[Illustration: The firing now became miscellaneous. No one paid any attention to any one else.]
“Damn his soul!” cried Handy Solomon, his face livid. He threw his rifle to the beach and danced on it in an ecstasy of rage.
“What do we care,” growled Thrackles, “he’s no good to us. W’at I want to know is, wat’s up here, anyhow!”
“Didn’t you never see a volcano go off, you swab?” snapped Handy Solomon.
“Easy with your names, mate. No, I never did. We better get out.”
“Without the chest?”
“S’pose we go up the gulch and get it, then,” suggested Thrackles.
But at this Handy Solomon drew back in evident terror.
“Up that hole of hell?” he objected. “Not I. You an’ Pulz go.”
They wrangled over it, Pulz joining. Perdosa, shaken to the soul, crept in, and made a bee-line for the rum barrel. He and the Nigger were frankly scared. They had the nervous jumps at every little noise or unexpected movement; and even the natural explanation of these phenomena gave them very little reassurance. I knew that Darrow would hurry as fast as he could back to the valley by way of the upper hills; I knew that he had there several sporting rifles; and I hoped greatly that he and Dr. Schermerhorn might accomplish something before the men had recovered their wits to the point of foreseeing his probable attack. The uncanny cloud in the heavens, the weird half-light, and the explosions, which now grew more frequent, had their strong effect in spite of explanation. The men were not really afraid to venture in quest of the supposed treasure; but they were in a frame of mind that dreaded the first plunge. And time was going by.
But the fates were against us, as always in this ill-starred voyage. I, watching from my sand dune, saw a second figure emerge from the arroyo’s mouth. It appeared to stagger as though hurt; and every eight or ten paces it stopped and rested in a bent-over position. The murky light was too dim for me to make out details; but after a moment a rift in the veil enabled me to identify Dr. Schermerhorn carrying, with great difficulty, the chest.
I took no chances, but began at once to shout, as soon as I saw the men had noticed his coming. It was impossible for me to tell whether or not Dr. Schermerhorn heard me. If he did, he misunderstood my intention, for he continued painfully to advance. The only result I gained was to get myself well gagged with my own pocket handkerchief, and thrown in a hollow between the dunes. Thence I could hear Handy Solomon speaking fiercely and rapidly.
“Now you let me run this,” he commanded; “we got to find out somethin’. It ain’t no good to us without we knows—and we want to find out how he’s got the rest hid.”
“I’m goin’ out to help him carry her in,” announced the seaman.