While the captain had been thinking and considering the matter, Cheditafa had been wandering about the coast exploring. Presently Captain Horn saw him running toward him, accompanied by the two other negroes.
“’Nother boat over there,” cried Cheditafa, as the captain approached him,—“’nother boat, but badder than this. No good. Cook with it, that’s all.”
The captain followed Cheditafa across the little stream, and a hundred yards or so along the shore, and over out of reach of the tide, piled against a low sand mound, he saw a quantity of wood, all broken into small pieces, and apparently prepared, as Cheditafa had suggested, for cooking-fires. It was also easy to see that these pieces of wood had once been part of a boat, perhaps of a wreck thrown up on shore. The captain approached the pile of wood and picked up some of the pieces. As he held in his hand a bit of gunwale, not much more than a foot in length, his eyes began to glisten and his breath came quickly. Hastily pulling out several pieces from the mass of debris, he examined them thoroughly. Then he stepped back, and let the piece of rudder he was holding drop to the sand.
“Cheditafa,” said he, speaking huskily, “this is one of the Castor’s boats. This is a piece of the boat in which Rynders and the men set out.”
The negro looked at the captain and seemed frightened by the expression on his face. For a moment he did not speak, and then in a trembling voice he asked, “Where all them now?”
The captain shook his head, but said nothing. That pile of fragments was telling him a tale which gradually became plainer and plainer to him, and which he believed as if Rynders himself had been telling it to him. His ship’s boat, with its eight occupants, had never gone farther south than the mouth of the little stream. That they had been driven on shore by the stress of weather the captain did not believe. There had been no high winds or storms since their departure. Most likely they had been induced to land by seeing some of the Rackbirds on shore, and they had naturally rowed into the little cove, for assistance from their fellow-beings was what they were in search of. But no matter how they happened to land, the Rackbirds would never let them go away again to carry news of the whereabouts of their camp. Almost unarmed, these sailors must have fallen easy victims to the Rackbirds.
It was not unlikely that the men had been shot down from ambush without having had any intercourse or conversation with the cruel monsters to whom they had come to seek relief, for had there been any talk between them, Rynders would have told of his companions left on shore, and these would have been speedily visited by the desperadoes. For the destruction of the boat there was reason enough: the captain of the Rackbirds gave his men no chance to get away from him.
With a heart of lead, Captain Horn turned to look at his negro companions, and saw them all sitting together on the sands, chattering earnestly, and holding up their hands with one or more fingers extended, as if they were counting. Cheditafa came forward.