“Now,” said Mrs. Cliff, “I see no reason why we should not live here in peace and comfort until Mr. Rynders chooses to come back for us. And I have been thinking, captain, that if somebody—and I am sure Ralph would be very good at it—could catch some fish, it would help out very much. We are getting a little short of meat, but as for the other things, we have enough to last for days and days. But we won’t talk of that now. We want to hear where that other colored man came from. Just look at him as he sits there with Maka by those embers. One might think he would shiver himself to pieces. Was he cast ashore from a wreck?”
The captain stood silent for a moment, and then, briefly but plainly, and glossing over the horrors of the situation as much as he could, he told them about the Rackbirds. Not one of the little party interrupted the captain’s story, but their faces grew paler and paler as he proceeded.
When he had finished, Mrs. Cliff burst into tears. “Captain,” she cried, “let us take the boat and row away from this dreadful place. We should not lose a minute. Let us go now!”
But the captain shook his head. “That would not do,” he said. “On this open sea they could easily see us. They have boats, and could row much faster than we could.”
“Then,” exclaimed the excited woman, “we could turn over the boat, and all sink to the bottom together.”
To this the captain made no answer. “You must all get inside as quickly as you can,” he said. “Maka, you and that other fellow carry in everything that has been left out here. Be quick. Go up, Ralph, and take the flag down, and then run in.”
When the others had entered the narrow passage, the captain followed. Fortunately, he had two guns, each double-barrelled, and if but a few of the Rackbirds came in pursuit of the escaped negro, he might be a match for them in that narrow passage.
Shortly after the party had retired within the rocks, Miss Markham came to the captain, who was standing at the door of the first apartment. “Captain Horn,” said she, “Mrs. Cliff is in a state of nervous fear, and I have been trying to quiet her. Can you say anything that might give her a little courage? Do you really think there is any chance of our escape from this new danger?”
“Yes,” said the captain, “there is a chance. Rynders may come back before the Rackbirds discover us, and even if two or three of them find out our retreat, I may be able to dispose of them, and thus give us a little more time. That is our only ground of hope. Those men are bound to come here sooner or later, and everything depends upon the return of Rynders.”
“But,” urged Miss Markham, “perhaps they may not come so far as this to look for the runaway. The waves may have washed out his footsteps upon the sand. There may be no reason why they should come up to this plateau.”
The captain smiled a very sombre smile. “If any of them should come this way,” he said, “it is possible that they might not think it worth while to cease their search along the beach and come up to this particular spot, were it not that our boat is down there. That is the same thing as if we had put out a sign to tell them where we are. The boat is hauled up on shore, but they could not fail to see it.”