“Turn out an’ git yer guns, men. There bes trouble a-foot,” he said, quietly. Then, laying a hand on Mary’s shoulder, he whispered, “Git Pat an’ yerself to my house an’ fasten up the doors. It bes a strong house, lass, an’ if there bes any gunnin’ ye’ll be safe there.”
“Ye needn’t be worryin’ for Flora Lockhart,” said Mary. “She bes safe enough—herself an’ the captain—a-sailing away in the bully this half-hour back.”
The skipper’s hand tightened on her shoulder; but she did not flinch. In the light from the open door he stared at her—and she stared back at him, glance for glance. There was astonishment in his eyes rather than anger, and a question rather than condemnation. He was about to speak when the smashing report of a musket rang out from the slope and a slug splintered the edge of the open door. The skipper pushed Mary away from him.
“Run! Run to the house!” he cried.
Mary vanished into the darkness. Men clustered around the skipper, sealing-guns, pistols, cutlasses and clubs in their hands, their grumblings forgotten in the prospect of a fight. The open door was shut with a bang.
“Follow me!” shouted the skipper, dropping the dispatch-box of loose jewels to the trampled snow and pulling his pistols from his pocket.
The men of Chance Along and Pierre Benoist’s ruffians met at the foot of the steep slope, among the upper rank of cabins. All doubts as to the intentions of the visitors were dispelled from the skipper’s mind by a voice shouting, “Git inside the houses, lads, an’ pull up the floors. There bes where ye’ll find the stuff. Git into the big house. It be fair full o’ gold an’ jewels.”
The voice was that of Dick Lynch. The skipper knew it, and his pistols flashed and banged in his hands.
The light of the stars, dimmed by a high, thin veil of mist, was not good enough to fight scientifically by. After the first clash it was almost impossible to know friend from foe at the length of an arm. Single combats, and cursing knots of threes and fours, staggered and swatted among the little dwellings. The work was entirely too close for gun-work, and so the weapons were clubbed and the affair hammered out like hot irons on an anvil.
After ten minutes of it the skipper found himself in front of his own door, with a four-foot stick of green birch in his hands, and something wet and warm trickling from his forehead into his left eye. Three men were at him. Bill McKay was one of them and Pierre Benoist another. McKay fought with a clubbed musket, and the French sailor held a dirk in one hand and an empty pistol in the other. The third prodded about in the background with a cutlass. He seemed to be of a retiring disposition.