Maka was going on to tell something more about the wicked men, when the captain interrupted him. “Can this friend of yours speak English?” he asked.
“Only one, two words,” replied Maka.
“Ask him if he knows the name of that band of men.”
“Yes,” said Maka, presently, “he know, but he no can speak it.”
“Are they called the Rackbirds?” asked Captain Horn.
The shivering negro had been listening attentively, and now half rose and nodded his head violently, and then began to speak rapidly in African.
“Yes,” said Maka, “he says that is name they are called.”
At this moment Ralph appeared upon the scene, and the second African, whose name was something like Mok, sprang to his feet as if he were about to flee for his life. But as there was no place to flee to, except into the water or into the arms of Ralph, he stood still, trembling. A few feet to the left the shelf ended in a precipitous rock, and on the right, as has been said, it gradually descended into the water, the space on which the party stood not being more than twenty feet long and five or six feet wide. When he saw Ralph, the captain suddenly stopped the question he was about to ask, and said in an undertone to Maka:
“Not a word to the boy. I will tell.”
“Oh,” cried Ralph, “you do not know what a lively couple there is out there. I found that my sister and Mrs. Cliff had made up their minds that they would perish in about two days, and Mrs. Cliff had been making her will with a lead-pencil, and now they are just as high up as they were low down before. They would not let me come to get them some water, though I kept telling them they never tasted anything like it in their whole lives, because they wanted to hear everything about everything. My sister will be wild to come to this lake before long, even if Mrs. Cliff does not care to try it. And when you are ready to come to them, and bring Maka, they want to know who that other colored man is, and how Maka happened to find him. I truly believe their curiosity goes ahead of their thirst.” And so saying he went down to the lake to fill a pail he had brought with him.
The captain told Ralph to hurry back to the ladies, and that he would be there in a few minutes. Captain Horn knew a great deal about the Rackbirds. They were a band of desperadoes, many of them outlaws and criminals. They had all come down from the isthmus, to which they had been attracted by the great canal works, and after committing various outrages and crimes, they had managed to get away without being shot or hung. Captain Horn had frequently heard of them in the past year or two, and it was generally supposed that they had some sort of rendezvous or refuge on this coast, but there had been no effort made to seek them out. He had frequently heard of crimes committed by them at points along the coast, which showed that they had in their possession some sort of vessel. At one time, when he had stopped at Lima, he had heard that there was talk of the government’s sending out a police or military expedition against these outlaws, but he had never known of anything of the sort being done.