My demonstrations of joy at this happy issue of my hopes had to be confined to a smile—in which for a startled instant Violet had seemed to sense the triumph. It was still on my lips as with a general movement we rose from the table about which we had been grouped during the absorbing business of drawing up the contract. Cookie had been clamoring for us to leave, that he might spread the table for lunch. I had opened my mouth to call to him, “All right, Cookie!” when a shrill volley of barks from Crusoe shattered the stillness of the drowsy air. In the same instant the voice of Cookie, raised to a sharp note of alarm, rang through the camp:
“My Gawd, what all dis yere mean?”
I turned, to look into the muzzle of a rifle.
LIKE A CHAPTER FROM THE PAST
Five men had emerged from the woods behind the clearing, so quietly that they were in the center of the camp before Crusoe’s shrill bark, or the outcry of the cook, warned us of their presence. By that time they had us covered. Three of them carried rifles, the other two revolvers. One of these was Captain Magnus.
Advancing a step or two before the others he ordered us to throw up our hands. Perhaps he meant only the men—but my hands and Aunt Jane’s and Miss Higglesby-Browne’s also went up with celerity. He grinned into our astounded faces with a wolfish baring of his yellow teeth.
“Never guessed I wasn’t here jest to do the shovel work, but might have my own little side-show to bring off, hey?” he inquired of no one in particular. “Here, Slinker, help me truss ’em up.”
The man addressed thrust his pistol in his belt and came forward, and with his help the hands of the Scotchman, Cuthbert Vane and Mr. Tubbs were securely tied. They were searched for arms, and the sheath-knives which Mr. Shaw and Cuthbert carried at their belts were taken away. The three prisoners were then ordered to seat themselves in a row on the trunk of a prostrate palm.
The whole thing had happened in the strangest silence. Except for a feeble moaning from Aunt Jane, like the bleating of a sheep, which broke forth at intervals, nobody spoke or made a sound. The three riflemen in the background, standing like images with their weapons raised, looked like a well-trained chorus in an opera.
And indeed it was all extraordinarily like something on a stage. Slinker, for instance. He had a prowling, sidelong fashion of moving about, and enormous yellow mustaches like a Viking. Surely some artist in the make-up line had invented Slinker! And the burly fellow in the background, with the black whiskers—too bad he’d forgotten his earrings—–
But I awoke to the horrid reality of it all as Captain Magnus, smiling his wolfish smile, turned and approached me.