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CHAPTER XI A FIGHT IN THE NIGHT
That hand gripping her shoulder made Roberta’s heart skip a beat, but after a moment when it didn’t yank her to her feet she gathered courage to look around. To her great relief she saw that it was Nomie.

“Fog coming,” the Indian said, scarcely above a whisper.

“I’ll come,” Roberta answered quickly and rose to her feet. Her companion put her fingers over her lips, which the girl understood to mean that they must keep very quiet, then the pair hurried stealthily across the plateau. When they were well below the hill, Nomie paused, her face very sober.

“Keep way from cracks,” she said briefly.

“I thought it was a baby animal of some185 kind. I was going to help it up if I could,” she explained and Nomie looked at her searchingly. “That is true,” Roberta added emphatically.

“Good,” Nomie appeared relieved and willing to believe the story, but she went on. “Noises you hear, things you know not, pay no heed to. I give you leave to walk; you will make me trouble—”

“I’ll be mighty careful,” Roberta put in hastily. “You have been very good to me and I appreciate it.”

“Speak not of the noise or the crack,” the woman urged.

“Not a word to anyone.”

“Busy yourself with watching the sky,” was the woman’s advice.

“All right,” she promised, but her mind was endeavoring to solve the mystery of the plateau.

Roberta thought it might be the living quarters of Wat and the men, but if that was all, why had Nomie been so fearful? There was certainly something going on under those rocks which was a secret that was guarded with extreme care and if it had been one of186 the men who had discovered her trying to fathom it, things might go very hard with her. From what the Indian woman said, the white girl gathered that she was expected to keep a close watch on her prisoner, and an exhibition of too much inquisitiveness would surely cost her what liberty she enjoyed. Presently they reached the dug-out, and after watching the woman gather some bits of driftwood from the beach, they went inside.

“Go to bed,” Nomie said quietly. “Sleep very sound,” she added “You be sick if get no rest.”

“I’m not tired,” Roberta answered, but there was something in the woman’s eyes which seemed to plead with her to obey, so greatly puzzled, she added, “Not very tired, but I believe I’ll feel better if I lie down for a while.”

“Good,” the woman answered. “Just like you are, lie down,” She tugged at the pillows piled on the corner bed, and guessing that she was to be hidden, Roberta stretched herself among them. A moment later anyone coming into the room, unless they knew that she was there, would not have noticed her.

187 For minutes Roberta lay still as a mouse, every nerve tense to know what was going to happen, but as the time went on and she did not hear anything more than the splashing of the waves against the rocks outside, the drip of heavy fog, which had rolled in thickly, and the Indian woman moving about the dug-out, her mind leaped back to the discovery of the crack on the plateau, and to wondering what the mystery could be. Then, suddenly she heard a whining noise, something like the sounds beneath the rocks, followed by a gruff barking and snorting, which could not belong to a dog. It kept up for an hour, then seemed to die down, and, because effects of the strain she had been through had not entirely worn off, her eyelids closed and she drifted off to sleep, but not quite soundly enough to make her absolutely oblivious of her surroundings. Into her lulled brain leaped a train of thoughts, half dream and half reality. The past and the present, the possible and the impossible in a conglomeration of fancies, but suddenly her eyes popped wide open and every faculty was alert.

The first thing she saw was Nomie standing188 near the bed, but her head was turned toward the door and her body was stiff, as if she anticipated some great danger. Not daring to move, Roberta listened, then she heard the unmistakable scraping of a boat on the rocks as if it were being shoved high to prevent its being taken out by the tide. This was followed by men’s gruff voices, and finally the sound of stamping feet making their way to the Indian’s house. Just then a distant voice hailed the newcomers, and Nomie said something scarcely above a whisper to Natell, who jumped up from the other side of the room, hurried across to her mother and then quickly parting the nearest heavy draperies, the young girl disappeared.

From out on the darkening beach there came the sound of an exchange of calls, then it seemed to Roberta as if the man who had greeted the boatmen must have joined them, for his voice was mingled with the others. All that she could make out of the conversation was its punctuation of oaths, and while this was going on, Nomie stepped stealthily to the door, got back of it and started to close it, but it was made of heavy timbers and did189 not move easily. Just as she was about to give it the last shove, a great boot was stuck over the sill, and a drunken voice brawled.

“Gwan, No-mee, none of that. Give me something to drink!”

“Got none,” she answered.

“Sure you have. Come across with it quick.”

“Got none,” she repeated. “Go Wat for some. He keeps,” she answered. “Go way, you get killed the Boss find you here.”

“Sure I will, but he’s too far away to find me,” the man laughed wickedly, then shouted to the others, “Come on! Nomie’s trying to hold out on us! Give me a hand!”

“Say, don’t do that! The Boss will be mad as anything and you know the last time you smashed things he told you that after the next spree he’d kill you! You were on your knees with the barrel of gun in your mouth.” The man who was speaking was the one who had called, so Roberta judged that he must be a member of the group on the island.

“Well, tell her to open the door. I’m not going to smash anything. I want some coffee;190 the woman can make me some.” The voice was considerably less belligerent, but the fellow was just intoxicated enough to be stubborn.

“Go back to the boat and get your own cook to make you a barrel of coffee. Let the woman alone, I tell you, or I’ll send for Wat.”

“Yes, you’ll send fer Wat—well, who’ll you send, Brick Top, one of my crew? I’ll shoot the first man that stirs a leg.”

“Now, look here, Cap, you get back in the boat and go about your business, and I won’t say a word about seeing you here. If you don’t beat it, you’re going to make trouble for your whole crew. Go on back and sleep it off, then come over and get the cargo,” Brick Top urged.

“Come along, Cap, he’s givin’ you good talk. If you don’t, we’ll take the boat and pull back without you, see?” That was one of the crew, and others of its members, evidently not caring to share in the captain’s punishment if he persisted in disobeying, backed him up quickly. In a moment by the191 sounds, Cap was being led meekly away, but suddenly his voice rose again.

“I’m not going to my ship till I say how-de-do to Nomie. I ain’t landing on her shore an’ goin’ off ’sif I ain’t a gentleman.” Then followed a scuffle and soon the Cap, leering broadly, had forced his way into the house. “Ain’t goin’ ’way—”

“Get him away,” Nomie shrieked.

“Aw, shut up, woman. Bible says women should keep still. You’re makin’ too much noise—”

“Come out of there,” Brick Top snapped angrily.

“Blowed if I do,” retorted the Cap, and with a powerful swing of his arm, the back of his hand struck Brick Top such a resounding blow that he reeled across the room. “You’re like Nomie, you say too much with your mouth.” But the younger man recovered himself quickly and sprang at the drunken captain.

“You fool,” he roared furiously, “will you get out?”

“No,” Cap bellowed, mightily encouraged192 by the success of his first attack. “And no blasted redhead’s going to make me.”

“No? Well, you’ll change your tune,” Red snapped.

“Come on, Cap,” one of the crew urged. They were crowding in the door, and one of them tried to catch the captain’s collar, but he lolled aside, then, with head down like a charging bull, he rushed at the smaller man, caught him about the waist, lifted him in the air and would have broken his back in another moment if Nomie hadn’t thrown a kettle which struck him in the head. This dazed him for an instant so that his hold was broken and Red wriggled out of his grasp, but his tight-fitting fur cap saved the captain from more serious damage.

“Oh, you’ll hit me from behind,” he howled, believing Red responsible for the blow. He leaped at the young fellow and immediately the pair were in the throes of such a violent conflict that it did not seem possible that either of them could come out alive. They crashed in first one corner then the other with lightning speed, and as Roberta193 heard and caught glimpses of the horrible spectacle she was nearly overcome with nausea. She thought that any moment the built-in bed would be ripped from the wall to which it was fastened and she wondered dully why none of the crew interfered. Then she found herself trying to calculate just how long it would be before the courageous little Red would be reduced to an unrecognizable mass of flesh.

It occurred to the girl Sky-pilot that it was because of her presence that Red had so strenuously objected to the captain’s entering the dugout, and thinking back, she believed that Nomie must have sighted the boat on the water. That would explain her reason for wanting the white girl out of sight when the small boat came ashore with the men whose rough temper was well known to her. By that time the two bodies crashed against the foot of the bed and a huge hand clutched the pillows to keep him from falling, but Cap’s foot slipped on the wet floor. He flung himself up with all his strength, clutched at the upright support, but under his weight the sapling gave way, the corner of the bed194 came down with its pile of protecting pillows cascading into the room. Quick as a flash, Roberta rolled to the further side, but the tumbling piece of furniture prevented her from keeping out of sight, so she was forced to get to her feet close to the wall, what was left of the bed—rolling in front of her. Just as Cap raised his ugly head and caught sight of her terrified white face, the huge form of Wat rushed in and hurled forward, the man’s legs whipped about the captain’s body like a powerful vise, one hand snatched back the fur hat while the other brought the butt end of a gun down on the man’s head so hard that he was immediately knocked unconscious. During the last part of the fight, the curious crew had crowded into the room, and now Wat turned on them. Beyond the door, Roberta caught a glimpse of Slim and other familiar faces, set grimly, while the barrel of more than one gun was in evidence.

“What are you fellows doing here?” he demanded sharply.

“Cap ordered us to bring him over,” the nearest boatman replied.

“We gotta obey the captain’s orders on a195 boat or it’s mutiny,” another took up defiantly.

“Yes?”

“Yes.” This came from several voices.

“Well, let me tell you something. There isn’t a man jack of you who does not know perfectly well that the captain’s jurisdiction is a very limited one. Your boat was posted with orders every one of you could read, and you were told to remain aboard until I sent for you, or gave you sailing orders. Isn’t that so?”

“Yes,” one of the men at the back admitted reluctantly.

“Slim!” called Wat.

“Right here.” Slim answered.

“Have some of the boys put these fellows in irons, and you’d better leave two or three to swab deck and mend the furniture.”

“Right-O. Want them aboard the ship or here?”

“On the island,” Wat answered after a moment’s hesitation. Then he heaved the unconscious body of the captain through the door to be dragged out by some of Slim’s company. Slim gave sharp orders.

“Round em up an’ rope em, then, forward196 march,” the young fellow ordered with a mixture of soldier and cowboy.

“We can’t march the captain, Slim.”

“Leave somebody to guard him while you get a stretcher,” Slim replied as if he was getting a great deal of satisfaction out of his job at that particular moment.

“Are you hurt, Miss Langwell?” Wat asked and his voice still sounded as if he was in command of a company.

“No, I’m not, thank you,” she said with a sob, which she promptly smothered. “Oh, oh, I’m so glad you came—I never saw anything so ghastly—”

“I hope you never do again,” he told her quietly. “But, I want the truth. You are really not hurt, the fighters didn’t touch you, or that bunk injure you? Don’t be afraid, let Nomie take care of you if you are not perfectly O.K.”

“I am perfectly all right,” she assured him.

“Good,” he gave a little sigh of relief then snapped again: “Slim.”

“Coming,” shouted Slim.

“Take Miss Langwell out and walk with her along the beach. The fog isn’t so bad197 now and the fresh air will help her recover quickly. Are the rest of the men on the job?”

“Yes, sir, everyone.”

“Let me walk with Mr. Slim too,” Natell begged as she bobbed up from somewhere.

“If your mother doesn’t need you,” Wat smiled at the little girl. “You’ve been a great kid tonight, and the next boat that comes in is going to bring something mighty nice for you.”

“You bet,” Slim added with a grin. “That boat will have two nice things for you. I’ll get my sister to buy you something dandy.”

“Good,” Nomie nodded, so Natell joined the pair as they made their way out onto the beach. A bucket brigade was already marching toward the door with brimming pails of water to “swab deck.”

“Did Natell go for you?” Roberta asked. She was thinking of how the little girl had disappeared among the draperies just before the arrival of the boatmen.

“Sure she did, and how!” Slim answered unsuspectingly, then his companion knew that there was at least two ways of getting in and out of the Indian woman’s home, and she198 resolved that sometime she would explore it if she were ever left alone.

“In my luggage I have some strings of colored beads,” the white girl went on. “They are not much, just sort of attractive. You must let me give her some of them right away because it will be a long time before you and Wat can get your presents here, won’t it?”

“Be a few weeks,” Slim admitted cautiously. “Sure, give her some of yours if you like. Can’t be any objection to that.”

“All right, Natell, tomorrow you shall have a nice long string of red beads, the prettiest ones I have.”

“Good,” the girl replied softly, apparently understanding that Roberta had overcome the necessity for secrecy regarding the string she already had.

“If you like one of the others, you may have two strings,” Roberta added, no end relieved that the matter of the gift was so simply settled.

“Better walk carefully here,” Slim warned, as he changed places with her so that she was on the inside of the beach. “Sort of treacherous at night; beastly in the fog.”

199 “It feels good to be out,” Roberta told him as they went on. For half an hour they walked, saying little, until the density of the mist began to chill the white girl, then they returned to the dugout, which except for the wetness of the recent “swabbing,” and strips of new boards nailed over the broken furniture, looked exactly as it had before the invasion of the belligerent captain. They found Wat smoking thoughtfully before the door, and after bidding the women good-night, the two men strode off into the darkness. The walk had tired her, so Roberta was really glad to go to bed and in spite of the horrors of the night, she soon dropped off into a sound sleep. When she awakened in the morning, the two Indians were already busy with some task, and Nomie lost no time in preparing food for her charge.

“Go fishing,” she informed Roberta when the meal was finished, so, after adding a string of blue beads to the red ones Natell was proudly showing that morning, and adding a storm coat to her costume, the girl Sky-Pilot followed the women out into the sunlight, for every bit of fog had been dispelled.200 They cut across the island toward the northwest and on a smooth little cove, tugged a deep canoe, which certainly had not been there the day before when the white girl did her exploring.

“The island must be full of hiding places,” she remarked to herself, and wondered how much it concealed. By that time Roberta was so full of the mystery of the place that being marooned or imprisoned there was receding further back in her brain; although nothing could make her forget the anxiety she knew must weigh down her own home in far away Long Island, but she determined that if she ever succeeded in getting away, she would be able to give some real information as to what enterprise was conducted there. She thought of Mr. Howe, and then it occurred to her that she was to have had a mission with him. “It couldn’t have been more exciting than this thing I’ve stumbled, or been piloted into.”

“Sit here.” Nomie designated with a nod a thin cushion in the middle of the boat, which reminded the white girl of pictures she had seen of native-made crafts. She201 took her place cautiously, for it looked as if it would take very little to turn the thing over, but Natell hopped in one end, then with a short paddle held the boat steady until her mother was safely in the other. Without a word the pair dipped their paddles and the canoe shot speedily over the water, going toward the northwest.

“Little island, much fish,” Nomie remarked and Roberta didn’t know whether she was speaking of the land they were leaving behind, or another one.

“Is that so,” she replied, and Nomie, who was facing her, nodded.

They sped along over the blue water, occasionally pausing to drop a line, and once the Indian woman set a trawler which glistened as it dragged yards behind them. Natell seemed to keep an eye on this, but nothing was caught, and after an hour they reached another island, almost as barren as the one they had left. They sent the boat slowly in and out among jagged rocks and the white girl marveled that they were not dashed against the sharp edges which protruded dangerously all about them.

202 “Like go shore?” Nomie asked. “Nice shells. Tide going down.”

“That will be fine,” Roberta agreed readily, so the canoe’s nose was shot into an opening between two great wall-like cliffs which looked as if at one time it had been a solid mass. The woman steadied the boat while the girl climbed ashore, and Natell pointed to a series of shelves.

“Climb to top easy,” she smiled.

“Shout if tired. We call when ready,” Nomie added to the directions, when at last they were ready to pull off. “Take care.”

“Thank you,” Roberta answered. She wasn’t particularly interested in the island, but she was mighty grateful at the opportunity to be alone for a while. She hoped that in the solitude some practical plan would present itself, and she also wondered if this fishing expedition had been gotten up in order to get her out of the way. She recalled that something had been said the night before about a “load” for the captain’s boat, so perhaps Wat did not want an audience while this was going on. Then she remembered that she had not caught sight of the203 vessel, but she hadn’t thought of it that morning, so she had not looked. It was doubtless lying-to out beyond the shallow water.

Accepting Natell’s suggestion, Roberta climbed to the top of the cliff, which was not very high, then wandered about aimlessly until she came to a long point of wide flat rock which was scarcely above the water. Here she saw quite a collection of brightly colored shells, and as the tide was going out, she started to gather a few of them. Paying little attention to how many steps she took, she went on and on until her hands were full, then glancing up, she saw a short distance ahead was another island, smaller than the one she was on, and the great ledge appeared to join on it. The second island was dense with timber, whose dark green was a great relief after the monotony of sea, sky and white sands, so, watching her step she proceeded and presently was standing under the wide spreading branches of a grove of scrub evergreen.

“Now I appreciate trees more than I ever did before.” Glancing back at the ledge, which the dropping tide revealed more and204 more, she felt it safe to proceed and thoroughly enjoy the wonderful treat. Some places she couldn’t get through at all, but for several minutes she proceeded inland, then, suddenly she stopped, stared, rubbed her eyes and looked again, for well concealed in the underbrush, but unmistakable, was a tip of an airplane wing. Her first thought was that some pilot had been brought down and she parted the brush to investigate.

“Reach for the sky, you, and don’t turn around!” The command was snapped out sharply and Roberta’s hands went over her head without delay.


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