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首页 » 经典英文小说 » The Mercer Boys on a Treasure Hunt » CHAPTER XVII THE ESCAPE
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CHAPTER XVII THE ESCAPE
It seemed to Jim that he was under tons of water and that everything around him was a roaring whirl of confusion. His lungs were filled with water and close to bursting when he finally gained a breath of fresh air after expelling the water from his lungs. He was still on the deck of the Galloway, crumpled up against the deckhouse and half buried in the wash which still swept across the deck.

His first act was to stagger weakly to his feet and look for Terry. He was relieved to see the well known red-head emerge from behind some lashed-down canvas on the deck, and a moment later the boy was staggering toward him, furiously blinking his eyes. To their surprise they found that the deck of the schooner was tilted on a decided angle and that the starboard rail was well under water.
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The schooner had run hard aground and had settled on its side. One or two of the crew had been swept over the side and lost, the whole thing having happened so quickly that no aid could be given them. The rest of the men were picking themselves up from the deck and looking dazedly around, uncertain as to the next move. Captain Ryan shouted orders which could be heard above the din and the men worked their way over the sloping deck to the large life boat which was hanging at the port side.

Terry started to follow them but Jim grasped his arm, placing his mouth close to his ear. “Wait a minute,” he said. “Let them go!”

“Aren’t you going with them?” asked Terry, astonished.

Jim shook his head. “Let’s stay here. I don’t think this ship is going to sink, and we can make our escape. Let’s duck behind the wheelhouse.”

Terry was a bit bewildered but he followed Jim’s lead in crouching out of sight. “Do you think it is safe?” he asked. “Those fellows are leaving the schooner, and they should know if it isn’t going to sink.”
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“Those fellows are scared to death,” Jim said. “They have forgotten about us and the only thing they have in mind is to get to shore. I don’t think the ship will go under because it is too firmly grounded. We can give them time to get to the shore and when the storm lets up we can get ashore ourselves. Remember, if we don’t want to make a long trip to Mexico, we must get away from here.”

“You are right there,” murmured Terry. “Did you get hurt any in the crack?”

“Got a bruise on my shoulder, that’s all. Look, there goes the crew.”

The crew had jumped into the life boat and had pushed it away from the schooner’s side. Captain Ryan gave one sweeping look around the wrecked ship as the boys hastily ducked from sight, and satisfied that they had been swept overboard and drowned, he gave the order to pull for shore. The men settled to it with a will, and before many minutes had passed the boys lost sight of them in the gloom which hung over the sea and blotted out the shore.

Terry stood up and looked around. “Alone at last, as the song says. Wonder if we are the only ones on board?”

“I think so,” Jim replied, looking rapidly around. “Is there any other boat aboard?”
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A thorough search convinced them that there was no other boat on the wreck. They tried to get down into the hold to look around, but it was filled with water. The schooner would have sunk like a shot except that it had folded up on a rock and was held there. Jim noted that the rail was going deeper into the water with the passage of time.

“We’ll have to get off in some manner,” he told his companion. “I think the ship is slowly turning over, at least it is going to settle completely on its side. But as to how to get off is the problem.”

Terry peered off toward the shore, over the heaving water. “The blow has gone down considerably,” he said. “The shore isn’t far off, you can see it. Do you think you could make it by swimming?”

“I think I could,” replied Jim, after considering. “How about you?”

“I could if I had something to hang onto and get a breathing spell once in awhile,” Terry thought.

“Well, we can settle that. We can lash a couple of spars together and use them for resting stations. Goodness knows that there are enough spars around.”

They secured two large spars and roped them together firmly. Shedding all of their clothing except those absolutely necessary for use on shore they were about to leave the ship when Jim was struck with an idea.
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“We can take along all of our clothes by tying them on the spars,” he said.

They tied all of their clothes to the top of the spar and threw it into the foaming sea, which had abated in force considerably during the last twenty minutes. Realizing that the men would be on shore directly ahead of them and not wishing to fall into their clutches they decided to head for a point further down the shore, and with this plan in mind they dove off together, landing with a rush in the stinging salt water. When they bobbed up and shook the water out of their eyes they saw the spars a few feet before them. They struck out for the rude craft and each boy passed one arm over it, propelling with the other.

In this manner the spars kept progress with them in their attempt to escape to the shore, and when they became tired, which was often in the long struggle, they hung onto the spars and rested. They knew better than to waste breath in idle talk, so no word was spoken during the fight for shore. Jim was a better swimmer than the red-headed boy, but Terry grimly stuck it out, and after a half hour battle they landed on the shore, almost exhausted.
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Terry splashed his way up to the beach, collapsing in a heap on the wet sand, but Jim, blown as he was, had presence of mind enough to take the clothing off of the raft and look around them. The storm was blowing itself out and the sky growing lighter, but as there was no sight of the men nearby Jim soon lay down beside his companion and rested gratefully. They had drifted a mile or more down the shore in their swim and felt reasonably safe from capture.

Jim was the first to sit up and he looked keenly around. They were in a lonely section of coast country, uninhabited and infinitely dreary. He wondered what the next best plan should be, and asked Terry. Both felt that it would be foolish to go back toward the ranch directly, and both agreed that it would be foolish to go south.

“That means we push inland,” Terry nodded.

“Yes, that is all that we can do. And we are in one fine shape to do that, I must say! No weapons, no matches, and not a thing to eat! If we don’t fall into somebody’s hands we’ll starve,” said Jim.

“It does look tough from every angle,” Terry agreed. He got up and wrung the water out of his trousers and shirt. “I’m pretty tired, but I suppose we ought to get moving, eh?”
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“I think so. At least we should get away from the coast. Maybe when we get inland we can find some place to put up for the night, some hollow or something. After a good night’s sleep we should be able to cover a lot of ground.”

“Little Terry hasn’t been bad, but he has to go to bed without his supper!” the red-headed boy grimaced, as they started inland.

They walked slowly, keeping a sharp lookout, but met no one in their journey. They meant to make a long half circle in their return, planning to avoid the party from the schooner and Sackett’s henchmen. There was also the possibility that they might run across their own party, who they felt was surely looking for them. But the present object was to find some protected shelter and hide away for the night.

Evening was close upon them when Jim suddenly pulled Terry down behind a bush. He pointed to the right and whispered to his chum.

“A man, over there!”
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Terry looked, to see a lone traveler encamped in a small hollow some little distance from them. The man was seated beside a small fire, busily engaged in frying something in a small pan. His horse, a beautiful black animal, was grazing on the short grass nearby, and the man’s rifle stood close at hand. Terry turned to Jim with a satisfied air.

“There’s my supper!” he announced, pointing to the pan in the man’s hand.

“Don’t be too sure of that,” Jim warned. “We want to be mighty careful who we walk up to.”

“Say, you don’t think every human being in this country belongs to Sackett’s gang, do you?” asked Terry.

“I suppose not,” Jim gave in. “Shall we walk up and announce ourselves?”

“We’ll walk up and reserve a table!” grinned Terry. “That pan excites me; let’s go!”

They advanced toward the man, who did not see them coming until they were barely twenty yards from him. Then he looked up and they saw that he was a Mexican. He gave a slight start and reached for his gun, but allowed his fingers to slide from the stock as he continued to look at them. At the same time the boys recognized him.

“It is Alaroze, the overseer of Senorita Mercedes ranch!” cried Jim, and Terry nodded.
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Seeing that he was recognized the Mexican broke into a smile and welcomed them in Spanish. He was frankly puzzled at their strange and uncouth appearance, but he did not ask any questions. Jim, who could speak fair Spanish, told him that they had taken a trip down the coast in a ship and had been cast ashore, feeling that it would not be wise to tell too much. When the Mexican had heard their story he expressed himself as being deeply grieved and hastened to offer them food. He had some beans and bread and seemed to have a plentiful supply with him, so the boys were not averse to taking what he offered.

They sat down and gratefully ate what he set before them. The overseer talked rapidly, smiling, rebuilding the fire and insisted upon cooking them more of his provisions. Once when he was out of earshot Terry spoke out of the corner of his mouth.

“He isn’t a half-bad fellow, this Alaroze. I didn’t think I liked him at the ranch, but he surely is treating us royally now.”

“He certainly is,” agreed Jim, heartily. “We’ll see to it that he never regrets it.”
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Finally the Mexican sat down and ate with them and afterward smoked cigaret after cigaret as he talked with them. He did not seem to be inquisitive as to the whereabouts of the others, in fact, Jim was more curious than the foreman, for presently he asked him what he was doing so far away from the Mercedes ranch.

“I am looking for stray cattle,” the overseer said. “Many of them have wandered away of late and I am looking for them.”

It was growing dark now and they made a large fire, before which the boys dried their dripping clothes. The three companions agreed to head back for the ranch of the senorita on the following day and to go from there to the Scott ranch. Jim and Terry warmly thanked the overseer for his supper and hospitality, but the Mexican was effusively modest about it.

Quite early the three of them turned in, the Mexican lingering for some little time after the boys. He sat beside the fire, still smoking his inexhaustible cigarets, looking out into the blackness of the night. He seemed to have no fear of anyone. The boys lay under the shelter of some sandy banks, for the Mexican had but one blanket, and just before they fell asleep they looked at the lone figure near the fire.

“Lucky thing for us that we fell in with him,” Jim commented.
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“Right you are,” Terry returned. “He certainly has been fine to us. I’m just about sorry I ever distrusted him.”

“You can’t go by looks,” said Jim. “But I don’t think he is pushing his search for those stray cattle very vigorously.”

“Well, you know how lazy most of these Mexicans are,” Terry yawned. “Probably just taking his own sweet time.”

“Funny he should be out looking for them, instead of the other cowboys,” Jim went on. “I should think that he would be needed at the ranch.”

“Maybe it is his personality that counts,” grinned Terry. “He may attract the cows and bring ’em home that way. I don’t care how he does it. I’m going to sleep.”

Both boys fell into a deep sleep. The Mexican sat motionless beside the fire for some time longer. Once he turned and looked toward the boys, at the same time smiling at some thought which was passing through his head. His teeth gleamed for a second and then his face once more became impassive. Shortly after that he rolled himself up in his blanket and fell asleep.


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