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   Chapter 14 THE PURSUIT ASHORE

The Devil's Admiral By Frederick Ferdinand Moore Characters: 13469

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Seizing our pistols we hurried ashore, and, when Rajah saw us coming, he turned his attention to the beach again and levelled the glass in the direction in which he had found danger.

The ledge was covered with loose fragments of soft volcanic stone, and Riggs and I had to be careful in making the ascent to the top of the ridge, for every time we sought a foothold we threatened to bring down an avalanche of debris, and, not knowing what Rajah had seen, or how close the pirates might be, we were afraid of giving the alarm with a crash of loosened rocks.

I gained the top first, and bracing myself between a couple of boulders, took a careful survey of the beach on the other side before crawling over to Rajah. The point was an angle in the shore, and the beach ran off sharply to the left, five hundred yards away.

The glare of the sun bothered me at first, and I thought the black boy had given us a scare for nothing, until I detected a movement in the fringe of the jungle close to where the shore line merged with the water of the channel. I watched it closely for a minute and made out the figure of a man moving cautiously.

Rajah wriggled himself over to me and I took the binoculars; and, when I had put them on the man in the distance, I saw Buckrow walking slowly in our direction with his head bent to the ground, as if searching for some object. He was so close in the glass that I could see the stripes in his cotton shirt and the buttons down the sides of his navy trousers.

"What is it?" gasped Riggs, breathing hard after his climb, and testing the rocks before he climbed up to where I was perched between two pinnacles of slatey stone.

"Can you see anything, Trenholm?"

"It's Buckrow. He's acting queerly, and I can't make out just what he is doing. Take a look and see if you can tell."

He took the glass and studied the pirate, who was loafing along in an aimless fashion, stopping every few steps to scan the hills of Luzon.

"He's taking bearings on that mountain-peak or some other beacon," said the captain. "He's got a small compass."

Without the glass I could see Buckrow get down on his knees in the sand and put something down before him. Then he stretched at full length, with his hands raised from his elbows to shade his eyes from the sun.

"He's taking sights on the big peak," said Riggs. "It looks to me as if they got a bearing on it from where they have stowed the gold, and Buckrow wants to get the same bearing from the beach and leave a marker as a middle point and a guide to where the treasure is concealed. The opposite reading of the compass from the bearing of the peak would be a leader to the cache. The bearing he takes, extended behind him, will run pretty near to where the gold is hidden. He's particular as a Swede skipper with that sight he's taking."

Finally, Buckrow crawled into the jungle again and disappeared. We waited for a quarter of an hour, keeping close watch on the beach, but we saw him no more.

"He made a little beacon with three stones," explained the captain. "I ain't sure just what it means, but Thirkle ain't the man to leave such work to Buckrow. You can bet Thirkle will know how to find the gold again without asking Buckrow for the bearings. There is some deviltry afoot, and my best guess is that the pirates ain't getting along none too well among themselves with that treasure.

"We'll have to scout along the beach and pick up their trail and run 'em down carefully. Anyway, I'm glad they are here, but we'll have to hustle along now or they'll be cutting out of this, and if they get the boats into the water, we'll have to let 'em go without a shot. That'll give us a hard job, because we'll have to take a chance of leaving the gold to get help and having them come back for it while we're gone."

We were well satisfied to know that the pirates were on the island and that we had found them before they were aware of our escape from the Kut Sang. Now we had a good opportunity to stalk them and give them a surprise.

We scrambled down from the burning rocks, and filled our pockets with extra ammunition and biscuits, and each took a small bottle of water. Our clothes were well dried, and, altogether, we found ourselves ready for battle.

"If we can crawl up on 'em while they are all together and turn loose with our pistols from cover, we've got 'em," said Riggs. "The three of us ought to lay them out before they know what's up."

"We ought to even the numbers before our pistols are empty," I said. "Two of them ought to drop at the first volley."

"It's no quarter, either, Mr. Trenholm, unless we have one of 'em, so he can't do any damage, and then we might give him a chance to live so he can hang. But they'll have no mercy on us if they get the upper hand."

"I'd like to take Thirkle back to Manila alive just to get at his history."

"I'd like to get Thirkle myself, Mr. Trenholm; but it's Thirkle we'll have to get first of all, if we can. He's more dangerous than all the others, and, as you're the best shot, keep plugging at him until you get him. But I'm afraid it ain't going to be so easy as we figure out.

"One thing is in our favour: they don't know we got out of the Kut Sang, and it's likely they've been so busy burying the gold they don't know the steamer is above water; but if they get a sight of her before we drop on 'em, then we'll have a pretty pickle on our hands."

The backbone of the point ran back into the jungle and we found it a hot and hard climb through the tangled vines and thick shrubbery. After we had reached the other side we crawled out on the beach and made a careful reconnaissance to the north.

We progressed slowly along the rim of sand, where the brush was sparse, allowing us to keep a good lookout ahead. We went along a few yards at a time, stepping out occasionally to reconnoitre the sand-reaches ahead. We found that the northern end of the island was higher than we supposed at first, a labyrinth of ravines sloping down to the sea.

"We ought to pick up the trail before long," said the captain. "We'll probably find the boats in some of these gullies where the water comes close up; but they couldn't very well cover their tracks if they pulled the boats out, and they wouldn't be minded to be so careful, not looking for anybody to be after them this early."

The captain and I kept close together, sneaking along with our pistols cocked, quiet as possible. Rajah brought up the rear, and in this formation we marched along, alert for danger. At times the rustle of a bush in the breeze put us on our guard, and we crouched down with muscles tense and pistols raised; or the flutter of a bird over our heads, or t

he shrilling of an insect, or the creak of a tree sounded an alarm which would delay us. But Rajah's sense of hearing was very keen, and whenever we stopped from such sounds he would grin at us and push on ahead. We trusted a great deal to his woodcraft, for he was at home in the jungle.

Riggs was a few yards ahead of me when I saw him stop abruptly and motion me forward with a gesture of caution. He pointed through the bushes, and as I crept up I saw a white patch through a tangle of green leaves.

"It's a boat," he whispered. "It's here they made their landing and we'll have to go slow now. Maybe Buckrow or some of the others are about, sleeping or keeping watch."

We crawled up carefully, letting Rajah go ahead to scout. We found both boats hidden in a patch of colgon grass, screened from the sea by a rank growth of vines and young bamboo. The boats were covered with freshly cut palm-leaves and a litter of dead, dry vines pulled from an uprooted tree. There was a little inlet running right up into the jungle, so the pirates had had little trouble in getting the boats ashore, using a block and tackle on a convenient cocoanut-palm.

The grass and bamboo thicket were well trampled, and we could see the marks in the moist ground where the sacks of gold had been piled. One of the sacks had evidently burst, for we picked up several gold coins in the mud, and found a sail-needle in a loop of twine where they had repaired the sack.

"Now," whispered Riggs, when we were sure none of the pirates was lurking about, "we'll take the plugs out of the boats and hide them and the oars, and take a look around to see where our lads have gone. It's no easy job to go very far with that gold, and they won't hurt themselves with work, knowing they have plenty of time and thinking there is nobody to be after them."

We took the oars and boat-plugs quite a distance away up the beach and buried them in the sand opposite a tree of peculiar formation, and then began to skirt the territory around the boats to pick up the trail of the pirates. We found where several bamboo poles had been cut close to the dry, rocky bed of an old stream, and the remnants of ropes.

"They cut these poles to pack the sacks away," said Riggs. "Their cache can't be far away and we'll have to work like cats now."

The old water-course led back into high ground through a ca?on, and there were unmistakable signs that the pirates had followed the waterway. Patches of sand where pools had formed during the rainy season were full of tracks in both directions, and we knew they had made several trips from the boats up the ca?on, and we set out upon the trail.

We let Rajah take the lead this time, for he had a way of getting through the overhanging branches silently, and his bare feet moved among the loose stones and sand with as little noise as a snake might make. Bent nearly double with his kris gripped in his right hand he kept in advance of us. We might easily have been taken for pirates ourselves as we skulked along, with our pistols raised, crawling under low bushes, dodging behind tree-trunks, and peering ahead into the dim places of the jungle.

In spite of the shade it was hot in that ravine. Labouring under the excitement of the man-hunt, and suffering from loss of sleep and the weariness of the siege we had undergone in the steamer, the heat weakened us.

The bed of the stream, full of dead twigs and loose stones, in places a succession of steps where there had been cascades in the torrential little river, was a hard road. It would have been hard enough to travel with no efforts at caution, but we were forced to pick every step, and keep bent low or fall flat to avoid a fall and racket.

Captain Riggs made hard going of it, and had to stop every few yards to regain his breath. Although he made no complaint, I suspected that his heart was troubling him, for he kept putting his free hand to his side, and when he got out of breath his face took on a purplish tint.

"I'm afraid I'll have to rest a bit," he whispered to me during one of these attacks. "I'll be all right in a little while, but I'm too old to keep up to the pace of you and the black boy there."

He crawled into the brush a few feet and lay down, and I saw he had about reached the limit of his efforts for the day. He was more exhausted than I had realized. We called Rajah back, and while Riggs was resting I went ahead a way, with the idea of watching for the pirates to return and preventing them from surprising us.

"Don't go too far or stay too long," cautioned the captain, as I set out.

"We ought to keep close together, Mr. Trenholm, and fight together."

Assuring him that I had no intention of leaving him with Rajah, I went up the trail a few rods, and as I was about to turn back I saw a level stretch ahead, where the trail of the pirates led away from the bed of the stream into a patch of high, thick grass. Thirkle and his men had cut a narrow lane through this grass by trampling down the stalks, and my curiosity got the better of my caution, and I decided to explore a little farther.

Stooping low, I ran through this open space and gained the jungle on the other side and found myself near a ledge or low, rocky cliff that was so overgrown with rank weeds and vines and giant ferns it was hardly noticeable until I was close against the wall.

The cliffside was damp and green with mosses, and the ground was moist and springy. The cool of the place was grateful after the heat of our climb up the rocky bed of the creek, I was about to return and urge Captain Riggs to press on to this place when I heard the subdued murmur of voices away to the right and the swishing of foliage.

I was puzzled and alarmed to discover that the voices were in the direction I had come from, or back across the trail. Fearing that the pirates were returning to the boats by some short route which might take them to where Riggs was hidden, I ran through the grass lane again, and, finding that the persons I was stalking were still farther away, I left the trail and sneaked some twenty yards into the foliage, anxious to see who they were and what they were about.

They were making slow progress, seemingly going a few yards, and then stopping to talk in low tones, when they would go on again, and, by moving ahead while they were pushing through the brush and proceeding with caution while they stopped, I rapidly overtook them, although they were a good distance off the trail.

"Keep over to port," I heard Long Jim say. "Mind them brambles, or ye'll have the eyes of me bloomin' well knocked out! I'm all skinned about the neck from 'eavin' away at these poles. Drop it a bit, Red."

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