WE FACE DISASTER
This unexpected discovery came to me like a blow; the very breath seemed to desert my lungs, as I stared down at the vacant stream. We had been out-generaled, tricked, and all our theories as to what had occurred were wrong. The duty we had performed to the dead had cost us our own chance to escape. Instead of being alone, as we had supposed, we were in the midst of enemies; we had been seen, watched, and while we loitered ashore, the murderers had stolen our boat and vanished, leaving us there helplessly marooned. All this was plain enough now, when it was already too late to remedy the evil. The struggling girl emerged through the tangle of shrubs, and paused suddenly at my side, her lips giving utterance to a cry of surprise.
“The—the boat! It is not here?”
“No; there is not a sign of it. Those fellows must be still in the neighborhood; must have seen us when we first came.”
“But, what are we to do?”
I had no ready answer, yet the echo of utter despair in her voice stirred me to my own duty as swiftly as though she had thrust a knife into my side. Do? We must do something! We could not sit down idly there in the swamp. And to decide what was to be attempted was my part. If Kirby, and whoever was with him, had stolen the missing boat, as undoubtedly they had, they could have possessed but one purpose—escape. They were inspired to the act by a desire to get away, to flee from the scene of their crime. They must believe that we were left helpless, unable to pursue them, or create alarm. Yet if it was Kirby, why had he fled so swiftly, making no effort to take Rene captive also? It was she he was seeking; for the purpose of gaining possession of her these murders had been committed. Why, then, should he run away when he must have known the girl was already in his grasp? The same thought apparently occurred to her.
“You—you believe that Kirby did this?”
“What other conclusion is possible? We know that he passed us on the steamer—Sam saw him plainly. It was his man, Carver, whom we found dead in the hut. It could have been no one else.”
“But,” she questioned, unsatisfied, “he would have only one reason for being here—hunting me, his slave. That was his one purpose, was it not? If he saw us, then he must have known of my presence, that I was here with you. Why should he make no attempt to take me with him? Why should he steal our boat and run away?”
I shook my head, my glance shifting toward the negro, who stood just behind us, his mouth wide open, evidently smitten speechless.
“One theory is as good as another,” I said, “and mine so far have all been wrong. What do you make of it, Sam?”
“Who, sah? Me, sah?”
“Yes, take a guess at this.”