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   Chapter 27 THE FIGHT IN THE TUNNEL.

Jack Haydon's Quest By John Finnemore Characters: 8059

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


We must now return to Jack, whom we left crouching at the end of the tunnel which led to the outer cave, and awaiting the onslaught of three powerful Kachins.

As the natives drew step by step along the tunnel towards Jack, he balanced the great broadsword he held by both hands, and poised it ready to strike at the foremost. Though he was greatly out-numbered, yet he held one advantage. The forms of his enemies were clear against the sunlight which poured into the mouth of the outer cave. He could see every movement they made, but they could not see him. The inner cave was very dimly lighted, and, coming from the bright light without, his enemies could not mark that Jack was waiting for them.

A second advantage he enjoyed was that they did not know that he was armed. They knew that they had stripped him of every weapon when he was first seized, and now they did not dream that he had secured a dah for himself, and was thoroughly resolved to make the deadliest use of it before he would submit to capture.

On crept the Kachins in the boldest fashion, urged forward not merely by their native bravery, but convinced that they had before them the simplest of tasks, the seizing of an unarmed lad who would surrender at sight of their weapons.

At the next moment they were terribly undeceived. Fetching a sweeping blow, Jack cut down the leading Kachin with a terrific stroke. The edge of the keen, heavy blade fell at the point where neck and shoulder meet, and the doomed man was nearly cut in two. He dropped with a single groan, and the two men behind caught him by the feet and dragged him swiftly back.

Jack drew a deep breath, regained his heavy weapon, and poised it anew. But for the moment he was left in peace. The group in the outer cave had gathered about the fallen man. They uttered loud cries of surprise when they saw the deep and dreadful wound he had received with such terrible force from the dah. "Dah! dah!" Jack heard the name of the native sword pass from lip to lip, and knew that they had recognised by what weapon that frightful slicing blow was delivered.

But in another moment he recognised how grim and fell were these people who were his foes. As coolly as though it were but a dog that Jack had slain with that tremendous blow, the Strangler lifted the dead Kachin and tossed him carelessly aside. Saya Chone said a sharp word, and a fresh man stepped forward, drawing his dah with a grin as he was ordered to join his companions in a fresh assault. Jack knew these little men in blue kilts to be brave to desperation, utterly careless of life, either their own or another's, and he braced himself once more for the struggle.

But this time the Kachins came on in different order, and in a different fashion. A sudden flare of yellow light filled the tunnel, and Jack saw that two men marched ahead, each with his dah ready to strike, and that behind them the third man held a flaming torch. He saw at once how cunning was the trick. The glare would flash over the assailant's shoulders straight into his eyes, confusing him, while they would be lighted perfectly to the attack.

In a second Jack had devised a plan of meeting this danger. He dropped his dah over his left arm, bent and seized a huge pebble from the floor. He poised the stone for an instant, then flung it with great power. At this short range he struck the mark to a hair, and his mark was the grinning face of the Kachin who carried the torch, and rejoiced that his friends would now make short work of the fierce young Feringhee who had hidden in the cave.

The dark face of the native was wrinkled with a savage smile, and all his gums were on view when the heavy stone struck into his open mouth with a crash of splintering teeth. The first pebble was followed by a second, which took him between the eyes. Stunned and blinded, he reeled back and dropped the torch. His comrades, bereft of their guiding light, upon which they had counted so much, hesitated for a moment and hung upon the next

step. There was no hesitation with Jack. Things stood at too desperate a pass with him that he should let things hang in the wind. No sooner did he see the Kachin with the torch reel back and drop the firebrand, than he swung his weapon on high and darted at the two men who had halted in the tunnel. As he did so he let out a mighty shout. Shout and blow fell together on the hesitating Kachins. Both thrust their dahs forward to parry the unseen assault.

Jack's weapon fell with a ringing clash of steel across the dah of the leading man, beat it down, went on, and bit deeply into the Kachin's skull. The latter reeled against his companion and clutched him. For a second they swayed, then both men fell heavily together to the ground.

Lying helpless as they were at his feet, it was a mere matter of a couple of blows for him to utterly destroy both, and so lessen the number of his enemies. But Jack could not strike fallen men. He returned to his own end of the tunnel, and allowed them to creep back to the outer cave, the wounded man crawling slowly after his friends.

This second repulse seemed to put Saya Chone and the Strangler beside themselves with fury. They screamed invective and insult against Jack, and threatened him with the most frightful penalties when he should fall into their hands. Both had a perfect command of some of the worst language in English that Jack had ever heard, but he took it all for what it was worth, clutched his faithful broadsword tighter still, and waited to see what their next attempt would be. He still cherished a hope of escape. He had crippled pretty well half of the attacking force, and if he could but hold them off till darkness came, there might be an opportunity of escape in the moonless night.

"There were only four Kachins with them," thought Jack, "and the natives they have picked up from the neighbouring village may be dismissed as fighting men, if they are anything like the chaps who are somewhere behind me here. The half-caste and the Malay seem to keep out of the scrimmages. If I only have a bit more luck, I can chew them up enough perhaps to make them sheer off and leave me alone."

As far as appearances went, they were leaving him alone now. But Jack knew that appearances are too often deceitful. The outer cave looked perfectly empty. Neither sign nor sound of human presence was given. Saya Chone and the Strangler had gone away, leaping down from the mouth of the outer cave to the ravine. But Jack was certain that the unwounded Kachins were still lurking in the cave out of his sight, and he had no intention whatever of creeping out and engaging in a hand-to-hand struggle with the iron-limbed little mountaineers. Fully half an hour passed in this profound silence. Jack kept the sharpest look-out, but could catch no sign to show that his lair was still watched.

"If they can wait," thought Jack, "so can I. I'll not stir an inch from my cover, however silent they may be."

At that instant he caught a sharp, low cry of surprise behind him. He whirled round swiftly, for in his intentness he had actually forgotten the two Panthays, his fellow-prisoners. With a gasp of relief, Jack found that it was the elder Panthay who had called out. The two men had been crouching in a corner of the inner cave, and had given no sign of their presence while Jack struggled with his foes. Now one was calling out, and both were pointing upwards.

Jack took a step back from the mouth of the tunnel and looked aloft. The rift in the rock forty feet above, which lighted the cave, was obscured and darkened. In a moment he saw that the gap was filled with a human body, and that a Panthay was peering down upon them.

"What's this game?" thought Jack. "They've climbed up to that hole, but unless I obligingly stand under it, and let them drop a stone on my head, I don't see what they get by it."

Little did the heroic lad dream of the fearful use to which his enemies meant to put the rift in the rock high above him.

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