They walked for four hours without a pause, ever ascending among the hills, until they at last reached a sort of plateau, upon which some six or eight men were gathered round a fire. Upon three sides the hill rose abruptly, on the fourth the ground sloped away, and in front, seemingly almost at their feet, some 2000 feet below them stretched away the waters of the Mediterranean, sparkling in the moonlight.
“They have got something to eat that smells nice,” Jack said, as they approached the fire. “I hope to goodness they are going to give us some. I feel awfully peckish.”
The men gathered round the fire rose at the approach of the new-comers, and an animated conversation took place. Then the boys were motioned to sit down, and the rest threw themselves round the fire. Some meat which was roasting on a rough spit over it was taken off, and one of the men undid the cords which tied their arms, and a share of the meat was given them.
“This is stunning,” Jack said. “What on earth is it? It does not taste to me like mutton, or beef, or pork, or veal.”
“I fancy it’s kid,” Hawtry said. “Well, it is evident they have no idea of cutting our throats. If they had been going to do that, they would have done it a quarter of a mile after we left the road. I suppose they are going to try to get a ransom for us. Where it’s coming from as far as I’m concerned, I don’t know, for my father is a clergyman, and has as much as he can do to make ends meet, for there are eight of us and I’m the eldest.”
“It’s an awful fix altogether,” Jack said. “And anyhow, we shall lose our ship and get into a frightful row, and, if somebody won’t pay our ransom, I suppose they will knock us on the head finally. The best thing, you know, will be for us to make our escape.”
“But how on earth are we to do that?” Hawtry said. “There are ten of them, and I see a lot of guns piled there.”
“Oh, I daresay we shall see some chance,” Jack said cheerfully. “We must think it over. Jack Easy, Peter Simple, and all those fellows used to get into worse scrapes than this, and they always managed to get out of them somehow; so why shouldn’t we? The best thing is, just to think what one of them would have done if he had been in our place. I wish to goodness that we had Mesty prowling about somewhere; he would get us out in no time.”
Hawtry answered with a grunt, and devoted himself to his kid. Presently Jack spoke again.
“Look here, Hawtry, I vote that to begin with we both pretend to be in an awful funk. If they think that we are only two frightened boys, they won’t keep as sharp a watch over us as if they thought we were determined fellows, likely to attempt our escape. There is the sea down there in front of us, and there are sure to be villages on the coast. Therefore we shall know which way to go if we once manage to escape, and, if we can get down there, we can either claim the protection of the head man in the village, or we can take a boat and make off to sea.”