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   Chapter 25 THE CAVE IN THE RAVINE.

Jack Haydon's Quest By John Finnemore Characters: 9798

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


In the meanwhile Jack and his companions hurried forward, quite unconscious that they had been spied upon. The elder Panthay led the way through the jungle, and within a mile they came to the edge of a steep descent. Down this they climbed with much difficulty, swinging themselves by creepers and holding on to the boles of saplings until they gained the foot of a deep ravine.

The Panthay paused and pointed with a laugh. Jack nodded cheerfully.

"By George!" he murmured to himself, "we shan't be hard up for a hiding-place here."

The wall of the farther side of the ravine was honey-combed with black holes, looking for all the world as if a colony of gigantic sand-martins had built their nests in the place. Jack knew that these were the mouths of caves, and he ran swiftly after the Panthays as they hurried for a hole which was within easy reach of the ground.

A small fig tree grew below the mouth of the cave. Jack slipped his foot into the crutch where a bough struck away from the parent stem, swung himself up, and tumbled into the hollow, which was an irregular circle about nine feet across. The Panthays at once followed him, and all three pushed over the broken floor within, towards the shelter of the cave.

Inside, the place hollowed and widened out. Thirty feet back from the entrance it was dusky, and here Jack seated himself on a huge fragment of rock which had fallen from the roof. He was very glad of a rest and of a chance to wipe the sweat out of his eyes, as it was terribly punishing for a European to have to hurry on foot through the frightful heat of so scorching a day.

The elder Panthay had followed Jack to the back of the cave, and was now squatting on his haunches in front of the English lad. The younger native had remained nearer the entrance, and, placing himself behind another big fallen boulder, was keeping watch through the mouth of the cave.

The Panthay who had accompanied Jack now entered upon a series of gestures so clear and striking that Jack understood them as if he spoke. The signs were to the effect that they should stay in the cave till darkness had fallen, and then they would resume the journey.

Half an hour later, when Jack was lying at full length on the rock, lazily staring into the gloomy heights above him, a sudden, low, sharp cry broke into the stillness. The cry had been uttered by the watcher at the mouth of the cave, and now he said a few quick words. The elder Panthay leapt to his feet and shot down the cave with the glide of a panther. Jack sprang from his rock and followed.

The English lad had known at once that the cry meant danger, so deep an anxiety had lain in the low troubled note. As he crept up to the boulder behind which the two Panthays crouched, he saw that the peril which threatened him a short time ago still hung over his head. Looking through the hole, they commanded a full view of the upper edge of the opposite side of the ravine. Gathered aloft there, in full sight, was a bunch of figures, and, in the front of the group, the scarlet and yellow turbans still blazed.

Jack knew at once that danger was closer than ever. By some means Saya Chone and the Strangler knew that he and his guides had turned aside from the ordinary track, and had followed on their new trail.

Now their pursuers began to climb down the steep side of the ravine, led by a Panthay tracker. In a moment Jack saw that the man was following the path they had followed. His quick eye was marking the displaced stones and torn creepers, and he was leading Saya Chone and the Strangler straight upon their prey.

Jack looked swiftly round the cave in which they stood. Did it offer any securer hiding-place than the part in which they were? To leave it was impossible! They could only step out in full sight of the advancing band of enemies. He looked at the Panthays and saw that they could render him no help. They were trembling like leaves with terror. He caught a name on the elder Panthay's lips, and knew it.

"Saya Chone," the man was murmuring. "Saya Chone."

"Oh," thought Jack, "this fellow recognises the half-caste and fears the vengeance of a powerful enemy. Then we can't be far now from the country where the Ruby King rules the roost. But the point for the moment is, how to dodge Mr. Saya Chone."

He beckoned to the Panthays to follow him, and all three retreated to the depths of the cave. The elder Panthay ran ahead, waving his hand to Jack to follow.

"Hullo!" thought Jack, "looks as if this chap knew of a spot to hide in," and he hurried forward. At the lower end of the cave the roof dipped sharply down, and the sides closed in, forming a tunnel about six feet high and five feet wide. This tunnel was three or four yards long, and then it opened out again into a second cave of fair size. The second cave was dimly lighted from a rift in the rock, forty f

eet above their heads. In two minutes Jack had made the circuit of it, and knew that, except for the fact that it was an inner cave, it offered them no refuge. The walls were smooth and unclimbable, and there was no break in them except at the point where the tunnel ran in.

Jack returned from his swift search and peered down the tunnel. From the cool darkness he looked out and saw a ring of brilliant light, the mouth of the outer cave. Suddenly a head shot into the patch of blinding sunlight without. The head was covered with a yellow turban, and Jack saw the Strangler slowly draw himself up and stand in the mouth of the cave. The big Malay did not rush forward. Instead, he stood gazing curiously about, and then Jack understood. He and his companions had left no track on the smooth hard rocks which paved the bottom of the ravine, and their enemies were not certain in which cave they lay; each cave was being searched in turn.

"Oh," thought Jack, "what would I not give for my handy little Mannlicher, and a good pocketful of cartridges. I could hold an army at bay in this narrow tunnel. But they stripped me of every weapon, even to my knife."

At this instant there flashed across his mind the thought of the dah carried by the younger Panthay. He turned and found the man at his shoulder. Jack seized the thong by which the man bore the weapon, and lifted it over the Panthay's head. The native made no resistance, but gave up the sword at once.

Jack drew the weapon from its sheath and looked at it carefully in the dim light. He saw at once by the bright gleam that it was in excellent order, and well polished. He tried the edge with his thumb; it was as keen as a razor. He stepped back two or three paces to give himself room to swing the blade, and flourished it about his head in order to find out its swing and play. These, too, were perfect. So well balanced were the huge, broad blade and heavy handle, that the great sword swung easily about Jack's head in his powerful young hands.

"By George!" thought he, "I'll make it warm for these rogues before I've done with them. If I can't give it 'em hot in this narrow tunnel with this good bit of steel, I'm a Dutchman."

He stepped forward and peered once more down the tunnel. He started. Saya Chone was climbing up, and after him came three or four figures in blue kilts. Jack had seen such before, and knew them for tough, wiry, hard-bitten little Kachins, small men, but immensely muscular and powerful. Behind him he heard a sound as of a withered leaf blowing along the floor. He turned his head and saw the two Panthays fleeing to the uttermost part of the cave. They trembled before these terrible enemies.

At this moment the Panthay tracker climbed into the cave. He spoke for a few moments to Saya Chone, pointing to the tunnel where Jack stood, but where in the darkness no one could see him. Saya Chone nodded, and the whole party moved forward until they were within a couple of yards of the mouth of the tunnel. Now Saya Chone began to speak.

"Haydon," he called in a loud voice. "Come out at once. The game is up. We know you are within there. You have left a score of signs in the outer cave to show whither you have retreated. Come out, I tell you."

He ceased, and stood as if awaiting a reply, but Jack made no answer. He meant to give his enemies no idea of the point where he had stationed himself. Again the half-caste's voice rang out.

"I will give you one minute again to come out," he called, "and then, if you do not appear, I shall send in those who will fetch you out more roughly than you will like."

Jack made no answer, but went down on one knee to give himself plenty of room to strike overhead in the combat which was now near at hand.

The minute passed, and Saya Chone called out some orders to the savage little men in blue, who were now hovering about the mouth of the tunnel as if burning to rush in to the assault. Upon the orders being given, three Kachins started forward.

Jack saw them clearly against the bright light outside, and his heart swelled with rage and fierce anger. Not because each man held in his hand his broad and glittering dah. Oh, no. That was all in the game, and Jack was willing to give and take in the struggle between man and man, out-numbered as he was. But each man had now drawn out a coil of fine rope and slung it about his left arm. Jack saw that shameful bonds were being prepared once more for his free limbs, and his heart burned with fury.

"I'll die fighting before they shall tie me up again," breathed Jack to himself, and he clutched still more tightly the heavy dah. Then he drew a short, sharp breath, and held himself ready, every nerve strung up to its highest tension, every muscle braced and ready for action.

The Kachins were coming. Already their figures darkened the mouth of the tunnel.

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