“No,” said the captain. “Wait!”
They waited to see what this vessel was going to do. Perhaps she was only tacking. But what fool of a skipper would run so close to the shore for the sake of tacking! They watched her eagerly, but not one of the white men would have been wholly disappointed if the schooner, which they could now easily make out, had changed her course and gone off on a long tack to the southwest.
But she was not tacking. She came rapidly on before a stiff west wind. There was no need of getting out boats to go to meet her. She was south of the headland, but was steering directly toward it. They could see what sort of craft she was—a long schooner, painted green, with all sails set. Very soon they could see the heads of the men on board. Then she came nearer and nearer to land, until she was less than half a mile from shore. Then she shot into the wind; her sails fluttered; she lay almost motionless, and her head-sails were lowered.
“That’s just as if they were coming into port,” said Burke.
“Yes,” said Shirley, “I expect they intend to drop anchor.”
This surmise was correct, for, as he spoke, the anchor went down with a splash.
“They’re very business-like,” said Burke. “Look at them. They are lowering a boat.”
“A boat!” exclaimed Shirley, “They’re lowering two of them.”
The captain knit his brows. This was extraordinary action on the part of the vessel. Why did she steer so straight for land? Why did she so quickly drop anchor and put out two boats? Could it be that this vessel had been on their track? Could it be that the Peruvian government—But he could not waste time in surmise as to what might be. They must act, not conjecture.
It was not a minute before the captain made up his mind how they should act. Five men were in each boat, and with a glass it was easy to see that some of them carried guns.
“Get your rifles!” cried he to Shirley and Burke, and he rushed for his own.
The arms and ammunition had been all laid ready in the tent, and in a moment each one of the white men had a rifle and a belt of cartridges. For the blacks there were no guns, as they would not have known how to use them, but they ran about in great excitement, each with his knife drawn, blindly ready to do whatever should be ordered. The poor negroes were greatly frightened. They had but one idea about the approaching boats: they believed that the men in them were Rackbirds coming to wreak vengeance upon them. The same idea had come into the mind of the captain. Some of the Rackbirds had gone back to the cove. They had known that there had been people there. They had made investigations, and found the cave and the empty mound, and in some way had discovered that the Miranda had gone off with its contents. Perhaps the black fellow who had deserted the vessel at Valparaiso had betrayed them. He hurriedly mentioned his suspicions to his companions.