FRONTIER BOYS ON THE COAST
IN THE PIRATE'S POWER
BY CAPT. WYN ROOSEVELT
NEW YORK HURST & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
THE FRONTIER BOYS
By CAPT. WYN ROOSEVELT
This series tells the adventures of Jim, Joe, and Tom Darlington, first in their camp wagon as they follow the trail to the great West in the early days. They are real American boys, resourceful, humorous, and—but you must meet them. You will find them interesting company. They meet with thrilling adventures and encounters, and stirring incidents are the rule, not exception.
Historically, these books present a true picture of a period in our history as important as it was picturesque, when the nation set its face toward this vast unknown West, and conquered it.
1. Frontier Boys on Overland Trail 2. Frontier Boys in Colorado 3. Frontier Boys in the Rockies 4. Frontier Boys in the Grand Canyon 5. Frontier Boys in Mexico 6. Frontier Boys on the Coast 7. Frontier Boys in Hawaii 8. Frontier Boys in the Sierras 9. Frontier Boys in the Saddle 10. Frontier Boys in Frisco. 11. Frontier Boys in the South Seas
Illustrated, 12mo, Cloth Price per Volume, 50 Cents
COPYRIGHT, 1909, BY THE PLATT & PECK CO.
CHAPTER PAGE I. CAPTAIN BILL BROOM 9 II. THE COVE AND THE CAVE 16 III. THE BARBED WIRE 23 IV. PETE'S YARN 30 V. THE FOUR BOYS 37 VI. THE HUNCHBACK 45 VII. FARMER BROOM 53 VIII. THE CAMP IN THE POCKET 60 IX. THE ATTACK 68 X. "HAUL IN" 76 XI. MISSOURI'S MANOEUVRE 82 XII. THE RANCHERO 90 XIII. A NEW FRIEND 100 XIV. THE PURSUIT 109 XV. JIM AND THE SEA EAGLE 118 XVI. THE BOYS PUT ON STYLE 127 XVII. ON BOARD THE SEA EAGLE 135 XVIII. A DAY AT SEA 144 XIX. THE PASSENGER 152 XX. TO THE RESCUE 161 XXI. THE BANDITS 169 XXII. RACE WITH THE TIDE 177 XXIII. THE ENCHANTED ISLE 184 XXIV. IN THE WHITE BOAT 191 XXV. IN PERIL 198 XXVI. TWO LASSOES 206 XXVII. ANOTHER FRIEND 214 XXVIII. A TALE OF YORE 220 XXIX. A WONDERFUL LEAP 232 XXX. IN THE STRAIT 239 XXXI. CONCLUSION 246
FRONTIER BOYS ON THE COAST
CAPTAIN BILL BROOM
"What devilment has old Bill got on for tonight, Pete?"
The speaker was seated on an old scarred sea chest in a dimly lighted forecastle.
"I dunno," replied Pete, "maybe he's lookin' fer a wreck."
"I heard the mate say somethin' about a passel of four boys," put in a third man who was laying back in his bunk, "that the skipper was a-lookin' for."
"Kidnapping, eh?" said Cales, the first speaker. "Hold 'em for ransom, I suppose. Well, the old man has been in worse games than that. I reckon the kids' parents are rich and are willin' to pay a high price for their darlings."
"You're on the wrong tack, matey," said the man in the bunk. "Cap'n Brinks, who landed in San Diego from a Mexican port put the old man wise. He told him that those fellars had considerable money and a raft of jewels with 'em that they picked up in Mexico."
"Ho, Ho, that's the game, is it," cried Cales, thumping his knee with a gnarled fist, "that ought to be easy then."
"Looks so, but it ain't," replied the other, "those four boys have got somethin' of a reputation in the southwest. Hard fighters and good shots and their leader is a husky lad and about as crafty as a red Injun."
"He ain't met the Old Man yet," said Cales significantly.
"I don't see where you get all your news from, Jake," growled Pete from his seat on the chest, "you ought to be a reporter."
"I keep my eyes open and my mouth shet," replied Jake, "any man can get larned if he will do that."
"I'd like to have a picter of you with your mouth shet," remarked Pete. "It's open even when you are asleep." He dodged just in time to avoid a heavy shoe flung from Jake's ready hand that crashed against the wall.
"Don't do that agin," he warned, a red light showing in his eyes. "I'll larn you boys that I ain't as old as I looks to be."
Jake laughed harshly.
"You mustn't keep your own mouth open so wide, Pop, cause you'll have to swallow your own words if you do."
"I guess I'll never git choked," replied Pete, truculently. "Kin you tell me what the skipper means snooping down this coast with no lights showing when it's plumb dark? We are liable to sink ourselves or Californey all of a suddint."
"Why don't you ask the Cap'n what he is up to?" inquired Cales, "that is, if you want some real useful information, Pop."
Pop raised himself up and glared at the speaker.
"I ain't done living," he replied.
"We are navigating pretty careful," remarked Jake. "You can hardly feel the Sea Eagle moving."
"Running for the cove, I reckon," suggested Cales, "I'm mighty pleased not to be the man at the wheel. Well, I'm goin' to turn in for a snooze."
In a brief time the two men were snoring loudly, while old Pete sat smoking his pipe, as stolid as a wooden Indian and the forecastle was fogged with the smoke, through which the swinging lantern shone dimly. The air is stifling so let us go up on deck where we can breathe the salt ozone and incidentally get acquainted with Captain Bill Broom, who is to occupy such a prominent place in this narrative.
He is well worth meeting, not only as the opponent of our old friend, Jim Darlington, but because of his own unworthy but interesting character. In those days Skipper Bill Broom was known all up and down the coast and beyond. His fame, such as it was, comes down even to this recent day.
On deck it is muffling dark, with the stars obscured in some dim way by mist or fog. There is a breeze blowing steadily from the broad wastes of the ocean. The bulk of the California coast looms dimly on the port bow. Not more than a half mile distant can be seen the white rushing forward of the breakers towards the rocky coast.
Dangerous work this, navigating the Sea Eagle through the thick gloom of the night but the old man knew his business. He was on the bridge pacing back and forth like some strange animal and giving hoarse directions to the man at the wheel. He knew every inch of that coast, the sunken reefs and dangerous rocks.
"Starboard your helm," he growled.
The sailor spun the wheel obediently. And the captain resumed his pacing back and forth upon the bridge. Not much could be seen of him, except that he was a powerful man, with a peculiar crouching stoop, as if he and the sea were engaged in a mysterious game. One striving to get a dangerous death-hold upon the other, both wary and using unceasing watchfulness.
There was a strange softness in Captain Broom's tread like that of a padding panther, but his arms had the loose forward powerful swing of a gorilla's. Once he stepped into the chart house to look at something and the light of the lamp will give us a square look at him.
"That man a pirate!" you exclaim at the first glance; one who carried the blackest name along the coast as a smuggler and wrecker, who had brought cargoes of wretched slaves from Africa in the days before the Civil War and who had had more marvelous escapes than any man in the history of piracy with the exception of Black Jack Morgan! Impossible!
"Why that man is nothing but an old farmer," you exclaim in disappointment, when you see him. "He ought to be peddling vegetables on market day." But just wait.
True, Skipper Broom had come from a long line of New England farmers, hard, close-fisted, close-mouthed men. Young Broom had broken away from the farm and followed his bent for sea-faring, but to the end of his days, he kept his farmerlike appearance and he affected many of the traits of the yeoman which he found to be on more than one occasion a most useful disguise.
Let's look at him. That heavy winter cap pulled down on his grizzled head gives him a most "Reuben" like appearance. Jeans pants are thrust into heavy cowhide boots. The deadly gray eyes soft as granite have become red rimmed from fits of fury and hard through many scenes of coldly calculated cruelty. A most dangerous customer and I for one, and I ought to know, consider that he will have the better of Jim Darlington in their approaching encounter—and yet Jim is never beaten until the last shot is fired and so it is impossible for me to foretell how this contest of wit and daring will come out.
After examining his chart closely, Captain Broom crouched out through the door and on to the deck. He took one keen look towards the shore, then he approached the helmsman. "Git below, Bill. I'll fetch her in."
The helmsman relinquished the wheel gladly enough and under the Captain's masterful hand the Sea Eagle swung slowly around and pointed in towards the curving shore.
The dark form of the mate could be seen on the deck below waiting for the order that he knew must come soon. The crew of the Sea Eagle though subordinate enough were necessarily partners in Captain Broom's wicked enterprises so that the discipline was somewhat different than in ordinary vessels.
"Call 'em up, Mr. Haffen," roared the skipper to the mate. "It's chore time."
"Aye, aye, sir," replied Mr. Haffen.
The watch was called on deck and the dark forms of the men could be seen in the bow. The pulsing of the Sea Eagle had stopped and with scarcely a sound the anchor was dropped into the water.
THE COVE AND CAVE
The starboard boat was lowered into the water. First the mate, then Captain Broom and two men got in. The latter were Cales and Pete who pulled noiselessly at the oars. The boat glided quietly through the silent darkness towards the shore. The Captain was seated in the stern, his great bulk crouched forward, but there was nothing inert in his posture. His big hands clasped either side of the craft.
In a few minutes the boat grounded softly on the sand of the beach and all hands got ashore. Scarcely a word was spoken, though the cove was so hidden that there seemed to be no possible chance that the landing of the free-booters would be observed. However, Captain Bill Broom took no risk of being discovered. He had many enemies upon the coast and inland as well. Besides, the State of California had set a price upon his head.
Two thousand dollars was the reward for his capture, and so profitable an investment was apt to be realized on sooner or later by some enterprising citizen. So Captain Broom took due care whenever he went abroad not to attract undue attention.
This cove was a favorite lurking place of his when close pressed, where he would take refuge after some daring adventure upon the high seas, until such a time as the hubbub along the coast had died down. Sometimes he lay in hiding there, with the Sea Eagle screened behind the encircling cliffs, waiting like a black spider to rush out and capture some unsuspecting craft.
"Pick her up, boys," said the Captain, "you know where she belongs," pointing to the boat.
"Aye, aye, sir," they replied, and putting it on their shoulders they carried the boat along a narrow path that divided the thick undergrowth; until, after going several hundred yards, they reached a thick screen of brush through which they shoved, and came to a cave.
Although so well hidden, the entrance to the cavern was quite high, so that the men gained admission without stooping, and going a short distance into the dark interior, they placed the boat gently down against the wall. There was a constant and heavy drip of water, so that there was no chance for the boat to warp, as it would have surely done if placed outside in the dry California air.
"I don't like this yere cave," remarked Pete, when left alone with Cales.
"What's the matter with it? It's dark and damp, but that is the nature of caves."
"It makes me feel creepy, that's all," replied Pete, "and it takes considerable to do that."
"Whatever happened?" inquired Cales, grinning, "something terrible, I reckon, to make your thick hide chilly."
"It were before your time," replied Pete somewhat reluctantly, "we raided a ranch back thar agin the mountings. Senor Sebastian owned it and it was said that he could ride all day and never git off his place, and that he had more sheep and cattle than thar is folks in Frisco."
"The Captain shanghied him, I reckon," cut in Cales.
"You hold your windlass," commanded the old man in a querulous tone, "I'm telling this yarn."
"All right, Pop," said Cales in a conciliating manner, "have it yer own way." He was really anxious to hear the story the old man had referred to.
"Young fry is always flapping," the older speaker mumbled,—then he took up the course of his narrative. "Waal, as I was telling ye, this Senor had lots of money and the Cap'n being short of funds thought that he could use some of it. So one night we ran into the cove, it was blacker even than this. I don't see how the old man ever got the craft past the sharks' teeth at the entrance but he did."
"He could have brought her in with his eyes shut," declared Cales. "I never have seen his equal for navigating."
"Waal, we made camp here that night, and the next day, the Cap'n with some of the gang, left for the ranch and I stayed to look after things. Nothing happened that day, and I was dozing by the fire about midnight when I heard them coming back. They had the Senor, a fine-looking old man with a gray mustache and as cold and proud-looking as they make them.
"The Cap'n was furious because he had not been able to lay his hand on the coin, and he swore that he would make the old Senor tell where his money was or there would be trouble. He took him into this cave and I don't know what happened there, and I don't want to know. All I'm sure of is that I never saw him come out.
"The Cap'n sent me to the ship to get some chains on the second day and he took 'em into the cave. We sailed a couple of days later, but not a sign did I see of the Senor. That's why this cave makes me creepy, Cales."
They were standing near the entrance, when there came a distinct low moan from the interior. It was not a ghostly sound, either. There was no mistaking it.
"Did you hear that, Cales?" asked old Pete in a quavering voice.
"Yes," replied Cales, "I heard it all right. It can't be the Senor?"
"No," replied Pete. "He has been dead these years."
"Let's find out," said his comrade.
"There's nothing in this world could make me go in thar," declared Pete solemnly, "besides, it's agin the Captain's orders."
"Well, I'm going," said Cales either more brave or less experienced than the other. "It sounds to me like a woman's voice."
"And I'm goin' to git," declared old Pete, tottering towards the path.
"You're a brave old pirate," said Cales contemptuously, and with that he went slowly back into the cave. He had to go cautiously, for beyond a certain point he was not acquainted with the interior. He could feel the moist ground under foot and he kept his hand stretched out, not knowing what he might run against in the dense damp darkness.
Then, suddenly, his hand struck a stone wall. Groping his way, he turned a sharp corner and followed along a low narrow passageway that obliged him to stoop. Then came the sound of the moaning just ahead. Jack Cales was a brave man but it was all that he could do, to keep from turning and running in panic for the mouth of the cave. But though his determination had received a severe shock, it did not turn to flight.
He saw a faint light ahead, spreading a glow at the end of the passage as he came nearer. Then he saw something that held him stone still with a clutch of weird fear. He had reached the end of the narrow passage, and dimly made out a domed room in the rock, white with translucent encrustation.
He struck a match. About him, before, to the right and to the left he could see forms all of ghostly white, some crouching, others standing. Hardly had the light flared up than it sizzled out. Some drops of water falling from the roof had extinguished the blaze. Then was repeated that awful sound of distress.
Cales groped around almost in a frenzy of terror. Where was the exit from that awful room? Round and round he went, and all the time there were strange whisperings in his ears, and unseen hands seemed to clutch his clothes. Once he slipped and was trembling so that he was hardly able to get to his feet. Just as he did so, something swept past him like a breath of wind. Rendered desperate he made another dash, and this time if he had not found a passageway, he felt that he could have knocked a hole through the wall. Then he stood at the mouth of the cave.
THE BARBED WIRE
Just at that moment was heard the hoarse voice of Captain Broom booming through the darkness outside.
As Cales turned about, some furry animal sprang past him dashing between his legs and nearly upsetting him.
"On deck, you scoundrel, come out of there," called the Captain.
"Aye, aye, sir," came the reply of Cales in a strangely weak tone, though he was now more concerned by the possible penalty to be meted out by the Captain for disobedience of orders, than by thought of the undetermined occupants of the cave. If it were a cat it was certainly a good joke on old Pete. This was, had they but known it, the swift solution of the mystery.
Oddly enough the Captain said not another word, a fact suggestive to Cales that there was something amiss in the cave and the little company at once took up their line of march. Captain Broom was in the lead, followed by the mate, then Cales, with old Pete bringing up the rear. Just as they started Captain Broom extinguished the lantern and they took up the trail in total darkness. Every precaution would now be necessary for they would soon be in a region where the very name of Broom was execrated with bitter hatred, and every bush would grow a poniard if his whereabouts were known.
It was evident that the skipper was as good a guide on land as he was a pilot at sea, for he led his little party at a steady gait by a winding cow-path through the thick undergrowth. He doubtless knew this region thoroughly, for he had made more than one raid in this locality.
It was soon to be determined, however, that they were not the only ones abroad that night.
They had walked in silence for some time, well on to two hours, when they came to an open space, with the irregular form of a live oak on the southeast corner. Then Captain Broom stopped suddenly, his keen eyesight which no darkness could baffle had discerned some object moving out from the shelter of the oak tree.
It came slowly with uplifted black arms and white hair falling around its face. There was a terrible intensity in its advance across the open space, withal that it moved so slowly. The figure stopped directly in front of Captain Broom.
"Get out of my way, you hag," he roared, but for the first time in his life a certain tremor crept into his voice. Perhaps he was growing old. He drew back his arm as though to strike the woman in his path.
As he did so Jack Cales stooped and picked up a round rock at his feet, intending to hurl it, not at the woman but at the skipper, for he alone of the party divined the possible cause of this poor woman's dementia. But his interference was not necessary for it seemed as though the Captain's arm was paralyzed. He declared afterwards that some invisible hand had seized his arm.
Then, in a loud, wailing voice the woman put a curse upon the slayer of her husband, for this spectre was none other than the Senora Sebastian. It was terrible to hear her and it must have sent a shiver into the soul of the hardy skipper.
When she had finished, the woman moved past them and vanished in the direction of the ranch. For a full minute the line of men stood without moving a step and in absolute silence, Captain Broom with his arm upraised as he had lifted it to strike.
Then, without saying a word, he took the first forward step and the others followed him through the darkness.
"Say, Cales," growled Pete in a low voice, "what was it you found in that cave? My old timbers are shaking yet."
"Keep your old jaws shut," yelled the Captain, who had wonderfully keen hearing, when anything was spoken that concerned him.
"How do you suppose the old man heard me?" mumbled Pete to himself. He dropped back a pace or two, then whispered, "The old man must be crazy. He is making direct for the Sebastian ranch."
"Do you reckon that these four boys he is looking after, are located there?" asked Jack.
"I dunno," replied Pete, "you can calkerlate on one thing though and that is that the skipper knows pretty nigh where those lads are. One of his messengers, a one-eyed, twisted greaser, came aboard the other day, and was gabbling in the Captain's cabin. Then the next thing I knew we was under sail, and came kiting down to the cove."
Just then the party halted at the confines of a four strand barbed wire fence. This was the first indication that they were entering the great ranch property that formerly belonged to the Senor Sebastian, the elderly man the Captain had made captive, and which was now the property of his only son.
"Now, lads," said the leader of the expedition, "Here's a chance to make yourself small. This yere barb is like a devil fish if it once gits a holt of your panties—it won't let go."
"That's so, Captain," said the mate, a generally silent and saturnine man.
"I reckon you know, mate," said the Captain. "The last time we was through these parts, and that some considerable years ago, this same fence got a holt of yer pants and wouldn't let go. I never heard you talk so much and so earnestly in my life before. You want to be more keerful this time."
The mate simply grunted by way of reply and, lying close to the ground, he very gingerly and carefully worked his way under the wire and thus escaped his mentioned former unpleasant detention. He then held the lower wire up as high as he could until his chief had wiggled under.
Pete was the only one of the party who was seriously detained, for Jack Cales had slid under as slick as an eel. But Pete's joints were old and rusty and the venomous wire got a clutch on his coat and his pants.
"What's keeping you back?" inquired the Captain, gruffly, as Cales and his comrade did not put in an immediate appearance.
"Pete has got caught, sir," said Jack.
"What are you doing there, you old barnacle?" inquired the Captain as he came back to the fence.
There was a certain odd comradeship between the skipper and the old salt who had been with him since his African days. Both were New Englanders and had come from neighboring homesteads.
"Just resting, sir," replied the captive.
It certainly did have something of that appearance, for Pete had kept a decisive grip on his old black pipe with his stubby teeth and was puffing at it in apparent peace and resignation.
"Want me to git you a piller?" inquired the skipper, sarcastically.
"Thank ye, sir," replied Pete imperturbably.
Meanwhile the mate had been at work with deft fingers and he finally succeeded in extricating the old man and putting him upon his pins.
"Now if ye are sufficiently rested," proposed the skipper, "we will hike along."
This they did. Their way now lay between two stretches of fence that enclosed a road not much traveled for there were only faint traces of wheels in the turf. It was probably not a public highway but belonged to the great ranch.
Everything seemed smooth sailing now, as there was no more barbed wire to be immediately met but Pete soon made himself prominent again. He was rolling along with that gait peculiar to a sailor when aboard land, when he gave a sudden spring and clutched Cales convulsively in the back, giving that individual a big scare.
"Dad burn it, boys. I've stepped on a rattler." An investigation was made very carefully and Captain Broom quickly picked up a short piece of rope.
"I'll rattle you," he cried, touching up the old man with the rope's end.
They went along steadily through the darkness in an almost directly easterly direction. Being now clear of the brush they could make good time on the springy turf.
"How far are we now from the ranch, Pete?" inquired Jack.
"Too durn close to suit me," replied Pete. "I can't tell exactly for these ranches are as big as all outside creation, but I guess we must be as close as a mile to the buildings."
"I reckon the Captain is going to walk up to the front door and ask for accommodations."
"Wouldn't s'prise me a bit, if he done that," replied Pete querulously. "The old man ain't lacking in nerve. Back thar was the first time I ever seen him hang back in my long experience with him."
"When the old lady was speaking her piece? Suppose I ask him how much he made when he captured the Senor," suggested Cales, who had recovered his flippant humor.
"I wouldn't git gay, lad," said old Pete, warningly. "She is just as liable to haunt you in your black spells."
"Don't have 'em, uncle," replied Cales.
"You collect the material for 'em when you are young," said the old man wisely, "and they come out of your bones like rheumatiz when you git old."
"Somebody is coming back of us," suddenly whispered Cales.
"Take to cover, lads," ordered the skipper, who was as quick to hear as the younger man. The only cover was a high and thick growth of wild mustard growing alongside the fences.
Quickly they stepped from the open road into the shelter of the tall mustard. They had not long to wait. There was the jingle of spurs and the thud of horses' feet walking slowly along. Next came the voices of men talking.
"It is useless, Senor, to try and find her, I fear," replied one man to the other.
"It seems so," replied the other sadly. "My mother always seems to be worse when the time of the year approaches that my father disappeared. In spite of all our care she will escape."
They had now arrived at a point opposite where the free-booters were hidden. The man who had last spoken struck a light and lit a cigarette; the instantaneous glare showed the dark handsome face of the Spanish type. There was the high-peaked sombrero, the striking clothes, the intent face and then the light died suddenly out.
"Ah, Manuel," said the young man to his companion, "if I could only once lay hands on that cursed Gringo," and he ground his teeth in fury, unable to express himself.
"Humph, Gringo," grunted the Captain, disdainfully.
"Did you hear anything, Senor?" asked Manuel.
"I was sure I heard something," asserted his companion. They had reined in their horses and sat listening quietly for a few seconds.
"It was probably nothing but a calf by the roadside," said the Senor.
The other shook his head doubtfully, then they turned and rode on towards the rancho.
When they were safely out of range, the party of pirates took up their line of march once more.
"So the greaser took me for a calf," remarked Captain Broom. "If it had been you, Jack Cales, there might be some excuse fer such a mistake."
"Aye, sir," replied Cales, glumly.
"Getting kind of close to the ranch, ain't you, Cap'n?" ventured old Pete.
"I thought of leaving you there, Pete, while the rest of us corralled those kids. You are getting too old for these long tramps."
No more remarks were heard coming from the direction of Pete, for he was not at all sure but that the Captain might, in a moment of irresponsible humor, do just as he threatened without regard to the consequences.
After they had gone on for a mile from the point where the two men had overtaken them, Captain Broom led his party away from the road in a southerly direction, once more undergoing the harrowing experience of getting through the barbed wire fence. But this time Jack Cales was especially detailed by the Captain to get old Pete through so there would not be any unnecessary delay.
It was evident that they were getting into a different section, a short time after they left the road, for they began going up and winding among little rocky hills. At last they came to a stopping place. They climbed up an elevation and sat on some rocks among a group of dark trees.
"Now, lads, take it easy," said the Captain, "ye have had quite a footin' and when morning comes, there will be some more ahead and at a faster gait."
"Gosh, Cap'n," declared old Pete, "It's the most walking we've done together since the time we corralled the last bunch of niggers on the west coast of Africa."
"We certainly made money that trip when we sold that cargo of coons to the traders on that Palmetto Island below Charleston. But we will clean up about as much money when we round up those four boys and twice as easy. Tell the two lads about that trip, Pete."
The old sailor sat on a rock, and taking out his bag of tobacco filled his short black pipe with one thorny thumb, then he commenced his narrative, with the glow of his pipe lighting up his weatherbeaten face.
"Well, orders is orders, and the Cap'n wants me to tell this yarn. I might just as well begin it, lads. I never knew any good to come to sailormen cruising around on dry land any more than on this trip." He cast a wary eye at Captain Broom, but that worthy merely grunted and Pete resumed his story.
"Our clipper lay at anchor in a wide bay with only a couple of men on board and the Captain, myself and six men trailing inland for to find a village of naygurs that our guides had told us of.
"It certainly was hot and steamy going through the jungles and every once in a while a big snake as large as my leg would crawl across our path and rustle away into the undergrowth. Once I felt one of 'em a-twisting and rolling under my foot like a big log that had came to life. I guess I must have jumped twice as high as my own head and I lit on the back of one of the naygurs that was guiding us.
"He didn't know what struck him; probably thought it was a tiger for I sunk my hooks into his hide. He let out a yell and went ripping and snorting through that jungle and me not having sense enough to let go, until a grape vine about as thick as a manilla rope chucked me under the chin and I fell flat on my back and I guess that naygur is still running."
Here the captain who was evidently enjoying the narrative hugely, burst into a volcanic roar of laughter.
"I can see yer yet, Pete, on that bounding buck of a nigger, and him a-hiking through the jungle and a-yelling like a wild Injun."
"I remember you got out of the way mighty quick," said Pete, "when you heard us a-coming behind you."
"It certainly was a curious spectacle," said the Captain, "but go on with your yarn, Pete."
"The further we went into the jungle the worse it got. The mosquitoes fairly ate us alive and they wern't the only cannibals in those woods by any means. There was a tribe of man-eaters beyond the Big River and we didn't try to capture any of them. They wern't our stripe of bacon.
"We went on for six days, with the monkeys chattering over our heads all day and the mosquitoes serenading us at night. Talk about birds, there was a whole menagerie of them and their colors beat the handkerchiefs that these greasers wear around their throats and you can't get ahead of that for color.
"One night we got in range of the village we were after and there was a great pow-wow going on. There was a big fire in the circle of the grass huts and some big black bucks were doing a dance around it. Just then I saw—"
"Hold on, Pete," said the Captain in a low, gruff voice, "somebody is coming our way."
THE FOUR BOYS
"Hey, Jim, where are we going to make camp?" It was his brother Jo's genial voice.
"Not until we can strike water," replied Jim. "No more dry camps for me."
"I don't think much of the coast range, or the Sierras, either." It was Juarez Hoskins' well-remembered voice, with its rather low, deep tones.
"Give me the Rockies every time."
Juarez was nothing if not loyal to his mountains.
"I don't think any of the mountains are much to brag of."
It is hardly necessary to say that it is Tom Darlington who is now speaking, for the discerning reader is pretty well acquainted with his style by this time.
"There's always something to look out for," continued Tom, "if it isn't Indians it's rattlesnakes, and you have got to choose between a cloudburst or no water at all. Give me the East every time."
"You make me exhausted talking about the East," said Jim. "Why didn't you stay there when you were there? I had just as soon take a chance with a rattlesnake as with an ice cream soda."
"Tom would like to play Indian," cut in Jo, "with turkey feathers sticking up from a red flannel band around his head. And creeping upon a flock of sheep pretending that they are antelope and that cows are real live bears."
"Yes," said Jim, "you have lined it out all right, Jo. Then when they were tired of playing Injun, Tom and his little playmates could pretend that they were Daniel Boone's men with wildskin panties on."
"Shut up, boys," said Juarez, coming to Tom's rescue. "What's the use in rubbing it in? The East is all right for some folks and if the boys back there can't have real adventures they have to do the best they can. After all, Jim, you are an Eastern boy. You can't get away from that." Jim writhed under the implication but replied good humoredly.
"You're right, Juarez, old chap, but I can't help stirring up Tom once in a while. It is good for him too. It keeps his liver active, so he won't get bilious."
"Juarez has got more sense than you two put together," said Tom.
"Forget all about it now, Tommy," urged Juarez good-naturedly, getting the aforesaid Tommy by the nape of the neck with one vigorous brown hand and giving him a shake.
Thus under Juarez's straightforward management the family quarrel was abated.
"We might just as well ride now, boys," said Jim. "The horses are good and rested and we will soon be going down grade instead of up."
The horses had been following in single file back of the four boys. They were to be trusted not to cut up any shindigs or to wander from the narrow mountain trail. The boys had had them a long time and together they had gone through the numerous hardships and adventures. They were as perfectly trained as Uncle Sam's cavalry horses.
The horses halted as the boys dropped back to their sides, and they swung into the saddle simultaneously. Jim rode in the lead on a splendid gray, with a powerful arching neck, strong shoulders and hindquarters made for speed. Him, he called Caliente. Next rode Tom on a pretty bay. Then Jo on a black of medium size but finely built for speed and endurance. Juarez brought up the rear on his roan, a sinewy animal with a broncho strain in him which was liable to crop out at unexpected moments.
It is to be noticed that there was a certain formation in the way the column rode. Jim, the strong and resourceful in front, and Tom, the less experienced and capable, following, forming the first division. The second division was composed of Jo and Juarez.
Juarez having an equally important position with the leader, for he was rear guard, a more trying position sometimes than being in front for in their travels through dangerous regions, it was the man in the rear who was more apt to be cut off by the wily Indians. But the cool and crafty Juarez was not likely to be caught napping.
Even now you notice as they ride along through the comparatively safe region of the coast range that Jim and Juarez are ever on the alert, glancing this way and that, halting to examine some peculiar mark on the trail, and not a motion of tree or bush upon either mountain slope escapes their attention. They had lived too long in the midst of treacherous enemies, Indians and outlaws, to be taken off their guard. They had been in Mexico on a venture the outcome of which was all their fondest dreams could wish for. Their expedition over, Tom was for going home, to at least deposit the treasure they had gained, but the others had outvoted him, and now the long pleasure trip to Hawaii was their object.
Now, if they but had known it, they were riding to meet the most deadly danger that they had yet encountered. For as you know, Captain Broom and his party were advancing to meet them. In an open or running fight, we know perfectly well that the boys could take care of themselves, but in the skipper of the Sea Eagle, they were to meet a far more dangerous opponent than in Eagle Feather, described in "The Frontier Boys in Colorado" or Cal Jenkins in Kansas and in Mexico as detailed in "Overland Trail" and in "Mexico." In compliance with a determined plan, they were now on their way to Hawaii.
Not only had Captain Broom the craftiness and cruelty of the Indian, but the cool, hard judgment of the New England Yankee, coupled with a knowledge of their possessions, supposedly limited to themselves alone. The Mexican spy, who had reported the route the boys were going to take, had given the game into his master's hands.
"I wonder what has become of our one-eyed greaser friend," said Jim, "we haven't seen any sign of him since he gave us the shake a week ago at the hunting camp. I kind of thought we might run across him again."
"It's good riddance to bad rubbish," said Juarez in a surly tone. "If I had my way I'd hang him to the first oak tree on general principles and on account of his personal appearance. I bet he is a treacherous little rat."
"He isn't very pretty, that's a fact," admitted Jim, "but he is a useful little beast about the camp and can do a lot of chores."
"I kind of like to hear him play his guitar," put in Jo, "and sing those Mexican tunes. They certainly sound pretty."
"He's a picturesque beggar too," remarked Tom. "Just the kind that in the old days would have been made a king's jester. They dressed 'em up in a blazing bright style then. That hump would have made his fortune."
Tom, as you remember, was an authority on Romance, and as pertaining to which he always carried two favorite volumes, much worn by hard travel and frequent usage, but which no amount of ridicule by his brothers could make him give up.
"Have it your own way," acceded Juarez, "but he is not the sort of animal that I would recommend for a household pet."
"Well, he is gone," said Jim, "so we don't need to worry about him."
"I don't know but that I would a little rather have him in sight," said Juarez. "Then you know where he is."
Jim laughed good-naturedly at the prejudice that Juarez showed against the little greaser and put it down to his darkly suspicious nature acquired by his life among the Indians. It would have been better if Jim had taken more stock in his comrade's suspicions. Now, Jim was not to be caught napping when once an enemy had declared himself, but it was his nature to be open-minded and unsuspicious.
The four Frontier Boys were riding up a winding trail through a narrow mountain valley, having reached a point almost level with the summits, which rose several thousand feet above the eastern plain. It had been a hard, all day climb, and the horses were tired and the gray dust was caked upon their sweaty riders.
Let us take a look at our old acquaintances, Jim, Tom, Jo and Juarez, to see if they have changed any since we saw them last. They are dressed about as we have always known them. In gray flannel shirts and pants of the same color, moccasins on their feet and on their heads battered sombreros with the flaps turned back.
Their coats are tied back of the saddles, and their shirts open at the throat for the air is hot and dry in that California mountain valley. Their rifles are swung across their shoulders held by straps, revolvers in the holsters at their hips.
Jim sits in the saddle tall and sinewy, grown somewhat thinner by constant exercise and by the drying effect of the desert air. His skin is baked to an absolute brown. Juarez, too, is black as an Indian and he rather looks like one with his hair quite long and of a coarse black fibre. The boys look a little fine-drawn but sinewy and strong and fit for any adventure.
The shadows were already falling on that side of the range as the boys rode slowly into a narrow pass. The shade was a decided relief from the glare of the California sun that they had encountered all day.
"Gosh, but I should like to have a cool breath from the Rockies," declared Juarez with emphasis, "This sort of a climate makes me tired. Nothing but the sun staring at you all the time. It goes down clear and comes up with the same kind of a grin on its face."
"It will be cooler when we get on the other side," said Jim, encouragingly, "and it won't be long now."
"I hope we will strike water on the other side," remarked Jo. "I'm tired of looking at that bald-headed stream down there," indicating the dry blistered bed of a former water-course.
Nothing more was said until of a sudden they rode to the top of the Pass, and saw a new landscape spread out before them.
It was a broad and beautiful view, with the sun striking the wide Pacific, with a blazing glare of silver and below the wooded slope of the mountains, stretched an apparently level plain, where roamed countless cattle, and innumerable sheep. It had all the breadth characteristic of the Californian landscape.
"That's a pretty good looking view," remarked Jim admiringly. He would have been still more interested if he could have seen a trim-looking black vessel in a small cove directly west but a good many miles distant.
"I wonder if it isn't going to rain," said Tom. "See those clouds rolling in over the ocean."
"Rain!" ejaculated Jim with superior wisdom, a wisdom that appertains particularly to older brothers, "I guess not. Those are fog clouds. That's a sure sign in this country that it won't rain."
"Well, I'm glad to see them, anyway," said Juarez. "It looks sort of stormy even if it isn't."
It was restful, there was no question about that, the change from the constant glare of a white sun in a blue sky, to the soft damp grayness of the fog. It was already rolling over the level plain towards the mountains and, in a short time, a high fog was spread over the whole sky.
The boys had ridden down the western side of the range for a distance of a half mile, when Jim suddenly waved his hand backward in a sign of caution for the column to halt. He leaned forward, looking intently in a northwesterly direction to a point on the opposite side of the mountain valley. Juarez followed the direction of the leader's look with a keen gaze.
"I was sure that I saw some one slipping through the undergrowth on the opposite side over there," Jim finally said, "but I could not make sure whether it was a man or some sort of animal."
"I noticed the bushes shaking," said Juarez, "but I did not see anything."
"Might have been a brown bear," hazarded Jo.
"They do have them in this range," put in Tom.
"Perhaps it is the bear that we hunted for two days on the other slope," said Juarez, "and he has come to give himself up."
"We had better keep our eyes open," advised Jim, though he did not take the trouble to unsling his rifle. "Jo, you and Tom watch the upper side, Juarez will take care of the trail in front."
"All right, boss," said Juarez, cheerfully.
"How much reward, captain, for the first glimpse of the lost child?" inquired Jo.
Jim paid no attention to this sally, but kept his eye on the trail ahead. The trees were quite thick on either side of the trail and as dusk was coming on, it was difficult to make out any object clearly.
Just as Jim rode around a turn in the trail, Caliente reared and leaped to one side and a less skillful rider would have been thrown.
"Easy, old boy," said the rider, patting his horse's neck. Caliente stood trembling and snorting and watching a curious object that was struggling up the bank towards the trail.
It was hard to tell what it was, whether man or beast and the dusk only served to make it more obscure. Then the object scrambled up on to the trail and Jim at once recognized the dwarf Mexican with his high-crowned sombrero and his velvet suit richly slashed. With his crooked back and one eye, he was anything but a prepossessing-looking creature. Caliente, when he, too, recognized who it was, put back his ears and rushed with bared teeth for the Mexican.
Spitting out a curse, the greaser jumped to one side with a marked agility, and Jim succeeded after a struggle in bringing his furious steed to terms, but he had his hands full and there were not very many men who could manage Caliente when he got into one of his rages.
"Hi! Manuel," (every Mexican was Manuel to the boys), cried Jim, "look out for my Tiger, he wants to eat that velvet suit of yours."
"Si, Senor," called Manuel from a safe station on a granite rock. "He is a tiger as your Honor says."
One would have expected to hear the crooked little greaser speak in a harsh croaking voice, but instead it had a rich sonorous quality.
"Do you know where there is any water in this country?" asked Jo. "We are as dry as a desert."
"Certainly, Senor, I will show you," replied Manuel. (It was true that Manuel spoke in Spanish of which language the boys had a working knowledge, due to their sojourn in the southwest. But I shall put his words in English.) "Where is Senor Juarez?" inquired the dwarf. "I do not see him."
"The Senor is still with us," replied Jim, gravely, "but you cannot see him on account of the dusk, but you might hear him," he added in a lower tone.
It was true that Juarez was growling to himself about the greaser for whom you know he had a cordial antipathy, a feeling which was reciprocated by the Mexican.
"Lead on, Manuel," urged Jim, "we want to make camp before morning."
"But, Senor, the tiger will eat me up," objected the Mexican.
"I will take care of Caliente. He won't bite you. Go ahead."
"Si, Senor," assented Manuel.
Then he jumped down from the rock and took the trail at a discreet distance ahead of Jim's horse, who was held in check by his rider though his temper seemed in no wise abated. There was something sinister in the figure of the Mexican as he led the way down the trail.
All in black, except the gray of his hat with its golden cord and the tinsel of his clothes. There was something malignant in his make-up and even the unimaginative Jim was affected by the presence of the Mexican, while Juarez was very uneasy, and asked Jo and Tom to allow him to move up next to the Captain. This they did, though it left Jo as rear guard on that rocky trail.
He seemed quite isolated but he had become sufficiently enured to danger and though he kept a wary eye, he was not nervous. The boys had unholstered their pistols and Juarez kept a straight eye on the moving shadow in the darkness ahead. At the first sign of attack or treachery, he was going to get that particular Manuel.
"I've got my eye on the little varmint," said Juarez in a low voice to Jim. "He may be leading us into an ambush."
"Oh, I guess not," said Jim, with a note of hesitation in his voice. "We have got to find water anyway. The horses are suffering for it, and this beggar can show us where we can locate it."
Just then Manuel threw up his hand with a shrill whistle that had every malignant intention in it. Juarez raised his pistol just ready to fire, when the Mexican laughed shrilly.
"Senor Juarez very nervous. I just stretch and whistle a little and he want to shoot."
A peculiar smile came over Juarez's face, but he said nothing. All the stolid Indian in his nature came to the surface. He merely grunted contemptuously at the Mexican's remark and this made the volatile Manuel uneasy in his turn, for he wanted to realize that his malice had struck home, but Juarez did not give him that satisfaction. There was a sort of hidden duel between these two, the subtle Mexican and the crafty Indian nature of Juarez. It remained to be seen who would win.
The four Frontier Boys went silently along down the dark canyon, each one occupied with his own thoughts and the ill-omened Mexican guide in the lead. Juarez kept a sharp lookout on either side of the trail expecting an ambush. His horse seemed to feel something of the strain his rider was under, as a horse will. Once he shied at something he saw in a clump of bushes, and nearly went off the trail. It was only with the aid of Juarez's horsemanship that he clawed his way back to safety. The Mexican was much amused at this incident, and Jim gave him a sharp call down.
We must now return to Captain Broom and his escort, whom we left sitting on a hill covered with trees near the Sebastian rancho. Old Pete's story had been interrupted by the skipper's warning,—"Somebody is coming our way."
There was no question about that, they could hear the someone coming towards the hill whistling cheerfully. Then the form of a man could be seen, coming up the slope of the elevation.
"I wonder where those altogether blessed cows are," he was heard saying in Spanish, but of course, this is a free and not a literal translation.
"They are generally hiding under these trees," he continued. The sailors kept absolutely still and old Pete covered the bowl of his pipe with his hand so that its light might not discover them.
"Carambe!" cried the Mexican as he stopped about three feet from the recumbent Captain, "I fear my good master's cows have been smoking, not like nice Mexican cows, a cigarette, but a pipe like a vile gringo. Come, get up, you black brute," noticing the big bulk of the Captain for the first time, and he hauled off and gave the skipper a hearty kick on the haunch.
Never was there a more surprised greaser in the whole ungainly length of California for this apparently gentle cow that he kicked, (not for the first time either) suddenly turned and grabbed him with a powerful hand before he could yell, though he was so frightened that he probably could not utter a squeak. Another hand got him by the throat.
"Take me for a cow, did you, you bespangled Manuello?" roared the Captain, and he waved the aforesaid Manuello about in his great grip as though he had been a rag.
"No use killing the beggar, Captain," said the mate. "Maybe he can tell us something." The Captain let the Mexican drop and he lay on the ground perfectly inert.
"He won't be able to say much right away," said the Skipper.
It was now getting light, the first signs of dawn showing above the mountains. As the darkness was drawn away, they could see their position more clearly and there came the sounds of the morning from the direction of the ranch houses. The barking of dogs, the crowing of roosters, and the call of human voices.
"I guess, lads, it's about time for us to have something to eat," said the Captain, "because we have got to do some tall climbing today and I want to get an early start."
An expression of disgust showed itself on old Pete's face at the idea of more walking, which the Captain was quick to note.
"How would you like to stay here, Old Bones, and look after Manuello?" said the skipper. But Pete shook his head.
"I'll stay by the ship, Cap'n," said the old fellow stoutly.
"Durn my buttons," said the Captain, whose oaths were as mild as his actions were vicious, "if you ain't a good old barnacle, Pete. I wouldn't think of leaving you in such company as this," and he gave the prostrate Mexican a shove with his foot. Manuello looked up at the Captain with an evil eye and a muttered curse.
This roused the fury of Captain Broom and he held him off from the ground as if he had been a rat, his jaws working ominously and a look in his eyes that made the Mexican shrivel.
Nothing was said, not even by the Skipper, and the others watched him fascinated as he glared at his victim, and even the iron composure of the saturnine mate seemed to be moved partially aside. The Mexican began to whimper and moan as his eyes shifted to avoid the terrible ones of the Captain. He was not suffering any special violence, but a strange tremor filled the soul of the Mexican, in the grip of the grizzled giant.
As the greaser began to cry, the Captain gave a roar of laughter and threw him aside upon the ground, about all the humanity he had shriveled out of him. He lay there absolutely without any power of motion in his body.
Just then the crew of the Sea Eagle became aware of the fact that a horned animal with big brown eyes was looking at them. All the farmer in the nature of Captain Broom came to the surface.
"By Gum," he exclaimed, "if here ain't a bovine cow looking at us. I ain't milked one for forty years, but I'm not afeard to try. 'Member, Pete, when we used to milk the cows back in old Connecticut on the farm. After working in the hay all day, I'd go down in the side hill pasture, that was so steep that you had to hold on with your toes and your teeth to keep from sliding down to the brook."
"You bring it back to me just like it was a living picture," said Pete, his hard face softening under the gentle showers of memory.
"Then I'd drive the black and white one that was breechy, and the red mooley, the yaller and white that gave the richest milk. I'd drive them into the stanchions in the old barn, with the ground floor stoned up on the side, where it was sunk into the hill."
"But it was winter, Cap'n," said Pete, "that it was interesting doing the chores," and he blew reminiscently on his fingers, "snow two feet on the level and the sun a piece of blue ice in the sky. A condemned sight better place than Californey, where you don't feel no more alive than a enbalmed corpse."
The Captain began now a series of manoeuvres to get within range of one of the cows so that they might have fresh milk for breakfast. He managed it finally, and he certainly looked like a peaceful old farmer as with his gray head against a fat red cow's flank, he milked into a large tin cup. Pete selected a black mooley and soothed by the man's persuasive manner, she consented finally to give down a thin blue stream. But the saturnine mate was less successful as he knew much more about navigating a ship than he did about cows.
Finally after much awkward manoeuvring, he got a cow cornered and began operations upon the left side with the result that the cow landed upon him with her hoof and sent him sprawling on his back to the great delight of the Captain.
"Hurt bad, Bill?" inquired the Skipper with mock sympathy, "I'm afeard that you will never make a farmer."
"I never calkerlated to," replied the mate. "It ain't my line of business."
"Don't tell me that," said the Captain, "I can see that for myself. Come up here and I'll give you a drink."
They had scarcely finished their simple breakfast when Jack Cales gave a sudden alarm.
"Cap'n," he cried, "I see two men legging it our way. They are making straight for the hill."
"I guess they are coming to see why Manuello doesn't show up with the cows," remarked the Captain, "we don't want to stir up this hen roost as we've got other chicken to fry. So we'll git."
"Take the greaser?" inquired Jack.
"You and the mate fetch him," said the Captain.
Just as the two men were mounting the hill, the Captain and his crew made a swift sneak down the opposite slope, and were soon making their way through the bush towards the foot-hills. In a minute they heard the cries of the two men as they drove the herd of cows towards the home ranch for the morning milking. The sun had now risen above the eastern range just in front of them and was blazing down upon the plain and the sea beyond. There was something exhilarating in the air in spite of the heat.
"We don't need the company of that greaser any further," said Captain Broom, after they had made some headway up a canyon back of the ranch buildings. So they took some rope grass, tough as manilla, and tied him firmly, and, after having gagged him, they left him to be found later by some of his countrymen.
Then they toiled steadily up the trail of the canyon, until about noon they reached a pocket in the canyon where there was a pool of clear water fed by an invisible spring. Coming to meet them were four boys riding up the trail on the other side of the range.
THE CAMP IN THE POCKET
Under the guidance of the Mexican dwarf, the four boys came at last to a halt. It seemed as if the canyon down which they had been riding had come to an end for there was a wall of rock directly in front of them.
"Down there, Senor, is a pool of clear water," announced the Mexican.
"Glad to hear it, Manuel," said Jim heartily.
"Did you ever see a picture, Jim," put in Juarez significantly, "of a pool where the thirsty animals have to come to drink and before they get their noses in the water the hunter shoots them?"
But nothing of this dire nature happened and in a few minutes the famished animals were pumping the delicious water down their long, baked throats.
"My Gracious, but that tastes good!" cried Tom, drawing in a long, gasping breath, after he had been drinking steadily for about a minute. "It makes my head swim."
"I should think it would," said Jo, sarcastically, "considering the amount you have drunk."
"You weren't far behind," grumbled Tom. "I thought that you were not going to leave enough for the horses."
"I don't especially like this place to camp in," said Jim. "We are not accustomed to get in a pocket like this. But it is too late to pull out tonight and the horses need a rest, so we will keep guard."
"Better drown the brown rat first," remarked Juarez to Jim. But the latter only shook his head and laughed.
The camp was made about twenty feet east of the spring in a small grove of slender trees backed by a high wall of steep granite, down which poured a waterfall in the rainy season.
The fire was built upon a flat rock in the centre of the grove where there was no danger of it catching in the grass and bushes which were dry as tinder. If once a mountain fire was started at the end of the dry season there would be no stopping it until it had devastated the whole country.
The light of the fire showed the usual cheery and active scene that goes with making camp. How many times the Frontier Boys had gone through these preparations it is impossible to say. They had camped on the plains of Kansas, in the mountains of Colorado, on the Mesas of New Mexico, the banks of the Colorado river, and the Pampas of Mexico. Now we find them in the coast range of California.
It was not an especially dangerous country in which they were camped, nothing to compare with parts of Colorado and Mexico, but never were they in greater danger than at the present moment and this camp promised to be their last together, except they had unusual luck.
There was a traitor in the company, and even now four pairs of hostile eyes were watching them as they moved in the light of the fire. The Captain of the Sea Eagle and his three trusty men were hidden in some bushes at the top of the pocket on the western side.
Juarez and Jim busied themselves first in looking after their horses. Removing the saddles they rubbed down each animal thoroughly, clear to the fetlocks and then gave them a good feed of grain. Jo and Tom were on the supper committee and busying themselves making preparations for a square meal. Manuello, who had been with the boys on the other side of the range and was accustomed to help in odd chores about camp, now offered to aid in getting the supper.
"I will make the coffee with your permission, Senor Jo," he proposed.
"Do you savvy it all right, Manuello?" inquired Jo.
"Ah, yes, Senor. I can make such coffee as the Holy Father would be pleased to drink," he replied with fervor.
"Not too strong because it keeps me awake," protested Tom.
"No, no, Senor Thomas," replied Manuello with a sweeping bow, "the coffee I make is very soothing. It will give you a long, soft sleep." There was an undertone of subtle irony that was entirely lost upon the two straightforward boys.
"That's a good fellow, Manuello," said Jo, cordially, and he handed the coffee pot filled with water to the Mexican, who went about the preparation of it with a deftness that showed that he knew what he was about. Not one of the boys saw him slip a white powder into the coffee pot. It quickly dissolved and the coffee began to bubble innocently enough under the eyes of the hunchback Manuello.
Juarez and Jim just then came back from looking after the horses which were fastened near the wall of rock. As soon as Juarez saw the Mexican watching over the coffee pot, his eyes narrowed with suspicion.
"Who made the coffee?" he asked Jo, bluntly.
"Manuello," replied Jo.
"The Senor will find the coffee truly delicious," said the hunchback with a bow, "only the Mexican knows how to keep its aroma when boiling it."
"Humph," grunted Juarez, and he went deliberately to the fire and lifted the coffee pot off and poured its contents on the ground.
"The American does not care for the aroma of your Mexican coffee," he said coolly.
The Mexican merely gave a peculiar hitch to his shoulder, spat on the ground and turned away apparently mortally offended as he, no doubt, was. That part of his scheme had been blocked by the craftiness of Juarez, but the Captain might make good where his spy had failed.
The Mexican sat back in the shadow on a rock smoking a cigarette, while the boys ate their supper of beans, meat, bread and coffee. He was the skeleton at the feast as it were, not only his malignant humor made itself felt, but there was a sense of depression that they could not shake off, try as they would.
This was so unusual that they could not account for it. As a rule, they were jolly and even when danger was impending, they felt a certain confidence and assurance, but not so tonight.
"What makes us feel so on the bum tonight, do you suppose?" asked Tom.
"Maybe this canyon is haunted," proposed Jo, who had an imaginative streak in him.
"I tell you the way I figure it," said Jim. "We are not used to camping in a hollow like this, for before this we have always selected a place that we could defend, and though there is no particular danger from outlaws or Indians in these mountains, we can't shake off our old habits."
"I believe there is something in that," acquiesced Jo.
"It's that rat over there," said Juarez loudly.
The Mexican laughed coolly and insolently, and lighted another cigarette. This would have maddened an excitable person, but Juarez was in a stoical mood and he contented himself with flinging a bone that he had been gnawing at, carelessly over his shoulder, almost striking the Mexican in the face.
This set that peppery individual wild and he tore around considerably, tearing his hair, stamping his feet and sputtering with maledictions at the insult that had been offered him.
"I am no dog that you can throw a bone to," and he sizzled off into a string of unpleasant remarks.
"Here you, Manuello," roared Jim, rising to his feet and standing over the Mexican, "not another yelp out of you."
Manuello had a respect for this big American lad much as he despised his simplicity and he sobered down. Besides he had not finished his work for the night. He had failed to get the sleeping drug to the boys in the coffee and now he must be ready to help his master, Captain Broom of the Sea Eagle, in some other way.
There was a person whom he feared and admired absolutely and he had been a most useful spy and agent for the Skipper in certain nefarious plots. It was well for the little hunchback that no one knew of his share in the betraying of old Juan Sebastian some years before.
"You will have the first watch, Jo," ordered Jim. "It is now nine o'clock. I will relieve you at eleven and stand guard until two. Juarez from two until five and Tom can have the short watch."
According to this arrangement, Jim and Juarez would be on guard during the danger hours.
How many times in the past had the boys stood guard over their camp. Was this to be the last guard? There were the old Kansas days, when they had to be on the watch against horse thieves. Then came the dangerous crisis in their Colorado experiences, when they had to guard against the wiles of the Indians. And most exciting of all, perhaps, the night in old Mexico when they camped on the trail of the outlaws. I wonder if Jo, the first on duty, thought of these old times that night. Probably not, his mind being fully occupied with the business in hand.
So the three boys rolled into their blankets with the saddles for pillows and dropped immediately to sleep as they were very tired from the long, hard ride. They lay at different points around the fire, which was allowed to die down as the fog seemed like a warm gray blanket over the whole landscape.
Jo sat on a log by the slowly dying fire, with his rifle on his knees looking into the darkness and not far from him lay the Mexican a mere dark lump on the ground, apparently asleep, but keeping a wary eye on all around. Imperceptibly he crept nearer to where Jo was sitting, but he did not have the weapon he would have preferred in his hand, the stiletto, which was as natural to him as the fangs to a rattlesnake.
But it did not suit the long-headed Captain Broom to have the boys killed. He wanted their life as well as their money, but in a different sense than the adage has it. From what he had heard of them, they were boys of unusual mettle and varied acquirements. If caught young, he could train them to good purpose. If they proved worthless, he would hold them for ransom.
So Captain Broom had told Manuello briefly and to the point that there was to be no rib-sticking and the Mexican would have thought as soon of disobeying the commands of the Evil One as of going contrary to the instructions of the Captain. So as he crept towards Jo, he held not a poniard in his clenched hand, but a heavy weapon like a black-jack, made of leather with a weight at the end.
Jo, however, spoiled his first attempt, for when the greaser had got within striking distance, Jo got up and went down to the pool to get a drink. If it had not been so dark, when they arrived, the boys would have seen tracks around the pool that would have aroused their suspicions. But everything seemed to work against them this time.
Jo stooped down at the brink and scarcely put his thirsty lips to the water when some instinct of warning made him look quickly around and he saw a small dark object directly back of him.
"Pardon, Senor, for startling you;" it was the voice of the dwarf, "but I, too, was very thirsty. It is in the air."
"You needn't have been so quiet about it," said Jo, crossly. This little rat always had a way of baffling and irritating him, because he did not have Jim's force, which could beat down the dwarf when occasion demanded it, or the stoicism of Juarez, which blocked the hunchback.
"I came softly, Senor," said the Mexican, imperturbably, "because I did not wish to disturb the slumbers of the Senors who are resting."
"Get down and drink, then," said Jo, who, though he realized that the Mexican was up to some hidden deviltry, did not know how to meet him. Jim and Juarez would have knocked him out of the camp if they had discovered him trailing them, with a warning that he would be shot if he put in an appearance again.
While the Mexican was pretending to drink, Jo satisfied his thirst at a point of the pool where he would be safe from a sudden attack by the hunchback. For Jo was not a fool by any means. Then he got to his feet and with the Mexican ahead of him, he saw to that, he made his way back to the camp.
Scarcely had Jo seated himself upon the rock again than he heard a stick snap upon the mountain side above the horses, so he got to his feet to investigate.
"You can stay where you are, Manuello," said Jo. "I don't need your company this time." The Mexican laughed softly to himself.
"I hope the Senor Americano will not get lonesome," he said.
Jo made a careful search in the direction of the sound but found no sign of a human being lurking among the trees. Though he felt exceedingly nervous, he was unable to account therefor or give a reason.
Very quietly he went the rounds, so as not to awake the boys, who, however, were sleeping heavily. He found the horses all right standing with drooping heads as though dozing, Jo's black with his neck over Tom's bay, as these horses were great chums. But Caliente and Juarez's roan were not sociable and kept strictly to themselves.
Then Jo returned to the rock where he had been sitting. He stirred the dying fire so that it sent up a feeble spurt of flame by the aid of which he looked at his watch. It lacked a few minutes of ten. The Mexican had taken up his old place on the ground watching for his chance. He was anxious that the attack should take place during Jo's watch for he had his doubts in regard to Juarez or the redoubtable Jim proving easy victims.
All this time, Captain Bill Broom and his crew had been keeping watch upon their intended victims from the top of the cliff above the pool. They could see every move from the time the Frontier Boys had arrived until they lay down near the smouldering fire.
"They are a husky lot," was the Captain's first comment. "That tall fellar, I guess, is a horse tamer and Injun fighter."
Some time later when the altercation occurred about the coffee and Juarez expressed his opinion about the Mexican, the Captain could scarcely keep from haw-hawing right out.
"Them fellars have got some dis'pline," commented the saturnine mate.
"You're right they hev," said the Captain.
"That lad don't know how to handle my pet rattlesnake," was the Captain's comment when the Mexican trailed Jo to the drinking pool. After Jo had returned from making his rounds and had resumed his guard again, the Captain decided that the time had come for action.
"Now, lads," he ordered, "pull off your shoes and the first man that makes a sound will get his neck cracked. Knock 'em out, if necessary, but no killing this time."
Then they started, the Captain in the lead, and old Pete bringing up the rear. They had had a good many hours in that vicinity and had made a path from their hiding place to the soft dust trail. So they moved in their sock feet without a sound. There was an oppressive stillness in that dark canyon under the heavy blanket of fog.
Already it had began to lower and as the sailors advanced with snail-like slowness the heavy white fog settled down, filling the canyon with its white opaqueness. You could not see five feet in front, and the moisture beaded itself upon the eyebrows and mustaches of the men.
This dense fog was a great help to the attacking party. They had now crawled half way down the main trail, when Pete came near putting all the fat in the fire, for his eyesight was not overly keen, and the fog made it more difficult for him. He did not see a round stone poised on the edge of the trail until it rolled down towards the pool.
Although every sound was deadened by the fog, still the watchful Jo heard it distinctly. He got quickly to his feet and, with soft moccasined tread he went in the direction of the sound, his pistol in his hand.
No sooner had the stone fallen than the Captain motioned the mate to halt. This signal was repeated to Jack Cales, who was so hidden by the fog that he could not see the Captain. He stopped suddenly so that old Pete tumbled over him, making some noise.
The Captain almost had a fit of apoplexy because he did not dare express himself at this interesting juncture. Jo had heard the noise on the trail and his suspicions centered in that direction. Noiselessly he went up with slight footprints in the damp dust of the trail. The Captain waited his coming, crouched behind a bend in the trail.
Then Jo saw a huge figure rising suddenly out of the fog in front of him and, before he could fire, a great hand gripped for his throat, but if he could not shoot in defense, at least he could give his comrades warning. He fired one shot, and then he was overpowered.
Jim and Juarez heard it instantly. Then Manuello got in some of his work. Before Juarez could rise, he struck him a vicious blow upon the head that stunned him, rendering him unconscious. Cold with fury, Jim picked up the rat of a Mexican before he could land a blow upon him, whirled him over his head and dashed him upon the ground.
Then he sprang through the fog in the direction of the shot. He heard Jo groan as the ruffians overpowered him and he leaped up the trail blind with a fighting rage. The Captain had just got up from the struggle with Jo, who lay as good as dead in the trail.
Then Jim hurled himself upon him. Powerful though he was, the Captain could not withstand the sinewy lurch of that sudden attack and together boy and man crashed from the trail over rocks and through brush until with a fearful impact they struck the trunk of a pine tree.
The mate sprang swiftly down to the rescue of his fallen master. He was a strong, sinewy man and knew how to act in an emergency.
The jar of the fall had knocked out the Captain partially and Jim had risen to give him the coup de grace, when he heard the rush of the mate coming down through the fog. It was a strange sensation hearing your enemy but not able to see him.
Then the mate plunged into view, a dark ball through the opaqueness. He could not have stopped if he had so desired and it was evident that he did not wish to. For, with lowered head, he came for Jim as he would for an ugly sailor.
Jim stopped him with his shoulder and ripped in a right uppercut with his keen hard fist that would have stopped the heart action of an ordinary man, and it sent the seasoned mate back upon his haunches, partially dazed. Feeling the Captain squirming back to life, he planted a back blow with his heel in the latter's stomach that took the wind out of the Captain's sails for the time being. The mate, a really hardy individual, had made good use of the brief respite and, picking up a heavy stick, came for Jim with it.
The latter dodged the blow aimed at his head and it glanced off his shoulder. Then he closed with the sailor, struggling to put him out. Three seconds more and Jim would have landed the proper blow, had not Jack Cales arrived upon the scene under cover of the melee. Before Jim could turn to meet this new assailant, a stone crashed against his head—and the frontier boys had lost.
The Captain had now recovered sufficiently to get on his feet, and the fallen Jim was kicked until the Captain himself called a halt.
"Wait till we get him on board ship, lads," he said, "and we will finish this job."
"Better get the other two, Cap'n," advised the mate.
So they dragged the prostrate Jim to the foot of the trail near where the drinking pool was and went to look for Juarez and Tom. They saw a small black object crawling towards them through the fog.
"What's this a coming?" asked Jack Cales.
"Why, it's my Mexican ferret," said the Captain. "What's the matter, Manuello?" he asked as he turned him over none too gently with his foot.
"The big Senor throw me over his head and on the ground. I think I crack the world open," he explained. The Captain roared with laughter.
"Where is the rest of this dangerous gang?" he asked.
"I will show you," he said, struggling to his feet. The presence of his master gave him strength and confidence. "This way, Senor Captain."
He brought them to where Juarez lay upon the ground, partially held up by Tom, who had been crying and endeavoring to bring his comrade back to consciousness from the ugly blow that the Mexican had given him. I am sure that none could blame Tom for tears upon this occasion for it was calculated to try the heart of the stoutest.
"Why, this boy looks like an Indian," said the Captain regarding Juarez closely.
"He lived with the Indians when a boy, Senor Captain," volunteered the dwarf, who by subtle means of his own had become possessed of the history of the four boys.
"He don't seem to be much more than a boy, now," said the Captain. They had not paid much attention to Tom because he seemed a mere kid, but the hunchback was not to be caught napping, for he had worked around back of Tom, and as the latter aimed his revolver at the Captain, having worked it cautiously out of his holster, the dwarf grabbed him in the nick of time else the expedition would have lost its head.
Instead of being infuriated as one might have expected, the Captain was decidedly amused at the temerity of the youngster, for that is all Tom appeared to him, and, therefore, he did not hand him a beating.
"The nerve of the little rooster," guffawed the Captain. "I'll make a real pirate out of you."
Tom struggled wildly, but it was no use, as Jack Cales and the mate disarmed him. Just then there came a loud yell from up the trail.
"Haul in, Cap'n!" It was Old Pete's well known and melodious voice.
"Jack, go and see what the old cuss wants," ordered the Captain. "I expect that the lad up there is trying to kidnap Pete."
When Jack arrived on the scene, he found that the Skipper had guessed right. For Jo had been playing possum and was not nearly so badly hurt as he had appeared to be.
He came near escaping from his keeper and it was only by a quick forward lunge that Pete had grabbed him and then occurred a short struggle in which Pete had called for help and just as Jo had wrestled himself loose, Cales appeared and grabbed him. It took both Pete and Cales quite a while to subdue him.
Finally it was accomplished and they made him go down the trail, one on either side. At the foot of the incline he saw the bruised and battered form of Jim lying on the ground and a big lump came into his throat.
"You fellows will pay for this," he said, rendered desperate by the sight of Jim. But his captors only laughed, not realizing that the Frontier Boys were apt to keep their word.
Then they joined the main gang and Jo saw to his dismay that Tom and Juarez were in the coils as well as himself and that Juarez, too, had been laid out and appeared dazed and only partially conscious of what was going on. Thus there was little hope of escape with the two leaders, Jim and Juarez, done for.
"Better search these beggars for their money, Captain," suggested the mate.
"It hadn't slipped my mind," replied the Skipper.
Now the money and the jewels that the boys had found in Mexico were in leather belts around their bodies. These were soon in the possession of the Captain, but the crew knew full well that they would receive their share and thus it was that the Skipper gave promise of living to a ripe old age instead of being murdered for his money.
"It's about time to make a start, Cap'n," announced the mate, and the Captain consulted his watch by the light of a lantern. He found that it was half-past eleven.
"We won't be so long going back," he said. "We will use their horses."
This was easier said than done, for when any of the crew approached Caliente, that noble animal became transformed into a tiger and as he came for them with bared teeth or whirled and kicked out with his heels, they decided that discretion was the better part of valor and they left him alone. Sailors at best are not very clever horsemen.
"Let me have a chance and I'll quiet him for you," volunteered Jim gruffly. "I don't want to see you poor fellows eaten alive."
"My lad," said the Skipper solemnly, "I'm no spring chicken and you can't catch me with any such chaff."
The other three horses proved more tractable than Caliente, and after some skirmishing they managed to get their new ships rigged up with the saddles and other tackle. Now as soon as they got their cargo aboard, they would be prepared to set sail and to cruise over the plains. (I must use this nautical language out of respect for Captain Broom and his crew.)
As I have said before, sailors are poor horsemen and when it came to making fast the double cinches, they were quite at sea, where sailors should be, perhaps. Old Pete came near getting his head kicked off by pulling the back cinch too tight, but he and Captain Broom profited by their youthful experience on a New England farm, so the horses were finally all saddled and bridled and ready for a flight—except Caliente. He was to be left marooned in the lonely canyon.
It was surprising to Jim and his comrades how quietly Juarez's roan took matters, but there is no relying on a broncho, because he always does the unexpected, and the Captain was so pleased with his behavior that he decided to ride the animal himself.
"Now, that's what I call a well broken hoss," he said. "I ain't so sure of the black so I will let you cruise on him, Jack, being the most active. I don't know what I shall do for Pete, unless I can find him a rocking-horse."
"What are you going to do with the boys?" inquired the mate. "Have 'em walk?"
"They can ride their pack mule," said the Captain grimly.
So Jo, Juarez and Jim were securely fastened on the patient mule, while Tom rode behind the mate upon his own horse, but no longer as master. Then the queer procession started up the trail through the dense fog. The Captain was in the lead, followed by the mate with Tom, then the mule with Pete and the Mexican dwarf guarding the animal and its cargo, while the active Jack Cales was the rear guard. It was exactly twelve o'clock when they weighed anchor and sailed from the harbor or cove in the mountain canyon.
The three boys said little to each other. They did not waste their breath with threats of what they would do to their captors later on, but accepted the situation with true western stoicism. But you may be sure that their minds were active even if their tongues said little.
They were so securely tied that there was no chance for them to make a move as their arms were corded tight to their bodies and their feet were tied under the belly of the mule. Unless they had been experienced riders they would have had a difficult time of it. But it was terribly humiliating, especially under the insolence of the malignant Mexican. But he did not dare do them any actual injury, because the Skipper had given him a warning which he did not dare to disregard. Finally, old Pete put an end to his slurring remarks to the prisoners, so he had to content himself with ugly looks and frequent expectoration wherewith to express his disgust.
Before they reached the foot of the trail, Jack Cales changed with Pete, though the latter demurred at first, at boarding the strange black craft with four legs, but finally consented under the urging of Jack and the warm recommendation of the boys, who had taken somewhat of a fancy to the old sailor, since he had shut up the Mexican in their behalf.
"He won't hurt you, Pop," said Jim, "he is a good horse. Any lady could ride him."
"I ain't no lady," replied the old fellow suspiciously, as he slowly and stiffly mounted, while Jack held his head, that is to say, the horse's head, not Pete's.
"What did he do that for?" inquired Pete, anxiously, preparing to dismount.
"Stay on, you old Barnacle," roared the Captain from the head of the procession, for though he could not see anything in the rear, still he seemed able to keep an instinctive tab on his old comrade Pete.
"That horse is all right, Pop," said Jo, "and I ought to know. I've ridden him a good many hundred miles. Don't tickle him with your heels, that's all."
"I guess that's what I've done," admitted Pete.
Then the procession resumed its march with Pete as rear guard, riding with due caution and circumspection as though his craft was loaded with dynamite and liable to explode at any time. Jack Cales tried to quiz the prisoners on the mule in a friendly way, but they would not relax in their attitude of grim, if not sullen, defiance towards their captors.
Captain Broom need not think that his prisoners would ever accept any conditions from him. Doubtless, he thought that these boys might be trained to help him in his business for he appreciated their courage and fighting ability, but he did not fully understand what stuff the frontier boys were made of.
The procession of pirates and their prisoners had now reached the foot of the range and were in close proximity to the ranch, but everything favored the plans of the Skipper of the Sea Eagle. The fog became denser when they reached the level plain so that it was scarcely possible for the rider to see the ears of his horse.
Every sound was deadened, so that they could have gone directly past the ranch houses and not even the dogs would have heard them. But the Captain was determined to take no chances, and as soon as the party were free of the canyon, he bore off toward the south, making quite a circuit.
Anybody but an experienced navigator would have been lost in the fog upon the plain, but you could not lose Captain Broom either on the high seas or the low plains. They passed between two wooded hills, which the reader will have to take on faith as he cannot see them. Then across a gully, on the other side of which they came to a barb wire fence.
This did not stop them long, as the Captain cut it and they rode through. From the footing which was about all that could be observed, they appeared to be in a pasture land with a gentle slope towards the sea. The fog did not diminish in thickness and the boys determined to escape. Here was their chance, if they could be said to have one.
"Here's where we make a break," said Jim to Juarez. "Guide the mule alongside of Tom. Then we will run for it." Jim did not say this in so many words, but he had ways and means of indicating to Juarez, who was tied directly back of him, by a sign and poke language which Juarez was quick to seize.
It seemed at every turn that his experience with the Indians was a help to him. The mule was a protege of Juarez and with a word he could guide it in any direction that he wished it to go. The fog was one thing that favored them. The Mexican could scarcely be seen and Jack Cales stalked along looking like a giant through the mist.
He had grown somewhat lax through the long march. This was the time, if ever. Jim gave Juarez the signal that all was ready. A quick word to the mule and he trotted out from his place in the column, knocking over the Mexican and before Cales was fairly awake to the situation, he was obscured by the fog.
In about two seconds he had hove alongside of the horse that the mate was on. Tom was foot-loose, and no sooner did he see Missouri's long ears through the fog, than he was ready for action.
"Jump, Tom," urged Jim. It took only about two seconds for Tom to execute the manoeuvre.
"Halt!" roared the Captain, and he tried to turn the roan to capture the runaways, but right here, the broncho strain in the animal showed itself.
He began to buck and never in all his experience had the redoubtable Captain Broom ever been on so choppy a sea. It was hard to distinguish fog from whiskers. At the second hunch upward, the Captain shot into space. The boys did not tarry to watch for his descent. A word from Juarez to the mule, and Missouri turned directly south just as Jack Cales came rushing up.
"Touch him with your foot, Tom," said Juarez, meaning the mule, not Cales. Tom's heel reached the right spot and up flew the mule's hind feet with the rapidity of a rapid fire-gun.
One foot struck Cales on the shoulder with a sufficient impact to send him down and out. The mate had been involved in the cyclone of which Captain Broom was the centre. Tom's horse, considered the gentlest of the four, had become infected with the roan's example and he started in to do a little bucking on his own account. Never since the mate had rounded Cape Horn, had he known so much action in so short a time.
The only one left was Old Pete and he came on right gallantly, but by dodging and turning they got away in the fog. After putting what they considered a safe distance between themselves and their former captors, Juarez persuaded Missouri to halt, and Tom went to work and with great difficulty first untied, then lifted, them to the ground for the boys were as stiff as boards from being tied hard and fast for so long a time.
"My, but it certainly hurts," said Jo, stamping around in an endeavor to get the blood to circulating again. "It's just like it used to be back home in the winter when we would go skating and get our hands numb."
"What is the matter, Juarez?" asked Jim in alarm.
"Oh, I'm all right, I guess," he said in a voice that sounded faint to the boys and far away to himself. Then, without warning, he fell over on the ground and stiffened out.
"It's from the blow that the greaser gave him," said Tom. "It would have killed him if it had struck him fair."
"Wait until I get my hands on him," cried Jim, significantly.
What should they do now? It was not an easy question to decide.
They could not desert Juarez and they could not get far with him. It was enough to stagger them and it seemed that they had reached the end of their resources.
"If it wasn't such an open country," said Jo, "we might hide until they had got out of range and then get to the nearest ranch."
"If they overtake us we can stand them off," saying this Jim reached for his revolver. To his astonishment it was gone. Then he remembered he had been disarmed by Captain Broom, and they were absolutely defenseless unless they could depend on Missouri's heels which had furnished them such active protection.
Finally they brought Juarez around so that he was able to sit up.
"Where am I?" he asked in a sort of daze.
"You will be all right in a minute, old chap," encouraged Jim, speaking cheerfully, but he did not feel so.