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首页 » 经典英文小说 » The Mercer Boys on a Treasure Hunt » CHAPTER XVI THE LANDING PARTY
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When the morning dawned the party was not slow to spring into action, but quick as they were their host was up before them. He was preparing breakfast at the fire and greeted them with quiet dignity. Before eating Ned and Don looked outside, to find a day somewhat better than the one before it had been, but still showing the effects of the storm. Sullen gray clouds passed overhead, impelled by the wind which was driving forward steadily, and the ground was still muddy from the rain which had fallen heavily. They were certain to escape the exhausting heat which had lately hindered them, and thankful for this circumstance the boys went in and enjoyed Yengi’s breakfast.

The horses were saddled and without loss of time the company set out. The Indian closed his door but did not lock it, saying that no one would be likely to enter his place during his absence. They struck off to the south, following the sage and Yappi, who rode well to the front.

The horses found the going a little difficult, as the ground was slippery, and the men soaked their trouser legs as they scraped past bushes and small shrubs. This condition of affairs did not last long, for they soon rode down out of the mountains and reached the level plain. Here the going was much better and they went off at a brisk trot, heading for a furrowed section of uplands which they could see some miles before them.

During the journey they kept a sharp look-out for their missing companions, but no sign was seen of any living being as they went on. One or two large jack-rabbits crossed their path and Yappi brought one down, stowing it in a bag behind his saddle for some future meal. The act was opportune, for they had now run out of provisions and would have to depend in the future on whatever they brought down with their guns.

Don was in a curious state of mind as they travelled on. He was anxious about Jim and Terry, and the thought that he might be going further away from them with each mile was not a pleasing one. But they had no definite clue as to the whereabouts of the others, and one direction was as good as another. All of them felt that they had made for the coast, but just where on the coast they had no idea. It was simply a matter of keeping going, and watching carefully for the slightest sign which would send them in the right direction.

Before noon they arrived at the place where the old Indian village had been and where the Spanish crew, probably from the galleon, had been killed. The village had stood in a slight basin, hidden in a convenient roll of the sheltering foothills, and there was now but little to tell that there had ever been a village there. All trace of the huts which had once been there was lost, but several places in the hills, hollowed out of the volcanic dykes, showed that someone had once lived there. Some low mounds marked the burial places of the ancient Indians.

The sage pointed to the south. “From that direction the men came,” he said, his dull eyes kindling as he thought of the glory of his former race. “The village in which my fathers lived was originally there, but they lived here in order to flee into the mountains when the Spaniards came. It was here that the crew of the great ship were killed, and afterward my people scattered, leaving a few of my race in the hills and the mountains.”

They looked around the spot with interest and discussed the possibilities. Some miles east of them lay the sea, and Ned argued that the creek up which the galleon had sailed could not be far off. He would have liked to have set out for it at once, but realizing that the task of finding the missing boys was of far greater importance he smothered his desire, resolved to return some day and strike off from that spot.

“The Spaniards were evidently heading for the mountains at the time that they fell into the hands of the Indians,” the professor said.

“Why should they head for the mountains?” Don asked. “Wouldn’t they have been more likely to have kept to the shore, in the hope of being picked up by another ship?”

“I don’t think so,” replied the professor. “They may have intended to make their way over the mountains to Mexico, or they may have feared the Indians with good cause, for their cruelties made the Indians eager to lay hands on them. Probably they feared the very thing that did befall them.”

“Well, now that we have at least marked the portion of the country where the crew appeared, let’s get on,” suggested Ned. “In all my searching I fell short of this region by a good twenty-five miles, and this will help me get my bearings. Evidently the spot of the wreck is still some miles to the south, but I think we should be able to come across it when we have more leisure to look around.”

“What is your thought?” inquired Professor Scott. “Shall we strike down to the coast?”

“I think so,” nodded Ned. “Then we can beat up the coast toward the ranch, keeping our eyes open for the boys. Surely they didn’t go any further south than this.”

“Possibly not,” Don put in. “We can’t tell, but I feel we should go to the shore and see if we can pick up anything there.”

They now said goodbye to the sage, who did not feel inclined to go any further with them. He was used to solitude and did not care to mix in with their problems and adventures, and he refused any pay for his hospitality or information. He once more expressed his belief that they would be fortunate in their search and then gravely turned his horse’s head back to his mountains, seemingly no longer interested in what went on. With feelings of warmest gratitude for him the party from the ranch went on their journey toward the coast.

The coast was reached in the afternoon and they began to head north, watching both land and sea for any trace of the missing boys. Hunger at last caused them to halt while Yappi prepared and cooked the rabbit which he had killed, and the others enjoyed the meat of the little animal. As soon as this simple repast was completed they once more moved on.

“What are we to do if we don’t find them on this trip?” asked Don.

“We’ll have to go to San Diego, recruit a good-sized force and hunt Sackett from one end of Lower California to the other,” replied Ned, grimly. “And we may have to get the proper Mexican officials on the job, too. You see, it is possible that Sackett may have carried them off to Mexico, and if that is the case we’ll have a fine time locating them. But we’ll leave no stone unturned to do it, you may be sure.”

“And in the meantime we’ll leave Yappi at the ranch in case any news of them should come there,” the professor suggested.

Yappi was riding ahead and was just topping a small rise when they saw him slip from the back of his horse and lie flat on the ground. He motioned to them to dismount and they did so, wondering. Cautiously they moved up beside him and looked over the brow of the small hill into the vale below.

The sight that met their eyes astonished them. Off to their left was the sea, not now the calm Pacific, but a tumbling, boiling stretch of water, still showing the effects of the storm. An eighth of a mile off shore a schooner lay on its side, the black expanse of the hull showing above the water, a portion of the keel rising out of the waves. The ship had evidently run aground during the storm, for there was a gaping hole in the bow and the masts were snapped off short, the rigging strewing the deck and trailing into water. But it was the sight of several men in the hollow below which drew their greatest attention.

The men were members of the crew of the schooner and they were at present gathered around a small fire. They had been wet and bedraggled and were gathered close to the fire as though their only concern was to get warm. Some of the crew had gathered wood and lay it piled high nearby. No one was keeping watch and the party on the hill top had not been seen.

“Jim and Terry aren’t there,” whispered Don, in disappointment.

They were not, and Ned was about to advise that they pass on, when Yappi seized his arm and pointed to a spot some half mile down the shore, to the north of the men. To their astonishment they perceived another schooner, standing at anchor in a cove, and a boat was putting out from that schooner and making for the shore. The second schooner was in good condition and had apparently not suffered from the storm.

“It looks to me as though those fellows were after the men below,” the professor said, in a low tone.

They watched the boat from the schooner discharge its load of men, who immediately took to the shelter of a friendly hill and made their way silently toward the party which sat around the fire. The oncoming men were led by a tall old man with white hair, who seemed to have full authority, for the sailors, who were an orderly looking lot in comparison with the crew below, obeyed his every gesture. They crept nearer the unsuspecting men below until they were on a hilltop opposite from the ranch party.

“Why,” murmured Ned. “I think we are going to witness a battle!”

Scarcely had he spoken than the old captain waved his hand and his band rushed down on the men who were seated around the fire. Their coming was totally unexpected and the crew from the wrecked schooner sprang to its feet in dismay. The men from the second schooner fell on them bodily and a free-for-all fight began, a fight that was short-lived, for the second crew were superior in number and moreover, was armed. After a few knock-downs the wretched crew was overcome and all neatly tied up by their attackers.

“Well, I must say I don’t understand this,” said the professor. “I wonder which one of the parties is in the right?”

“I don’t know,” answered Ned. “But we’ve got to go down and ask them if anything has been learned of Sackett or the boys. But I am not sure but what we are running our heads into some sort of a trap.”

The mestizo had been following the events below with absorbed interest and had forgotten everything else. He turned to speak to the others. But instead of speaking at them he stared back of them, and then, with a motion like that of a cat, he made a quick dive for his rifle, which was laying beside him.


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