It was a simple matter for her to release Bruce.
“God bless those rupees!” he murmured. “There’ll be a fine row in a minute. Keep perfectly still, and when the moment comes follow me into the cave. They have left their guns in there.”
“You are a brave and ready man, Mr. Bruce.”
“You called me John once.”
“Well, then, John,” a ghost of a smile flitting across her lips. Men were not generally sentimental in the face of death.
“There are nine of us!” screamed one of the brigands.
“And I claim one bag because without my help and brains you would have had nothing,” roared the chief. “Who warned you against the opium? Ha, pig!”
The first blow was struck. Instantly the chief drew his knife and lunged at the two nearest him.
“Ha! Pigs! Dogs! Come, I’ll show you who is master!”
The remaining brigands closed in upon their leader and bore him upon his back.
“To the tiger with him!”
“Now!” cried Bruce.
He flung the rope from his hands, caught Kathlyn by the arm, and running and stumbling, they gained the cave, either ignored or unobserved by the victorious brigands.
They dragged the stunned leader to his feet and haled him to the cage, lashing him to a wheel. Next, they seized the rope which operated the door and retired to the mouth of the cave.
“Rob us, would he!”
“Take the lion’s share when we did all the work!”
“I will give it all to you!” whined the whilom chief, mad with terror.
“And knife us in the back when we sleep! No, no! You have kicked and cuffed us for the last time!”
Bruce picked up one of the rifles and drew Kathlyn farther into the cave.
“Get behind me and crouch low. They’ll come around to us presently.”
The rascals gave the rope a savage pull, and from where he stood Bruce could see the lean striped body of the furious tiger leap to freedom.
“Keep your eyes shut. It will not be a pleasant thing to look at,” he warned the girl.
But Kathlyn could not have closed her eyes if she had tried. She saw the brute pause, turn and strike at the helpless man at the wheel, then lope off, doubtless having in mind to test his freedom before he fed. The remaining brigands rushed out and gathered up the bags of rupees.
This was the opportunity for which Bruce had waited.
“Come. There may be some outlet to this cave. Here is another rifle. Let us cut for it! When thieves fall out; you know the old saying.”
They ran back several yards and discovered a kind of chasm leading diagonally upward.
“Thank God! We can get out of this after all. Are you strong enough for a stiff climb?”
“I’ve got to be—John!”
“Trust me, Kathlyn,” he replied simply. He had but one life, but he determined then and there to make it equal or outlast the six lives which stood between him and liberty.