Cardatas did not immediately answer, for Nunez was excitedly talking to him. The soul of the horse-dealer had been inflamed by the sight of the bags. He did not suppose it possible that they could all contain gold, but he knew they must be valuable, or they would not have been carried up there, and he was advising a rush for the low wall.
“We will see what we can do with them, first,” said Cardatas to Nunez. “Some of us may be shot if we are in too great a hurry. They are well defended where they are, and we may have to get round into their rear. Then we can settle their business very well, for the negro said there were only three white men. But first let us talk to them. We may manage them without running any risks.”
Cardatas turned toward the captain, and at the same time Burke said:
“Captain, hadn’t you better squat down a little? You’re making a very fine mark of yourself.”
But the captain still stood up to listen to Cardatas.
“I’ll tell you what we’ve come for,” said the latter. “We are not officers of the law, but we are the same thing. We know all about you and the valuable stuff you’ve run away with, and we’ve been offered a reward to bring back those bags, and to bring you back, too, dead or alive, and here we are, ready to do it. It was good luck for us that your vessel came to grief, but we should have got you, even if she hadn’t. We were sure to overhaul you in the Straits. We know all about you and that old hulk, but we are fair and square people, and we’re sailors, and we don’t want to take advantage of anybody, especially of sailors who have had misfortunes. Now, the reward the Californian government has offered us is not a very big one, and I think you can do better by us, so if you’ll agree to come out from behind that breastwork and talk to us fair and square, your two white men and your three negroes,—you see, we know all about you,—I think we can make a bargain that’ll suit all around. The government of California hasn’t any claim on us, and we don’t see why we should serve it any more than we should serve you, and it will be a good deal better for you to be content with half the treasure you’ve gone off with, or perhaps a little more than that, and let us have the rest. We will take you off on our vessel, and land you at any port you want to go to, and you can take your share of the bags ashore with you. Now, that’s what I call a fair offer, and I think you will say so, too.”
Captain Horn was much relieved by part of this speech. He had had a slight fear, when Cardatas began, that these men might have been sent out by the Peruvian government, but now he saw they were a set of thieves, whether Rackbirds or not, doing business on their own account.
“The Californian government has nothing to do with me,” cried Captain Horn, “and it never had anything to do with you, either. When you say that, you lie! I am not going to make any bargain with you, or have anything to do with you. My vessel is wrecked, but we can take care of ourselves. And now I’ll give you five minutes to get to your boats, and the quicker you go, the better for you!”