But the little party of hungry Africans did not stop to examine anything which had been left. What they wanted was something to eat, and they knew where to get it. About a quarter of a mile back from the beach was the storehouse of the Rackbirds, a sort of cellar which they had made in a sand-hill. As the Africans had carried the stores over from the vessel which had brought them, and had afterwards taken to the camp such supplies as were needed from time to time, of course they knew where to find them, and they lost no time in making a hearty meal.
According to Cheditafa’s earnest assertions, they had never eaten as they had eaten then. He believed that the reason they had been left without food was that the Rackbirds were too proud to wait on black men, and had concluded to let them suffer until they had returned from their expedition, and the negroes could be let down to attend to their own wants.
After they had eaten, the Africans went to a spot which commanded a view up the ravine, as well as the whole of the bay, and there they hid themselves, and watched as long as it was daylight, so that if any of the Rackbirds had escaped they could see them. But they saw nothing, and being very anxious to find good white people who would take care of them, they started out before dawn that morning to look for the shipwrecked party about whom Cheditafa had heard the Rackbirds talking, and with whom they hoped to find their companion Mok, and thus it was that they were here.
“And those men were coming to attack us last night?” asked the captain. “You are sure of that?”
“Yes,” said Cheditafa, “it was last night. They not know how many you are, and all were coming.”
“And some of them had already been here?”
“Yes,” replied the African. “One day before, three went out to look for Mok, and they found his track and more track, and they waited in the black darkness, and then came here, and they heard you all sleep and snore that night. They were to come again, and if they—”
“And yesterday afternoon the lake came down and swept them out of existence!” exclaimed Mrs. Cliff.
THE CAPTAIN EXPLORES
Captain Horn had heard the story of Cheditafa, he walked away from the rest of the party, and stood, his eyes upon the ground, still mechanically holding his gun. He now knew that the great danger he had feared had been a real one, and far greater than he had imagined. A systematic attack by all the Rackbirds would have swept away his single resistance as the waters had swept them and their camp away. As to parley or compromise with those wretches, he knew that it would have been useless to think of it. They allowed no one to go forth from their hands to reveal the place of their rendezvous.
But although he was able to appreciate at its full force the danger with which they had been threatened, his soul could not immediately adjust itself to the new conditions. It had been pressed down so far that it could not easily rise again. He felt that he must make himself believe in the relief which had come to them, and, turning sharply, he called out to Cheditafa: