me, sirr--
but you're just about wrong, for if I like to call up my men they'd
bundle you and your lot back into your boat--for I suppose you have got
one."

"Look here, sir," said the lieutenant, as he caught the flashing eyes of
the two middies and the fidgety movements of his men, "I am loth to
treat an American with harshness, but take this as a warning; if you
insult your master and me again I'll have you put in irons."

"What!" cried the man, with a contemptuous laugh.  "You'd better!"

The lieutenant started slightly, and that movement seemed to tighten up
the nerves of his men.

"Can't you understand, sirr, that if I like to hold back you'll get no
provisions or water here?"

"Confound your supplies, sir!  And look here, if I must deal with you
let me tell you that I have good reason to believe that under the
pretence of acting as a planter here, you are carrying on a regular
trade in slaves with the vile chiefs of the West Coast of Africa."

"I don't care what you believe, mister," said the American defiantly.
"I am working this plantation and producing sugar, coffee and cotton--
honest goods, mister, and straightforward merchandise.  Who are you, I
should like to know, as comes bullying and insulting me about the tools
I use for my projuce!"

"You soon shall know, sir," said the lieutenant, and he just glanced at
the pale, trembling man, who had sunk into a cane chair, in which he lay
back to begin wiping his streaming brow--"I am an officer of his
Britannic Majesty's sloop of war _Seafowl_, sent to clear the seas of
the miscreants who, worse than murderers, are trading in the wretched
prisoners of war who are sold to them by the African chiefs."

"Don't get up too much of it, Mr Officer," said the American,
deliberately taking out a very large black cigar from his breast pocket
and thrusting it between his lips, before dropping into another cane
chair and clapping his hands; "this here ain't a theayter, and you ain't
acting.  That there's very pretty about his Britannic Majesty's sloop of
war.  Look here, sirr; bother his Britannic Majesty!"

At these last words a thrill of rage seemed to run through the line of
sailors, and they stood waiting for an order which did not come, for the
lieutenant only smiled at the American's insolent bravado and waited
before interfering with him to hear what more he had to say.

"It sounds very lively and high faluting about your sweeping the high
seas of miscreants, as you call 'em, and all that other stuff as you
keep on hunting up with African chiefs and such like; but what's that
got to do with an invalid English gentleman as invests his money in
sugar, coffee and cotton, and what has it to do with his trusted
Aymurrican experienced planter as looks after his black farm hands, eh?"

"Only this, sir," said the lieutenant, "that if he or they are proved to
be mixed up with this horrible nefarious trade they will be answerable
to one of the British courts of law, their mart will be destroyed, and
their vessels engaged in the trade will become prizes to his Majesty's
cruiser."

"Say, mister," said the American coolly--and then to a shivering black
who had come out of the house bearing a coarse yellow wax candle which
he tried to shelter between his hands, evidently in dread lest it should
become extinct,--"Take care, you black cuss, or you'll have it out!"

Murray heard the poor fellow utter a sigh of relief, but he did not even
wince, only stood motionless as his tyrant took the wax taper, held it
to his cigar till it burned well, and then extinguished it by placing
the little wick against the black man's bare arm, before pitching the
wax to the man, who caught it and hurried away.

"Say, mister," said the overseer again, "don't you think you fire off a
little too much of your Britannic Majesty and your King George
fireworks?"

"Go on, sir," said the lieutenant, biting his lip.  "Yes, that's what
I'm going to do," continued the man coolly.  "What's all this here got
to do with a free-born Aymurrican citizen?"

"Only this, sir, that your so-called American citizen will have no
protection from a great country for such a nefarious transaction."

"There you go again, mister!  That's I don't know how many times you've
let off that there prize word of yours, neefarious.  There, don't bluff,
sir; to use your old country word, them as plays at bowls must expeck
rubbers.  No, no, no, don't you begin ordering your fellows to meddle
with me, because I'm rather nasty when I'm interfered with, 'sides which
I've got some one inside the house to take care of me if it was wanted,
as you can see for yourself--twenty of 'em, boys who can use a rifle;
and that's what your chaps can't do."

In spite of himself the lieutenant started and raised his eyes, to
become aware of the fact that some dozen or fourteen rifle barrels were
protruding from the windows of the long low house, while others were
being thrust from another building away to the right--a shed-like place
that had been unnoticed before, through its covering of densely growing
creepers.

"Don't do that, youngsters," said the American, with a sneering laugh;
"they wouldn't hurt anybody if you pulled 'em out, and some of my
fellows indoors might take it as what you call a signal to draw their
knives."

"Trapped!" muttered the lieutenant to himself; but he did not wince,
only stood thinking out to himself what would be his best course to
pursue, and his musings were interrupted by the American, who lay back
sending forth great puffs of smoke without a quiver visible in his face.

"Looks nasty, don't it, Mr Officer?" said the man, in his long, slow
drawl.  "But don't you be skeart; they won't fire without I give the
order or they see me hurt.  Then I won't answer for them.  'Tain't
because they're so fond of me, youngsters," he continued, with an ugly
cat-like grin, "because they ain't; but they're afraid, and that's a
good deal better for me.  And look here, they're lying back there in the
dark because I told 'em to, and you can't see them; but they're not
niggers--oh no!  You can't trust niggers to fight.  Your Jack Tars there
would send a hundred of 'em running.  Niggers are good field hands, and
my chaps are bad at that, but they can fight, and so I tell you.  Now,
skipper," he continued, turning quietly to the lieutenant, who was
pressing his lower lip hard between his teeth, "I think we understand
one another now, and that you see I didn't put up any bunkum when I
telled you that I was boss of this show.  So you let me alone, and I'll
let you."

"Sir," said the lieutenant firmly, "I give you fair warning that if harm
happens to a man of my party my captain will land a force that will burn
this place to the ground."

"Very kind of him, too," said the man grimly, "but he won't, because he
mustn't.  You don't seem to savvy, skipper, that you ain't at home here.
Do you know, sir, where you are?"

"Yes, sir; on the shores of one of his Majesty's West Indian Islands."

"I thought so, squire; well, then, you're jest about wrong, and you've
no more business here than if this here was Spain.  I dessay you think
you can hyste the British flag here, but I tell you that you can't, for
this here island is called South Baltimore, and whenever a flag is
hysted here it's the stars and stripes and the Aymurrican eagle, what
some fellows call the goose and gridiron; and that's so."

"South Baltimore!" cried the lieutenant, who looked puzzled by the
announcement.  "And pray, sir, who gave the island that name?"

"I did," said the Yankee drily.  "Now then, will that do for you?"

"No, it will not do," cried the lieutenant hotly.  "My officer will need
some far better explanation--one based upon greater authority than
this--before he gives up the duty he has to fulfil."

"Vurry well, sir, let him go and find a better explanation, then.  It
don't trouble me.  Only you had better march your men back aboard your
schooner, or brig, or whatever you call it, before they get falling out
with my fellows.  You see yon men's sailors like yours are, and my
fellows may get upset by your chaps, for I always find that British
sailors get a bit sarcy and quarrelsome when they come ashore, and no
matter how quiet and patient the Aymurricans, they lay themselves out
for a fight."

"As in the present case, sir," said the lieutenant sarcastically.

"Jes' so, squire.  So now you take my advice and march your chaps back
again.  You see how the land lies, and as I've said afore, I don't want
to ride rusty over your skipper.  You've on'y got to send word ashore as
you wants fresh provisions and water, and say as you're ready to make a
fair swap with a few things as we want, and there you are."

The lieutenant stood frowning in silence, turning his eyes from the
American to the feeble-looking planter, and from him to the two middies
and his men, in each case finding that he was being watched eagerly,
every eye seeming to ask the same question--what are you going to do?--
while on his part he felt the impossibility of responding.

For the responsibility he felt was almost maddening.  It was plain
enough that his men called upon him to resent the American planter's
insolence, and that if he did not do so at once, not only would the two
lads and his men look upon his behaviour as cowardly and degrading to
the British _prestige_, but the Yankee and his faintly seen scum of
followers would treat the whole party with contempt.

It was a painful position, for the Yankee had plainly shown him the
risks he ran.  He would not have hesitated for a moment, in spite of the
display of armed men ready to attack, for if he had felt free to act he
would have chanced everything, depending as he felt he could upon his
little party of thoroughly well-drilled able-bodied seamen, and boldly
attacked at once; but he had to think of his captain and the great risk
he ran of bringing him into difficulties and forcing him to answer for
some international difficulty over the rights of the United States,
which, if the American overseer was right, were sure to be jealously
maintained.

It was hard to do, and Murray noticed a peculiar twitching about his
officer's lips as he turned at last to the smiling, sneering man, his
first words showing his hearers how bitterly he felt his position and
the necessity for obeying the teachings of the proverb that discretion
is the better part of valour.

"Well, sir," he said, in a cold, hard fashion, "I have heard all that
you have to say.  As to the correctness of your statement that we are
not upon British soil, I must leave that to my superior's judgment and
decision, for certainly I cannot feel that it is my duty to proceed
farther without drawing off my men and going back to lay the matter
before Captain Kingsberry."

"That's right, Mr Lieutenant," said the overseer.  "Nothing like it.
You always do that; when you find yourself in a tight corner, you get
out of it as soon as you can."

"Ha, ha, ha!" rang out in a harsh, discordant tone from somewhere inside
the house, and this acted as the signal for a burst of jeering laughter
which made the lieutenant wince and his face turn pale even to his lips,
which he bit until they were white, while a low, dull murmur that
sounded like the threatening premonitory growl of the British bulldog
being pricked by an insult, ran through the group of sailors.

"Silence, there!" cried the lieutenant, in a choking voice; and the
murmur died away.

"That's right, Mr Officer," said the American.  "Yew always drop on to
your fellows sharply when they show signs of mutiny.  I allus do.  And
you within there, none of that row.  Quiet, do you hear?"

There was another low mocking laugh, but the American paid no heed, only
went on talking at Mr Anderson.

"That was very good of you, squire, but while you're about it if I were
you I'd just say a word or two to them two bantam-cock-like boys of
officers of yours, who keep on sneering like at my men and setting their
backs up.  You don't mean it, of course, being ready to do what's right.
So you give 'em a good talking to when you get 'em back safe aboard.
You'd best do it, for if them puppies keep on that how they may make my
chaps wild.  Now just look at that!"

For the two midshipmen had been growing warmer for some minutes past as
they listened to the American's insulting language, and at last, hot
with annoyance, Murray, unable to contain himself and forgetting
discipline, clapped his hand upon his side-arms and took a step forward,
his eyes flashing with boyish anger, and exclaimed--

"Do you mean that insulting language for me, sir?"

Perhaps there was something in the lad's manner, as in that of Roberts',
who immediately followed his example, or maybe the overseer's men were
only waiting for an opportunity to be aggressive.  At any rate, they
seized upon the opportunity to burst out into a derisive laugh.

"Quiet!  Steady, my lads!" cried the lieutenant fiercely.

"But, sir--" began Murray hotly.

"Silence, sir!" roared his officer; and then what happened was too much
for him, for a dark shadow came from somewhere amongst the trees, a
shadow-like something which described a curve and struck the speaker
full in the chest, and fell to the ground in the shape of a great
unhusked cocoanut.

In an instant the lieutenant's hand flew to his sword, but he checked
himself.  His act, though, had its effect, for there was a yell of
laughter, and the one great nut was followed by a shower, two of which
half drove the two young officers mad as they struck heavily, the rest
having effect amongst the sailors, who with one impulse fell into line
and presented arms.

There was another yell of laughter, and the overseer sprang up from his
cane chair.

"That'll do!" he shouted; but he made no effort further to check his
men, but dashed in through one of the open windows of the house, just as
from another came the sharp flash and puff of smoke from a rifle,
followed by a ragged volley from the creeper-covered building that lay
farther back.

This was answered by a fierce British cheer and a rush on the part of
the sailors, who either carried their officers with them or were led--no
one afterwards seemed to know--but in almost less time than it takes to
describe, the little party of sailors swept through the plantation house
from front to back, driving its defenders before them, and without
firing a shot till a few desultory rifle-shots began to spatter from the
thick patch of tropic forest which sheltered the back of the attractive
dwelling.  Then, and then only, three or four volleys silenced the
enemy's fire, and it was evident that the overseer and his men had now
fled, taking with them the planter, if he had not retreated by his own
efforts, for he was nowhere visible.  Then all was silence as soon as
the rustling and crackling of cane and the heavy shaddock-like foliage
had ceased.



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

MURRAY'S MISSION.

"Hah!  I did not mean this," cried the lieutenant; and his eyes lit upon
Murray, who winced and felt guilty as he stood dirk in hand panting and
waiting for his superior officer's reproof, which he felt must come.
"Ah, Mr Murray," he continued, as he took off his hat and wiped his
forehead, "you there?  Any one hurt?"

"I saw Tom May fall, sir," replied the lad, as the incident was brought
to his mind by his officer's question.

"Picked him up again, sir," came in a deep growl, "but two of our
messmates has got it, I find."

"That's bad," said the lieutenant.  "Who are they?"

There was no response, and the lieutenant turned sharply upon the
midshipman.

"Mr Murray," he said, "take two men, May and another, and try if you
can find your way down to the boat.  Do you think you can?"

"Yes, sir."

"Off with you, then, at the double.  When you reach the boat, out oars,
and with the two boat-keepers try and reach the sloop.  Don't run more
risks than you can help.  If you are cut off by enemies on the banks,
retreat back to me here and help me hold this place until the captain
sends a force to my relief.  You will report to Captain Kingsberry that
I did everything possible to avoid an encounter.  But there--you know.
I trust to your discretion, my lad, in spite of your late mistake.
There, take May and Titely.  Now off."

Just at that moment Roberts, who had been standing close at hand,
stepped forward, to cry eagerly--

"Did you say I was to go with Murray, sir?"

"What, you?  Go with Murray?" cried the lieutenant.  "No, sir.  What!
Do you want to leave me in the lurch?"  Then, knowing from old
experience the jealous motive which animated the lad who was left out of
the commission, the officer clapped the midshipman on one shoulder
warmly.  "No, no, Roberts; I can't spare you.  I want your help, my lad;
and besides, you will be safer with me than with Murray."

Roberts winced and turned a reproachful look upon his officer.

"I wasn't trying to make myself safe, sir," he said bitterly.  "I wanted
to be in the thick of it all, sir, and not left out as usual."

"Of course you did, my boy; and that's where you are going to be, I
expect."

By this time Murray and his two men were passing out of sight, followed
by the midshipman's longing eyes; and directly after the lad had
forgotten his disappointment in the orders he was busily trying to obey.
For in the full belief that the overseer would return with his
followers, the lieutenant set to work trying to put the house in a state
of defence.

This was no easy task, for with four times the number of men that were
at his service the officer would have found it difficult to bar and
barricade the lower windows of the plantation house and secure the doors
back and front.

Fortunately it was soon found that the occupant or builder of the house
must have had some notion of the possibility of an attack being made
upon the place, for the doors were strong, the lower windows were each
furnished with stout shutters and bars, and these having been secured
and the bottom of the staircase carefully barricaded, a better chance
was offered for holding the house, that is, of defending the first floor
from any attack that might be made from within or without.

"There, Mr Roberts," cried the lieutenant, "I think that is all we can
do for the present, and if our friend the overseer ventures to bring his
men on we shall be able to give a good account of a few of them.  Can
you suggest anything more to strengthen the bottom of that staircase?"

"I think we might drag some of those chests out of the rooms, sir, on to
the landing, ready to pile in front of the stairs."

"Good, my lad; it shall be done," cried the lieutenant; "but in addition
let the lads fill up every bucket, can and jug we can find."

"I did see to that, sir, and I am sure that we have more than the men
can drink."

"I was not thinking of drinking, my lad," said the lieutenant, "but of
quenching the fire that may be started by our enemies."

"You don't think that they will try to fire the place, sir?" said the
lad.

"Indeed, but I do, my lad.  But at any rate we must be prepared for such
an attack."

Roberts puckered up his forehead and looked aghast at his officer, and
then bidding four of the men follow him, he did his best to collect
together on the landing of the well-appointed building a pretty fair
supply of the element necessary for extinguishing the first
out-breakings of fire which might be started by the expected foe.

"Well done, Mr Roberts," said the lieutenant; "but we've rather upset
this Mr--Mr--What's his name?"

"Allen, sir."

"Yes--Allen.  Upset Mr Allen's house.  It's a bit of a surprise to find
an English gentleman.--Yes, gentleman, Mr Roberts: he is evidently
quite a gentleman, although he is completely under that Yankee
scoundrel's thumb.  But what was I saying?  Oh, it's rather a surprise
to find an English gentleman living like this in an out-of-the-way West
Indian island?"

"That's what I thought, sir," replied Roberts.

"Ah, well, you need not feel so again, for numbers of men of our best
families have settled out like this in the plantations, built themselves
good houses, and surrounded themselves with every comfort, and grown
rich producing sugar, coffee, cotton and rum by means of a large staff
of slaves.  We have fallen upon one of these estates, but in this case
the Yankee overseer seems to be the master, and the real master the
slave."

"It seems strange, sir, doesn't it?" said Roberts, who was standing by
one of the first floor windows keeping a sharp look out for danger.

"To a certain extent, my lad," said the officer, "but I have made a
shrewd guess at what has been going on, and it strikes me that our
friend Mr Allen has been dabbling largely in the trade that we are here
to suppress."

"You think that, sir?"

"Yes, my lad--and repented of it when too late, and found himself, after
growing disgusted with it, unable to draw back on account of this man,
who has committed him deeply."

"Yes, I see, sir," cried Roberts eagerly.  "That would account for the
American's overbearing insolence to this Mr Allen and to you, sir.  But
surely he cannot be right about the island here being under the American
Government?"

"Certainly not, I think, Mr Roberts," said the lieutenant decisively;
"but I do think this, that he might have kept up the assertion that he
was correct and made complaints to the Americans and called our visit
here a trespass.  This would have caused an enormous amount of trouble
to the captain, and so much official correspondence that we should have
bitterly repented coming here in search of a newly-run cargo of slaves."

"Do you think we shall find one here, sir?" asked Roberts.

"I feel pretty certain, my lad, as certain as that we should not have
dared to prosecute our search in face of the scoundrel's defiance and
bravado.  But now the tide has completely set in our favour."

"In our favour, sir?" said Roberts wonderingly.

"Why, of course, my lad.  If our visit here had been aggression, all the
rascal had to do was to call upon us, after his declaration, to
withdraw; and that was what he meant to do, although the fellow's
natural insolence induced him to do so in that bullying way."

"And instead of keeping to what he had a right to do, sir," cried the
middy eagerly, "he let his blackguardly followers attack us as they
did."

"That's right, Mr Roberts," said the lieutenant; "though I must give
him the credit of saying that I am sure he never intended that attack.
He has evidently such a loose rough lot of followers that they became
out of control, and the result is that they have completely given their
leader away and played into my hands."

"Of course, sir.  Nothing could excuse that attack."

"Nothing, my lad.  I am master here now, and I feel sure that we shall
find more than I dared to expect.  I believe now that this is a regular
Western depot for slaves, and a find that will make up to Captain
Kingsberry for all previous disappointments."

"Glorious, sir!" cried Roberts.  "But of course this Huggins can't be
the man we saw in the lugger off the African river."

"Of course not, my lad; but he quite deceived me for the time.  He is
almost exactly the same in appearance, in voice, manner and speech, and
the only way in which I can account for it is that both men are engaged
in the same hideously brutal trade, and that has in time made them
similar in habit."

"There seems something in that, sir," said Roberts thoughtfully.

"Seems, Roberts?  Is," said the lieutenant, smiling; "and you must add
to it another point of resemblance: they are both Americans of the same
degenerate type--little, thin, dark-haired, and speaking in the same
tone of voice and in the same sneering contemptuous fashion.  But of
course if we had them both together we should see a strong difference.
What are you looking at?  See anything?"

"I fancied I could make out something moving across that opening yonder,
sir," said the lad, leaning a little out of the window.

"I trust not," said the lieutenant, shading his eyes with his hand.  "I
was in hopes that we had given the fellows such a lesson that they would
keep away for the present, at all events, for I want no fighting, no
wounding the enemy, no injuries more than we have received upon our
side.  I want just to hold our own, Roberts, till our friend Mr Murray
or Mr Munday brings us help."

"Yes, sir, but there is some movement going on there just among the
tall-growing coarse reeds."

"Sugar-cane stems, Mr Roberts," said the lieutenant firmly.  "Yes, you
are right; there is movement there, and the scoundrels have not taken
their lesson to heart.  Well, I do not see what more we can do to
prepare for them.  They cannot get up to us without ladders or poles,
and from our sheltered position we ought to set firing at defiance,
while they allow us plenty of opportunities for giving them another
lesson.--What is it, my lad?"

The speaker turned to the big sailor who had just trotted up to the
door.

"Beg pardon, sir, but Lang reports enemy creeping through the sugar-cane
a bit for'ard here to the left, and Duncombe says he can see 'bout a
dozen on 'em out at the back looking as if they meant a rush."

"Hah!  That is fresh," said the lieutenant.  "Mr Roberts here made out
those amongst the canes.  I'll come and look.  You, Mr Roberts have the
goodness to keep your eye on them and hold your fire until they show a
determination to come on.  Then you must fire; but fire low.  We must
cripple and not kill."

"Yes, sir," said Roberts, and he sheltered himself behind one of the
curtains of the well-furnished English-looking bedroom where he and the
officer had been watching.  And then, as the latter walked quickly out,
followed by the sailor who had made his report, a terrible sense of
loneliness fell upon the youth, accompanied by a shortness of breath, as
his heart began to beat with a heavy dull throb that sounded loud and
strange.

He was gazing out at a scene of tropical beauty, the wild and the
cultivated blending so that at another time he could have stood in the
perfect silence dwelling upon the loveliness of the place.  But now
there was a feeling of awe that seemed to over-master everything, while
the very fact that where he had plainly made out the movement of figures
as they evidently sought concealment, all was now motionless, and not a
leaf waved or was pressed aside, added to the weirdness of his position,
and made him draw farther back in the full expectation that the next
moment the vivid green of the surroundings would be cut by a flash of
light and then turn dim as it was deadened by the rising smoke of a
shot.

"I wish I wasn't such a coward," he muttered.  "I do try hard to stand
it all, and get on beautifully when the firing and spear-throwing are
going on, but now, when the enemy may be going to throw a spear or fire
a shot at one, it does seem so hard to bear.  No worse for me than for
other fellows," he muttered bitterly, "but I am myself and they are
other fellows.  Ugh!  I suppose it's a very beautiful place, but it
seems very horrible, and it makes a fellow wish that if he is to be
wounded it would come off at once so that one could get it over.
There's some one creeping along there now," he muttered.  "I'll shout a
warning to Mr Anderson.  No, whoever it is doesn't seem to be coming
on, and it looks so stupid to shout for help when there's no need."

For all was perfectly motionless amongst the vivid green leaves, save
where from time to time there was a flash of light--red light--topaz
light--and that changing to a vivid green that looked as if it were
blazing in the burning sun, and he grasped the fact that he was gazing
at some lovely humming bird that darted here and there and then poised
itself, apparently motionless, till he made out that there was a faint
haze visible which must be caused by the rapid vibration of the tiny
creature's wings.

"Yes," he said to himself, "it's as beautiful as can be--that is, it
would be if everything wasn't so silent and still and one didn't know
that people were ready at any moment to take aim at one with rifle or
musket.  He said that they used rifles--the wretch!  It's a nasty
sensation, when you don't want to shoot any one, to feel that they want
to shoot you."

"Oh, what a while Mr Anderson is!" muttered the lad again.  "He might
make haste back to a fellow.  He can't be obliged to stop away watching,
and he ought to visit his posts regularly so as to give each of us a bit
of company."

Roberts gazed from his sheltering curtain as far as his eyes could sweep
to left and round to right, going over and over again the arc of the
circle formed by his vision where he had plainly seen movement going on
and people creeping amidst the rich growth of the huge saccharine grass;
but all was motionless and still, and the silence seemed to grow more
and more awful as he watched.

"Oh," he groaned to himself, "why didn't I make a dash for it and follow
old Murray without saying a word?  It wouldn't have been half so bad as
this, and even if it had been a more risky task--no, it couldn't have
been more risky than this--I could have borne it better.  Wonder where
he is, and whether he would have felt as bad as I do now if he had had
my job.  Ugh!  It's horribly still, and if old Anderson doesn't come
soon I shall make some excuse and go to him."

"Yes," he continued, "Franky would have felt just as bad as I do.  He
must have done.  No one could help it.  No man could stand this terrible
silence and the sensation that a shot was coming at him.  No man could
bear it--no man.  Oh, I say, doesn't it seem bumptious for one to think
of himself as a man?  Well, why shouldn't I be?  It's man's work, at all
events.  Oh, I can't stand it.  I must make some excuse.  I'll ask Mr
Anderson to come and see if he doesn't think there is some one crawling
along there to the right.  No, I won't--I can't--I must master it.  It's
sheer cowardice!  And if it is," he added, after a few moments' pause,
"it's Nature's fault for making a fellow like this.  I don't want to be
a coward; I want to be as brave as brave--well, as brave as Murray is.
I wouldn't care if I was just as full of pluck as he is.  Anyhow I won't
be a sham and go and pretend that some one is coming.  I could never
look him in the eyes again for fancying that he was reading me through
and through.  And he would--I'm sure he would."

"Oh!" ejaculated the lad excitedly, for just then one of the
floor-boards gave out a sharp crack.

"Hallo!" said the familiar voice of the lieutenant.  "Did I startle you,
Roberts?"

"Something of the kind, sir," said the lad, breathing hard.  "I didn't
hear you come."

"No, I suppose not.  Seen anything?"

"No, sir.  All is as still as if there wasn't a soul for miles, and I
felt at times as if I must come and ask you if you could hear anything."

"Ah, this silence is very trying, Roberts, my lad," said the lieutenant.
"The men are all suffering from it and feeling as if they would give
anything to be watching together."

"They feel like that, sir?" cried the lad eagerly.

"Yes, of course they do, sir.  So do I: the utter stillness of the
place, and the expectation of a shot coming at any moment, is most
trying to a man.  Here, how long do you think Mr Murray has been gone?"

"Can't say, sir.  It feels to me like hours; but it can't be."

"I don't know, my lad.  It certainly does, as you say, feel like hours.
But he ought to be back by now, with at least a dozen men.  Let's see,
twelve men with Mr Munday and Mr Murray and his two will make sixteen.
Sixteen picked men; and they will bring plenty of ammunition.  Well, I
should like the reinforcement before friend Huggins makes his attack.  I
don't care then how many he brings with him.  I wonder, though, whether
he will use any of his slaves to help him."

"He said they won't fight, sir," said Roberts.

"But he may force them to fight, my lad.  Ah!  Look out!  Here they come
with a rush.  There's no mistake about this."

And the officer ran to the door to shout a warning to the watchers at
the other windows, for not only away in front were the giant green
grass-like leaves of the Indian corn in full motion, but the rustle and
crush of feet reached the listeners' ears, while _click, click_, from
within, the cocking of the men's muskets was heard.



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

"SEAFOWLS AHOY!"

Murray lost no time in making for the spot where the two men were in
charge of the boat; but simple as the task appeared on the surface, it
proved to be far otherwise.

He had told himself that he had only to follow in reverse the
faintly-marked track taken by the black who had been their guide; and
that he set himself to do, until he felt that he must be close to the
stream that they had ascended; but if close by, it was by no means
visible, and after making a cast or two in different directions without
result, he pulled up short, the men following his example and looking at
him wonderingly.

"It was just here that we left the boat-keepers, wasn't it, Tom?" he
said.

"Don't seem like it, sir," replied the man, "'cause if it was just here,
where is it?"

"But it must have been here," cried Murray, growing irritable and
confused.

"That's what I thought, sir," said the man, "but it don't seem to be
nowhere near.  What do you say, messmate?"

"I warn't a-looking out, lad," replied Titely.  "You see, I didn't take
no bearings 'cause I says to mysen, `Mr Murray 'll see to that,' and
what I does was to foller with my eyes screwed back'ards over my
shoulders like a she hare at the dogs."

"Same here, messmate," says Tom May.  "`Mr Murray took the bearings to
begin with,' I says to myself, `and I'll keep a sharp lookout for the
enemy, who maybe 'll try to run us down.'"

"Then you neither of you feel that you can remember the black fellow's
trail?" said Murray, speaking excitedly, and looking hard at the big
sailor the while.

"Well, I can't answer for Titely, sir," said the man.--"Why don't you
speak up like a man, messmate, and say what you know?"

"'Cause I can't, lad," replied the man addressed.  "It warn't my watch,
and I telled you I was too busy looking out for squalls.  I dunno which
way we ought to go, messmate.  Don't you, Mr Murray, sir?"

"No, my lad; I've lost our bearings for a bit, but you two try off to
right and left while I go straight on, and the first that comes upon the
river holloa gently.  Not loud, because it may bring the enemy down upon
us.  Now then, off with you, and when you shout, stand fast so that we
may come and join you."

"Stand fast it is, sir," said Tom May, and without further hesitation
the three separated and began to thread the dense cane brake, each fully
expecting to come upon the windings of the overshadowed river at once.
But somehow every step seemed to lead the seekers into greater
difficulties.  It was plain enough that the river must be near, for
their steps were in and out among the dense patches of cane and over
soft spongy soil into which their feet sank slightly, the earth being
springy and elastic; but though Murray expected to see the dense foliage
open out and the brake look lighter from the presence of the river, he
was disappointed again and again, and to all intents and purposes the
stream had ceased to exist.

For some minutes, as Murray strode on, the steps of his companions were
audible in two directions, and making up his mind to proceed in that
being taken by May, he struck off so as to cross the man's track.

This seemed practicable enough for a while, and he went on till the
brake began to grow more dense and he had to force his way through the
thicket.  Then to his disgust he found himself entangled in a little
wilderness of thorny palms, out of which he had a hard struggle to free
himself, and he stood at last, panting and exhausted, rubbing the
bleeding spots beneath the rents in his garments which asserted
themselves plainly.

Murray rubbed himself and listened, and then listened and rubbed, but he
could not hear a sound.

"Let me see," he thought.  "Oh, how vexatious, just when we ought to be
close to the boat and sending her down stream!  Must be this way where I
heard Tom May--if it was Tom May.  Well, it doesn't matter if it was
Titely.  Let's get to either of them, and then we'll hail the other."

The lad hesitated for a few minutes longer, listening hard the while,
and then more in passion than in despair he started off in a bee line
through the thick canes, hopefully now, for the earth felt softer than
before.

"Must be right here; and as soon as I reach the river I have only to see
which way the stream runs and follow it down to where the boat lies.
Oh, look sharp, old fellow," he muttered, "for this is horrible."

He increased his pace, with the earth certainly growing softer, and then
he pulled up short, turned and darted back, for as he stepped forward
the soft spongy earth seemed suddenly to have grown horny and hard and
to heave up beneath his feet, convincing him that he had stepped upon
one of the horrible alligators of the Western swamps.  There was a
violent splashing, the reptile struck to right and left, mowing down the
canes, and the midshipman, suffering from a sensation of horror and
creepiness, stopped at last, panting.

"Why, that must be the direction of the little river," he thought; "and
instead of following the horrible brute here have I run away; and now
how am I to find the way that it pointed out?  That's soon done," he
said, as he thought of the broken and crushed-down canes which must mark
the alligator's track; and he began at once to search for what proved to
be absent.  There were bruised and trampled growths which he sprang at
directly, but his reason soon pointed to the fact that they had not been
made by the huge lizard he had started from its lurking place where it
had crawled ashore to watch for the approach of prey, but by himself in
his flight, and though he tried over the swampy ground again and again,
it was only to grow more confused, and at last he stopped short, baffled
and enraged against himself.

"Oh!" he ejaculated, as he raised one foot to stamp it down heavily upon
the earth, with the result that he drove it through a soft crust of
tangled growth and sent up a gush of muddy, evil-smelling water, and
then had to drag his shoe out with a loud sucking sound, while the foot
he had not stamped was beginning to sink.  "It's enough to drive any one
mad," he muttered.  "Just as I am entrusted with something important I
go and muddle it all, and the more I try the worse the hobble grows."

He took a few steps to his right, to where the earth beneath him felt
firmer, and listened, but the floundering and scuffling of the alligator
had ceased, and he looked in vain for the traces of its passage.

"Think of it," he said, half aloud; "I trod on the brute, and it dashed
off, frightened to death, to make for the river; and then what did I
do?--Turned round and ran away as if the brute was coming after me with
its jaws opened wide ready to take me down at a mouthful!  Alligators
are not crocodiles.  Here, I'm a brave fellow, upon my word!  I'm
getting proud of myself, and no mistake!"

He stood and listened as he looked around and tried to pierce the dense
growth, but in vain, for all was thick vegetation, and eye and ear were
exercised in vain.

There was a soft, dull, half croaking sound here and there at a distance
which suggested the existence of frogs, and from the trees whose
clustering leaves overhead turned the brake into a soft twilight, he now
and then heard the twittering of some bird.  But he could see nothing,
and for a few minutes he began to give way to a feeling of despair.

"I daren't shout," he thought, "for it would be like calling the
attention of the enemy.  The Yankee and his people are sure to be on the
lookout to pounce upon one, and though if they took me prisoner--they
wouldn't dare to do anything else--my being taken would not so much
matter if May or Titely got down to the boat and reached the _Seafowl_.
How do I know that they would get there?  Oh, was ever poor wretch in
such a hole before!"

"Here, I must do something," he cried, at last, rousing himself to take
some action.  "The river must wind about, and if I keep on I shall be
sure to come across it at last."

He started off in what he hoped was the right direction, and forced his
way through the tangled growth, to find that after a short time the
earth began to grow firmer beneath his feet; and then he stopped short.

"Must be wrong," he thought, "for the river banks were swampy."

Striking out in a fresh direction, he was not long before he found that
the ground began to yield again, and his spirits rose as he found that
he was plunging into a swampy part once more, while his heart literally
leaped as all at once right in front there was a rush as of one of the
great alligators being startled from its lair.

The lad stopped short, but only for a few moments, before mastering the
sensation of dread, and plunging on as nearly as he could make out in
the direction the great lizard had taken.

"It's afraid of me," he muttered, as he drew his dirk, "and if it turns
at bay on finding itself followed, I ought to be able to do something
with this, though it is such a stupid ornament of a thing.  I'm not
afraid, and I won't be afraid, but I wish my heart didn't beat so fast,
and that choking sensation wouldn't keep on rising in my throat."

But though the lad behaved as bravely as was possible to any man, by
pressing on and determinedly following in the track of the alligator,
his heart kept on with its heavy pulsation and the perspiration streamed
down his face in the stiflingly hot swamp.

He had the satisfaction, though, of making out that the reptile was
scuffling on before him, and now he grew more accustomed to the fact he
was able to make out the creature's trail and just dimly see the
movement ahead of the thick cane growth as it rapidly writhed itself
along.

"It's getting softer," thought Murray, "so I must be getting towards the
river.  Won't turn upon me and attack, will it, when it gets in its own
element?"

That was a startling thought, but it was only another difficulty in the
way of one who had mastered his natural dread and determined in his
peril to make a brave fight.

"It's no more an alligator's element than the land is," thought the lad.
"The brute's amphibious, and I don't believe it will turn upon me
unless I stick my dirk into it; and I don't care, I'll risk it, if I die
for it.  I don't believe they're so tough as people say."

Then a more staggering thought assailed him, and this time, instead of
forcing his way through the tangle and dragging his feet out of the
swampy soil, he stopped short.  For the hope that had sustained him
suddenly sank away.  He had been feeling sure that the guide he feared
to a great extent was after all leading him towards the little river,
and that once he reached the bank he would know by the current, however
sluggish, the way down to the boat; but now the terrible thought
attacked him that the reptile might after all have its dwelling-place in
some swampy lagoon such as he had read was common in the islands and the
Southern States.

"It's of no _use_," he said to himself, as he stopped short, panting and
exhausted; "this can't be the right way.  There's no clear river down
which a fellow could wade or swim; this is one of those dreadful
swamps--dismal swamps, don't they call them?--and the farther I go the
worse off I shall be.  Oh, where's my pluck?  Where it ought to be," he
said, answering himself; and he struggled on again, for he had awakened
to the fact that the rustling and splash made by the reptile was dying
out.

Rustling and splash, for now he awoke plainly enough to the fact that he
was sinking ankle deep at every step, and he roused himself fully once
more.

"Giving up," he panted, "just when I had won the day!  Hurrah!  There's
the river!"  And making a tremendous effort he struggled on, for there
was the alligator floundering through mud and water now where the growth
was getting more open, and at the end of some dozen yards there was
light--golden-looking light--coming down from above.  Then there was a
loud flopping, followed by a heavy splash, and the lad snatched at and
seized the boughs that closed him in, and just saved himself from
following the reptile he pursued by clinging with hands and legs to a
stout cypress, to which he held on as he indistinctly made out the
sobbing sound of the wave that the reptile had raised as it plunged into
what seemed to be the edge of a swampy lake.

"He won't come back, will he?" thought Murray, and he obeyed the natural
instinct which prompted him to drag himself up amongst the evergreen
boughs of the tree, which slowly rocked to and fro with his weight.

But the water beneath him gradually settled down, the cypress in which
he clung ceased to bend, as he got his feet settled better to support
his weight, where he could look along a dark green verdant tunnel to a
spot of golden light where the subdued sunshine fell upon a glistening
level of amber-hued water so beautiful that for a time the lad could not
withdraw his eyes.

"It's no river," he said, "but the edge of a lagoon, and it would be
madness to go any farther.  Let's have a rest.  Might have been worse
off after all, and it's no use to get despairing and tiring oneself out.
I should have liked this adventure if my two lads had been with me,
and--and--Yes, that's it," he groaned--"if I hadn't been sent on such a
tremendous task!  There, it's of no use to despair.  I've done my duty,
and no matter what happens now I can say that.  Who knows what may come
next?  I mustn't think I can hang here till it grows dark.  I could
climb up higher, but this is a swamp, and though I might save myself
from alligators and snakes--Ugh!" he shuddered.  "This is the sort of
place where they live!--I couldn't escape from fever.  There, I must
hail now till some one hears me and answers, even if it's the enemy.
But it may be one of my fellows, or if not it's sure to be one of the
slaves, for there must be plenty about here."

But Frank Murray did not shout for help.  Perhaps it was due to
exhaustion, that the place seemed to have a strange restful fascination,
as he hung there in the thick growth of the cypress, gazing along the
soft green tunnel at the little glistening lake, which he now saw was
full of living things, for every now and then the surface was stirred by
creatures which he made out to be tiny terrapins--water tortoise-like
creatures which just thrust out their heads and drew them beneath again.
Then water beetles skimmed about, forming glistening geometric figures
for a time before they disappeared.

Then the lad shuddered, for from the side of the bright verdure-framed
lagoon a snake writhed itself in horizontal waves across the surface and
began to climb up the foliage, to glisten as it reached where the light
fell strongest and the burnished scales flashed with bronze, silver grey
and gold.

"I wonder whether it's a poisonous snake," thought Murray; and then he
made an effort to awaken himself from the pleasant feeling of
restfulness, for he knew that he must exert himself if he intended to
find a way back to where he had been separated from his companions--
those whom he must urge on to the fulfilment of his task.

"And I have not done what I felt that I must do at all risks," he said,
as he once more made an effort to rouse himself from the drowsy inertia
which was holding him in something resembling a trance.

Drawing a deep breath, he took more tightly hold of the cypress boughs,
and was about to hail at any risk and with all his might, when he
uttered a loud sob of relief, for suddenly from somewhere far away,
came, strangely softened and subdued, though prolonged, the words--

"Ahoy-y-y!  _Seafowls_ ahoy-y-y!"



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

WITH SHOT-HOLES.

"Ahoy-y-y!  _Seafowls_ ahoy-y!" came again after a pause, and though he
felt that he ought to have hailed in reply, Frank Murray's lips remained
closed, and he still clung there listening for the hail to come again.

It was not until he heard the hail for the fourth time that the
midshipman was able to throw off the nightmare-like feeling, and,
drawing a deep breath, shout with all his might--

"_Seafowls_ ahoy!"

Then he held his breath and waited, feeling that his voice could not
have been heard, and a feeling of despair began to assail him and the
fancy grew that he was sinking back into that horrible sensation of
inertia which had mastered him for a time.

But it was fancy, for throwing off the weakness he shouted now joyously
and lustily--

"_Seafowl_ ahoy!"

There was silence for a few moments; then came the inspiring sound of
some one struggling through the tangled growth and splashing over the
mud and water--sounds which were followed by--

"Where away there?  Ahoy!"

"Here!  Is that you, Tom May?" shouted Murray, and from not far from the
foot of the cypress where the lad clung there was a wallowing sound and
a splash in the water which sent a wave-like movement across the little
lake at the end of the tunnel.

"Tom May it is, sir!  Where are you?"

"Up here in this fir-like tree, Tom.  Where's Titely?"

"What, ain't you got him along o' you, sir?"

"No!  I haven't seen him since we parted.  Haven't you any notion where
he is?"

"Not a haporth, sir.  I on'y hope he arn't gone through."

"Gone through!" cried Murray, in horror.

"Yes, sir; I hope not, but it's solid soft everywhere I've been.  I've
been most through half-a-dozen times, and twiced over I've felt as if
some of them there lizardy crorkendillo things had got hold of my toes
and tugged at 'em to get me down."

"Oh, don't talk about it, Tom," groaned the midshipman.

"All right, sir; on'y you arksed me."

"But you have no right to think such a horror as that.  He may have got
down to the boat."

"Yes, sir, he may," said the man, in a low growl, "but I've been trying
my best, and I couldn't."

"Then you haven't seen the boat-keepers, Tom?"

"Not a squint of 'em, sir, and there's going to be the wussest row that
ever happened aboard ship if we don't make haste and find them and fetch
the first luff help."

"It's horrible, I know, Tom, but I've tried all I could.  What's to be
done?"

"Dunno, sir.  But anyhow I've found you--leastwise, a'most; and I'm
coming to jyne yer.  Whereabouts are you, sir?  Hail again; it's rayther
puzzling like."

"It is, Tom--dreadful.  But here, where I told you--up in this fir
tree--cypress.  But mind how you come, for it's very soft."

"Soft ain't the word for it, sir.  I've been going to make a swim on it
over and over again.  But it's reg'lar hugga-my-buff, sir; neither one
thing nor t'other.  It's too soft to walk in, and it ain't soft enough
to swim."

"That's true, Tom," said the lad.

"Oh, you've found it so, have you, sir?  Then look here; you arn't so
heavy as I am, so s'pose you comes to me 'stead o' me coming to you.
What do you say to that?"

"I'll try, Tom," cried Murray; and he began to descend, feeling the
elastic evergreen begin to sway and vibrate as if before long it would
double down with the weight of its load; and this it finally did,
leaving the midshipman floundering on the surface of the cane and
reed-covered swamp, so that it was only by a vigorous effort that he
managed to scuffle along in the direction of the man, who kept on
shouting encouragement until he was able to reach out a hand and drag
the lad to his side.

"Hah!" panted Murray, with a sigh of relief.

"Hah it is, sir," said the man.  "But beg your pardon, sir; arn't you
a-spoiling your uniform?"

"Don't talk about it, Tom," said Murray, breathing hard.  "Let's be
thankful that we've saved our lives."

"Saved our lives!  But have we, sir?  Don't seem to me that we're out of
the muddle yet.  There, look at that!" added the man.

"Look at what?" cried Murray.

"I meant feel that, sir," said the man, correcting himself, and stamping
with one foot.  "It felt just as if one of them short four-legged
sarpints had laid hold of my leg to pull me down for supper."

"Surely not, Tom," said Murray, with a shudder, as he felt attacked by a
sense of horrible insecurity.

"All right, sir.  Say so if you like; I'm willing.  But I'd keep on
stamping as long as we're here in this lovely place.  I do hope, though,
as they arn't making a meal of poor old Titely; he do desarve better
luck after being speared as he was over yonder across the herring pond."

"Let's hail him again."

"All right, sir.  I've wanted to do so ever so much more, but I
wouldn't, for it was telling the enemy where we are, and if we do much
of that sort of thing we shall be having that pleasant Yankee coming
shooting with his men, and we don't want that."

"Of course not, Tom, but we must risk it, for the poor fellow may be
somewhere within reach waiting for help."

"Then why don't he holler, sir?"

"Perhaps he has shouted till he is worn-out, Tom."

"Then he can't be within reach, sir, or else we should ha' heered him,
for he's got a pretty good pipe of his own."

"Well, hail him, Tom."

"All right, sir, but 'tween you and me and the starn post your voice
would go farther than mine would."

"Think so, Tom?  Very well, then.  _Seafowl_ ahoy!"

It was a loud tenor shout that doubtless penetrated the cane jungle
farther than would the deep bass of the able-seaman, and after a
minute's listening, Murray hailed again; but somehow the shout did not
seem to have any result.

"Let me have a try, sir," growled the sailor, and upon the middy
nodding, the man shouted five times at intervals, listening with his
hand to his ear after every hail.

"It's of no good, Tom," said Murray bitterly.  "Come along, and let's be
doing something."

"That's what I was a-thinking, sir, for if we stop here much longer we
shall be reg'larly sucked down into the mud.  'Sides which, if my poor
mate hears us he won't come here.  He'd on'y hail."

"And if the enemy hear us they are quite at home here, and they'll come
down upon us and put a stop to our getting across to the boat.  What do
you mean by that?--What are you chuckling about?"

"You, sir," said the man.  "I was thinking what an orficer you will make
some day."

"Do you mean that for banter, my man?" said Murray angrily.

"Banter, sir?  What, chaff?  Not me, sir.  I meant it.  I felt a bit
proud of you, sir, for using your head like that."

"Well, this is no time for paying compliments, Tom.  You take the lead."

"I'll do what you orders, sir, of course, you being my orficer, but you
might tell me which way I oughter lead."

"I can't, Tom, my lad.  We want to get down to the boat, and hope to
pick up Titely on the way.  I've tried till I grew more and more puzzled
than ever; so now you try.  You must chance it, my lad."

"Mean it, sir?"

"Mean it?  Of course!" cried Murray; and the man shut his eyes close,
knit his brow, and then began to mutter in a low tone, much to the
midshipman's surprise.

"What are you doing, Tom?" he cried at last.

"What you telled me, sir--charnshing of it."

"Chancing it?"

"Yes, sir; that's right," said the man.  "Same as we used to when we was
little uns playing at _Blind Man's Buff_.  `How many horses has your
father got?'  Then the one as had the hankychy tied over his eyes used
to answer, `Black, white and grey.'  Then the one who arksed about the
horses used to say, `Turn round three times and ketch who you may.'"

And as soon as the man had repeated these words with his eyes still
closely shut he turned round three times and then opened them and stared
straight before him.

"This here's the way, sir; right ahead."

"What nonsense, Tom!" said the middy sadly.  "You're old enough to know
better."

"Maybe, sir, but you said I was to charnsh it, and that's what I'm
a-doing of; and if I don't find the way down to the boat it won't do us
no harm as I can see; so come along."

The man stepped off, keeping as nearly as he could to the line he had
marked down, and without turning his head he called back to his young
officer--

"Don't you mind me giving o' you orders, sir, but you telled me to lead
on, and I should like to say, sir, as you'd find it better if instead of
walking hard and stiff, sir, like the jollies march up and down the
deck, you'd try my way, sir, trot fashion, upon your toes, with a heavy
swing and give and take.  You'd find that you wouldn't sink in quite so
much, seeing as one foot's found its way out before t'other's got time
to sink in."

"I'll try, Tom," said the middy quietly; and after following the man for
a few dozen yards he whispered, "Yes, I think that's better, Tom; but I
have no faith in your _Blind Man's Buff_ plan."

"Give it time, sir; we arn't half tried it yet."

"Go on, then," cried Murray; and the man trotted on as fast as the
tangled growth would allow him, pausing from time to time to listen
before going on again.

"I'm afraid we must make a change, Tom," said Murray, at last, when the
man drew up suddenly.  "Are you, sir?"

"Yes; this seems hopeless."

"That's what it all seems, sir, but I don't like being in too great a
hurry to pitch a hidee overboard.  There's nothing like trying, sir, and
just as like as not we may be getting nigher and nigher to poor old
Titely."

"I'm afraid--"

Murray did not finish his sentence, but made a spring forward and
clapped his hand hard upon his leader's shoulder.

"What's wrong, sir?" cried the sailor, turning sharply upon him.

"Hark!  Listen!" cried Murray excitedly.

"Oh, Mr Murray, sir," groaned the man despairingly, "you've been and
gone and done it now!"

"Nonsense!  What do you mean?"

"Pitched me off my bearings, sir.  I've looked round, and I shall never
pick 'em up again."

"Well, what does that matter?" cried Murray.  "Don't you hear?"

"Hear, sir?  Hear what?"

"Oars.  I heard them rattling in the rowlocks as plain as possible."

"Whereabouts, sir?"

"Away there through the canes yonder.  Didn't you?"

"No, sir," said the man gloomily; "I didn't hear no oars."

"I did, quite plainly," said Murray, leaning forward and straining his
ears.  "No, it's stopped now."

"Yes, sir," said the man, shaking his head; "it's stopped now."

"Well, don't talk like that, Tom.  You look as if you didn't believe
me."

"Oh, I wouldn't go for to say as I don't believe anything you say, sir,"
said the sailor; "but all the same it do seem queer."

"Yes, queer because they've stopped rowing to listen.  Don't you see?"

"No, sir," said the man, shaking his head sadly.  "I don't see nothing,
on'y as you're a bit overdone, sir, in the head, and gets fancying
things."

"Fancy, man!" cried the middy angrily.  "It was no fancy, I tell you.
Now then, listen."

Tom May shut one eye and cocked his head on one side in obedience to his
young officer's command; but all was perfectly still.

"It's very strange," said Murray.

"Yes, sir; very," said the sailor, in a tone of voice which made the
young officer turn upon him fiercely.

"Oh, you obstinate--"

Murray did not say what, but ceased speaking and stood straining
forward.

"Of course you thought you heered oars, sir, because you wanted to hear
'em," said the sailor; "but it's a pity you did, sir, because it made me
lose my bearings, and I know I shall never--"

"There, then," cried the middy excitedly.  "Now, did I fancy I heard
rowing?"

"No, sir; that's oars, sure enough," replied the sailor; "and it seems
to come from right for'ard there, and not far away."

"Hail the boat, then," cried Murray excitedly.

"I dunno as I would, sir," whispered the man, "because it mightn't be
our boat."

"What!  Oh, we must chance that.  Hail away."

Tom May, who looked exceedingly unwilling, clapped his hand to his cheek
and yelled out, "_Seafowls_ ahoy!" just as the regular beat of oars had
ceased once more.

But there was no further doubt, for in a dull smothered tone, as if the
reply came through so much dense forest, there was the answering hail--

"Ahoy there!  Where away?"

"Ahoy!" shouted Tom May.  "That's the right sort, sir.  Come along;" and
stepping out, the sailor beat the dense growth to right and left, with
his feet sinking deeper in the soft soil, till the cane brake began to
open out and the forest grew lighter, the splashing of oars sounding
nearer and nearer till there was a shout of welcome and the sloop's
cutter came into sight, gliding towards them till the light vessel's
nose was run into the river bank.

"At last!" cried Murray, as he scrambled over the bows, to sink
exhausted into Titely's arms.  "Why, how did you get here, my lad?" said
the young officer.

"I d'know, sir.  Lost my way, and couldn't find it nohow."

"But you managed to find the boat."

"Nay, sir; not me, sir!  I didn't find her.  I did find the side o' the
river, but couldn't get no furder.  I was hanging on to a branch and
trying to keep up because I was sinking into the boggy shore, when my
two mates here come pulling up stream and picked me up.  It was them
found me, sir, not me found them."

"Well, never mind that now," cried Murray angrily.  "What about you two?
Your orders were to stay by the boat where we landed."

"Yes, sir," said the first boat-keeper, "but they wouldn't let us, sir."

"They!" cried Murray.  "Whom do you mean by they?"

"Oh, I dunno, sir, who they was, only that it was a big party o' rough
uns with guns and rifles as come up all to wunst as we sat hanging on by
the grapnel and line, out in the middle o' the river, and one on 'em
hails us and tells us to pull ashore."

"Well," said Murray, "and did you?"

"You go on, messmate," said the man.  "You can spin the yarn better nor
I can."

"Yes, go on," cried Murray; and the second boat-keeper took up the
narrative.

"Well, sir, we just didn't."

"Just did not what?" asked Murray.

"Pull ashore, sir.  They warn't our people, and him as hailed us warn't
our officer.  'Sides, we didn't like the looks of 'em."

"Well done, my lads," said the middy; "that was right.  But what did you
do then?"

"I hystes up the grapnel, sir, and Harry Lang there gets an oar over the
side."

"Well?"

"Well, sir, then a Yankee sort of a chap as seemed to be the head on 'em
leans hisself up again' a bush and rests his gun upon a bough of one of
the trees on the bank, and he says to me, he says, as he looks along the
barrel, `Now, you sir,' he says, `just you run that boat's nose into
this here bank, and tidy quick too, 'fore I draws this here trigger.'

"`All right, sir,' I says, and I shoves another oar over the side; and
as soon as he sees me do that, quite easy like, he lowers down his gun--
rifle, I think it was--and turns his head to say something to the chaps
who was with him.

"`Easy, messmate,' I says then; `get her head straight first,' making
believe as Harry warn't doing right.  The 'Merican chap was just turning
round then, but I sees my chance, and I whispers to Harry, `Up stream,
lad, for all you're worth.'  `Right you are,' he says, and my word! sir,
we did take hold of the water and put our backs into it, 'gainst stream
as it was; and as I pulled I was all the time wishing as hard as I could
that you'd got hold of the rudder lines so as to steer, sir, and leave
us nothing to do but pull while you kept the boat's head right in the
middle of the river.  `Here, hi, there!  What are you doing?  Pull
ashore, or--' He steps to the same tree again and rests his gun on the
bough and takes aim, while I thinks to myself what a pity it was that we
hadn't turned the boat's head down stream."

"You said arterwards, messmate, as that would ha' been like leaving the
first luff and the lads in the lurch," said the other boat-keeper.

"So I did, messmate; and so it would," said the narrator.

"But he didn't fire at you?" cried Murray eagerly.

"Didn't fire at us, sir?" said the man.  "But he just did, while we
pulled with all our might."

"And missed you?"

"He missed me, sir, but he hit the boat.  Sent his bullet slap through
the bow planks just between wind and water, and the brown juice come
trickling in quite fast, but we couldn't stop to plug it."

"Hah!" ejaculated Murray, who was breathing hard with excitement.  "Oh,
do go on a little faster!"

"That we did, sir--pulled faster, for some of the enemy come shouting
after us along the side of the stream.  You see, they couldn't come on
the far side, 'cause it was all trees, while luckily for us they
couldn't get along much where they were, for it was all boggy, and I see
three of them sink in up to their knees and stick fast cussing and
swearing.  But they warn't the only ones, for him as we took to be their
boss, he let go at 'em orful, sir, and yelped at 'em to follow us up,
knowing all the time that they couldn't do nowt o' the sort, and him not
trying a bit, because he warn't going to fill his boots."

"But they kept on firing at you?" cried Murray.

"Fast as ever they could, sir.  They kep' on loading and firing, and
Harry and me kep' on pulling like hooray.  You see, the shooting spurred
us on a bit, for they kep' on hitting the boat when they didn't send the
bullets spattering into the trees over our heads, and cut the little
twigs and leaves and make them fall upon us."

"But didn't they get to the bank higher up?" asked Murray.

"I dunno, sir," replied the man.  "We was too busy to think about that.
Precious hot it was too, pulling under boughs as kept all the air away.
I don't want to brag, Mr Murray, sir, but we had a precious nice time
on it, pulling, and hearing the beggars shouting and firing till we got
well round a bend and out o' their sight, same as they was out of our
sight, when I says to Harry Lang as best thing we could do was to see to
damages, and seeing as it warn't likely that they could get at us for a
bit we run the boat's nose into the far side bank where Harry could get
hold of a branch, and then he outs with his Jack knife and whittles a
peg to fit into the shot-hole, for the water kep' on coming in tidy
fast."

"Is that the hole?" said Murray eagerly.

"That's it, sir, and there's two more plugged up astarn, 'sides that
there chip out o' the back by the starn sheets."

"But you neither of you got hurt?"

"No, sir; you see they warn't very handy with the guns, and we kep'
going pretty fast."

"But there's a blood-stain upon your shirt, my lad."

"Oh, that, sir?  It did bleed a little bit, but it was only a scrat--
nowt to speak about."

"Indeed!" said Murray.  "Well, it has left off bleeding, but the doctor
must see to it when we get back to the _Seafowl_."

"Oh yes, sir; that'll be all right," said the man, smiling; "and that's
all, I think, 'cept that we baled out the boat till we began to pull on
again, for we was obliged to put some distance 'twixt us in case they
should find some way up to the bank and begin practice again.  Same
time, sir, of course we had to think of not getting too far, so as to be
handy when our fellows came back and wanted the cutter."

"Well, but about finding Titely?" said Murray.

"Oh, there's nothing to say about that, sir, on'y we didn't quite get it
settled whether he found us or we found him.  Theer he was, hung up in
one of the trees over the river, and glad he was to be took aboard--just
as glad as we was to take him, sir, for you see it made another to share
the 'sponsibility like of our not being where we ought to be with the
boat.  After that, sir, I wanted to hang about as close as we could to
the enemy, ready to be handy and help our officers and men; but messmet
Titely says we must go on pulling up stream in search of you and Tom
May, and this must be all, sir, and my throat's as dry as dust.  Think
this here water's good to drink, sir?  It looks too much like beer to be
quite to my taste."

"No, my lad; I wouldn't venture to drink it.  Better wait."

"That's what I says to Harry Lang, sir."

"And very wisely too.  Now, Tom," continued Murray, turning to his
companion in adversity, "you have said nothing.  What do you think of
the state of affairs?"

"I think it's hard, sir--precious hard on a man."

"But they have done splendidly, Tom."

"Yes, sir, I s'pose so, for them," said May sourly; "but I warn't
thinking about them.  I mean it comes hard upon a man like me, shut out
of a fight like that.  Don't you think we might drop down with the
stream now, seeing as we're tidily strong like?"

"Yes, I do think something of the kind," replied Murray.

"And give 'em a right down good dressing, sir?"

"No; we have got something else to think of, Tom," said the middy
sternly.  "Dressing them down is tempting, but that is not what we want
to do.  We must get down to the bay as quickly as we can, and without
the loss of a man.  The fighting must rest till the captain sends up
reinforcements."

Tom May nodded his head.

"Bit disappointing, though, sir."

"Yes, my lad, but we can wait.  Now then, we must drop down a little
farther, and then drop the grapnel or hook on to one of the trees of the
farther bank."

"And not make a dash of it, sir?"

"No, my lad; not till it is quite dark."

Tom May stared.

"According to what your messmates said, the enemy was in pretty strong
force.  How many of them were there?"

"'Bout twenty, sir," said Lang.

"And all armed?"

"Yes, sir; they'd all got guns," said the other.

"Then they will be lying in wait for us," said Murray decisively.  "I
only said that we shall be trying to run by them as soon as it is dark."

"Well, sir, but we could do it," said May warmly.

"Yes, we could run by them if I risked everything, my lad," said the
middy, "but I can't afford to lose a man.  Besides, they will have been
making arrangements to receive us.  There is that lugger we saw lying in
the mouth of the river; they have plenty of men, I am sure, and they may
have brought her up to block our way, for they are bound to try and
capture us if they can."

"Yes, sir; bound to take us if they can," assented the sailor.

"How long do you think it will be before it is dark?" asked Murray.

"Not half-an-hour, sir," was the reply.

"And how far are we above the landing-place?" said the middy, speaking
in a low tone now and turning to the first boat-keeper.

"Can't say, sir, for sartain," replied the man.  "What do you say, Harry
Lang?"

The man shook his head.

"You see, sir, we put our backs into it when we started to row, and
pulled and pulled, thinking of nothing else but getting as far up'ards
as we could.  Hour's hard rowing, I should say, in and out, and we got a
long ways before we come upon Bill Titely."

"Then we'll begin moving as soon as it is quite dark, my lads," said
Murray.  "Till then, a careful watch and silence, for there is no
knowing whether the enemy may not have a way through the cane brake
which will enable them to come upon us by surprise."



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

A FIGHT IN THE DARK.

It was sooner than they expected that the darkness came on--thick,
black, dense darkness, which in spite of its gradual approach seemed
strange and full of suggestions of being peopled with enemies ready to
draw trigger on the banks and send lightning-like flashes at the
occupants of the boat--flashes each of which might be a messenger of
death.

The boat was set in motion and glided down stream slowly, with Murray in
the bows peering straight before him, trying to pierce the darkness; Tom
May right astern with one oar dipped, with which he kept the boat level;
while the others sat with oars balanced ready for use in case of attack,
and so as to ensure retreat.

In this fashion they floated down, carried along by the gentle current,
not a word being spoken, and the midshipman hardly daring to breathe as
he listened to the strange nocturnal sounds which came from the banks on
either side--weird croakings, pipings, and strange trumpeting notes
which sounded like a challenge to the strangers who were daring to
penetrate the thick darkness of the night.

More than once there was a sudden motion, a heaving and a rising wave as
of some huge fish or reptile which had been disturbed from its slumbers,
and from which attack was expected at any moment.

It was a strange ride, with the black water whispering by the boat's
side, while the men as they listened hardly seemed to breathe.

Murray had laid down his plan of action to the men before starting, and
that was to plunge oars and back-water with all their might to get out
of the sphere of danger, for to press on in the darkness seemed too
great a risk to run.  But for quite two hours nothing occurred that
could be attributed to the agency of man, and the midshipman, who had
begun to grow used to the cries, croaks and movements of bird and
reptile, felt his spirits begin to rise, his heart to swell with hope of
reaching the mouth of the river unmolested, where he felt sure that
another boat would be awaiting them, and then and there he would at last
be able to perform his long-delayed mission.

"I've done wrong," he said to himself, "and alarmed myself without
reason.  There have been no enemies waiting for us.  They have settled
in their own minds that we should not venture to come down the river in
the darkness, and we might very well have had the oars out and come
quickly."

He had no sooner thought this than he mentally retracted his notion as
being so much folly, feeling as he did that it would have been
impossible to steer, and that in all probability they would have been
aground--perhaps wedged in amongst the trees or shrubs of the bank.

"I don't know what to do for the best," said the lad to himself.  "One
moment I feel one way; the next something seems to tug at me the other.
I wish I could come to a decision that I knew was for the best."

He had his wish, for he had hardly had the desire when as the boat
glided on through the profound darkness it came in contact with
something hard with a heavy shock.

For the moment all was excitement.  To the men it seemed as if the
cutter was rising up to ride over some huge tree-trunk that was floating
across the centre of the stream--some obstruction that had been washed
out of the bank during a flood and whose roots still clung to the place
of its growth.

"Boat-hook," said Murray, in a low business-like tone.  "Steady, lads.
Try if you can shove her off."

Then like a flash the lad grasped the reality of their position, for
voices rose from the right bank of the river, to be answered from the
left, and as the occupants of the boat came to the same conclusion, that
the great trunk against which the boat had struck must have been placed
there by their enemies, so many flashes of light streaked the darkness,
followed by loud reports, and then came a fierce yell of despair or pain
and a loud adjuration full of rage.

"Shove all you know with that boat-hook," whispered Murray, "and strain
all with those oars.  Do you hear?  Back-water!"

There was no question about the men hearing, for every one was striving
his best in a fierce struggle to get free from a tangle of sharp
water-washed boughs; but the boat, after running stem on to the floating
trunk and making as if to climb over the impediment, had swung round
almost parallel; the water pressed heavily all along its side, and then
seemed to be engaged in heaving it over, so that when Murray thrust one
hand down over to his left he found that the stream was rippling within
an inch of the gunwale, and in another few moments would have been over
the side.

It was a question of decisive action, and Murray shouted--

"Trim the boat starboard, all!"

That saved them for the moment, but at terrible risk, for it spoke
loudly to the enemy of their position, and in rapid succession almost
simultaneously three more streaks of light came from the right bank of
the river with their reports.

Murray gave vent to a low hissing sound, and then remained silent,
striving his utmost the while to thrust the boat away from the strong
tree-trunk; but his efforts, like those of his companions, were in vain.

"It's no good, sir," whispered Tom May; "we're a-shoving against one
another.  Let me lead, sir, and I think I can do it.  There's hard
bottom here, sir, and we're almost aground.--Fire away, you lubbers," he
added, in a whisper; "you can't hit us in the dark.  Now then, Mr
Murray, sir, you take an oar along with the lads and wait till I say
`Pull.'  Then all on you do your best."

"But what about you?" whispered Murray.

"You leave that to me, sir.  I'm big enough and old enough to take care
o' mysen."

Murray was silent, for it was no time to dispute.  Every now and then--
as fast as their enemies could reload--there was a shot from the bank,
and the bullets whizzed just over the heads of the men.  The young
officer's disposition was to ask what the sailor intended to do, but he
contained himself, and, feeling for an oar, thrust it over the side and
into the rowlock, conscious the while that the others had done the same,
but in his case and that of the man in front for the oar-blades to rest
upon branches of the submerged tree.  He realised, though, that his was
the bow oar, and for a few moments that was all he could grasp.  Beyond
that everything was confusion, and he sat ready to pull, and in spite of
himself starting violently at every shot from the shore when the bullet
struck the boat or splashed in amongst the branches of the ingeniously
contrived dam.

Then the lad felt something like a hysteric sob escape from his breast
as the puzzle and confusion from which he suffered gave place to clear
mental light, and he grasped the full force of the big sailor's plan.

The noise of panting and splashing which accompanied what felt like a
sudden lightening of the boat was caused by Tom May lowering himself
over the side, after laying down the boat-hook with which he had been
sounding the depth; and then Murray felt that the brave fellow had begun
to wade with the water close up to his arm-pits, forcing the bows of the
boat away from the tree-trunk against which it was pressed by the water,
and gaining a little.

"That'll do it," he said, with a deep grunt.

"Shall I get to the boat-hook, messmate?" whispered Titely.

_Bang_! came from the bank.

"There's your answer," growled Tom May fiercely.  "You 'bey orders and
stick to your oar.  That was precious nigh, though."

Murray heard every word, and it was to him as if he could see everything
that the big sailor did, as with one arm over the cutter's bows he
forced it a little more and a little more away, fighting against the
pressure of the water and meaning to get the boat at right angles to the
dam and her stem pointing straight up stream before he gave the order to
pull.

But it was slow work, for the pressure of the water was so great and the
man's foothold on the bottom so insecure that at last, and just as he
was about to call upon the middy and the man who handled the third oar
to try and pull, there was a slip and a splash, May's feet glided over
the bottom, and he was swept back, fortunately still clinging to the
bows, back to where he had started from--close against the trunk.

"Are you there, Tom?" whispered Murray excitedly, for he feared the
worst.

"Here I be sir," growled the man.  "I'm sticking tight enough."

"Hah!" ejaculated the lad.  "If it were only light!"

"Jolly for us it ain't, sir," said the man.  "Bad if they could see.
Hear that?"

_That_ was another shot from the right bank of the river, followed by a
couple more, and the bullets splashed up the water not far from their
heads.

"Are you going to try again?" whispered Murray.

"Arn't I, sir!  I'm a-going to try till to-morrow mornin' if I don't do
it afore.  Now then, all on yer, I'm going to begin shoving off her bows
again, and this time don't wait, my lads, for any orders from me.  Use
your own gumption, and all on it at once.  It'll take all my wind to
keep me going.  You, Mr Murray, you get hold of the water first charnsh
and pull, and you t'others back-water; on'y just remember this: a broken
oar means done for.--Now here goes."

Once more Murray felt right through his brain every movement of the big
sailor as he began to wade, holding the cutter's bows nipped between his
arm and his broad chest; and as the boat began to move the middy felt
among the boughs and twigs with the blade of his oar to such good effect
that at the risk of breakage he turned the oar into a lever which
slightly helped to move the boat's head from its position.

"Good!" grunted Tom May softly, and he thrust away steadily a little and
a little, while the two who held the stout ash blades on the other side
began to back-water.

"Good!" grunted Tom again, and, as if in answer, _Bang!  Bang_! came
from the shore, and a couple of splashing sounds rose from the woodwork
where the bullets struck.

"All together," whispered Murray, as he bent forward and got a fresh
hold of the boughs, while to his intense satisfaction he felt that the
man behind him had got a good grip too, and the boat's head was thrust
farther and farther away.

"Good!" grunted Tom May again, and Murray could not refrain from
uttering a low Hurrah! for at his next bending forward his oar cut down
into the water so that he got a good hold and pulled with all his
might--steadily too.

"Back-water hard!" he panted, and the men whose oars dipped on the other
side thrust with all their might.

"Hooray!" came now from the man behind Murray.  "I've got water!"

"Then pull all you know," panted Tom May as he gave the boat's head what
he intended to be one last tremendous thrust, "for you've got it all
your own way now."

"No, no," whispered Murray excitedly.  "Keep on, Tom!"

"Can't, sir," said the man, with a low hiss.  "I'm off the bottom.  Pull
all!" he shouted now, and Murray felt the boat lose its trim, and sank
over on his side bending down, knowing full well now that the brave
fellow was heaving himself up so as to get over and seize an oar.

But it was dark, black darkness.  Every one was pulling his best now in
obedience to the cry "Pull all!"  There was no regular swing, but plenty
of confusion, while a thrill of excitement half intoxicated the men, as
they felt that they had mastered the pressure of the stream, and
consequently they pulled away madly, conscious as they were that they
were moving up stream and leaving the enemies, who were still firing,
though with no effect, behind.

"Starn all, you lubbers!" literally roared Tom May.  "D'yer want to
scrat me right out of the cutter's bows?"

"Stroke there!" cried Murray to the man who wielded that blade.  "Get
your oar over astarn and steer.  We're running into the bank."

There was a quick movement, the boat rocked, and a scraping sound and a
splash told that the order had been obeyed.

"I can't see, sir," cried the man, who had begun to steer.

"Do your best, my lad.  Pull gently, my lads.  We must feel our way.
What about you, Tom May?  Are you all right?"

"Me, sir?  I'm no use to steer," grumbled the man.  "Let me come and
take stroke oar; the lubbers pretty well scratted my eyes out."

_Bang!  Bang!  Bang_!

Three shots came quickly now in succession, but the flashes were from
fully fifty yards back.

"Keep silence, my lads," whispered Murray.  "They're firing at the
splashes of our oars."

A minute later those scattered irregular splashes became almost as one,
and though they were given slowly, the effect was steady and the
steersman proved to be doing his part so carefully and well that the
flashes from behind became more distant and sounded fainter, and the
last seemed to come from round a bend of the river.



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

LOST.

"Now, my lads," said Murray, at last; "speak out; let me know the worst.
Who is hurt?"

There was no reply, the men tugging slowly and regularly at the oars.

"Well, speak out," cried the middy.  "Don't be too modest to let me
know.  You, Tom May, what about your eyes?"

"Don't want 'em now, sir," said the man, in his deep, low growl.  "Won't
be daylight yet awhile."

"I know that," said Murray testily; "but you said that you were getting
them scratched out."

"Yes, sir, but I just spoke out in time, or else they'd ha' gone.  I'm
all right, sir; don't you worry about me."

"But I shall worry about you, Tom May," said the lad, "especially when I
make my report.  You saved us all when it seemed all over with our
chance of escape."

"Did I, sir?"

"Ay, ay, that he did," chorussed the men.

"Well, don't make such a fuss about it, messmets," grumbled the man.
"Mere's two on 'em got a scrarp from that shooting, sir."

"Ah!" cried Murray.  "Well, the wounds must be seen to as soon as it's
daylight.  Can you tie the places up for the present?"

"Ay, ay, sir," said one of the men.  "A hankychy's been teared up, and
there's nothing bad, sir."

But though nothing could be seen till daybreak, the young officer,
knowing his men as he did, insisted upon making an examination by touch
during a short rest in the darkness, with the boat hitched up to an
overhanging tree, after which the slow pull was resumed hour after hour,
till overhead the stars began to pale, and Murray sat trying to scheme
out some sensible course to be carried out in the daylight.

The lad thought and thought, gradually growing more low-spirited, as he
was always face to face with the thought that he had made a miserable
failure of the task he had attacked in such high spirits.  He had hoped
to reach the boat-keepers and take them down the river to the _Seafowl_,
and return with the second lieutenant and a strong party of men to the
aid of Mr Anderson and his lads, who would probably proceed to rout out
the slaving nest.  In fact, he had started full of glee to carry out his
instructions, but only to be dogged at every step by mischance.

Murray sank down in his seat, the image of despair.  He had pulled on
for some hours, only to give up faint with hunger, and wearied by his
efforts during the night; but all these were as nothing to the trouble
that was to come with the rising sun.  He would sooner or later have to
face the first lieutenant, who would say to him, "I sent you for
reinforcements and to make a report to the captain; and what have you
done?"

"It is of no use to make excuses," the lad said to himself; "I have
failed."

He was bending very low now with his elbows resting upon his knees, and
the only comfort he could find was in the thought that if Dick Roberts
had been sent instead, he could have done no better, when he roused
himself with the thought that he must not run any more risks; he must
reach the place where the boat had been left the previous day, and he
was now face to face with the thought that he might over-run the spot
during the dark hours, or, when full daylight came, be in the troublous
position of incertitude as to whether they had rowed too far or not far
enough.

The daylight at last, and the cane brake alive with the cries of the
various strange occupants of its wilds.  A light mist was floating
overhead, the leaves were drenched with dew, and when the pale mist
began to grow opalescent, shot as it were with purple, ruby and gold,
everything was so beautiful that the lad's spirits rose with a bound.

"I did my best," he said to himself, "and though I shall get a good
bullying for not doing more, old Anderson will come round and make me
tell everything I have gone through, and then nod his head and say that
I could have done no more."

There was a good deal too in the way of making the subject appear more
cheerful, for the men were pulling at their oars easily and looked full
of contentment, in spite of a few bruises, blood-smears and bandages,
ready, too, to smile at him, when he fully expected to encounter surly
glances full of reproach, while as soon as a question arose for
discussion they plunged into it full of eagerness and excitement.

The first boat-keeper was thoroughly decisive about the spot where the
boat had been left.

"Further on yet, sir," he declared.  "I can recollect going along here
yesterday."

"No, you don't," said Tom May surlily.  "You don't know nothing about
it, lad."

"Not know?  That I do, messmate!  Why, I'm sure on it."

"On'y a-guessing, sir.  Don't you believe a word he says."

"Oh, come, mate," said Lang, the other boatman; "he's right enough.  We
ought to know better than you, because we stopped with the boat."

"Well, that's why you don't know, my lad," said the big sailor.  "All
you did was to stop and sit cutting sticks or pegs.  We others know
better because we landed and went with the first luff right inland."

"What of that?" said Lang.  "You didn't go about the river high-up or
low down; so now then!"

"Don't argue, my lads," cried Murray sharply.  "Pull, and let's see if
Lang and his fellow are right.  For my part, I think we must be just
about the place where we landed now.  Why, yes; there, it's just beyond
that overhanging tree."

"To be sure, sir," said Tom May excitedly.  "That's the landing-place."

"Right you are, mate," cried the boat-keepers in a breath, "and there's
the sticks we whittled when we cut down that furren sapling to make
pegs."

A very few minutes' pulling brought the little party to the
landing-place from which the start had been made for the plantation, and
Murray stood up in the boat, trying to settle in his own mind what the
next step ought to be.

It was his greatest crisis of responsibility, and his face puckered up
as he glanced at his men and grasped the fact that they were looking to
him to lead.  They were ready enough to obey his orders, but not to give
him the advice which he needed at such a crucial time.

"What can I do?" he asked himself.  "It is a horrible task, but I must
let Mr Anderson know of my failure.  I feel as if I could find my way
up to the plantation house now; but I can't leave the boat here, knowing
that the enemy may follow us up the river and attack and capture it.
That would be like cutting off Mr Anderson's retreat.  I can't send one
or two of the lads up to the house, for Tom May and Titely proved that
they could lose themselves hopelessly, and if I sent the others they
don't know the way at all.  There's only one I feel as if I could
trust--myself; and I can't trust him.  Oh, was ever a fellow in such a
hole before!"

He stood thinking, and the longer he thought the worse off he seemed to
be; and his position grew more painful as he realised the fact that his
men were waiting for his orders; and, though they remained silent, they
kept on casting glances down stream as if expecting to see the armed
party of the enemy in pursuit.

"It's of no use," he said to himself; "the more I think the worse the
difficulties seem to grow;" and pulling himself together, he turned
sharply upon May.

"Look here, my lad," he said sharply, "you must find your way up to the
plantation and tell Mr Anderson how I am fixed.  I can't leave the
boat, for I must hold that in case the enemy comes on; and I can't spare
any one to go with you, for three fellows will be small enough force to
beat the enemy back."

"Ay, ay, sir!" said the sailor promptly.

"You can tell Mr Anderson everything, and then he will settle whether
he will hold the plantation house or come here and help us to get back
to the sloop."

"Ay, ay, sir!  Start?"

"One moment, Tom.  You mustn't lose your way, but try and recollect the
track that black fellow led us; and one word more--this is not a time
for fighting, but for cunning.  Now, off!"

The man stood for a few moments to thrust the ramrod down his piece and
make sure that it was well loaded; then throwing it over his shoulder,
he sprang ashore as lightly as if neither his rest nor his regular meals
had been interfered with, gained the track, which now seemed plain
enough, and disappeared.



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

"WHERE'S YOUR DESPATCH?"

"It's all right, sir," cried Roberts.  "Our lads coming."

"Well done!" said the lieutenant, with a sense of relief running through
him.  "Can you see who it is?"

"Tom May, sir."

"Only May?  Well, he brings a message, I suppose.--Where's your
despatch, man?" he cried, as the big sailor came within hearing.

"Not got none, sir; on'y a message from Mr Murray, sir;" and the man
related his experience.

"A regular fight, then?"

"Yes, sir."

"But no one badly hurt?"

"No, sir."

"Tut, tut, tut!  Whatever has Mr Murray been about to go astray like
that?  I did think I could trust him!  And now it is quite open to his
being taken, boat and men, by these scoundrels before I can get down to
him?"

"Yes, sir," replied the messenger.  "I don't think they'll be long afore
they come up the river after him."

"Then how could he be so absurd as to send you, when either of the
others would have done?  He ought to have kept you."

"Thought I was a bit crippled, sir," said the man.

"But you didn't say you were much hurt."

"No, sir; no good to holloa, as I see."

"What to do?" muttered the lieutenant; and his first thought was to fire
the building, his second to gather his men together and make a start.

He paused for a few moments to glance round in the full expectation of
seeing a movement among the trees or some sign of their being watched;
but the place was perfectly quiet and apparently deserted.

"Well, May," he said, as he caught the man's eyes fixed questioningly
upon him, "what is it?"

"Thought perhaps you might be going to give orders to fire the place,
sir."

"What for, man?" said the lieutenant, starting at the sailor's
similarity of idea.

"Keeping 'em from holding it, sir."

"We may want to hold it ourselves, and there seems to be a want of
fortification."

The next minute the big seaman was ordered to the front to act as guide,
and being thoroughly now in an enemy's country every needful precaution
was taken--precautions which soon seemed to be highly necessary, for the
little party had not proceeded far before, as Roberts with a couple of
men brought up the rear, he became aware of the fact that they were
being followed by what seemed to be a strong body of men stealing after
them through the plantation.

A halt was called, and the rear-guard faced round, with the effect that
those who followed could be seen to retire amongst the long lines of
sugar-canes and maize, which offered plenty of cover.

The lieutenant impatiently gave the order again to advance, and this was
followed by halt after halt; but the enemy seemed to be content with
keeping just in touch, no attack being made; but it was evident that
whoever was answerable for the tactics was pretty keen and ready, and
the lieutenant thoroughly realised the precariousness of his position
and the need for care if he intended to reach the boat.

"Nothing better can be done, Mr Roberts," he said.  "We must let them
see that we are ready for them.  It seems to check them every time."

"Yes, sir," replied the middy; "but doesn't it mean that they are
waiting till we reach some other party hidden between here and the
river, and that as soon as we get close up they'll make a dash for us?"

"Very likely, Mr Roberts," said the lieutenant; "but if it does we must
make a dash for them.  Anyhow we must not let them think we are afraid."

"Oh no, sir," replied the middy excitedly.  "But what about me letting
my fellows give them a volley to drive them back a little faster?"

"A volley of two, Mr Roberts," said the lieutenant sarcastically, "and
a waste of ammunition that we must husband."

"Beg pardon, sir; only what I thought," said the middy.

"Quite right to speak, my lad; but tell me, can you make out what our
pursuers are like?"

"Mixed lot, sir.  They seem to be sailors and blacks."

"Humph!  Well, we are pretty well surrounded.  I don't like these
cowardly-looking tactics, but I must get back to Mr Murray and the
boat.  We are gaining a knowledge of the country, and when we come again
it must be in force.  Much farther, May?" said the lieutenant, after
pressing on to the front to where the big sailor was trudging steadily
on.

"'Bout two hours, sir," replied the man.

"Two hours?  Surely not!"

"Yes, sir; quite that."

"Are you certain?  Surely you have not lost your way?"

"Not this time, sir," replied the man confidently.  "It's much further
than you thought."

The officer was silent, and always with the signs behind of a party
getting ready to close up, the retreat was kept up, till all at once Tom
May stopped short, and once more the lieutenant hurried to his side.

"What is it--enemy in front?"

"No, sir.  All clear; but that comes from about where the boat lies,
sir."

"Firing?"

The answer came at once in the sound of a distant shot, a faintly heard
report which sent a thrill through every man of the party, who needed no
incitement to stretch out in a quicker step, one which would have been
increased to a trot but for the checking of the officer in command, who
kept the sturdy fellows well in hand so that they might come up to their
companions with the boat, cool and ready to take action.

But as the pace was increased somewhat, Roberts was made fully aware of
the presence of the secretive enemies, who still kept under cover--cover
that was fast becoming cane brake and wilderness, as cultivation grew
more sparse.

"It means a rush before long," thought the lad, and he did not fail to
utter a few words of warning from time to time as his heart began to
beat heavily with excitement, and at the same time he had hard work to
control the longing to hurry forward to the help of those who were
plainly heard to respond to a steadily-kept-up fire which all felt must
come from the enemy.

"We're getting pretty close now, sir," said May, in answer to a question
from the lieutenant, who was marching by the guide's side.  "Enemy's got
a boat up the river, sir, I'm sartain, and that's our Mr Murray and the
lads keeping 'em in check.  Don't you think it might be double, sir,
now?"

"I'd say yes, my man, but we must get in cool and steady."

"Ay, ay, sir!" replied the big sailor, and he gave a sidelong glance at
his officer as he spoke, shifted his musket from his right shoulder to
his left, and passed a hand over his streaming face in a way which made
Mr Anderson smile.

Another five minutes, during which the fire on both sides was evidently
growing hotter, and then with a cheer which was answered from the river,
the party of relief dashed forward, and the firing ceased as if by
magic, while the lieutenant, as he reached the water's edge at the head
of his men, looked down the slowly gliding water in vain for signs of
the enemy, the long curve of the bend to his right being unoccupied, and
_no trace_ of a boat in sight.



CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

WHERE IS THE SLAVER'S LUGGER?

"Murray!" came from the _Seafowl's_ boat, as Murray gave orders for the
men to let it float down from beneath the trees where he had kept it
moored with his men, partly screened by the overhanging boughs, while
lying down in the bottom firing from behind the bulwark.

"Thankye, sir," cried the lad excitedly.  "We have been longing for
you."

"But the enemy, my lad?"

"Place four men behind the trees there, sir, ready to fire.  You'll see
their boat come stealing out from round the bend, sir, directly.  We
have driven them back for the moment."

"A boat attacking from below?"

"Yes, sir; a lugger, full of men.  We were quiet for some time;" and the
lad hurriedly explained to his chief how that the enemy must have
cleared away the tree-trunk with which the river had been dammed, and
brought up a boat, from which for quite an hour they had been firing,
after making one fierce attack, and being met with a steady fire which
drove them back.

"Bravo!  Well done, my lad!" said the lieutenant warmly.

"But it was quite time you came, sir.  We couldn't have held out much
longer."

"Nonsense!" said the lieutenant, laughing encouragement.  "You would
never have given up.  Why, you had plenty of water."

"Yes, sir," said Murray, with a grim smile; "but the cartridges had
nearly run out."

"Ours have not, Murray," said the lieutenant, for the men whom he had
posted according to the middy's advice just then opened fire upon a
boat, which looked at the first glance uncommonly like the dismasted
lugger which had been seen lying in the mouth of the little river when
the _Seafowl_ first entered the river.

A shot or two came in reply from the enemy before the lugger drew back
round the bend, to be followed by the cutter, which came in sight of the
enemy at last in time to see that the lugger's masts had been stepped
and her sails hoisted, to be filled out by the breeze, which sent the
boat rapidly gliding down stream.

The men looked sharply at their commander, as if fully expecting to
receive orders to row with all their might; and Mr Anderson noticed it,
for he turned to the two middies, and by way of answering the silent
question--

"No," he said; "we're all fagged as it is, and no pulling on our part
will bring us alongside of a boat that can sail like that.  Pull
steadily, my lads, and let the stream do the rest.  The chances are that
the captain has sent a boat up the river to look after us, and that we
shall catch the lugger between two fires, if Mr Munday has not been
first."

A good lookout was kept as the cutter dropped down the stream, and at
every bend the men were ready to fire, but they searched with eager eyes
in vain, and a general feeling of disappointment had attacked the hungry
and exhausted party, while the lieutenant's countenance was over-clouded
by a stern look which betokened the bent of his thoughts in connection
with the coming meeting with his chief, when a glimpse was seen through
the trees at a sharp curve which sent a thrill of excitement through the
boat and made Murray spring to his feet.

"What's that?" cried the lieutenant.

"The lugger, I think, sir," whispered the middy.  "I just caught sight
of one of her masts."

"Hist!  Silence!" said the lieutenant.  "Dip as quietly as you can, my
lads.  Two of you there, Titely and Lang, be ready to fire, and drop the
steersman if they don't lower their sails."

"Ay, ay, sir!" came back, in a whisper, followed by the clicking of
musket locks, and the oars dipped into the water with scarcely a sound.

"I can't make her out, Mr Murray," whispered the lieutenant.  "Are you
sure that you were not deceived?"

"Certain, sir," was the reply.

"I saw her too, sir," put in Roberts, "but the trees were very thick and
there's a big bend there."

"Humph!  Yes; the stream winds and doubles upon itself like a snake.
You, Tom May, you've got a voice like a speaking trumpet; be ready to
hail them, and if they don't lower their sail directly, fire, as I said
before, at their steersman."

The minutes which followed were full of excitement, and then a low
murmur arose, for one of the men forward turned to draw the attention of
the officers in the stern sheets to the head of a mast which was seen
for a few moments passing along above the bushes apparently at the edge
of the river, and only some five hundred yards from where the cutter was
gliding swiftly down.

"We shall do it, my lads," whispered the lieutenant to the middies.

"But they've altered their course, sir," said Roberts softly.  "They're
coming to attack."

"No, no; that's only because the stream winds so; or else--yes, that's
it.  They've caught sight of one of our boats coming up, and, bravo! we
shall take the scoundrels, as I expected, between two fires."

The lieutenant sprang to his feet and clapped his hand to his sword, for
a clean white lug sail came fully into sight.  But he thrust his sword
back into its sheath before dropping into his seat, for Tom May growled
out in his siren-like voice--

"Second cutter, sir, and yon's Mr Munday, sir, in the starn sheets."

"Then where's the slaver's lugger?" cried the first lieutenant, and a
voice from the man-o'-war boat which was coming up stream under oars and
a couple of lug sails shouted--

"_Seafowls_ ahoy!"

"Bah!" cried Mr Anderson.  "Then we must have passed some branch of the
river; and I'm sure we kept a sharp lookout.  How stupidly blind!"

"Perhaps Mr Munday's lads passed a branch, sir," cried Murray eagerly.

"Thank you, Mr Murray," said the lieutenant, clapping the lad on the
shoulder.  "I hope you're right, for I could never have forgiven myself
if we had been met by this fresh misfortune."



CHAPTER THIRTY.

BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME.

"Why, where have you been?" cried the second lieutenant, as the two
boats ran alongside.  "The captain's been nearly mad with excitement and
anxiety."

"Oh, don't ask me," cried Mr Anderson.  "But tell me this, has the
stream forked anywhere as you came up?"

"Yes, once: about a mile lower down; but the river was very shallow and
insignificant, and I did not think it was worth while to explore there.
But why?"

"Shallow--insignificant!" said the lieutenant bitterly.  "It was big and
important enough to float a large lugger--the one we are pursuing."

"The one that we saw at the mouth of the river when we entered the bay?
I was wondering where that had gone as we came up."

"No doubt the same," replied Mr Anderson.  "Well, you've let the enemy
slip, Munday."

"Nonsense!  You don't mean that, man?"

"There's no mistake," said the lieutenant; "and it means this, that you
will have to share the captain's anger and disappointment over my
failure."

"I?  But why?"

"For not catching the gang of scoundrels I was driving down before me.
Oh, Munday, you ought to have taken that boat!"

"But how was I to know, man?"

"Don't stop to talk.  Run on back and find the lugger if you can, while
I keep on down the main stream.  We may overtake the wretches after all,
and if either of us sees the enemy in the offing of course we must
pursue, even if it's right out to sea."

"But the captain--the _Seafowl_?  We must report what has happened."

"I will, of course, in passing.  You, if you come up first, need only
say that there is a nest of slavers up the river, and that I have had a
sharp fight.  If the captain has seen the lugger, tell him it is full of
a gang of scoundrels who have fired upon us, and that the vessel ought
to be sunk."

"You had better tell him all this yourself, Anderson," said the second
lieutenant, in a whisper that the men could not hear, "and I wouldn't
say a word about my missing the lugger on the way, for he's in a
towering rage, and will only be too glad to drop on to me for what I
really could not help."

"No, I suppose not," said the first lieutenant good-humouredly; "but you
might take your share of his ill-humour."

"But it is all on account of your being so long away."

"Well, that was not my fault, man.  We've had a rough time of it; but be
off sharply, and as to the missing business, follow and catch the
scoundrels, and I won't say a word."

"Oh, I say, Anderson!" protested the second lieutenant.

"Well, there, be off and I'll see."  The second cutter's sails were
sheeted home, and she glided off without more being said, while at
little more than half the rate the first cutter went on under oars, but
well helped by the current; and they had not gone far down the winding
river before the silence of the cane brake was broken by a dull report
which made the two middies half rise from their seats by their leader.

"That means the _Seafowl_ firing at the lugger to heave to, sir," said
Murray.

"May you be right, my lad," replied Mr Anderson.  "Step the masts, my
lads, and hoist sail."

The orders were obeyed, and sometimes catching the light breeze and at
others helped by the sturdy pulling at the oars, the cutter sped on, her
occupants hearing shots fired from time to time, and reading clearly
enough that the occupants of the lugger, if it was she who was being
summoned to heave to, had not obeyed, but were racing on and trying to
make their escape.

This grew more and more certain as the time glided on, and Roberts went
so far as to assert that he could tell the difference between the
unshotted and the shotted guns which followed.

Then, to the delight of the two lads, the firing ceased, and as they sat
anxious and excited, they compared notes and passed opinions, while the
lieutenant sat sombre and silent, looking straight out before him, only
uttering an ejaculation of impatience from time to time as the wind
dropped in some bend of the river, or filled the sails again upon a
fresh tack.

Only once did the lieutenant rouse himself a little, and that was when
they came in sight of the place where the river forked and down which
the second cutter had long passed.  Murray pointed it out, while Roberts
exclaimed--

"Of course!  I remember that well now; but I had forgotten all about it
before."

"Yes; I can recollect it now," said the lieutenant bitterly; and he
relapsed into silence again, though he was listening to the conversation
of the two middies all the same, as he proved before long.

"You may be right or you may be wrong," said Murray, after a time.  "I
think you are wrong and haven't told the difference between the shotted
and the unshotted guns; but the firing has quite ceased now, and that
means that the lugger has given up, and lowered her sails."

"Maybe," said Roberts, "but more likely after holding on so long she has
had an unlucky shot and been sunk."

"Lucky shot," said Murray grimly.

"Ah, that depends upon which side you take.  I believe that our lads
have grown pretty savage, and sunk her."

A low murmur of satisfaction arose from amongst the men who overheard
the conversation, and then there was silence again, till the lieutenant
suddenly spoke out.

"You've only provided for two alternatives, gentlemen," he said.

"Do you mean about the lugger, sir?" asked Murray.

"Of course.  You settled that she had lowered her sails or been sunk."

"Yes, sir; there is no other way."

"Indeed, Mr Roberts?" said the lieutenant.  "It seems to me that there
is another alternative."

"I don't understand you, sir," said the lad.

"Perhaps Mr Murray does," said the lieutenant sadly.  "What do you say,
my lad?"

"I'm afraid so, sir, but I hope not," cried the lad; "but we shall soon
know, for the river is opening out fast."

"Yes, that will soon be proved," said the first lieutenant; and he
relapsed into silence.

"I say," whispered Roberts, giving his companion a nudge, "what do you
mean by your alternatives?  The lugger must either have lowered her
sails or been sunk."

"What about the coast here?" replied Murray.

"Well, what about it?"

"Isn't it all wooded and covered with jungle?"

"Of course: don't we know it well!"

"Yes, and don't the slaving people know it well?"

"Of course they must."

"Then isn't it possible for them to have held on, sailing all they knew,
and made for some other river or creek running into the shore right up
perhaps into some lagoon or lake known only to themselves, and where we
could not follow, knowing so little as we do of the country?"

"Oh, I say," cried Roberts, "what a miserable old prophet of ill you
are, Frank!  You shouldn't go on like that.  Haven't we been
disappointed enough, without coming in for worse things still?  You
might as well stick to it that the lugger has been sunk."

"I can't, old fellow," said Murray, "for I honestly believe--"

"Oh, bother your honest beliefs!" cried Roberts pettishly.  "Be
dishonest for once in a way.  You might give us a bit of sunshine to
freshen us up.  Haven't we got enough to go through yet, with the
captain fuming over our failure and being ready to bully us till all's
blue?"

"Can't help it, old fellow; I must say what I feel.  But there, we
needn't talk, for we shall soon know now."

The lieutenant was of the same opinion, for he suddenly rose from where
he was seated, and pressing the sheets on one side as he went forward he
made for the bows, where he stood looking out where the mouth of the
river became a wide estuary, and then came back to his place in the
stern sheets, and as he sat down he pointed past the sails.

"There, gentlemen," he said; "there lies the _Seafowl_, in quite a
different position; but there is no lugger."

"No, sir, but there lies the second cutter," cried Roberts; and he
pointed to where their fellow boat was sailing far away and close in
shore.  "That means she had been chasing the _lugger_ until a lucky shot
from the sloop sunk her."

"No, my lad," said the officer gravely.  "I hold to Mr Murray's idea--
that the second cutter chased the scoundrels till they dodged into one
of their lairs, and they have by this time penetrated far up the
country, perhaps been able to get round by some back way through some
forest labyrinth to where the plantation house is."

"Well, sir, we know our way better now," said Murray, "and we must go
again.  Better luck next time."

"Thank you, Mr Murray.  Better luck next time.  Now to hear what the
captain has to say!"



CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

MR ALLEN'S VISIT.

The captain had too much to say when the first cutter's crew went on
board and learned that matters had taken place just as had been
anticipated, the lugger having suddenly glided out of what had seemed to
those on board the sloop to be a patch of dense tropical forest, and
then sailed away as if to reach the open sea, paying not the slightest
heed to the repeated summonses which she received from the _Seafowl_.

More stringent commands in the shape of shot would have followed, but
for the fact that the second cutter, which had been despatched up the
river in search of Mr Anderson's expedition, suddenly, to the surprise
of all on board, glided out of the same patch of forest as the lugger
had appeared from some little time before, and upon catching sight of
the sails of the craft they had followed, had continued the pursuit as
rapidly as the crew could force their boat along.

"The place is a regular maze, Mr Anderson," said the captain, as he
described all that had taken place, "and the scoundrel who commands the
lugger--I'll hang him to the yard-arm, Mr Anderson, whether he's a
Yankee or English born, and the bigwigs of the United States and in
Parliament at home may settle among themselves whether I've done right
or not, for he has got the wrong man to deal with if he thinks he is
going to play with me.  He played with me, Mr Anderson, and tricked me
into the belief that he had surrendered, so that I should not fire upon
him, and manoeuvred his lugger so as to keep Mr Munday with the second
cutter between us.  Bah!  I'll never forgive Mr Munday for letting
himself be so out-manoeuvred.  He has been as bad as you have, sir."

"I'm very sorry, sir," said the first lieutenant meekly.

"And so you ought to be, sir!  But, as I was telling you, the scoundrel
led the second cutter a pretty dance, Munday following him till from the
deck here it seemed that all he had to do was to tell his coxswain to
put his boat-hook on board the lugger and bring his prisoners alongside
here."

"Well, sir, and he did not?" asked the chief officer.

"No, sir, he did not!" cried the captain angrily; and then he stopped
short for a few moments.  "Well," he continued then, "aren't you going
to ask why he didn't take the lugger a prize?"

"I was not going to interrupt you, sir, but I should be glad to hear."

"Very good, then, Mr Anderson, I will tell you.  It was because the
scoundrel played a regular pantomime trick upon us--yes, sir, a regular
pantomime trick.  Look yonder," continued the captain, pointing towards
the shore.  "What can you see there?"

"The edge of the forest that comes down to the bay nearly all round as
far as I can make out, sir."

"Exactly.  Well, somewhere over yonder the lugger suddenly sailed out,
and of course we were astonished, for no glass that we have on board
shows the slightest sign of an opening, while before we had got over our
surprise, all of a sudden the second cutter, which went up the river to
follow you, popped out of the same place as the lugger.  Now, sir, how
do you explain?  Could you come out of the mouth of the river where you
went in, while the second cutter, which I sent up the river after you,
came out at the same spot as the lugger?  Explain that, if you please."

"It is simple enough, sir; the little river forks and forms two mouths.
I sailed down one, and Mr Munday after we had met sailed down the other
in pursuit of the enemy, and came out as you saw.  It is quite simple,
sir."

"Then I must be too dense to understand it, Mr Anderson," said the
captain angrily; "and now look here, sir," he continued, "you tell me
that the river has two mouths?"

"Yes, sir."

"There's one, then," said the captain, pointing to where it could be
plainly seen.

"Yes, sir."

"Then where's the other, sir?"

"Really, sir," replied the first lieutenant, glancing round and seeing
that the two middies were hearing every word and striving hard to keep
their faces straight in spite of an intense desire to laugh--"Really,
sir, I cannot point out the exact spot, but I suppose that it is where
the lugger and the second cutter came out."

"You suppose that, sir, do you--suppose it!" roared the captain,
thumping the rail with his open hand.  "Well, that's what Mr Munday
supposes; but where is it, sir--where is it?"

"I must ask Mr Munday, sir, for I suppose he examined that part of the
coast when he came out himself."

"Suppose--suppose--suppose!" cried the captain.  "I'm sick of all this
supposition.  Mr Munday knows nothing whatever about it.  The lugger
sailed out, and after a bit the second cutter sailed out and continued
the pursuit--for I suppose it was a pursuit?"

"Yes, sir, of course."

"Don't say of course, Mr Anderson.  I tell you it was all like a
pantomime trick.  He has thoroughly examined the coast there, and he can
find no second mouth."

"River's shut it up again, Dick," whispered Murray.

"He has regularly muddled it, Mr Anderson," continued the
captain--"just as you muddled your part of the expedition; and the
fact is that these slaver people have here an intricate
what-do-you-call-it?--the same as the classical fellow.  Here, you boys,
it is not long since you left school: What did they call that puzzle?
You, Mr Roberts."

"I forget, sir," said the midshipman, upon whom the captain had turned
sharply.

"More shame for you, sir!  Now, Mr Murray, I hope you have a better
memory."

"Labyrinth, sir," replied the lad.  "Of course--labyrinth!  A child
could have answered such a simple question;" and the speaker turned to
the first lieutenant again, while Murray cocked his eye at Roberts and
Roberts made a derisive "face" suggestive of scorn and contempt, and as
much as to say, Then if a child could have answered it, why couldn't
you?

"Yes," continued the captain--"a labyrinth, Mr Anderson, and it is very
plain that the slaving scoundrels believe that their place is _so_
confusing and strong that they can set his Majesty's sloop of war at
defiance, and continue to carry on their abominable traffic as they
please.  But I think not, Mr Anderson--I think not, sir, for we are
going to show them that we laugh at all their slippery talk about the
island, or whatever it is, belonging to the American Government, and
that we are a little too sharp to be deceived over their hiding-places.
Only narrow ditches like so much network through swamps.  Dreadfully
confusing, of course, till you have been through them once, and
afterwards as easy to thread as a big packing-needle.  I'm disappointed
in Mr Munday, I must say, but here is a splendid opportunity for you,
you young gentlemen.  You are not going to allow yourself to be baffled
by a bit of a maze, Mr Murray?"

"No, sir; I hope not," said the lad.  "And you, Mr Roberts?"

"No, sir, now we have been through forest, or cane brake, as Murray
calls it."

"Of course you will not let such trifling obstacles stand in your way,"
said the captain, beginning to pace up and down now, and rubbing his
hands.  "We are going to find out here more than we expect, and after
long disappointments make up for the past.  Now, Mr Anderson, it is
very plain that this Mr er--What do you say the American scoundrel is
called?"

"His principal, Allen, addressed him as Huggins," replied the first
lieutenant.

"Huggins!  Bah!  What a name!  It suggests a convict of the worst type.
It is a name bad enough, young gentlemen, to condemn any ruffian.
Huggins!  Why, it literally smells of villainy.  But as I was going to
say, this Huggins has placed himself completely in our hands by firing
upon his Majesty's forces, and we are now going to give him a thoroughly
severe lesson."

"I hope so, sir," said the chief officer.  "Hope so, Mr Anderson!"
cried the captain, turning.  "We are going to, and at once.  But look
here, you tell me that the man's principal owns quite a handsome country
seat up yonder?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you saw the slaving barracks where they collect the unfortunate
wretches which are brought over from the West Coast of Africa?"

"No, sir; we saw nothing of that kind, but the surroundings are thickly
wooded as well as highly cultivated, and this must all be done by
numbers of slaves."

"Exactly, and this--what do you say his name is?--Allen?"

"Yes, sir."

"--lives the life of a wealthy slave-owner there?"

"Boat just slipped out from among the trees, sir!" cried Murray
excitedly.

"How dare you interrupt me in that rude--Eh?  Yes, of course!  A boat,
Mr Murray?  What do you make her out to be?--Not coming to the attack?"

"No, sir," replied the middy, giving his fellow a quick glance full of
mirth.  "Row-boat, sir, pulled by a dozen black fellows--six oars a
side.  Man holding the ropes in white.  Looks to me like--"

"The scoundrel Huggins coming out to surrender?"

"No, sir," said the lad eagerly.  "I can't quite make out at this
distance, but I think it's like the thin delicate-looking Mr Allen whom
Huggins was so insolent to."

"What!" cried the captain.

"Yes, sir," said the chief officer, who had had his glass to his eye;
"Mr Murray is quite right.  This is the head man--proprietor, I
suppose--of the plantation."

"Come to surrender," said the captain, rubbing his hands, and then
taking the glass his chief officer offered to him.  "A nice scoundrel!"
muttered the captain, as he scanned the boat.  "Everything in style, eh,
and a black slave to hold a white umbrella over his head for fear the
sun should burn his cheeks.  Well, things are going to alter a good deal
for him.  The cowardly dog!  This is showing the white feather, and no
mistake.  Well, Mr Anderson, I did not expect this."

The captain tucked the telescope under his arm and drawing himself up,
marched off, while preparations were made for the coming boat's
reception.  The men were at their stations, and a couple of marines took
their places at the gangway, while the young officers eagerly scanned
the chief occupant of the boat, the doctor, who had just come on deck
after seeing to the slight injuries of the first cutter's men, joining
the midshipmen.

"Thank you, Murray," he said, handing back the glass the lad had offered
him.  "So this is the diabolical ruffian whose men fired upon his
Majesty's able seamen and officers, is it?  Well, he doesn't look very
terrible.  I think I could tackle him with a little quinine."

"Yes, doctor; he looked to me like a thorough invalid," whispered
Murray.

"He is an invalid, my lad.  Had fever badly.  The fellow's come for
advice."

"What's that?" said the captain sharply, for the doctor had made no
scruple about giving his opinions aloud.

"I say your slaver or pirate captain looks as if he had come to visit
the doctor and not the captain," replied the gentleman addressed.

"Come to go into irons," said the captain.

"Not he, sir.  He doesn't want iron; steel is more in his way.  Poor
fellow!  He looks as if you could blow him away."

"From the mouth of a gun?  Well, he deserves it."

"But surely this is not the ruffian you folks have been talking about--
firing upon the boats, and--Ah, here he is!"

For the well-made cutter now came alongside, the slave crew who rowed it
and the coxswain being well-armed, and hooking on quite as a matter of
course, the latter showing his white teeth, an example followed by the
rest of the crew, while the occupant of the stern sheets rose feebly and
painfully, gladly snatching at the hands offered to him, by whose aid he
climbed the side with difficulty and stood tottering on the deck.

"The captain?" he said to Mr Anderson.  "No; I saw you ashore, sir.
Thanks," he added, taking the arm the chief officer extended to him.  "I
am greatly obliged, sir, for I am very weak."

"Yes," said the doctor, stepping forward.  "A deck-chair, there.  That's
right, Mr Murray; a little more under the awning.  Sit down, sir.  Mr
Roberts, a glass of water, if you please."

"You are very good, gentlemen," said the visitor, recovering a little,
for he was evidently on the point of fainting.  "I am better now.  Can I
speak to the captain?"

"Yes, sir," said that gentleman, coming forward frowning, and rather
taken aback by the aspect of one he looked upon as a surrendered
prisoner.  "Now, sir, what have you to say?"

"Only that I wish to express my grief, captain, that the untoward
business of the past twenty-four hours or so should have occurred."

"Very pretty, sir," said the captain sternly.  "You set me at defiance,
fire upon his Majesty's forces, and then presume to come aboard my ship
having the insolence to suppose that all you have to do is to offer an
apology."

"No, sir," said the visitor sadly.  "This has all been none of my doing.
I think your officers will bear me out when I tell you that it was far
from my wish that any resistance should be made to one of the King of
England's ships."

"Indeed!  To one of your king's ships?"

"Yes; I own myself to be one of his Majesty's most unworthy subjects."

"Indeed!" said the captain sharply.  "Why, Mr Anderson, I understood
you to say that this man claimed to be a subject of the United States
Government."

"No--no!" interrupted the planter.  "I can bear this no longer; the end
has come.  All this trouble, sir, has arisen from my weakness in
allowing myself to be subjected to the oppression and led away by the
villainy of the man whom I at first engaged to manage my plantation."

"Look here, my good fellow," cried the captain sternly, "I do not want
to know anything about your overseer, but I take it that you are a
slaver.  Answer me that--yes or no."

"Unwillingly, sir, yes."

"And you confess to having fired upon his Majesty's forces?"

"No, sir; no."

"What, sir!" cried the captain.  "Do you deny that your servants--your
slaves--have done this thing?"

"Sir," cried the planter bitterly, "for long enough my chief servant has
made himself my master.  I, the slave, have fought hard against what has
been carried out in my name."

"Indeed?" said the captain sharply.  "But _qui facit per alium jacit per
se_.  Eh, Mr Murray?  You can render that for this gentleman if he
requires an interpreter."

"I need no rendering of the old Latin proverb, sir," said the planter
sadly, "and I know that I am answerable.  I am a sick man, sick to
death, sir, of the horrible life I have been forced to lead for the past
two years, and I come to you ready to render you every assistance I can
give in clearing away this plague spot."

"Indeed," said the captain, after exchanging looks with Mr Anderson,
"but this plague spot is, I understand, a very prosperous one, and you
seem to lead rather a lordly life with your state barge and retinue of
slaves."

"I beg that you will not mock me, sir," said the planter.  "I am indeed
sincere in what I say, and I offer to do everything possible to enable
you and your men to root out this nest of slavery."

"Exactly," said the captain; "now that I have found it out and do not
want your help.  Yours is rather a late repentance.  Upon what terms do
you propose this?"

"On very easy terms for you, sir," replied the planter; "only that you
will let a broken man die in peace."

The captain looked at his visitor searchingly, and then turned to the
doctor.

"What is your opinion of this gentleman's state?" he said.

"Most serious," replied the doctor, after a very brief examination of
the visitor.

"Humph!" ejaculated the captain.  "And I understand," he continued,
"that you are ready to give me every assistance I need to root out this
plague spot, as you term it?"

"Every help I can," replied the planter.

"Now that I do not need it, eh?"

"I beg your pardon, sir," said the planter; "you do need it.  You have
made your way to my house and plantations without help."

"Yes; my officers soon made their way there," said the captain.

"And it will be easy to burn and destroy there; but you will not be able
to deal with the slave quarters in different parts of the island, nor
with the three well-equipped slaving schooners that voyage to and from
the West Coast of Africa and carry on their sickening trade with this
depot and the other stations."

"H'm!" ejaculated the captain.  "Perhaps not; but I have no doubt that
we shall soon find out all I require."

The planter shook his head sadly.

"No, sir; the task will prove more difficult than you anticipate.  Your
officer here has some little experience of one of your opponents."

"Oh!  There is more than one to deal with, then?" said Mr Anderson
sharply.

"There are two, sir, who act as heads of the traffic--my overseer
Huggins, and his twin brother."

"Ah!  I see," said the chief officer, smiling.  "I am of opinion, then,
that we have met the brother yonder upon the West Coast."

"Most likely, sir," said the planter feebly.  "If you have, you have
encountered another of the most cunning, scheming scoundrels that ever
walked the earth."

"And these are your friends that I understand you are ready to betray to
justice?" said the captain sternly.

"My friends, sir?" said the planter bitterly.  "Say, my tyrants, sir--
the men who have taken advantage of my weakness to make me a loathsome
object in my own sight.  Captain," cried the trembling man, "I must
speak as I do to make you fully realise my position.  I am by birth an
English gentleman.  My father was one of those who came out here like
many others to settle upon a plantation.  In the past, as you know,
ideas were lax upon the question of slavery, and I inherited those
ideas; but I can answer for my father, that his great idea was to lead a
patriarchal life surrounded by his slaves, who in their way were well
treated and happy."

"As slaves?" said Mr Anderson sternly.

"I will _not_ enter into that, sir," said the planter sadly, "and I
grant that the custom became a terrible abuse--a curse which has exacted
its punishments.  I own fully that I have been a weak man who has
allowed himself to be outwitted by a couple of scheming scoundrels, who
led me on and on till they had involved me in debt and hopelessly so.
In short, of late years my soul has not seemed to be my own, and by
degrees I awoke to the fact that I was nominally the head of a horrible
traffic, and the stalking-horse behind whose cover these twin brothers
carried on their vile schemes, growing rich as merchant princes and
establishing at my cost this--what shall I call it?--emporium of flesh
and blood--this home of horror."

"Do I understand you to say that in this island there is a kind of
centre of the slave-trade?"

"In this island and those near at hand, sir," said the planter.  "In
addition there are depots on the mainland which the slavers visit at
regular intervals, and from which the plantations are supplied."

"And you are ready to give information such as will enable me to root
out a great deal of this and to capture the vessels which carry on the
vile trade?"

"I can and will do all this, sir," replied the planter feebly.  "I
thought I had explained as much."

"Yes, yes," cried the captain impatiently, "but I want to know more
about the bargain you wish to make."

"What can I say more, sir?" replied the planter.  "Your protection, so
that I may die in peace, trying to make some amends for the past."

"H'm!" ejaculated the captain thoughtfully.

The planter smiled.

"You are thinking, sir," he said, "that you cannot trust me, and that
you will be able to root out this accursed trade without my help."

"Perhaps so," said the captain drily.

"Let me tell you, then, that you are setting yourself to cleanse an
Augean stable.  You are pitting yourself against men who have made these
swampy forests, these nets of intertwining water-ways, a perfect maze of
strongholds in which your little force of sailors would be involved in a
desperate fight with Nature at her worst.  Your officers and men here
have had some slight experience of what they will have to deal with, but
a mere nothing.  I tell you, sir, that you have no idea of the
difficulties that await you.  I am speaking the plain truth.  You cannot
grasp what strong powers you would have to contend with.  Ah, you,
doctor, you should know.  Tell your captain.  You must have some
knowledge of what Nature can do here in the way of fever."

"Humph!  Yes," said the gentleman addressed.  "You are a proof
positive."

"Yes," said the planter sadly; "I am one of her victims, and an example
of what a strong man can become whose fate has fixed him in these swampy
shades."

"I'll trust you, sir," said the captain suddenly.  "I must warn you,
though, that at the slightest suspicion you arouse of playing any
treacherous trick upon me, your life will be the forfeit."

"Of course, sir."

"Then tell me this first; how am I to lay hands upon this overseer of
yours?  He is away somewhere in hiding, I suppose, on that lugger?"

"Oh no; that lugger is under the command of one of his men, a mulatto.
He has gone off in a canoe, as I expect, to bring round one of his
schooners."

"What for?  Not to attack us here?"

"I expect so; but I can soon tell."

"Ah, how?" asked the captain eagerly.

"By sending a couple of men whom I can trust, to find out."

The captain rubbed his ear and stood looking at the planter
thoughtfully, and then turning to the first lieutenant, he took his arm
and led him right aft, speaking to him hurriedly for a few minutes
before they returned to where the doctor stood evidently looking upon
their visitor in the light of a new patient.

"Now, Mr--Mr Allen," said the captain sharply, "I have been consulting
my chief officer, and he agrees with me that it will be wise to accept
your offer; so tell me what you propose first."

"To return to my little house."

"How can that help us?" exclaimed Mr Anderson sharply.  "How are we to
communicate with you right away in that swampy forest?"

"You misunderstand me," said the planter.  "I mean I shall return to the
place I have by the side of the bay here;" and he pointed across the
water.

"I do not see where you mean."

"Not from here.  It is up one of the little rivers quite hidden amongst
the trees."

"Everything seems to be hidden amongst the trees," said the lieutenant.

"Exactly," replied the planter, smiling; "that is what I wish you to
understand.  You must trust me, sir."

"Well," said the captain, "I will trust you, but you understand that you
are offering to serve me at the peril of your life?"

"It is at the peril of my life I am offering to help you, sir.  Ezekiel
Huggins will not scruple about shooting me like a dog as soon as he
finds that I am actively helping you."

"Then I must place you under my protection."

"If you please," said the planter gravely.  "Your officer here will give
me the credit of being upon your side from the first."

"Yes," said Mr Anderson; "I do that."

"Then I will go back home at once," said the planter, "and I shall look
to you as a friend.  It would be best if you sent a boat and men to lie
up in the little river.  When will you land?"

"At once," said the captain, and he walked slowly to the gangway with
his visitor, saw him into his boat, where, in quite man-o'-war fashion,
the black crew sat with oars erect, ready to lower them with a splash
and row off for a few dozen yards, and then rest while the first cutter
was lowered again with a well-armed crew, including a couple of marines.

"You will take command, Mr Murray," said the captain, "and take note of
everything, being well on your guard.  I trust to your discretion."

Murray listened, conscious the while that Roberts was looking on
scowling blackly.

"In four hours you will be relieved."

"That means you're to take my place," said the middy, telegraphing with
his eyes, greatly to the improvement of his brother middy's aspect.

"Off with you!" was the next command, and as the sailors lowered their
oars, the black crew waiting received their orders to start, leading off
in the direction from which they had come, the cutter following closely,
while her young commander kept a sharp lookout for the mouth of the
little river, which remained invisible, hidden away as it was by the
dense foliage which on all hands came right down to the calm, smooth
water of the great crater-like bay.



CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

ON DUTY.

"I didn't expect this," said Murray to himself, as after sweeping the
shore of the bay he once more fixed his eyes upon the well-manned boat
in front; and then he started in wonder, for Tom May, who sat close to
him astern, said in a low voice--

"I didn't expect that the captain would send us off again directly, Mr
Murray, sir."

"Neither did I, Tom; and, what is more, I did not expect to hear you say
that you were thinking just the same as I did."

"Was you, sir?"

"Yes.  You didn't want to come, I suppose, after going through so much?"

"Not want to come, sir?  I just did!  But what sort of a game is this
going to be?"

"I don't know, Tom," replied Murray gruffly, "only that we've got to
watch this Mr Allen."

"Don't mean no games, do he, sir?"

"I think not; but I look to you to keep your eyes open."

"Which I just will, sir.  But I say, look at that."

"Look at what, Tom?"

"That there little creek opening out, sir.  Seems to me as if they've
got little rivers all round the bay ready for going up or coming out on.
It's just as if they shut 'em up and no one could see 'em afterwards."

Some little time later the planter's boat, which was only a short
distance ahead, turned off at right angles in obedience to a pull at the
starboard line, and seemed to disappear through a beautiful screen of
tropic growth, and as the cutter was steered in after her it was to pass
along a soft green tunnel, flecked with golden sunlight, into a smooth
lake, at one side of which, standing back a short distance from the
silver sandy shore, with its open windows, green shading jalousies,
sheltering trees, and scarlet creepers, was as perfect a little Eden of
a home as mortal eye ever looked upon.  There was nothing to suggest
slavery, sorrow, or suffering in any shape, but everywhere Nature decked
the place with her richest beauties, and as the middy sprang up
involuntarily, a low murmur of admiration ran through the crew.  Then,
as if ashamed of the habit in which he was indulging, Tom May doffed his
straw hat, placed it upon his knees, thrust his crooked index finger
into his capacious mouth, and hooked out from his left cheek a
disgusting-looking quid of well-chewed tobacco, which dropped into the
crown of the hat and was quickly tossed out, to fall _plop_ into the
deep still water of the lake.  The next moment a golden-scaled fish made
a rush for what suggested itself to its ignorance as a delicacy, which
it took, delivered a couple of strokes with its tail which sent it to
the surface, flying out and falling back again with a heavy splash, and
then disappeared beneath the glittering rings which began to open out
and widen more and more towards the borders of the little mirrorlike
lake.

"And sarve you jolly well right too," growled the big sailor, as if
talking to himself.  "What call had you to meddle with luxuries as is
on'y sootable for eddicated people?"

Murray suppressed a smile and looked as serious as he could, giving
orders to the men to pull a few strokes with their oars, sufficient to
send the cutter into the place that had been occupied by the planter's
boat, which was now gliding away from the great bamboo piles driven in
by the rustic steps and platform upon which their guide had landed,
while he now stood resting upon a rail beneath the verandah, which
offered ample shade for the cutter and her crew.

Murray gave a few further orders, sprang out and stepped to the
planter's side as the feeble invalid signed to him to come.

"I heard the commands given to you, sir," he said, "and you will, I
hope, forgive me if I do not seem hospitable."

"I know you are ill, sir," said Murray coldly, "so you need not trouble
at all about me and my men."

"I thank you," said the planter, "and of course I know enough of the
Navy and its discipline not to proffer drink to your men."

"Certainly not," said Murray stiffly.

"Still," continued the planter, "in this hot climate the shelter will be
acceptable.  There is a spring of excellent water in the rockery behind
the house, of which I beg you will make every use you desire.  I am
going to lie down in the room to the left.  You have only to ring, and
my slaves--well, servants," said the planter, smiling sadly as he saw
the lad's brow knit--"my servants will attend to your summons directly,
and bring fruit--oranges, and what your men will no doubt appreciate,
fresh green cocoanuts.  They will make you fresh coffee and bring
anything else you desire, sir."

"I am much obliged," said Murray, rather distantly, "but you must
recollect that I am on duty."

"I do not forget that, sir," replied the planter, smiling; "but you will
not find your duty a very hard one--to guard a poor feeble creature such
as I.  There, sir, you and your superiors are masters here, and I am, I
know, only a prisoner."

"I shall make your position as little irksome as I can, sir," said
Murray; and then, feeling a certain amount of pity for the wretched man,
he added, "Not a very terrible-looking prison, this."

"No," replied the planter, "and when you begin to go amongst the
slave-huts, you will, as a stranger, begin to wonder at their aspect,
for the simplest shelter made with a few bamboos is soon turned by
Nature into a home of beauty."

"But all the same it is a slave's prison," replied Murray.

"We had better not discuss that question, young gentleman," said the
planter bitterly, "for I am sure that I could not convince you that I
have tried for years past to render the slaves' lot more bearable."

"Nothing could make it more bearable," said Murray sternly.

"Certainly not," said the other sadly, "as matters are here."

He raised his broad-brimmed Panama hat and turned to leave the bamboo
platform, but, misjudging his strength, he reeled and would have fallen
headlong into the placid water if it had not been for Murray's prompt
action.  For, starting forward, he flung his arm round the sick man's
waist, and supported him to the doorway that had been pointed out
beneath the broad verandah.

"Thank you!  Thank you!" panted the sick man; and with a painful smile
he continued, "Ah, it is a great thing to be young and strong, with the
world before you and nothing to repent.--If you please, through that
door to the left."

They were standing now in a simply but handsomely furnished hall, whose
principal decorations caught the lad's eyes at once, being, as they
were, sporting and defensive weapons of all kinds, and of the best
manufacture, hung about the walls; but for the moment Murray had no
opportunity for inspecting these objects of interest, his attention
being taken up by the planter, who availed himself of his guardian's
help to pass through the door upon their left, where he sank upon a
couch at one side of the room and closed his eyes.

"Would you like to see our doctor, sir?" asked Murray.

"No, no; thank you, no; it is only weakness," was the reply.  "I have
often been like this, and it will soon pass off.  I shall go off to
sleep before many minutes have passed, and wake up rested and
refreshed."

"Then you would like me to leave you for a while?" asked Murray.

"I should be most grateful, sir," was the reply, "and I shall sleep in
peace now, feeling safe in the knowledge that I have the protection of a
guard."

The planter had opened his eyes to speak, and now closed them tightly,
leaving his guardian to glance round the room, which had but the one
door, that by which they had entered; while the window was open save
that one widely arranged green jalousie shut out some of the sunshine
and subdued the light that floated in.

Murray stepped out, after noticing that an oblong, shallow, brass-bound
box lay upon a side-table--a box whose configuration had but one meaning
for the lad, and that was of a warlike or self-protective character, an
idea which was strengthened by the fact that an ordinary military sword
was hung above the mantelpiece.

"Sword and pistols," thought the lad.  "What does he want with so many
weapons?  I should have considered that there were enough in the hall
without these."

He noticed that there was a hand-bell upon the side-table, a fact which
suggested that a servant was within reach, and as the lad stood in the
hall once more he looked about him, and then, feeling that he had
entered upon a special charge, he crossed to the next door, that facing
the one he had just left, and upon thrusting it open found himself in
what was evidently used as a dining-room, being about double the size of
the other, and having two windows whose lath-like shutters half darkened
the room.

"I don't want to play spy all over the house," said Murray to himself,
"but I am in charge of this planter fellow, and I ought to know who is
about the place.  But I don't know," he muttered; "it isn't the duty of
a naval officer."

Frowning slightly, he stepped out on to the bamboo platform again and
signed to the big sailor to follow him back to the door.

"Here, Tom," he said, and glancing down at the man's bare feet, he
added, in a low tone, "You have no shoes on, so just go quietly through
the bottom of the building and see what rooms there are and what black
servants are about."

"Ay, ay, sir!" said the man softly.

"Go quietly," added Murray; "the owner is ill and has dropped asleep."

"Ay, ay, sir!" replied the sailor, and in regular able-seaman swing upon
the points of his toes he stepped out of the hall-like central room of
the place, taking in the little armoury the while, and left his officer
alone, the door closing behind him as silently as he stepped.

"How still it all is," thought the middy, and he went cautiously back to
the little room which he looked upon as the planter's study, pressed the
door slightly open, and peered in, to see that the occupant had not
stirred, while his deep breathing now sounded plainly, till Murray let
the door fall to and went back towards that through which Tom May had
passed upon his mission.

As the middy approached, it was drawn open again.

"Hallo, Tom!" said the lad.  "Back already?"

"Ay, ay, sir!  There's on'y two cabins to look at there, and one's a
cook's galley, and t'other's stooard's pantry."

"Did you see the black servants?"

"No, sir, and there ain't no white uns neither."

"Sort of summer-house," thought Murray; and then in connection with his
duty he told the sailor to go up-stairs and examine the bedrooms.

"Which way does the cabin ladder lie, sir?" asked the man.

"I don't know, Tom," was the reply.  "Try that door."

He pointed to one that was on the far side of the hall and had struck
him at first as a movable panel to close up a fire-place; but upon the
light cane frame being drawn out it revealed a perpendicular flight of
steps, up which the sailor drew himself lightly and lowered himself down
again.

"Well?"

"Arn't no rooms there, sir," whispered the man, with rather an uneasy
look in his eyes.

"What do you mean?"

"It's just the ship's hold, sir, turned upside down like.  Sort o' cock
loft of bamboo spars jyned together at the top--rafters, don't they call
'em, sir?"

"Yes, of course."

"That's right, then, sir, and they're all thatched and caulked with palm
leaves."

"Not a bedroom at all, then, Tom."

"No, sir, but it's a sort o' sleeping accommodation all the same, 'cause
there's a couple o' netting sort o' hammocks slung all ready; but I
shouldn't like to have my quarters there," continued the man uneasily.

"Why not?  It must be cool and pleasant."

"Cool, sir, but not kinder pleasant."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you see, sir, it's so plaguey dark."

"What of that?  So's the sloop's hold."

"Yes, sir, but this here's so unked dark."

"Well, you don't mind the dark?"

"No, sir, I dunno as I do so long as I've got my messmates nigh at
hand."

"Look here, Tom, I don't understand you," said Murray.  "You're keeping
something back.  Why are you hesitating?  You don't mind the dark."

"No, sir; it's the rustling sounds as I don't like."

"Pooh!  Rats," said Murray.

"Nay, nay, sir.  I knows what a rat can do in a ship's hold as well as
any one who has been to sea.  What I heered arn't no rats."

"Birds, then."

"Tchah, sir!  That arn't no birds."

"What is it, May, since you seem to know?"

"Some'at oncanny, sir."

"_Uncanny_?  What can it be uncanny?"

"I dunno, sir.  Some'at as arn't real."

"What do you mean?"

"I dunno, sir, and I 'spects--"

"Suspect what?  Why, Tom, you don't mean to tell me that a great strong
sailor like you fancies that the place is haunted?"

"Oh no, sir, I don't go so far as to say that," said the man.

"Then what do you mean?"

"That's what I can't exackly tell you, sir.  All I knows is that as soon
as I got my head and shoulders well up among them bamboos there was a
roosh as if half-a-dozen people was a-comin' at me, and then some one
whispered something to the others, and they whispered back.  It was jest
for all the world, sir, as if some one said `Hist!  It ain't him,' and
t'others whispered back and that settled 'em into going on talking
together oneasy like; and then I come down."

"Without making out what it was, Tom," said Murray, laughing softly.

"Nay, sir; I seemed to know right enough; and it arn't nothing to laugh
at."

"What is it, then, Tom?"

"Why, sir, I don't go for to say as it is, but it sounded to me like
oneasy slaves as had met their ends aboard some o' they slaving craft,
and couldn't rest."

"Tom May!" said the middy; and he would have burst out laughing, but for
the thought that he might awaken the sick man in the room where he had
lain down to rest.  "Come out here."

"It's of no use to say anything to the lads outside," grumbled the big
sailor, "for they think just the same as I do, sir."

"Why, you haven't spoken to them," said Murray.

"Not to-day, sir, but we often have talked about it, sir, and what might
happen to them fellows as man the slaving schooners.  Something must
come to 'em some time or another after what they've done to the niggers.
Stands to reason, sir, as they can't go on always as they do."

"I'm not going to argue about that at a time like this, but I do wonder
at a big sensible fellow like you are, Tom--a sailor I always feel proud
of--beginning to talk about ghosts and rooms being haunted, just like
some silly superstitious old woman."

Tom May drew himself up proudly and smiled at the first portion of his
young officer's speech, but frowned at the latter and shook his head.

"Ah, it's all very well, sir, for a young gentleman like you to talk
that how, and you and Mr Roberts, sir, has been at me before and
laughed at me and my messmates; but, you see, we're a deal older than
you are, and been at sea two or three times as long.  We've seen bad
storms, and all sorts o' wonders such as young people don't come
across."

"No doubt, Tom," said Murray quietly; "but come along outside.  I want
to station my posts."

"Ay, ay, sir!" said the man, with a sigh of relief; but before he
followed his officer he stepped on tiptoe to the opening leading up to
the loft, and made an offer, so to speak, shrank back, then advanced
again, and ended by sharply and shrinkingly closing the screen-like door
and backing away with a sigh of relief.

"Feel better, Tom?" said the middy, with mock seriousness, as they stood
out in the full light of day again.

"Ah, you're a-laughing at me, sir," said the big sailor, shaking his
head.  "I know, sir, though you're a-pretending to look as serious as a
judge."

"Enough to make me look serious, Tom.  But are you sure that any of the
restless ones didn't slip down after you before you shut the door?"

"Eh?  What, sir?" whispered the man hurriedly.

"You don't think as--" He looked behind and round about him, before
continuing.  "Why, of course I am, sir.  You're a-making fun of a
fellow, sir.  But if you'd been up yonder and heered 'em--"

"I should have poked about with the barrel of my musket and found that
the rustling was made by birds or rats."

"Nay, sir," said the man confidently, "'twarn't neither o' they things.
If it had been they'd ha' skilly wiggled away at once.  And besides,
sir, they wouldn't ha' made a man feel so 'orrid squirmy like.  I felt
all of a shudder; that's what made me know that they were something as
didn't ought to be."

"Snakes, perhaps, Tom."

The man started, stared, snatched off his straw hat, and gave his head a
vicious rub, before having another good look back at the thatch-roofed
summer-house of a place.

"Say, Mr Murray, sir," he said at last, "did you say snakes?"

"Yes, Tom; perhaps poisonous ones."

The man gave his head another rub, and then ejaculated in a strange
long-drawn way the one word--

"Well!"

"I've read that in places like this they creep in under the flooring,
and then make their way up the holes and into the thatch after the birds
or rats upon which they live."

"Do they now, sir?" said the man excitedly.

"Yes, and some of them are horribly poisonous; so you must take care how
you deal with them."

"Poisonous, sir?" continued Tom.  "Them sort as if they bite a man it's
all over with him and the doctor arn't able to save his life?"

"Yes, Tom," continued Murray; "in one of these islands particularly the
people call the serpent the _fer de lance_, a bite from which is very
often fatal."

"Kills a man, sir?"

"I believe so."

"Then I arn't surprised at them calling it so, sir.  Nothing could be
too bad for it.  That's it, sir, and now I arn't a bit surprised at my
feeling as I did, sir.  I wondered what made me come so all-overish like
and fancy there was something about as oughtn't to be.  I arn't a chap
as gets skeared about a bit o' danger, sir; now, am I, sir?"

"No, Tom; I believe you to be a brave fellow that your officers can
always trust."

"Thankye, sir; that's what I want to be--chap as can stand a bit o'
fire, sir, eh?" said the man, with a broad grin.

"Yes, Tom, and that's what made me feel vexed at your being so
superstitious."

"Sooperstitious, sir?" said the man, giving his head another rub.
"That's what you call it, is it, sir?  Well, but arn't it enough to make
a fellow feel a bit creepy, sir, to have them dry-land eels squirming
about overhead ready to give him a nip as means Dr Reston shaking his
head all over you and calling your messmates to sew you up in your
hammock with a twenty-four pound shot at your feet, and the skipper
reading the sarvice over you before the hatch upon which you lays is
tilted up, and then _splash_, down you goes out o' sight at gunfire.  I
don't see, sir, as a fellow has much to be ashamed of in being a bit
shivery."

"Nor I, Tom, if he shivered from an instinctive fear of a poisonous
serpent.  But you were not afraid of that, eh?"

Tom May screwed up his face again with a comical grin, shook his head,
and then, after a glance here and there at his messmates who were to be
stationed as sentries--

"Well, not azackly, sir," he said.  "I was reg'larly skeared at
something, and I did not know what; but I see now, sir.  It was my
natur' to--what you called 'stinctive."

"Well, we'll leave it there, Tom," said Murray smiling, "but I'm not
quite satisfied.  I'll go and have a look by and by."

"Ah!  But Mr Murray, sir, you won't go and think I was a bit--"

"Never mind what I thought, Tom; and now come on.  I want to see about
the positions the men are to be in.  To begin with, I should like the
two men in the cutter to lie off a bit further."

The order was given, and a fresh position was taken up before the middy
walked carefully all round the planter's rest-house and carefully
stationed his men on duty, adding a few words about keeping a sharp
lookout for the approach of danger, and at a whisper from the big
sailor, including snakes.

This done, the lad began to amuse himself by examining the attempts that
had been made to render the place beautiful, and it was while thus
engaged, and noting that the forest all round the clearing and
cultivation was apparently impenetrable, giving the idea that the
cottage could only be approached by water, that Tom followed up three or
four rather peculiar sniffs by one that was most suggestive of a desire
to call his officer's attention to something he wished to say.

Murray, who was pretty well acquainted with the sailor's peculiarities,
turned upon him at last sharply--

"Well, Tom," he said, "what is it?"

"Oh, nothing, sir, on'y I didn't want to seem imperent."

"I'm glad to hear it, my lad; but what did you want to say?"

"I was on'y thinking, sir."

"What about?"

"Why, sir, it seemed to me as if we was taking so much trouble to keep
watch over this here sick gentleman."

"Well, go on; don't hesitate so."

"Beg pardon, sir; I hesitate like 'cause I don't want to seem imperent."

"Then I'll forgive you if it is, Tom.  Now then, what were you going to
say?"

"Only this, sir; wouldn't it have been handier like to ha' kep' him
aboard the _Seafowl_ where the watches are going on reg'lar, and the
doctor could ha' looked in upon him now and then?"

"Perhaps it would, Tom," replied Murray, "but Captain Kingsberry and the
first lieutenant may have had special reasons for what they are doing."

"Of course, sir; azackly, sir; but somehow this here does seem a bit
quiet like after what we was doing before."

"Less exciting, Tom?"

"Yes, sir.  Don't think it likely, do you, sir, that the Yankee chap who
has been giving the gent inside so much trouble and nearly wherriting
his life out over the slaver, may drop in to see him, do you, sir?"

"No, Tom, I don't," said the middy shortly.  "Neither do you."

Tom May shook his head and looked very hard at his officer.

"Beg pardon, sir, but you arn't quite right like, because that's just
what I was thinking, and that you might like for us all to be quite
ready for him if he did come."

"What more could I do, Tom?" said the lad anxiously, for the man's words
made him think that he had been neglecting some precaution.  "A good
lookout is being kept, isn't it?"

"Seaward, sir," replied the man, "but I was thinking as the lads round
the back arn't in sight of one another."

"Oh!" cried Murray.  "And you think that the enemy might come stealing
down one of the paths through the forest?"

"Didn't see no paths, sir," said the man, looking at him wonderingly.

"Neither did I, Tom."

"O' course not, sir," said the man, giving himself a punch in the ribs
with his doubled fist.  "Here, I don't know what I could be thinking
of."

"Nor do I, Tom.  Mine's rather a curious duty, namely, to take care that
this gentleman does not leave this place, and to treat him as it seems
to me so that while he is a prisoner he shall not in his state of health
fancy that he is one."

"Skipper wants to keep friends with him so as he'll show us where all
the niggers are, sir, and give us a chance to make a good haul of prize
money?"

"Perhaps so, Tom."

"Well, sir, captain knows best, and the first luff knows what's second
best.  I dunno about Mr Munday, sir, but I wish some un else had my
watch, that I do, sir.  Our job burning out the black chief's place over
yonder was a bit too hot a job, but I'd rather have orders to do the
same sort o' thing again than be doing this here.  It's too sleepy for
me.  Can't you set me 'sploring, sir, or something of that kind?  For
I'm no good at all onless I'm on active sarvice."

"You'll have plenty to do by and by, Tom, depend upon it."

"Hope so, sir, but I want something to do now.  Couldn't do a bit o'
fishing, could I, sir?"

"No, Tom; we have no hooks and lines."

"That's a pity, sir.  Seems to me that one might catch a good dish for
the gunroom mess, and a few over for the men, judging from the way they
bit out in the lagoon there, sir."

"We're on duty, Tom."

"O' course, sir.  What do you say to me and a couple of the lads cutting
bamboos and routing out the snakes I heered yonder in the roof.  Too
dangerous, perhaps, sir?"

"Much, Tom, and I don't think it would accord with our duty here."

"No, sir; o' course not, but you'll excuse me, sir?"

Murray nodded, and then, feeling hot and drowsy with the heat and
silence, he suddenly recalled what the planter had said about summoning
the servants if he wanted anything.

"Fruit!" he said to himself.  "Well, I'll begin with a good drink of
water.--I'm going to have a look round, Tom," he said quietly.

"Thankye, sir; I'm glad of it," said the man eagerly; and he followed
his officer promptly as he walked round the cottage, and said a few
words to his sentries, who seemed to gladly welcome the coming of some
one to relieve the silence and monotony of their task.

As he passed round the extreme pale of the garden-like clearing, Murray
noted more than ever how the grounds were enclosed by a natural hedge of
the densest kind, so that it was like a wall of verdure which was
admirably tended and for the most part of the tropical kind, being kept
clipped and intertwined to such an extent that it would have been
impossible for wild creatures if they haunted the island to pass
through.

Returning to the front, and after glancing at his boat, Murray signed to
the big sailor to follow him, and entered through the verandah and the
porch into the armoury-like hall, where he stood listening for a few
moments before making a gesture to silence his man, who was about to
speak.  For Tom stood with wrinkled brow gazing hard at the screen which
covered the way up to where the hammocks hung, as if rather uneasy in
his mind about what that screen covered.

"I'll be back directly, Tom," said Murray, and then he went on tiptoe
into the room he had mentally dubbed the study, and found that
apparently the planter had not stirred, but was plunged in the deep
sleep of exhaustion.

"I will not wake him," thought the lad, and after gazing down at the
worn and wasted countenance before him, his eyes again wandered over the
walls and their decorations.  He again noted the case upon the table,
and then stepped back to where his man stood musket in hand watching the
screen.

"Well, Tom," said the lad; "heard anything of the snakes?"

"No, sir, and I've been listening for 'em for all I'm worth.  I don't
think they'll stir onless they hear the way up shook.  Seems a rum place
to get up and sleep.  I should expect to find the snakes had took the
hammocks first."

"Well, we're not going to disturb them, my lad; but come into that other
room; I want a glass of water, and I suppose you could manage a drink
too."

"Thankye, sir; I just could--a big one.  I should ha' ventured to ask if
I might get one, only I'm pretty sure that lake water's as salt as
brine."

"There must be a spring somewhere," said the lad, and making his way
into the room that was used for meals, he advanced to the table at one
side, where there was another hand-bell.  "I don't want to awaken our
prisoner, Tom," he said.  "Here, take up the bell and go through to the
back where the pantry place is, and ring gently."

"Ay, ay, sir!"  And the man softly raised the bell, thrusting in his
hand so as to secure the tongue, and then the pair stepped back into the
hall and through the door at the back, Murray closing it after them,
before he signed to his follower to ring.

The man obeyed, at first gently, but as there was no reply he rang more
loudly, and followed up his summons by thrusting the bell through a
window at the back and sounding it vigorously.

"Can't be no one at home, sir," said the big sailor, turning to gaze at
his officer.

"So it seems," said Murray, as he stood in the intense silence
listening; "but that Mr Allen said that his servants would come and
attend to any of my wants."

"Them chaps as rowed was all his servants or slaves, I suppose, sir?"
said the man.

"Yes; but it is the hottest time, and these people out here always sleep
in the middle of the day.  Go out and follow up the side of that stream
where they poled up the boat."

Tom May looked at him in a peculiar way.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" said Murray.

"I warn't with you when the blacks pulled the boat away."

Murray started, and stared at his man in turn.

"Neither was I there," he said, with a strange feeling of being puzzled
assailing him.

"You said poled up the stream, not pulled, sir," said the man.  "I
didn't think when I spoke."

"How absurd!" said Murray.  "Here, let's go out this way round to the
front and hail the cutter.  The boat-keepers will know."

"It's all right, sir," said May, for there was a rustling sound at the
back and light steps, and the man exclaimed, "Here's one of them."

"Why, it's one of our lads," said Murray excitedly.

"There's a bell ringing somewhere, sir," said the sailor, who now came
out of the deep shadow at the back of the cottage.  "Was it you,
messmate?"

"Yes, my lad," said Tom, speaking to his brother sailor, but staring
hard at his officer the while.  "This here's the bell, lad, and it was
me."



CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.

BOILING OVER.

"Have you seen any of the black servants about?" asked Murray.

He was going to say slaves, but the word sounded so repugnant that he
changed it.

"Them black chaps, sir?" replied the man.  "You mean them as rowed the
boat?"

"Yes, or any other ones about the place."

"No, sir, only them as rowed, sir, and I was wondering where they got
to.  They seemed to go out, boat and all, like a match.  I see 'em one
minute, and the next they'd gone in amongst the trees; but where it was
I couldn't make out, and when I asked one of my messmates he didn't seem
to know neither."

"Go back to your post, my lad," said Murray.  "Keep a sharp lookout, and
report everything you see."

"Ay, ay, sir!" said the man, saluting and going back amongst the trees,
watched by Murray and May till he disappeared, when their eyes met in a
questioning look.

The sailor was the first to speak.

"Yes, sir!" he said.  "Was you saying anything?"

"No, Tom; I thought you were going to speak."

"No, sir.  I was only thinking it seemed precious queer."

"Yes, it does--queer is the word, Tom.  I can't quite make it out."

"That's what's the matter with me, sir.  Seems so lonesome like.  Makes
me feel as if somebody was dead here, and I was precious glad when you
spoke.  Something arn't right somehow."

"The place is lonely because the people have taken fright at our coming
and gone off into the forest, I suppose.  It is a lonely place, as we
found out for ourselves when we had lost our way."

"Oh, that's it, is it, sir?  Well, I'm glad to know it, but somehow that
don't seem quite enough for me.  I still keep feeling as something's
wrong, and as I said sir,--don't laugh at me, sir, 'cause I can't help
it.  I arn't got a head like you as eggsplains everything for you.  I
get a bit silly and puzzled like sometimes, and just now it seems to me
like a man might feel if some one was dead here."

As the sailor spoke he pushed his straw hat back from his forehead and
wiped the big drops of perspiration away.

"Tom," said Murray sharply, "you're about the most superstitious fellow
I ever ran against.  You're frightened of shadows."

"Yes, sir, you're right," whispered the man eagerly, and he glanced
sharply about him.  "Shadders--that's it, sir; that's just what I am:
things as I can't understand and feel like.  I allers was, sir, and fell
foul o' myself for it; but then, as I says to myself, I ain't 'fraid o'
nothing else.  I'm pretty tidy and comf'table in the wussest o' storms,
and I never care much if one's under fire, or them black beggars is
chucking their spears at you, because you've got some'at to shoot at
again."

"No, Tom; you're stout enough then."

"Thankye, sir; I am, arn't I?  But at a time like this, when you've got
pyson sarpents crawling about over your head, and what's worse, the sort
o' feeling comes over you that you're in a place where as we know, sir,
no end of them poor niggers as was torn away from their homes has come
to a bad end, I'm that sooperstitious, as you call it, that I don't know
which end of me's up'ards and which down.  I don't like it, Mr Murray,
sir, and you may laugh at me, sir, but I'm sure as sure that there's
something wrong--some one dead, I believe, and pretty close to us too."

"Not that Mr Allen, Tom?" said Murray, starting, and in spite of his
fair share of common sense, lowering his voice, as for the moment he
seemed to share the sailor's fancies.

"Him, sir?" whispered the man.  "Like as not, sir.  He looked bad enough
to be on his way for the locker."

"Yes," agreed Murray; "he looked bad enough.  But pooh!  Nonsense!"

"Pooh!  Nonsense it is, sir.  But mightn't it be as well to go in and
see how he is, sir, and ask him 'bout where the black servants is?"

"Wake the poor fellow up from a comfortable sleep just because you have
taken a silly notion into your head, Tom?  Why, you are going to make me
as fanciful as you are yourself!"

"Yes, sir, I wish you was," said the man.  "I should feel a deal better
then."

"But I don't know, Tom," said Murray suddenly.  "I don't want to disturb
him; still, as he told me to do just as I pleased here, and when I
wanted anything to ring for the servants--"

"Yes, sir, and they don't obey orders, sir, as they should; it's like
doing him a good turn, sir, to let him know that his crew's a bit
mutinous, being on'y slaves, you know, and like us, sir, agen him."

"Come with me, Tom," said the lad, yielding to a sudden resolve.  "I
will just wake him and ask a question or two."

"Come with you, sir!" said the man to himself.  "I just think I will!
You don't ketch me letting you leave me all alone by myself in this here
unked old place;" and after a sharp glance in the direction of the way
up, he followed his young officer on tiptoe into the room where they had
left the planter asleep; and then both started back in astonishment, to
stare one at the other.  For the couch was vacant, and for a few minutes
the surprise sealed the middy's lips.

"Why, Tom," he said at last, "we left that Mr Allen there asleep!"

"He'd got his eyes shut, sir," said the sailor dubiously.

"And now he has gone, Tom."

"Well, he arn't here 't all events, sir."

"But where can he be?" cried Murray.  "I did not see him come out."

"No, sir, I didn't neither," said the man, shaking his head very
solemnly.

"I--I can't understand it, Tom.  Can he have--"

"Gone up-stairs to get a nap there, sir, 'cause the hammocks is more
comf'table?" suggested the man.

"Impossible."

"I dunno, sir.  He's used to snakes, o' course, and they knows him."

"But we must have seen him go, Tom.  We have been about all the time."

"Must ha' been when we was out at the back, sir, ringing the bell.
That's it, sir; you woke him up, and he turned grumpy like and went
somewheres else so as not to be disturbed."

"That must be it, Tom, and you have hit the mark.  There, slip up the
stairs quietly and see if he is in one of the hammocks."

The sailor's face crinkled up till it resembled the shell of a walnut;
then he twisted his shoulders first to the left, then to the right, and
followed up that movement by hitching up his trousers, staring hard at
his young officer the while.

"Well, Tom, look sharp!" cried the latter.

"Ay, ay, sir!" replied the sailor.

"Why don't you go?" cried Murray severely.  "What are you thinking of?"

"Snakes, sir," said the man laconically.

"Bah!"

"And I was a-thinking, sir, that p'raps you'd do it easier than me."

"Why, Tom," cried Murray angrily, "that is disobeying your officer's
orders."

"Disobeying, sir?" said the man sharply.  "Nay, sir; not me.  Only you
see, sir, you was a-telling me about the way in which them snakes
pricked a man with their tails."

"Tails!  Nonsense, man!  Teeth."

"I didn't 'member for sartin, sir, which end it was; but you said they
did it so sharp, sir, that it killed a man out-and-out before the doctor
could 'stract the sting."

"Yes, I did tell you something of the kind, Tom."

"Nay, sir, not something of the kind," cried the sailor reproachfully;
"that's what it was azackly.  And then you see, sir, I don't want to
brag, but you telled me yourself another time that I was a werry useful
man."

"That must have been a mistake, Tom, for you are not proving it now,"
said Murray, speaking sternly but feeling amused by the man's evasions
all the while.  "Why, Tom, I thought you were not afraid of anything
that was solid."

"No, sir, but you can't call them squirmy tie-theirselves-up-in-a-knot
things solid; now, can you?"

"Tom May, you're a sham, sir," said Murray sternly.  "There, I am
deceived in you.  I'll go myself;" and he made for the screen quickly.

But the man was quicker, and sprang before him.

"Nay, you don't, sir!  I am mortal skeared of snakes and sarpints, but I
arn't going to let my officer think me a coward and call me a sham.
Case I do get it badly, sir, would you mind 'membering to tell Dr
Reston, sir, as they say whiskey's the best cure for bites?  And as
there's no whiskey as I knows on aboard, p'raps he wouldn't mind trying
rum."

"I'm sure the doctor wouldn't like me meddling with his prescribing,
Tom," said Murray shortly.  "Now then, up with you!"

"Ay, ay, sir!" cried the man, in tones which sounded like gasps; and
Murray stood by, dirk in hand, ready to make a chop at any reptile which
might appear, while Tom drew himself up into the shadowy loft, and after
a good look round lowered himself down again with a sigh of relief.

"No Mr Allen's up there, sir," he said.

"Then where can he be?" cried the middy excitedly, and he ran back
across the hall and into the study, to pass his hand over the couch,
which still felt slightly warm.

"P'raps he's gone into the gunroom, sir," said Tom respectfully.

"What, the hall where the guns and things are?"

"Nay, nay, sir; I meant the eating quarters--the dinin'-room, as you
call it."

Murray ran back across the hall to see at a glance that no one was
beyond, and he turned upon his follower again.

"Tom," he exclaimed angrily, "what do you make of this?"

The man shook his head.

"But he can't have come out of the study while we were looking out at
the back."

"That's so, sir," said the man, shaking his head the while.  "It's quite
onpossible, sir, but he did."

"Tut, tut, tut!" ejaculated Murray quickly.  "We must visit all the
posts and see if any one saw him pass."

"They couldn't, sir, 'cause if they had they'd have challenged and
stopped him."

"Of course they would," cried the lad excitedly.  "Here, let's have
another look round the study.  He must be there."

"That's just what I'm a-thinking, sir," cried the man solemnly.

"Then where is he?  Don't stand staring at me like a figure-head!
Haven't you anything to say?"

"No, sir; only you 'member how all-overish I come, sir."

"Yes, when you declared it was as if there was a dead man in the place."

"Yes, sir; I knowed there was something wrong."

"Well, then, stupid," cried the lad, in a passion, "there's no live man
here."

"No, sir," said Tom, shaking his head.

"Well, then," cried Murray, passionately, striking his open palm with
the blue and gold inlaid blade of his dirk, "where's your dead man?"

"Can't say, sir," replied the man, speaking very slowly.  "Seems to me
it's a mystery."

"A mystery?" cried the middy, looking round at the pictures and other
decorations of the place and addressing them as if they were sentient,
listening creatures.  "Here's a big six-foot strongly-built British
sailor talking to his officer like an old charwoman about mysteries!
You, Tom May, if ever you dare to talk such nonsense to me again, I'll
punch your silly head."

"Beg pardon, your honour," said the man coolly, "but don't the articles
o' war say something 'bout officers not being allowed to strike their
men?"

"Bother the articles of war!" roared Murray, leaping at the man, seizing
him by the shoulders, and shaking him to and fro with all his might.
"Bother the articles of war!" he repeated, breathless from his
exertions.  "They don't say anything about knocking an idiot's head
off!"

"No, sir," said the man humbly and respectfully; "not as I knows on."

"Then I feel disposed to do it," cried the middy passionately.  Then
stooping to pick up the dirk, which had slipped from his hand, to fall
with a loud jingle upon the polished floor, "No, I don't," cried the
lad, in a vexed, appealing way.  "I couldn't help it, Tom!  Look here,
old lad; you've always been a good stout fellow, ready to stand by me in
trouble."

"Ay, ay, sir, I have," said the man quietly, "and will again."

"Then help me now, Tom.  Can't you see what a mess I'm in?  Here has the
captain entrusted me with the care of this prisoner--for prisoner he is,
and you can't make anything else of him."

"Ay, ay, sir; prisoner he is, and you can't make nowt else of him."

"That's right, Tom," cried the lad, growing quite despairing in his
tones.  "Sooner or later Mr Anderson or Mr Munday will be coming to
relieve me of my charge, and the first question whoever it is will ask
me will be, Where's your prisoner?"

"Ay, ay, sir!  That's right enough."

"There, there!  Look at it in a straightforward business-like way,"
cried the lad, and to his disgust the man slowly turned his eyes all
about the place.

"Bah!" cried Murray angrily.  "What are you thinking of?  Can't you
understand that I want you to help me?"

"Ay, ay, sir, and I'm a-trying as hard as nails, sir," said the man,
rousing himself up to speak more sharply; "but somehow my head don't
seem as if it would go."

"Think, man--think!" cried the middy appealingly.

"That's what I'm a-doing of, sir, but nothing comes."

"He must be somewhere, Tom."

"Yes, to be sure, sir; that's it," cried the man excitedly.  "You've hit
it now.  I couldn't have thought that myself."

"Oh-h-h-h!" groaned Murray.  "Was ever poor wretch so tormented!  What
shall I do?"

"Lookye here, sir, I want to help you."

"Oh, I feel as if I could knock your silly old head off!" cried the
middy, with a stamp upon the floor.

"Well, sir, do.  You just do it if you think it will help you.  I won't
mind."

"Oh, Tom, Tom!" groaned Murray.  "This is the worst day's work I ever
did."

"Think it's any good to sarch the place again, sir?"

"But there's nothing to search, Tom."

"Well, there arn't much, sir, sartainly, but it'll be more satisfactory
to go over it once more."

"Come along, then," said the middy.  "Anything's better than standing
still here."

"Ay, sir, so it is," said the big sailor; and together the pair went
from room to room, Tom May insisting upon looking under the couch in the
study, under the table, and then lifting up the square of Turkey carpet
that half covered the well-made parqueterie floor, which glistened with
the polishing given to it by busy slave labour.

But there was no sign of him whom they sought, and a careful examination
of the garden and plantation was only followed by the discovery which
they had made before, that the place was thoroughly closed in by a dense
natural growth of hedge, ablaze with flowers in spite of the fact that
it had been closely clipped and had grown dense in an impassable way.

"Let's get the boat here," said Murray, at last; and going to the
platform, Tom May hailed the cutter where it swung from its grapnel.

"Now then, you two," cried the middy angrily, "you have been asleep!"

"Nay, sir," cried the men, in a breath.

"What, you deny it?"

"Yes, sir," said one.  "It was so hot that I did get precious drowsy
once."

"There, I knew I was right!"

"Beg pardon, sir; just as I was going off my mate here shoves a pin into
me and rouses me up with a yell.  I was never asleep."

"And you are ready to say the same?" cried the middy.

"Jes' the same sir," said the other man, "only not quite.  It was the
same pin, sir, but he jobbed it into me further.  We was both awake all
the time, sir."

"Then you must have seen that Mr Allen come out of the cottage and be
rowed away."

"What, to-day, sir?" said the first boat-keeper.

"Do you think I meant to-morrow, sir?" cried Murray, who was boiling
over with rage and despair.

"No, sir, of course not," replied the man, in an injured tone; "but you
might ha' meant yesterday, sir."

"Of course," cried Murray--"when you were not on duty here?"

"We done our best, sir, both on us."

"Yes, yes, of course, my lads.  Here, paddle May and me along the edge
of the lagoon."

The man paddled the boat slowly along, and it was not until several
blind lead places, where the boat could be thrust in amongst the
bamboos, had been explored, that a more satisfactory portion of the
surrounding watery maze was found, in the shape of a narrow way opening
into another lagoon which looked wonderfully attractive and proved to be
more interesting from the fact that no less than six ways out were
discovered.

"Try that one," said Murray, and the boat's nose was thrust in, when Tom
May held up his hand.

"Well, what have you to say against it?" cried the middy.

"I only thought, sir, as we might be trying this here one twice if we
didn't mark it somehow."

"To be sure," cried Murray.  "Don't you pretend to be stupid again, Tom.
Now, then, how are you going to mark it?"

"Only so how, sir," said the man, with a grin; and as he stood up in the
boat he bent down some of the over-arching graceful grasses and tied
them together in a knot.  "These here places are so all alike, sir, and
it may save time."

This waterway wound in and out and doubled upon itself for what must
have been several hundred yards, but the middy felt encouraged, for more
and more it struck him as being a way that was used.  Every now and then
too it excited the lad's interest, for there was a rush or splash, and
the water in front was stirred up and discoloured, evidently by a
reptile or large fish; but whether those who used it had any connection
with the missing man it was impossible to say.

"Shouldn't be a bit surprised, sir, if we come upon that Mr Planter's
boat, sir, and his niggers.  Looks the sort o' spot where they might
have built a boathouse to hide their craft in when they didn't want it."

"At all events, my lad, it is one of their places, and--"

"Well, I'm blest, sir!"

"Eh?  What do you mean?  Why don't you go on?"

"Why, can't you see, sir?" said the big sailor sharply.

"No, Tom.  Why, you don't mean to say that--"

"Yes, I do, sir," grunted the man; and he took off his straw hat to have
a good puzzling scratch at his closely-cropped hair, while the middy
stood up to examine two lissome tufts of leafy cane which had been bent
over and tied together.

"Oh," cried Murray, "anybody might have done that who wanted to mark the
place, my lad."

"Yes, sir," said the sailor, grunting, "but anybody wouldn't ha' thought
to make a clove hitch, same as I did a bit ago.  That's my mark, sir--
T.M.'s own.  I'm T.M., sir."

"Don't laugh, man," said the lad passionately.  "I suppose you're right;
but it's horrible, for we've been wasting so much time, and come out
again in the same spot that we went in."

"Can't see as it's wasted time, sir," growled the man.  "I say it's time
saved, for if it hadn't been for my knot we might have gone on round
again."

"Don't talk so much, sir.  Give way, my lads.  Get back into the lagoon,
and we'll try another of these wretched cuts."

Another was soon found and duly marked by breaking down a few of the
bamboos level with the water, and plaiting them this time in an
unmistakable way, the result at the end of close upon an hour proving to
be just the same.

"Never mind," said the middy, speaking through his set teeth.  "It's
horribly disappointing, Tom, but these blind water alleys haven't been
made for nothing.  They prove to me that there must be a special one
which we have to hit, and when we do we shall find that it leads to some
hiding-place--perhaps to where the planter has gone, and we must trace
him."

"I don't see what good it will do, sir, if we do," said the big sailor,
puckering up his brows.

"We must find him, Tom, and take him aboard as a regular prisoner this
time, for he has been deceiving the captain, and all that he has said
can't be true.  Give way, my lads."

After further search which led to their passing another opening twice
over, a spot was found where the growth seemed to be very thick; but it
proved to be yielding enough at last, for the boat's prow glided through
with a rush, and they passed into another tiny lagoon, where as the
large reeds closed in behind them, Tom May slapped his knee loudly.

"I do call it artful, sir," he cried.  "Why, who's going to show me
which is the way out again?  I've got my eye fixed on it, but if I shut
it up I shouldn't be able to find it again.  It's just this," he
continued.  "You holds the bamboos down or on one side, and as soon as
you're gone by up they springs again; and that's why they're called
bamboos, I s'pose--because they bamboozle you.  Now for another way of
marking this here one."

"Yes, let's have no more mistakes, Tom."

"No, sir," said the man, tightening up his lips as he pulled out his
jack knife, before picking out of the biggest giant reeds, one of a tuft
which towered up some five-and-twenty feet.  Through this he drove his
blade, the thick, rich, succulent grass yielding easily, and after
keeping the wound open by the help of a messmate's knife he cut a slip,
and thrusting it through the reed, he drew out the two knives so that
the wound closed up tightly upon the green wedge.

"You are taking a great deal of trouble, Tom," said Murray impatiently.

"It's wuth it, sir--trust me if it arn't," said the man.  "Saves time in
the end; and I'm beginning to think as we're in the right cut at last."

"Give way, then, my men, and let's prove it," cried the middy
impatiently, for the time was passing swiftly, and the horrible feeling
grew upon him that before long some one would appear from the _Seafowl_
to demand where the prisoner was.

The men thrust the boat swiftly across the pondlike place, for on the
other side the reeds seemed to have been lately disturbed; but here
there was another disappointment, for though the bamboos which rose up
had certainly been broken away recently, they grew together so densely
that all efforts to pass through were vain, and Tom May declared at last
that it was only another blind meant to deceive.

"Let's try t'other side, sir," he said, screwing up his face.

"No, no; that looks so easy," said Murray.

"That's some one's artfulness, sir.  Let's try; it won't take long."

Murray was ready enough to try any advice now so long as it seemed good,
and the word being given, the two boat-keepers placed their oars in the
rowlocks and rowed straight at the indicated place, with the result that
they had to unship their oars, for the boat glided right through the
light reeds, which gave way readily here, and almost directly after the
rowing was resumed again, and they found themselves in comparatively
open water for a couple of hundred yards.

"This won't want no marking, sir," whispered Tom.

"Mark it all the same, my lad, when we pass out."

"I will, sir, but we've hit the right way at last.  Look how it rounds
to starboard at the end, sir.  I believe we're going into big water
directly.--There you are, sir," added the man in a whisper, as, after
rowing swiftly onward for nearly a quarter of a mile, the boat glided
round a bend, where, to the midshipman's great delight, they came in
sight of what was pretty evidently the long narrow barge in which the
planter had paid his visit to the _Seafowl_.

The well-made, nattily painted craft was lying well away from the reeds
which shut in the open water, moored by a rope whose grapnel was sunk
not far distant, and Murray held up his hand to impress the need for
silence.

"See the crew ashore anywhere, sir?" asked Tom May.

"No; I believe they're all on board asleep.  Run her up quietly."

The men obeyed, and so cautiously that the next minute the cutter was
close alongside, and there lay the black crew, sleeping profoundly in
the hot sunshine, eyes tightly closed, mouths widely open, and quite a
crowd of busy flies flitting and buzzing overhead, settling upon the
sleepers in a way that would have proved maddening to ordinary people,
but which seemed to have not the slightest effect upon the negroes.

"Hook on, Tom," whispered Murray excitedly.  "Take care they don't slip
away."

The big sailor picked up the boat-hook, and was in the act of reaching
out to take hold of the boat's bow, when one of the sleepers closed his
mouth, slowly opened it again in a wide yawn, and at the same time
unclosed his eyes, saw the big sailor reaching towards him, and then,
showing the whites of his eyes in a stare of horror and dismay, he
uttered a yell which awoke the rest of the crew, who sprang up as one
man, to follow their companion's example, for the first awakened as he
uttered his yell bounded out of the boat and disappeared.

"No, you don't, my black friend," cried Tom, making a thrust with the
boat-hook, and getting hold of the startled man by his waist-cloth, he
brought him up again, kicking, splashing and plunging to the surface,
and drew him hand over hand along the pole of the boat-hook till he had
him alongside the now rocking cutter, when a tremendous lurch freed him.
He would have got away but for the help rendered by the boat-keepers,
one of whom took hold of a leg, the other of a wrist, when he was hauled
in over the side, praying for mercy in very fair English, for the fact
that the big sailor planted a bare foot upon his chest and pressed him
down into the bottom of the cutter quite convinced him that his time had
come.

"Hold your row, you black pig!" growled Tom.  "Think it's killing time
and you're going to be scalded and scraped?"

"Oh, massa!  Oh, massa!  Poor black niggah, sah!" wailed the shivering
captive.

"Be quiet, or--"

Tom May turned the boat-hook pole downwards as if he were going to
plunge it at the poor fellow, and his shouting came to an end.

"No use to go ashore after the rest, sir, eh?" said Tom enquiringly.

"Not the slightest," replied Murray, as the last of the crew reached the
fringing bamboos and plunged in, to disappear.  "But don't let that one
go."

"No, sir; he's right enough.  Better let him know that we're not going
to kill him, though."

"Be quiet, sir!" cried Murray, stepping alongside to where May had his
foot upon the shivering slave's chest.  "No one is going to hurt you."

"Oh, massa!  Oh, massa!  Poor niggah, sah!" sobbed the poor fellow, and
he placed his hands together as if in prayer.

"Hold your tongue!  Be quiet!" cried Murray.  "Now then, speak out.
Where's your master?"

"Oh, massa!  You massa now!" sobbed the poor wretch, shivering
violently.

"Be quiet, sir!" cried Murray.  "Don't be afraid to speak.  Now then,
tell me.  Where is your master?"  It was some minutes before the poor
fellow could grasp the fact that he was not going to be killed outright,
and in the meantime his companions had begun to show themselves, a face
here and a face there, around the edge of the long winding lake,
horribly frightened to a man, but fascinated and held to the spot by
their strong desire to see what became of their companion.

"See 'em, sir?" whispered Tom May.

"Oh yes, I see them; but I want to try and get some information out of
this poor shivering wretch."

"We might ketch the rest on 'em, sir," said the big sailor, "by using
this one as a bait.  Shall we try, sir?"

"No, no; this one will know all they could tell, if we can make him
speak."

"Shall I try, sir?"

"No, no, Tom; you're too big and--"

"Ugly, sir?" said the man, with a grim smile, for Murray had stopped
speaking.

"Too ugly to him," said the middy, laughing.

"Here, you sir," he added gently, as he bent down and tapped his
prisoner upon the shoulder.

"Oh, massa!  Poor niggah, sah!"

"Yes, yes; you said that before," cried Murray.

"Poor beggars, sir, they've been so ill-used that they think every white
man is going to murder 'em."

"Well, let's show the poor fellow that we are not all savages; but we've
begun pretty roughly, Tom, to win this one's confidence.  You did give
it him pretty hard."

"Well, yes, sir, I was a bit rough to him; but if I hadn't been he'd
have got away."

"Now then, let me try.  Here, my lad, I want your master."

"Massa, sah?" cried the shivering prisoner.  "Yes, sah.  Massa, sah!"
And as he spoke eagerly he made a snatch at the midshipman's ankle,
caught it between both hands, and raising the lad's foot placed it
quickly upon his forehead.

"Hullo!  What do you mean by that?"

"Massa!  Massa now, sah.  Poor niggah massa."

"Oh, bother!  Nonsense!" cried Murray.  "No, no.  Where's your master,
Mr Allen?"

"Massa Allen, sah.  Good massa, sah.  Sick man; go die soon."

"Good master?"

"Yes, sah!  Good massa, sick bad, sah.  Die, sah."

"Well, where is he--Massa Allen?"

"House, sah.  Go sleep, sah," said the man, growing eager and excited,
and making an effort to replace Murray's foot upon his head.

"No, no; don't do that," cried the lad impatiently.  "Now tell me, where
is your master?"

"Massa Allen, sah.  House, sah.  Go sleep, sah."

"It's very evident he does not know, Tom," said Murray.  "What's to be
done?  Do you think we could get anything out of the others?"

"No, sir.  If he don't know they don't."

"Well, what is best to be done?"

"Try t'others, sir.  I don't think it's any good, but we might try."

"But we must catch them first."

"Oh, that's soon done, sir."

"But how?"

The big sailor laughed.

"When I was a youngster, sir, we boys used to get out in one of the
Newlyn boats, sir--in Mount's Bay, sir, and trail a line behind to get a
few mack'rel, sir, for our mothers.  Well, sir, it was easy enough to
trail the line and hook, but it warn't so easy always to get the bait;
for we used to think the best bait was a lask."

"A what, Tom?"

"Lask, sir, and that's a strip out of the narrowest part of a mackerel,
cut with a sharp knife down to the bone, so that when the hook was put
through one end one side was raw fish and the other was bright and
silvery."

"I see, Tom," said Murray.

"Nay, sir, you only fancy you can see it.  If you could see it twirling
and wiggling in the water when it was dragged after the boat and we
pulled fast, you'd see it looked _just_ like a little live fish, and the
mack'rel shoot theirselves after it through the water and hook
theirselves.  That's the best bait for a mack'rel, and after the same
fashion one nigger's the best bait to catch more niggers."

"Then you think we can get hold of more of the boat's crew by--"

"Yes, sir," said Tom, interrupting and grinning the while, "but without
cutting a piece out of him with either a knife or a whip.  Poor chaps,
they get that often enough, I'll be bound.  You only want to let this
one see that he won't be hurt, and he'll soon bring the others up."

"But we've been so rough with him already.  I'm afraid it will be a hard
task."

"Not it, sir.  They get so knocked about that a good word or two soon
puts matters right again.  You try, sir."

"Why not you, Tom?  You seem to know their ways better than I do."

"Nay, sir, you try.  See how he's watching of us, sir; he's trying to
make out what we want him for, and he knows a lot of plain English.  You
try him, sir."

"What shall I say, Tom?"

"Oh, anything you like, sir.  You're cleverer than I am, sir.  Here, I
know--tell him you want the other chaps to man the boat.  They'll come
fast enough if he calls 'em."

"Here goes, then, Tom; but I don't believe I shall do any good.--Here,
Sambo!" he cried.

The man showed his glistening white teeth in a very broad grin and shook
his head.

"Not Sambo?" said Murray.  "Well, then, what is your name?"

"Caesar, sah--July Caesar."

"Well, Caesar, then.  I want your master, Mr Allen."

"In de house, sah.  De lilly house;" and the black pointed in the
direction of the cottage.  "Sick, bad, sah."

"Not there now, Caesar," said Murray.

"Big house, Plantashum," said the black sharply, and he pointed in quite
another direction.

"Oh, at the plantation house?" said Murray.

"Yes, sah."

"Call your fellows, then, to row the boat to where he is," said the
middy.

The black looked at him doubtfully.

"Boys run away, sah.  'Fraid massa take 'em sell to bad massa."

"Oh no," said Murray, reaching forward to pat the man upon the shoulder;
but the poor fellow's action told its own tale.  He started violently,
shrinking right away with a look of dread in his eyes.  "There, don't do
that," Murray continued, "I'm not going to hurt you;" and following the
man he patted his shoulder softly, when the look of horror faded away,
to give place to a faint smile, one which broadened into a grin.

"Massa no take and sell boys away?"

"No; tell them we come to set them free," said Murray.

"Set niggah free?" cried the black excitedly.

"Yes; that's why my ship has come."

"Massa Huggin say come catch all de boy an' flog 'em heart out."

"Did your overseer tell you that, boy?" growled Tom May; and the man
winced at the deep fierce voice of the sailor.

"Yes, sah; flog 'em all, sah."

"Then you tell your Massa Huggin he's a liar," growled the big sailor.

The black showed his teeth in a wider grin than ever as he shook his
head.

"No tell um," he said.  "Massa Huggin kill um dead."

"Where is he now?" said Murray sharply.

"Massa Allen sick, sah."

"No, no; Mr Huggins!"

"Massa sailor captain tell Massa Huggin--"

"No, no; I'm not going to tell your overseer anything."

The black looked at the speaker searchingly for a few moments, glanced
round as if to see whether they were likely to be overheard; and then,
as if gaining confidence, he leaned towards the midshipman and
whispered--

"Massa overseer go to get men from schooner--fighting men come and kill
sailor and burn up ship.  Big fire.  Burn ship.  Burn, kill sailor.
Massa no tell what Caesar say?"

"Oh no; I shall not tell Master Huggins, Caesar," said Murray, smiling.
"Now tell your men to come back and row your boat.  I want to find Mr
Allen."

The black looked searchingly in the midshipman's face once more, and
then apparently gaining confidence, he turned sharply upon the big
sailor, when that which he had gained seemed to be dying out again and
he glanced at the shore of the lagoon, and Tom read so plainly that the
black was thinking again of flight that he gave him a sharp slap on the
shoulder, making him wince violently and utter a low sob.

"Why, you are a pretty sort of fellow," cried the sailor, his face
opening out into a jovial smile.  "You seem to have a nice idee of a
British sailor!"

"Bri'sh sailor?" said the black, slowly repeating the tar's words.  "You
Bri'sh sailor, hey?"

"To be sure I am, my lad--leastwise I hope so."

"Bri'sh sailor no hurt poor niggah?"

"Not a bit of it, darkie.  Can't you understand we've come to set the
slaves free?"

"No," said the black sadly.  "Massa Huggin say--"

"Massa Huggin say!" growled the big sailor, frowning fiercely.  "You
tell your Massa Huggins that the British sailor is going to--See here,
you benighted heathen.  I want to make you understand some'at.  There,
hold still; I'm not going to hurt you.  Now see."

As the sailor spoke he untied the knot of his neckerchief and threw it
round the black's neck, made a fresh slip-knot and drew it tight, and
with horrible realism held up one end of the silken rope, while with a
low wail the poor shivering wretch sank unresistingly upon his knees in
the bottom of the boat.

"Don't, don't, Tom!  You're frightening the poor fellow to death."

"Nay, sir; he'll understand it directly.  It's all right, darkie," he
continued, with a broad grin at the black's fear.  "I want to show you
what a British sailor means to do with your Massa Huggins."

"Massa Huggin?  No kill Caesar?"

"Kill Caesar, darkie?" cried the sailor.  "No, no.  Hang--yard-arm--
Massa Huggins.  We'll teach him to talk about burning his Majesty's Ship
_Seafowl_.  There, now do you understand?" cried Tom, slipping off the
black silk handkerchief and knotting it properly about his own brawny
neck, while as he gave the black another hearty clap on the shoulder the
poor fellow's shiny black face seemed to have become the mirror which
reflected a good deal of the tar's jovial smile.  "There, sir,"
continued the big sailor; "that's our Mr Dempsey's way o' teaching a
man anything he don't understand.  `Show him how it's done,' he says,
`with your fisties, and then he can see, and he never forgets it
again.'"

"That's all very well, Tom," said Murray, smiling, "but it's rather a
rough style of teaching, and you nearly made the poor fellow jump
overboard."

"That was afore he began to grasp it, sir.  He's got it now.  You can
see now; eh, darkie?"

"Bri'sh sailor kill Massa Huggin, no kill poor niggah," cried the black.

"There, sir, what did I say?" cried Tom.  "British tar's the niggers'
friend, eh, what's your name?"

The black sprang up and executed two or three steps of what he meant
most probably for a triumphal dance.

"Steady, my lad, or you'll have one of them stick-in-a-brick pretty
little foots of yours through the bottom planks of the boat."

_Plop_! went the black, letting himself down, not upon his feet, but
upon his knees, and laying his head between the sailor's feet he caught
one by the ankle, raised it and began to plant it upon his woolly head.

"What game does he call that, sir?" cried Tom, in astonishment.

"He's following up your style of teaching by an object-lesson, Tom,"
cried the middy merrily.  "It's to show you he's your slave and friend
for ever."

"Ho!" ejaculated the big sailor.  "That's it, is it?  Well, that'll do,
darkie; we understand one another; but recklect this, you arn't
civilised enough yet for object-lessons.  Here, what are you up to now?"

For the black had shuffled upon his knees to the side of the boat, to
hold his hands to the sides of his capacious mouth, while he sent forth
a cry wonderfully like the blast given trumpet-like through a conch
shell to call slaves to plantation work in the fields.

No sooner did the deep tone float across the water than there was a
movement amongst the giant reeds, and first in one place and then in
another and from both sides, black faces and woolly heads began to
appear, while the black who had uttered the cry made for one of the
oars, passed it through the rowlock astern and began to paddle the boat
along cleverly enough towards his fellows, who one by one began to take
to the water like so many large black dogs, springing in with heavy
splash after splash and beginning to swim.

This went on, to the amusement of the sailors, till every member of the
boat's black crew had been dragged into, or by his own effort had
climbed into, the planter's boat.

"Better be on the lookout, my lads," said the middy.  "They may play us
false and row off."

"Not they, sir," said Tom confidently.  "You may depend upon it they've
been squinting at us through them bamboozling reeds, and took all my
lesson in right up to the heft.  I begin to think, sir, that when Mr
Huggins shows his ugly yellow phiz to us again he'll find that we've
been making a few friends among the niggers."

"I hope so, Tom; but all this time we've not been thinking about our
prisoner that we were set to watch."

"Yes, sir, and that's bad; but just you cheer up, sir, and all will come
right yet."

"But the prisoner, Tom--the prisoner," cried Murray sadly.

"Wait a bit, sir.  Anyhow we've got his boat and his crew; and they
knows his ways, and perhaps 'll find out his whereabouts a good deal
better than we could."

"Yes, Tom, but--"

"Nothing like patience, sir," said the man.  "You mark my words."



CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.

THE LOST PRISONER.

Murray looked angrily at the big sailor for a few minutes, and then,
mastering his annoyance at the easy way in which the man took his
trouble, he said--

"Oh, I'll have patience enough, Tom; but what is to be done next?"

Tom May scratched his head and his eyes wandered round till they lit
upon the shiny black face of the negro, who was watching him eagerly.

"I'd make that chap lead the way back to the cottage place, sir.  He
knows all the ins and outs, and he'll show us in half the time we could
do it."

"That's good advice, Tom, but what for?  I'm in no hurry to meet Mr
Anderson."

"But you've got to do it, sir, and the sooner you get it over the
better."

"That's true, Tom," said the middy sadly.

"'Sides, sir, how do we know but what Mr Allen may have come back while
we've been gone?"

"Tom!" cried Murray excitedly, and after the fashion of the proverbial
drowning man, he snatched at the straw the sailor held out to him.
Turning to the black, who was squatting at his feet, he cried, "Take us
to Mr Allen."

The slave nodded and grinned as he settled himself down, chattering the
while to his crew, who raised their oars ready to dip them in the placid
water, when a thought seemed to strike him and he tucked the oar he had
seized under one knee and turned to the middy, saying sharply--

"You go kill Massa Allen?"

"Kill him?  No!" cried Murray, in surprise.

The man nodded and gave the black crew an order, and their oars dipped
at once, while the little English party in the cutter followed the lead,
and to Murray's surprise he found himself taken through an entirely
fresh canal-like lead of water of whose existence he had not the
slightest idea.

"I thought so, sir," said Tom May, in a low tone of voice.  "This chap
knows his way about, and it's worth a Jew's eye to have found him and
made friends.  You'll see that he'll show us where to go.  Shouldn't
wonder if he takes us straight to that Mr Allen."

"If he only would, Tom!" replied the midshipman, speaking as if a great
load was being taken off his mind.

"Oh, you wait a bit, sir."

"Bother your wait a bit, Tom!  I'm sick of hearing it," cried the lad
angrily.  "Why, look here, they're making straight for the cottage after
all."

"Well, didn't you expect they would, sir?" cried the big sailor.

"No; what's the good of that?"

"What I said, sir.  Maybe the gentleman has come back again."

"No such good fortune, Tom.  Well, we shall soon know;" and the lad sat
back in the cutter's stern sheets steering and watching the planter's
boat, to which he kept close up, while the black crew threaded their way
in and out amongst the canes, till they pulled up by the bamboo
landing-stage.

"Massa Allen in dere, sah," whispered the black, pointing at the doorway
of the cottage, and smiling with satisfaction as if delighted at the
skill with which he had played the part of pilot.

Murray sprang on to the creaking bamboo stage, and, ready to believe
that the sick man might have returned, he signed to May to follow him,
hurried into the place, thrust open the study door and had only to
glance in to satisfy himself that the little room was still vacant.

"Let's look in the other room, Tom," said the middy sadly, "but it's of
no use; our prisoner has not come back."

A hurried glance was given to each portion of the cottage, and then
Murray led the way back to the landing-stage, where the black coxswain
sat grinning a welcome.

"He's not there, my lad," cried Murray, shaking his head.  "Master Allen
has gone."

"Massa Allen gone!" repeated the black, and then, as if placing no faith
whatever in the young officer's assertion, he shuffled out of the boat
on to the stage, and then ran up to the cottage doorway, where he
hesitated for a few moments before entering cautiously on tiptoe.

"See that, sir?" whispered Tom May.  "He knows all about them pisonous
sarpents."

At the end of a few minutes, during which the midshipman and his
follower caught a glimpse or two of the black as he hurried from room to
room and evidently made a thorough examination of the place, the man
reappeared, with the broad eager grin his countenance had worn entirely
gone, to give place to a look of concern and scare.  It seemed to Murray
that the black's face no longer shone but looked dull and ashy, as if he
had been startled, and his voice sank to a whisper as he crept up close
to the young midshipman and whispered--

"Massa Allen gone!"

"Well, I told you so," said Murray sharply.  "Where has he gone?"

The black raised one hand to his lips, upon which he pressed all his
fingers together, while he looked behind him and then all about as if to
see if any one could hear his words--words which he seemed afraid to
utter.

"Well, did you hear what I said?  Where has he gone?"

The black shook his head violently.

"There, Tom, your idea is worth nothing," said Murray sadly.

"I warn't sure, sir, of course," said the man, "but still I couldn't
help thinking he might have come back, 'specially as the darkie here was
so cock-sure.  Hallo!  What's he up to now?" continued the sailor.  "Hi!
Stop him, my lads!"

For the black had suddenly made a dash for his boat, and sprung from the
stage into his place.

Murray's first thought was that the black was about to escape with his
companions, but directly after he saw the cause of the man's scare, for
there was the quick, steady chop, chop of oars, and the youth's heart
sank with a feeling of despair, for the bows of the _Seafowl's_ second
cutter suddenly came into sight, with her crew pulling hard, and there
in the stern sat the man, after the captain, whom he least desired to
see, and close by him, sitting up smart and consequential to a degree,
and seeming to fix his eyes at once keenly upon those of his brother
midshipman, was Roberts, looking as if he divined that something was
wrong.

"And ready to jump upon me," said Murray to himself.  "Oh, how am I to
begin?" he thought.  "I wish I was anywhere out of this!"

But the first lieutenant did not wait for the lad to begin; he opened
the ball himself.

"Well, Mr Murray," he cried, "what does this mean?  Why have you got
the planter's boat and crew out here?"

"We found them, sir, by accident," faltered the lad.

"Well, I suppose they did not want much finding.  Where is your
prisoner?"

Murray gazed at his officer vacantly, trying hard to reply, but, as he
afterwards said to Roberts, if it had been to save his life he could not
have uttered a word.

"What's the matter, my lad?" said the chief officer kindly.  "Not ill,
are you?"

"No, sir," replied Murray, finding his voice at last, and watching the
lieutenant hard, followed by Dick Roberts, who was grinning as if he
enjoyed hearing what he looked upon as the beginning of "a wigging."

"Then why don't you speak?  I said where is your prisoner?"

"I--I don't know, sir," was the extremely feeble reply.

"Wha-a-a-t!" shouted the lieutenant.  "I don't know, sir," cried Murray,
desperately now.  "He's gone."

"Gone?  My good sir," cried the lieutenant, "you were sent here in
charge of him for some cryptic idea of the captain, and you tell me he's
gone?  You don't mean to tell me that you've let him escape!"

"I didn't let him escape, sir," faltered the lad, glancing at his
brother middy and reading in his countenance, rightly or wrongly, that
Roberts was triumphing over the trouble he was in--"I didn't let him
escape, sir," cried Murray desperately, "for I was being as watchful as
possible; but he was very ill and weak and said that he wanted to lie
down in one of the rooms there.  Tom May will tell you the same, sir."

"I dare say he will, sir, when I ask him," said the lieutenant sternly.
"Now I am asking you the meaning of this lapse of duty."

"I did keep watch over him, sir, and posted my men all round the
cottage; but when I came to see how he was getting on--"

"Getting on, sir!  Getting off, you mean."

"No, sir; I did not see him go off, sir," faltered Murray.

"Don't you try to bandy words with me, sir," cried the lieutenant,
beginning to fulminate with rage.  "There, speak out plainly.  You mean
to tell me that when you came to look for your prisoner--for that is
what he is--he was gone?"

"Yes, sir; that is right," said the lad sadly.

"That is wrong, Mr Murray.  Gone!  And you stand here doing nothing!
Confound it all, man, why are you not searching for him?"

"I have been searching for him, sir."

"But you are here, my good sir, and have not found him."

"No, sir, but I have done everything possible."

"Except find him, sir.  This comes of setting a boy like you to take
charge of the prisoner.  Well, it was the captain's choice, not mine.
I'll be bound to say that if Mr Roberts had been sent upon this duty he
would have had a very different tale to tell."

Murray shivered in his misery, and tried to master the desire to glance
at his brother middy, but failed, and saw that Roberts was beginning to
swell with importance.

"Well, Mr Murray," continued the lieutenant, after pausing for a few
moments, after giving his subordinate this unkindly stab and, so to
speak, beginning to wriggle his verbal weapon in the wound, "it is you
who have to meet the captain when you go back after being relieved, not
I.  That I am thankful to say.  But I fail to see, Mr Roberts, what is
the good of setting you on duty with a fresh set of men to guard the
prisoner, when there is no prisoner to guard.  Here, show me where you
bestowed the scoundrel."

Murray led the way into the cottage, with his heart beating heavily with
misery; the lieutenant followed him in silence; and Roberts came last,
glancing at Murray the while and with his lips moving in silence as if
he were saying, "I say, you've done it now!"

"Absurd!" cried the lieutenant, a few minutes later, and after looking
through the room where the planter had lain down.  "You might have been
sure that the prisoner would escape.  Then you did nothing to guard
him?"

"Yes, I did, sir," cried the lad desperately.  "I posted men all round
the cottage."

"And a deal of good that was!  Anything else?"

"I have been examining the place all about, sir, with Tom May and the
two boat-keepers."

"Well, and what was the result?"

"Only that I found one of the hiding-places of this maze of a place,
sir."

"With the prisoner safe within it?"

"No, sir; I only found the planter's boat and crew, sir."

"Of course--just come back after helping their master to escape.  And of
course they denied it?"

"The black coxswain was as much surprised as I was, sir," said Murray.

"Of course he was, Mr Murray; perfectly astounded.  Bah, man!  How can
you be so innocent!  Well, I suppose I must try and get you out of this
horrible scrape, for all our sakes.  Which is the coxswain?  That black
fellow who has been staring at us all the time I have been listening to
your lame excuses?"

"Yes, sir; and I have been thinking that he would be a valuable help to
us in guiding us through the mazes of this strange place."

"Let's see first, Mr Murray, whether he will be any help to us in
finding where the prisoner is.  Call him here."

"I have been trying to use him in that way, sir."

"Humph!" ejaculated the lieutenant angrily.  "Then now let Mr Roberts
try.  Here, Roberts!"

The midshipman stepped up to the officer quickly, after hearing every
word that had been said.

"You called me, sir?"

"Of course I did, sir," said the lieutenant sharply, and speaking as if
annoyed with himself for what he had been about to do.  "Go back to the
boat.  Sharp!"  The lad's eyes flashed with annoyance as he went back,
and the chief officer turned his back and jerked his head to Murray.
"Here," he said, "you had better go on with this, my lad; it is your
affair."

"Thank you, sir," said the lad, heaving a sigh of relief.

"Not much to thank me for, Murray," said the chief officer kindly, "but
you've made a horrible mess of this business.  Now then, the black
fellow."

Murray made a sign to the black, who had been listening all through with
his eyes seeming to start out of his head, and he sprang out of the boat
and hurried to his side.

"Look here, Caesar," he said quickly, "do you know where Mr Allen is?"

The black looked him sharply in the eyes, then gazed at the first
lieutenant, and then all around as if on the lookout for danger, before
he crept closer and whispered--

"Yes, massa.  Caesar know."

"Hah!  This sounds business-like," cried the lieutenant.  "But why in
the name of all that's sensible didn't you examine this fellow before,
Murray?"

"I did, sir," cried the lad, trembling with excitement, as he laid his
hand upon the black's arm.  Then quickly, "Tell me where he is, my lad."

"Massa, Bri'sh sailor no tell Massa Huggin Caesar open him moufe?"

"No, my lad.  No one shall know that you told me.  Speak out."

"Massa Huggin cut Caesar all lilly pieces when he find out."

"We will take care no one shall hurt you," cried Murray excitedly.
"Tell him, Mr Anderson, that we will set him free."

"To be sure," cried the lieutenant.  "You shall be free."

"Bri'sh sailor officer set Caesar free,--Caesar open um moufe?"

"That's right, then open it wide, my sable friend," said the lieutenant.
"Tell me."

"No, massa.  Caesar tell young buccra officer;" and he turned with
sparkling eyes upon Murray.

"Speak, then," cried Murray, trembling with excitement; and the black
glanced round him again as if for danger, and then reached forward so as
to place his lips close to the midshipman's ear.

"Massa Huggin come while Massa Allen fas' 'sleep and take um right
away."

"Hah!" cried Murray.  "But how, my lad, how?"

The black looked from one officer to the other, a smile of cunning
overspreading his features, and he whispered--

"Caesar show Bri'sh officer.  Caesar know."



CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.

BLACK CAESAR.

Murray made a dash at the black and caught him by the arm, while Tom May
sprang to the other side, for, startled by the sudden movement of the
midshipman, the poor fellow winced and looked as if about to run.

"No, no," cried Murray; "it's all right, Caesar.  Show us directly where
Mr Allen is."

"Yes," whispered the man; "but no tell Massa Huggin.  Him kill Caesar
for sure.  Caesar very frighten."

"You shan't be hurt, boy," cried the middy.  "Now then; lead us to where
Mr Allen is.  Quick!"

The black nodded his head, gave a sharp glance round, and then with
trembling hand caught hold of Murray's wrist and led him into the hall
again, closely followed by the lieutenant and Tom May, who was as
watchful as if he felt sure that their guide was bent upon making his
escape.

"Shall I follow with some of the men, sir?" said Roberts, who was in a
state of fret from the fear of missing anything that was about to take
place.

"No, it is not necessary," said Mr Anderson.

"I beg pardon, sir," cried Murray; "from what this black fellow has
said, I think you ought to have some of the men with us."

"Oh, very well, then," cried the lieutenant, "bring half-a-dozen of the
lads with you, Mr Roberts;" and the hall had a very business-like
aspect as, to Murray's great disgust, Caesar led him into the study.

"Why, what are you doing, man?" he cried.  "Mr Allen is not in here.
I've searched the place three times."

The black looked up at him quickly and showed his teeth; but it was in
no grin of cunning, for the poor fellow's face looked muddy and strange.

"Caesar know," he whispered hoarsely, and the midshipman felt the
fingers which gripped his wrist twitch and jerk as he was pulled towards
the corner of the room just beyond the window.

Here the black stopped short, trembling violently, and pointed downward,
before darting back, loosening Murray's wrist and making for the door.

"Stop him, Roberts," cried Murray; but his words were needless, for the
way of exit was completely blocked by the midshipman and his men.

"What does he mean by all this?" said Mr Anderson angrily.

"I don't quite know, sir," cried Murray; but he followed and caught the
black by the arm.  "Come," he continued; "show us where Mr Allen is."

"Caesar berry frighten', massa," whispered the poor fellow, whose teeth
were chattering; but he yielded to Murray's hand and followed him back
towards the corner of the little room, where his eyes assumed a fixed
and staring look as he leaned forward and pointed downward at the thick
rug of fur which covered that part of the floor.

"What does he mean?" cried the lieutenant.  "Is the planter buried
there?"

"Show us what you mean," cried Murray, and he tried to draw the black
forward; but the poor fellow dropped upon his knees, resisting with all
his might, and, with eyes starting and rolling and teeth chattering, he
kept on pointing downward, darting his index finger at the floor.

"I beg pardon, sir," said Tom May gruffly.  "I think I know what he
means."

"What is it, then?" cried Murray.

"It's snakes, sir, same as I heered up-stairs."

"Perhaps so," said the lieutenant, "so take care; some of these serpents
creep into the houses here, and they are very poisonous.  Mind what you
are about, Mr Murray.  Let the black pull the rug away.  Mr Roberts, a
couple of your men here with cutlasses.  Be smart, my lads, and strike
the moment the brute is uncovered."

"Ay, ay, sir!" came in a chorus from the guard; but every Jack stood
fast, waiting for his fellows to volunteer.

"Pull the rug away, Caesar," said Murray, as soon as the men had been
ordered to advance, which they did after making a great show of spitting
in their hands to get a good grip of the cutlasses they drew.

"No, no, no, massa.  Caesar 'fraid, sah.  Massa Huggin kill poor Caesar
dead, for show."

"Is there a snake there, darkie?" said the lieutenant impatiently.

"No, massa.  No, massa," panted the poor fellow.  "Caesar brave boy; no
frighten snake.  Massa Huggin kill um for show."

"What does he mean?  Master Huggin will make a show of him?"

"No, sir," cried Murray.  "He's afraid of being murdered for showing the
way.  I have it, sir," he said now excitedly.  "That explains
everything.  There's a way out here;" and stooping down the middy seized
one corner of the rug, gave it a sharp jerk, and laid bare what seemed
to be a trap-door neatly made in the polished floor.

A murmur of excitement ran through the room, and Murray exclaimed--

"Then the poor fellow has been killed, Tom."

"And buried, sir, seemingly," growled the sailor; and without waiting
for orders, he went down on one knee to raise the broad square flap,
while the black shrank a little more away where he knelt, and began
rubbing his hands together excitedly.

"Well, my lad," cried Mr Anderson, "be smart!  You're not afraid, are
you?"

"Not a bit, sir," growled the big sailor; "but there seems to be some
sort o' dodgery over this here hatchway.  You see, there arn't no
ring-bolt."

"Take your cutlass to it, Tom," said Murray; and as he spoke he drew his
dirk.

"Ay, ay, sir; that'll do it," replied the sailor, and directly after the
middy and he began to force in the edges of their blades so as to try
and prise open the trap.

"Come, come, come," cried the lieutenant, "don't bungle like that;" and
he drew his sword.  "Let me try."

Murray made way, and the officer began to try and force in the edge of
his service blade.

"Humph!  Dear me!" he muttered.  "The floor is made of mahogany.  Very
hard wood.  Not so easy as I thought, May, my lad."

A broad smile covered the big sailor's countenance as he watched his
officer's failure.

"Ay, ay, sir!" he growled.  "Beg pardon, sir; you'll be breaking your
sword."

"Yes, my lad, and I don't want to do that," said the lieutenant.  "Here,
hallo!  What do you mean by that?  Look here, Mr Murray; your nigger is
trying to tell you how to do it.  He knows all about it.  Let him try."

For, as if recovering somewhat from his abject dread, the black knelt
and shuffled about as if longing to perform the task himself.

"Yes, sir, that's it," said the midshipman eagerly.  "Now then, Caesar,
show us how it's done."

But this only made the black shrink away more and more, and begin
shaking his head violently and resuming the pointing as before.

"Here, he must be made to show how it is done," cried the lieutenant
impatiently.  "We cannot waste time like this."

"I think I can manage now, sir," said Murray, for just then the black
caught hold of his hand, slipped his own up the lad's wrist, and pressed
him to one side of the square trap that refused to open.

The rest was plain, for it soon became clear that, though the black was
afraid to do anything towards opening the trap himself, he was quite
ready to use the hands of another party for the purpose.

"Oh, that's it, is it, Caesar?" cried Murray, who now submitted himself
entirely to the slave's direction and let him press his hands down with
a thrusting movement upon one of the floor-boards, with the result that
the square trap glided away smoothly as if running upon rollers, while a
dark opening appeared, showing a flight of ladder stairs running down
into what seemed to be total darkness.

"A subterranean passage leading somewhere or another."

"It is the way out by which Mr Allen went," said Murray excitedly.

"Escaped, you mean," cried the lieutenant.

"Perhaps so, sir; but mayn't it be that he has been taken away by his
enemies?" suggested Murray.

"Well, that we have to see," replied the lieutenant.

"Look here, Caesar," said Murray, addressing the black, "has Mr Allen
gone this way?"

The black took a step or two towards the opening, listened, looked round
cautiously, and then took hold of the lad's arm and drew him away, to
whisper in his ear--

"Massa Huggin come and fesh him away."

"Then you think this Master Huggins is down there?"

The black nodded his head quickly and then pointed to the sailors, ran
first to one and then to another and touched their swords and the
muskets they carried, before pointing downward to the concealed flight
of steps.

"I can understand that, Mr Murray," said the lieutenant.  "He wants us
to go down armed and follow the steps to where they lead; but we must
have lights.  Humph!" he added.  "The fellow understands English well
enough."

For the black darted to a corner closet, opened the door, and took out a
bottle, a box and a silver candlestick which stood all ready, a wax
taper which the black placed upon the side-table, and then, as cleverly
as if he had seen it done scores of times, he took the stopper out of
the little bottle, from which a strong odour of phosphorus arose, took a
match from the box, and thrust it into the bottle, with the result that
he brought it out burning, after the fashion of our fathers' time before
the invention of lucifer matches and congreve lights--a fashion adopted
when a letter had been written and the writer, who knew not adhesive
envelopes and desired to seal his missive, made use of the phosphorus
bottle instead of producing a light with a flint and steel.

"Well done," said the lieutenant.  "Now then, are you going to light the
way?"

The black shook his head and shrank away once more.

"We're to do it ourselves, it seems, Mr Murray;" and the lieutenant
drew his sword.  "I'll trouble you to light me, sir, for I must lead the
way.  Come, Mr Roberts, you can lead the men, and you will keep close
up.  Draw--no, no, leave that dress ornament in its scabbard.  You too,
Mr Murray.  Take two of the men's cutlasses, and they can use their
muskets.  Here, darkie, are you coming too?"

"Yes, Massa buccra officer.  Caesar come show the way.  You no let Massa
Huggin kill poor niggah?"

"That I promise you, my good fellow," said the lieutenant.  "Now, Mr
Murray, forward, please."

To the surprise of all present the black stepped quickly to the top of
the stairs, and kneeling down thrust his head over and seemed to listen
attentively before placing a hand upon the floor upon either side of the
opening and lowering himself down.

"Massa come along quick.  Nobody here."

"How's that?" cried Murray.  "Isn't Mr Allen there?"

"No, massa.  Him gone along Massa Huggin--take him right away, so him no
tell Bri'sh officer where all de slabes hid ashore, and whar to fine de
slaber ship."

"Light is beginning to dawn into my benighted intellect now, Mr
Murray," said the lieutenant, following the midshipman, as, carefully
sheltering the little taper from the damp wind which seemed to blow up
from the hole in the floor, the lad stepped down quickly after the
black.  "And it seems to me, for your comfort, my lad, that you need not
be in the slightest degree alarmed at the prospect of facing the captain
and being called to account for the loss of your prisoner, for your loss
is going to turn out a great gain.  Here, follow close up with the men,
Mr Roberts.  No, not next; I'll have May behind me; he's big and
strong, and he's something to depend upon if we have a sudden attack."

Roberts winced and frowned, for he felt as if his dignity had been a
little touched at being put aside to make way for the big sailor, and in
addition the chief officer had spoken in a way which made matters take a
different turn from what he had expected.

If any one had asserted that he was a bit jealous and envious of his
brother middy he would have denied it with indignation, but all the same
there was a something near akin to envy somewhere in his breast, and he
would have liked it a great deal better if he had been called upon to
play several of the parts which somehow would fall to Murray's share.

So Dick Roberts frowned as he grasped the clumsy cutlass that had been
handed to him by one of the men, and then after four of the party had
received orders to mount guard at the entrance to the subterranean way,
he followed closely upon Tom May's bulky form, ready to help protect
those who had gone before; and grasping his weapon very tightly he stood
at last at the foot of the stairs in a well-paved arched way just lit
faintly by the wax taper, and was able to see that the passage was
composed of the lava which had been quarried from one of the volcanic
masses thrown from a burning mountain ages before.

"Keep together, my lads, close up," said the lieutenant; and his voice
sounded whispering and strange as it seemed to reverberate down a
passage, and finally died away.

"Where does this lead to, I wonder?" said the midshipman softly, and the
walls repeated "I wonder" in a tone that sounded loud.



CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.

"BERRY MUCH 'FRAID."

Julius Caesar, after getting over his first fear of the white strangers
and a natural dread of the fierce American slaver, whose threats seemed
to dominate his life, threw himself bravely into the enterprise upon
which he was engaged and proved himself to be an admirable guide, one
too with a full knowledge of the risks he ran.  He grew more and more
confident now of the strength to protect him of the man-o'-war's men,
and every now and then, as the party continued its way along what proved
to be a carefully constructed tunnel, he stopped short and whispered to
Murray to shade the light while he hurried on into the pitchy darkness.

The first time he did this, after laying his black arm across both
Murray's and the lieutenant's breasts, he seemed to be so long gone that
the latter expressed it as his belief that he had tricked them and
escaped; but this opinion had hardly been whispered in the middy's ear
before there was a faint rustling as of bare feet heard, and then,
breathing hard, the black was close upon them.

"Come 'long now, massa," he said.  "Show light now."

Thrice more this was repeated, and then all at once upon their guide's
return he exclaimed--

"Massa put out light now."

"What for?" said Murray sharply.

"Candle burn all away sure.  Wantum go back.  All dark."

"But how are you going to light it?" said Mr Anderson.

"July Caesar got lilly bottle o' fire; massa Allen lilly bottle, sah."

"But we can't see in the darkness," said Murray.

"Take hol' hand.  Caesar show way.  See with one hand run along top
wall."

Setting aside the seeing, the black soon proved to those who followed
him that he could feel his way along the rest of the distance, during
which it was quite dark; and he hurried his followers along till the
black gloom gradually became twilight, and that increased in power till
it became possible to follow the dimly seen figure which went on in
front.  Then the twilight became a pale green, which grew brighter and
brighter till all at once the black stopped short and whispered--

"No make noise.  Caesar go first and see Massa Huggin gone take Massa
Allen 'way."

The party stopped and saw the black hurry on for a few dozen yards, and
then disappear through what seemed to be a clump of bushes, which pretty
well blocked up the end of the passage.

"I should like to know what's going to be the end of this," said the
lieutenant; "but I suppose we must go on with it now and trust the
black, for he seems to be proving himself honest.  What do you say, Mr
Murray?"

"I feel sure he is," replied the midshipman.

"But his motive?  We are almost complete strangers."

"I think he is a faithful servant of the planter, sir, and wants us to
save him from danger."

"Yes, that's how it suggests itself to me, Mr Murray, though I can
hardly understand such conduct on the part of one of these wretched
ill-used slaves towards the oppressor.  But there, we shall see."

He ceased speaking, for just then the black seemed to spring through the
bushes, and joined them where they were waiting in the tunnel.

"Find Massa Allen," said the black, in a quick excited whisper.

"Ah!" cried Murray joyfully, for somehow--he could not have said why--he
had begun to feel the greatest interest in the sick man.  "Ah!  Where
did you find him?"

"Massa Huggin got um."

"But where is he?"

The black pointed in the direction from whence he had returned,
evidently indicating the forest which closed in the end of the tunnel.

"What is he going to do with him?" asked Mr Anderson--"Keep him a
prisoner?"

"Kill um," said the black abruptly.  "Come!  Caesar show um;" and he
caught hold of the middy's arm, gave it a tug, and then signed to the
others to follow.

"Yes," said the lieutenant sharply; "it seems to me quite time we had a
word to say about that.  Let him lead on, Mr Murray.  I want to have a
few more words with our friend Mr Huggins.  We must show him that there
is a difference of opinion upon this question.  Here, you darkie, does
Mr Huggins indulge himself much in this kind of sport?"

The black, who was moving off sharply, stopped short, dropped his lower
jaw to his breast, and stared vacantly at the speaker.

"What buccra sailor officer say?" he whispered.

"Don't speak in that way," said the lieutenant sharply.  "Why don't you
speak aloud?"

"Caesar berry much 'fraid massa Huggins hear um.  Den kill poor niggah."

"That means, then, that Master Huggins does kill people sometimes?"

"Yes, massa often kill pore niggah when cross."

"Well, look here, my lad; don't you be very much afraid.  I want you to
show us all you can, for he is not going to kill our friend Master
Allen."

"Massa Allen friend," said the black, nodding his head sharply.  "Massa
Allen kill pore niggah?  No, nebber.  Come 'long."

The man led the way, holding tightly by the middy's arm, and as soon as
he had passed out of the tunnel, plunged into the dense forest, and
threading his way among the trees, followed by the party, whose
countenances were glowing with excitement, he carefully avoided every
patch of earth which threatened to yield to the pressure of footsteps.
This he kept on for over half-an-hour, when he stopped short and,
bending down nearly double, pointed to where, instead of being firm, the
way he had selected had suddenly become boggy, mossy, and of a rich
green.

"Young officer, look dah," he whispered.  "No speak loud.  Massa Huggin
men hear um."

"Well," said Murray, "I am looking _dah_, sir, but there is nothing to
see."

"No see?  Caesar see.  Massa Huggin men come 'long.  Carry Massa Allen,
make men foot go down soft.  Make mark."

"Perhaps so," said Murray, "but I can see nothing."

"Let him lead on, Mr Murray," said the lieutenant.  "I want to get to
business."

"Caesar show," whispered the man, and now, walking half doubled and with
his hands hanging down, he broke into a trot, closely followed by the
party, for another few hundred yards, before stopping short so suddenly
that those who followed were on the point of over-running him.

"Massa officer look now," whispered the black.  "Massa no say can't see
now."

"No: I can see now," said Murray.  "Look here, sir," he whispered,
imitating the cautious utterance of the black, as the lieutenant closed
up to him.

"Yes," said the officer eagerly; "this is real trail.  So many seals
impressed in the soft boggy soil; all leading off yonder in a fresh
direction after evidently making a halt here.  You can make it out, Mr
Murray, eh?"

"I can make out the footsteps, sir," replied the lad, "but I can't say I
understand them."

"Oh no, of course not," said the lieutenant, "but I suppose our black
friend here can.  Tell us all about it, what's your name--Caesar?"

"Yes, massa," said the black promptly; and he began eagerly to point out
the various impressions in the earth, carefully keeping on one side and
nearly touching the ground as he bent down.

"Dose niggah foots," he whispered, picking out carefully the trails of
four pairs of footsteps which had passed to where they stood, evidently
coming to an end.  "Yes, sah; dose niggah foots.  Carry Massa Allen.
All 'tick down deep in de mud."

"Ah, to be sure!" cried Murray.  "I see."

"Dey get tire' carry Massa Allen long way.  No, Caesar t'ink Massa Allen
say he walk bit now, and jump down.  Dose Massa Allen foots.  Got shoe
on.  Massa officer see?"

"To be sure he does, darkie.  Well done!  You see, Mr Murray?"

"Oh yes, sir; I can see now he shows me."

"Yes; young buccra officer see Massa Allen shoe 'tick down in de mud.
Dose black niggah foots," continued the black, pointing.

"How do you know they are black footsteps?" asked Murray.

"All a toes 'tick out wide," replied the man promptly; and he raised one
of his own feet with the toes spreading widely, stepped to a soft patch
of green-covered mud, and pressed his foot down and raised it again.
"Dah," he continued; "Massa buccra see?  Dat black niggah foots, and dat
are white man foot.  Look toopid all queezum up in hard boot.  Dat Massa
Huggin foots."

"Ah!" cried the lieutenant eagerly.  "How do you know, darkie?"

"Massa Huggin put foots in big hard boot.  Caesar know um--kick Caesar.
`Get outah way, black dog!' he say."

As he spoke the black went through something of a pantomime so perfectly
that the lieutenant and Roberts burst out laughing.  Murray's
countenance remained unchanged, and he met the black's eyes gravely, and
noted their fierce aspect as his brow wrinkled up and his thick, fleshy,
protuberant lips were drawn away from the beautifully perfect white
teeth.

"Hurt pore black niggah, massa," he said, rather piteously.  "Kill some
niggah.  Massa Huggin sabage.  Pore niggah die dead.  Hurt Caesar
sometime.  Wouldn't die."

"Well, go on, my lad," said the lieutenant; and the black continued his
object-lesson.

"Massa Allen say walk now.  Look at um foots.  Lilly shoe dah, big boot,
hard boot, dah.  One boot, 'noder boot.  Massa Huggin say Come along,
sah.  Look dah.  Walk 'long dah, and niggah foots walk over um.  Lot o'
niggah foots walk all over cover um up."

"Well," said the lieutenant, "now you have found out the trail so well,
lead on and let's overtake them."

"Ah!" cried the black excitedly, for he had suddenly caught sight of
something at which he bounded and caught it up to hold it before him and
gaze at it with starting eyes.

"What does that mean, Mr Murray?" said the lieutenant, in a low tone,
his attention having been thoroughly taken up by the intelligent black's
behaviour.

"I don't quite know, sir.  It's a soft piece of plantain stalk notched
at the edge in a peculiar way.  Look, sir."

For, paying no more heed to his companions for the moment, the black
began to search about to the right of the trail, till he suddenly
bounded on for a few paces and caught up a piece of green cane about six
inches long and evidently scratched in a special manner.

"What's that, Caesar?" asked the middy.

The black, who was gazing at the piece of cane with fixed and staring
eyes which seemed to glow, started at the lad's address, and pressed
forward to look him questioningly in the eyes, hesitating.

Then he smiled and nodded.

"Massa buccra.  Good Bri'sh sailor.  Come set pore niggah free.  Him no
tell Massa Huggin.  Him no kill pore black darkie.  Iss, Caesar tell
um," he whispered now, with his lips so close that the lad felt the hot
breath hiss into his ear.  "Dat Obeah, massa.  Dat black man's Obeah.
Come along now Caesar know.  Find fetish.  Plenty many black boy speak
soon."

"But you are going the wrong way," said Murray, clapping the black upon
the shoulder to draw him back.

"No, sah.  Caesar go right way.  Way Obeah tell um."

"But Mr Allen: we want to follow Mr Allen."

"No can, sah.  Not now.  Come back.  Not time yet."

"But you said that this Huggins would kill Mr Allen now that he has got
him away."

"No," said the black, shaking his head.  "No kill um now.  Plenty black
boy 'top um; no let um kill Massa Allen.  Come back now.  Massa wait."

"Oh, nonsense!" cried the lieutenant.  "I am not going to be treated
like this.  Look here, you sir; you must go on and follow up the trail
till we overtake this slaving scoundrel and make him prisoner.  Do you
hear?"

The black listened, and looked at the speaker gravely, but made no
reply.

"Do you hear, sir?" cried the lieutenant again.  "Speak to him, Mr
Murray; he seems to listen to you better than he does to me."

"I'll try, sir," said Murray, "but I'm afraid he will not stir now."

"You tell him that he must, sir."

Murray repeated the lieutenant's words, with the result that the black
listened to him with a face that for a few moments looked dull and
obstinate, but which changed to a softer aspect as his bright eyes
looked full in those of the frank young midshipman, before they closed
slowly and their owner shook his head.

"Come, Mr Murray," said the chief officer; "you are not making the
fellow understand."

"No, sir," said Murray gravely, "and I am afraid he is not to be
forced."  Then the lad's eyes flashed with annoyance, for Roberts
glanced at him and said to his leader--

"Shall I try, sir?"

"Yes, do.  These people want to be made to understand that when they
receive orders they must obey them."

"Yes, sir," cried Roberts, making the most of himself, as he frowned at
their black guide.  "Murray is too easy with them.  Here, you sir--"

Here Roberts's speech was cut short by the lieutenant, who had been
watching the change in Murray's countenance, and he exclaimed--

"That will do, Mr Roberts, thank you.  I think I can manage the matter
better myself.  Here, what's your name--Caesar?"

"Yes, sah; Caesar," said the black; and Murray looked at him sharply,
for the man's manner seemed completely changed.

"Then listen to me.  You ought to have learned with the power to speak
English that a servant must obey his master."

The black drew himself up with his face growing hard from his setting
his teeth firmly.

"Massa Huggin make me servant and call me slabe; beat me--flog me--but I
was prince once, sah, in Obeah land."

The lieutenant's face flushed and he was about to speak angrily, but
there was something in the slave's manner that checked him, and the two
middies looked at him wonderingly, as instead of giving some stern order
he said in a quiet, matter-of-fact, enquiring way--

"Indeed?  So you were a prince or chief in your own country?"

"Yes, sah," was the reply; and it was given with such calm dignity that
colour, the half-nude figure, and the blur of slavery were forgotten by
the lookers-on, and the feeling of wonder at the lieutenant's treatment
of their guide died out.

"How came you here?" said the lieutenant quietly.

"There was war, sah, and my people were beaten.  There were many
prisoners, and we were sold to the man--sold."

"Hah!  Hard--very hard for you," said the lieutenant, looking at their
guide thoughtfully.  "How long is that ago?"

"Twenty year, sah."

"And you have been this Mr Huggins's slave ever since?"

"No, sah; not long time.  Caesar sold free time before Mr Allen bought
me; and he was good massa.  He call me Caesar, and make me lub him."

"Not for christening you Caesar, of course.  Then he treated you well?"

"Yes, sah.  Then Massa Huggin come and make Massa Allen like slave."

"Indeed!  Well, I have heard something of this from Mr Allen himself,
and you will most likely see that this slave-driving scoundrel's reign
is over.  Do you understand my English?"

"Yes, massa," said the black quietly.

"Then you quite understand that you have been helping me as guide so
that we can save Mr Allen from this man, and punish him for all the
evil he has done--I mean for this buying and selling of the poor blacks
who are brought from Africa here?"

"Yes, massa."

"Then why do you refuse to go on guiding us to find Mr Allen?"

"Massa no understand," said the black quietly.  "Caesar want to save
Massa Allen.  Caesar want to kill Massa Huggin."

"Do you?" said the lieutenant, smiling.  "Well, we do not ask you to do
that.  We will manage the punishing; but I want you to go on guiding me
and my men to where this slave-dealer is."

"Yes, massa.  Caesar want too, but massa mus' wait."

"What for?  Why should we wait?"

"Massa no understand."

"I understand from your behaviour that you are afraid," said the
lieutenant sternly.

"No, massa; not now.  Caesar drefful 'fraid lil bit ago.  Not now.
Caesar want to save Massa Allen, but not time yet, massa.  Bri'sh
officer wait lil while."

"Why?" said the lieutenant sharply.

"Massa no understand.  Massa go now and find Massa Huggin.  Take one,
two--five, ten man Bri'sh sailor; Massa Huggin got ten, twenty, forty,
fifty men sword gun plenty powder shot.  Plenty 'nough to kill officer
and Bri'sh sailor.  Plenty strong; two ship.  Kill everybody; Massa
Allen too.  Massa no good."

"But how do I know that my men would not be too many for this
scoundrel?"

"No, not many.  Not 'nuff, sah," said the black, shaking his head.

"Then you think we had better go back to the ship and fetch more men?"

The black shook his head and smiled sadly.

"Caesar 'fraid massa get killed, sailor get killed, Caesar too get
killed.  Massa officer must wait."

The lieutenant gazed at the speaker searchingly, while the black
returned his keen examination without flinching.

"Why must I wait?" he said.

"Too soon, massa.  Time not come."

"Time for what?  To give Mr Huggins time to collect his men?  He has
plenty of black sailors, has he not?"

"Yes, massa.  Hundred, two hundred, tree hundred."

"So I supposed.  Well, I do not feel disposed to wait longer than it
will take me to get up some more of my men--as many as the captain can
spare--and then I shall attack at once."

"No massa can," said the black quietly.

"Oh yes, I can, because you who have served us as guide so well, and who
want to save your master, will show us the way."

"No, massa.  Caesar no show the way."

"Why not?" said the lieutenant angrily.

"Massa Bri'sh officer and all men be killed.  Massa must wait."

"And if I say I will not wait?" cried Mr Anderson.

"Caesar show Massa Bri'sh officer why must wait."

"When will you show me?" asked the lieutenant sharply.

The black stood silent for a few moments as if debating within himself
sadly and doubtfully.  Then turning his eyes upon Murray, his own
brightened, and he thrust his hand within the cotton shirt which loosely
covered his breast and shoulders.  Then quickly drawing out the piece of
young notched cane and the marked plantain leaf, he looked at them
eagerly, turning them over in his hands and seeming to read the marks
that were cut through rind and skin.

As he did this the black's face brightened and he seemed to have found
the way out of a difficulty as he held out the tokens of something or
another to Murray.

"What have you there, my man?" cried the lieutenant.

"Obeah, massa.  Fetish.  Massa officer come with Caesar to-night, Caesar
show him why wait."

"Come with you alone?" said the lieutenant.

The black shook his head.

"No, massa come bring massa officer, Bri'sh sailor.  Come and see.
Caesar not 'fraid now.  Massa come to-night."

"Come where?" cried Mr Anderson.

"Caesar show."

"You will show me a good reason why I should wait?"

"Yes, massa.  Come 'long now."

"Come now?  Where to?"

"Massa Allen sleep house.  Come 'long.  Caesar show."

And without waiting for further question or order, the black thrust the
tokens he had found into his breast as he made his way back into the
tunnelled passage, where he drew out the phosphorus bottle and taper,
lit the latter and then led the way as swiftly as his companions could
follow, the taper just lasting long enough to light the party back to
within hearing of a call from the guards awaiting them anxiously at the
entrance.

"Now for our rations, my lad, and a rest," said the lieutenant, as all
stood once more in the cottage room and watched the black deftly replace
the trap, drawing over it the rug and making all that had passed seem to
the two midshipmen and the chief officer as if they had been taking part
in a dream.



CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.

OBEAH.

"This man is a puzzle," said the lieutenant.  "One hour he is a
shivering cowardly slave, the next he plays the part of a hero; and now
he is like a clever household servant who does the best he can for
visitors in his master's absence.  Why, Murray--Roberts--we never
expected such treatment as this."

"No, sir," said the two midshipmen together.

For Caesar had been bustling about, and one way and another had spread
quite a supper in the planter's little dining-room for the officers, and
afterwards supplied the men in one of the back rooms with delicious
coffee and bread, to the great refreshment of the tired adventurers.

"What are you thinking about, Mr Murray?" said the lieutenant.  "Come,
out with it, my lad;" for the middy had hesitated and turned red.

"I was only thinking, sir, that we ought to send a messenger to the
_Seafowl_."

"Humph!  Strange, my lad.  I have been thinking just the same, but I can
spare neither man nor boat, and I have come to the conclusion that if
Captain Kingsberry wants news he must send to us for it.  What's that
you are muttering, Mr Roberts?--He will be angry?"

"I didn't say so aloud, sir," replied the lad.

"No, but you thought it, sir.  Well, if he is he will soon be in a good
humour again when he finds how busy we have been and what we have made
out.  Ah, here is our guide.  Well, Caesar, what now?"

"Berry dark now, massa.  Come see."

"Come and see in the dark?" said the lieutenant, who appeared to be in
the best of humours.  "Well, what have you to show us?"

The three officers rose from the table and followed their guide out on
the platform, where he pointed to a ruddy glow which rose from beyond
the trees.

"Fire!" said Murray excitedly.  "Can that be where the plantation house
lies, sir?"

"No, Mr Murray, I think not.  But if it is I should not be surprised
if, taking advantage of their master's absence, the blacks have fired
his house to burn it down.  Here, Caesar, are they burning the place?"

"No, massa," replied the black.  "Massa bring all sailor.  Come see."

The lieutenant nodded, and said in a low tone to Murray--

"Look here, my lad, I believe this fellow is to be trusted, but one's
caution and discipline will whisper that we ought to be careful, and it
will not do for us to come back and find that our boats are burned."

"No, sir," replied the lad quickly.  "Whom will you leave in charge of
them?"

"I should like to leave May, but I want him with us.  What do you say,
Mr Roberts?  It is an important charge."

"Yes, sir," faltered the midshipman, "but--"

"You want to go with us, eh?  Well, it is only natural.  Murray too, I
suppose, feels the same.  But you must take into consideration that this
may be a very dangerous expedition we are going upon."

"Do you think so, sir?"

"I do, Murray, and I cannot help hesitating now and then--from
ignorance, of course, for though our guide seems to be trustworthy, we
know absolutely nothing of what his feelings may be towards us.  Well, I
shall leave six men in charge of the two boats, with Titely at their
head and instructions to keep well off shore."

These arrangements were quickly made while the black stood looking on
impatiently; and then Murray heard him utter a sigh of relief, for Mr
Anderson told him to lead on.

The man sprang to the front at once, and was closely followed by the
blacks who formed the crew of the planter's boat.

"Massa keep close to Caesar," said their guide, "and tell men not to
talk and make noise.  Soon get not dark."

For the time being the darkness seemed to be impenetrable, but somehow
the black leader was quite able to thread his way along an invisible
track, which however soon grew easier, for the glow in the distance
increased till the tops of the forest trees began to stand out clearly
against the ruddy light.

Murray had received whispered instructions from his officer, whose
caution seemed to increase as they went on, and those instructions
turned the midshipman into the head of a rear-guard made up of himself,
Tom May and two men, with instructions to report upon anything that
seemed to be suspicious.

It was not long before the lad began to follow out his instructions by
leaving the big sailor for a few minutes and hurrying forward to join
the lieutenant.

"That you, Mr Murray?" he said.  "You've come to say that the fire is
increasing, and that there is another one away to the left?"

"No, sir; I saw that," replied the middy.

"Then why have you left your men?"

"To tell you, sir, that we are being followed very closely by a body of
blacks who are hemming us in."

"Hang it!  You don't mean that!"

"I do, sir.  Twice over we have seemed to pass through men who are
hanging back on either side to let us pass, and who then close in behind
us and follow up silently."

"Humph!  Unarmed, I suppose?"

"No, sir; I have not had much opportunity, but I am pretty well sure
that, some of them have muskets, while all have those clumsy hangers
with which they clear away the canes and growth from the forest paths."

"Well, we are in for it now, Mr Murray.  But look here, they are not
many, I suppose?"

"They are, sir, and keep on increasing in numbers."

"But they seem peaceable?"

"Yes, sir, quite; but I can't help feeling suspicious."

"Yes, it is suspicious, but they may not mean harm.  I believe in that
black Caesar all the same.  If I did not I should give the order to
retreat at once.  There, go back to your men, and keep close up.  Take
special care not to let the blacks get between you and us."

"There is no need, sir.  They hang back to let us all pass."

"That may be part of their plan to shut us in.  But I will go on
believing in the fellow till I have good cause to turn upon him, and
then it will be very hard if our lads can't keep any number at bay.
There, stand fast till your men overtake you."

Murray halted and let the men march by till Tom May and his messmates
joined him; and then as he resumed his place he became aware that the
blacks in their rear had increased greatly in number.  Short as had been
his absence, it was now much lighter, so that it was plain to see that
they were being followed by a dense mass of white-cotton-clothed
plantation slaves, all bearing arms of some kind or another, and moving
in comparative silence, their bare feet making hardly a sound upon the
soft earth.

"They seem to be increasing fast, Tom," whispered Murray, as the sailors
tramped steadily on.

"Yes, sir; tidy--tidy," replied the big fellow.

"But they don't seem to mean mischief, Tom."

"No, sir, not yet; but if that was their game they could eat our little
lot without salt."

"You don't seem to be a bit alarmed, Tom."

"No, sir; no, sir, only a bit bothered."

"What about--the darkness?"

"Nay, sir; that's getting easier.  It's twice as light as it was.  I
meant about what game's up.  We seem to be going on some expedition or
another, and I've been trying to settle it down in my mind.  Don't think
it's a coon hunt, do you, sir?"

"No, Tom; they are all too grave and serious for that."

"Yes, sir, but that might be 'cause they don't want to scare the game."

"No; this is no hunt, Tom."

"P'raps not, sir, and I only fancied that's what it might be.  No, sir,
I don't feel much worried about it--oneasy, you may say.  Do you, sir?"

"Well, to be honest, Tom, I don't like to be shut up like this among
these blacks.  Why, they're growing thicker and thicker!"

"That's so, sir.  They're hundreds upon hundreds strong.  What does the
chief officer think of it?"

"He doesn't say, Tom, but I could see that he felt the need of caution
by the order he gave me about keeping close together."

"Oh, he did that, sir, did he?  But I say, I wonder what the skipper
would say about our being in such a hole."

Murray looked sharply round at the speaker, who to his surprise began to
chuckle softly.

"I don't see anything to laugh at, Tom May," said the middy sharply.

"No sir," replied the man; "I s'pose not.  There aren't really nothing."

"Then why do you laugh?"

"Couldn't help it, sir.  Only you see it does seem such cheek on our
part, just a boat and a half's crew and our orficer marching right in
here no one knows where, only as it's forest and just as cool as you
please, and all these here niggers--reg'lar black thunderstorm of 'em--
shutting us in, and all as quiet as mice.  We're not a bit frightened of
'em, but I'll be bound to say as they're scared of us.  It do make me
laugh, it do; but I s'pose it's because we've got what they arn't, sir--
discipline, you see."

"I think it takes something more than discipline, Tom," said the
midshipman.  "Our men's pluck has something to do with it."

"Well, sir, I s'pose it has," replied the man.  "But look here, how
they're standing on each side for us to pass through.  Talk about
hundreds, why if it goes on like this there'll be thousands soon."

For the rich red glowing light became stronger and stronger, until at
the end of half-an-hour the trees grew more open and the party could
make out flame and smoke arising, while the silence of the marching men
was at times broken by the crackle of burning wood.

"Well, sir," exclaimed the big sailor, "I can't say as I can make it out
yet what game this is going to be, but anyhow we're in for it whatever
it is.  I say, Mr Murray, sir, these here black African niggers arn't
cannibals, are they?"

"Some of them, Tom, I believe."

"Then that's it, sir; they're all gathering up together for a great
feed.  Over yonder's a big opening like with the fire in the middle of
it, and we're in for it now, and no mistake!"

"Oh, nonsense, Tom!"

"Is it, sir?  Well, I never see such a turn out o' nonsense before.
It's going to be a feast they're set upon, and it don't seem to me as
we're going to have a bit o' room if the first luff makes up his mind to
fight.  All I can say is that cook me how they please, I'm sorry for the
poor beggar of a black who's got to stick his teeth into me.  Talk about
a tough un, Mr Murray, sir, I'm one," chuckled the big fellow.
"They're gathered together for a big feast, as I said afore, and it's no
use to show fight, for there arn't room.  They'll squeeze us all up
pretty tight before the cooking begins, and that may make a bit o'
difference in the way of being tender, but I shall give some of them the
toothache for certain, and I don't think after the feed's over many of
'em'll want to try British tar again.  British tar!" repeated the man
jocosely.  "Wonder whether I shall taste o' best Stockholm tar.  I've
got pretty well soaked in it in my time."

"Hush, Tom!  Here's Mr Anderson waiting for us to join him."

For it had proved to be as the sailor had said.  They had been marched
into a wide amphitheatre of trees, in the midst of which a tremendous
fire was burning brightly, and by its light the English party could make
out the long serpentine line of men who were marching into the
amphitheatre, which was lined with hundreds upon hundreds of blacks,
whose eyes glowed in the firelight, while whenever lips were parted
there was the glistening of the brilliantly white teeth.

It was a strangely impressive sight, as the lieutenant said when Murray
joined him.

"I don't know even now," he added, "what it signifies.  They don't mean
harm to us, my lad; but if they did we should have small chance of
resistance.  It seems to me that they have gathered for some special
reason.  It is a sort of feast, I suppose."

Murray caught sight of Tom May's eyes fixed upon him, and he closed one
eye very slowly and solemnly as he frowned at the midshipman, as much as
to say, "There, sir, I told you so!"

"What is your opinion of it, Mr Murray?"

"It looks to me, sir, like a rising of the blacks, for they are all
armed."

"Well," said the lieutenant, "they are not rising against us.  If they
were they would not be so civil.  Besides, they have nothing against us
to rise about.  They can't rebel against those who have come to give
them their freedom.  Let's go and see what is going on there."

Just then their black guide came forward and stood before them,
evidently for the purpose of stopping their progress, for the lieutenant
had begun to cross the middle of the wide opening in the woods to where
something important was apparently taking place.

"Well, Caesar," said the lieutenant, "what is going on there?"

The black shook his head and looked anxiously from one officer to the
other.

"Massa not go dah," whispered the man.  "Massa just look, see, and
listen to what Obeah man say."

"Obeah man?"

"Yes, massa.  Obeah man.  Snake fetish.  Big snake in great box dah.
Priest Obeah man take snake out o' box soon.  Not good for massa."

"Oh, that's it, is it?" said the lieutenant.  "Do you know anything
about all this, Murray?"

"No," replied the lad, "only that I have heard something of serpent
worship which the blacks have carried with them to Barbadoes and
Jamaica, sir."

"Say Hayti too, my lad."

"No, sir," said Murray, smiling, his face looking bright in the warm
glow spread by the tremendous fire now burning.  "I can't say any more,
for I have heard so little about these people and their religion."

"I expect you know as much as I do, Murray, my lad.  This is Obeah,
isn't it?  Serpent worship, Caesar?"

"Yes, massa.  Not good for Bri'sh officer and brave sailor.  Snake in
big box.  Priest show um to people.  Obeah.  Berry dreadful, sah."

"Very dreadful nonsense, Murray," said the lieutenant to his companion,
in a low tone.  Then speaking aloud: "And what is it all for?"

The black shook his head.

"Caesar can't tell, massa.  Priest show big snake Caesar people.  Make
all see fire and fight."

"Aha!  Fight, eh?" said the lieutenant, after a glance at Murray.

"Yes, massa; make people fight--kill."

"Fight and kill us?" said Mr Anderson.

The man showed his white teeth and shook his head.

"No, massa; Caesar people no fight Bri'sh captain, Bri'sh officer.  All
come do poor black fellow good.  Massa want know why not go fesh Massa
Allen.  Not good time.  Caesar people all come to snake fetish.  Obeah
priest call people to come not know who Massa Huggin friend, who Massa
Allen friend.  Caesar bring Bri'sh officer, Bri'sh sailor, see Obeah
night.  See Obeah priest show big snake.  Snake fetish.  Caesar go now."

The black turned away and walked quickly to where several
strange-looking negroes--probably Obeah men--had now begun to walk in
procession around the blazing fire, in front of which a long
coffin-shaped box had been placed, and behind which a black, who must
have attained to some consequence among his superstitious brethren on
account of his gigantic height, stood now in the ruddy glow tossing his
arms on high, gesticulating and uttering a weird strange chant, until
the English party saw that their guide had approached quite close to the
huge giant, and was evidently talking to him eagerly and with a great
show of respect.

"Well, we know where we are now, Murray," said the lieutenant.  "Our
guide has brought us here to see the mummery of their barbarous
religion, and there is no doubt that the people have met to be stirred
up to some rising against the planters who own them as slaves."

"You think so, sir?" asked Murray.

"Yes, I feel sure of it, my lad.  But look here, Murray; the people are
quite friendly towards us, so help me in making our lads behave
themselves.  I mean, there must be no ribald laughing at the poor
wretches.  That is not the way to appeal to their better feelings.  Look
at that!  Poor benighted creatures.  These slave-owners must keep them
in a darkness as black as their skins."

For as the party from the _Seafowl_ stood looking on, the strange chant
rose and fell, while the huge black, who seemed to be the priest and
leader, marshalled the people into a procession which he led round the
fire, the blacks gesticulating, raising their arms in the air, and then
bowing themselves down as they marched in a slow and solemn tramp about
the blazing embers.  Stamp, stamp, stamp; the vibration of the earth and
the movement of the concourse of the excited people raised a current of
air which fanned the flames and sent the sparks flying upwards eddying
into the black night, while flakes of fire that were now and then
dazzling in the brilliancy of their colour flashed and fluttered as they
rose on high.

There was no need for the lieutenant's words to his young officer, for,
far from giving vent to mocking laughter, the sailors stood together
looking on with wonder and something like awe at the intensity of
feeling displayed by the people, who as they marched slowly onward in
the weird procession, kept on pausing with wonderful unanimity to stamp
and utter a wild and stirring moan as if of despair.  Then they tossed
their hands on high in obedience to the movements of their leader, who
seemed to tower up above them, and whose black skin, which had most
probably been heavily anointed with palm oil, glistened in the firelight
until when every now and then he stopped short and stood motionless, he
looked like some great image cast in ruddy bronze.

Onward and onward tramped and stamped the great procession; the strange
thrilling chant rose and fell, now uttered as a wild shrieking yell, and
then descending gradually until the sailors were listening to a wail of
despair, as if the wretched people were appealing for pity in their
terrible position and asking for help to relieve them from their piteous
bondage.

"And I was afraid my lads would laugh, Murray," whispered the lieutenant
huskily.  "Why, my lad, there's something so terrible, so horrible,
about it all that one seems to want no explanation.  It tells its own
tale of the poor wretches' sufferings."

"Yes, sir," whispered back the middy, "and I'm glad to hear you say
that."

"Glad, boy!" cried the lieutenant, in an angry whisper.  "What do you
mean by that?"

"Only that it makes me feel choky, sir," whispered Murray, "and I was a
bit ashamed."

"There's nothing to be ashamed of, my lad.  I feel as if I should be
glad of a chance to set our lads at some of the torturing, murderous
wretches who drag the people from their own country and treat them as
they do."

"I feel the same, sir," replied Murray, as he stared straight before him
at something that had caught his eye; "but we shall have our chance, I
feel sure, sir, and have the blacks to help us, for they are not working
themselves up like this for nothing."

"Working themselves up," whispered the lieutenant, as the weird chant
went on and the heavy beat of the people's bare feet grew more and more
impressive, while the rate at which they now tore on increased.  "Why,
they are working my men up too.  The great baby!  I shouldn't have
believed it possible that a big strong fellow like that could have been
so impressed."

"What, Tom May, sir?" said Murray.

"Yes, my lad.  There were two great tears rolling down his cheeks, and I
suppose he didn't know how they were shining in this dazzling light, for
he rubbed them away with his great ugly fists.  Don't let him see that
we noticed it, for I suppose it is genuine emotion, and no one can say
that he is not as big and brave a fellow as ever stepped.  Here, look,
boy--look!" whispered the lieutenant excitedly.

"I am looking, sir," replied the middy, "and so is every one else.  Oh,
Mr Anderson, I am glad I didn't miss seeing this."

"I don't know, my lad, whether I am glad or whether I am sorry," replied
his leader, "but I should not have thought it possible.  It sets one
thinking about what we read regarding the worships of the old idolaters,
and I never imagined that such things could be going on now.  Look,
look; they seem to be growing frantic.  It can't last long like this;
the poor wretches are growing mad."

For the chant had grown louder and wilder, the wails in chorus more
piercing and thrilling, and the heavy stamping of the bare feet more
heavy and deep-toned, so that all round the great circle in which the
slaves were stamping, the earth vibrated more thunderously than ever.

Then, as if by one impulse, every actor in the weird scene stopped short
in response to a signal given by the huge leader, who threw up his arms
just when the fire, fanned so strangely by the hundreds of figures
sweeping round it, tore upward in a vast whirl of fluttering flame and
eddying sparks, and all with a low, deep musical hum which strangely
dominated the silence.

It was as if the multitude had ceased to breathe, and all present were
reflecting from their staring protuberant eyes the ruddy light of the
roaring cone of flame.  The great bronze figure formed the centre upon
which all eyes were fixed, and he stood now with his hands raised on
high as if to hold his followers' attention and make them as statue-like
as himself.

Murray felt impressed and held as it were by the gesture of the great
leader, and for one brief moment turned his eyes upon his brother middy,
to see that his face was thrust forward, his lips were apart, and his
eyes and teeth were glistening in the light.

It was but a momentary glance, and then his own eyes were watching the
great glistening black, who, perfectly nude, now lowered his arms till
they were horizontal, and, with levelled and pointing fingers stalked
towards where the great coffin-shaped box lay in the full light of the
glowing and roaring fire.

He stood with his hands outstretched above the chest for what seemed to
be long-drawn endless minutes; but no one stirred, and then, with one
quick movement, he seemed to sweep off the long lid before him, stooped,
and plunged his hands into the chest, just too as the fire burned the
brightest; and as he rose erect again he tore from out of where it
rested, a great writhing serpent, whose myriad scales flashed in the
brilliant light as if it were of gold.

And then, and then only, a deep, low, moaning murmur rose from the many
throats and died away as if in the distance in one deep sigh.

Silence again, and Murray's eyes were fixed, his breast thrilling, and a
sensation ran through him as if some strange force were plucking at his
nerves and making them vibrate throughout his frame.

For as the great bronze figure stood erect those who watched could see
that the serpent was all in motion, gliding, twining and crawling all
over the priest's stalwart frame, while he too seemed to be working hard
with his hands, trying to control the reptile's movements, but only for
it to go on gliding rapidly through his fingers; and as the midshipman
watched, he kept on getting glimpses of an oval flattened head gliding
over the negro's breast, passing beneath his arms, reappearing again
over his shoulders to pass round his neck, and always eluding the busy
hands which tried to restrain it.

The scene was wonderful.  Murray had watched the black snatch the
reptile from the box which held it, and then it was as if he had
snatched forth a dozen serpents which were ever after twining and
intertwining in continuous motion and flashing the while in a wonderful
quivering, endlessly moving flame of glistening scales which seemed to
throw off a phosphorescent mist of light that enveloped both reptile and
man.

As Murray gazed, fascinated by the weirdly strange scene before him, it
seemed to him a dozen times over that a deadly struggle was going on
between the two writhing creatures, and that every now and then, as the
golden oval head darted out of the confusion of movement, it was only to
gather force for a dart at the man and fix its fangs in the quivering
flesh.  But there was no cessation; the reptile was ever strong, and the
man as vigorous as ever.  Darting at the struggling figure about which
it was twined, and then--perhaps it was the boy's imagination--gaping
wide to fix upon some part of the quivering flesh, breast, back,
shoulder, or side, perhaps most often at the hands which kept on moving
about as sharply as the flat head which played around with such
wonderful rapidity.  And the motion was ceaseless, always glistening and
flashing with light, and watched by the hundreds upon hundreds of
glowing opal eyes which reflected the cone of flame still going on
spiralling upwards and burning more fiercely than ever.

What is going to be the end?  Murray asked himself.  Will the serpent
conquer and the great black priest fall faint and powerless, strangled
to death by the folds of the reptile, which were ever tightening round
breast and neck?  But they were ever loosening as well, and at one time
the boy's chest expanded with a glow of satisfaction, for it seemed to
him that the man was gaining the mastery over his enemy, having
succeeded in grasping the serpent's neck with both hands, and begun to
swing and whirl it round and round, whizzing through the air level with
his neck.  Murray could almost believe that it was whirled round so fast
that he could even hear it hum and then snap and crack as if it were
some mighty whip-lash with which the great black was flogging the golden
darkness of the night.

The middy panted again, and there was a feeling of constriction about
his chest, just as if the serpent or one of the many serpents that at
times, it seemed, had thrown a fold about him--yes, and another had been
cast about his neck, for in the struggle going on before his eyes the
reptile seemed to be gaining the best of it once more, and the man was
weakening rapidly.

He wondered too that the crowd eddying around remained so silent.  It
seemed to him only natural that they should give vent to their feelings
with shouts of joy when the priest looked successful, and groanings when
the serpent had him circled tightly in its toils.

But all the same the midshipman in his excitement realised that he was
as silent as the rest, and stood there, with the perspiration trickling
down from brow to cheek, watching and watching for the end which seemed
as if it would never come.

It must be, he was sure, a struggle that could only end in one way--
death for one of the combatants.  And yet the lad felt doubt creep in,
and he asked himself whether it might not end in death for both.

There were moments when, as he saw the great negro struggle and free
himself partially from the serpent's folds, he foresaw the reptile's end
in the glowing fire, which would become man's colleague as well as
servant, and he could almost see the monster writhing and curling up in
the roaring flames to which it was apparently adding fresh fury.

But the next moment there was another phase of horror, for one fold of
the many convolutions seemed to be tightened about the man's arm, and he
was evidently about to be dragged into the fire too, and, as he had
before imagined, it was to be death for both.

But no; the serpent snatched itself away from the impending danger and
tightened itself about the man, who was the next instant bound by the
great living thong about and about his heaving body, and the struggle
was resumed upon equal terms.

Was it never going to finish?

The end was at hand in a way that the watcher had never for a moment
anticipated, for all at once, when the silence, save for the humming
noise of the fire, was at its greatest depth, there arose the sudden
hollow trumpet-like blast of a great conch shell, followed by a savage
fiendish yell, and for one brief moment Murray saw the huge black,
golden red in the fire's glow, standing wiping, as it were so to speak,
the folds of the great serpent from off his arms, then from his neck,
and again from his breast, about which it heaved and twined, before it
was gone, as it were, twisted up by the great knotted arms of the huge
negro, and thrown into the long coffin-shaped chest, whose lid was
slammed down with a noise like the report of a gun; and this was
followed by a noise as of a great wind passing over the amphitheatre,
and Murray looked to see the fire swept away and growing extinct before
the force of what sounded like a storm.

But the fire blazed still, and dominating the rushing wind a voice arose
from close at hand with the familiar cry of--

"_Seafowls_ ahoy!"



CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT.

A NIGHT IN THE WOODS.

The summons given in hearty English was responded to by a ragged volley
of so many muskets, whose flashes came faintly from the edge of the
amphitheatre, and wondering what it meant, Murray, as he looked round,
was just in time to see the big black giant of a negro spring high in
the air, come down with a crash upon the coffin-shaped chest, roll over,
and writhe for a few moments before lying perfectly still.

As the big negro was seen to fall, the crowd of blacks who were hurrying
here and there as if in dismay, uttered a series of shrieks and yells,
and began to run in confusion towards the end of the woody amphitheatre
farthest from the fire, but only to encounter another ragged volley of
musketry which checked them and drove them back, leaving several of
their number to fall struggling upon the ground, while Murray saw two
more totter and go down as they ran shrieking, half mad with fear,
towards another portion of the lit-up ring of light, for they avoided
the little party of armed seamen as if they took them for one of the
causes of the sudden attack.

"Stand fast, my lads," cried the lieutenant.  "Now then, forward!"

He placed himself at the head of his men, who followed him with their
muskets shouldered, but at the end of a few yards their commander
called--

"Halt--I'm not at all sure of our way, gentlemen," he said, addressing
the two midshipmen, "but I think we ought to take that end--yonder where
the blacks are collecting."

"No, sir, I don't think that's right," cried Murray.  "You see, every
part of the circus-like place looks like the rest."

"Yes, I see that, Murray, but surely there is the path yonder by which
we came."

But as he spoke, half-a-dozen more musket flashes came from the very
spot to which he had pointed, and what might be called a wave of black
figures came, dotting the earth with as many white cotton-clad wounded
or dead unfortunates as shots had been fired.

"Bah!  I'm wrong," cried the lieutenant angrily.  "This looks like a
planned massacre of the poor creatures gathered at this meeting.  If we
could only find our guide we might have a chance to get out of the
horrible confusion.  Here, let's try this way."

"Yes, sir; that is the way, I am sure, for it is just opposite to that
chest out of which that poor fellow took the snake."

"You are right, sir," cried the lieutenant; "and we must retreat in that
direction, for it is of no use to try and make a stand against a hidden
enemy."

"Why don't those poor wretches show fight, sir?" cried Murray excitedly,
as the little party began their march.

"Because they have no one to lead them, my lad."

"Can't we, sir?"

"We could if they knew us, Murray; but we are strangers, and it would be
madness to try and head such a confused mob."

"I suppose so, sir," said Murray sadly, as he marched on beside his
commander, who now gave an order to the men he led, which was heard
plainly above the shouting and yelling of the blacks, who in their fear
and confusion had cast away the heavy machetes with which they had armed
themselves.

"Make ready, my lads, in case the enemy has taken possession of our line
of retreat."

But all seemed perfectly still amongst the trees they approached, and
their lit-up trunks and boughs offered shelter as well as a way of
retreat, when at one and the same moment, just as Mr Anderson called
out, "Forward, my lads!  That is the right path," Tom May shouted from
the rear--

"Here's that there Caesar, sir, coming after us full pelt."

"Yes," cried Roberts, "and he's bringing all the blacks with him to this
end."

Then it was that a fresh burst of flashes came from the now plainly seen
opening for which the _Seafowls_ made, checking their advance and laying
two of them low.

"Retreat!" shouted a voice which sounded father strange, and it was
followed by a fierce roar from the lieutenant bidding the men reply.

In an instant a good steady volley was fired at the spots from which the
last shots had come, and then obeying the order that followed, the whole
party, cutlass in hand, with Tom May roaring "Go on, my lads--forrard!"
charged into the heavily-beaten forest path, trampling over three fallen
blacks who lay struggling, faintly seen, upon the earth.

"Why, we're firing upon the wrong men," cried Mr Anderson.

"No, massa," said a familiar voice, hoarse with shouting.  "All Massa
Huggin men.  Our boys no got gun."

"Then we're all right?"

"Yes, massa."

"And who are these coming on here?"

"All pore boy run away.  Massa Huggin men come out of trees long behind,
massa listen."

There was occasion to hearken, for above the murmurs, wails and shouts
of the blacks who were flying from pursuit came the scattered firing of
those who had been busy in the massacre that had been taking place.

"Guide us back along the path to Mr Allen's house," cried the
lieutenant.

"No, massa; boy here do that.  Caesar must stop fight."

"Good!  Brave fellow!" cried the lieutenant.  "Here, I'll give those who
fired upon us a few shots first to clear the way."

"No, massa; all gone," cried the black; "all run away.  Massa let poor
black boy come 'long here.  Make sailor man shoot Massa Huggin
slave-catch-man.  Hark!  Um come 'long fast.  Shoot, shoot!"

"Do you understand what he means, Mr Murray?" said the lieutenant,
rather breathlessly.

"Yes, sir.  He means let the poor wretches go by us and we hold the path
till the enemy comes up, and give them a volley or two to check the
advance."

"Very good tactics if you are right," said the lieutenant.  "At any rate
we'll try it.  But what does this mean?"

The light from the fire barely penetrated to where they stood, but there
was enough to show that Caesar was in a confused fashion sorting the
flying blacks into two parties,--those who were unarmed he hurried down
the path in the way of retreat, while those who had maintained enough
courage to keep their machetes, he ranged upon either side of the path,
while, to Murray's wonder and surprise, for they had been forgotten for
the moment, four of the blacks came forward supporting two of the
wounded man-o'-war's men.

"Oh, my poor lads!" cried the lieutenant eagerly.

"You, Mr Roberts, and you, Seddon.  Are you badly hurt?"

"No, sir," cried the middy cheerily.  "Only two _Seafowls_ winged, sir!"

"Nay, sir, not me!" growled the seaman belonging to the second cutter.
"I arn't winged, sir; I'm hind-legged, and I should have had to hop if
it warn't for these niggers here."

"Mr Murray, I can't spare you.  Tom May, you take Mr Murray's place
and help me cover the retreat with all the men.  Mr Murray, do the best
you can with the wounded, and then join us here."

"No, no, sir," cried Roberts.  "I've got a handkerchief round my arm,
sir; Seddon tied it, and he's done his own leg up himself."

"Bravo!" cried the lieutenant.  "Keep together, my lads.  Here, you
Caesar, can't you make some of your fellows fight?"

"Caesar try, massa; try berry hard.  Much frighten of Massa Huggin."

"Tell them to fight for their lives if they won't for their liberty."

"Yes, sah.  Caesar try all he can;" and the black made a rush at one of
his retreating companions whom he saw in the act of throwing away his
rough cutlass; and catching him by the shoulder he gave him a heavy cuff
on the ear and then forced him to pick up the weapon he had discarded
and join a few compatriots who were making something of a stand.

"There's no trusting them, sir," said Murray, who was breathing hard
with excitement.

"And no wonder, Murray; all the courage has been crushed out of them,
poor wretches."

As Mr Anderson spoke there was a burst of startled yells and cries,
following directly upon the reports of several muskets, and what seemed
to be quite a crowd of the retreating blacks came rushing along the path
right upon where the _Seafowl's_ men were making a stand.

"Here, where are you coming to?" roared Tom May, in his deep-toned
voice.  "Keep back, or go round, or crawl, or do something, or we'll
give _you_ a blessed good dose of butt-ending.--Who's to fire, do you
think," continued the big sailor, "with you all coming in the way?"

At that moment Caesar made a rush in amongst the shivering retreating
party, striking to right and left with the flat of his machete.

"Here, what are you up to, darkie?" cried the big sailor.  "Them's
friends."

"Yes, sah," panted the black.  "Caesar know.  Make 'em fight."

"Oh, that's it, is it?" growled May, "but I don't see as you will do any
good.  They won't fight, and I don't know as I want 'em to; but they
might let us."

"Do what you can to clear the way, man."

There was the sound of more trampling feet, a burst of yells, more
firing, and Tom May shouted in protest--

"Beg pardon, sir; what are we to do?  Some more of our fellows will be
down directly, and we can't fire a shot for fear of hitting our friends.
I never see such friends," he growled; "they're worse than enemies."

"Look out, my lads," shouted Murray excitedly.  "Fire!  Here they come!
No, no--over their heads," he cried.  "These are more friends."

In his excitement the middy struck up a couple of presented muskets with
the cutlass he handled, his example being followed by the lieutenant,
doubtless the saving of Caesar's life, for the brave black had dashed in
amongst his companions, thrusting them to the right and left in amongst
the trees, just as several of the sailors fired, fully half of them
firing in the air.

Fortunately the reports were as effective as a volley would have been
aimed right into the advancing enemy, who pulled up short and then began
to retire, giving the poor flying wretches an opportunity to recover
themselves a little, and realise that there was some shelter to be
obtained behind the sturdy English sailors, who stood firm, while Caesar
worked hard at forming them up where they stood, and with such good
effect that about forty of them grasped their rough cutlasses more
firmly and showed some signs of using them against their foes now that
these latter had ceased to advance.

"Well done, my lad," cried the lieutenant; "if you can find a couple of
score like yourself we'll send these black fiends and their white
leaders to the right-about."

"Steady there!" cried Murray, the next minute, for the effect of the
volley had died out, and the enemy advanced again, shouting, and fired
once more.

"Fire!" cried the lieutenant, for there was no sign of the retreating
blacks in front, and the levelled muskets of the sailors poured out a
well-levelled volley, which was received by the slavers with a yell of
surprise and the rush of feet in full retreat; and then once more there
was silence.

"That has done its work, my lads," cried the lieutenant, as the men
reloaded rapidly, the sound of the thudding ramrods as they were driven
down raising a low murmur of excitement through the black fugitives,
among whom, as far as could be made out in the darkness, Caesar was busy
at work, talking loudly, and ending after dragging and thrusting his
compatriots, by getting them well together and then making his way to
where the lieutenant and Murray stood some little distance in advance,
listening and trying to make out when the planter's men were coming on
again.

"Boys say won't run away any more, massa," whispered the black
breathlessly.

"Glad to hear it, my friend," said the officer bitterly.

"Yes, massa; so Caesar.  Not frighten now.  Ready 'tan' fast.  Ready
kill Massa Huggin sailor fellow."

"But I can't trust them, Caesar; can _you_?"

The black was silent for a few moments, and then he said sadly--

"Caesar do um bes', massa."

"So you have, my lad.  But the next time the enemy come on your men
shall try what they can do."

"Here they come again, sir," whispered Murray.

"Keep silence then," said the lieutenant.  "May, all of you wait and let
them come on till you hear their leaders' orders to fire, and let them
have it first."

Then turning to the black, the speaker bade him head his men, who now
began to be pretty steady, and lead them along the path in the direction
of the planter's cottage.

"No, no, massa.  Caesar make boys fight now."

"You do as I tell you, sir," replied the lieutenant sternly.  "Go on
back, collecting as many more of your men as you can, and my lads shall
cover the retreat and check the slaves."

"Massa want Caesar do this?" said the black sadly.

"Yes, and I want you to obey my orders."

"Yes, massa," said the black, with a sigh, "only Caesar feel like fight
and die for massa now."

_Crash_!

There was the sound of a volley, so many muskets going off together like
one, while as the sound began to die away, it was mingled with loud
yells and curses, and emphasised as it were by the rattling of the
ramrods in the barrels of the muskets.

"I think that's checked them, sir," said Murray; but almost as he spoke
there came three shots from some of the boldest of the enemy who had
stopped short to snap off their vengeful retreating replies to the
sailors' volley.

"Waste of powder," growled Tom May.  "Hear 'em running through the
trees, Mr Murray, sir?"

"Yes, and I should like to give them another volley."

"So should I, sir," panted the big sailor, as he drove down his ramrod
till it nearly hopped out of the musket-barrel again; "but we can't
afford it."

"Any one hurt there, May?" cried the lieutenant.

"Yes, sir; lots," replied the big sailor, with a chuckle of
satisfaction.

"What's that?" cried the lieutenant, in anxious tones.

"Beg pardon, sir," growled the sailor hastily.  "I didn't mean us."

"Silence, sir!" cried the lieutenant sternly.

The next minute, in the midst of that which the officer had commanded,
they heard him giving orders to the black.

"You'll hear of this again, Mr Tom May," said Murray.

"Yes, sir, I s'pose so," said the big sailor grumpily.  "That's just
like me.  It's just as an old mate of mine once said.  `You've got a
horkerd sort o' mouth, Tommy, you have,' he says.  `You never opens it
but you puts your foot in it.'"

"Hist!  What does that mean, Tom?" whispered the middy.

"Means it's so plaguey dark that you can't see what's going on."

"Yes, but you can listen, sir."

"Oh, Mr Murray, sir, don't you come down upon me too.  Just then it was
Mister Tom May; and now it's _sir_.  I didn't mean no harm, sir.  It
cheers a man up, to try and think a bit cheery, 'specially when you're
expecting a bullet every minute to come in for'ard and pass out astarn."

"Don't talk, man," whispered Murray.  "Can't you hear the enemy?"

"Yes, sir: that's them, sir, creeping up towards us through the bushes."

The man spoke with his lips close to the middy's ear.

The silence seemed to be terrible, and to Murray the feeling was that he
could not breathe.

"Won't you give us the order to let 'em have it again, sir, without
waiting till the first luff comes back?" whispered the sailor.

"Isn't he there, Tom?"

"No, sir, he's gone off with them poor shivering niggers, sir, to try a
bit o' manoeuvring o' some kind; but he won't do no good, sir.  They
arn't got a bit o' fight in 'em.  But what can you expect of a poor
beggar as lives on yam and a chew o' sugar-cane?  It don't give a man
pluck, sir.  If I had 'em fed up a bit on salt horse and weevly biscuit
I'd make 'em something like in a few weeks.  There, sir; hear that?"

"Yes," whispered Murray.  "Ah, they're getting ready to fire.  Make
ready.  Each man aim at where he thinks they're coming on.  Fire!"

A capital volley was the result, followed by the rush of feet of those
who had been creeping up through the trees; and then above the crackling
and breaking of leaf and twig, arose a furious yell and the groaning of
human beings in intense pain.

"How horrible it sounds!" said Murray, as the thudding of ramrods arose.

"Does it, sir?" grunted Tom May.  "Oh, I dunno, sir.  Sounds to me
black.  Dessay it would ha' seemed to me horrid if it had been white.
There, sir; Mr Anderson don't seem to think bad on it," growled the
man.

For at that moment the chief officer hurried up to where they stood,
uttering a few quick enquiries and listening to the results.

"No one hurt then?" he said, with a sigh of satisfaction.  "That's good,
Mr Murray.  Oh, by the way, Thomas May, I shall want a word or two with
you when this business is over.  Mr Murray, you will bring up the rear.
Keep together, and follow me as silently as you can.  Mr Murray, the
blacks are well together now, following the planter's man, and we have
to follow him, for I have to depend upon him to lead us back.  I need
not say that you must keep your ears well open, for in spite of the
checks we have given them the enemy may come on again."

"The first luff don't seem to think it's very horrible, Mr Murray,
sir," whispered the big sailor, as he trudged as silently as he could
beside his companion of the rear-guard.

"No, Tom," replied the middy; "but this fighting in the dark is very
horrible all the same."

"Well, I dunno, sir.  'Tarn't nice, of course; but 'tarn't our fault,
and wherever we've left one o' them black or white slaver chaps a bit
sore on the nat'ral deck yonder you may say as he desarves all he's
got."

Murray made no reply, for he had stopped short for a few moments to
listen; and finding this, the big sailor followed his example.

"Hear 'em coming, sir?"

"No, Tom; I thought I did, but all seems quite still again.  Here, I
wish you'd listen.  I don't know how it is, but you seem to hear much
more plainly than I can."

Tom chuckled.

"Well, what is there to laugh at in what I said?"

"Oh, I dunno, sir, on'y it sounded rum to me."

"What did, sir?"

"You saying you couldn't hear so plain as I can."

"Well, what is there rum, as you call it, in that?"

"Nowt, sir, only the reason why.  I can hear sharp as sharp, sir,
because I was always getting my ears boxed when I was a boy.  I was sent
to what they call a Dame school, and I s'pose I was a very tiresome boy,
for she used to box my ears--both on 'em--with the book.  Then when I
got bigger and I was at the school where there was a master he used to
give it my ears precious hot, I can tell you, sir; but it made 'em as
sharp as sharp, and I used to be so quick with 'em that I could hear his
hands coming when he was going to hit me; and then he used to miss, and
instead of hitting 'em he used to warm my ears with words."

"Then you can't hear the enemy following us, Tom?" whispered the middy.

The man stopped short and dropped upon one knee to listen.

"N-n-n-Yes, I can, sir," whispered the man quickly.  "Come on, sir; the
sailors, they're not far behind.  Gently; I don't think they can hear us
then.  Let's get up to the first luff and see what he says about giving
them another shot or two."

"Yes, press on.  We've let them get too far ahead," said Murray hastily.
"We ought to have kept close up."

"Would ha' been better for some things, sir; but you can't keep close up
when you're in the rear and hear the enemy too.  Wish the first luff
would let us have that nigger chap with us.  He can feel his way in the
dark when it's black as black."

"But he can't be spared.  Can you tell how near the enemy are?"

"No, sir.  Can't hear 'em now.  Let's ketch up to our chaps, and then as
soon as we're within touch with 'em we'll stop again and listen."

"Halt there, or we fire!" said a voice sharply, out of the black
darkness in front.

"Hush!  The enemy are close at hand," whispered Murray, in a low
suppressed voice.

"Who's yon?" whispered another voice.  "Look out, sir."

"Here, Tom, what does this mean?" said Murray excitedly.

"Means it ought to be my messmate, Billy Titely sir, only he's got
winged, sir, and gone right on ahead."

"Nay, he arn't, Tom, lad, 'cause he's here," came in the familiar tones.
"Say, Mr Roberts, sir, is that there Tom May talking, or has my wound
made me a bit dillylerous.  I wish you'd just say."

"Is Dick Roberts there?" whispered Murray excitedly.

"I should say he was, sir, only I keep on going off giddy like."

"But you ought to be right on ahead of Mr Anderson and the men," cried
Murray.

"There, I telled you, sir, Mr Roberts, sir," said Titely.  "I could
feel like as we was somehow got into the wrong watch, and I did say so,
sir."

"Oh, bother!" cried Roberts.  "It was so dark, and my head was all of a
swim.  Well, never mind; let's get into our right place again.  Where is
it?"

"I dunno, sir.  These here black chaps as is guiding us will show us
right enough."

"Hist!  Hist!" whispered Murray.  "Can't you understand?  We're the
rear-guard of the column, Tom May and I, and the enemy is somewhere
close behind.  Haven't you got your men with you, and some blacks?"

"We had," replied Roberts, "but somehow we've got separated from them,
or they've got separated from us; I don't know how it is.  It's all
through my wound, I suppose.  Here, Murray, old chap, you'd better put
us right again."

"Will you hold your stupid tongue, Dick?" whispered Murray excitedly.
"Here, both you and Titely follow me.  Get behind them, Tom May, and
look sharp, or we shall be too late."

"Ay, ay, sir!" replied the big sailor; and Murray heard him throw his
musket from one shoulder to the other before seeming to loosen his
cutlass in the scabbard, which the lad could only interpret as putting
himself in readiness for an immediate encounter.

"Listen again, Tom," whispered Murray.

There was a pause, and for a few minutes nothing broke the strange
silence which reigned.

"Well?" whispered the middy impatiently.

"Well, sir, I can't make nothing of it," replied the sailor.

"Not so loud, Tom."

"All right, sir, but I don't think that was much of a pig's whisper."

"Oh, nonsense!  What do you make of it now?"

"Nowt, sir, only as we've got ourselves into a great hobble.  I can't
hear nothing of our chaps."

"No; they've gone on, and we must overtake them and let Mr Anderson
know that Roberts and Titely have lost their way, and have doubled back
so that we have met them."

"Ay, ay, sir, that's the way; but how are we going to do it?"

"You take Titely by the arm, and I'll hurry on Mr Roberts.  Let's start
at once."

"Right, sir.  Which way?"

"Follow Mr Anderson's track at once."

"Yes, sir, of course; but which way's that?"

"Why, you don't mean to say you've lost touch, Tom?" said Murray
excitedly.

"Nay, sir, I arn't had nothing to touch lately.  I s'pose I've turned
stoopid through coming upon them two so sudden.  But just you start me,
sir, and then I shall go on as steady and reg'lar as can be."

"Tom!" groaned Murray.

"Ay, ay, sir!  Which way?"

Murray uttered a gasp as he stood trying to pierce the darkness, turning
slowly in different directions the while.

"Ready, sir," said the sailor.  "I've got hold of Bill Titely, sir,
quite tightly too," added the man, with a low chuckle.

Titely groaned aloud.

"Steady, sir!" whispered the man.  "That was a regular pig's whisper,
and no mistake.--Quiet, you lubber!" he added, giving his messmate a
shake.  "Don't bully him, sir; his wound's made him a bit silly like,
and he don't quite know what he's about, or he wouldn't howl aloud like
that."

"Here, stop that," came from out of the darkness.  "Who is it--you,
Frank?  Don't play the fool with a fellow.  It makes me so jolly giddy,
and it hurts."

"I'm not doing anything, Dick," whispered Murray.  "Oh, do be quiet, old
chap!  Can't you understand that your wound has made you turn weak, and
that the enemy are somewhere close at hand?"

"No!  It all goes round and round and round.  Stop it, will you?"

"Dick, I'm doing nothing," said Murray despairingly.  "Be quiet, or
you'll betray us to the enemy."

"Hang the enemy!  Who cares for the enemy?  I'm not going to run away
from a set of woolly-headed niggers.  Let's fight them and have done
with it."

"Say, Mr Murray, sir, we've got in a hole this time.  Arn't you 'most
as bad as me?"

"Worse, Tom--worse!" groaned Murray.

"Oh, you couldn't be worse, sir," said the man hastily; "but you can't
tell me which way to go, can you?"

"No, Tom; the darkness seems to have quite confused me, and if I tell
you to make a start we're just as likely to run upon the enemy as to go
after Mr Anderson."

"That's so, sir; and that arn't the worst of it."

"There can be no worse, Tom," said Murray despondently.

"Oh yes, sir, there can, for you see it arn't you and me alone to look
after one another; we've each got a messmate on our hands, for I s'pose
it wouldn't be right for you to leave Mr Roberts to shift for hisself,
no more than it would for me to leave Billy Titely."

"Of course not, poor fellows; we must stand by them to the last."

"That's your sort, sir.  A sailor allers stands by his messmate; but
they are a pair of okkard ones just now, just at a time when it's dark
as the bottom of a pitch kettle full right up to the very top.  But do
say something, Mr Murray, sir."

"Say, Tom!  I've got nothing to say."

"I know some one who will have, sir, when we come acrorst him, and
that's Mr Anderson, sir."  Murray groaned.

"I think I shall get behind you, sir," said the big sailor, with a
chuckle, "so as he can take the sharp edge off his tongue on you first."

"Tom May!" whispered the midshipman bitterly.  "How can you laugh at a
time like this!"

"I dunno, sir, but I don't mean nothing disrespectful to my officer,
sir.  I thought a bit of a joke would cheer us up a bit.  But it arn't
nat'ral like, for I feel as if I could lay my cocoanut up again' a tree
and howl like a sick dog as has got his fore foot under a wheel.  But it
is a muddle, sir, arn't it?  What shall we do?"

"I can only think one thing, Tom, and it is horrible.  It seems like
giving up in despair."

"Never mind, sir: let's have it, for I want to be doing something."

"I can think of nothing but waiting till daylight."

"Can't you, sir?  Well, I thought that, but it seemed to me too stoopid.
But I don't know as there isn't some good in it, for we might get them
two to lie still and sleep, and that's about all they're fit for.  It's
orful dark, but that don't matter for the sick bay, and when they wake
up again in the morning, perhaps they won't talk silly.  You're right,
sir; let's put our wounded to bed, and then divide the rest of the night
into two watches.  I'll take the first, and you take the second watch,
which will carry us well on till daylight.  What do you say to that,
sir?"

"That it is the best thing to be done; only we'll watch together, Tom,
and rest."

"Not you go to sleep, sir?" said Tom dubiously.

"I could not sleep, Tom.  We'll talk in whispers about the blacks'
meeting and what they were planning to do."

"Very well, sir.--What say, Billy?  No, no!  No answering, my lad.
You'll be telling the niggers where we are.  You've got to lie down, for
it arn't your watch.--That's the way.--Now, Mr Murray, sir, you let
your one down easy.  That's the way, sir--close up together.  It'll keep
'em right, and p'raps ward off the fever.  Now you and I sit down and
have our palaver.  I should say let's sit on 'em as soon as they're
asleep, but I s'pose you wouldn't like to sit on Mr Roberts."

"Oh no, of course not," said the midshipman.

"All right, sir; you think it wouldn't be fair to your messmate, but it
would, for it would keep him warm.  But I shall do as you do, sir; or
let's try t'other way."

"What other way, Tom?"

"Sit up close to one another, back to back; then I warms you and you
warms me, and that keeps away the chill.  You gets a bit tired after a
time and feels ready to droop for'ard on to your nose, but when that
comes on you can hook elbers, and that holds you upright.--Now then,
sir, how's that?  Right?  Wait a minute; let's have a listen.  Three
cheers for well-boxed ears!"

The big sailor sat upright and listened intently for a few minutes,
before he whispered--

"I can just hear the beetles crawling about among the dead leaves and
things, sir, and seeming to talk to one another in their way, but I
can't hear no niggers coming arter us.  Strange thing, arn't it, sir,
that one set o' blacks should take to capturing another set o' blacks
and selling 'em into slavery?  Them's a savage lot as that Huggins has
got together, and it strikes me as we shall find 'em reg'lar beggars to
fight if it's all right as Master See-saw says about their manning his
ships.  So far as I could make out he's got schooners manned with white
ruffians as well as black blacks, and all as bad as bad can be."

"Yes, Tom," said Murray thoughtfully.

"Nice beauties," continued Tom, "and so far as I can make out, sir,
there was going to be a reg'lar rising to-night, or last night.  The
plantation niggers had come to the way of thinking that it was time to
mutiny and kill off them as had brought 'em here, and so that there
Huggins--my word, shouldn't I like to have the job of huggin' him!--got
to know of it and brings his schooners' crews to show 'em they was not
the sort of chaps to carry out a mutiny of that kind."

"Poor wretches, no," said Murray sadly.

"That's right, Mr Murray, sir.  Poor wretches it is.  You see, sir,
they're a different sort o' nigger altogether.  I got to know somehow
from a marchant skipper as traded off the West Coast that there's two
sorts o' tribes there, fighting tribes as fights by nature, and tribes
as 'tisn't their nature to fight at all.  Well, sir, these here first
ones makes war upon them as can't fight, carries off all they can as
prisoners, and sells 'em to the slave-traders.  Then it comes at last to
a mutiny like this here we've seen, and the poor wretches, as you calls
them, is worse fighters than they was afore, and slaving skippers like
Huggins collects their schooners' crews together and drives the black
mutineers before 'em like a flock o' Baa, baa, black sheep, kills a lot
and frightens a lot more to death, and then things goes on just the same
as before.--Comfortable, sir?"

"No, Tom.  Are you?"

"No, sir.  But that's about how it is, arn't it?"

"Yes, I believe so, Tom."

"Then it goes on as I said till their medicine man--sort o' priest, I
suppose--stirs 'em to make another try to get the upper hand.  Talks a
lot o' that nonsense to 'em about fetish and Obeah, as they calls it,
and shows the poor benighted chaps a bit of hanky panky work with a big
snake like that we saw to-night.  Makes 'em think the snake's horrid
poisonous, and that it can't bite him as handles it, because he's took
some stuff or another.  Rum game that there was with that sarpent, and--
I say, sir, don't you think we'd better get up now for a bit and just
mark time?  You see, we can't walk, for if we do we shall lose
ourselves."

"We might take it in turns, and just keep touch of one another."

"What, sir?  No, thankye.  Ketch me trying that way again!  We've had
enough of that.  Fust thing, though, let's see how our wounded's getting
on."

"Yes, Tom," said Murray; and they felt for their unfortunate companions
in the darkness, with the result that Titely flung out one fist with the
accompaniment of an angry growl, and at the first touch of Murray's
fingers, Roberts uttered an angry expostulation, taking all the
stiffness out of his brother middy's joints as the lad started, broke
out in a violent perspiration, and caught hold of his wakeful companion,
for the pair to stand listening for some sign of the enemy having heard
the cry, and beginning to steal silently towards them.

"Cutlasses, Tom," whispered Murray, with his lips to the big sailor's
ear, and together they unsheathed their weapons and stood back to back,
ready to defend themselves.

"Thrust, Tom," whispered Murray again.

"Ay, ay, sir!"  And then the terrible silence of the black darkness was
only broken by a faint mutter from one or other of the wounded pair,
while the listeners breathed hard in agony, trying the while to suppress
the going and coming of the prime necessity of life.  Murray pressed the
hard hilt of his cutlass against his breast in the faint hope that by so
doing he could deaden the heavy throbbing that sounded loudly to his
ear, while if any one was approaching at all near he felt certain that
he must hear the dull thumps that went on within the breast of the big
sailor.

There was another dread, too, which troubled the watch-keepers: at any
moment they felt certain the disturbed sleepers might begin talking
aloud.  But that peril they were spared.

"Don't hear anything, sir," whispered Tom, at last.  "I made sure we
should have brought them down upon us.  I say, sir, it seems to me as
Natur must have made some mistake."

"How?" asked Murray.

"Forgot to wind up the sun last night."

"What do you mean?"

"So as it should rise again."

"Nonsense!" said Murray, in a voice which sounded to be full of
annoyance.  "That's the morning breeze beginning to blow."

"Well, I don't care, sir," grumbled the big sailor; "it ought to have
been to-morrow morning before now.  Sun must be late.  I never knowed
such a long night before."

"It's coming, Tom, and before long.  Isn't that the warm glow?"

"No," said the sailor shortly.  "As you said, there's a breeze coming up
from somewhere or another, and tidy strong, too."

"Yes," said Murray.

"Well, it's blowing up the embers of the fire that was burning its way
through the woods."

"Think so, Tom?" said Murray, his companion's words arousing his
interest.

"Yes, sir; that's it.  Can't you see that it looks reddish?"

"So does the sunrise."

"Yes, sir, that's true; but all the same I'm sartain that's the fire
brightening up a bit.  We haven't seen no pale dawn yet."

"If it would only come, Tom!"

"Yes, sir; and what then?"

"We shall be able to find our messmates and bring them to our side."

"Maybe we shall bring the black and white niggers instead, sir, and
it'll mean a fight, for we're not going to give up quietly, are we?"

"No, Tom, and I hope that when those two wake up they may be able to
fire a shot or two to help us."

"Hope so, sir.  But look yonder: there's the dawn coming."

"Yes!" whispered Murray eagerly.  "Look; I can just make out the
branches of a tree against the sky."

"That's right, sir.  Now for it; what's it going to be--enemies or
friends?"

"Friends, Tom," whispered Murray confidently.

There was a pause, during which the pair stood gazing straight before
them, striving to pierce the dim dawn which seemed to consist for the
most part of a thick mist which lay low upon the surface of the earth,
while above the top of the forest all was fairly clear.

Then all at once, very softly, but so clear of utterance that the word
seemed to vibrate in the middy's ear, the big sailor uttered a whisper,
as he pressed his firm, strong hand upon the lad's shoulder.

His word was "Enemies!" and in obedience to the warning, Murray sank
down till he lay prone upon the dew-wet earth.

For about fifty yards away there were figures moving, and evidently in
the direction of the spot where the two watchers lay.



CHAPTER THIRTY NINE.

ON THE STRAIN.

Roberts and Titely lay close by, breathing heavily, but to Murray's
horror it seemed as if, faintly spoken as it was, the big sailor's
warning had reached the sensitive nerves of both the wounded, making
them stir uneasily and mutter something unintelligible, while the light
of morning, which had before been so sluggish in its approach, seemed
now to be coming on by a steady glide, as if the black darkness which
had pressed so heavily upon the spirits of two of the party was now
being swept away like a cloud.

A terrible dread came over Murray, for he saw in the moving figures
death coming upon him in most probably some horribly brutal form, and he
could feel his nerves thrill with an icy sensation which had its origin
among the roots of his hair and then began to glide down his spine till
it reached to and made its exit from his toes; while in spite of what he
suffered, he could not help recalling some of the words which had passed
between him and his waking companion as he was conscious of fresh
movements on the part of Roberts and Titely, and he wished that he could
carry out what had been proposed, namely, to sit upon the pair and keep
them quiet.

"They'll let the wretches know where we are," he thought, and quietly
reaching out one leg till he could reach Tom May's big body, he gave him
a steady thrust.

"That will keep him on the _qui vive_," he thought to himself; and then
the lad started violently, for the big sailor responded with a
well-meant but decidedly forcible kick, which Murray took for a warning
of impending danger, and raised his head to look, but dropped it again
on the instant, throbbing with excitement, for there were the moving
figures, clearly seen now, in the shape of a villainous-looking party of
about a dozen well-armed men, clothed sailor fashion and graduated in
colour from the sun-tanned skin of a white through the swarthiness of
the Malay and Mulatto to the black of the East Indian and the intense
ebony of the African black.

He gazed in that moment, as he knew for certain, upon a party of the
cut-throat ruffians belonging to the crew of one of the slave-trade
vessels, and as he subsided, it was with the feeling upon him that his
head must have been seen, that in another instant he should be listening
to the rush of feet, and would have to make a desperate effort to
preserve his life, while all the while he was lying there suffering from
a kind of paralysis which held him as if he were passing through the
worst phases of a nightmare-like dream.

"Poor old Dick!" he thought, as if in a flash.  "We were always
quarrelling, and he was horribly jealous of me; but I liked him, and I'd
do anything to save him.  But he'll never know, for the brutes will kill
him in his sleep.  Poor Billy Titely the same.  But Tom May must be
ready to fight for his life, and he'll pay out some of the butchers, and
I shall help him _too_, though I haven't got his strength.  Why don't I
spring up before they come?"

It seemed curiously misty and dream-like to him, and he fully realised
that something must be wrong, as he seemed to fight hard to answer that
question; but so far from replying to the mental query, and springing up
to help his brave companion, he could not move, till he was roused into
a state of action by the touch of the big sailor's foot, which did not
come in a heavy kick this time, but in steady pressure.

Murray drew a slow, deep breath, and instead of starting up he softly
turned his head sidewise till he could peer with one eye through the
bushes, and see that the crew of ruffians had turned off to the right
and were slowly and cautiously passing away.

So far Murray felt the murderous wretches had not seen them, but as he
knew that the slightest movement on the part of the sleepers, or a
muttered word, would bring them to their side, he lay quivering and
trying involuntarily to press himself deeper into the soft earth for
some minutes, clinging to hope, till once more the intensity of the
strain was broken by a sharp clear snap which sounded awfully loud, and
he started up, resting upon his right elbow, and gazed, not upon the
fiercely savage face of one of the enemies, but upon the big, frank,
apologetic countenance of Tom May, who was in precisely the same
attitude.

"Who'd have thought it?" he whispered.  "But they didn't hear."

"Oh, Tom," replied the lad, hardly above his breath, "how you frightened
me!"

"Frightened you, sir?" chuckled the big fellow, with his face expanding
into a grin.  "Why, it frightened me."

"What was it?" whispered Murray, pressing his left hand upon his
throbbing breast.

"This here, sir," replied the man, holding up a round brass tobacco-box.
"Thought I'd take a quid just to put a bit o' life into me, and as soon
as I'd got it I shut up the lid, and it went off like a pistol."

"But do you feel sure they didn't hear?"

"Oh, there's no doubt about that, sir.  There they go, and we're all
right so long as none of 'em looks round, and Billy Titely and Mr
Roberts don't sing out anything to bring them back."

"Oh, don't speak so loud," whispered the middy.

"Nay, they can't hear that, sir," said the man.  "Lucky beggars!"

"What!"

"Lucky beggars, sir.  Two on 'em's saved their lives, and a couple
more's gone off without having any mark upon 'em.  For I'm pretty handy
with my cutlash, Mr Murray, sir; arn't I?"

"Handy, Tom?  Yes, of course; but what an escape!  I felt as if I
couldn't have helped you."

"Yah!  Nonsense, sir!  I always feel like that, just as if I couldn't do
anything.  It's nat'ral, I suppose.  I was allers that how when I was a
boy, when I got fighting.  Used to feel like running away, till I was
hurt, and then my monkey was up directly and I began to bite.  Whatcher
talking about, sir?  I just see you standing still and one of them ugly
beggars sticking his long knife into _you_.  You'd hold still, wouldn't
you?  Not much!"

"Oh, I don't know, Tom."

"Well, sir, I do," said the sailor, half closing his eyes as he kept
careful watch in the direction the enemy had taken.

"What's to be done now, Tom?" said Murray, after a pause.

"Eh?  What's to be done, sir?  Why, I was waiting for orders.  You're my
orficer, sir."

"Yes, Tom, but this is a terrible position."

"Oh, I dunno, sir.  'Tarn't a wreck."

"No, Tom, but I want your help."

"Say what I'm to do, sir, and here I am."

"Yes, I know, but can't you make a good suggestion?"

"No, sir; I arn't clever.  I want some one to set me going.  Seems to
me, though, as the best thing we could do would be to--"

"Yes," said Murray eagerly, for the man had paused.

"Do nothing, sir," said the man slowly.  "We know that gang is on the
lookout so as we can't follow their way."

"No, Tom, but we might go in the opposite direction."

"Yes, sir, we might," replied the man, "but there's lots more on 'em
about, and we may be tumbling out o' the frying-pan into the fire."

"Yes, Tom," said the middy, "and we are pretty well hidden.  I propose
that we lie here till those two poor fellows wake up.  They may be
better then and so far able to help us that they may get along with our
arms."

"Yes, sir," said May quietly, "and I'd stop at that.  Besides, Mr
Anderson's looking after us, and perhaps he knows the way back to that
rondyvoo of his, for it must be somewheres not very far-off.  Don't you
think the first luff may be sending that black See-saw chap to look for
us?"

"Yes, very likely, Tom.  Capital!"

"Yes, sir; it don't seem so bad now we come to think of it.  See-saw
knows all about these parts, sir, and it would be a pity for him to come
to find us, and walk into this patch of trees and find as we'd gone."

"Yes, of course, Tom.  Then you think that our wisest plan would be to
lie here and wait for a few hours at all events and see what turns up?"

"That's it exactly, sir."

"Then that's what we'll do, Tom."

"Thankye, sir."

"Why do you say that, Tom?"

"Oh, 'cause you said what we'd do."

"Of course."

"Yes, sir, but some young gents--Mr Roberts there, for instance--would
ha' thought he knowed best and wouldn't have listened to a bit of
advice.  Pst!  Don't you hear some un coming along, making the trees
rustle and crackle a bit?"

Murray listened eagerly, before turning to the big sailor again.

"No.  Your ears are better than mine, Tom."

The middy had hardly ceased speaking before there was a heavy burst of
coarse laughter, and then several voices came from some little distance
away, while as the listeners crouched together and drew their cutlasses,
after Tom May had raised the pan of his musket and closed it again,
satisfied that the priming was correct, the pair gazed in each other's
eyes, for Roberts started and turned uneasily, waking the wounded
sailor, who began to talk aloud and incoherently about manning a boat
and getting ashore.

"What's to be done, Tom?" whispered Murray; and as he spoke he loosened
the knot of his neckerchief and slipped it off, to hold it to the big
sailor.

"Right, sir.  Can't do better than that."  And taking the silk kerchief,
Tom began to crawl close to where the man's voice was sinking to a low
muttering, the poor fellow being perfectly unconscious of the fact that
his messmate was leaning over him ready to use the silken tie as a gag
and thrust it between his teeth if he went on talking and the enemy drew
near.

Fortunately it seemed as if all the mutterings were about to die out,
and though coarse mirth was on the increase, and the party of searchers
were drawing nearer, it appeared to Murray that the rough means of
quieting the wounded man would not be called into service, when all at
once, when the peril of being discovered was growing to be more grave,
Roberts started as if from pain, and threw out his arms sharply,
striking Titely upon the side of the head.

It was not sufficient to cause pain, but the poor fellow's lips parted
to cry out, and he gave forth an inarticulate sound caused by the sudden
descent of the rolled-up pad of black silk vigorously planted in its
place by the sturdy hand of Tom May.

The next minute there was a violent struggling to add to the gurgling
noise, and in spite of the big sailor's efforts, the gagged one wrenched
his head free from the pressure of the hand, and uttered a loud cry of
annoyance and pain.



CHAPTER FORTY.

DEALING WITH THE WOUNDED.

"It's all over," thought Murray, and he turned sharply from watching for
the approach of the enemy, for the big sailor whispered--

"Don't get up, sir, till they close in; then make one jump for it and
stand back to hit, but take distance and give me plenty of room for a
good swing."

The midshipman did not reply, but crouched down with his time divided
between waiting for the enemy's approach and listening for the next
utterance made by Titely or his brother officer.

The attention of the slaver's men had evidently been attracted by the
sounds, for from where Murray crouched down among the thick growth, he
saw that two of the party had stopped short to gaze straight away before
them, but not in the direction where the fugitives waited to be
discovered; and the young officer, when he afterwards thought over the
matter, decided that though they must have heard the noise that was
made, it was when several of their companions were talking aloud, so
that the listeners had not been able to tell with certainty from whence
the cry had come.  For after a short colloquy, during which Murray could
distinctly see that the two men in question were addressing their
fellows who surrounded them, there was a little gesticulating, a
pointing towards a different portion of the forest, and the gang went
off along what proved to be a well-beaten track.

"Hah!" ejaculated Murray, after waiting impatiently for what seemed to
be a full quarter of an hour.  "I think we'll make a movement soon, Tom
May."

"Right, sir.  Where to?  One moment first.  You'd better take my musket,
sir, because I shall have to carry Mr Roberts.  I wish they'd come to
their senses so as we could make sure that they don't let out again as
if they wanted to tell the enemy where we are."

"What's the matter?" cried Roberts, in a tone which made his brother
midshipman start.  "Has some one been hurt?"

He was in pain, but seemed to be quite calm and sensible now, as he
listened to Murray's explanation of the position in which they were.

"It's bad," he said.  "I can hardly understand it, for I've been in a
regular feverish dream.  But tell me, what are you going to do?"

Before Murray could answer, Titely sat up suddenly.

"That you, Tom May?" he said huskily.

"Ay, messmate," was the reply.  "Me it is.  What is it?"

"Take the tin, mate, and dip me a drink o' water.--Why, hullo!  Where
are we now?  Not out in the forest?"

"Out in the forest it is, my lad, and the enemy's close arter us,"
replied the big sailor.

"Enemy?" said the poor fellow, in a wondering tone of voice.  "Why, that
means--Yes, I remember now.  I'm hurt, arn't I?"

"Yes, messmate; you got just touched by a bullet."

"To be sure," said Titely.  "Yes, I remember now.  Well, somebody's got
to be hurt, of course.  Anybody else just touched by a bullet?"

"Mr Roberts."

"Has he now?  Well, orficers leads, and they has the best chance of it.
Doctor seen him?"

"No."

"Course not; he wasn't with the expedition.  Arn't seen me neither, I
s'pose?"

"No," growled Tom May; "but look here, messmate, you and Mr Roberts
atween you nearly give us up to the enemy."

"Me?  I don't know about Mr Roberts, but you're not going to make me
believe I should try and give you up to the enemy.  Is it likely, Mr
Murray, sir?"

"No, Titely; it's the last thing you would do."

"There, Tommy!  Hear that?"

"Oh yes, I hear it plain enough," growled the big sailor, "but can't you
see that you were off that thick head o' yourn, and began shouting just
when the enemy was close at hand?"

"Was that it, Mr Murray, sir?" cried the man.

"Yes, Titely; but you could not help it.  Now be quiet and help us to
watch," said the midshipman, "for the enemy can't be very far away, and
they're evidently searching for us."

"_Phee-ew_!" whistled the man softly.  "I do understand now.  Very
sorry, Mr Murray and Mr Roberts."

"Pst!" whispered Tom May.  "Down flat, everybody.  Here they come
again;" and as the order was obeyed the sound of breaking twigs and the
rustling of tropical leaves was heard; and before long the hiding party
began to make out that the slaver's men were for some reason or another
returning in their direction, spread over a pretty wide surface of the
thick brake, and apparently so arranged that they were bound to cover
the hiding-place of the unfortunate party.

But somehow the difficulties of the search favoured the concealed
man-o'-war's men, who from where they lay saw the thick undergrowth so
beaten that the outer leader of the line came within a few yards only of
the hiding-place, giving Tom May a clue to the reasons for the enemy's
return in the shape of one of the _Seafowl's_ muskets, which he held on
high as he pressed forward through the trees.

"But how could you tell?" whispered Murray, as soon as their foes had
passed.  "You can't be sure, Tom, that it was one of our muskets."

"Well, no, sir, I can't be sure, but it seems to me it was one of ours;
elsewise why should he be carrying it like he was?  P'raps I'm wrong,
but there he was, holding it up in a niminy piminy way, as if he felt it
was what them half-bred niggers calls a fetish as would help 'em to find
the chap as let it fall.  Anyhow just harkye there!  I'm blest if they
arn't coming again!"

"Yes," said Murray, after listening.  "They are coming back."

"Well," said Tom May, "bad luck to 'em!  There's four on us now to give
'em a shot."

"On'y three, messmate," said Titely, with a sigh.  "I arn't got no gun.
That there one the whitey brown chap carried must be mine."

There was no time nor chance for further conversation respecting their
position.  Nothing could be done but lie low crouching beneath the
densest part of the undergrowth in the hope of escaping the keen eyes of
the slaver's men; and twice over Murray caught sight of the man who
seemed to be the leader, who evidently attached a great deal of
importance to the gun he still carried on high, till at last, sick at
heart, the middy gave up their position as hopeless, for the
savage-looking wretch was leading his men straight for them.

Murray passed the cutlass he carried into his left hand, while he bent
over his wounded comrade and stole his right down beside him to grasp
that of Roberts.

"In case of the worst," he whispered, and he felt his brother middy's
fingers close round his own, before he snatched his hand away so as to
seize the cutlass, ready to strike at the leader of the final rush, when
as the man turned his head and shouted to his followers to come on, he
raised the musket to give it a wave in the air, but somehow caught it
amongst the twining canes, when his progress was checked, and he fell
headlong amongst the dense growth, the piece exploding with a loud
concussion, upon which the men uttered a loud yell and dashed away,
evidently under the impression that they had been attacked.

The leader staggered to his feet growling like some savage beast, and
roared out to his followers to return.  His words were unintelligible to
the listeners, but their tones suggested plainly enough that he was
cursing them fiercely and hurling anathemas and threats at them as to
what he would do when he overtook them.

Then, as he found himself left alone, he snatched at the musket again,
but without result, for it was fast in the tangle of twining canes, at
which he tore and tore again till the tough green growth gave way and he
stood up, examining lock and trigger now as if to try and make out
whether the weapon was injured, when he roared again to his men and
stood listening, but without avail.

If he had only turned upon his heels and taken half-a-dozen steps he
must have walked over the hidden party of Englishmen, but the falling
and explosion of the weapon and the flight of his men seemed to have
completely upset his calculations; and hence it was that Murray, after
giving up all hopes of escaping, saw the ruffian stand in the midst of
the silence, snapping the flint and pan of the musket to and fro three
or four times, begin to try and reload the piece without success, and
then shoulder it and start off in search of his followers, now muttering
angrily, now shouting to them again and again, without, however, any
appearance of success.



CHAPTER FORTY ONE.

HUNTED.

"Think he's gone now, Mr Murray, sir?" said Tom May in a whisper.

"I'm afraid to hope for it," replied Murray.

"So'm I, sir," said the man; "but what a toucher!  Just think of his
bungling off that old musket and scaring the lot!  He may think himself
lucky that he didn't shoot some of 'em."

"Or hisself," growled Titely.  "That makes me sure it was the one I was
handling, for it had been strained a bit so as the hammer was a bit
loose.  But hadn't we better get on somewhere else for a bit, sir, 'fore
he comes back?"

"I don't think I would, Frank," whispered Roberts sadly.  "I'm so weak
and helpless I don't know what to do, and we're just as likely to
blunder against the enemy as they are to come upon us.  If I could only
have some water I wouldn't care."

"Just wait for a half-hour or so, sir, and give the beggars a chance to
get a bit further away, and then we'll have a look round and see if we
can't find water, and if we don't come upon any at once we'll see what
we can do in the way of digging some up with the cutlasses."

"Oh, I'll wait," said Roberts, with a piteous sigh, "but don't wait too
long, or I shall die of thirst."

It was a guess at the time, but all being perfectly still, and as if the
enemy had gone right away, it was determined to make a venture in search
of water.

"Shall we go together, Tom?" asked Murray.

"It's like making half the chance, sir," replied the man.  "I think I'd
take one way and me the other."

"Very well; but let's go very carefully; and we ought to cut or mark the
trees if we could, so as to find our way back."

"It's like showing the way we've gone, sir," said the man; "but there,
we must run some risks."

"Whatever you do, Tom," said the midshipman, "be careful about finding
your way back."

"I'll do my best, sir," replied the man.

"Water!  For goodness' sake, water!" moaned Roberts; and those words
started the pair off at once, each feeling perfectly despairing of
success, in opposite directions, and each with the same precautions,
till sick at heart and hopeless after marking his way step by step
either by blazing the sides of the trees or cutting the cane in a way
that he felt pretty sure of following back, Murray sank down faint and
exhausted, to rest for a few minutes before deciding whether he should
persevere a little more or return to his unfortunate companion in
despair.

"It seems so cowardly to give up," he said to himself; "but Tom may have
succeeded, and even if he has not, it would be better to try in a fresh
direction."

He sat motionless listening for a few minutes in indecision, feeling
that if he did not find water or food he would be in as bad a plight as
his companion, when he suddenly caught at the nearest tree, drew himself
up, and stood trembling.  The next minute what had seemed to be an utter
wilderness assumed a different form from that which he had observed
before.  He realised that some form of cultivation had been carried out,
and following up the track, he passed on through a narrow, trampled
patch, to find himself in an opening where, roughly hacked out of the
forest, a clearing had been made, along one side of which ran a grip of
water, cleared out for reasons connected with irrigation, and there
stretching out before him were a few dozen of banana trees, Indian corn,
and what he directly after made out to be the succulent yam plant.

Murray's despair was a thing of the past, and his spirits rose to a
pitch of excitement now, for at the end of the clearing was the
roughly-made hut of some negro, which appeared to have been only quite
lately forsaken.

He entered the hut cautiously, expecting to find traces of inhabitants,
and these were simple and plain in the shape of several cocoanut shells
that had been used for food vessels, and close at hand a large dry
calabash.

Trembling with excitement, the discoverer seized the latter vessel and
one of the nut-shells, to bear them to the side of the grip, where he
dipped with the shell and drank with avidity of the perfectly
clear-looking water, which proved to be of a deep amber colour, but
tasted sweet and refreshing.

He refilled the nut-shell and drank again with a feeling of excited hope
running through him.  Then filling the calabash, he drew the cutlass he
bore, hacked through the fruit-stalk of the ripest banana plant he could
find, shouldered it, and with the calabash in his right hand paused for
a few moments to look excitedly round, fully expecting to find that he
was watched.

But the place was quite forsaken, and, trembling with eager desire now
to get back to the two sufferers he had left behind, he muttered to
himself, "Saved!" and stepped out, but only for his heart to sink again,
for in his excitement he felt that he had not taken sufficient
precaution as to his way back.

It was after some minutes and only through forcing himself to step back
and stand in the very position where he had first felt, that he was
gazing upon the clearing, that he caught his idea of location of the
place again, when he started back with the treasures he had found, and
further encouraged himself with one of the sweet succulent fruit which
with the water gave him invigoration and enabled him to recover his
traces and blazings of the trees on his way back.

And now it was that he found how much further he had strayed away than
he had thought, and twice over he seemed to have missed his marks
entirely, and turned hot and faint.

A fresh draught of the water he bore, however, restored the failing
clearness of his intellect, and he found that which he had missed,
started afresh, and at last to his intense delight he staggered with his
load to where he found Roberts lying asleep, but quite alone.

"Dick!" he cried excitedly, as he looked round in vain, while laying
down his burden.

There was no reply.

"Dick!  Here, Dick," he whispered softly, lest he might raise an alarm
and bring upon them danger from their lurking foes.

There was no reply, but the poor fellow stared up at him in a
half-delirious way.

As quietly as he could manage, Murray filled the cocoanut he had
brought, raised his brother middy's head upon his arm, and held the
hard, dark-brown cup to the lad's lips.

There was no response for a few minutes, during which Murray contrived
to moisten the parched and cracking membrane as if in vain, and he was
about to try in despair to bathe the poor lad's temples when the lips
softened, there was a choking gurgling sound, a gasp or two, and then
with strange avidity the midshipman drank and drank, spilling much, but
drinking a fair proportion, and as the cup was drained asking in a
hoarse, dry voice for more.

Instead of refilling the half nut Murray tore off another banana,
hastily skinned it, and placed that in his companion's hand, watching
him eat it, gazing about him the while, and then as he found that the
lad was recovering himself, he asked him if he could speak.

"Speak!  Yes," cried the lad.  "It is like life."

"That's right.  Cheer up!"

"Water!  More water;" cried Roberts.

"Yes, soon.  Eat that first;" and he gave him another of the bananas.
"Where's Titely?"

"Titely?  There," said Roberts, pointing.

"No, he is not there," said Murray excitedly.  "Where has he gone?"

"He was there when I fell asleep."

"Has Tom May been back?"

"No; I have not seen him.  But have you found more water and more
fruit?"

"Yes; I have found a plantation and a stream or long pool.  But where
can Titely be?"

"I don't know.  Can Tom May have fetched him?"

"No; he would have spoken to you."

"Perhaps he did, but I was half insensible and did not hear.  Oh, Frank,
old man, you've saved my miserable life!"

"Thank heaven, old fellow!  If we can only avoid the slavers we may hold
out till Mr Anderson or the captain comes to our help.  But I must find
Titely.  Perhaps he has crawled away.  There, go on eating while I
search round.  Go on eating and drinking; only leave enough for Tom May
when he comes back, and for Titely when I have found him."

"You have some too," said Roberts, who was beginning to recover fast,
save that his wound gave him increasing pain.

And now began a search which grew more and more hopeless as hours glided
by.  There was no trace of the injured sailor, and no sign of Tom May's
return; and at last, when the first signs of the coming brief tropical
evening began to show themselves, and with them the desire for more
water and fruit, Murray made up his mind to guide his companion to the
negro's hut, after leaving by way of refreshment all the fruit and water
that was left, trusting to the fact that upon finding the refreshments
Tom May might go further and trace the way they had gone by means of the
blazings and other signs he had left upon the canes and trees.

It took some making up of the boy's mind before he could decide to leave
the place where they had hidden themselves for so long; but he felt
himself bound to try hard to place his wounded comrade in safety, and
where he could supply him amply with food and water; and at last,
hesitating no longer, he induced his companion to make an effort to
rise, and they started off together, after a final look round, for the
idea had forced itself upon Murray that if they did not go at once they
would not reach their haven of rest and refreshment before it grew dark.

As it was the task proved to be anxious enough before Murray succeeded
in getting his companion within the hut, where he sank down in weariness
and pain, but glad enough to drink heartily from a fresh nut cup of the
sweet, rather peculiarly coloured water, after which he dropped into a
complete state of insensibility, with a half-eaten banana grasped in his
hand, while Murray eagerly seized his opportunity to follow his brother
middy's example, drinking with avidity, and for his part eating almost
ravenously to master the weakness and hunger from which he suffered.

Satisfied with this, he set himself to watch and think about the two men
who were sharing their troubles.

"Tom must have come upon poor Titely somewhere, wandering from our
hiding-place," he thought, "and taken him back after I had gone with
Dick, and it is madness to go back to him.  I couldn't do it in the
darkness, any more than he could track me out; and yet I don't know--I
ought to try and find him.  Perhaps, poor fellow, he has found no food,
and may be nearly starved.  I think I could find him, even if it is
dark.  I ought to know the way to him after going over the ground twice.
I ought to, and I will--after I've had about an hour's rest.  I must
have that, and then I'll start."

The midshipman sat and thought of the scene when they crouched together,
expecting moment by moment to be discovered.

The next minute his mind had wandered away to his search, the fortunate
discovery of the old hut and the cultivation carried out by some slave;
and then he came to the determination that he would crawl to where Dick
Roberts lay sleeping so heavily that his breathing had become a deep
snore.

"Poor fellow," he sighed; "he has suffered badly enough, but I ought to
try and put him in an easier position.  It is his wound which makes him
so uneasy."

Then he thought he would wait a little longer before waking his comrade
and telling him that he was going back to the old hiding-place to say
where they were.

Murray had just come to the conclusion that he ought to be content with
the rest he had snatched, when there was a faint rustling sound just
beyond the doorway where he had seated himself, and like a flash he
recalled the scene in the planter's cottage where Tom May had shrunk
from going up into the chamber behind the screen on account of the
snakes--poisonous or not.  This was a thatched cottage place, up whose
angles or sides one of the reptiles that had lurked among the bananas
and maize of the plantation could easily have made its way to the roof,
ready to descend upon any one sleeping on the floor.

So suggestive was this thought that the midshipman felt startled and
drew himself up slightly, feeling that he ought to go to his companion's
assistance.

"Perhaps poisonous," he thought, "and I may get a bite if I disturb it
in the darkness.  Perhaps, too, it may be tired out as I am, and drop
asleep without molesting either me or Roberts.  He's not sleeping so
heavily now," he thought, "and I ought to be off trying to find poor
worn-out and hungry Titely.  I wonder how far he has wandered away from
where he was left.  I ought to have found him, but it wasn't to be
helped.  Tom will know now.  I wonder how long it will take me to get to
where we left the poor fellow?  But is that Dick Roberts breathing
hard--snoring--or is it one of those snakes creeping about in the
maize-leaf thatch?  I wonder what I had better do!  Of course I can't
leave poor Dick, but it's a pity that he should make all that noise.  It
is like trying to betray himself.

"I think I must go and wake the poor fellow.  It isn't fair to leave
him, of course.  And it isn't fair to leave poor Tom May lying done up
and faint for want of water.  It's rather hard, though, when I'm so done
up too;" and then he thought how beautiful it was with the soft yellow
moonlight of the tropical night shining through the Indian corn leaves
down through the roof of the flimsy hut, on to the floor close by where
Dick Roberts was sleeping so heavily.

But no, he was not sleeping so deeply now, for he was not snoring.

And then there was the snake, or snakes, that had been rustling about so
heavily.  It or they were quite silent now.  They had not bitten the
midshipman, for of course he would have shrieked out in pain or fear.
So perhaps the reptiles had crept right away, and it was quite time that
he, Frank Murray, started upon his quest to find Tom May and Bill
Titely.  He ought in fact to have gone before, but he was so wearied-out
that he felt obliged to rest for a few minutes; and now the moon was
shining so brightly that it would be much better and easier to make a
start through the forest lit-up by the soft yellow rays of the tropic
night.

"Yes," he muttered to himself; "it will be much better.  What a
beautiful night!"

And then he sat up; and again another moment and he had crawled out of
the hut doorway with his eyes widely open from wonder.

"Why, it isn't the moon, nor night!" he exclaimed, half aloud.  "It's
morning, with the sun glowing through the shades of the forest, and I
must have been asleep for hours.--Or else," faltered Murray, after a
pause, "I'm off my head with fever, and don't know what I'm about."



CHAPTER FORTY TWO.

WITHOUT A DOCTOR.

Fever?  Brain heat?  The poor fellow turned cold with horror, and
hurried back, careless of any impending danger that there might be, into
the rough hut within whose shades he could dimly make out the figure of
his comrade, who appeared to be sleeping heavily, but not well, for he
was muttering.

"I say, Dick," he whispered, "how's your wound?"

There was no reply.

"Dick," he continued, "your wound doesn't hurt much, does it?"

Still there was no reply, and beginning to realise now that his own
brain was clear, and that he really had been fast asleep, wearied-out
beyond the power of watching by the previous night's exertions, he sank
down upon one knee to lay his hand upon Roberts's forehead, when,
feeling that it was burning, and that at the slightest touch the poor
fellow started with pain, he began to master himself.

"What fancies one does get into one's head at a time like this!  Of
course I've been asleep, and no wonder.  I was done up; but, thank
heaven, I'm all right and able to think and act, while poor Dick's
feverish and bad with his wound."

"Asleep, Dick?" he whispered again; and once more he laid his hand upon
the poor fellow's brow, but with no fresh result.  His comrade was
insensible, and as Murray bent over the mutterer a fresh chill of horror
ran through him as he thought of his position.

Suppose he grew worse, and no help came.  What should he do?  The idea
was horrible.  Suppose he were to--

He determined not to dwell upon the thought, and drawing a deep breath,
he whispered to himself, now full of excitement--

"That's not the way to do any good," he said.  "It's only playing the
coward and thinking of one's self.  I'm playing with shadows."

And setting his teeth, the middy sprang to his feet and stole quickly
and silently to the doorway to peer out and listen as he gazed at the
scene of beauty that opened out before him.

The rough plantation was mingled with wild growth, both of which, the
cultivated and the natural, were flourishing luxuriantly.  Wondrous
creepers tangled themselves in the boughs which sheltered the hut from
the morning sunshine, and bell-flowers of exquisite beauty hung in the
pure limpid air; and as his eyes roamed here and there in search of
danger, a couple of ruby-crested humming birds darted into a patch of
sunshine, and chased one another round, sparkling, flashing and
quivering in the light, till one of them darted away and seemed to
suspend itself in front of one of the most beautiful bells, so as to
probe the honied depth of the great blossom like a gigantic bee.

The lad snatched himself from this to gaze in a fresh direction, for all
at once there was a prolonged whistle; but at its repetition he knew
that it was no human utterance; and when fresh bird-calls came from the
verdant tangle beyond the plantation, he felt encouraged by the feeling
that even if there were no friends forcing their way towards the
wild-looking hut in the forest, no enemy could be near, for the birds
that played about were too bold.

The next thought which came to the lad's eager, busy brain was of Tom
May and his intent of the previous night to go in search of him.  "But I
can't go now," he thought, and, satisfied himself now that there was as
far as he could make out no immediate danger, he hurried back to the
side of Roberts, to try and take in his position and promptly decide
upon his actions.

This was soon done.

There was water at hand; rough vessels in which to fetch it; and after a
moment's thought as to whether he should carry his companion out into
the light, a smile crossed his lips as he thought of the old legend
about carrying the well to the pitcher, and making use of his unsheathed
cutlass, a few strokes resulted in his hacking away a portion of the
rough leafy thatching and admitting a broad band of light right across
his comrade's reclining figure.

A few touches convinced the amateur surgeon that the injury was too
tightly bound, and after removing the covering he set to work and bathed
the wound with the soft cool water till the temperature was reduced,
re-bound it tenderly, and soon after had the satisfaction of noting that
his patient's irritation and evident pain had grown less, while when he
raised his head and applied the freshly-drawn nut-full of water to the
poor lad's lips he drank with avidity, and then sank back with a sigh of
relief.  The muttering grew less frequent, and he sank into a quiet
sleep.

It was Murray's turn to sigh now that he had achieved thus much; but it
was not with relief, for he was dripping with perspiration, the heat was
dense within the hut, and a sense of faint weariness stole over him of
so strange a nature that it seemed to him that his senses were passing
away.

"I am going to be bad now," he thought, feeling that perhaps in spite of
pluck and effort his time had come.

"What will poor Roberts do?" he felt in a queer, strange way, and
somehow it never seemed in the midst of the feeble dizzy sensation that
he was of any consequence himself.

"How hot!" he muttered feebly, and he made an effort to crawl out of the
hut, and then on and on almost unconsciously until he had dragged
himself to where a bright ray of light flashed from the glowing surface
of the clear amber water and played upon the great, green, glossy leaves
of a banana plant, one from whose greeny-yellow bunch of fruit he had
plucked the night before.

That all seemed dream-like, but it did not trouble him, for his nature
had prompted him to thrust forward his lips till they touched the water
just where the ray shot forth glowing light and life as well, for he
drank and drank, and as he imbibed the fluid, which looked like fire but
tasted like water, the feeling of faintness grew less, his senses began
to return, and he drew back to lie over with a sigh and gaze dreamily at
the great arum-like leaves of the banana and the huge bunch of green and
yellow finger-shaped fruit.

"Finger-like--thumb-like," he muttered, "just as if it was so many huge
hands resting one upon the other."

Murray sighed at his fancy, closed his eyes for a few moments to dream
about the refreshing water, and soon after opened them again to let them
gaze up the curve of a tree till it rose higher and higher, perfectly
straight now, and ended by resting his vision amidst the great fount of
green leaves which started from the crown and curved outwards.

There was a curious clump of fruit there, flowers too, and small and
large nuts; huge, semi-triangular and rounded masses of fibre, and he
looked at the high-up cluster, realising the while that hanging far
above him, where they would fall in front of the hut, was an abundance
of good satisfying food in the shape of pulpy nut, milk and cream, as
well as sweet water that he might drink; so that the occupant of that
humble hut might partake, but which was out of his reach, for the fruit
would not fall and he could not climb.

Murray lay thinking, as his senses grew stronger, of how blessed by
nature the black who lived in that hut must be, with a home that he
could easily construct, and with such ripe fruits ready to his hand with
hardly a care in the production; and then somehow the feeling of envy
seemed to turn to equally profound pity, as it flashed into his mind
that the poor wretch paid for it at the cost of labour, misery, and
despair forced upon him by some of the vilest wretches that lived
beneath the sun.

"Slavery!" muttered the lad, and again slavery mingled with the thoughts
of the horrible sufferings inflicted aboard the slave-ships--sufferings
that he and those with him were there to check and sweep away.

As these thoughts flooded the lad's brain, he at the same time grew
clearer and began to think of Tom May and Titely, of where they were,
and whether they would come to him and Roberts.  He even pictured to
himself the former, big, hulking, and strong, coming staggering into
sight with his wounded comrade upon his back.  Then his thoughts floated
away to Mr Anderson and his men.  How had they got on? he asked
himself.  Would the captain soon come with their vessel and by means of
a few shots sweep the place clear of the slave-hunting miscreants?

The midshipman's brain was fast growing clearer still, and all at once
he found himself gazing in imagination at the faithful black, shiny of
face, and clothed in white.  Would he find him and his wounded comrade
and guide them back to the boats, or only perhaps to where he hoped Mr
Anderson was holding out at Plantation Cottage?  And as he thought,
strangely enough it seemed to Murray in his faint, dreamy state, he
stretched out one hand to separate the great green leaves of the banana
near at hand so as to open a way for him to look beyond the great plant
through the plantation and see if the blacks were coming.

Then somehow, half unconsciously, the middy's hand closed upon something
soft to the touch and smooth--something that he plucked and peeled and
ate, and then plucked and ate again and again, till he began to grow
less faint, and refreshed as well as clear of brain, ending by feeling
strengthened and ready to crawl back into the hut, half wondering at
what had happened, until he fully realised it all and was able to tell
himself that he had been thoroughly exhausted and was now refreshed as
well as rested and ready to take fresh steps to help his less fortunate
comrade.

"Asleep still, Dick, old chap?" he whispered cheerfully.

But there was no reply, and after bathing the poor fellow's injury again
and watching him anxiously by the clear light that struck through the
roof, Murray rose to his feet, feeling more and more refreshed and ready
to act.  He was encouraged, too, by the growing restfulness that came
like a soft flood through his senses.

"Well," he said to himself, "there's nothing wrong with me now.  I was
completely done up.  It's of no use to despair, for it is only cowardly.
I'm in a bad position, but it might be worse, even as poor old Dick's
is horribly bad, but as soon as I got to work I found that I could make
him better.  It was a very simple thing to do, and if I could make him
better when he was so bad, now he is better I ought to be able to make
him better still."

But first of all he tried to settle thoroughly within himself what it
was his prime duty to do.

"Nature says to me, Try and save your own life.  But then that seems to
be so horribly selfish and unnatural.  I am fairly healthy and strong
now that I have got over that bit of a fit--bit of a fainting fit, I
suppose."

Here the lad pulled himself up short to think a little more.

"Fainting fit," he said to himself.  "That sounds like being a girl.  I
don't know, though: men faint as well as women when they are exhausted
by pain or by bleeding.  Well, I was exhausted, and now I'm strengthened
and mustn't let myself get so weak again, and what's more, I mustn't let
poor Dick grow so weak.  Oh, if old Reston were only here with his
bottles of stuff!  But I don't know; perhaps I can get on without them,
for it isn't as if the poor chap was bad of a fever.  Fever there is, of
course, but it's only the fever that comes from a wound, and wounds heal
by themselves.  So I'm not going to despair.

"I'm sure of one thing," he continued, after a little more thought, "as
I'm so much better I don't want any doctoring, and it's my duty to
attend to poor old Dick, and I'm going to do it.  It's very horrible to
be in such a hole as this, but I know that the first luff won't rest
until he has found every one of his party, and the captain won't rest
till he has found his officer, and--"

Frank Murray's cogitations were at an end, for just as he had come to
the conclusion that matters were far better than he expected, and that
all he had to do was to devote himself to his comrade's recovery, which
was already on the way, he started suddenly, for he was conscious of a
slight rustling noise somewhere apparently at the back of the hut, a
sound as of some animal forcing its way through the dense growth which
shut the building in upon three sides.

Murray's heart began to beat fast as he listened, for the noise was
repeated, and though there was caution connected with the movement, the
sound was of such a nature that he was not long in doubt as to its
cause.

It was, as far as the lad could determine, a man forcing his way through
the jungle at the back; and then, just as it came close at hand, so
close that the rough walls of the hut seemed to quiver, the sound ceased
again, and in the midst of the deep silence which ensued, the lad felt
convinced that he was being watched by some one who was peeping through
the wall opposite to where he crouched over his sleeping companion; and
he waited in agony for some fresh movement, ready to spring up with his
cutlass gripped in his hand.

His excitement seemed to grow till he could bear it no longer, and he
rose to his feet, and stepped softly to the side of the door, just as
there was a louder rustle than ever, and some one bounded out of the
thicket right to the front of the doorway, stared into the darkness for
a brief moment, and then turned and ran along the edge of the rough
plantation, disappearing amongst a clump of maize-stalks.  Murray was
beginning to breathe freely, in the hope that in the brief glance he had
not been seen in the darkness within, when his heart sank once more, for
he recalled the hole he had hacked in the thatch--a hole which must have
flooded the place with light.

At that moment there was the soft pad of footsteps again, and to his
horror, in company with the rustle of the tall corn stalks, the figure
of the black, who now seemed to be herculean in build, dashed into
sight, armed, as the middy could see, with a heavy machete, and coming
rapidly straight for the door of the hut.



CHAPTER FORTY THREE.

NOCTURNAL VISITORS.

Desperate, but ready for action in defence of his comrade, Murray
gripped his cutlass hard, and in those exciting moments found time,
oddly enough, to congratulate himself upon the fact that he was armed
with the heavy service weapon in place of the ordinary ornamental dirk
that formed part of a midshipman's equipment.  As to his chance, slight,
well-built and youthful, he could not help feeling doubtful, pitted as
he was about to be against a heavy, work-hardened negro wielding the
heavy cutting weapon utilised for laying low the canes; but on the other
hand he felt that skill would count somewhat on his side, for in company
with the wounded lad he sought to defend he had devoted every
opportunity that presented itself to small-arms practice, and was no
mean handler of the service sword.

"I can only do my best," he thought; and in this spirit he stood on
guard in the darkness, his eyes flashing, and fresh and active, prepared
for everything that might befall him.

And that for the time being proved to be nought, for in those brief
moments the black made for the doorway, Murray noting the glistening of
the great fellow's opal eyes, and standing ready to receive him upon his
point, when with a sharp swerve to his right, the man sprang at the
broad-leaved banana plant which had supplied the lads' sustenance, and
disappeared from his sight, and then there was the sharp hacking sound
of a couple of blows being delivered at the fruit stem, before the huge
fellow backed into sight again with a banana bunch thrown over his left
shoulder.

A minute later the black had plunged in amongst the canes, and Murray,
whose heart was still beating hard from excitement, was listening to a
repetition of the sounds he had first heard, as the man worked himself
round by the back, the imaginary danger passing away and leaving the
middy wondering how it could have happened that the black had not caught
sight of him, and coming to the conclusion that the poor fellow was so
intent upon obtaining the food that he had been driven from by his
enemies, that he had eyes for nothing else.

"What a coward I must be!" thought Murray, as he calmed down.  "I'm
precious glad that there was no one by to see what a fine brave-hearted
fellow I am.  Poor fellow, why, he must be the black who built this
hovel and planted the fruit.  Well, of course he's a slave, and I only
hope we may have the opportunity to set him free."

Murray stood thinking for a few moments, and then in obedience to a
sudden thought he made a dash for the spot where the black had plunged
in.  But all was silent again, and he felt that it would be impossible
to follow his trail.

"It's a pity," thought the lad, as he went slowly back to the hut
doorway.  "Here was a friend, if I had only known--one who would have
helped me to find the way back to the others--if I could have made him
understand what I wanted."

Upon reaching the side of Roberts he had the satisfaction of finding him
sleeping more calmly, and after making up his mind to be on the watch
for the black's next coming, he crouched down by his wounded companion
to think again about trying to hunt out Tom May; but he ended by
wrinkling up his brow and coming to the conclusion that it would be
cruel to forsake his friend in such distress.

"A hundred things might happen," he mused.  "I should as likely as not
lose my way and be unable to get back.  Poor Dick--I don't think I care
much for him, for he always sets himself against me and is as jealous as
can be; but trouble seems to wipe all that away, and I suppose I am
pretty fond or I shouldn't have been ready to fight for him.  Yes," he
mused, "he might recover his senses and find himself alone and so weak
that he could hardly stir.  Why, it would be enough to drive him nearly
mad."

Murray employed himself twice over in the course of that day bathing and
dressing his comrade's wound, and always with good results, for though
the lad remained insensible, he sank each time into a more restful
slumber, leaving his nurse and surgeon at liberty to watch and plan as
to their future.

It was towards evening that he had another scare--one sufficiently real
to make him feel that they were again in imminent danger, for though he
could not identify a couple of fresh-comers of whose advent he had
warning, their fierce aspect, the way in which they were armed, and
their action, seemed to show for certain that they belonged to one or
other of the slavers' crews.

Murray heard them approach suddenly, and darting out of the hut, he took
refuge in the shelter of the cane plantation, from amidst whose thick
growth he saw them step to the front of the hut, which in no wise
excited their curiosity; but they stopped short for a few minutes,
_just_ long enough for one of them to climb one of the cocoanut trees
and hack off a couple of the great husks, to fall with heavy thuds,
before the climber slipped to earth again, when both set to work hacking
off the husk and cutting away one end of the half-hardened shell.

They were moments of intense excitement for Murray, as he crouched a few
yards away, almost afraid to breathe, fully expecting that one or other
of the pair might rise from where he had thrown himself down, and
entering the hut discover its occupant.  But it seemed as if the rough
little edifice only represented the hut of a slave in the fresh-comers'
eyes, and having satisfied their thirst with the sweet sub-acid cream,
they cast away the shells and sat talking together for a few minutes;
and then the crucial moment seemed to have arrived for the discovery,
for they suddenly sprang up--so sharply that the lad's hand flew to his
cutlass, and then he had hard work to suppress a cry of relief, as the
pair rapidly stalked away.

"It is too risky," muttered the lad.  "I must find some safer
hiding-place."

"So beautiful and yet so horrible," he thought, as he crouched in
amongst the abundant growth, the narrow sunlit openings being visited
from time to time by tiny birds whose scale-shaped feathers were
dazzling in their hues as precious stones, while they were so fearless
that he watched them hang suspended in the air or flit with a low hum to
and fro within a few inches of his face.  At another time he would be
visited by butterflies that were the very perfection of Nature's
painting, while wherever the sun's rays struck down hottest the jungle
was alive with glistening horny-coated beetles whose elytra looked as if
they had been fashioned out of golden, ruddy and bronze-tinted metal.

Just when the sun was beginning to sink lower and warning him that it
would not be long before he would have the protection of another night,
his attention was caught by a fresh rustling noise not far away, and it
struck him that this might be the sound made by the returning of the
builder of the hut.

So sure did the lad feel of this that he congratulated himself upon the
fact that he was well hidden still amongst the foliage around, where he
could suddenly start out upon the big black if he should enter the
shelter.

But as the faint rustling continued, he awakened to the recollection of
the previous night's alarm, for it now dawned upon him that the movement
was not made by a human being, but by one of the reptiles with which he
had peopled the thatch.

This was soon plain enough, and whether venomous or not it was enough to
startle the watcher, as a serpent some seven or eight feet in length
came into sight, travelling through the undergrowth, with its scales
ever changing in tint as its folds came more or less into connection
with the light that penetrated the leaves.

Murray felt the natural disgust for the lithe creature and dread of the
poison fangs of which it might be the bearer, but at the same time he
could not help feeling a certain admiration for its wondrous activity,
the power with which it intertwined itself among the twigs and in loops
and wreaths and coils, while the light played upon the burnished scales
in silver greys, chestnuts and ambers, and softly subdued and floating
over it as if in a haze of light, played bronze green and softened
peacock blues.

For a time the serpent seemed to be making its way towards him, and
there were moments when he felt certain that he was its goal, and that
two brilliant points of light shot from the two hard jewel-like eyes
were marking him down.

Then all at once there was a sharp movement as if a spring had been let
loose, and the midshipman felt paralysed for a few moments, before his
hand glided to the cutlass and he began to draw it slowly from its
sheath ready to make a cut, for, following upon the sharp spring-like
movement the serpent had disappeared, the next sound that met his ears
being that of the reptile trickling, as it were, through the undergrowth
in his direction.

For a few moments he could not stir, and the recollection of what he had
read about the fascination displayed by snakes seemed to have a
paralysing effect upon him, till his reason suggested that it was the
eye that was said to produce the power described, while now the reptile
had dropped out of sight amongst the undergrowth.  His dread was
increased, though, by the fact that the sun was rapidly passing out of
sight, according to its way in the tropics, and it began to seem to him
that he would be at the mercy of what might probably be a venomous
creature approaching slowly amongst the leaves.

All at once there was another quicker and sharper movement, as if
something passing amongst the undergrowth very slowly and cautiously had
startled the reptile, which made where it was growing dark three or four
rapid darts, each more distant, the last being followed by one that
developed into a glide, which soon died away, the sound being supplanted
by a steady slow rustle that was gradually approaching; and for a
certainty the sounds were made by a human being forcing his way through
the forest.

"Enemy or friend?"  Murray asked himself, and then, freed from the
horror of the approaching serpent, he roused himself to try and creep
silently back towards the hut.



CHAPTER FORTY FOUR.

"YOU DAH?"

Murray's movements were cautious in the extreme, and as he crept almost
inch by inch he grew more confident of his power to do so without being
heard, for the movements made by whoever it was that was drawing near
were loud enough to cover his own.

To remain away from his companion during the long night was a thing not
to be dreamed of, with the possibility of the companionship of reptiles
such as he had seen; and the opportunity of creeping back unseen as well
as unheard grew more and more promising as the minutes glided by, and he
listened now so that he might be in no danger of losing his way.  But at
the same time there was the risk of this being an enemy.

How he completed his short journey he could hardly tell, for he had to
battle with nervous excitement as well as with the darkness that now
began to fall rapidly in the deep shades of the forest, and at the last
he was attacked by a fresh trouble which was as startling as the first,
and showed him beyond doubt that some one was making for the hut.  He
had more than once nearly convinced himself that he who approached was
the huge black, who had startled him with a false alarm of danger; but
somehow, when this idea was still hanging in the balance and he felt
doubtful of the wisdom of making his presence known to one who might
after all prove an enemy, he grasped suddenly at a fresh development,
for when at last the movements to which he listened had drawn very near,
he felt his heart sink with something approaching dread on his fellow
sufferer's behalf, for certainly now it could not be the huge black he
had seen, for two people, evidently well accustomed to thread a way
through the forest, were converging upon his hiding-place, and rapidly
now.

"If it were only morning!" he said to himself, as, unable to keep down
his hard breathing, he covered the last few yards which lay between him
and his brother midshipman, and then, cutlass in hand, turned at bay.

The lad's experience had already been giving him lessons in wood-craft,
and so it was that in his last movements he had hardly made a sound; but
he had evidently been heard, for the duplex movement amongst the trees
ceased at once, and a silence ensued which seemed terrible.  So well was
it sustained that as the lad crouched there, cutlass in hand, bending
over his comrade, upon whose breast he had laid one hand, it seemed to
him that his own breathing and that of Roberts was all that could
possibly be heard.  In fact, there were moments when the lad felt ready
to believe that he had been a victim to imagination, and that he had
been for some time fancying the presence of a snake.  Yes, those were
the heavy pulsations of his own breast--of that there could be no doubt;
and those others which sounded like the echoes of his own heart were as
certainly the result of the beating which kept on heavily in the breast
of his wounded companion.  It could not be--it was impossible that any
one else was near.  If there had been pursuers at hand, Murray felt that
they must have gone by.  And as he leaned forward, staring hard above
where his comrade lay insensible, and trying to pierce the darkness, he
at last found himself faintly able to make out a little opening which
meant feeble light that was almost darkness; and this he now recognised
as being the opening he had made with the cutlass by removing a portion
of the leafy roof.

"We are alone," thought Murray, "and this is all half-maddening fancy."

The effort to retain silence had at last become greater than he could
sustain, and even at the risk of bringing down danger upon their heads,
Murray felt that he must speak--if only a word or two.  If matters
should come to the worst he was ready with his cutlass--ready to strike,
and his blow would send the enemy, if enemy it was, or even enemies,
scuffling rapidly away through the forest.  At any rate the lad
determined that he could retain silence no longer, and drawing a long,
slow, deep breath, he was about to ask who was there in some form or
another, and fend off at the same time any blow that might be struck at
them, when the silence was broken from close at hand, and in a low deep
whisper, with the words--

"Massa--massa!  You dah?"

And now, suffering from the strange whirl of excitement which seemed to
choke all utterance, Frank Murray felt that it was impossible to reply.



CHAPTER FORTY FIVE.

A FRIEND IN NEED.

"Massa sailor officer, you dah?" came again; and still the midshipman
could not respond.

"You dah?" came in an angry whisper.  "You no open your mouf, sah?"

"Yes, yes," whispered Murray, recovering himself.  "I could not speak.
It is you, Caesar, isn't it?"

"Caesar.  Come.  Big black fellow Tullus come along to get plantain; see
young sailor officer.  Tell Caesar.  Where big sailor?"

"Tom May?  I have lost him."

"Not killed, sah, and other young officer?"

"No; he is here, Caesar.  Where is Mr Anderson?"

"Gone; had big fight with Huggins's men."

"Any one hurt, Caesar?"

"Caesar no don't know.  Nearly get kill.  Where Massa young sailor hand,
take hold?"

Murray raised his hand, and it was taken directly between those of the
black speaker; and the midshipman started, for one of these was bandaged
up as if the poor fellow had been wounded.

"Where other young sailor officer?"

"Hurt, and lying down here asleep."

"Very bad hurt?"

"Yes, my man.  Where is Mr Allen?"

"Caesar don't know yet awhile.  Want to find Massa Allen.  Very much
great deal of fighting, sah.  Massa Huggins bring many men out of
schooner ship kill much slabe boy.  Kill very bad, and poor Caesar can't
find Massa Huggins.  Want kill um and save Massa Allen."

"Who wounded you, Caesar?"

"Massa Huggin, sah.  Poor slabe fellow too much afraid.  Run away.
Caesar t'ink massa sailor officer killed dead."

"Is your wound very bad?" asked Murray.

"Yes, sah; dreffle bad."

"Let me examine it."

"Examine?"

"Yes; let me see how bad it is and tie it up."

"No time.  Caesar tie corn-leaf all about and stop bleed.  Caesar don't
mind.  What massa sailor officer call himself?"

"Murray--Frank," was the reply.

"Murray Frank, sah.  Murray Frank, sah, come away dreckerly and bring
your brudder sailor.  Caesar couldn't find young massa for big long
time.  Now come?"

"Come where?" asked Murray quickly.

"Caesar don't know.  Want find Massa Anderson lieutenant.  Want find big
Tom May chap.  Massa know where?"

"No, Caesar.  Can't you show me?"

"No, sah!  Everybody run all away.  Lot people get killed.  Caesar glad
find Massa young sailor 'gain."

"So am I, my lad.  But now can you find Tom May and Bill Titely?"

"Caesar try, sah.  Come along."

"But I can't leave my wounded friend here."

"No, sah.  Take um 'long."

"That's right; but can you find the way in the darkness?"

"Caesar going try," said the black confidently; but he did not inspire
the midshipman with the same amount of confidence.  In fact, the little
he felt was a good deal shaken by a great hand darting as it were out of
the darkness and seizing him roughly by the shoulder.

"What does that mean?" he cried.

A deep-toned whispering ensued, and it seemed to Murray that the huge
black who had so much startled him by his appearance before was eagerly
whispering to his recovered friend.

"Big Tullus," whispered Caesar.  "Say Massa Huggin men come along.
Murray Frank come along quick."

"Yes, but I tell you I cannot leave my brother midshipman," whispered
Murray.

"No, sah," said the black.  "Big Tullus take um 'long on back."

"But you must be careful," whispered Murray.  "He is wounded."

"Big Tullus fellow take care," replied the black, and he whispered to
his invisible companion, with the result that, in spite of the darkness,
Murray made out that poor Roberts, who moaned slightly, was easily
lifted up, and the huge black seemed to have no difficulty in throwing
the slightly-made wounded lad over his shoulder as if he had been a
child.

"Now massa, come quick," whispered the black.

"But will your black friend keep up with us in the dark?"

"Yes, massa.  Caesar knock um head off if don't.  Him Caesar man.  Come
and tell young massa um find young sailor.  Now carry other one.  Come
along quick, 'fore sailor crew find um and catch um.  Now Murray Frank
hear?"

"Oh yes, I hear plainly enough," replied Murray.  "Now lead on."

It was evidently quite time enough, for from somewhere near at hand the
voices of some of the overseer's crew of followers could be heard, as if
making for the middle of the clearing where the big black had set up his
hut, a spot which was evidently known to Huggins's people, by the way in
which they had come in search of food.

So close were the men that the midshipman seized the big black by the
arm and stopped his progress.

"What massa do?" whispered the black.

"Take care!  They will hear you," replied Murray.

"Yes, hear massa if massa talk," whispered the man warningly.  "Massa
come along."

"But do you know the way to Mr Allen's cottage?"

"Iss--yes, Caesar know the way.  Come along," whispered the man, and
seizing the lad by the arm, he thrust him before his companion, who the
next minute was making his way through the woodland, with the enemy so
close behind that it was plainly evident that they were ignorant of the
proximity of the fugitives, who pressed on steadily, with the huge black
bearing his burden as lightly as if he were in no way troubled by the
weight.

A very real danger, however, now began to show itself, for, becoming
uneasy at being swayed about by Catullus, Roberts began to mutter
impatiently, though in an incoherent way, with the result that the great
black suddenly stopped short and, bending towards Caesar, uttered a few
words in a tone full of protest.

"What does he say, Caesar?" whispered Murray.

"Say massa young sailor no talk so much.  Bring Massa Huggin men come
see what's all a bobbery and kill um all."

"I can't stop him, my lad," whispered back Murray.  "He is insensible
from his wound and does not know what he is saying."

"Caesar tell big slabe boy walk fast and get along a way;" and Murray
heard a low whispering follow as he was thrust onward, with the canes
and other growth being brushed aside.  But, in spite of the extra
pressure brought to bear, it became more and more evident that their
enemies were keeping up with them and following their movements so
exactly that it was hard to believe that they were not aware of their
proximity.

Murray whispered words to this effect, but the black only laughed.

"No, no," he said; "Huggins's men don't know we come along here, or run
fast and kill Massa Murray Frank, kill Roberts, kill Caesar, and big
Tullus.  Come along and see if Massa Allen find way back to cottage."



CHAPTER FORTY SIX.

CAESAR'S PROPOSAL.

For the most part of that night all thought of sleep had passed away,
and a feeling of wonder filled the middy's brain at the ease with which
the black forced his way through the darkness.

"Black as a bat," thought Murray, "and just like one.  It's wonderful
how these fellows can see as they do.  It can't be because they are used
to it, for my eyes would never be of any good, I am sure."

But there it was all the same.

"Come 'long.  Massa Huggins man dat way want to find Caesar;" and the
black led the way and seemed to put pressure upon his white companion
just at the right moment, "steering" him, Murray mentally called it, in
and out among tree and cane so that he never came in contact with any
obstacle, while the lad's anxiety about his wounded comrade was always
alleviated when a halt was made by the comforting whispered assurance
from Caesar after an examination.

"Massa sailor Roberts fas' 'sleep.  No know nothing at all."

There were times, though, when at one of their many halts Murray's heart
sank very low, for generally when all was silent save for some strange
cry of night bird, croak of reptile, or weird whirr of insect that
seemed to be magnified in power by the heated misty air, the black's
fingers would tighten upon the lad's arm with spasmodic suddenness, in
company with what seemed to be the piercing humming trumpet of a
mosquito.  Twice over Murray as he toiled on in the black darkness took
it for granted that the black had stopped short to avoid being bitten or
stung, but only to find afterwards that the sound came with perfect
realism from the black's lips, being his warning to his big companion to
halt while he reconnoitred as to the position of the enemy.

And now a fresh direction would be taken, or more than once it seemed to
Murray that they completely retraced their steps; but after a time a
feeling of dullness akin to despair came over the lad, and he resigned
himself to his fate, satisfying himself that Roberts was being carefully
carried, and then plodding on and on, plunging as it seemed to him in a
state of torpidity or stupid sleep in which he kept on dreaming about
the ship and the boats and going through various adventures at sea.

Then he would start awake with a strange suddenness, feeling as if his
conscience had pricked him for his drowsiness and neglect, and he would
begin to tremble with anxiety, for he felt that he must have spoken
aloud just at a time when they were near their pursuers, and so have
betrayed their whereabouts.

Thoroughly wakened then, Murray found that they were motionless with his
black companions listening, while Caesar's fingers were pressing his arm
very tightly.

"No speak," he whispered; and the man's breath came hot into his ear.
"Huggins fellow chap everywhere.  No catchee."

Murray's brain was closing up again, so it seemed to him, back into a
deep sleep, and he remembered afterwards that during the latter part of
that night he woke up from time to time when Caesar pinched his arm for
him to stop, but directly the journey was continued he dropped asleep
again.

Then it seemed to the middy that he must have been asleep an immensely
long time, and he started up awake, staring hard at his guide, who had
laid one hand over his lips while the other was offering him a
ready-opened cocoanut.

"No speak, massa."

"Why?"

"Huggins man over dah.  See sailor officer--see slabe boy--see Caesar--
shoot, kill."

The man pointed over where Roberts lay half hidden by the undergrowth,
while beyond him the big black was seated munching away at some
half-ripe bananas, and ready to meet his eyes with a pleasant smile.

"It's morning, then!" whispered Murray, in surprise.

"Yes: to-morrow morning, sah," said the man, smiling; and it appeared to
Murray that he had made a very absurd remark, for it must have been
daylight for many hours, the sun being high.

"Whereabout do you think Mr Allen's cottage is?" he whispered now, as
his head seemed to clear.

"Over dah," was the confident declaration.  "Huggins man all round about
come to fight."

"Fight?  Who with?"

"Massa officer sailor men."

"Do you think they have got back to the cottage?"

The black nodded.

"Big very much fight.  Sailor kill big lot Huggins man."

"How do you know that?" said Murray sharply, for it seemed to him now
that the last dreamy feeling of exhaustion had passed away.

"Caesar find free dead men.  Him tread on two," was his ready reply,
"him" being the big black.

"But not white men!" said the midshipman, with his voice sinking to a
whisper that was almost inaudible.

"Huggins man, massa.  Bad fellow.  Caesar berry glad."

"Hah!" sighed Murray, and he crept to where Roberts lay apparently
sleeping comfortably now.

"Is it far to Mr Allen's cottage?" asked the lad, after a pause.

"Over dah, sah," replied the black, pointing.

"Then why not go on at once?"

The black showed his teeth as his face lit-up in a smile.

"Lots Huggins man all about.  Wait shoot white man.  Wait shoot massa
sailor officer.  Shoot big slabe boy and Caesar.  'Top here get dark
again and Massa Murray Frank crawl up close to cottage 'long o' Caesar
show de way.  Massa Murray Frank put hand to mouf so how, like Caesar
and say, Ahoy!  No shoot, my boy!  Friend!"

"Yes, I understand," said Murray eagerly.

"Dat's de way," said the black, laughing with satisfaction; and he
placed his hollowed hand to the side of his mouth and cried very softly
again: "Ahoy!  No shoot, my boy!  Friend!  British sailor boy shoot more
than Huggins man.  Shoot drefful bad.  Kill friend in a dark.  Kill
Murray Frank.  Kill Roberts officer.  Kill big slabe boy, and kill poor
ole Caesar; and dat drefful bad job, eh, sah?"

"Yes," said Murray, responding to the black's smile most heartily; "that
would be a dreadfully bad job, and no mistake."

"And no mistake, sah," cried the black, bringing to bear his natural
imitative faculty apparently with a feeling of intense enjoyment, and
repeating the expression, "And no mistake, sah.  Ha, ha, ha, ha!  Hallo!
'Top, 'top!" he added, in an excited whisper.  "Caesar make too much
noise enough and tell Huggins man where we hide umself.  Massa Murray
Frank eatum Caesar nut.  Do um good and makum fight like sailor man."

"Yes, I'll eat it soon," replied Murray.  "But you're right, Caesar; we
must wait till it is dark, for fear that my people should shoot us by
mistake."

"Yes, sah; dat be bad job and no mistake," whispered the black, bringing
in the fresh expression again.  "What Massa Allen do widout Caesar?
Hey?"

"Mr Allen trusts you, then?" said Murray.

"Yes, sah.  Massa Allen berry much trust Caesar.  Massa Allen tell
Caesar he berry sorry he ebber trust Massa Huggin.  Wish um nebber come
plantation.  Caesar see big tear in Massa Allen eye, and make Caesar
berry sorry.  Make um fink a deal.  Massa Huggins kill poor black
niggah, sah, lots o' times.  Massa Huggins got bad brudder come sometime
with ship schooner full o' slabes.  Flog um and sell um.  Make um die
sometime.  Massa Huggins' brudder tell um bad sailor man.  Talk like dis
way;" and the man as he knelt by Murray's side gave an exact imitation
of the keen Yankee skipper.  "Say `Chuck um overboard,' sah."  As the
black uttered the command he acted it, and added grimly: "`Chuck um
overboard to de shark?'" and added now a horrible bit of pantomime,
dashing and waving his arms about to represent the terrible fish gliding
over one another in a wild struggle to seize their prey.

"Don't!  Don't!" whispered Murray, with a look of horror which proved
the realism of the black's word-painting and gesticulation.

"No, massa," whispered Caesar solemnly.  "Um nebber chuck black niggah
overboard.  But," he added, with a fierce look that was even ferocious,
"Caesar like chuck Massa Huggins overboard.  Like see shark fish bite
all a pieces and eat um.  So--so--so!"

As he uttered the last words with hideous emphasis he brought his
imitative faculty once more into action by laying bare his fine white
teeth, throwing his head from side to side, and snapping like a savage
animal.

"Horrible!" ejaculated Murray.

"Yes, sah; dreffle horrible see shark bite poor half-dead niggah a
pieces."

"But you have never seen this?"

"Yes, massa--long time ago.  Caesar brought in schooner ship from Caesar
own country.  Bring lot of poor niggah all shut up down below.  Ship
quite full, and ebery night some shut um eyes, and to-morrow morning
some won't open eyes again.  Gone dead.  Sailor chap come along rope,
haul niggah up on deck--haul on deck, and Massa Huggins brudder say:
`Chuck um o'erboard,' and chap come and take rope off Caesar and make um
open um eye like say: `What's de matter?'  Den Massa Huggins' brudder
say, `What's dat, you lubber?  Dat one not dead!'"

"Did you hear that?" said Murray, with his lips apart as he listened in
horror to the black's narrative.

"Yes, sah.  Caesar no understand den what um mean, but um say--`What's
dat, you lubber?  Dat one not dead!'  Nebber forget um--nebber!  Caesar
shut um eye now and see it all again--those niggah chap chuck overboard
and shark fish coming up out of water and roll over and over and snap,
snap, snap--so.  Make Caesar keep eyes open so dat couldn't go to sleep
again for long time.  Massa Huggins man come take hold of um by arm and
leg and chuck down below.  Caesar not dead a bit.  Caesar quite 'live
now.  Go and talk lot o' time to pore black niggah when Massa Huggins'
brudder bring schooner ship full of niggah.  Caesar talk to um, not like
um talk to Massa Murray Frank.  Talk to um in own way sometime.
Sometime poor niggah can't understand, but berry glad find Caesar sorry
for um.  Make um happy; laugh again."

"Poor creatures!" said Murray.

"Yes, massa.  Poor creature!  Come and talk togedder in de night
sometime.  Massa Huggins flog um when him find um out, but poor niggah
don't mind dat.  Like to talk about de ole country where um come from.
Massa Allen find um out too, but um only laugh and say, `Poor fellow!'
But Massa Huggin flog um, and some shut eye and nebber open um again.
Poor Massa Allen good massa, but won't do what Caesar say.  He berry ill
now, and get frighten of Massa Huggins.  Tell Caesar one day he wish
Massa Huggins die."

"He told you that!" said Murray, for the black had ceased speaking, and
his narrative had so great a fascination for the lad that he wanted to
hear more.

"Yes, massa; um say he wish Massa Huggin die so that poor niggah boy be
happy again and do um work.  Massa Allen say so free time to Caesar, and
den Caesar wait till Massa Huggins go out and Caesar go in to Massa
Allen in de cottage, where um sit down by de table like dat."  And the
black rested his head sidewise upon his elbow and hand.  "`What you
want, Caesar, lad?' he say, and um put um white hand on Caesar black
arm.  `Poor niggah ill and can't work?  Bad time, Caesar, to be sick
man.'  `Yes, massa,' I say to um.  `Berry bad to be sick man.'  `Who is
it, my lad?' he say.  `Caesar, massa,' I say to um.  `Caesar berry
sick.'  `You bad, Caesar!' him say.  `Your massa berry sorry, for you de
only frien' I got in de worl' now, Caesar.'  `Yes, massa,' I say.
`Caesar know dat.'  `What de matter, boy?' he say.  `Caesar bad to see
massa so berry sick.  Caesar 'fraid massa die.'  `Ah, dat's berry good
of you, Caesar,' he say--`berry good.  Then you no want me to give you
doctor 'tuff?'  `No, massa,' I said.  `Nigger know what to do when
niggah ill.  Shut um mouf up tight free day, and niggah quite well
again.'  `Ah, Caesar,' he say, `dat do me no good, dat not do for your
massa.'  Then I say to um, `No, massa, but you let Caesar do massa good
and um quite well again and make all de poor niggah happy over again.'
`No, no, my boy,' um say; `nebber again.'  `Yes, massa,' I say; `you let
Caesar try.'  `What wiv?' um say, laughing; and den I say in um whisper
like: `Fetish, massa.'"

"What!" cried Murray, half indignantly.  "You don't believe in that
nonsense, Caesar?"

"Not nonsense, massa."

"Well, my good fellow," said Murray, rather coldly, "I'm not going to
argue with you now, but some other time, I hope.  Now tell me, what did
Mr Allen say?"

"Um say, `No, my lad, no; I'll hab none of dat.'"

"Of course; but surely he does not believe in it?"

"Yes, massa; um believe for sure.  Massa Allen know what niggah know and
bring from own country.  But Massa Allen say, `Nebber, nebber, Caesar.
Your massa done too much bad in dis worl', and he nebber do no more
now.'"

"Well, that's very good of him, Caesar, but I don't quite understand
what you mean."

"No, massa?  Dat Huggins bad man do bad things to everybody.  Make Massa
Allen ill and go die.  Massa Allen say not fit to live."

"And quite right too, Caesar."

"Yes, sah.  Massa Allen quite right, and Caesar come one night and bring
niggah Obeah and put in bad Massa Huggin rum.  Den Massa Huggin drinkum,
drinkum, and go drefful bad and nebber flog no more poor niggah.
Nebber.  Poor niggah dance and sing, and Massa Allen get well."

"But--what--here--I say, Caesar!" cried Murray, staring hard at the
black--"You don't mean to say that you mean you would poison the
wretch!"

"Yes, massa," said the black, in the most innocent way.  "Gib um Obeah
snake poison.  Gib um manchineel in um rum.  Make um curl up and go
dead."

"Oh, that wouldn't do at all, Caesar," cried Murray earnestly.  "He's a
horribly bad wretch, of course."

"Yes, massa; ollible bad wretch, and ought to be killed dead; but Massa
Allen say no, he won't do any more wicked thing."

"And he is quite right, Caesar."

"No, sah," said the black, shaking his head.  "Not do no wicked thing.
Caesar do it, and it not wicked thing.  All good."

"No, no; it would be murder, Caesar," cried the middy.

"What murder, massa?"

"Eh?  What is murder?  Why, to kill innocent people."

"What innocent people, massa?"

"What are innocent people, my man?  Why, those who have done no harm."

"Massa Huggin not no innocent people, Murray Frank.  Massa Huggin bad
man; kill poor niggah.  Try kill poor Massa Allen, take um plantation."

"Yes, that's all very bad," said Murray thoughtfully.

"Yes, sah; berry bad.  What British captain do Massa Huggin?"

"Well, I hardly know, Caesar," said Murray thoughtfully.  "I should say
that if he catches him fighting against the king and setting those
blackguards of his to murder the poor creatures he has been dealing in--
throwing them overboard so as to escape--the captain will have him hung
at the yard-arm."

"Yes, sah," cried the man, with his eyes flashing.  "Dat what Massa
Allen tell um.  Massa Allen say he desarve be hung at um yard-arm for
kill an' murder poor black niggah, and Massa Huggin laugh and say Massa
Allen hang too.  Dat right, sah?"

"No, no; that wouldn't be right, Caesar."

"Bri'sh captain not kill Massa Allen?"

"Certainly not, my man," said Murray earnestly.  "No, sah.  Much a bes'
way for Caesar gib Massa Huggin Obeah."

"No, no, and that would not do either.  Hallo! what do you mean by
that?"

The black had suddenly thrown himself down upon his face and dragged the
midshipman beside him, a movement instantly imitated by the big slave
who was seated among the bushes beside Roberts, who lay motionless as if
asleep.

"Massa see?" whispered Caesar.

"See what?" asked Murray excitedly.

The black slowly and cautiously extended his right hand while he placed
the fingers of his left to his lips.

Murray gazed with wonder in the direction indicated, but for some
minutes he could make out nothing more than the closely-packed canes
that commenced before the patch of jungle in which they were concealed.
Everything seemed to be dim, and in the distance it was as though the
thick growth was formed into a soft twilight, but as the lad strained
his eyesight, he fancied that in one part the canes were swaying
slightly here and there, as if the wind was pressing them on one side.
Then as he turned his head a little he started and his heart began to
beat with excitement, for what had been for a time indistinct now grew
plainer and plainer and shaped itself into what looked to be quite a
strong body of men, evidently rough sailors, creeping slowly through a
plantation of sugar-cane and making for some definite place.  One minute
they would be quite indistinct and faint; the next they would stand out
quite clearly; and it soon became plain that they were well-armed, for
from time to time there was a faint gleam that Murray made out to be
shed from the barrel of some musket.

"Massa Murray Frank see um?" whispered the black.

"Yes, quite plainly," replied the lad.

"Dat Massa Huggin man go creep round plantation."

"What plantation is that?" asked Murray excitedly.

"Massa Allen plantation, sah.  Massa Allen plantation cottage over dah,
sah."

"And is he back there now?"

"No say dat where Caesar tink de lieutenant massa wait long o' Bri'sh
sailor.  Fink um wait till Massa Huggin bring all a men from two, free
schooner.  Wait kill all a Bri'sh sailor, sah."

"And if he doesn't look out, my man, he'll be killed instead."

"Caesar hope so, sah."

"When do you mean to go on and join Mr Anderson, then?" asked the
midshipman.

"Caesar wait till come dark, sah.  No go yet.  Massa Huggins men watch
all round and take--kill--Murray Frank if um go now."

"But can't you go and warn our people that they are in danger?"

"Massa Anderson know," said the black coolly.  "Bri'sh sailor officer
keep eye wide open.  Dah!"

He uttered the last word in a low, excited fashion, for just then there
was the distant smothered report of a musket, and Murray pressed the
growth before him a little on one side.

"Was that one of the slavers' crew?" he whispered.

"No, sah.  Dat sailor shoot.  Look now."

The lad pressed forward again, but nothing was visible, for the densely
packed party of sailors who the minute before had been seen to be in
motion had quite disappeared, though Murray could grasp the fact that
they must still be there.



CHAPTER FORTY SEVEN.

"WAIT TILL DARK."

Long hours of weary waiting and expectation of being discovered, for at
intervals movements could be detected amongst the tall swaying canes and
patches of maize that could be made out beyond the wilderness of
undergrowth that lay between the little party of fugitives and the
cottage whose presence the black insisted upon as being in the direction
he pointed out.

But Murray had the satisfaction of noting that his brother midshipman
was slowly recovering his senses.  Twice over he had opened his eyes to
gaze wonderingly in the face that looked down at him, and once when
Murray whispered a few encouraging words he shook his head and seemed to
sink back into a deep sleep again.

"What's to be done, Caesar?" said Murray softly.

"Do nothing, sah.  Wait till come dark.  Then creep, creep, creep froo
trees and tell massa officer not to shoot.  Then run fas', get in
cottage."

Night at last, and with every nerve throbbing from excitement Murray
started up in readiness, for the black had bent over to whisper to him
that he was going to try and find a way past the several parties of the
enemy who were beleaguering the holders of the little cottage, whom it
was their aim now to rejoin.

"Massa stop now," said the man.  "Wait till Caesar see."

The next minute there was a faint rustling sound, and Murray was alone
with the big black and his companion, both silent, the former watchful
and alert, and the latter as motionless as if plunged in the deepest
sleep.

This silence was to the midshipman the most painful part of the task
which he had been called upon to bear.  His imagination began to set to
work at once and surrounded him with perils that were ever on the
increase.  He knew from what he had seen that a strong body of the enemy
must be lying between him and his friends, but directly Caesar had
passed out of hearing it appeared to him that the crews of the slaver's
schooners had started into motion and were creeping round behind him to
cut him off, and twice over this was enforced by the great black
beginning to creep away and leaving him alone with Roberts.

Then when he was beside himself with anxiety as to what he had better
do, and more and more certain that he was completely left, he started to
find that the great fellow had returned, to seat himself beside his
burden, evidently ready to make a fresh start at any moment.

At last, when Murray felt that he could bear no more, there was a faint
rustle and a whisper to prove that the black had returned, to lay a hand
upon his shoulder.

"Well," whispered the lad excitedly, "have you found a way to get by
them?"

"Caesar get by," said the man sadly, "but big slabe, Murray Frank,
Roberts, not get by."

"Then what do you mean to do?"

"Try," said the man.  "Murray Frank ready?"

"Yes, ready for anything," said the lad, springing up eagerly.

Caesar whispered a few words to his big fellow and as Murray strained
his eyes he tried to make out the movements of the black when he caught
hold of the midshipman, swung him round over his shoulder, and followed
closely behind his leader and Murray, who now began to advance
cautiously, hand in hand, pausing to listen from time to time, Caesar
progressing more by thought than touch and evidently conscious that at
any moment he might stumble upon those who were waiting ready to pounce
upon him.

There were moments when hope began to illumine the lad's path, for so
silent did everything remain that it seemed as if the enemy must have
changed his position; and in this hopeful mood he was about to whisper
his belief to his companion when the path was brightened by a totally
different illumination.  For there was utter silence one moment, and the
next, flash, flash, from musket after musket, and the enemy's position
was marked out by points of light as he concentrated his fire upon the
cottage hidden amongst the trees.

This went on for a time without reply, and it now seemed to the
midshipman that it must be the little party of his friends who had gone
off.  Then crack, crack, the reply began, and plainly mingled with the
reports came the strange whistling whirr of bullets about their ears, in
company with the crackling of cut-down leaves and twigs which now began
to patter upon the earth.

"Come," whispered the black.

"Come where?" asked Murray excitedly.

"Back again," was the reply.  "Massa no want sailor shoot massa?"

"No," whispered the lad; "but we were to shout to them that we are
friends."

"Yes, massa," said the man drily, "but sailor man shout so loud um no
hear massa speak, and massa get shoot dead long o' Caesar and big slabe.
No talk; other fellow hear um, and sailor man shoot one side, Massa
Huggin man shoot other side, and no get to cottage at all.  Come back."

The lad submitted without a word, though it seemed to him maddening to
give up when they were so near that every flash was quite plain, and he
fully expected to hear himself hailed.

They seemed to him then to have crept exactly into the centre of the
firing, and every whizzing whistle sounded as if it must be coming
straight for its billet that would end one of their careers; but the
moments passed on with the marvel growing more strange that they escaped
being laid low; and then the excitement came suddenly to an end, when
Caesar literally snatched the lad to earth and the big slave subsided
with a low sigh of relief which indicated that he had sunk down too with
his silent burden, to lie listening to the cross fire which still went
on above their heads, till all at once a familiar voice shouted--

"Now, my lads, all together, forward!  Let them have it!"

The order thrilled through Murray's breast, and seemed to rouse Roberts,
helpless as he was, to action.

"Hurrah!" cried the midshipman, as he sprang to his feet, followed by
his wounded comrade, who staggered for a moment or two, and then fell,
clutching at Murray, dragging him down upon his less active comrade,
just as there was a rush of feet, the crackling of wood, and the minute
later a fierce yell of raging voices, and the sailors who had responded
to the first lieutenant's call were borne back again by four times their
number and driven as far as the entrance to the cottage, where they
stood fast and delivered a little volley, which sent their enemies to
the right-about, giving them time to barricade themselves again and hold
the entrance fast.

"Answer to your names there," panted the lieutenant, who was breathless
with his exertions.  "What's that?" he cried directly after.
"Prisoners!  Two of them?"

"Four, sir," growled a deep voice.  "Two black fellows, sir, and here's
two youngsters, sir, as far as I can make out.  One of 'em's wounded,
sir."

"Well, we don't want prisoners," cried the lieutenant, "but we must take
them.  See that you bind them fast."

"We don't want binding, sir," gasped Murray.  "We've got away from the
enemy and reached you at last."

"Mr Murray!  This is grand!" cried the chief officer.  "But have you
seen anything of poor Roberts?"

"I've got him here, sir, but he's badly wounded."

"And we've no doctor with us."

"I don't think it's dangerous, sir; but have you had any news of May and
Titely?"

"Tom May is with us, my lad."

"Hurt, sir?"

"Here, answer for yourself, my lad," cried the lieutenant.

"Hurt, sir?  Yes, sir; pretty tidy, sir," growled the big sailor.  "One
of them slavers fetched me a crack on the head as knocked all the sense
out on it; but I shall get a chance at 'em again one o' these times.
But is it really you, Mr Murray, here and all right, sir?"

"It's your turn to answer, Mr Murray," replied the chief officer.

"Yes, sir; and yes, Tom May; I've got back safely.  Where's Titely?"

"In the plantation house, sir--in hospital--sick bay, sir; doing pretty
tidy.  But they're coming on again, I think, sir, and we've them two
blacks with us, sir.  Where shall we put them?"

"They're not prisoners, sir," cried Murray.  "They're friends, and have
helped us to escape."

"Do you think we can trust them?" asked the lieutenant.

"Trust them, sir?  Yes, and they'll fight for us to the end."

"You answer for them, my lad?"

"Yes, sir," cried Murray.  "They're staunch enough."

"Here they come, sir!" cried Tom May.

For with a fierce yelling mingled with an imitation of the hearty
cheering of a body of seamen, a strong party dashed up to the hastily
barricaded entrance, and sent a volley crashing through the panels of
the door and the window.

"You were ready for that, my lads?" cried the lieutenant.  "No one
hurt?"

"Nay, sir; we're used to that bit o' business," growled the big sailor.

"Then give it them back, my lads."

The words had hardly passed the officer's lips before a dozen muskets
bellowed out their reply, lighting up so many roughly-made portholes,
and as the volley was responded to by a fiercer yelling than before,
mingled with the hurried footsteps of the repulsed attacking party,
Murray turned in the darkness to his leader.

"I can't understand it, sir," he said.  "I thought Caesar, the black,
was retreating with us to the cottage by the lagoon."

"No, no, my lad; this is the plantation house where we came first.  I
only wish we could have reached the cottage by the water-side.  We
should have had help from the captain before now if we could have got
there."

"Then we are right in the middle of the cane fields, sir?"

"Yes, Murray, and very glad I was to come upon it, for it has been
strong enough to hold.  Here: your black fellow who guided the
expedition--where is he?"

"Here somewhere, sir."

"Ask him then if he can lead us by some path to the water-side."

"Do you hear this, Caesar?" asked Murray.  "Is there any path down to
the water-side without using a boat along the river?"

"Yes, sah, but Massa Huggin men all dah, and um think they come 'long
again to burn Massa Allen house up.  Murray Frank look!  All de window
burn fire."

"Yes, they're trying another way of attack," said the chief
officer--"one that I have been wondering that they did not try before.
Up-stairs with you, my lad.  You go too, Mr Murray.  You must pick off
those who come up with their firebrands.  You'll be able to see the
scoundrels now.  This is better than that horrible darkness.  Ah, the
business is warming up.  Give them a cheer, my lads, as soon as you are
up at the windows.  The captain will hear our response, and it will let
him know where we are."

"But is that the _Seafowl_, sir?" cried Murray excitedly.

"Without doubt, my lad; but she sounds a long way off."

For the steady fire of big guns had begun, but as the chief officer had
said, sounding some distance away.

"Dat Massa Huggin big schooner, sah," said Caesar sharply; and he had
hardly spoken when the heavy but sharp brassy sound of a big gun came
from quite another direction.  "And dat Massa Huggin oder schooner, sah.
Dat um Long Tom."

"Confound the scoundrel!" cried the lieutenant excitedly.  "Up with you,
Mr Murray.  Here they come to the attack again.  Take May with you, or
we shall be burnt out before help can come.  Well, what's that then?" he
shouted excitedly, as Murray rushed up the stairs towards the rooms he
had helped before to put in a state of defence.  "Surely that is one of
our brig's carronades.  It was time she began to speak."



CHAPTER FORTY EIGHT.

"LET 'EM HAVE IT."

"That's your sort, my lads!  Let 'em have it!" came in the boatswain's
gruff voice, as Murray reached the wide corridor-like landing of the
planter's house; and directly after one of the sailors shouted--

"I'm after you, Tommy, old man.  Show the ugly foreign varmint what a
British bulldog is."

The words came from where a struggle was going on in one of the chambers
which the midshipman had helped to barricade before he left upon his
unfortunate mission to fetch help; and as the lad now crossed the
corridor and ran into the room, followed by Caesar, it was to see that
several of the enemy had gained a footing by rearing bamboos against the
windows, and evidently in their first charge had beaten the English
defenders back.

Murray rushed in just at the recoil, when Tom May had been roused to
action and with a couple of companions was obeying the admonition of his
messmate to show the varmint what British bulldogs might be.

Murray paused just inside the door of the lit-up room, excited and yet
amused by the man's action, for he saw the big sailor in the act of
rushing at a couple of the enemy, sticking the cutlass he bore between
his teeth, as trusting to his great strength and weight he charged with
doubled fists at the first, and in the contact drove him backwards with
a heavy thud against the man who followed, with the result that both
went down upon the floor and rolled over beneath the open window.  Then
as if in one movement the great fellow ducked down, avoiding a blow
struck at him with a knife, seized the uppermost of the two enemies by
the waistbelt, flung him up to the full extent of his reach, and then
turning himself as it were into a human catapult, he hurled the fellow
at another of his companions and caught him just as he was climbing over
the window-sill.

The next instant the window-opening was clear, and the sound of a heavy
thud came up from below, along with savage oaths and yells, while Tom
May made at once for the man who had first attacked, and who was now
struggling to his feet looking as if he had had his neck twisted.

Tom closed with the savage half-breed, Malayan looking sailor, and, to
carry out his messmate's simile, seemed to regularly worry him as he
bore him backward.

But there were others of the enemy watching the encounter--one who had
previously reached the chamber, and another who had suddenly drawn
himself up and sprung over the sill.

This fellow drew back for a few moments to watch the struggle and await
his opportunity, before, heavy machete in hand, he sprang forward, to
make a savage cut that would have gone hard with Tom May, but Murray saw
the impending stroke, parried it with the cutlass he held, and then
struck upward with the hilt, catching the assailant full in the nose
with the heavy steel guard, staggering him for a moment, and then
thrusting home, the man went down, just in time for May's antagonist to
trip over backward, the two fellows yelling as they rolled over and
over.

"Come on, messmates," growled Tom May; and there was a short
continuation of the struggle before one after the other the enemy were
driven headlong from the window and the room was clear.

"Thankye, Mr Murray, sir," said the big sailor, taking the cutlass from
between his teeth.  "You did that fine; didn't he, lads?"

"Splendid!" said the boatswain; "but what's the good of a cutlass, mate,
if you don't use it?"

"Hah!  That's just what I was thinking of," said the big sailor.  "I
just stuck it atween my tusks so as to tackle that ugly warmint, as I
thought it would be easier to chuck overboard, and then you see I was
too busy to ketch hold again.  But it do seem comic, Mr Murray, sir,
don't it?  But it have kep' it clean."

"Yes, Tom; and you cleared the deck magnificently."

"Did I, sir?  Well, I'm glad I do'd some good; and fingers was made
afore forks, warn't they, sir?  And pretty handy too."

"Yes, I suppose so, Tom; but look here, my lads," cried Murray sharply.
"Lay hold of that big old bedstead and draw it across the window.  It
will block it up.  Then clap that big wardrobe on the top."

"Ay, ay, sir!" cried the men, as they seized the heavy framework and ran
it across the opening, fastening it directly after in its place by
laying the heavy wardrobe across.

"That's done it tidy," cried the big sailor; "and that's the beauty of
having your orficer with yer to show yer what to do."

"None of your banter, Tom," cried the midshipman sternly.

"Beg pardon, sir," said the man, in protest.  "'Twarn't done for that.
I meant it honest, sir.  I shouldn't never have thought on it."

"All right," said Murray, smiling in the broad frank face.  "Why, Tom,
it's a treat to be with you again."

"Is it, sir?" cried the man.

"That it is, Tom."

"But you don't mean it, sir.  I say, ain't that what you called banter?"

"Banter?  No, Tom; I'm only too glad to get back to you.  But how are
you, Tom?  Haven't you got hurt over these tussles?"

"Hurt, sir?" said the man, beginning to feel himself over.  "I dunno,
sir.  Bit sore like just there, and my shoulder's just a shade stiff."

"Yes, and there's some paint off your nose, Tommy," said the boatswain,
chuckling.

"Is there?" said the man, touching his rather prominent feature
tenderly.  "Humph!  It do feel a bit like it.  Never mind; I'll report
mysen to the doctor when I get aboard again, and he'll put on a patch of
his solid black--that as he keeps ready to lay on all at once.  But I
say, Mr Murray, sir," he added, closing up to his young officer, "you
did me good in saying what you did.  I felt real bad without you, sir,
and as if I'd not been doing my dooty like to let you get away from me
as I did."

"Nonsense, Tom!  Who could help it?  But it was awkward to be separated
like that.  I began to be afraid that we should never get together
again."

"Well, sir, that's just what I got a touch of, sir, but I pulled myself
up short, sir, and I says to myself, `Mr Murray's too good an orficer,'
I says, `not to find his way out of any hole as these slave-hunting
varmint would dig for him.'"

"There you go again, Tom," cried Murray angrily.  "You know how I hate
flam."

"I'm blest, sir!" cried the man, in an ill-used tone.  "Oh, you are hard
upon me, sir."

"Then you shouldn't stoop to flattery."

"Flattery, sir?  Well, if that warn't honest I'm a Dutchman.  I only
wish I'd got a witness, sir, as heared me say it, sir; but I only says
it to myself, and you don't believe him."

"Yes, I do, Tom," cried Murray.

"Hullo, sir!  They're at it again somewhere else."

"Pst!" whispered Murray, holding up his hand and stepping on tiptoe
towards a door at one end of the room, partly hidden by a thick curtain.

The next moment he was signing to the men to follow him.

They were just in time, for a ladder had been raised against a narrow
slit of a window of what was fitted up as a bathroom, and as the lad
dashed in, it was to find that one of the slaver's men was in the act of
leaping down into the room, striking at the middy in his bound, and with
such force that he drove the lad headlong backwards, half stunning him
in his fall.

"Here, what is it?" cried Murray, after a few minutes, in a confused
manner.  "Who did that?"

"Why, it was this here chap, sir," said Tom May.  "Here, ketch hold of
his heels, man, and let's send him back to his mates; we don't want him
here."

"Who wounded him--who cut him?" cried Murray excitedly.

"I'm not quite sure, sir," said Tom May drily, "but I think as it was
me, sir.  You see, he let himself go at you, sir, and I just give him a
tap."

"You've killed him, Tom," said the lad, in rather an awe-stricken tone.

"Nay, sir.  Tap like that wouldn't take it out of him.  I might ha' hit
a bit softer, but I was 'bliged to be sharp, or he'd ha' finished you
off, sir, and of course we didn't want that.  There, let go your end,
messmate," continued the man, and still half dazed, Murray stood staring
as he saw one of their fierce-looking, half European, half Lascar-like
enemies passed out of the narrow window, bleeding profusely, and
disappear, his passing through the opening being followed by the dull
sound of a heavy fall.

"You've killed him, Tom!" cried Murray again, with his face
drawn-looking and strange.

"Nay, sir," grumbled the sailor, "but 'twouldn't ha' been my fault, sir,
if I had.  Some un had to have it, and it was my dooty to see as it
warn't my orficer, sir.  I do know that."

Murray was silent.

"Why, I say, sir, you'd ha' tapped one on 'em pretty hard on the head if
you'd ha' seen him coming at me; now wouldn't you?"

"Yes, I should," said Murray, with something like a sigh.  "Look here,
Tom," he added hastily, "we have too many holes to keep closed.  I want
some of the pieces of furniture crammed into these places.  It ought to
have been done before."

"It was done, sir," grumbled the man.  "That's what the first luff said,
sir, and we've been doing nothing else; but as fast as we stopped up the
beggars kep' on shoving the stuff out again with bamboos."

The high narrow window was, however, once more pretty securely blocked,
and for many hours to come the defenders of the place had their work cut
out to repel the attacks that were made, the two blacks proving
invaluable in keeping up a supply of water to drench the woodwork that
the enemy attacked with fire, so that pretty well a day had glided by
without much change having taken place.

It was evident that the slaving chief had a strong force at his disposal
in carrying on a desultory kind of siege of the plantation house, while
at the same time it seemed to the besieged that a sort of running fight
was being carried on with the _Seafowl_, whose guns were heard pretty
constantly, though during the afternoon that followed Murray's arrival
at the plantation it seemed that the brig must have followed the slaving
craft to the opposite side of the island, where firing was still going
on.

During a lull in the attack upon the planter's house, Lieutenant
Anderson busily inspected his defences, and, like a prudent officer, saw
to his supplies and examined as to whether he could not take further
measures for their protection and the setting at defiance of the enemy
for some time to come.

"He ought to have driven us out or taken us prisoners hours ago, Mr
Murray," he said, "for he has five times our force."

"Yes, sir; he seems to have," replied Murray.

"And yet we have managed to keep him at bay.  He has the advantage of
being able to set scores of blacks to work fetching fuel to try and burn
us out, bringing up provisions, doing everything but fight--they are of
no use for that--while we have only two of the dark-skinned fellows; but
I must say those two have proved to be invaluable."

"Yes, sir.  That man, Caesar--we have him to thank for showing us how to
utilise the water-tanks."

"Yes, and the underground supplies," said the lieutenant.

"And the whereabouts of the warehouses; otherwise we should have been
starved out."

"Yes, Mr Murray; we have been pretty fortunate, and I think we should
have been able to hold out if it were not for one thing."

"Should have been, sir?"

"Yes, of course, my lad.  You see, I should have contented myself with
having remained standing upon the defensive until the captain came to
our help, though I should strongly have advocated a sally and the
cutting of the way to the sloop so as to receive the help of the doctor
for poor Mr Roberts--Eh?  What were you going to observe?"

"That I venture to think that it would be the wisest plan in any case,
sir."

"No, not in any case, Mr Murray.  You see, our position is a very
serious one."

"I don't think the men think so, sir."

"Eh?  Do you think that they take a rosy view of it?"

"I'm sure they do, sir."

"Humph!  Well, I mustn't damp them till the last extremity."

"But surely, sir--" began Murray.

"I surely see that you do not know what I know, Mr Murray."

"I suppose not, sir," said the lad.

"But I do not see why you as a youth growing into manhood, and who are
sharing with me the responsibilities of this position, should not know
everything."

"I think I do know everything, sir," said Murray, smiling, "and see
fully how precarious our position is."

"Indeed, Mr Murray?" said the lieutenant sadly.

"Yes, sir; I think I see all, and it makes me feel very proud to know
how brave and contented the men are, poor fellows!  If I were in
command, sir, I should be delighted to see the confidence the men have
in their leader."

"Hah!  Yes, my dear boy," said the lieutenant, smiling more sadly than
before.  "Well, I think that perhaps I shall tell you all."

"All, sir?  Is there a graver peril than I know of?"

"Yes, my lad, and I think that you ought to know--that is, if you would
rather share my knowledge than remain in ignorance."

"I would rather share the knowledge, sir, and try to help you," said the
lad firmly.

"Good!  Then you shall; Mr Murray, we have a strong little fort here,
and provisions enough to last us a month."

"Yes, sir."

"But we shall be driven to cut our way somehow to the sloop."

"Why not attack one of the schooners, sir--board her--for there are
evidently more than one."

"Because we want the sinews of war, Mr Murray."

"Money, sir?" cried Murray.

"Tchah!  Nonsense!  Powder, my boy--powder."

"Why, sir, I thought--" began Murray.

"So did I, my lad; but unfortunately those blacks in supplying us with
water to saturate that last fire--"

"Threw it over the powder-supply, sir!" cried Murray, in horror.

"Yes, my lad; that is our position, and we have only a few charges
left."

"Hah!  Well, sir," said Murray drawing a deep breath, "then we must use
the edges of our cutlasses."

"Good!" said the lieutenant, clapping the lad upon the shoulder.  "I am
glad I told you, Mr Murray, for it has taught me that I have a brave
lad upon whom I can depend.  Yes, my lad, we have edges to our
cutlasses, and when it comes to the last we must use them too."



CHAPTER FORTY NINE.

"CAESAR DON'T KNOW."

It was a little later on that, during a quiet interval and while in
obedience to his officer Murray had been seeing to the men and taking
care they were well refreshed ready for the next attack that might be
delivered, the lieutenant joined the lad.

"Are the men satisfied?" he said quietly.

"Yes, sir; any one would think that we were out upon an excursion."

"Poor lads!" said the lieutenant.  "I'm afraid it is going to be a sad
excursion for them."

"Oh, I don't know, sir," said Murray cheerily.  "Who knows, sir, but
what the captain may come and cut us out at any time, and call upon us
to help him rout out the horrible wasps' nest?"

"That's a good, bright, boyish way of looking upon things, my boy," said
the lieutenant, "and we shall see.  There, come and let's look at our
wounded ones.  Have you had a chat with your messmate lately?"

"I've been to see him three times to-day, but he is very weak yet.  You
have been with him too, sir.  He told me.  I wish you would speak to
Titely, sir.  He wants to get up and fight, and he is not fit."

"I've already forbidden it, Mr Murray," said the lieutenant; "and the
poor fellow looked quite cut up, so I promised him a double allowance as
soon as he got well enough."

The lieutenant was silent for a few minutes, and stood as if listening
so intently that Murray grew uneasy.

"Do you hear anything, sir?" he asked.

"No, my lad; I wish I could.  I am getting anxious."

"The men are keeping a very sharp lookout, sir."

"Oh yes; I am not afraid of that, my lad.  My anxiety is for the
_Seafowl_.  It is so long since I have heard her guns, and then they
were apparently a long distance away."

"Yes, sir," said Murray cheerfully; "but then it is a long while since
we heard the slaver's guns, and that seems to mean that the captain has
silenced and perhaps--"

"Perhaps what, Mr Murray?"

"I was going to say sunk the schooner, sir; but I hope he has not done
that, for the men's sake."

"What, on account of prize money?" replied the lieutenant.  "Oh, by the
way, Mr Murray, I suppose you still believe in that black fellow,
Caesar?"

"Oh yes, sir, thoroughly.  I'm sure he saved my life."

"Humph!  Well, I want to have faith in him, but it is hard work to trust
in people sometimes.  Then I get thinking a great deal about that Mr
Allen.  I suppose he is sincere."

"Oh, I feel sure he is, sir.  The thorough reverence the black Caesar
has for him is sufficient to prove that his master is good to his
people."

"Well, after the ill these slave-owners have done the poor creatures
they owe them something in the way of recompense.  Humph!  How strange!
We begin talking of the black, and here he is.  He wants to speak to
you, seemingly.  Call him up."

Caesar had come peering in at one of the doors, and as soon as Murray
signed to him he hurried eagerly into the room, when the lieutenant
looked at him searchingly and said--

"What about your master, my man?  Where do you think he is now?"

Caesar started violently, and his lips quivered as he said huskily--

"Caesar don't know, sah.  Berry much frighten."

"What, about the slavers and their schooners?"

"No, massa.  Caesar 'fraid Massa Huggin take um and kill um."

"What for?  Why should he kill one who is his master?"

"Bad man, massa.  'Fraid Massa Allen talk to Bri'sh cap'en and set all a
black free.  'Fraid Massa Huggin kill um."

"Not so bad as that, I hope," said the lieutenant.

"Caesar berry much 'fraid Massa Allen no let Caesar kill Massa Huggin."

"I should think not!" said the lieutenant; and Caesar looked at him
curiously.

"Massa Huggin bad man, sah.  Caesar kill, sua.  Him take away and kill
um.  Caesar t'ink so first time.  T'ink so now."

"Where would he take them?"

"Caesar know, sah.  Show Bri'sh officer where.  Oder side island where
slabe barracks and slabe ship come."

"You could take us there, my man?" said the lieutenant.

"Yes, massa.  Caesar show way when Bri'sh cap'en come wif plenty men.
Not 'nough now.  All get kill.  Show Bri'sh officer all um slabes.  All
Massa Huggin strong men, berry strong men."

"Good.  You shall, my man," said the lieutenant; "and as you say this
Huggins's men are so strong we will wait for reinforcements, so as to
make sure of taking them."

"Massa try," said the black.  "Try sabe Massa Allen.  Try quick."

"But what are you fidgeting about?" said Murray sharply.

"Caesar t'ink Massa Huggin man come and fight soon."

"What makes you think that?" asked Murray.

"Caesar don't know, massa.  Caesar feel Massa Huggin man come soon.
Look, massa.  Big Tom May come 'long."

The black turned excitedly to point in the direction of the head of the
open staircase, where the big sailor had suddenly appeared.

"Rocks ahead, sir," he said, in a low gruff whisper.

"Something wrong to report, my lad?"

"Ay, ay, sir.  They arn't come out yet, but three lookouts report seeing
the enemy just inside the edge of the plantation, sir."

"Off with you then, Mr Murray," cried the lieutenant, "and take your
old station.  Use your ammunition carefully," he added, with a meaning
intonation and a peculiar look which made the lad nod his head quickly.
"Keep the sharpest lookout for fire.  They must not get hold of us
there."

Murray hurried off with Tom May, followed by the black, and before many
minutes had elapsed the expected attack had developed so rapidly, and
was delivered with such energy, that but for the brave resistance, the
enemy must have carried all before them.  As it was the little party of
defenders met them with so fierce a fire that the savage-looking mongrel
crew were sent staggering back, followed by the triumphant cheers of the
_Seafowls_, who were still cheering when Mr Anderson made a gesture and
called for silence.

"Up on to the head of the staircase, my lads," he cried.  "We must make
our stand there."

"Beg pardon, sir," growled Tom May, with the look of an angry lion, "but
will you have some cartridges sarved out, for me and my messmates have
fired our last."

"Yes, my lads," said the lieutenant, "that is a bitter fact.  We have
fired our last shots, and we must fall back now upon our cutlasses."

"Ay, ay, sir," said the big fellow coolly.  "D'yer hear, my lads?
Cutlashes it is."

And at that crucial moment, as Murray ran his eyes along the faces of
the men, there was no sign of dismay--just the cheery, contented look of
Seaman Jack Tar ready for the worst, and the deep threatening tones of
the beaten-back enemy were pretty well deadened by a hearty cheer.

But an hour later, the enemy were back in stronger force, to be driven
off once more, but at a terrible expenditure of force, for as Murray and
Tom May came back from the sheltered room where they had laid their
gallant leader, badly wounded, by the side of Roberts, it was to find
the members of their sadly diminished force sitting wearily together
discussing another loss which Harry Lang unwillingly communicated to the
young officer.

"But have you looked round well?  Perhaps he's lying somewhere among the
trees."

"Oh yes, sir, we've looked, and he arn't there.  We've been talking it
over, sir, and we all think the same: he's had enough of it, sir, and
gone."

"Who has?" said Tom May gruffly.

"That there nigger, Caesar, Tom."

"Dunnot believe it," said Tom May fiercely, for he was very sore.

"Well, messmate," said Harry Lang, "he arn't here."



CHAPTER FIFTY.

CAESAR FINDS THE KEY.

It was at the end of a desperate struggle, during which the brave little
party of sailors had again and again driven their assailants back and
repaired the defences of the two windows they held by dragging fresh
pieces of furniture to their breastwork from other rooms, and they had
now thrown themselves down, panting and exhausted, so as to recover what
strength they could before another attack was made.

Nothing could have been better done, but as Tom May said, they wanted
time.

"'Tain't wittles and drink, Mr Murray, sir," he said.  "There's been
plenty o' that, sir.  I think we've all had too much.  What we want is,
as I says afore, time, sir, for it all to turn into strength."

"Yes, Tom," said the middy bitterly; "we are all completely exhausted--
that is to say, you and all our brave fellows are."

"Well, arn't you too, sir?  Seems to me as you're much more zausted than
we lads is."

"Oh, don't talk about me, Tom.  I'm as weak as a child now."

"Nat'rally, sir.  Your muscles is done up, and what you ought to do now
is to see if you can't hit on some dodge."

"Tom," cried Murray despairingly, "I've tried to hit on some plan till
my brains refuse to act."

"Yes, sir; nat'rally, sir; but can't yer hit on something in the
blowing-up-of-the-beggars line?"

"Tom!" cried the lad passionately.  "How can I scheme an explosion and
blow the wretches up without powder?"

"Zackly so, sir; that's what I've been thinking.  You can't, can yer?"

"No, Tom."

"Couldn't make a big pot or kettle so hot that when they come along next
time it would bust, could you, sir?"

"No, Tom, I certainly could not," said the middy decisively.

"Course not, sir," growled the man, frowning.

"We're beaten, Tom; we're absolutely beaten," said Murray bitterly; "and
the next time the wretches come on it will be the last."

"Oh, I dunno, sir.  Never say die!  Don't you be downhearted, sir.
There's a deal o' fight in us yet, as you'll see nex' time the beggars
makes a roosh."

"No, Tom; we're getting weaker and weaker."

"Yah!  I wonder at you, sir," said the sailor, moistening his hand,
taking a good grip of his cutlass, and then laying it down again.
"We're getting a bit longer rest this time, and jest as like as not,
sir, they'll begin to tire soon."

"No, Tom; they fight with a desperate energy which is too much for us."

"Well, they do go it, sir, I must say.  You see, it makes a deal o'
differ when a man's got a noose round his neck.  They knows that if they
don't get the best of us they'll be strung up to the yard-arm, and it
sets 'em thinking that they may as well fight it out as that.  But
there, we're not licked yet, sir, though I must say as it was a nasty
knock for us when the first luff went down, knocked silly as he was by
that swivel-eyed Molatter chap--'bout as ugly a ruffian as ever I did
see.  Then, too, it was a bit o' hard luck for us when that darkie chap
got rooshed off in the muddle.  He would ha' been useful to fetch powder
and help load."

"When there was no powder, Tom?" said the lad bitterly.

"Yes, sir; I meant if there had been any, o' course.  Poor chap, he
couldn't help being a black un, could he, sir?  I've thought over and
over again that if he could ha' grown white and talked like a Christian,
sir, he'd ha' made quite a man."

"Lie still, Tom," cried Murray, laying a hand upon the big sailor's arm.

"Thought they was coming on agen, sir?"

"No, no!  I'll rouse you up the moment I hear them advancing.  Rest all
you can."

"Thankye, sir," said the man drowsily.  "But you won't go to sleep, sir?
You must be dead tired yourself, sir, and it's so dark it may tempt
yer, sir."

"You may trust me, Tom."

"Course I may, sir.  But I think if I was you I'd give the first luff
another drink o' water, sir."

"I did a short time ago, Tom."

"And I been thinking, sir, that if you could tie three or four sheets
together and slide down 'em you might get hold o' that ladder they put
up again' the window to swarm up."

"I did, Tom, when you told me the last time."

"Course you did, sir, and I forgot," said the man drowsily.  "But what's
that there?"

"What?" asked Murray, as he sat listening in the darkness, with his
exhausted comrades lying about beside the barricaded window.

"That there," whispered the man, pointing through the gloom over where a
dark line was formed by a piece of furniture.

Murray made a snatch at the sailor's cutlass, took a firm grip of the
hilt, and then creeping cautiously over two of the recumbent sailors,
made for the opening, now quite satisfied that May's eyes even now had
been sharper than his own, and that one of the enemy was stealing up by
means of some bamboo pole or ladder, to guide his companions into the
bravely defended room.

Murray rose slowly, threw back the heavy sharp blade till the hilt
rested against his left ear, and gathering into the effort all his force
he was about to deliver his cut upon the unguarded enemy's head, when
there was a quick whisper:

"Massa Murray no hit.  Take hold 'fore Caesar tumble down."

The middy loosened his hold of the cutlass just in time, and catching
hold of the black's hand with both his own, dragged him over the
barricade right into the room.

"Hullo, darkie," whispered Tom May; "it is you, is it?"

"Yes, Massa Big Tom," replied the black feebly, and as if speaking in
weakness and in pain.

"Thought you'd come back to your friends again.  Didn't bring in any
more powder, did you?"

"No, Massa Tom," replied the poor fellow faintly.  "Caesar nearly get
kill.  T'ink nebber see poor Massa Allen again.  Couldn't find um."

"Did you, blackie?  Well, we all began to think something of that kind."

"Massa Murray Frank and all Bri'sh sailor come 'long o' Caesar.  T'ink
take um where Massa Allen must be."

"No, my man," said the middy sadly.  "I can't leave my friends here.  We
must hold this place to the last."

The black sank back on the littered floor and groaned.

"Poor Massa Allen!" he said.

"Lookye here, darkie," said the big sailor; "tain't no use to howl.
What do you say to getting a good bunch of palm leaves and waiting till
these slaver beggars come again, and then setting fire to the place and
burning them all up together?"

"Yes, sah," said the black sadly.  "Caesar go and set fire to
sugar-barrel; all burn up."

"Bah!  Take too long, darkie.  Now, if you'd got a barrel o' powder!"

"Big Massa Tom want barrel o' powder?"

"Do I want a barrel of powder?" growled the big sailor, in a deep-toned
voice full of contempt and scorn.

"Not big barrel sugar," said the black sadly; "lilly barrel black
powder, all black like niggah."

"Here, what are you talking about, you old pitch kettle?" cried the
sailor, full of animation now.  "You don't know where there's a lilly
barrel, do you?"

"Yes," said the man quietly.

"Not a lilly white barrel?"

"No, sah; lilly black barrel.  Two--ten--twenty lilly barrel."

"What!" cried Murray excitedly.  "Where is it?"

"Down'tair," said the black, speaking with more animation now.  "Massa
Murray Frank wantum?"

"Yes, of course," cried the lad.  "Where do you say it is?
Down-stairs?"

"Yes, massa.  Down'tair long wi' Massa Allen bottle of wine.  Plenty
bottle o' wine.  Two, ten, twenty lilly barrel black powder."

"Avast there, my lads," said the big sailor, in a deep, low whisper.
"Rouse and bit, my chickens.  Here's corn in Egypt and no mistake."  And
then, as the men sprang up ready to meet another attack, even if it
might be the last, Tom May turned to Murray.  "Beg pardon, sir, but
what's it to be?"

"Get a barrel of powder up directly, Tom," replied the lad; "that is, if
it doesn't turn out too good to be true.  You serve it out to the lads,
too, and be ready to give the enemy a surprise when they come on again."

"Beg pardon, sir, but hadn't we better make it a mine, sir?  Clap a
couple o' barrels just in their way.  Lay a train, and one on us be
ready to fire it just as they're scrowging together under the window."

"Yes, far better, Tom; far better than blazing at the wretches with the
muskets.  Here, Caesar, show us where the powder is.  Is it locked up?"

"Yes, massa; down'tair.  Caesar know where key."

The feeling that he was going to be of some great assistance to those
who were the friends of his master seemed to rouse up the black, who
staggered at first as he rose, and then seemed to grow stronger as he
led the way towards the door, caught at the balustrade, and before he
could be seized fell and rolled heavily down the stairs, to lie groaning
feebly at the bottom.

"Look at that now!" cried the big sailor, as he helped Murray to raise
the poor fellow to his feet.  "Why didn't you speak out about the
gunpowder before?"

"Caesar not know," moaned the shivering black.  "Key dah," he panted.
"Key dah."

"Key dah!" growled the big sailor.  "Who's to know where _dah_ is?
Can't you show us?  I believe we shall have the beggars here before we
can find it, sir."

But the black began to recover a little and ended by leading the way in
the darkness to a closet in the principal down-stairs room, leaving it
open, and then, armed with a key and hurrying his companions back, he
opened a door in the wide hall, and holding on by the big sailor, showed
the way down into the cellar of the well-vaulted house.

The rest proved to be easy, though every step was taken under a state of
intense excitement, while the wounded and worn-out sailors forgot every
suffering, inspired as they now were by hope.

At last, armed with a couple of fair-sized kegs of powder, held in
reserve in case of troubles with the large body of slaves that were
always about the plantation and at the so-called barracks, the plan of
laying a mine and firing it when next the enemy made an attack was
modified at Murray's suggestion into the preparing of some half-dozen
shells, each composed of an ordinary wine bottle or decanter fully
charged and rammed down with an easily prepared slow match such as would
occur to any lad to contrive ready for lighting from a candle held
prepared in the upper chamber, risk being a matter that was quite left
out of the question.

"Hah!" ejaculated Murray, as the shells were at last prepared.  "Now
they may come on as soon as they like.  This must be the best plan,
Tom--to wait till they begin to attack, and fire from here."

"Well, it's the safest, sir; but mightn't we load every piece we've got
and give 'em a taste of that wittles as well, sir?"

"Of course," was the reply; and every piece was loaded; but still the
enemy did not come.

"I say, sir, this here arn't going to end in a big disappyntment, is it,
sir?"

"What, do you think they mayn't come?"

"Yes, sir, that's it."

"What could be better, Tom?" replied Murray.

"Oh, I want 'em to come, sir," grumbled the man.  "They've made us so
savage that we shan't none of us be happy without we gets a chance to
use this here dust."

"They'll come; depend upon it, Tom," said Murray.

"Then how would it be to light a fire out yonder, sir?" suggested the
big sailor.

"What, so as to see the enemy?"

"Nay, sir; we shall manage that, and when the shells busts, sir, they'll
light it up a bit; but what I meant was, sir, to start a pretty good
fire just at a fair distance in front of the window, sir, just handy for
some of us to make up good big charges of powder tied up in the sleeves
of our shirts, sir, handy and light ready to heave into the hot parts
where the fire's burning.  They're pretty tough, them slavers, but a few
of them charges set off among 'em would be more than they'd care to
face.  We've got plenty o' powder, sir, to keep it on till to-morrow; so
what do you say?"

"I say, certainly, Tom," replied Murray; "and on thinking again of what
we had first planned, I say that we will lay a train from the door under
this window to a mine consisting of one of the barrels just hidden."

"And me fire it, sir?" cried the big sailor eagerly.

"No; I shall do that myself," said Murray firmly.

"All right, sir; you're orficer," said the big sailor, rather sulkily,
"and a sailor's dooty's to obey orders; but I did think, sir, as a
orficer in command was to give orders and let them as was under him do
the work.  I don't mean no offence, Mr Murray, sir, but I thought you
was in command now that the first luff was down in orspittle, or as we
say, in sick bay."

"Well, we'll see, Tom," said Murray.  "I don't want to disappoint you,
my lad.  What we've got to make sure of is that the mine is fired."

"Ay, ay, sir; but you might trust me, sir."

"I do trust you, Tom," replied Murray.  "There, let's have the powder up
and take the head out of another keg."

"Ay, ay, sir.  Give the word, sir, and we'll soon do that."

"Off with you," cried Murray; and while the men were gone below, he
carefully arranged the so-called shells that had been prepared, so that
they were handy for hurling from the window, and once more examined the
quick match that had been formed of strips of linen and moistened
powder--a fuse that could be depended upon to keep burning when once set
alight.

He had hardly satisfied himself as to the arrangement of the terrible
weapons that had been prepared, before a sound that floated through the
open window drew him close up, and he had hardly stood there in doubt a
couple of minutes before his doubt was dispelled, for plainly enough,
and apparently from the other side of the island, came the report of a
heavy gun, which was answered by another report, evidently from a gun of
different calibre.

Just then the men who had been below came hurrying up, bearing the
powder as coolly as if it was so much butter.

"I've brought two on 'em, sir," said the big sailor, "and if you'll just
look on, sir, we'll make all right."

"Be careful, my lad," said Murray.  "Remember the light's here."

"Ay, ay, sir; we'll be on the lookout for sparks," replied the man; "but
hullo, sir!  Hear that?"

"Yes," said Murray; "firing over there, and the captain at work."

"Three cheers for 'em, my lads!  We shall have the beggars at us here
soon."



CHAPTER FIFTY ONE.

LAYING THE TRAIN.

The dangerous preparations were soon made, and Tom May's and his
comrades' hands were plainly seen trembling as they handled their kegs.

"Look at that now, sir," said the big sailor.  "Did you ever see such a
set o' cowards in your life?"

"Cowards, Tom?  Never," said Murray, who was all of a quiver too.

"More did I, sir.  I wouldn't ha' believed I could ha' been in such a
shiver and shake.  I supposed it'd be for fear we shouldn't be ready for
the warmint; but it don't look like it, do it?"

"Yes, Tom, for your hands are steady enough now you've done."

"Well, I hope so, sir," said the man, "because it seems such a bad
example to the lads, and they've all ketched it.  Hullo, darkie!  What,
are you shaking too?"

"Yes, Massa Tom," replied the black, with his teeth chattering.  "Caesar
drefful frighten we no get the gunpowder go off when Massa Huggin man
come.  You let Caesar take lilly barrel now and light um, massa."

"Why, here's another awfully cowardly chap, Mr Murray, sir.  It's a rum
un, arn't it?"

"You make has'e, Massa Tom May; not talkee so much palaver," cried the
trembling black, seizing hold of one of the barrels and hoisting it upon
his shoulder.  "You bring candle; set light."

"No, no, Caesar," cried Murray.  "Not ready yet.  Wait."

The man parted with the little keg unwillingly, and stood with his hand
to his ear straining his neck out of the window, and listened.

"Massa Huggin man come along," he panted.

"Well, we're ready for them, my coal-dust messmate."

"Hush!" whispered Murray.  "Who's that calling?"  For a voice reached
them from the next room.

"It's Mr Roberts, sir.  Ahoy, there!  Coming, sir."

Murray ran through the opening to where the middy was lying trying to
make himself heard.

"Were you calling, Dick?" said Murray, his voice still trembling with
excitement.

"Calling?  Yes!  Shouting till I was hoarse.  I could hear.  You've got
powder now.  Bring some here, and the fellows' muskets.  I can load if I
can't do anything else."

"Yes, bring powder," said another voice, one, however, that sounded very
weak and faint.  "I think I can reload, too, for the lads."

"No, no, Mr Anderson," cried Murray excitedly; "leave it all to us,
sir.  The enemy are coming on again, and there is no time to make fresh
preparations."

"Ahoy, there, Mr Murray!  Now's your time!"

"Off with you, my lad, and Heaven help you!" groaned the lieutenant.
"Roberts, we must bear our lot, and be satisfied with our defenders."

Murray was already through the door which separated the two rooms, to
find the men waiting, as ready and eager as if not one amongst them had
been wounded.

"Are they very near?" asked Murray excitedly.

"Quite nigh enough, sir," growled the man who was hugging one keg,
another able-seaman holding another, while the black grasped a couple of
the extemporised shells.

"No, no, Caesar," said Murray sharply.  "Put those down here; they are
for throwing.  You lead the way out through the lower door along the
path the enemy will come."

"Yes sah.  You come too?" cried the black.

"Yes; quick!  Off with you!"

The man hurried down the staircase, followed by the two sailors, whose
comrades had received their orders to stand fast at the upper window to
cover the engineering party.  The door was thrown open, and Murray led
the way out into the darkness, Caesar holding his hand tightly.

"Too late!" said the lad hoarsely; and he drew back.

"No, no, sah; plenty time," whispered the black.  "Come 'long."

"Ay, ay, sir!" growled Tom May.  "Sharp's the word."

"But we shall be running into their arms, my lad, and lose the powder."

"Not us, sir.  They can't see us coming, and we mustn't let 'em hear
us."

"Forward, then," whispered Murray.  "What! there, Caesar?" he continued,
for the black had run forward a few steps and then stopped short in a
dark alley leading towards the side of the plantation and the quarters
of the black servants.

"Yes, massa.  Huggins man mus' come 'long here."

There was no time for consideration, for the enemy was evidently
approaching cautiously, and before any further order could be given Tom
May had plumped down the keg he carried, and his companion was about to
follow suit with the other, but Murray checked him.

"No, no," he whispered; "one first.  Is the top quite open, Tom?"

"Open it is, sir," was the reply.

"Now then, my lad, take the other keg and lay the train.  Sprinkle it
thickly, walking backward right away along the path here to the door."

"Right it is, sir," growled the big sailor.  "No, no, messmate; you keep
hold o' the barrel and walk alongside.  I'll ladle it out.  Mind, all on
you, not to tread in the dust.  D'yer hear, darkie?  Keep back, I tell
you; too many cooks 'll spoil the broth."

It was rough work, and clumsily executed, but somehow or other, and in
spite of the near approach of the enemy, who seemed to be aware of their
proximity, the train was effectively laid, and the engineers regained
the doorway, just in front of which the train was made to end.

"Now for the candle, Tom," whispered Murray.  "Here, you, Caesar, where
are you going?"

There was no reply, for the black had dashed in and run up the
staircase, to seize the light from the upper room where the covering
party were standing ready to fire from the window.

It was a risky proceeding, and Murray stood below in the doorway looking
on, but afraid to speak for fear of doing more harm than good, as he saw
the faithful black steal rapidly down the stairs, his black fingers
enclosing the burning candle like an open lanthorn which threw its
glowing fluttering flame upwards over the black weird-looking face with
its glistening eyes and white teeth.  Every moment the flame threatened
to be extinct, but it fluttered and recovered itself as the black
tottered down into the hall and then stepped quickly past Murray in the
effort to shelter the candle behind the door.

"Dah, massa," he panted.  "Now say when Caesar set fire to de powder."

"No, my man," panted Murray.  "I must fire the powder myself.  You tell
me when."

"Caesar say when, massa?"

"Yes, and I will fire the train.  Now then, you stand close behind me
when I step out.  You, Tom, stand behind the door, and as soon as I have
fired the train Caesar and I will dash back into the house, and you clap
to and fasten the door.  Do you see?"

"No, sir, but I can feel," growled the man; "but won't the 'splosion
bust it open?"

"Very likely, Tom."

"Ay, ay, sir; but right it is, sir."

"Now then, Caesar," whispered Murray, thrusting one hand behind the door
to seize the candle and place it ready in shelter.

"Not yet, massa," said the black, who stood out a couple of yards from
the door.  "Dey come 'long close, but all 'top now."

"Ah, they have found the powder keg," ejaculated Murray.

"No, sah.  Dey all close 'longside and wait for more Massa Huggin man."

"Then I will not fire yet."

"No, sah.  Caesar fink dey watch see Murray Frank, want know what um do.
All talkee palaver.  No fire yet."

"I must fire soon," whispered the lad, in a strangely excited tone of
voice, which sounded as if he were being suffocated.

"No; Murray Frank not fire yet," whispered the black, in eager tones.
"Wait plenty more Huggins man come.  Yes," he whispered, as a burst of
voices as of many of the enemy hurrying up could be heard; and then
above all came the strangely familiar tones of one who had been leading
the newly-arrived party, and Murray started violently as there fell upon
his ear in fierce adjuration--

"Wall, why are you waiting?  In with you, curse you, and finish them
off!"

The black started back to retreat into the house, but Murray extended
his left hand and caught him by the shoulder.

"Where are you going?" he whispered.

"Run!" was the reply.  "Massa Huggin."

"Not yet," whispered Murray.  "Is it time now?"

The lad's calm words had the effect of steadying the trembling black as
they listened, and his voice was no longer the same as he said firmly
now--

"Yes, massa.  Time now.  Fire!"

Murray thrust the black from him as he snatched the light from behind
the door, took a couple of steps towards the enemy, and stooped down
with the candle burning blue and seeming to become extinct as the lad
touched the path.  Then there was a bright flash as the powder caught,
sputtered and began to run, lighting up the figure of the midshipman in
the act of dashing in through the doorway, a score of bullets rattling
after him in answer to an order; and then the door closed with a heavy
bang.

Darkness within and a blaze of light without, where the voice of the
Yankee could be heard shouting orders which rose above the buzzing
fluttering noise of the running train.

"Hurt, Mr Murray, sir?"

"No!  Where's the black?"

_Crash_!

A fierce burst as of thunder, and the just-closed door was dashed in,
while the hall and staircase were filled with light.



CHAPTER FIFTY TWO.

WHAT THE POWDER DID.

The horrible dank odour of exploded gunpowder; a blinding smoke; thick
darkness; a strange singing in the ears, and then, in connection with a
sensation as of having been struck down and stunned, an awful silence.

These were Murray's impressions as he slowly struggled to his feet.
Then as his scattered senses began to return he cried hoarsely--

"Who's here?--Who's hurt?"

There was no reply for a few moments, and then from somewhere up-stairs
as it seemed to Murray, Roberts shouted--

"Do speak, somebody!  Are you all killed?"

"No, no," panted Murray, who now began to cough and choke.  "Speak,
somebody!  Who's hurt?"

"Here, avast there!" now burst forth the hearty tones of the big sailor.
"Let's have it, messmates, only don't all speak at once.  Arn't all on
you killed, are you?"

"No, no," cried one.

"Knocked the wind out of us," said another, from the upper room.

"Here, steady there," cried Tom May now, in a voice full of excitement.
"Avast there, what did you do with the rest of that there keg of
powder?"

"Me?" cried Harry Lang, who had handled it.  "You, yes!  What did you do
with it, messmate?"

"Took it up-stairs.  I mean, brought it up here."

"Then 'ware sparks."

The dread of a fresh explosion in the presence of the faint sparks that
could be seen lying here and there for some distance about the front of
the planter's house set every one to work with bucket and water, and it
was not until broad daylight that confidence began to reign, with the
calmness which accompanied the knowledge that the door which had been
blown in had been replaced by a strong barricade to act as a defence
against a renewed attack.

Of this, however, there was no sign, the danger resting only in the
imagination of the wearied-out and wounded men, several of whom had sunk
into a stupor of exhaustion, while Murray, Tom May and the black were
out exploring, and finding here and there at a distance from the front
of the house traces of the havoc which could be produced by the
explosion of a keg of gunpowder.

Not to dwell upon horrors, let it suffice to say that one of the
discoveries made was by Tom May and the black, when the following words
were uttered--

"Well, look ye here, darkie, you needn't shiver like that.  Y'arn't
afraid on him now?"

"No; not 'fraid; but he make niggah 'fraid all many years, and Caesar
keep 'fraid still.  But nebber any more.  He dead now."

"But are you sure this was him?"

"Yes, Caesar quite suah.  Only 'fraid now poor Massa Allen dead too."

"Ah, well, messmate--black messmate, I mean--we had nothing to do with
that, and Master Huggins will never make an end of any more poor
fellows; so don't shiver like jelly, for I says it's a blessing that the
beggar's gone."

"Yes, Massa Tom.  No 'fraid no more.  All a blessing Massa Huggins
gone."

"And all his men, darkie."

"Yes, sah, and all his men.  They never come back no more."

"What is it?" said Murray, coming up.  "Have you found out anything
more?"

Tom May made an announcement which Murray communicated to the wounded
lieutenant, and he had hardly finished when the sound of firing began
again.

"What's that?" cried Mr Anderson, raising himself upon one arm.
"There, you needn't tell me, Murray, lad; I know.  It's the captain
attacking, or being attacked by, some of the slaving scoundrels, and we
are not there to help him."

"But surely, sir, we have been helping him by what we have done," said
Murray; and the lieutenant stretched out his hand, wincing and groaning
as he did so, and clutched the midshipman's arm.

"Thank you, my dear boy," he said; "that does me good.  We have been
helping him, haven't we?"

"Why, of course, sir.  That explosion has ended in killing the chief
slaver, the head of the gang, as well as a terrible number of his
wretched followers."

"So it has, Mr Murray; so it has.  Your doing too."

"Oh no, sir; I only played my part.  We did," said Murray, smiling.

"We?  Nonsense!  You fired the train."

"Yes, sir, as your deputy, and with your instructions.  It was done by
us in following out duties that the captain would have wished carried
out."

"Ha!  Thank you, Mr Murray.  I am weak and faint and troubled by the
idea that I have not done my part."

"Oh, nonsense, sir.  There, let me put this wet handkerchief to your
head.  You're feverish again."

"Thank you, Murray," sighed the lieutenant gratefully.  "You are a good
fellow.  I wish Mr Roberts were as good an officer."

"Well, you have your wish, sir," said Murray laughingly.  "He'd have
done his share if he hadn't been wounded."

"Ah, yes; how is he?"

"Getting better, sir, certainly."

"That's good, Murray," said the lieutenant, with a sigh.  "I want to
make as good a show of the men as I can when I have to face the captain
again.  I'm afraid, though, that it will be a very bad one, eh?"

"Plenty of wounded, sir, but none very bad.  The poor fellows have
broken down a bit now that the work's done, but they'll soon mend."

"Then you don't think, Murray, that the captain will find much fault
with me and my men?"

"He'd be very unreasonable if he did, sir."

"Hah!  You think so, Murray?  But he can be rather unreasonable
sometimes, Murray, eh?"

"Terribly, sir."

"Hah!  That's comforting, Murray, for I am very weak.  I feel, you see,
that I ought to be up and doing now, my lad, and I haven't the power to
stir."

"Beg pardon, sir," said Murray, "but now you're _hors de combat_ am I
not leading officer?"

"Certainly, my dear boy, and I tell you that you have done wonders."

"Thank you, sir," said Murray, "but I was not fishing for compliments.
What I wanted you to say was that I was to take the lead."

"I say so, then, certainly, my dear sir."

"Well, then, sir, I say that your duty is to lie still and get better,
and that our lads are to do the same."

"Well, leaving me out, Murray, that's quite right."

"Yes, sir, and including you.  The best thing is for me to give our lads
a rest to recoup a bit.  We can't do better than hold this place in case
of a fresh attack."

"Quite right."

"And wait until the captain sends help."

"Excellent, Murray; but the captain may be waiting for help to come from
us."

"Yes, sir, and if he is I am sorry to say that I could not lead four men
to his aid."

"Oh dear, that's bad," groaned the lieutenant.

"You couldn't get up and lead us, sir."

"Get up?  Lead you, Murray?  My dear lad, I am as weak as an infant."

"Ray--ray--hooray!" came loudly.

"What's that?" cried the lieutenant excitedly.  "Quick, lad!  My sword.
A fresh attack."

"No, sir," cried Murray, who had run to the window as the cheering was
responded to loudly.  "It's Mr Munday with over a dozen men coming up
at the double.  Do you hear, sir?--`_Seafowls_ ahoy!'"

"Ah!" sighed the lieutenant, sinking back upon the now stained pillow
which had been taken from one of the planter's beds.

"Mr Murray, that you?" came from the front.

"Yes, sir," cried Murray, who was looking from the window.

"Well, I shouldn't have known you.  You're as black as a sweep."

"Yes, sir," said the middy, clapping his hand to his face.

"Seen anything of Mr Anderson?"

"Yes, he's lying up here, wounded."

"What!  Not badly?"

"Got a nasty wound, sir, but it will soon be better," replied the middy,
glancing back at the half-fainting officer.

"Come up, Munday," cried the latter; and in a few minutes the second
lieutenant had forced his way over the barricaded entrance and reached
the rooms that now formed the temporary infirmary.

"Very, very glad to have found you at last," said Mr Munday, shaking
hands warmly.  "My word, sir, you have had a tremendous fight here!"

"You can report to the captain that I have done my best, Munday, and our
lads have fought like heroes."

"That's good, sir.  I'm sure they have.  I wish, though, we had been
here."

"And now you will either get us aboard or send for Mr Reston."

"I'm sorry to say that I can't do either," said the second lieutenant.

"What!" cried the chief officer.

"It has been like this; the captain sent me ashore with a boat's crew to
find you and the rest, and as soon as we were out of sight he was
attacked by a couple of schooners."

"How did you know that?" asked Murray, who had laid his hand upon the
chief officer's lips to keep him from speaking.

"From the two boat-keepers; and one of these schooners our lads report
as being commanded by that scoundrel who tricked us with his lugger.  He
was the real owner of the schooner that escaped."

"Ah!  Go on," said Mr Anderson faintly.  "Tell Murray, and let me lie
and listen."

"Well, then," continued the officer, "these two schooners attacked the
skipper just when he was shorthanded, and before I could get back to my
cutter they had been there, driven the two boat-keepers ashore, and
scuttled her.  Of course my two men could do nothing but make for me.
So there I was ashore, listening to the firing, while the skipper had to
keep on a running fight, and that's been going on ever since, for
they've been a bit too many for the _Seafowl_, it seems to me."

"How unfortunate!" said Murray.

"Horribly, sir," said the second lieutenant.  "Here have I been hunting
you ever since, though I've had a few skirmishes with the scoundrels,
who have seemed to swarm."

"Yes," said Murray, nodding his head.  "White, black and mongrel scum of
the earth."

"Exactly, my lad.  Well, to make a long story short, the place is such a
maze that I'm sure I should never have found you if we hadn't seen the
flash of this explosion.  Of course we heard the roar far enough away,
but that would not have guided us without we had seen the direction."

"No, sir, I suppose not.  Well, sir, what's to be done now?" said
Murray.

"Let's hear what Mr Anderson says."

"Hush!  He has fallen asleep," whispered Murray.  "Poor fellow!  He is
very weak."

"And ought to have Reston to him.  We're in a nice hole, Murray, upon my
word!  Have you got a morsel of prog?  My lads are starving."

"We've plenty, sir."

"Hah!  Then feed us, dear lad, and then we shall be ready to fight or do
anything you like.  But hullo!  What about Dick Roberts?"

"Wounded, but getting better.  He's in the next room, doing nothing but
sleep."

"Next room!  Upon my word you middies are pretty sybarites!  Well, let
us have this prog."

"Come down to the dining-room," said Murray.  "Mr Anderson cannot do
better than sleep."

"Dining-room!" said the second lieutenant in a whisper, as they left the
chamber.  "What next?  You haven't got such a thing as a cellar of wine
on the premises, have you, my lad?"

"Yes, sir," said Murray, laughing; "but that's where we have our powder
magazine."

"Give us something to eat, then, my dear fellow, and then let's see if
we can't use the powder to blow up the two schooners which are pounding
the _Seafowl_.  Hark!  They're at it still."

"No," said Murray, listening; "those must be the _Seafowl's_ guns."



CHAPTER FIFTY THREE.

THE CAPTAIN'S LAST BLOW UP.

Murray proved to be right, for the distant reports which came from
somewhere on the far side of the island proved to be the last fired by
the man-o'-war, which, shorthanded though she was, and desperately
attacked by the powerful well-manned schooners, had kept up a continuous
fight, so cleverly carried on that it had at last ended by the running
ashore of one of the big slaving craft, and the pounding of the other
till in desperation the skipper, who proved to be the cunning Yankee
hero of the lugger trick,--the twin brother of the scoundrel Huggins who
had met his fate in the explosion,--set his swift craft on fire before
taking, with the remnants of the crew, to the woods.

It was not until a couple of days later that, after extinguishing the
fire on board the second schooner and setting sail with her for the
harbour, Captain Kingsberry commenced firing signal guns to recall his
scattered crew, and communication was made by the help of Caesar.

"Yes, Massa Murray Frank," he said eagerly; "Caesar soon show um way to
where big gun go off."

He, too, it was who gave signals which resulted in the collection of as
many of the plantation slaves as were wanted to bear the wounded men in
palanquins through the maze-like cane brakes and down to the shore,
where a shady hospital was started in which Dr Reston could rule
supreme, his patients chuckling to one another as they luxuriated in the
plantation coffee, sugar, molasses, fruit and tobacco, and thoroughly
enjoyed themselves--so they said--in the jolliest quarters that had ever
fallen to their lot.

Caesar, too, in his actions was certainly one of the greatest of the
Caesars, for in spite of a terribly scorched face, and burned and
wounded arms and hands, he worked almost without ceasing.  Scores of his
fellow-slaves flocked to help, and under his guidance the captain and
crew of the _Seafowl_ were perfectly astounded by the extent of the
plantation buildings, and the arrangements that existed for carrying on
the horrible trade and keeping up the supply from the far-off African
coast.

It was a busy time for the _Seafowls_, as they called themselves, but
they had the prisoners to deal with, for those left alive of the crews
of the two schooners had managed to reach the familiar shelter of the
dense shores, from which they did not wait to be hunted out, but
utilised some of the light boats of whose existence they were well
aware, and sickened by the terrible lesson they had received, made sail
for one of the neighbouring bays.

It was, as has been said, a busy time for the _Seafowls_, for there were
the two captured schooners to get afloat and the fired rigging to
restore before they were fit to take to a destined port as prizes.
There were vile barracks to burn, and plenty of other arrangements to
make as to the destination of certain newly-arrived prisoners who had to
be saved from their terrible fate.

Briefly, although the sailors called it a good holiday, it was a period
of the hardest work, but what with prize money and tasks that paid
mentally every lad and man who thought, it was a time of pleasure; and
it was not till towards the end of the _Seafowl's_ stay that Caesar came
on board the sloop of war one evening with his face flushing with
excitement and showing all his teeth.

"Caesar find um at last, massa," he cried.

"Find?  Find?  Not Mr Allen?" said Murray.

"Yes, massa.  Find good ole Massa Allen."

"Then he is not dead?"

"Yes, massa.  No massa.  Huggins no kill um.  Shut um up.  Tell um,
massa, dat um poor crack looney."

"What!  Lunatick!"

"Yes, massa, looney, mad.  Shut um up."

"Where?  And have you seen him?"

"Yes, massa.  Tullus find um in niggah hut shut up, and take me dah."

"Then that Huggins has not killed him?"

"No, massa; shut um up.  Say um mad man.  Berry bad.  Get more bad
ebbery day till Tullus find um.  Black slabe woman 'top wiv him.  Massa
Huggins say kill her if she let um go."

"Poor creature!" said Murray, wrinkling up his brow.

"Yes, sah; berry poor creature, sah.  Caesar berry sorry.  Massa Allen
good massa, and Caesar lub um."

"But where is he now?  Not dead?"

"Yes, massa been die berry much all um time.  Couldn't quite go die till
poor Caesar come, and den he shake hand.  Say `Good-bye, Caesar, lad.
Tell Massa Murray Frank.  Tell um t'ink de bes' ob a poor weak man.'"

"Mr Allen said that, Caesar?" said Murray.

"Yes, sah.  Caesar cry bofe eyes.  Tullus cry and slabe woman cry when
we put um in de groun' fas' asleep.  Everybody lub poor Massa Allen,
sah.  Gone dead.  Say go to sleep happy now.  No more slabe trade now.
No more poor niggah leap overboard now Massa Murray Frank and Bri'sh
sailor come."

"Well, Mr Murray," said the captain, about an hour later, "I hope you
are ready to return to your duties."

"Yes, sir, certainly," said the lad, staring.

"I'm glad of it.  And, by the way, this is a very favourable opportunity
for saying a few words in season to you.  Let me tell you that I am not
at all satisfied with the way in which your duties have been carried
out, any more, I may say, than I have been with the way in which I have
been served by your brother officers.  I look for something better in
the future, sir, something decidedly better in the future, I may say;"
and he stalked aft and went below.

"Did you hear what Captain Kingsberry said, sir?" said Murray to the
chief officer, who just then came limping up with his spy-glass beneath
his feeble arm.

"Yes, Murray, every word.  My dear boy, it is a way he has.  There,
there, my lad, I think amongst us we've given the slave-trade its
heaviest blow."

THE END.





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