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   Chapter 13 A CUNNING TRICK.

Jack Haydon's Quest By John Finnemore Characters: 10211

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Jim and Buck followed the direction of his outstretched finger, and then gasped in surprise. As Jack said, it seemed as if a patch of jungle had begun to move. A mass of tangled greenery was edging steadily forward from the sharp line where the forest ended, and was making its way very slowly across the open towards them. For a moment the whole thing looked horribly uncanny, then at the next instant the explanation flashed upon them.

"Say, that's a deep game," cried Buck. "We're in for a hard streak o' weather, boys. They're coming on in shelter of a movin' barricade."

So they were. The cunning little men in blue had set their savage hearts on the blood of the white men, and were sparing no effort to compass the destruction of their enemies. But the terrible hail of bullets from those steady rifles was a thing they must avoid, or the attacking party would be wiped out before the shattered door was reached. So they were coming on under cover. The thing was simply enough contrived. They had cut down young palms and saplings and lashed them together with tough creepers. Thus they had formed a little palisade six feet high and fifteen feet along. Into the joints everywhere they had thrust great feathery bushes of the wild plum, completely concealing every sign of themselves. Six of the sturdy little highland caterans were strung along behind the palisade. To their muscles of iron it was the simplest thing in the world to swing the barricade forward a step at a time, and behind them crept a score of their comrades with dah and musket ready for action.

"They'll march right up to us if we can't stop them in some fashion," cried Jack, and he fired his Mannlicher into the palisade. The others followed his example, and for a few moments they searched the oncoming mass of greenery with a close fire.

"There's something behind those bushes of wild plum," said Jim Dent. "Can't you hear the bullets striking into wood? They've formed a big shield of logs, and are pushing it forward."

Now that their advance was known, the Kachins gave up their silence. The bearers began to shout to give each other the time and to make their movements regular and swift. "Ai-ai-Ai!" they shouted. On the last cry they all lifted and swung the barricade a step forward, "Ai-ai-Ai!" On they came again, "Ai-ai-Ai!" Another swing of their burden, and so they cut down the distance foot by foot, and the blood-thirsty little men who crawled after them felt the edges of their dahs and promised to dull the shine of the great blades in the blood of the English sahibs who had shot so many of their friends.

In the building, Jack and his comrades were at their wits' end to know what to do in order to check this deadly advance.

"They're standing us off easily enough," cried Jack. "At the rate they're coming, they'll be up to the door in a quarter of an hour, and then they'll swarm straight in on us. These bullets are too light to check them." Suddenly he turned on Dent, his bright eyes flashing. "Jim, Jim!" he cried, "what are we thinking of? Didn't you pack a heavy big-game rifle among the baggage?"

Jim Dent leapt as if he had been shot.

"Of course I did," he roared. "I put it in on chance of being useful if we had trouble with tigers or a rogue elephant." He darted across to the baggage ponies, who had been tethered in a far corner of the large room, and swiftly cut a case loose. He unstrapped it and drew out an eight-bore rifle, a big powerful weapon. In a corner of the case was a package of the cartridges which fitted the rifle. Jim caught up the packet and ran back to his window.

"The very thing," he breathed in the utmost excitement, "and I stood here like a dummy and never remembered it was with us till you thought of it, Jack. Unless they've got some very stiff stuff in yonder palisade, I'll send a bullet through it as if it was only paper. I've tried this gun with nickel-covered bullets such as these, and sent the bullet through eight one-inch teak planks and five inches of wet sawdust."

"That ought to be good enough," cried Buck. "Pipe the lead into 'em, Jim, and me and Jack will watch for any you drive out of cover if your bullet goes through."

"If," snorted Jim, as he threw open the breech and slipped in the big cartridge, "I'll show you."

He threw the elephant gun forward and fired at the centre of the palisade. There was an instant scream. The immensely powerful weapon had driven the bullet straight through the centre of a palm log, through the body of the dacoit behind, and wounded one of the party following up.

Jim whipped open the breech, and the empty shell flew out, for the rifle was an ejector. His practised hands had another cartridge in and the breech closed in an instant. He fired again and then again, aiming each time at a different spot in the palisade. There was a roar of anger from the hidden Kachins, a roar answered by an exultant shout from the besieged.

"Pipe it into 'em, Jim," roared Buck. "You're gettin' home every shot. Hark at 'em squealin'."

The barricade had now come to a standst

ill, and it trembled all over every time that it was struck by the heavy bullet travelling at terrific speed at so short a range.

"Fire low, Jim," cried Jack, "they have stopped and are crouching at the foot of the palisade, I know."

Jim fired low, and his shot was answered by a fresh outburst of yells of pain and rage. Suddenly the palisade began to waver, then it slowly fell over, as a stream of blue-clothed figures darted from its insufficient shelter. The dacoits did not make either for the door of the hut nor for the jungle they had left. The pagoda was the nearest cover to them, and they raced for it with all their speed, the quick-firing Mannlichers scourging them with a whistling shower of lead as they flew. When the last Kachin who could run had disappeared behind the building, the comrades checked their fire and looked at each other with joyful eyes. Jim slapped the breech of the eight-bore exultantly.

"It sent every bullet through their shield like a cannon!" he cried. "Lucky I put it in; they'd have got up to the door all right if it hadn't stopped 'em."

"They would, indeed, Jim," replied Jack, "and it would have been all over with us then."

"Sure thing," agreed Buck. "We should ha' hit the long trail in short order."

"What's the next move?" cried Jack.

"Hard to say," replied Jim. "We can do nothing but watch 'em."

Watch them they did. The three comrades kept a steady look-out, but the sun went down, and the swift dark of the tropics fell over jungle and clearing, and the dacoits had given no further sign of their presence. The approach of night filled the besieged with the greatest uneasiness. There was no moon to light the early hours of the darkness, and in the deep gloom the dacoits could creep upon them unseen and swarm over them by sheer force of numbers. But just as dusk fell, Me Dain began to drag down a number of planks and posts from aloft. This was the fruit of his hacking away with the heavy dah. He had cut loose enough timber to make a very useful barrier at the open doorway, and he and Jim made the strongest barricade they could while the others kept watch.

When night fell they kept their places, every ear strained to catch the faintest sound. They had only to watch one side of the ground floor where they stood. Three of the walls were solid and very strongly built; the fourth was pierced by the windows and the door, and here they had taken their stand from the first.

About two hours after dark, Me Dain came to the head of the stairs leading to the next floor. He had been stationed there to move from one to the other of the upper windows and keep strict watch all round.

"Come here now," said Me Dain.

"I'll go," murmured Jack, and he groped his way across the floor to the foot of the wooden steps. Up he went, and found the Burman waiting for him at the top.

"Me think some men this way," muttered Me Dain, and took Jack's shoulder to lead him through the darkness of the unlighted passage above.

"Which way?" whispered Jack eagerly, clutching his rifle. "Are they creeping on us from the back, Me Dain?"

"Me think so," replied the Burman, and led Jack to a long, narrow room at the back of the monastery, a room lighted by a large window. Coming from the blackness of the passages, Jack saw the window clearly, a grey patch in the gloom of the walls. He ran across to it and looked out. The window was high above the ground, twenty feet at least, and looked upon a tangle of low bushes which ran almost to the wall of the building.

"Men in the bushes. Me hear them," said Me Dain.

Jack nodded, and watched intently. The window was a mere hole in the wall, closed, when necessary, by a shutter. At present the shutter was fastened back, and Jack could hear every sound that was made below.

Presently his ears caught a rustling among the bushes, and he threw his rifle forward. Then he returned it to the hollow of his arm. He would wait and see what were the plans of the freebooters now ambushed below. At this moment he found Me Dain's lips at his ear.

"They make ladder and come up here," breathed the Burman.

Jack nodded. That was the idea that had already struck him. Well, it would be easy enough from above to sweep the ladder with a swift rifle fire and drive the dacoits back into their hiding-place.

Then another idea struck him, and he turned it over and over. To drive them back. Yes, that was all right. But it would still leave him and his comrades prisoners with the Kachins in hiding about the monastery and thirsting for their blood. Would it be possible to win a chance of escape out of this? It seemed to him there was a chance, just a bare chance, and he resolved to seize it. He drew Me Dain back into the shadows, and whispered softly, "How many doors lead into this room?"

"One," answered the Burman, who had thoroughly explored the monastery before the dusk fell.

"Can you fasten it?"

"Yes, very easy. Big lock, strong lock, and key in it."

"All right," said Jack. "Now you keep watch on, the men below. I'll be back soon."

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