Everything that, from time to time, had been told Captain Horn about the Rackbirds showed that they surpassed in cruelty and utter vileness any other bandits, or even savages, of whom he had ever heard. Among other news, he had been told that the former leader of the band, which was supposed to be composed of men of many nationalities, was a French Canadian, who had been murdered by his companions because, while robbing a plantation in the interior,—they had frequently been known to cross the desert and the mountains,—he had forborne to kill an old man because as the trembling graybeard looked up at him he had reminded him of his father. Some of the leading demons of the band determined that they could not have such a fool as this for their leader, and he was killed while asleep.
Now the band was headed by a Spaniard, whose fiendishness was of a sufficiently high order to satisfy the most exacting of his fellows. These and other bits of news about the Rackbirds had been told by one of the band who had escaped to Panama after the murder of the captain, fearing that his own talents for baseness did not reach the average necessary for a Rackbird.
When he had made his landing from the wreck, Captain Horn never gave a thought to the existence of this band of scoundrels. In fact, he had supposed, when he had thought of the matter, that their rendezvous must be far south of this point.
But now, standing on that shelf of rock, with his eyes fixed on the water without seeing it, he knew that the abode of this gang of wretches was within a comparatively short distance of this spot in which he and his companions had taken refuge, and he knew, too, that there was every reason to suppose that some of them would soon be in pursuit of the negro who had run away.
Suddenly another dreadful thought struck him. Wild beasts, indeed!
He turned quickly to Maka. “Does that man know anything about Davis and the two sailors? Were they killed?” he asked.
Maka shook his head and said that he had already asked his companion that question, but Mok had said that he did not know. All he knew was that those wicked men killed everybody they could kill.
The captain shut his teeth tightly together. “That was it,” he said. “I could not see how it could be jaguars, although I could think of nothing else. But these bloodthirsty human beasts! I see it now.” He moved toward the passage. “If that dirty wretch had not run away,” he thought, “we might have stayed undiscovered here until a vessel came. But they will track his footsteps upon the sand—they are bound to do that.”
THREE WILD BEASTS
When the captain joined the two ladies and the boy, who were impatiently waiting for him on the plateau, he had made up his mind to tell them the bad news. Terrible as was the necessity, it could not be helped. It was very hard for him to meet those three radiant faces, and to hear them talk about the water that had been discovered.