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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

DRIVEN TO SEA!

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WITH FOURTEEN ORIGINAL MAGAZINE ILLUSTRATIONS


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Serialised in The Magnet Library,
12 Jun-28 Aug 1915 (12 parts)(this version)

Reprinted in Boys' Friend Library, #332, Apr 1916

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Version Date: 2018-10-10
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Illustration

The Magnet Library, 12 June 1916, with first part of "Driven to Sea!".


TABLE OF CONTENTS




Illustration

Headpiece from "The Magnet Library," 12 June 1916.


CHAPTER I. — THE MAN IN BLACK.

"SHAKE a leg, you yellow-faced baboon! Up with it, or, by thunder, I'll come and make you!"

The tone was worse than the words, and Dick Damer paused in the act of stepping out of the blazing Australian sunshine on to the wide, cool verandah of Warlindi, and stood with a startled expression on his pink-and-white face.

There came a bumping as of furniture being moved inside the house, and a panting sound.

"Got it up at last, have you?" snarled the same voice. "Put it down and fetch the rest. Be smart, or—

The throat that followed will not bear repeating, and Dick went rather white. For a moment he was on the point of turning tail and bolting back the way he had come.

But he had travelled half-way round the world to reach this particular house, and in spite of his spick-and-span, pink-and- white appearance, the boy had plenty of pluck.

He paused, drew a deep breath, then seized the bell-handle and gave it a nervous jerk.

There was a long pause—so long that Dick's hand moved again towards the bell. But before he could ring a second time the door opened.

Dick saw a heavy, bloated-looking man, with a fat, flabby face and thick, black hair and eyebrows. His clothes were black, so was his tie; even his finger-nails shared in the general mourning. He looked like a funeral mute off duty.

"Who are you?" he asked, in a thick, husky voice. "What do you want?"

"I—I'm Richard Damer," stammered Dick. "I have come to see my uncle—my uncle—Nicholas Damer."

The other turned up his eyes with a sanctimonious expression.

"You are too late, my young friend. I regret to say that you are too late. Mr. Darner passed away last Tuesday week."

Dick's jaw dropped.

"Dead!" he gasped. "You don't mean to say he is dead?"

The fat man shook his big head and sighed heavily.

"Alas, it is too true! He had been ailing for a long time, but the end came very suddenly. I was with him to the last."

"Did—didn't he leave any message for me?" Dick managed to ask.

The other shook his head.

"He never mentioned you. I never even knew that he had a nephew."

"B-but he wrote to me to come out," said Dick. "Here's his letter. He said he would give me work, and that I could live with him."

"I know nothing of that. He never spoke of you to me. I was his partner. Crane is my name—Wesley Crane."

Dick could find no words. He was too staggered to speak.

Wesley Crane watched him with an odd expression in his prominent eyes.

"You've come from England?" he asked presently.

"Y-yes; in the Baramula. I only got in this morning."

"Then you're staying in Sydney?"

"I'm not staying anywhere. I left my box at the wharf, and came straight up. I—I couldn't afford to stay at an hotel."

Crane wagged his great head again.

"Ah, very sad! Well, I can't ask you to stay here. This place is to be sold, and I am busy taking an inventory. But since you are my late partner's nephew, I will do what I can for you."

He took out a pocket-book and scribbled a few words on a leaf, which he tore out.

"Here is the address of a friend of mine who will put you up for the night. To-morrow come to my office in Water Street, and I will see what work can be found for you."

Dick was touched.

"Thank you very much!" he said gratefully. "It is very kind of you indeed."

Crane put out a thick, grimy hand.

"That's all right," he said. "Well, I'm busy now. Good-bye!"

Dick's head was in a whirl as he tramped back down the long white road in the hot glare of the Australian sun. He was sixteen, but looked younger. That was the fault of Miss Emma Neate, the aunt who had looked after him since the death of his parents, eleven years before. She had never sent him to a boarding-school, and the result was that, though a well-grown youngster, he had precious little idea of fending for himself. He knew rather less of the world than the average boy of twelve.

Miss Neate herself was not much better, and it was pure ignorance on her part that had caused her to invest most of her money in a wildcat mining scheme. When it failed, and she was left with barely enough to live on, she had jumped at the chance offered to Dick by his Australian uncle, and sent him straight out to Sydney by the first ship.

The news of his uncle's death had shocked Dick, but as he had never seen him, he naturally did not feel any particular grief. The one question which filled his thoughts during that long walk back to the tram-head was whether the soft-spoken Mr. Wesley Crane was the same person whom he had heard using the appalling language which had greeted his ears at his first approach to Warlindi.

It hardly seemed possible, yet there were ugly doubts in Dick's mind. Of one thing he was quite sure. He did not like the man, and dreaded the prospect of working for him.

At last he reached the tram. By this time he was pretty well played out. He fell asleep in a corner, and woke to find the tram at rest and the conductor shaking him by the shoulder.

"All change, sonny. This here's the terminus."

Dick jumped up with a start. He took the address from his pocket.

"Can you tell me where this is?" he asked.

The conductor glanced at it, then at Dick.

"Bendigo Hotel, Wharf Street. Be you staying there?"

"Yes; just for the present. I was told to."

The conductor grunted.

"'Tain't much of a place. Still, I suppose you knows your own business. Go straight down that street till you gets to the water's edge, then second turn on the right."

Dick thanked him, and walked on. The sleep had refreshed him, but he was desperately hungry. Passing a little cook-shop, he went in and asked for a sandwich. As it was being cut he put his hand in his pocket to find some money.

He drew it out, and hastily tried the other.

A cry of dismay escaped him.

"What's the matter?" demanded the man behind the counter, in a surly tone.

"I—I've been robbed!" stammered Dick. "My purse is gone!"

"I've heard that tale afore!" remarked the other, with a sneer. "Out you gets—quick!"

This fresh misfortune fairly staggered Dick. True, the purse had only held a sovereign in gold and a little silver, but it was all he had in the world. No doubt it had been taken from him in the tram. At any rate he was now absolutely penniless. He could not even pay the few pence due on his box. Not knowing what else to do, he went straight on to the Bendigo.

This was a narrow-fronted inn standing in a dirty, noisome alley running off the wharf. Over the door was written, "John Bale, licensed to sell beer, spirits, and tobacco." The look of the place and the smell of it made him sick, but there was no help for it. He went in.

A surly-looking, heavy-jowled man in shirt-sleeves, stood behind the bar.

He eyed Dick suspiciously.

"Who are you? What do you want?" he demanded.

"My name is Damer. Mr. Crane sent me," answered Dick humbly enough. "He said I was to stay the night."

"Crane? Oh, Wesley Crane?" The man's tone became less surly. "All right. I'll fix you up. Where's your things?"

Dick explained, and spoke of the loss of his purse.

"More fool you to carry a purse! But don't you worry. I'll send across for your box. Had your dinner?"

"I've had nothing since breakfast," confessed Dick. "Take some o' them biscuits and cheese"—pointing to a basket on the counter.

"Supper'll be ready soon."

Dick helped himself gratefully. Then Bale showed him a room. It was a stuffy little cupboard of a place, and looked out on a filthy back-yard. His aunt's house had been the last word in cleanliness, and the squalor made Dick shiver. He flung open the window, and sat on the edge of the bed, feeling as miserable as a lost puppy.

He had left the door ajar, and presently heard low voices somewhere across the passage. He did not pay much attention. He was too unhappy.

It was something familiar in one of the voices that roused him, and he was up like a shot, and across the room.

"Who is he, anyway?" It was Bale who spoke, and, though little more than a hoarse whisper, Dick caught the words distinctly.

"That's no business of yours. I don't want him here, and that's enough for you!"

Dick's heart began to beat quickly. Now he was certain of the second voice. It was Wesley Crane's, and though as low-pitched as Bale's, there was an angry note in it.

"It's risky," answered Bale softly. "The cops have been giving me a heap o' trouble lately. S'pose someone seed him come in here?"

"Suppose nothing. He only landed this morning. He don't know a soul in the town, and no one knows him. You do as I say, and I'll make it right with you."

At this moment someone opened the street door. There came heavy steps in the bar. Dick heard Bale jump up hastily, and quickly closed his own door.

After a bit he opened it again, and stood just inside, straining his ears. But there was no more talk. All the same he had heard enough to make him horribly uneasy. He felt instinctively that it was himself that Crane had been referring to, and began to think that the best thing he could do was to clear out at once. But the idea of wandering about Sydney at night without a penny in his pocket daunted him, and before he could make up his mind Bale stuck his head in.

"Supper's ready!" he said gruffly. "This way!"

The dining-room matched the rest of the place, and the cloth on the table looked as though it had not been changed for a month.

"Sit down, sonny!" said Bale, as he pulled a chair up and seated himself. "Have some coffee, will ye?"

Dick thanked him.

"Milk and sugar?" asked Bale genially.

"Please!" said Dick.

The coffee was a pleasant surprise, black and strong and bitter, but far better than Dick had expected. He was thirsty, and drank nearly the whole cup, while Bale helped him to bread and a plateful of thick stew.

Dick put away two mouthfuls, then stopped and looked at his plate.

"What's the matter? Ain't it good?" asked Bale.

"It—it's all right," said Dick slowly, as he passed his hand across his forehead in a dazed fashion. "B-but I don't feel very well."

Bale watched him for a moment or two before replying.

"It's a bit hot in here. You want a breath o' fresh air."

"That's it," said Dick, in a queer, thick voice. He wondered vaguely what was the matter with his tongue. It felt too big for his mouth. There was something amiss, too, with his eyes. Bale, sitting just across from him, seemed to be growing. He became as big as a giant, then shrank slowly to the size of a dwarf.

"Come along!" said Bale briskly. "Come on outside!"

As Dick rose to hie feet, Bale opened a door at the back of the room, and led the way through a dark, narrow passage.

Dick followed uncertainly. His head was spinning in a most unpleasant fashion.

There was another door at the end of the passage. As in a dream Dick saw Bale open it.

"Here ye are, sonny!" he said, and the voice seemed to come from a long way off.

As he stumbled past, Dick felt a vigorous push from behind which sent him headlong forward. He plunged into pitchy darkness, the floor gave way beneath him, and he felt himself falling. He brought up with a stunning crash, and that was the last he knew.


CHAPTER II. — THE MASTER OF THE RAINBOW.

DICK opened his eyes. He was still in darkness, and strange noises filled his ears. His head throbbed heavily, and for a time he was content to lie still.

Slowly he became aware that the whole place was swaying with a long, steady swing, and after a bit it came to him that he must be back in his own cabin aboard the Baramula, and that the events of the past day had been only a bad dream.

He shut his eyes tightly, and tried to sleep.

The next thing he knew a yellow light shone in his face, and, looking up, he saw bending over him a tall Chinaman in a blue blouse. His face looked as if it had been carved out of old ivory, and his left ear was missing, giving him an oddly lop- sided appearance.

"Hallo!" said Dick faintly. "Who are you? Where am I?"

The Chinaman paid no attention whatever to the question.

"Cap'n Clipps—he wantum see you."

"Captain Clipps? Who's he?"

"He tell you plenty soon. You come along o' me."

Dick sat up, which set his head swimming worse than ever. The light showed him that he had been lying on a wooden bunk in a small, low-ceiled cabin. The place was cleaner than Bale's hotel, but the reek of stale salt water, old clothes and oilskins was thick enough to cut with a knife.

As Dick's feet reached the door, there was a lurch which sent him flying, and if the Chinaman bad not caught him he would have pitched on his head against the opposite wall.

"Thanks!" gasped Dick, and then the Chinaman, keeping fast hold on him, led him out of the cabin and up a steep companion ladder.

A blast of fresh cold wind met him as he got his head above the hatch, and his bewildered eyes took in the fact that he was on the deck of a small sailing vessel, which was lying over to a stiff breeze, and tearing across the sea through the starlit darkness of a clear night.

Overhead he saw the loom of tall white sails, and on either side the foam-tipped waves, while astern streamed away a long wake, milk-white with gleaming phosphorescence.

The Chinaman gave him little time to take in his surroundings. He led him straight to the deck-house, and pushed him in through the open door.

Dick blinked in the bright light of a large swinging oil-lamp. The first thing he saw was a table. Behind the table sat the biggest man he had ever seen in his life—big, at least, so far as breadth went. He seemed perfectly square, and his face was huge and of a bright brick-red. Between his teeth was a long black cigar.

As Dick came in he took this out of his mouth and looked the boy up and down with a hard, penetrating stare.

"Waal, I know!" he growled contemptuously. "I always knowed Bale was a fool, but this here's the limit! What good d'ye think you are?" he barked suddenly, in a voice that made Dick jump.

"Are ye dumb?" he continued savagely, for Dick, sick and dizzy and bewildered, had not answered.

"Can't ye speak, ye pink-faced puppy?"

Dick flushed hotly. The insult pulled him together.

"I don't know what you are talking about!" he answered sharply. "Where am I? How did I come aboard here?"

"Wants to know where he is!" said the big man, in a tone of bitter sarcasm. "Asks how he came aboard! Wonders why we left his nurse ashore!"

He rose suddenly to his feet, and it gave Dick a shock to see how short he was compared with his enormous breadth. With one spring he was round the table, and caught Dick by the shoulder with his gigantic hand.

"See here, my lad," he said threateningly, sticking his great red face close up against Dick's. "I'll tell ye this much. You're aboard the Rainbow, and I'm the only man in her what's got the right to ask questions. You remember that if you value your health. I'm cap'n, an' you're cabin-boy, and anything else I've a mind to make you."

So far from scaring him, the captain's hectoring tone roused Dick's spirit.

"That's all nonsense!" he answered boldly. "I've been drugged and chucked on board here against my will. I demand to be put ashore!"

For a moment the captain stared as if he could not believe his ears. His red face grew redder still, his eyes looked as if they would start out of his head. Then his rage boiled over.

"Put ye ashore?" he roared. "I'll put ye ashore!"

He picked up Dick in both hands, holding him by the neck and the slack of his coat, and swinging him up level with his head as though he had been a baby, rushed out of the cabin and across to the rail. For a horrid moment Dick was certain that the brute was going to fling him overboard.

At the last moment he changed his mind.

"Thet's too easy!" he growled, and, spinning round, made for the companion. Without ado he pitched Dick headlong down into the darkness below.

"That's lesson number one!" he bellowed after him. "If you expects to live to make a man, you better not ask for number two."

As for Dick, he lay helpless and more than half stunned at the foot of the ladder. His luck had held thus far—that he had fallen on a pile of oilskins. But for that he would probably have been killed. He would certainly have broken half the bones in his body.

Next thing he knew the tall Chinaman was beside him, the lantern in his hand.

"You velly foolish," he said reprovingly. "Chang allee same wonder boss he no kill you."

"I don't care whether he kills me or not!" sobbed out Dick, beside himself with pain and rage. "I'd as soon be dead as like this!"

"You no talkee that way to-mollow," answered Chang calmly. "You sleepee one time. Feel all light to-mollow."

He helped Dick to a bunk, gave him a blanket, and left him. Dick, aching all over and miserable beyond words, lay there feeling that no would never sleep again.

But the very violence of his emotions exhausted him, and now that the schooner was well out to sea her motion became more regular and easy. Presently he dropped off, and did not wake until daylight was streaming through the open scuttle overhead.

For some minutes he lay wondering vaguely where he was and what had happened. Then he remembered, and started up.

Overhead someone was scrubbing the deck. He heard the water swishing across the planking. His throat was burning. He crawled out, put on his coat and boots, and moved towards the ladder.

Just then Chang appeared, coming down.

"Feel all light?" he asked and though his face and voice were wooden as ever, Dick felt there was a gleam of kindness somewhere behind.

"I'm better, thanks." he said. "Could I have a wash and some water to drink?"

"Plenty water in sea. You go topside, dlaw a bucket. Cap'n Clipps he still asleep."

Dick went on deck. It was a beautiful morning. The breeze had fallen light, but the schooner, with topsails set, snored through the clear blue waves. No land was in sight.

The only people on deck were three Chinamen—one at the wheel, the other two busy scrubbing and cleaning.

Dick drew a pail of cool sea water, stripped to the waist, sluiced himself well, and felt fifty per cent. better. He was going to put on the same clothes again, but Chang called him below and gave him a suit of blue dungaree which was not much too big for him.

He had just finished changing when breakfast was brought in—broad, fried pork in a mess-kid, and a black liquid which bore some faint resemblance to coffee, though it smelt chiefly of molasses.

Six Chinamen, including Chang, shared the meal with Dick. They ate in absolute silence, and seemed to take no more notice of the white boy than they did of the hideous brass joss which stood at the end of the fo'c's'le with a couple of punk-sticks burning before it.

Chang, who seemed to be cook, picked up the empty kid and bread- pan, and vanished silently. The others went on deck, leaving Dick alone.

Presently Chang came back.

"Hey, boss he want you. Talkee him one piecey. Sabee?"

Dick's heart sank, but he comforted himself with the thought that nothing could be worse than last night, and anyhow, he was feeling more like himself again.

He found Cripps in the cabin aft. The big man surveyed him with a sardonic grin.

"Still feelin' gay, sonny—eh?"

"Not particularly," answered Dick.

"Thet's right. It don't pay for kids like you to get giving back- talk to their skipper. Savvy?"

He waited for this to sink in, then continued:

"See here, young feller, you listen to me. I ain't altogether angry because you stuck up ter me last night. Show's you've got something back o' that pink-and-white baby face o' yours. D'ye know anything about a ship?"

"Nothing," confessed Dick.

"Ye don't look as if ye knowed much about anything, and that's the truth," said Cripps, grinning again. "Still, ye can learn, and I'm the man to learn ye. I'm a-going to learn ye, too, whether ye likes it or not, so you make up your mind to that. We don't keep no loafers aboard the Rainbow. Now, you mind what I say, and do what I tell ye, and this cruise'll be all right for you. But get gay again, and I'll make ye wish ye'd never been born!"

"I don't seem to have much choice!" said Dick bitterly "I've got to make the best of it!"

Cripps glared a moment, then burst into a loud laugh.

"You got sense all right. Now go forrard and help Chang peel the spuds. You'll learn galley work fust, and then, if you're good, I'll teach ye navigation. Git!"

Dick got. He felt he would a deal rather peel potatoes in Chang's company than remain aft with the formidable Cripps.

The next few days passed quietly enough. The weather remained perfect, and the Rainbow's crew hardly needed to touch a rope.

They were all Chinese, and the most silent lot imaginable. They talked among themselves, but except Chang hardly any said one word to Dick.

The Rainbow herself was a beamy, powerful craft of about 120 tons. But what her job was or where she was bound Dick had not the foggiest notion. He tried to sound Chang, but all the answer he got was:

"Boss, he tell you when he get leady."

On the fourth day the weather changed. The breeze fell light, and it turned blazing hot. It was a stinging, steamy heat which made Dick feel as if he could not breathe. The pitch grew soft in the deck seams, and the crew went about their work stripped to the waist.

About eleven in the forenoon Dick, who was sitting in the door of the galley cutting up meat for the soup, heard a sudden shout from up forward.

"Hyah! Hyah!"

Chang, who was in the galley, jumped out. At the same moment Cripps, who had been lying in a long chair under the awning aft, sprang to his feet.

"What's up?" he bellowed. "What's biting you, ye blamed galoot?"

He hurried forward as he spoke.

"What is it, Chang?" asked Dick eagerly.

"I tink um ship," answered Chang, who was staring out to sea, shading his eyes with both hands from the brassy glare.

"Ship! Where?"

Chang pointed, and presently Dick caught sight of a craft of some sort which, to his inexperienced eyes, was a mere blur on the throbbing horizon.

Meantime, Cripps, up in the bows, was staring at the vessel through a pair of glasses. A little knot of Chinamen stood silently around.

Cripps lowered his glasses. There was a look of excitement in his face which Dick had never seen before.

"Port—port your hellum!" he shouted to the man at the wheel.

The Rainbow came round with her bows pointed straight for the distant vessel. At that moment a puff filled her sails and the water began to bubble under her forefoot.

"What is it, Chang?" asked Dick. "Why are we going to her?"

"I tink um leck," answered Chang. "What call derelict."


CHAPTER III. — THE DERELICT.

DICK ventured forward. Cripps was still gazing fixedly at the strange ship, which was now rising rapidly into sight.

"She's in trouble," Dick heard the skipper mutter. "She's in trouble; I'll swear to that. Ay, that's her ensign upside down at the mizzen. Wish my eyes was better."

He glanced round and saw Dick.

"Here you! Your eyes are better than mine. Take a hold of these glasses."

He handed them to Dick, who, after one or two efforts, managed to focus them.

"What's the two flags on the boom, aft?" demanded Cripps.

"One's square," said Dick. "It's red and white. The other's pointed and the same colours."

Cripps brought his great hand down with a slap on his leg.

"Thought so!" he cried joyfully. "That means 'in need of assistance.' Now see if you kin see if there's anyone aboard."

"No, sir. I can't see anyone. There are no boats, either."

"Derelict—derelict! That's what she is. An', by gosh, there'll be pickings!" Cripps' great red face shone with a savage eagerness. There was a queer gleam in his eyes. He looked so different that Dick stared at him in amazement.

"Sonny," said Cripps, "ye got eyes if ye ain't got sense. An' ye talk English, which these Chinks can't do. I'll take ye along, derned if I won't."

Dick did not answer, but a shiver of excitement ran through him. He was beginning to understand now. He knew what salvage meant. He realised that, if this ship had been abandoned by her crew, the Rainbow, by taking her into port, could claim a heavy sum from her owners.

Soon they were close enough to view her without glasses. She was a square-rigged ship of about a thousand tons, and stood high in the water. There was no sign of life about her, and she rolled listlessly to the long send of the slow Pacific swell.

"What did they leave her for?" growled Cripps, in a puzzled tone. "Why did they leave her? There hasn't been no weather. Her masts is all standing."

As Dick had no ideas on the subject he did not venture to reply. The Chinese crew were equally silent while the Rainbow, little more than drifting before a succession of cat's-paws, slowly bore down on the derelict.

Suddenly Cripps woke up and began to roar out a succession of orders.

The crew fled to obey, and a minute or two later the schooner was lying to, head to wind. A boat was rapidly lowered, and with Cripps at the tiller, Dick in the bows, and two of the Chinks pulling, drove rapidly across the calm swells towards the derelict.

"Look!" cried Dick suddenly. "What's that?"

A brown triangular something had suddenly cut the water between the boat and the abandoned ship.

"Gosh, it's a shark!" said Cripps. "Ay, dozens of 'em. There's dead folk aboard. The sharks know."

In spite of the heat Dick shivered. In all his sheltered life he had never so much as seen a dead man.

As the dinghy drew up towards the stern of the derelict, Dick saw her name emblazoned on the taffrail. It was Kauri. Coming nearer, he suddenly caught a whiff of some powerful odour—a whiff so rank it made him almost choke.

"She—she's afire!" he gasped.

"No, she ain't," cried Cripps, smiting his thigh again. "No, she ain't. That's not smoke. It's gas. Ay, I've got it now. Carboys broke loose down below. Carboys of acid. That's it! No wonder it drove the chaps off her."

It was a job to board her, she was rolling so, but Cripps managed to catch a bight of rope hanging over the rail, and swung himself up.

"Here, you, Dick, you come aboard! Others stay in the boat. Sharp, now, kid, unless you want to make a meal for one o' them long-toothed gentry!"

Dick's heart was in his mouth as he followed, and he bruised his shins cruelly as he scrambled over the rail.

Once aboard, the reek was simply suffocating and the heat like that of a furnace.

Cripps glanced round the empty decks.

"She's abandoned, sure," he chuckled. "Oh, it's a windfall—a proper windfall!"

He hurried forward to the hatch. The cover was on, but he whirled it off. The gas poured out in suffocating clouds, and he staggered back.

"Let it blow out. It'll be all right in a minute," he gasped. "Here, you Dick, find an axe and burst open that forward hatch!"

Dick ran into the deck-house. There were axes in a rack on the wall. He got one out, and was turning when there came a sound which startled him so that he as nearly as possible dropped his heavy weapon.

The sound was a groan, and it came from quite close at hand.

Next moment he had turned up the cloth over the table in the middle of the room, and was looking down into a pair of open eyes.

"So there's one alive after all!" he gasped, and, getting hold of the owner of the eyes, who was lying between the table and the wall, he dragged him out into the open.

By his weight he thought he was a grown man, but when he got him into the light he saw that, though big and heavy framed, he was only seventeen or eighteen years of ago. He was a tall, finely- made young fellow in brown jeans, with the bluest eyes Dick had ever seen, curly hair of a chestnut red, and a heavy square jaw.

"What the blazes have you got there?"

Cripps's voice made Dick start.

"A boy. He's alive!"

Cripps swore savagely. Then his face cleared.

"It's all right." he said, in a tone of relief. "Only a cub of a cabin-boy. He can't interfere with our salvage. If I thought he could I'd—" he did not finish his sentence, but Dick shivered inwardly as he realised that the captain of the Rainbow would stop at nothing which lay between him and his prey.

"Call one o' them Chinks up, and get the chap aboard the schooner," ordered Cripps. "Sharp now, while he's still looney with the gas. Less he knows of all this the better."

Dick obeyed. As he went back to the stern he saw Cripps, with a handkerchief over his face, make a bold plunge down the companion.

It was no easy job lowering Dick's almost insensible find into the dinghy. But they did it at last, and pulled back to the schooner.

The crew of the dinghy took her straight back to the Kauri, but as Dick had had no orders to return, he stayed to look after the youngster. Chang and he between them got him below and laid him on a bunk. Chang fell his pulse and bathed his face with cold water.

"He all light pletty soon," observed the Chinaman.

The words were hardly out of his mouth before there came a curious deep booming sound which seemed to come from everywhere at once, yet from nowhere in particular. It rose with startling suddenness, growing from a drone to a high-pitched shriek.



Illustration

Headpiece from "The Magnet Library," 19 June 1916.


CHAPTER IV. — THE CASTAWAY TAKES COMMAND.

DICK, who had been leaning over the castaway, straightened himself with a sharp exclamation.

"What—" he began. Then his eyes fell on Chang's face, and the expression upon it cut his question short. For the first time since he had known the man he saw stark terror writ large on the yellow man's countenance.

Dropping everything, Chang darted for the ladder and went up it like a flash. Dick, hard at his heels, reached the deck, and for a moment stood stock still, unable to believe his eyes.

Fifteen minutes earlier, when he had left the deck, the sun had been blazing down from a cloudless sky. Now the sun was gone, swallowed by a monstrous volume of inky vapour which was sweeping up with tremendous speed The blazing heat had changed to a bitter chill.

But this was not the worst. To the southward, darkness had shut down across the ocean like a cover sliding over a hatch, and beneath it the sea was boiling under a squall of appalling fury. Dick could see the white line of foam rushing towards the schooner at the rate of an express train, while the roar of the oncoming tempest set the whole air a-tremble.

He had heard of the suddenness of these Pacific storms, but this—this was incredible, appalling.

As he stood there, helpless, not knowing what to do, the first gust caught the schooner and set her sails and spars swinging and flapping wildly.

"What can we do, Chang? What can we do?" he cried despairingly, and for the first time in his life a hideous sense of his own helplessness and ignorance overwhelmed him.

"Me not know. Me tink gettum sail down," answered Chang.

"Then call to the men. Tell them what to do!" cried Dick.

Chang shouted to the men, but they did not move. They stood where they were, clinging to cleats or stays, paralysed with fear.

Just then Dick saw Cripps come springing up on to the deck of the Kauri. He saw him rush to the side waving his arms, evidently shouting orders. Rut the roar of the storm swamped his voice, and the next instant a veil of darkness swept over him, hiding him and the ship in a single second.


Illustration

Before Dick could draw one more breath it was on the schooner, and catching her full on the beam, pressed her over until her lee gunwale was buried, and it seemed that she would instantly capsize.

"You set o' swabs! Call yourselves sailormen? Are you going to let yourselves drown like rats in a tub?"

The voice came ringing through the din and thunder of the storm like the clear call of a bugle, and Dick, clinging to the starboard ratlines, turned his head and saw the boy from the Kauri spring up from the hatch and dash across the reeling deck towards the wheel.

"Stand by, men stand by!"

The Chinese crew, who had paid no attention whatever to the orders of Chang, seemed galvanised into sudden activity by the trumpet call of the stranger's voice. They sprang to obey.

"Look alive, there! Get hold of the cutter's warp! Sharp now, for your lives! Make the warp fast to the stays' halliards! Pass the end forrard; outside the rigging, you idiots! Now, make fast to the bitts! Let out some o' the line, there! That'll do! She's coming up!"

The boat, in which Dick had just returned from the derelict had been towing astern, and the first rush of the storm had swamped her.

The stranger whom Dick had rescued had seen that the one chance of saving the Rainbow was to use the swamped boat as a sea- anchor. This he achieved by fastening her to the schooner's bow instead of to the stern. The result was that the Rainbow, answering to the drag, veered round, and now lay head to the seas, pitching violently, but riding out the squall in perfect safety.

It was a masterly manoeuvre, and even Dick, utterly ignorant as he was of any form of seamanship, realised this much.

Dick had helped all he could—not that that was much. Now he stood, breathing hard, close to the wheel, and staring out in the direction of the derelict. But the rain was coming down in spouts. Nothing was visible beyond a hundred-yard radius. As for the derelict, there was not a sign of her.

"Hi, there, you—you white boy! What are you loafing there for? Get on and help get in that fore-s'l!"

Dick realised that the order was addressed to him, and for a moment resented it savagely. But only for a moment. He was aware that the new-comer had, of course, no idea to whom he owed his rescue. He knew, too, that every hand was needed, and he staggered forrard to obey.

The red-haired boy followed him. He had lashed the helm. He passed Dick, and sprang into the rigging. Clearly, he was a fine seaman. He knew exactly what to do, and how to do it; and the Chinamen, encouraged by his example, worked magnificently.

Dick, pulling here and hauling there as he was bid, was conscious the whole time of the tremendous personality of the youngster, of his enormous physical strength and driving power. So, like the Chinamen, Dick obeyed the orders that rang full and clear above the shriek of the storm.

It was quick come, quick go. They had barely finished snugging down, when the sky began to grow lighter. The rain ceased, the wind dropped, and then, like the rolling up of a drop scene in a theatre, the ragged mass of cloud swept away, leaving the sky a burning blue, with the sun flaring down upon the still heaving waters.

The cub from the Kauri went running up the weather rigging to the crosstrees. Dick saw him standing there, holding by one hand, shading his eyes with the other from the hot glare of the sun. For perhaps two minutes he stood, sweeping the whole horizon. Then he shook his head, and came swiftly down again.

"No sign of the Kauri?" said Dick, as the other reached the deck.

The red-haired youngster stared him up and down in a contemptuous way, which brought the blood to Dick's cheeks.

"No," he said shortly. "Where's your skipper?" he added.

"He was aboard the Kauri when the storm came on."

"Then the chances are he's there!" said the other, jerking his thumb downwards with an unpleasantly significant gesture. "Got a mate?" he continued.

"No. The rest of the crew are Chinamen."

"Great snakes, what an outfit! And who are you?"

"Damer, my name is—Dick Damer."

"And you're the chap who was going to let the schooner capsize without lifting a finger to save her?"

The contempt in his voice stung Dick.

"What else could I do?" he retorted. "I've only been aboard four days."

"Never been to sea before? No; I needn't ask. You don't look it. What's your job?"

"Anything and everything," answered Dick. "I was drugged in Sydney, and put aboard without knowing anything about it."

The other burst into a great laugh.

"Shanghaied—eh? Christmas, but I'll bet your skipper was pleased when he saw what they'd palmed off on him!"

The colour rose hotly in Dick's cheeks.

"It was no fault of mine. I didn't ask to come."

"You wouldn't. But, as you're here, you'd better be useful. What is this craft, and where's she bound?"

"She's the Rainbow of Sydney. That's all I know. Captain Cripps didn't tell me what her business was, or where she was going."

At the name of Cripps, a scowl crossed the other's face.

"Abner Cripps! Was that the chap?"

Dick nodded.

"The old pirate. I've heard of him. I'll lay it was some low-down game he was after. Wonder if the Chink head-man has got any notions? Which is he?"

"Chang. That tall man."

"Hi, you, Chang!" shouted the Kauri boy.

Chang stepped briskly across. From the smart way in which he obeyed the new-comer, it was clear that he regarded him with considerable respect. In fact, as Dick discovered later, the Wonderful piece of seamanship which had saved the Rainbow had given its author a very high place in the estimation of the Chinese crew. Indeed, they regarded him with a respect that was almost superstitious.

"See here, Chang." said the tall youngster briskly, "your skipper's gone. Chances are he's dead and drowned. Have you any notion where this craft's bound?"

"Chang not know nothing. Captain Clipps, he onlee man what know."

"Thought as much. Well, I suppose the best thing we can do is to 'bout ship, and get back to Sydney. And lucky for you folk I know my navigation. It I didn't, we might float around this old Pacific Ocean till Doomsday!"

He paused, and seemed to consider a moment.

"Stay! I'll have a look at the old shark's papers first. Like as not, there might be something worth getting one's teeth into. Here you, Damer, and you, Chang, come along down to the old man's cabin! May as well see I do the thing all ship-shape and proper."

He gave a quick glance round at the sea and the sky, then led the way briskly down the companion. Dick, following, could hardly repress a shudder as the other burst unceremoniously into Cripps' cabin. He half fancied that the squat, Herculean form of the skipper must rise in savage protest at the intrusion.

"Now then," said their leader, "here's his desk! Suppose the key's gone down with him? Well, we'll soon have it open!"

He looked round, and, seeing a heavy sheath-knife hanging on the wall, whipped it out of its scabbard, and set to work on the desk. There was a rending crash, and, amid a shower of white splinters, the heavy lid flew open.

Inside, besides the log-book and writing material, were several bundles of letters and papers. The red-haired boy pulled out the whole lot, flung them on the bunk, and, sitting down on the edge of it, deliberately began to examine them.

Once or twice he frowned, and once he laughed.

"Gosh, but the old man was a peach!" he muttered.

At last he came to a long blue envelope, from which he drew a letter and a chart, the latter folded across and across. As he read the letter, Dick saw his expression change. There came an eager gleam in his eyes. Then he unfolded the map, and spread it out carefully on top of the desk. Dick noticed a course pricked out across it and a circular mark in red ink.

For a minute or two the red-haired boy studied it carefully. Then suddenly he brought his fist down on the desktop with a bang that made Dick jump.

"Thought us much. Cripps was on a good thing, and no error. Here you, Damer, you can read if you can't do anything else. Take this, and squint through it. Chang, you clear out. I'll have a chin-chin with you afterwards."

Chang vanished in the curiously silent way peculiar to his race. Dick took the letter, and noted with a start that the heading was Warlindi.

"Dear Cripps," he read,—"The old man snuffed it last night. About time, too, for I've been sitting up here with him every night for a week, and a deuced tedious job I found it. However, I was there at the finish, and that's the main thing. As soon as ever I was sure that he'd really passed in his cheeks I got to work, and herewith I enclose the result. It's Kempster's chart all right, and the inland marked all hunky with the course and all pricked out. I needn't tell you what to do. You ought to be able to get the Rainbow ready inside a week. And don't you take any white men along. They might ask questions. Chinks are good enough if you pick them careful. As for the business end of this job, no need to go into that any further. You know what your share will be, and I reckon it's a darned sight more than you'd ever make if you stuck to the black-birding job till the end of your days. All I will say is, to give you a word of warning against playing me false, or keeping any of the stuff unbeknown to yours truly.

"Wesley Crane."

Dick looked up quickly.

"Why, this is written by the man who had me shanghaied!" he exclaimed.

The other eyed him sharply.

"Where do you come in? Do you know anything about this man Kempster or the chart?"

"Nothing," answered Dick. "I never heard of one or the other. I was sent out from home to my uncle, Nicholas Damer, who lived at Warlindi. When I got there I met this man Crane, who told me my uncle was dead. He said that he had liven his partner, and that my uncle had not said anything about my coming out. He told me he would give me work, and sent me back to Sydney, to stay at an inn kept by a man called Bale."

"Bale!" broke in the other. "Great ghost! The worst blackguard on the waterside! Tell you what, kid. You wore deuced lucky to escape with a whole skin. Well, go on."

"Bale drugged me," said Dick simply; "and the next thing I knew I was aboard this schooner."

The boy from the Kauri laughed loudly. Then he turned suddenly serious again.

"I don't know what this peach Crane had against you, but it's mighty clear he wanted to get shut of you as smart as he could. Well, see here; it's plain as pie that this chart was stolen from your late uncle. And if you're his nearest kin—why, seems to me you've got the best right to whatever there is in this island."

"What do you think it is?" broke in Dick.

"Pearls, most like. Anyway, it's worth having, or you may lay your last bob that this chap Crane wouldn't have shelled out to send the Rainbow after it. Now, I'm square. No one has the right to say that Barry Freeland don't play the game. But this chance is a bit too good to lose. We've got a ship, we've got a crew, we've got a navigator—yours truly. If you're game for this trip, and willing to go halves, I'm the chap to get the stuff, whatever it may be."

Dick hesitated a moment. The very vastness and vagueness of the venture daunted him. So, too, did Freeland himself. This cub from the Kauri was so big, so strong, so rough and reckless that the idea of voyaging for weeks or months in his company filled Dick with a sort of terror.

Barry Freeland seemed to read his thoughts.

"Scared, are ye?" he said, with a sneer. "Here's a chance offered ye of a fortune and, more than that, of getting square with the man that done ye down, and ye goes white and red like a baby. Gosh, how old are ye—six?"

Dick went not red, but crimson. Tears of mortification started to his eyes. He sprang to his feet.

"I'll go anywhere that you will. And—and if you talk to me like that again I'll fight you."

With the memory of Captain Cripps green in his mind. Dick fully expected a blow or a thrashing. To his immense surprise, Freeland threw his head back, and burst into a great roar of laughter.

"Flicked ye on the raw, did I? Darned if there isn't it bit of spirit in the kid, after all! All right, Damer, I'll take you at your word, and I'll draw up a bit of an agreement for you to sign. Now, cut along, and send Chang here. I've got to get him into this swim, for if he's willing, the rest of the Chinks won't make no trouble."

Dick heard nothing of the interview with Chang, but apparently it was satisfactory, for about half an hour later Freeland came on deck, and, at once taking command, gave orders for sail to be set. A course was shaped north-east, and all hands were kept busy until everything was shipshape and to Freeland's satisfaction.

By this time supper was due. Freeland called up Dick.

"Damer," he said, "you'll bunk with me, aft. Not that you'll be much use to me, but it isn't right for white men to live with Chinks. And, see here, you've got to learn—and learn mighty quick, too. I don't reckon to have to navigate this craft all the way to this here island single-handed. You'll have to stand watch and watch. See?"

"I'll do my best," said Dick humbly. And then they went down to supper.

It seemed odd to Dick to be sitting there in the cabin, with the food served on a table covered with a cloth, and with Chang bringing in the dishes. Freeland seemed to have changed everything, and changed it, too, without an effort. Dick was filled with envy at the easy way in which he gave his orders, and the promptness with which he was obeyed.

And yet there were things about Freeland which filled the other with discomfort. His table manners were not nearly so good as those of the Chinamen in the fo'c's'le. He ate with his knife, he champed his food noisily, and it was plain to Dick's fastidious eyes that he had not washed his hands before sitting down.

The new skipper of the Rainbow was utterly unlike anyone whom Dick had ever met before, and that night, after turning in, he lay awake a long time, wondering at the extraordinary turn of Fortune's wheel which had flung him into such queer company and such an amazing adventure.


CHAPTER V. — THE MAN WITH THE GUN.

"IT'S pearls all right. There's diving-dresses below."

So spoke Barry Freeland, emerging next morning from the depths of the hold.

"Ever seen a diving-dress, kid?" he added.

"I never have," answered Dick truthfully. "I've read about them, though."

"Bah! You've wasted all your life reading about things!" retorted the other. "I never struck a chap like you before."

"I—I know I'm very ignorant," said Dick humbly. "You see, I never went to school."

"No more did I. At least, not since I was twelve. I've been at sea ever since. Come and take the wheel. It's time you learnt to steer, anyway."

The schooner, with the wind a couple of points aft of the beam, was snoring pleasantly through the long blue swells. Barry, getting rid of the Chinaman, who was steering, took the wheel himself, and showed Dick how to read the compass and how to watch the sails.

"Now, take hold," he ordered.

Dick, with secret misgivings, did as he was bid, and was surprised to find how easy his task was. Barry watched him for a few minutes, then deliberately left him to his own devices, and for the next hour the schooner was entirely under Dick's control.

When his first nervousness had worn off, Dick actually enjoyed the experience. It was the first time in his life that he had ever had anything under his own control, and he took a keen pride in keeping the Rainbow exactly on her course.

"Not so bad," remarked Barry, when at last he came back to Dick. "But don't you go and think it's always going to be as easy as this. Wait till you've got to buck her into a head-wind and a head-sea. That'll teach ye something."

It was in this way that Dick's nautical education began, and Barry took precious good care that none of his pupil's time was wasted. Almost every hour of the day he was at him. He showed him how to take the sun, how to read the chronometer; he instructed him in the mysteries of dead reckoning, and taught him the names and uses of every spar and sail and sheet.

Dick, naturally intelligent, threw all his heart into the work, and learnt with such quickness that Barry was secretly pleased. At the same time he did not say so. On the other hand, he was often cuttingly sarcastic; and Dick, much as he admired him, was never quite happy in his company.

The weather remained fair, and the Rainbow, driving always north- east, ate up the miles. Each day Barry measured up her course on the chart, and Dick's excitement grew as he saw the distance lessen between her and her mysterious destination.

More than once they passed islands which hove up dream-like out of the blue sea, with the swells pounding and spouting on their coral reefs. Once Barry ran in through a wide channel into a still lagoon, and took a boat ashore for fresh water.

On the twenty-third day after the storm, when Barry took Dick below to prick off their course and write up the log, the distance between the Rainbow's position and the red circle on the chart which indicated the nameless island had dwindled to the length of a thumbnail.

"If the island's there, I reckon we'll raise her to-morrow," said Barry.

"If she's there?" repeated Dick. "B-but you don't think that she isn't?"

Barry laughed jeeringly.

"How d'ye know the whole thing isn't a fake?"

"I—I don't know, of course. But I hope not."

"Well, you'll know pretty soon if this wind holds," answered Barry, as he put the chart away.

The wind did hold, and all the rest of that day, and all night, too, the Rainbow was reeling off ten or eleven knots an hour.

At earliest dawn next morning Dick was on deck, staring out towards the north-east. He was so excited that he could hardly eat his breakfast, and brought down upon himself fresh jeers from Barry.

As soon as the meal was over he resumed his watch, climbing high into the cross-trees and sweeping the horizon with a pair of binoculars, which had belonged to Cripps.

It was about ten o'clock when, in the focus of the glasses, he caught what seemed a tiny cloud hanging between sea and sky. So like a cloud that for quite two minutes he hesitated, not really believing that it could be land.

Gradually the outline sharpened until the powerful glasses picked out the graceful feathers of lofty palms, and Dick, drawing a long breath, shouted at the top of his voice:

"Land-ho!"

Then he came sliding down to the deck with such haste that the ropes burnt his palms, and rushed up to Barry, who was standing by the binnacle.

"It's not a fake!" he cried triumphantly. "That's the island all right!"

"Let's hope there's something on it, then!" returned Barry drily.

Slowly the island lifted into sight, and in another hour they were near enough to see the huge swells breaking in white foam over the coral-reef surrounding it.

Now Barry took the wheel and Dick noticed that he changed course slightly, running up to windward of the island.

"Wonder where the opening is?" Dick heard him mutter. "Must be one somewhere. I suppose."

"It's very small—the island, I mean," said Dick.

"What's that matter? If it's pearls, they're in the lagoon, not on the island," Barry retorted.

The schooner drew on until she was parallel with the reef and about a mile to the north.

Dick gave a sudden shout:

"There's the opening, Freeland. Do you see it?"

"I've been looking at it the last two minutes," answered Barry drily; and, instead of turning in towards it, threw the schooner up into the wind, and shouted an order to heave the lead.

This was done, but the line ran out to its full length.

"No gettee bottom!" cried the leadsman.

"Likely as not it's a mile deep!" growled Barry. "Means we can't anchor."

"But why not run in?" asked Dick.

"Because we've only got one ship, you duffer; and if we pile her up there's an end of it. Think I'm going to chance running into an uncharted channel? Pretty sort of seaman I'd be!

"A nice hole I'm in!" he added, with a frown. "I can't leave the ship, for there's no one else to navigate her. And I've no one I can trust to sound the channel."

"I'll try if you like," said Dick. "Let me take Chang and Ah Lung. We'll manage, if you'll tell us what to do."

"H'm! Suppose that's the only thing," growled Barry. "Very well! Get the boat out as sharp as you can. And keep clear of the reef. If you capsize her, the sharks'll have you before you can say 'knife!'"

So the boat was launched, and Dick, full of excitement, but desperately keen to do his job to Barry's satisfaction, sat in the stern sheets and steered, while the two stolid Chinamen pulled at the oars.

As they neared the opening the roar was deafening. Although a fine day, with no more than a sailing breeze, the great Pacific swells burst on the ragged teeth of the reef with a sound like thunder.

"Steady her!" said Dick. It was the first order he had ever given, and the way in which he snapped it out surprised no one more than himself. "Ah Lung, you hold her where she is! Chang, you can heave the lead!"

The load hissed through the air and struck the water with a heavy splash. The line whizzed out.

"Folteen fathom!" announced Chung, and prepared for another cast.

Bit by bit they worked in; and risky work it was, for the current raced through the narrow opening, and the coral fangs stuck out black and jagged on either side through a smother of white foam.

"Plenty deep!" said Chang, as he took a last cast in the very centre of the channel. "Schoonel she no lun aground!"

"Carry on a bit," said Dick. "See what it's like inside."

Ah Lung took a couple more strokes, and the boat shot through into the lagoon. The change was startling. Inside, the water was calm as a lake, and of an incredible clearness. The boat seemed floating on air. Below, gay-coloured fish swarmed like birds, and in the depths corals and weeds of rainbow hues lay like a fairy garden plain to view.

Dick gasped with delight and wonder. He found it difficult to take his eyes off the beauties below and survey the island itself.

The lagoon was perhaps six or seven miles across, the island in the centre was not more than two miles in diameter. Its beach of coral-sand shone white as snow in the tropical sunshine: the centre was a mass of thick bush, with groups of tufted coconut and pandanus rising here and there from the undergrowth.

Dick scanned it carefully, but could see no sign of life. No smoke rose anywhere; the island looked as though man had never set foot upon it.

There came a sound like the distant crack of a whip.

Zip, zip, zip!

Something came skipping across the calm lagoon, cutting little white dots on its placid surface. It passed the boat with a long- drawn, whining sound.

Dick stared.

"What was that?" he asked wonderingly.

Crack! Zip! Nearer this time.

Chang and his fellow Chinaman had sprung to the oars and were pulling like mad for the channel.

"What was it?" asked Dick again.

"Someone shootee! No likee—no likee!" responded Chang, with something very like terror on his usually impassive face.

"Shooting at us! But what for?" exclaimed Dick; and as he spoke he felt as if someone had hit the boat with a hammer, and white splinters leaped from the gunwale.

The Chinamen pulled like fury, and before another bullet could reach them the boat was swinging in the rollers that poured through the opening in the reef, and Dick had his work cut out to keep her head to the foaming crests. If there was more shooting he did not hear it, and no other bullet touched them.

Ten minutes later they were alongside the schooner, which had been beating up and down outside, and Dick tumbled hastily over the counter.

"There's someone on the island!" he told Freeland breathlessly. "Someone shot at us!"

"The deuce he did! Did you see him!"

"We didn't see a sign of anybody—not a boat, or smoke, or anything. But one shot hit the cutter."

Barry frowned.

"What about the channel?" he asked.

"Plenty of room, and plenty of water. B-but are you going in? You may get shot."

Barry laughed harshly.

"Rifle-bullets can't sink the schooner," he said. "And if it comes to trouble—why, we can do our share of the shooting."

As he spoke he brought the schooner round, and ran her straight down towards the channel.


CHAPTER VI. — THE GLADE OF DEATH.

"WHERE'S your noble sportsman? Where's your chap with the gun?"

The schooner lay at anchor, every spar and rope mirrored in the placid surface of the lagoon. Barry stood with Dick by the rail, and, with his glasses to his eyes, searched the greenery, that danced and shimmered in the blaze of the afternoon sun.

"I don't know any more than you," Dick answered. "What are you going to do?"

"Go ashore and have a look round. Hi, Chang, over with that cutter!"

Chang and his fellows launched the boat, but when Barry ordered two of them into it they flatly refused to obey.

"No likee shootum," said Chang stolidly.

Barry's face flamed.

"You yellow-livered cur!" he thundered; and, making a spring like a tiger, he seized Chang by the collar of his blue blouse.

Into Dick's mind flashed the memory of Chang's former kindness, and on the spur of the moment rushed after Barry, and grasped his arm.

"No!" he cried. "No, don't hit him. You can't wonder he's scared."

Barry swung round on Dick, and there was a very ugly look in his eyes. For the moment Dick fully believed that the other would drive his fist into his face.

But Dick did not finch, and the expected blow did not come.

"Perhaps you'll come instead?" said Barry sarcastically.

"Yes, I will," answered Dick simply. "But," he added, "I can't row very well."

"You'll have to try!" returned Barry harshly. "Come on, then!"

Dick jumped down into the boat. When Barry followed, Dick saw that he was carrying a rifle. It was a .38-bore Winchester repeater.

"Pull on," said Barry shortly; and Dick, whose only rowing had been a pleasure-boat on a pond, dropped his blades in and began a jerky, unskilful progress towards the beach.

He was so busy endeavouring not to catch a crab that he had not much time to think of the danger. Yet now and then, in spite of the heat, his skin crawled at the thought that, somewhere up in that thick bush behind him, lay a man with a gun, waiting to put a bullet through his back.

But the shot never came, and presently the bow grated on the bench. Barry sprang quickly ashore and made the boat fast. Then, with his finger on the trigger, he walked quickly towards the brush.

The heat was terrific, the sand was like fire beneath their feet. The brush and palms seemed to swim in the scorching air.

"Quiet enough," muttered Barry, as he stepped into the shade of a group of palms. "If it hadn't been for that hole in the boat I'd have betted that you'd dreamed the whole thing. Gosh! I wonder where the gunman's gone? We'll have to try and track him."

He began prowling slowly along the edge of the scrub, his eyes on the ground. Dick, feeling anything but happy followed close behind.

A quarter of a mile they went, and suddenly Barry stopped short.

"Gee!" he muttered. "It was no dream, after all. Here's the tracks, right enough!"

Dick, looking down, saw footmarks plain upon a patch of sandy ground. He was about to speak, but Barry, holding up a hand, checked him, and set off on the trail like a questing hound.

The steps took them into a path—a path clearly much used, for the grass was worn flat. Yet it was so narrow that two could not walk abreast. And the path, curving through the steamy heat of the jungle-like brush, led them presently into an opening—a space of clear ground shadowed by a group of lofty palms.

Barry was leading, and he stopped so suddenly that Dick almost fell over him.

"Great ghost!" gasped Barry, and for the first time since he had met the cub from the Kauri, Dick heard real fright in his voice.

"Look at that!" muttered Barry; and as he stepped aside, Dick found himself confronted by a sight so strange and hideous that it was all he could do to choke down the scream that rose in his throat.

Flat upon the ground, under the dappled shade of the cocoa-palms, lay five skeletons. Neatly arranged, they were side by side, and about a yard apart.

They were dry bones, without one fragment of flesh, and their grinning skulls were all in line. Flat on their backs they lay, their legs stretched straight out, and their eyeless sockets staring straight upwards towards the sky.

But what was perhaps the most terrible part of this ghastly spectacle was that each skeleton head was crowned with a garland of scarlet hibiscus blooms, which glowed like blood against the paper whiteness of the bare bones.

A spasm of sickness seized Dick. He staggered and grasped at the nearest tree. For once Barry refrained from jeering at him.

"Ugh! I never saw anything so beastly!" he growled; and under his saddle-like tan his cheeks had whitened.

"Do—do natives leave their dead like this?" asked Dick hoarsely.

"Never heard of it, if they do," answered Barry. "Besides, they weren't bare feet that made those tracks we've followed. They were boots."

He paused a moment, and visibly pulled himself together.

"Come on! We've got to get to the bottom of this. The tracks are all around these bones. And, see, they lead off beyond!"

Again he took up the trail, and Dick, giddy and breathing hard, followed. The tracks led them out of the gruesome glade, and once more they found themselves in a narrow bush-trail.

Barry picked his way with care. Dick noticed that he held his rifle with his finger on the trigger. Once more the bush opened a little, and they saw another glade. It was empty, but in the centre was a pool of clear water, with a little rill running away from it, and trickling through a miniature forest of ferns towards the sea.

The spring was so strong that the surface of the little pool bubbled like a boiling kettle.

By this they paused.

"C-can I have a drink?" panted Dick.

"Go ahead. I'll watch out."

Dick dropped on his knee and put his face down to the exquisitely clear water. Never in his life had he tasted any thing so delicious as that fresh, cool draught. He drank, and drank, and sprang to his feet refreshed.

"Take the gun," said Barry, thrusting the rifle into his hands. Then he dropped down and buried his face in the sparkling pool.

It was at that moment that Dick heard the laugh, and if the sight of the skeletons had shocked him, that laugh struck terror into his heart.

It was a low, mocking chuckle, yet full of such malice that it sounded like nothing human.

He glared around, but could see nothing. The next thing he knew, Barry was on his feet, and had swiftly taken the rifle from his hands.

"You heard it?" whispered Dick.

Barry nodded. His eyes had a queer look in them.

For a minute or more they listened, and all was so still that the snapping of the tiny bubbles flung up by the spring came plainly to their ears.

"Suppose I didn't dream it?" muttered Barry. And as he spoke, Dick seized his arm and pointed.

Above the wall of ferns which marked the course of the tiny brook a face had risen slowly into sight—a face that was no more human than the laugh.

It was hardly bigger than that of a chimpanzee, and the wrinkled skin was almost the colour of a well-baked coffeeberry. In startling contrast to the brown of the skin was the fringe of beard and whiskers, thick and white as snow. The top of the head was likewise covered with a mat of snowy hair.

One ear stuck out like a bat's wing, the other was missing altogether; and this gave the head a most curiously lopsided appearance.

But this mutilation Dick hardly noticed. It was the eyes that held him with a horrible fascination. Small, black, and deep-set under shaggy brows, they were filled with a sort of unholy glee that exactly matched the terrible laugh which their owner had uttered.

Barry Freeland drew a sharp, whistling breath. Ready and resourceful as he was, the hideously uncanny sight seemed for the moment to have paralysed his nerve.

It was only for a moment. Then he flung his rifle to his shoulder.

"Hands up!" he shouted.


Illustration

His delay, though but momentary, had been too long. Unseen behind the close screen of fern, the other, too, had been holding a rifle.

The two shots rang out simultaneously, or so nearly so that, to Dick's ears, the two reports seemed one. But the one-eared man had evidently been a fraction of a second the quicker of the two, for it was Barry who stumbled backwards and fell heavily to the ground.


CHAPTER VII. — THE BARRAMUNDA.

A VERY passion of rage filled Dick's soul. Without one thought to the fact that he was going to almost certain death, he made a furious dash at the brown-faced horror behind the ferns.

He saw the black muzzle of the rifle rise and cover him, and some instinct told him to duck. The whip-like crack filled the heated air with sound, and he felt the wind of the bullet past his cheek. Again his enemy pulled the trigger, but this time there was only an empty click. Either a miss-fire, or the magazine was empty.

With a snarl like that of some beast, the monkey-faced man fumbled wildly for fresh cartridges. Dick gave him no time. In the boy's heart had waked a Berserk rage, inherited from some long-forgotten ancestor. Fear was forgotten. He saw red, and his one instinct was to kill the man who had caused Barry Freeland's death.

With a tremendous bound he crashed through the hedge of ferns, and, striking the other with the whole of his weight, bore him down.

His clutching fingers gripped the lean throat; then the monkey- faced man was flat on his back, gurgling horribly, as Dick, kneeling on top of him, choked him savagely.

"Steady, kid! Don't slay him. He may be useful."

Dick looked up, and his eyes nearly started from his head. Barry, with blood running down his face, yet strong on feet and clear of voice, was standing over him.

"I—I thought you were killed!" gasped Dick; and then—what between heat and shock and the unwonted passion of anger—he suddenly collapsed. Everything around danced mistily before his eyes—a grey fog seemed to cover them; he felt himself heeling over.

It was the splash of cool water on his face that brought him to his senses. He opened his eyes and saw Barry standing over him.

Barry, with his face all streaked and mottled with bloodstains, was not a pretty sight, yet he seemed quite unconcerned, and was looking down at Dick with something very like a grin on his lips.

"You are the limit!" he observed.

Dick, horribly ashamed of his collapse, began to struggle to his feet. He was still giddy and shaking.

"Lie still, you ass!" ordered Barry.

"B-but the man with the gun—" protested Dick.

"He won't use his gun again in a hurry. He'd never have used it again if I hadn't come up when I did."

He burst into his loud laugh, which echoed oddly through the still heat of the blazing afternoon.

"You certainly are the queerest kid I ever ran against," he continued. "I'm hanged if I thought you had it in you to charge old Monkey-face the way you did! Can't think how he missed you."

"I—I ducked," answered Dick, flushing. "You see, I—I thought he'd killed you."

"He wasn't far off," Barry remarked as he took off his hat, and bent down.

"Look at that," he said, pointing to a neat little furrow about three inches long across the top of his scalp. The hair was gone, and the skin just scored. "The blow knocked me out for a moment," he explained. "It was just as well you tackled the chap like you did. If you hadn't, he'd most certainly have bagged us both."

"I—I'm glad I did right," said Dick humbly.

Barry laughed again.

"Gosh! I'd never have believed it of you if I hadn't seen it. There's hope for you, kid, after this."

Never had words of praise been sweeter to Dick. He scrambled up.

"Let me tie up your head for you," he said.

"Bless you, that's no odds! I'll just stick it in the pool a minute. And now that we've got our friend the gunman, best thing we can do is to take him back to the ship. I don't want to leave those Chinks to themselves any longer than I need."

The monkey-faced man was quite beyond doing any further mischief. Barry had seen to that. He lay flat on his back, his hands and feet lashed with sailor-like neatness.

While Barry washed the blood off his face at the pool, Dick stole across and looked at the man.

Oddly enough, the vicious, beast-like look had quite passed from his face. He lay staring up into the tree above him, paying no attention whatever to Dick. Dick, watching him, noticed that he had a great scar on the top of his head. It had healed badly, and the hair had not grown across it. It must have been a terrible wound. It seemed to have cut deep into the very bone. Dick was filled with wonder that any man could have survived such an injury.

Barry came back, and Dick pointed out the scar.

"You're right. Someone must have swiped him good and hard," Barry answered. "Tell you what, I believe he's loony."

"What—from the blow?"

"That's it. A crack on the head often sends a chap off his nut."

"Then that might explain his shooting at us," said Dick eagerly. "And—and the skeletons. Perhaps that was some of his work."

Barry whistled thoughtfully.

"Its on the cards," he muttered. "Just the sort of thing a loony chap would do. Wonder if he killed them, or whether they were his pals, and someone else came along and swatted the lot of them?"

"Murdered them, you mean?" asked Dick, in an awed voice.

Barry burst into his loud laugh.

"What else, you juggins? Did you think they turned up their toes and died in a neat little row like that?"

A month before, Dick would have been horribly shocked by Barry's levity; now he was only mildly surprised.

"Rum things happen in the islands," added Barry, as he turned to the prisoner and took the lashings off his ankles. "Now then, old bird," he said, "you're coining along with us. Comprenny? And no more gun play this journey."

The white-haired man rose to his feet quite quietly. Barry rove a length of cord to the lashings on his wrist, and made him walk ahead.

"Quiet as a sheep, ain't he? Tell you what, Dick, we'll take him past the skeletons, and see what he says."

Dick shivered. The idea of passing again those gruesome relics was anything but pleasant.

The prisoner, however, did not seem to mind. As soon as they reached the second glade, and caught sight of the skeletons, he hurried forward.

"Hallo, my hearties! How goes it?" he shouted, addressing the skeletons. "Here, you've been lying there long enough! Wake up, lads! The ship's a-waiting!"

There was something indescribably horrible in his greeting and in the whole scene. Even Barry, tough as he was, looked uncomfortable.

"Mad he is," he said to Dick—"plumb, loony."

"The ship's waiting in the lagoon. The pearls are aboard," went on the poor lunatic. "There's a fair wind, boys. We'll sail to- night for Sydney. Pink pearls, white pearls—they shine like moonlight. We're rich for the rest of our lives, if ye'll only wake up and help me sail the schooner home."

"I can't stand this," said Dick, with sudden sharpness. "Come on, Barry!"

For once Barry made no objection.

"All right. Take his arm."

"Come along, old chap," he said quite gently, speaking to his prisoner. "You're right about the schooner. I've got her waiting in the lagoon. But these chaps can't help you; they've got to stay behind."

The old man seemed unwilling to leave the poor, dead bones, but after a while he yielded, and they got him away down the bush- path, and so to the beach.

The moment he set eyes on the boat he broke into a run, and it was all the boys could do to keep up with him.

On the way out to the schooner he fell very silent again, but his queer, deep-set eyes fairly blazed with excitement. Barry had untied his hands, and he sprang aboard the schooner as lightly as a boy.

"He's a seaman, anyway," said Barry. "Wish he could tell us what's happened. There's been some black doings on the island."

"He may come round, and remember," suggested Dick. "I've read of cases like that."

"Ay, they do happen. I mind a chap in my fust ship, the Mary Power. Joe Forte, his name was. Good sailor, but sort of loony, and never spoke to anyone. We thought he was dumb. One day, in a squall, he fell off the top o' the deck-house, and we picked him up for dead. But he came round, and—bless you!—when he woke up he'd forgotten all about his voyage in the Mary Power, and thought he was back on a ship called the Hero. And talk—he talked as well as you or me! Look at the old chap!" he added. "He knows his way about."

The castaway was making straight for the companion. The boys followed him, and saw him go direct to the cabin. When they reached him, he was staring round in a puzzled fashion.

"She's not the same as she used to be. The cabin's bigger," he said, in a querulous voice.

"That's all right," said Dick soothingly. "You come along to your bunk, and get a wash and a change. Supper will be ready soon."

"That's right," whispered Barry. "You handle him. Give him a change out o' the slop-chest. He'll look more like a man when he's got some clothes on. Those rags are fit to scare a shark."

Dick nodded, and took the old chap to the spare cabin. When he brought him back to supper Barry stared.

"Gosh. I wouldn't ha' known him!" he said. "Why, he isn't so old after all."

The change was truly startling. Dick had persuaded the castaway to shave, and he had cut his hair. A good wash had left his face and hands several shades lighter, and a decent suit of clothes and a clean collar completed the transformation.

"I don't believe he's more than fifty," said Dick. "And he's as quiet as you please. Not a bit of trouble."

Chang came in with supper, and the castaway took his place at the table with the other two, and ate his food as quietly and decently as possible. His manners, indeed, were much better than Barry's, and Dick felt quite proud of his charge.

"Get him off to bed as soon as you can," whispered Barry to Dick. "You and I have got to have a chin."

The old chap made no trouble about going to bed, and Dick came back to the cabin.

Barry had Wesley Crane's letter before him, and was frowning over it.

"This is a rum go," he began. "I can't make head or tail of it. From this letter it looks to me as if Crane had sneaked the chart out of your uncle's papers, don't it?"

"Not much doubt of that," answered Dick, who was secretly flattered at being consulted.

"But it don't say who Kempster was, nor how your uncle got hold of the chart," continued Barry. "Anyways, Crane must ha' thought he was on to a good thing, and my notion was that this was an unknown island with a lagoon full of shell, and that Kempster had discovered it and sold or given the secret to your uncle."

"That seems reasonable," said Dick.

"Reasonable! Then how the mischief does this chap come to be marooned here? Who are the dead men? What's happened?"

Dick considered a moment.

"Perhaps my uncle sent an expedition, unknown to Crane, and they fell out over the pearls. There might have been a mutiny, and the mutineers killed their officers and cleared out with the schooner and the pearls."

Barry nodded.

"Yes, that would explain it. Or another schooner may have happened in on top of the first and tackled her. There are always a lot o' dirty pirates cruising round these seas."

"Then wouldn't the first schooner be lying here somewhere?" suggested Dick.

"No; they'd ha' scuttled or sneaked her."

"What do you think of doing?"

"May as well see if there are any pearls or shell left in the lagoon. I shall go down first thing in the morning."

Before turning in Dick took a peep at the cutaway. He found him sleeping like a baby, but just to be on the safe side he locked the cabin door on the outside and took the key.

It was a needless precaution. The man was still sound asleep when, at dawn, Dick unlocked the door.

The ship was astir early. Barry was eager to test the lagoon, and immediately after breakfast a diving-dress was got up, together with the pump and other apparatus.

Chang looked over the side, measuring with his eyes the depth of the water.

"No wantee dless," he said suddenly to Barry. "Me tink divee klite easy."

"Why the mischief didn't you say so before?" growled Barry. "All right. You go down one time, and see what the shell is like."

Chang nodded, and disappeared down the fo'c's'le hatch. Inside two minutes he was back, stripped to the buff, his yellow skin gleaming in the sunlight.

In one hand he carried an open basket, under the other arm a plummet-shaped stone with a loop of cord through a hole at the smaller end.

"Why, he's a regular professional diver!" said Barry, aside to Dick. "Look at the reef scars on his chest and shoulders! And I never knew it."

Without hesitation the man stepped down on the diver's ladder which had been put over the side. He reached the water level, stepped off, and shot down into the transparent depths below.

Breathlessly Dick watched him sink into the gorgeous growth of weeds and coral, scattering the shoals of brilliant-hued fish in his swift descent.

He reached the bottom, where the black sea-cucumbers lay like monstrous slugs on the snow-white sand. The long, blue sea-grass swayed under his feet, as, stooping, he swiftly plucked some unseen objects from the floor of the lagoon.

"What about sharks?" muttered Dick, as he watched.

"They don't come inside much," answered Barry. "It's precious seldom they venture inside a lagoon."

"Then what's that?" demanded Dick sharply, as he pointed to a long dark shadow that had suddenly appeared no more than the schooner's length away from the spot where Chang was moving.

The change that came over Barry's face was startling.

"A barramunda!" he gasped. "It's all up with the poor beggar!"

He spun round.

"Here, you chaps, barramunda!" he yelled. "The brute's after Chang. Any of you game to tackle it?"

Not one of the men moved. You might have said that they had not even heard. Yet Dick, who by this time knew their faces, saw the terror in their eyes.

"Darn it all," snapped Barry. "I can't see the poor beggar scuppered without making a shy at helping him! Give me a knife, Dick!"

Dick snatched a sheath-knife from the belt of the nearest Chinaman. Before he could give it into Barry's hands someone came dashing through the group, scattering them to right and left, and snatching the knife from Dick, made one wild leap over the side.

"The loony!" cried Barry. "The loony! By crumbs, but he's got a nerve!"

Dick did not hear. He was leaning far out over the side, watching with fascinated eyes the extraordinary scene which was being enacted in the transparent depths of the lagoon.


CHAPTER VIII. — THE SKIPPER'S STORY.

THE huge fish which Barry had called the barramunda, and which divers dread worse than the tiger shark itself, had been moving slowly nearer and nearer to Chang, winnowing its way forward with almost imperceptible movements of its long fins.

So far as Dick could see, the brute made its dash at the very same second that the man from the island plunged downwards.

For an instant the splash of his dive, shattering the mirror-like surface, blurred the scene. When it cleared, Chang, who had evidently seen his peril, had dodged behind a projecting spike of coral. It was the wisest thing he could have done, for if he had attempted to rise the brute would have caught him midway, and shorn him in two with its razor-like fangs. There he clung, with his yellow face turned upwards. It was clear that he would sooner drown than risk facing the monster.

The barramunda swerved, and turned, evidently meaning to come at Chang from the other side. It was at this moment that the man from the island reached it.

Dick held his breath. Distinctly he saw the blue steel gleam.

"Got him!" roared Barry, as a red cloud rose through the water and hid everything from the eyes of the watchers. "Got him!"


Illustration

It was blood—blood from the wounded barramunda that made a crimson fog, and next instant Chang's sleek head shot into view. Barry sprang out on the ladder and hauled him in.

"Where's the other?" he demanded. "Where's the old man?"

"Him velly blave man," spluttered Chang, spitting the salt water from his lips.

"I know that, you fool! But where is he?"

"I see the barramunda," sang out Dick. "He's flopping about like anything."

"Hang the barramunda!" retorted Barry fiercely. "Where's the old boy?"

"I—I can't see him yet. Yes, I believe I do. He's on the bottom."

Barry hesitated for perhaps two seconds.

"He's too good a man to drown," he growled, and flinging up his arms, took one long breath and dived off the ladder.

The water was clearing. The tide or current was carrying the blood mist away. Dick saw Barry swimming strongly downwards towards the dim object on the bottom. He himself was almost choking with suspense. Suppose the barramunda recovered! Suppose another came up! Even the stolid Chinese crowded along the rail, hanging over and peering down into the depths.

Barry reached the still figure at the bottom. Dick saw him grasp him, and kick off with all his might. He himself sprung down on to the ladder, and as Barry's head appeared above the surface, caught hold of him and dragged him in.

"Take the old chap," panted Barry. "I'm all right."

"Help Mr. Freeland," said Dick to the nearest Chinaman, as he lifted the old man aboard, and, staggering under the weight, laid him on the white deck planks.

"Not on his back!" snapped Barry, as he followed.

"Is he dead?" asked Dick, in an awed voice.

"Can't tell yet," answered Barry shortly "Here, let me get to work on him."

Barry seemed none the worse for his big dive, but the appearance of the old man frightened Dick. His eyes were closed; his face was the colour of lead; he was not breathing.

"Get his clothes off," ordered Barry. "Fetch a roll of blankets. Sharp, now. We don't want him to go out."

He began by laying his patient on his face, with the roll of blankets under his chest and stomach. Then he pressed down with the palms of his hands on the other's back three or four times in succession.

This got the water out of his lungs.

Then he started artificial respiration, and he and Dick, relieving one another, kept this up for nearly ten minutes.

"Afraid it's no use," growled Barry at last. "The old chap's gone under. Rotten luck!"

"Let's keep on a bit longer," begged Dick. "I've read of chaps coming round after an hour."

"Bah! You and your reading!" sneered Barry. "Stick to it if you like, but it's no use. He's as dead as a herring."

"He isn't," retorted Dick sharply. "I saw his eyelids move."

He went on pumping away steadily. Barry, his lips light set, watched keenly.

"Gosh! I believe you're right, after all," he said presently. "Yes; he's starting to breathe. Here, you, Chang, go and get some hot coffee. You hurry one-time."

There was no doubt about it now. The old man's chest was beginning to heave. His lungs had started work once more.

Barry and Dick, between them, carried him down to his bunk, rubbed him well, rolled him in blankets, and soon he was well enough to sip the hot coffee which Chang brought.

"You watch him," said Barry. "I'll get along and change."

Dick, sitting by the berth, saw, to his delight, that his patient was steadily improving. He was breathing regularly, and his face was a better colour.

In a few minutes Barry was back. He had a glass in his hand.

"A drop of brandy won't hurt him," he said. And, lifting the patient's head, poured a spoonful or two down his throat.

The effect was magical. The old man's eyes opened, and he stared vaguely up at the boys.

"Who are you?" he asked, and, to Dick's amazement, his voice had changed as completely as his expression.

"I'm Dick Damer. You are aboard the schooner Rainbow. This is her skipper, Barry Freeland."

The other looked at Dick and Barry for some seconds. There was a puzzled expression on his brown face.

"I don't understand," he said. "Where's the Stella?"

"Was that your ship?" broke in Barry sharply.

"Of course. Where is she?"

Barry was going to speak again, but Dick nudged him.

"Let me do the talking," he whispered.

Barry frowned, but nodded.

"The Stella is not here now," said Dick soothingly. "You have had a bad accident, and have been unconscious a long time. Don't you remember being left on the island?"

The old man's brows knitted.

"Left on the island?" he repeated. "Why—why, yes." He passed one hand across his forehead in a puzzled fashion. "Yes," he muttered. "Burke—it was Burke. Let me think."

The boys listened breathlessly.

"Burke—that swine Burke!" The other's voice rose sharply. "It was he who robbed me. He and his crew of murderers in the Brant! It's coming back—it's all coming back. He, and Redstall, and Pyke, and Wigram."

He dropped back, panting. Dick hastily snatched up the glass of brandy, and gave him another sip.

"Go steady," he said. "Don't get excited. You're not well enough to stand that sort of thing."

"Tell him we'll put it straight for him," said Barry, in a low voice. "Tell him we'll hunt the beggars down, and get back the loot."

Dick nodded briefly, but, instead of giving Barry's message at once, made a remark that startled the other.

"You are Captain Kempster, aren't you?" he asked of the white- haired man.

"Yes; I'm Kempster. How did you know?"

"I told you I was Dick Damer. I am Nicholas Damer's nephew."

"Nicholas Damer's nephew! Did he send you after me?"

"No. My uncle is dead. It was Wesley Crane who fitted out the Rainbow. Captain Cripps was in command, and I was shanghaied aboard her by Crane. We got rid of Cripps—never mind how, now—and picked Freeland off a derelict. We found a chart aboard, showing the position of this island, so Freeland said we'd better come on and see what there was here."

Kempster was listening with the keenest attention. Crazy as he had been when they first found him, he was sane enough now. There was no doubt about that.

"So Damer's dead?" he said. "And Wesley Crane got the duplicate chart? The low-down scoundrel! I'd have laid anything he'd have been up to some such trick. He and Cripps are a pair. I tell you, youngster, you were lucky to get out of Crane's clutches alive."

"So the chart was a duplicate?" put in Barry. "Then I suppose you went off on the quiet, without Crane knowing anything about it?"

"Just so. It was this way. Damer and I were pals. He was a straight man, and it was no fault of his that he got tied up with Crane. I happened on this island nigh on two years ago. The lagoon was full of shell, but I had no capital to work it, so I went to Nicholas Damer, and he offered to put up the cash. I left the duplicate chart with him, in case anything happened to me and the Stella, and I got off without Crane knowing a thing about it."

"And you got the pearls?" asked Barry eagerly.

"Ay, I'm telling you!" returned Kempster. "We were here three months, and though we hadn't cleared the lagoon, I reckoned we'd got the cream of it. They were the finest pearls I ever saw, and I've been in these seas, man and boy, for thirty years."

He paused, and Dick gave him another sip of brandy.

"It was on the seventh of September that Burke arrived. I knew there'd be trouble as soon as I saw the topmasts of the Brant over the palms. Cripps used to be Burke's first mate in the Brant, but Burke was a bit too hot even for him, and Cripps don't stick at much. Still, I didn't reckon that Burke had turned pirate."

"I've heard of him," put in Barry. "He's the chap that looted the Starlight when she was aground off San Cristobal."

"That's him," said Kempster. "As soon as I saw who was coming I started to get the Stella ready for sea. I never had a chance. Burke had a gun, and he attacked me without warning. The Stella was sinking before we could do anything. Latimer, my mate, Morshead, and the three other white men in the crew got ashore, and I with them. I had the pearls, and I hid them. We threw up a stockade, and held out a while. Then our ammunition began to run out, and they rushed us."

He stopped, panting. His two listeners stood by the berth, breathless with suspense.

"That's all I know," he said feebly. "At least, I have a sort of memory of Burke hitting at me with an axe."

"That's the scar on your head." Dick said quickly. "It knocked you out, and no doubt they left you for dead. But somehow you pulled round, and it was the shock of your big dive just now, when you saved Chang from the barramunda, that has brought your memory back."

"Barramunda—dive?" repeated Captain Kempster vaguely. "I don't remember."

"Can you remember where you put the pearls?" asked Barry eagerly.

The other looked him full in the face.

"Ay!" he said slowly. "I know where I put them. And if this lad is Nicholas Darner's nephew, I reckon half are his."

"I don't want half," exclaimed Dick impulsively. "After what you've gone through, you ought to have them all."

Kempster smiled.

"I guess my third share is all I need," he said. "The lot would be cheap at a hundred thousand pounds."


CHAPTER IX. — THE EMPTY CACHE.

BARRY drew a long breath.

"That's some money," he said. "Well, captain, we won't do no quarrelling over the loot. The job for us is to get the pearls. Do you reckon they're still where you put them?"

"That I can't say," answered Kempster gravely. "It all depends on whether all our fellows were killed outright."

Dick looked puzzled, but Barry understood.

"You mean Burke would have made 'em tell?"

"I mean just that," was Kempster's answer. And Dick felt his very skin crawl as the full meaning of Kempster's words came home to him.

"I hid them on the island," continued Kempster. "We may as well go ashore at once, and have a look."

Dick cut in:

"Not yet, captain. You're not fit to move. Have a sleep first, and if you're fit we can go in the evening."

"Maybe you're right," said Kempster wearily.

Dick took Barry by the arm, and drew him out of the cabin. As soon as they were outside Barry turned on him angrily.

"Why didn't you let him come along? Maybe you think it's a funny game to wait all day before we know whether the pearls are there or not?"

"Much better wait a few hours and be sure of finding out, than let the old chap go wandering around in this sun," returned Dick stoutly. "The chances are that he'd get a sunstroke or a fit, and then where should we be?"

Barry looked oddly at Dick. Then he burst into a laugh.

"You're coming on, kid!" he said. "You certainly are coming on!"

In spite of his resolution not to let Captain Kempster go out into the sun, Dick, like Barry, found the day very long. There was nothing to do. Barry said it was not worth while putting on the diving-dress since Kempster had told them that all the best of the shell had already been raised.

Kempster himself slept nearly all day, and when he came on deck about four in the afternoon, Dick was delighted to see how much better he was looking. As for the change in his expression, that was simply amazing. No one would ever have taken him for the same creature as the poor, laughing lunatic they had found in the bush the previous day.

"Don't let him see those skeletons," whispered Dick to Barry, as they got into the boat.

"You mean it might send him off his chump again. All right!"

As it happened, there was no risk of visiting the death glade again. Kempster steered right round to the far side of the island. As soon as they had passed the little promontory, he pointed to two masts rising from the blue lagoon.

"There's my Stella!" he said bitterly. "That's all the brutes have left of her."

Dick stared with wide eyes. He had read pirate tales by the dozen, but they had all been about times that had passed a hundred years and more.

"That's where we landed that night," went on Kempster, turning in towards a little bay. "It seems like yesterday. What's the date?"

"November the twentieth," Dick answered.

Kempster shook his head.

"Ten weeks," he muttered. "It doesn't seem possible."

The boat's keel grated on the hard coral sand. They got out, and Kempster led the way up into the bush. He did not hesitate for a moment, but went straight on until he reached a swampy bit of open ground.

"There ought to be a spring here somewhere," he said. "Ah, here it is! I buried the pearls in the tunnel, two paces down from the spring itself. You see, I knew the run of the water would hide the marks."

"This will be the spot, then," said Barry eagerly, as he drove the spade he carried into the wet ground.

For five minutes he dug hard. By that time he had made a hole a yard square. But there was nothing there.

Kempster shook his head.

"They're gone," he said quietly. "Burke got them after all!"

"You're sure of the spot?" demanded Barry.

"Absolutely. You've got to remember that to me it's like yesterday. These last ten weeks are clean gone."

Barry would not give up. He went on digging until he was dripping with perspiration.

"You may just as well give it up," said Kempster, in his quiet way. "It is quite clear to me that Burke found them."

Barry flung down his spade with an angry exclamation.

"And is he to keep them?" he growled. "Is this murdering thief going to get fat on other folks' property? If you chaps will back me I'll hunt him down—ay, if it takes ten years!"

Dick stared in amazement. It was Kempster who answered:

"The chances are he'll have gone back to the Solomons," he said thoughtfully.

"Ay, I've heard that his gang keeps there!" answered Barry. "But the Solomons are a big lot of islands. Long as England and Scotland together. D'ye know where he haunts?"

"San Cristobal. I believe," said Kempster. His lips tightened, and his shaggy eyebrows drew down over his deep-set eyes.

"All right, Freeland, I'm with you," he said shortly.

Barry wheeled round on Dick.

"What about you?"

"I'm ready to go anywhere with you two," Dick said simply. "B-but oughtn't we to have guns?"

"Bless you, we've more'n we can use. Cripps saw to that. There's a whole case of rifles in the hold."

He shouldered his spade.

"Come on," he said. "We'll weigh to-night."

Weigh they did, and Dick for once was not sorry to see the last of the nameless island. He felt that, so long as he lived, he would never forget the horror of those skeletons with their crowns of flowers.

Next morning Barry went below and got up the rifles and ammunition. He handed the first rifle to Dick.

"Ever used one, kid?"

"I—I've shot with an air-gun, that's all!" stammered Dick.

Barry gave his great laugh.

"Take more than an air-gun to settle Rolf Burke," he said. "First thing you've got to do is to learn to shoot. Take hold. You're going to begin right off."

The schooner was moving lazily before a light breeze. Barry sent Chang for some empty bottles. He threw one into the sea, and it was hardly in the water before his bullet caught it with a ringing crack, and shattered it to splinters.

Unknown to himself, Dick had naturally a most remarkably straight eye, and inside three days he had become a fair shot. Within a week he was Barry's equal, and long before the mountains of San Cristobal began to climb into the sky he could knock the head off a bobbing bottle at a hundred yards, and do it three times out of four shots.

Meantime all went comfortably aboard the Rainbow. Barry and Captain Kempster stood watch and watch, and the crew made no difficulty about obeying either. Indeed, since Kempster's rescue of Chang from the barramunda they were as devoted to him as to Barry.

"I've a notion they'll stay by us if it comes to a scrap," said Barry to Dick. "If their hides are yellow, I don't believe their hearts are."

"You think there'll be fighting?" asked Dick.

"Think! D'ye reckon Burke's the sort o' chap to hand over a hundred thousand pounds' worth of pearls to the first chap that asks him?"

"N-no. But, I say, do you think we shall ever find him? Remember it's three months now since he left the island."

"Ay, that's the rub! I'd have thought that, once he'd got the pearls, he'd have gone to Albany, or one of those wild places on the Bight to divvy up and turn the pearls into cash. But Kempster says he daren't—that he's too well known to show his nose anywhere in Australia. He thinks that Burke will hang about the Solomons till he can get hold of some Dutch trader who'll give him cash for the pearls. So we may reckon we've a fair chance of running him down."

"But the Solomons are British, aren't they?"

"Oh, bless you, they're anybody's! Why, they're never even been mapped. They're about the wildest place on earth. Big mountains, buckets of rain, bush that you can't cut with a hatchet, and natives that would as soon eat you as look at you."

"Cheery sort of country," observed Dick, with a shrug.

"You bet!" answered Barry.

Dick was on deck early next morning. It was Barry's watch. The weather was dark and heavy with a puffy, uncertain wind.

"Glass is falling," said Dick.

Barry nodded.

"Ay, and the wind's pulling south. There's weather brewing."

There came a shout from forrard.

"What is it?" cried Barry.

"Me tinkum boat," was the answer.

Barry put the glasses to his eves.

"Gosh, so there is! Native canoe it looks like. Have a squint, kid."

A long, low craft carrying a mat sail leaped into the focus of the binoculars. She was heading straight for the schooner. A figure rose and waved something white.

"They're signalling to us," said Dick.

"That's rum. And anyway what's a native canoe doing this far from land?"

A moment later Dick spoke again:

"They're not natives. They are white men."

"Port your helm," Barry told the man at the wheel. "We'd better see what's up," he said to Dick.

The two craft rapidly approached one another, and soon Dick was able to count three white men in the canoe. Another quarter of an hour, and the canoe was within a couple of hundred yards. Barry threw the schooner up into the wind, and she lay-to with sails slatting. The canoe, a long, narrow crank-looking craft, ran alongside, and a bull-headed, thick-shouldered man, who was steering with a paddle, looked up at Barry.

"Can ye take us aboard?" he asked. "There's weather coming, and this here craft ain't calculated to stand a breeze."

Dick stared hard at the speaker and his companions. He thought he had never seen three harder faces. But Barry did not hesitate.

"Ay, come aboard!" he said, and next minute the three were over the rail.

"She ain't worth saving," said the hull-headed man, as he deliberately cast off the canoe and let her drift astern.

"Are you mate?" he asked of Barry.

"Skipper," answered Barry shortly.

"Sorry," said the other. "I'm obliged to you for picking us up. We lost our ship on a reef off Cristobal. The rest of our crowd are ashore there. Where might you be bound?"

Before Barry could answer there were steps close behind. Dick, glancing round, saw Captain Kempster coming up out of the companion.

The moment his eyes fell on the strangers, his expression changed like magic. Something of the mad, fierce look he had worn when they had first found him flashed into his face.

"Redstall!" he roared, and made a dash straight at the bull- headed man.


CHAPTER X. — BARSTOW'S CONDITION.

REDSTALL was twice the size of Kempster. He was a huge, burly brute, with a fist like a ham—a fist, one blow from which would have stretched Kempster dead on the deck.

Yet he never raised a hand. He seemed to be suddenly struck with paralysis, and on his thick, beefy face was an expression of abject terror such as Dick had never conceived of. His pale blue eyes almost started from their sockets.

Before the others could so much as move a finger, Kempster had him by the throat, and over they went together with a crash, the back of Redstall's head meeting the snowy planks with a force that fairly jarred the deck.

In an instant the nearest of Redstall's companions, a wild- looking individual with a bushy red beard, whipped out a knife.

It was Barry who saved Kempster. Quick as a flash, he leaped in, and caught the red-bearded man's right wrist with his left hand, at the same moment driving in his right fist. His knuckles jarred on the fellow's jaw, and red beard staggered back and came down in a sitting position, but dragging Barry with him.


Illustration

So far, Dick had had no part in the struggle. It had all come about so suddenly that he had not even moved from where he was standing.

But now the third of the strangers took a hand. He was a tall, lean, leathery person, and Dick saw his hand move quickly to the pistol in his belt. At the same time he spun round and made a grab at Barry's collar.

"Let up, dern ye!" he growled. "Let up, or I'll blow yer head off!"

Dick woke up suddenly, and as if a spring had suddenly been released inside him, made a jump at Barry's aggressor. He had not the least idea of using his fists, and this perhaps was just as well, for if he had stopped to hit the man, the chances are that the latter would have seen what was coming and had time to shoot. What Dick actually did was to fling both arms round the other's waist, and swing him sideways.

There was a sharp crack as the pistol exploded harmlessly in mid- air; then, with an oath, the man turned on Dick, at the same time trying to bring his pistol hand down, with the evident intention of shooting him.

But Dick saw what was coming, and was able to forestall the manoeuvre. During his month aboard the Rainbow he had grown uncommonly hard and tough, and in mere muscular power was quite fit to hold his own against most grown men. Also, he had the under grip.

Putting out all his strength he swung his opponent round with all his might. He actually lifted him clean off his feet, and brought him down with such force that the man's arms flew out straight over his head and the pistol, flying from his open hand, went skating away across the deck.

For a second or two the fellow lay quite still. Dick thought he was knocked out, and relaxed his grip. It was a foolish move on his part, for next instant two long, lean arms were locked around his body, and he was dragged down on top of his adversary.

He struggled furiously, but his arms were pinned to his sides, and he could not free himself. For some moments the fight went on, then Dick, in spite of his efforts, found himself being slowly rolled over until presently it was he who was on his back, while the other was on top.

With a quick movement his enemy rose to his knees, at the same moment shifting his right hand and gripping Dick by the throat.

"I'll teach ye!" he growled. "I guess I'll give ye something to think about."

His long, lean fingers tightened on Dick's windpipe, and all Dick's struggles could not loosen the strangling grip. A mist rose before his eyes, his head felt as though it were bursting, and his body jerked convulsively. His sight and senses were leaving him, when something whizzed through the air, and he heard the thud of a blow. At the same moment the choking pressure on his throat relaxed, and his opponent fell limply on top of him.

"Just about time, too!" came Barry's voice. "Gosh, the kid's blue in the face!"

As he spoke, Barry seized the insensible form of Dick's antagonist, and flung him sideways on the deck. Then he gave Dick a hand, and helped him to his feet.

"Thanks!" gasped Dick, feeling his throat doubtfully.

Barry laughed grimly.

"Guess we're square." he said. "That blighter would have drilled me all right if you hadn't have collared him when you did. Well, we've made a clean job of it, anyways!"

Dick looked round.

Redstall lay, with his hands and feet tied, helpless but glaring up at Kempster. Barry's man was quite insensible, and bleeding like a pig. By the look of his face, it was Barry's fist that had done the job. The third man was also out of the running. The butt-end of a pistol applied by Barry's powerful arm to the back of his head had settled his hash—for the moment, at any rate.

Barry surveyed them with a grim smile.

"A sweet lot! Well, we'd best get them under hatches before they can make any more trouble. Chang, you come and give a hand!"

Kempster broke in.

"Throw the swine overboard!" he said, with a fierceness which was in curious contrast to his quiet demeanour during the last ten days.

"I've small doubt they deserve it," returned Barry; "but we'd better keep 'em. They may come in useful as hostages or something.

"We'll shove 'em down in the lazarette, Chang," he said to the Chinaman. "They'll be safe enough there."

"You'd best iron them," said Kempster sourly.

Barry nodded.

"You bet I will, captain. I'm not going to take any chances."

"Sharp, now!" he said to Chang. "There's weather coming!"

There was, and half an hour later the Rainbow, with three reefs in the mainsail, was plunging through a very ugly sea. Fortunately, the wind was from the right quarter, and before dinner-time the loom of land was seen against the dark horizon to the westward.

"There's Cristobal," said Barry to Dick, as the two stood side by side on the after-deck, holding tight to the rigging, while the spray beat over them like rain. "That's San Cristobal."

Dick stared eagerly at the ragged outline which rose indistinctly out of the stormy sea.

"Big mountains," he said. "Do you know I've never seen any mountains before?"

"Guess you'll see a deal else you haven't seen before," grinned Barry. "I once heard a parson in Sydney talk about 'the dark places of the earth,' and I'd a sort o' notion I'd like to show him the Solomons.

"I tell you, kid," he went on, with unusual seriousness, "this ain't no pleasure picnic ahead of us. We'll be mighty lucky if we all get out of it with whole skins!"

"I never thought it would be easy," Dick answered seriously. "B- but, do you know, I'm beginning not to mind fighting."

Barry burst into his great roar of laughter.

Dick stared at him in pained surprise.

"Kid, you'll be the death of me some of these days," said Barry at last. "Well, don't worry. You'll get your bellyful of fighting before we're through with this business. Now come below. I must have a squint at the chart. This ain't no coast to go running into blind with a gale like this behind us."

All that day and far into the night it blew hard, and Barry wisely refused to approach the land. Towards dawn the wind dropped, and the glass began to rise again.

Dick came up at four to relieve Barry, but Barry refused to go below.

"I guess I'll wait for dawn," he said, "and see where we are. There are two bays where we can anchor, but I don't want to go banging in on top of the Brant. I'd sooner Burke didn't know there was another ship about."

"But I thought that fellow Redstall said that the Brant was wrecked," answered Dick.

"She may be," said Barry cautiously. "On the other hand, she may be all right. It's no good trusting to anything a chap like that says."

"But if she's not wrecked, what were those men doing all that way out from land, and in that cranky canoe?" objected Dick.

"I'll allow that's a bit of a puzzle. But all sorts of things might have happened. They may have run short of grub, and been cruising to see what they could pick up. They might have had a row with Burke, and been cut adrift. Or it's on the cards that the rest of the outfit might have been wiped out by the niggers, and these chaps got away."

Dick nodded.

"I wish we knew," he said thoughtfully. "It would make things a whole lot more simple."

"We've learnt something, anyway," Barry answered. "We know the Brant did come to the Solomons. Old Man Kempster was dead right about that.

"Dawn's breaking," he continued, cocking an eye at the eastern sky, where a pale yellow was dimming the stars. "I'll just wait till sun up, and get my bearings. Then I'll take a nap, and be up again to run her in.

"Oh, and see here, Dick!" he added. "I want you to take grub to those beggars in the lazarette. Fact is, I daren't trust the Chinks with them. They'd be trying to bribe 'em, and if the sweeps got loose again I wouldn't give a shark's tooth for the lives of the whole bunch of us. It was pure luck we got 'em under the first go off. If Redstall hadn't taken Kempster for his own ghost, we'd never have done it."

"All right," said Dick amiably. "I'll take them breakfast. I wonder if they'll try to bribe me?"

While they talked it grew rapidly lighter, and in a very few minutes the upper edge of the sun hove up above the sky-line, and, with tropical suddenness, it was broad day.

Barry stood with his glasses to his eyes, scanning the coast, which was about fifteen miles away.

"Keep her bows on that peak, Dick," he said briefly, "and don't hurry her. I want to get an hour's sleep before breakfast."

He went down, leaving Dick at the wheel. The breeze had fallen dead light, and the schooner crawled before it over the slow swells of last night's storm.

After a while Captain Kempster came up, and Dick, bethinking him of his promise to take breakfast to the prisoners, left him in charge and went below.

Chang loaded a tray with coffee, hard tack, and cold pork, and Dick carried it to the lazarette.

Redstall took his food in sullen silence. The red-haired man glared at Dick, and cursed him foully. This annoyed Dick.

"You'd better not talk like that!" he said sharply. "If you do you may find yourself without any food at all!"

The fellow subsided with a snarl, and Dick took his portion to the third man—the long, lean, leathery-faced person who had so nearly strangled him on the previous morning.

The latter looked hard at Dick, and something in his expression showed that he was anxious to speak, but apparently afraid to do so for fear of his companions overhearing.

Dick, interested to learn what the fellow was after, paused a moment on pretence of rearranging the things on the tray.

"Get me out of this," whispered the man. "I've got some news for your skipper."

Dick made no sign that he had even heard, but when he met Barry at breakfast in the cabin he told him what the prisoner had said.

Barry stopped, with his cup half-way to his mouth.

"'For your skipper,' he said, did he? Wonder if there's anything in it?"

"There couldn't be any harm in hearing what he's got to say," Dick answered.

"All right, lad. We'll have him out," said Barry, with sudden decision. "I'll fetch him myself. Then his pals won't smell a rat."

He went off, and came back in a few minutes with the man. In the bright light of the airy cabin the fellow looked dirty, yellow, and unkempt. He did not seem to have washed or shaved for a week. The leg-irons clanked as he shuffled into the room.

"Say, you've got a mighty nice cabin here," he remarked casually, as he glanced round. His voice was regular Down-East American.

Barry looked him straight in the face.

"You can stow that, or you won't decorate it much longer," he answered. "Mr. Damer here says you've got something to tell me. The sooner you get it off your chest the better for you."

"That's as may be mister," returned the other. "It's a fact I've got something worth telling. But you ain't fool enough to reckon I'm going to give it away without something in return."

Barry's eyes gleamed. Dick saw the danger-signal, and hastened to interfere.

"Let's hear what he wants, Barry," he put in quickly.

Barry hesitated.

"Out with it, then!" he said harshly. "First, what's your name?"

"Barstow's my name—Benjamin Barstow," drawled the other. Scoundrel as he undoubtedly was, he had pluck, for though he must have known that he was completely in Barry's power, he showed no sign of it. "And now, as I've introdooced myself, I'll give ye some proof as I knows what I'm talking about. I'll tell ye this, mister—that you and your outfit are arter them pearls as Cap'n Burke took out o' Nameless Island."

"Any fool would know that!" snapped back Barry. "Your pal Redstall nearly had a fit when he saw Captain Kempster was still alive."

"I guess he did get a right smart shock," answered Barstow, unmoved. "The last time that he seed him no one would have took Kempster fer anything but a corpse."

"A corpse that you had had a hand in making!" growled Barry.

"No, sir; I didn't touch the man. But, say, we're a-getting right off of the subject. See here, you wants them pearls. I'm the man as can put ye in the way o' handling them, but before I does it I wants to know if you'll agree to my terms."

"I'll hear them," said Barry shortly.

Dick saw that the young skipper of the Rainbow was in a very ugly temper.

"Waal, in the first place, I don't want to go back in that there lazarette along with Redstall an' Dent. Second"—he ticked his conditions off on his grimy fingers—"I wants your word as there won't be nothing said 'bout my being along with Burke in that there business at the island. Third, I wants a passage to Australia. Fourth, and last, I got to have my share of the pearls."

"Don't want much, do you?" retorted Barry. "A bullet through your head and a shark's belly for your coffin—that's more like what you're likely to get!"

Barstow shrugged his lean shoulders.

"You can shoot me if you've a mind to," he answered, "but you can't get them pearls without I help you. That's straight."

Barry glared at him.

"Why not?"

"Because Burke's hidden them on shore, and I'm the only man as knows where they are. That's why!"


CHAPTER XI. — THE GAS-PIT.

CAPTAIN KEMPSTER took his pipe from between his teeth, and stared gloomily at Barry and Dick.

"Mark my words, you'll be sorry you ever trusted that swine!"

"I don't see why," returned Barry impatiently. "It's all to his interest to play the game. The fellow's a knave, but he's not a fool; and, put it any way you like, he gets more out of us than he does out o' Burke. If he plays the fool—"

Barry's shrug said more than words.

"You can say what you like!" answered Kempster sourly. "Barstow's been in with Burke all these months past. If you knew Burke like I do, that would be enough for you."

He turned and stumped away without another word. Barry watched him.

"The old boy's a bit loony on the subject of Burke," he observed.

"You can't wonder," said Dick—"not after what he went through on the island."

"P'r'aps not. Anyway, I don't see what harm Barstow can do us, even if he wants to. And I don't see that he'll want to, either, for he'll get a good deal more out of us than he would from Burke.

"Anyways," he added doggedly, "I've fixed the thing up, and I'm going through with it."

"When are we going ashore?" asked Dick.

"To-night, I reckon. The sooner the better, for there's less chance of Burke's crowd being ready for us."

"But don't you think they must have seen us running in?"

"Barstow says no. This cove where the Brant's hung up is a long way up the bay, and they don't get no view of the sea."

"But Burke might have a lookout on top of one of the hills," suggested Dick.

"Ay, he might. But, anyhow, he don't know the Rainbow, and he wouldn't have any notion we were on his track."

"I suppose we've got to take Barstow with us?" said Dick.

Barry stared.

"What maggot have you got in your head? How d'ye think we're going to find the pearls unless he's along?"

"I—I thought he might have made a map or a plan for us," faltered Dick.

"Map!" jeered Barry. "I'd like to see you or anyone find their way through that bush with a map! See here, Dick, if you don't want to go, say so."

Dick flushed.

"I'm not afraid," he said quickly.

"Maybe not. But this isn't no game for any chap that can't keep his head in a tight place."

"I'll do my best," said Dick humbly.

"Believe I'd better have asked the skipper to come along," growled Barry, and went off, leaving Dick to ponder uncomfortably over what was before him.

He had spoken truly enough when he said he was not afraid; but he pictured to himself the long crawl through the bush by night, and hoped and prayed that his nerves would be equal to it.

The Rainbow lay in a deep bay, with high cliffs on either hand. Inland, there was nothing to be seen but walls of impenetrable forest reaching away to the ranges inland. There was not a breath of wind, and the air was steamy and sodden with a damp, sickly heat. Worst of all, there was nothing to do during all the long hours before they started. For Barstow had advised, and Barry decided, that they were not to leave until after dark.

Dick was precious thankful when supper-time came. But it was not a particularly cheery meal, for Captain Kempster was grimly silent. He and Barry had very nearly quarrelled over the matter of bringing Barstow into the Business.

Immediately afterwards, Barry took Dick into his own cabin.

"See here, kid," he said. "We're off right now. Chang and I are going to pull, for the job's got to be done quiet. You got to sit next Barstow in the stern. It's up to you to watch him. If the beggar plays the goat, hit him first, and talk afterwards. See?"

Dick nodded, and Barry handed him a heavy-butted revolver.

"Stick this in your pocket," he said, "and carry your rifle across your knees. But, mind this—don't shoot unless you've got to. One shot might bring the whole bunch about our ears."

Dick had never heard Barry speak so gravely, and it impressed him a good deal. In spite of his pluck, he was feeling horribly nervous when he took his seat in the boat. But his nervousness had nothing to do with Burke and his crew of pirates. It was sheer fright that he might make a fool of himself in Barry's eyes.

Barstow seemed the least concerned person in the boat as they pulled steadily up the long inlet.

"You can keep right along up the middle," he said to Barry. "There ain't no risk of Burke's folk hearing the oars for a good while yet."

"Where's the Brant?" asked Barry briefly.

"'Bout two miles further in. She lies in under the north shore. But there ain't no one aboard her."

"No one aboard her!" repeated Barry. "Why not?"

"Because she's hard an' fast on a reef. I told ye that."

"Yes, but you said she wasn't holed. What's the matter that they don't stay aboard her?"

"She's careened right over. That's what's the matter. Her decks is like the roof of a house."

"Then where's Burke?"

"Ashore. They've built brush huts up on the cliff. They only goes aboard the Brant to fetch off grub and such-like."

"Is the cache anywhere near the camp?"

"Not a great ways off. But I reckon we can fetch it without them a-seeing us."

"If we don't, so much the worse for them, and for you, too," answered Barry drily. And for some minutes the silence was broken only by the soft plash of the oars in the quiet surface of the inlet and the weird cry of some night-bird in the unseen forest on the cliff-tops. "How many has Burke got with him?" asked Barry presently.

"Six, I reckon. There's Pyke and Wigram and four niggers. The niggers are from the New Hebrides, and as ugly as they make 'em. Guess that's why Burke cached the pearls. Thought the blacks would cut his throat for 'em if he kept 'em in the camp."

"And how do you come to know where the cache is?" asked Barry sharply.

Barstow chuckled drily.

"I reckon Burke or anyone else 'ud have to rise mighty early in the morning to get ahead o' yours truly! I was a-laying out in the brush and watching him when he hid 'em."

"The wonder is that they're still there," retorted Barry.

Barstow did not seem to take offence; he only chuckled again.

"I could ha' took 'em all right," he said; "but what good was they to me when I couldn't get away with them? No, siree. Ben Barstow knows which side his bread is buttered, and don't you forget it! A fifth share o' them pearls and a safe passage to Sydney is worth more'n a million in gold coin, and nothin' but a savage Solomon forest to spend it in. Port—port your helm!" he broke off, speaking to Dick, who was steering. "The Brant's around that next bend. My notion is to run up on a bit of a beach there is right near here, and then slip up through the woods to the cache."

A few minutes later the bow of the boat ran softly up on a sandy beach, and they all got out as quickly end quietly as possible.

Barry nipped Dick's arm.

"Remember what I told you," he muttered.

"All right," Dick whispered back, and set himself to follow Barstow.

Barry went first, Barstow second, then Dick close at his heels, and the big, silent Chinaman came last. All were armed, except, of course, Barstow.

Barstow seemed to know his way. He made along the beach a little way until they came to a stream, which rolled noisily down through a steep ravine which cut deep into the cliff. Here he turned to the right, keeping along the edge of the brook.

It was not dark. The stars were brilliant, and a pale silver light in the eastern sky showed that the moon was rising. After the intense heat of the day, the coolness of the gorge, moist with the spray of many little waterfalls, was most refreshing.

But Dick did not give a thought to his surroundings; all his energies were concentrated on Barstow. Although it was he himself who had been the first to suggest using Barstow's knowledge of the pearls, yet now he had an unpleasant suspicion that he had acted foolishly. He did not trust the man in the least, and his heart was beating unpleasantly fast as he marched along close at his heels, his rifle grasped very tightly in both hands.

There was no path, and the bush was so thick that they had to keep close along the edge of the brook, at times actually wading in the edges of shallow pools. Once some heavy animal crashed through the bushes on the right, and the sudden sound sent Dick's heart into his mouth. But no one spoke until at last they reached level ground and stood on the top of the cliff.

"We're right near the camp," said Barstow, in a low voice. "It's on a piece of open ground the other side o' the creek. Guess you folk had better walk mighty quiet if you don't want 'em to hear you."

"All right," said Barry briefly. "Go ahead!"

They kept on for a couple of hundred yards, then Barry pulled up.

"Why don't we see their fire?" he demanded.

"Guess the bush is too thick. Or mebbe it's out. Folk keep right early hours in this here island."

Barstow guided them along up the brook for another two or three hundred yards, then turned to the left.

"We kin cross here," he whispered.

They waded knee-deep through the top of a broad, shallow pool. On the far side the ground rose steeply. They had to snake their way through a mass of tangled vegetation which bordered the ravine.

Beyond were big trees, and the undergrowth was not so thick. Progress was less difficult, but it was up hill all the way.

The trees broke away, and the light grew stronger. The moon was now well up, and Dick saw that they were climbing the side of a rounded hill of curiously regular shape. It was exactly like a giant sugar-loaf.

The ground was all loose stone with dense but low scrub growing among the boulders. They had to move very cautiously for fear of setting the stones rolling.

Barstow stopped.

"Guess we're there," he said, in a low voice. "Go careful, Mr. Freeland, or you'll be mighty apt to get a fall."

To Dick's astonishment, he found himself on the edge of a pit or rather bowl in the hillside. It was circular in shape, about a couple of hundred feet across and, in the middle, some thirty feet deep. The sides sloped down pretty steeply and were all of bare, blackish rock. So far as Dick could see, not so much as a blade of grass grew anywhere inside the pit.

"Rum-looking place!" muttered Barry. "Is this where Burke's stowed his loot?"

"This here's the place, mister," answered Barstow, "and I were lying behind that there rock"—pointing to a big boulder near by—"while I watched him hide 'em."

Barry grunted.

"Don't look much of a cache to me," he said. "Burke might have known someone was likely to be tracking him."

"He ain't such a fool as you thinks," returned Barstow. "He come up here by night, and afore he left camp he reckoned all of us white men was right sound asleep. As for the niggers, he wasn't afraid o' them. You couldn't pay a native to go near this place. It's what, they call 'tabu,' and I reckon you might stow a case o' gin here and they wouldn't dare go after it. And you know as a nigger'll go through fire an' water for one bottle o' square face."

"Ay, that's true," answered Barry. "But we've no time to stand here yarning. Where's the cache?"

"The pearls are in a hole the far side," answered Barstow readily. "I guess I can take you plumb straight to the right spot."

Barry turned to Dick.

"You and Chang stay up here on the edge of the pit and keep watch. If you see anyone coming, chuck a pebble down. But don't call out or shoot. I'm going along with Barstow to fetch the pearls."

Dick nodded, and crouched down behind a boulder on the edge of the pit. Chang dropped behind another rock.

Barry whispered a moment to Barstow, and the latter at once climbed down over the rim of the pit. Barry followed close behind him.

In spite of the danger of their position, Dick felt a good deal relieved, for now it seemed clear that Barstow was not playing them false. He lay very still, watching Barry and Barstow climbing carefully down the steep, rocky side of the pit, and thrilling with excitement at the thought that in a few minutes he and his companions would be in possession of a treasure which would make them all rich men for life.

The two reached the bottom in safety. So far as Dick could see, the bottom of the pit was of smooth, dark-coloured rock, cut here and there with black lines which looked like deep cracks. It was not level, but sloped down to the centre. There was no sign of water in the pit.

Barstow walked first. Barry followed a yard or two behind. Barstow had gone perhaps six steps across the smooth rock when he stopped short and flung up his hands exactly as a man does when he is drowning.

He turned half round, and the moonlight fell upon his face, showing it strangely drawn and white. He staggered, a choking groan burst from his lips, then he toppled over, fell all in a heap, and lay very still.

For an instant Barry stood as if struck into stone. Then he stooped swiftly, and, seizing the other in his strong arms, began to lift him.

Began—but never finished. Next moment he, too, collapsed and fell across Barstow.

It had all happened so quickly that for the moment Dick could not believe his eyes. He thought he must be dreaming. But only for a moment. Then he was on his feet and had seized Chang by the arm.

"Come on! We must get them out!" he said sharply.

"Me no likum. Me tinkum debbil pit," answered Chang, and there was terror in his beady eyes.

But Dick, if he had not much practical experience of life, had learnt something from his reading. He had already realised what was the matter.

"Nonsense! It's not devils; it's only bad air. Tie something round your face, and come on. It's no worse than diving in the lagoon."

He gave Chang no time to think, but fairly dragged him over the side, and, to do Chang justice, once he had got over his first fright he did his duty well.

The loose stones rattled under their feet, but Dick could not help that. Speed was everything. If they did not get Barry out within two minutes at most it would be too late.

At the edge of the lower basin he stopped one instant and quickly tied his handkerchief over his month and nose. Chang followed his example.

"Cally Mistel Freeland first," muttered Chang through his bandage, and together they made a rush and seized Barry.

Barry weighed a good twelve stone. It took them all their time to lift him. The fact that they had to hold their breath made it all the worse. But somehow they managed to drag him out of the pool of carbonic acid, which lay like water in the centre of the pit, and get him on to a ledge well above it.

Then they filled their lungs afresh, and went back for Barstow.

Barstow's face was the colour of lead. Dick thought he was dead. But they got him out and laid him alongside Barry.

"We no can cally lem up topside," said Chang.

"No; that's out of the question," answered Dick. "Chang, you take my hat, and go back to the brook and get it full of water. I'll work on them while you go. And keep an eye open for Burke's crowd."

Chang nodded and went off. He moved as silently as a cat.

Dick set to work on Barry. He knew that carbonic acid, which is the same as after-damp in a coal-mine, does not poison, but suffocates. He took it that the best thing to do was to use the same treatment as for the apparently drowned, so began to work Barry's arms as he had seen him do after he had pulled Captain Kempster out of the lagoon. As he worked he wondered how long it would be before Burke or some of his scoundrelly crew would arrive on the scene? And if they did, whether he had better start shooting, or hide, or what?

"Wal, I swow! So ye got us out!"

The voice gave Dick a most awful start. He fairly leaped round, to see Barstow sitting up and staring at him.

"Why—why, I thought you were dead!" he gasped out.

"Not this journey, I reckon," answered Barstow drily. "But I would have been right soon if ye'd left me down there. And to think I never guessed it was a gas-pit! That's sure one on me. How's Freeland?" he continued.

"I can't get him round," said Dick despairingly.

"Ain't ye got some water? That's what he needs."

"I've sent Chang for some."

The words were hardly out of his mouth before the Chinaman came into sight over the rim of the pit. He was carefully carrying Dick's broad-brimmed felt, from which water was dripping.

"Me tink dem pilates come," he announced calmly. "Me see lights in among dem tlees."

Dick gave a horrified exclamation.

"Sit tight, young feller," remarked Barstow. "Even if the Chink's right, they ain't seen us yet. And mebbe it was only one of 'em going down to the brook for water."

He took the hat from Chang, wetted a handkerchief, and began flipping Barry's face with it.

"Some gets gassed easier than others," he observed coolly. "But Freeland ain't dead by a long shot, and I guess he'll come round. You carry on slapping water on his face. I'll go along and lift them pearls. No reason why we shouldn't have 'em after taking all this trouble."

Next minute Barry gave a deep gasp. Then his eyes opened, and he stared round vaguely.

"What's up? What's happened?" he muttered.

"You were gassed. The pit's volcanic—full of carbonic acid," explained Dick briefly. "Drink this."

He gave him the rest of the water in the hat, and Barry drained it.

Dick gave him a hand, and he scrambled to his feet.

All of a sudden he seemed to remember.

"Where's Barstow?" he rasped out.

"He went to get the pearls."

"You young idiot! You let him?"

"How could I help it?" retorted Dick. "I was looking after you. And there's no need to get excited. There he is."

He pointed as he spoke, and, sure enough, there was Barstow plainly visible at the opposite side of the pit.

As they watched he pulled out something which looked about the size of a pound bag of sugar, and quickly stowed it away in a pocket. Then he dragged out a second parcel, put it in another pocket, and began to climb straight up the steep side of the pit.

"He's got 'em! He's going off with them!" said Barry savagely. "I told you so!"

He started forward, plunging right down into the gas again.

Dick seized him by the collar and dragged him back.

Barry turned on him furiously.

"Let go, you fool, or I'll break your face in!"

Dick did not flinch; but Barry, what between the gas and the excitement, was beside himself.

He lifted his fist, and next moment Dick was flat on his back on the rocky ledge.


CHAPTER XII. — DICK PLAYS A LONE HAND!

DICK struggled to a sitting position. His nose was bleeding badly, and he fumbled for a handkerchief.

He looked round. The pit was empty. The moonlight silvered the black rocks, but there was no one in sight. No sound broke the stillness of the tropical night except the tinkle of the brook in the hollow far below.

For the moment he could not think what had happened, but as his head cleared, he remembered Barry's blow, and such a spasm of rage as he had never felt before shook him.

He had saved Barry's life at the risk of his own, and this was his reward. At that moment, if Barry had been before him, Dick would have gone for him like a fury.

But Barry was gone—gone in pursuit of Barstow, and, apparently, he had taken Chang with him, for there was no sign of the Chinaman. So Dick was deserted, left to shift for himself. He was so angry that he forgot all about the pearls. His one idea for the moment was to find Barry and have it out with him, and he sprang to his feet, determined to go after him.

But before he reached the ruin of the crater he began to realise that he was bound on a regular wild-goose chase. He had not the faintest idea in which direction Barry had gone. He paused and considered a moment, and then it came to him that by far the best thing he could do would be to go straight back to the boat.

Sooner or later Barry must come back to the beach.

Then he remembered what Chang had said—that he had heard someone among the trees. Burke's crowd apparently were aroused, and if he was not careful he would only run straight into their arms. Then he would probably never set eyes on Barry again.

The thought brought caution, and he lifted his head, and had a good look round before climbing over the edge. Nothing in sight, so he pulled himself up and set off down the hill towards the stream. But he took pains to show himself as little as possible, and kept well in the shelter of the boulders which strewed the slope.

Lucky for him that he did, for the sound of a twig cracking brought him up short, and he ducked behind a rock, and waited.

The belt of timber which lay between him and the brook was not more than thirty yards away. Out of the thick shadow a man stepped softly into the moonlight, and stood looking about. He was so near that Dick could actually see the whites of his eyes as he glanced round in every direction.

Dick dropped lower still, and crouched, motionless, hardly daring to breathe. He had never seen the man before, so took it that he must be one of the pirates. Whoever he was, he was not nice to look at.

He was short and stout, and was dressed in a pair of ragged, blue-serge trousers, and a dirty undervest. Dick could distinctly hear his heavy breathing, and even see the sweat-drops glistening on his flabby cheeks. His eyes, small, like those of a pig, seemed sunk in fat, he had no eyebrows at all, and the whole of his large, dirty-white face was as smooth as if newly-shaven.

One other thing about him impressed itself upon Dick's notice. This was a large diamond-ring which he wore on the fourth finger of his left hand. The stone glistened in the moonlight, throwing out many coloured rays. It seemed to Dick the oddest thing that a man whose clothes would not have fetched a shilling from a rag- and-bone merchant, should wear a ring which, if genuine, must be worth some hundreds of pounds.

Half a minute passed, then the fat man suddenly moved forward again. To Dick it seemed as though he were going to walk right over him, and he sank down flat behind his rock, making himself as small as possible.

But the steps passed a few yards to his left, and went on towards the gas-pit, and presently Dick dared to turn his head and take another look.

The stranger had reached the edge of the gas-pit, and, after staring down into it for a moment, began to coast around the edge.

Dick, much interested, came out of his hiding-place, and started to creep very softly up-hill again. He had to go slowly, and by the time that he had gained the edge of the crater, the fat man was on the far side. Dick dropped into cover again, and watched him.

The fat man came to a spot exactly above the cache where the pearls had been hidden, and once more had a good look round. Then he dropped down over the edge, and made straight for the hole.

Dick drew a long breath. He had realised all of a sudden that this fat, insignificant-looking person could be no other than Rolf Burke, notoriously the most bloodthirsty and unscrupulous scoundrel who sailed the South Seas. Barstow had declared that no one else but Burke and himself knew of the hiding-place. If that had been the truth, there was no doubt but that this was Burke himself.

Just as Barstow had done, Burke spread himself flat upon the slope, and thrust his arm to its full length into the hole. He groped for several seconds, then drew out his arm, and Dick, waiting breathlessly, distinctly heard the low-voiced, yet savage imprecation which escaped his lips.

Burke sprang to his feet, and shook his fist furiously. Then, seeming to realise that this was no way to recover his spoil, he scrambled rapidly back to the top of the bank, and, dropping on hands and knees, began examining the ground, sniffing around like some great, ungainly dog.

Another minute, and he was on his feet again, and questing onwards among the rocks and scrub.

Dick forgot all about the way in which Barry had treated him. He realised that this piratical brute was on Barry's track, and that Barry himself was in deadly danger. If Burke could trail him over ground like this, it was quite clear that, once in the woods, he would be able to run him down like a bloodhound. And from what he had seen of Burke's work on Nameless Island, he had a pretty good idea of the fate that was awaiting Barry.

He flung up his rifle. In the brilliant moonlight Burke's thick, solid figure made a mark that he could not have missed if he had tried.

His finger quivered on the trigger. Yet he did not pull. The fact was that he could not bring himself to shoot the man in cold blood.

Barry, he knew, would jeer at such scruples, and Dick himself had more than a suspicion that he was acting very foolishly. The atrocities Burke had committed left him no more claim to consideration than a tiger.

Yet he could not do it. That was all there was about it, and after a full twenty seconds' indecision, he slowly lowered his rifle again.

At the same time it was out of the question to leave Burke to work his wicked will on Barry. Caught between Burke and Barstow. Barry's chance would be that of a snowflake in a furnace. There was only one thing to do—to follow Burke, and hope to cut in in time to save Barry.

So Dick set himself to the task, and went creeping away around the gas-pit. He was no woodsman, and he found it back-breaking work. Fortunately, Burke was moving slowly. The trail could hardly be easy to follow across the stony ground, and this gave Dick time to catch up.

Soon he saw that Burke was turning to the left in a half-circle, and coming down hill again towards the brook. So Barstow had gone that way. Dick wondered greatly what Barstow had been making for. It was most unlikely that he would have ventured back to the pirate camp. He thought it more probable that he had gone for the boat. If he could reach the boat before Barry, he would be able to get safe away, pearls and all.

But Dick had not much time for thought. It took all his energies to keep Burke in sight, and at the same time prevent Burke from seeing or hearing him—the latter in particular.

The night was deadly still and calm, and every time that a pebble moved under his foot, it sent a horrid throb all through his body.

Burke reached the belt of timber above the brook, and vanished. Dick, in a panic for fear he might lose him, quickened his pace and gained the trees only a few yards behind Burke.

It was very dark under the thick branches, but though he could no longer see the other, at any rate he could hear him.

It occurred to him with a nasty shock that, if he could hear Burke, Burke would most certainly be able to hear him, and he began to creep along with even more caution than before.

Even so, he could not help treading on a dry stick, the snap of which sounded to him as loud as a pistol-shot. In fresh panic, he stopped short and crouched behind a tree-trunk.

Listening hard, he caught the sound of Burke moving forwards. But the steps were growing fainter every moment, and, noise or no noise, there was nothing for it but to go ahead. Once he lost Burke, Dick knew very well that he would never find him again.

It was a nightmare, that prowl through the bush. It had been bad enough before, when he had had Barstow to find the way; now it was ten times worse. The shadow was so dense that he could hardly see a yard in front. Trailing creepers, some covered with thorns as sharp as steel fish-hooks, caught him every moment. Under foot the ground was soft and soggy, and strange, unseen creatures rushed away through the thick undergrowth. The hot air was thick with rank smells of decaying vegetation, and, to make matters worse, swarms of hungry mosquitoes rose at every step, covering his face and hands and driving him nearly frantic with their venomous bites.

On and on he went, making a great deal more noise than he liked. Each time he trod on a stick, or stumbled over a vine, he stopped in fresh panic; then, as Burke's footsteps died away in the distance, he hurried recklessly on again.

By this time he had lost all sense of direction, and could no longer even hear the stream. All he knew was that he had not crossed it yet.

At last, to his immense relief, he came out on a piece of sloping ground where the bush was not quite so thick. He stopped again to listen for Burke.

To his alarm, he could hear nothing.

He waited and waited, but the footsteps had ceased altogether.

Never in all his life had he been in such a state of anxiety. He could actually hear his own heart thumping. In his mind's eye he pictured Barry lying on his face somewhere in the ghastly forest, with Burke's knife sticking between his shoulder blades. He had difficulty in checking a frantic impulse to shout out loud.

After a bit he realised that it was no use staying where he was. He must push on and try to get somewhere. Push on he did, and, forcing his way through a screen of tangled bushes, got a fresh and most unpleasant surprise.

He found himself on the edge of a ravine.

The ravine was too wide to jump, and seemed to be tremendously deep. The sides, draped with a matted tangle of vegetation, dropped down as sheer as the walls of a house. Out of the black depths below came a thin tinkle of running water.

He looked to right and to left, but there was no way of crossing. The ravine ran like a great gash through the forest, forming a barrier that nothing but a bird could cross.

"There must be some way across!" muttered Dick in sheer desperation. "Burke must have crossed!"

"Burke didn't cross."

The words, spoken in a voice so low it was little more than a whisper, came from just behind Dick's shoulder, and gave him such a shock that his knees shook under him and all the strength seemed to go out of him.

"No, my young friend, he didn't cross," came the voice again, and Dick, with an effort that brought the sweat rolling down his face, managed to turn round.

Burke stood there. A shaft of moonlight striking through the laced branches overhead fell full upon his great, smooth face, and showed his lips parted in a grin which was the cruelest thing that Dick had ever seen.


CHAPTER XIII. — BURKE CALLS UP REINFORCEMENTS.

"AND why did you think I was across—eh, sonny? Why did you think I was across?"

His voice was thick, and soft, and oily, like himself, and all the time he showed his large front teeth in the same grin. He was not in the least formidable in outward appearance, and yet—yet there was something about the man which made Dick's blood run cold in his veins.

Dick still had his rifle in his hands, yet it never even occurred to him to use it. He was paralysed as a bird is when fixed by the glittering eyes of a coiled snake.

"You ain't dumb, are you, sonny?" went on Burke in the same thick whisper. "Don't say you're dumb, for there's a whole lot I want you to tell me. Just for instance, I'd like to know what made you trail me all along through these here woods? Was you playing scout, now? I do hear as that's quite a game in the old country."

Dick hardly heard the last words. His mind was full of one thing only.

"Where is Freeland? What have you done with him?" he demanded.

Burke's smile broadened.

"Freeland—eh? So that's his name, is it? Well, sonny, to say truth, I ain't set eyes on the gent yet. But I'm hoping to. Oh, I'm hoping."

Dick realised suddenly what a fool he had been to speak as he had. He bit his lip fiercely.

"And who is Mr. Freeland?" continued Burke in his hideously soft voice.

Dick had got some sort of grip on himself. He faced the man boldly.

"I'm not going to tell you," he answered shortly.

"Tchk! Tchk!" Burke made a queer clicking sound of pretended annoyance. "Say, sonny, but it's not polite to talk that way. Here am I, pleasant and polite as can be, and you won't answer a civil question. Will ye tell me what your name is?"

"No!" said Dick curtly.

"Say, but that's too bad! Rude, I call it—real rude!"

With a motion so startlingly rapid that it caught Dick quite unprepared, he suddenly seized Dick's rifle and wrested it out of his hands.

"Jest by way of precaution," he said, without the slightest change of voice or expression, and still with the same grin on his face. "Jest to make things safe, so to speak. No, sonny," as Dick's fists clenched and a flush of rage made his cheeks burn, "don't you go a-trying to hit me. There's others has tried that little game, but I guess there ain't many left alive to talk about it afterwards."

"And now, if you please," he continued. "I'll just ask you to move along with me. P'r'aps by the time I've took you home you'll have changed your mind and opened your mouth."

Soft as ever his tone was, yet there was a deadly menace underneath.

"This way, if you please, sonny," said Burke, with cruel politeness, as he turned to the left. "There is a way across the gulch, as I'll show ye presently. And maybe we'll meet your Mr. Freeland somewhere in this direction."

"And maybe you won't."

The voice, loud and sharp, came apparently from the other side of the ravine, and, like a flash, Burke flung Dick's rifle to his shoulder, at the same time stepping behind the shelter of a tree- trunk.

His eyes were off Dick. The spell was broken, and without a moment's hesitation Dick leaped at Burke.

For once in his life Burke was taken unawares. The fact was that he had never for one moment dreamed that the boy had it in him. He would not have been more surprised if he had been attacked by a guinea-pig.

Dick landed fair and square on Burke's back, and Burke pitched down head foremost, with the rifle underneath him. The shock knocked the wind out of his fat body, and for the moment he lay quiet.

Dick, who had learnt by bitter experience not to let go too soon, shifted his grip to the nape of the man's neck, and held on like grim death.

Next moment Burke, recovering himself, got his hands against the ground, and gave a great heave, nearly unseating Dick. He was twice the boy's weight, and, in spite of his fat, enormously strong.

"The pistol, you ass! Use your pistol!" came Barry's voice from the far side of the ravine.

Dick had clean forgotten the revolver which Barry had given him. He thrust his hand into the pocket of his dungaree jacket, and snatched it out.

Burke, too, had heard Barry's warning. He was struggling furiously. And Dick, with only one hand to hold him, was fast losing his grip.

"Shoot him! Shoot him!" yelled Barry frantically.

Yet even then Dick shrank from killing the man. Instead, he grasped the pistol by the barrel, and brought the butt down hard on the top of Burke's big head.

With a gasp, Burke fell forward and lay still.

"Shoot him!" roared Barry again.

"I can't! I won't!" retorted Dick, as he sprang to his feet.


Illustration

"Idiot!" growled Barry. "Then get your gun, and come on. Sharp, I tell you! We'll have the whole hornet's nest about our ears in about two two's!"

"This way!" he added, turning down-hill along the ravine. "It runs into the brook. You can cross at the bottom."

It was not so far to the brook as Dick had thought, but it was the very vilest going, and by the time he had reached the brook, his clothes were in rags, and he was dripping at every pore.

"Here, over this log!" said Barry. "What in thunder have you been doing all this time!"

Dick turned on him in a blaze of anger.

"What have I been doing? You have the cheek to ask me that when you knocked me down yourself, and left me lying there in that beastly pit to be collared by Burke, or anyone else who came along!"

For once Barry was taken aback.

"Did I hit you? By Jove, I'd clean forgotten! Tell you the truth, I was so excited about those blessed pearls, I never thought what I was doing. I'm sorry, old chap! I really am. And, anyway, I came back for you."

Dick's anger vanished as quickly as it had risen.

"It—it's all right," he stammered. "D-don't say anything more about it."

Barry looked at him a moment.

"You're a decent sort, kid. I'm not fond of apologising, but I do honestly this time. I suppose I was a bit loony with that gas. Fact is, I don't remember a thing that happened until I caught up with Barstow."

"You caught him?" exclaimed Dick. "What did you do with him—kill him?"

Barry gave a short laugh.

"Kill him! What for?"

"For stealing the pearls, of course."

"He didn't. He bolted back to the edge of the wood, and hid the pearls, and was coming back again when I met him. You see, Chang had said that Burke's crowd were on our track, so he thought he'd make things safe."

"And where is he now?"

"Down by the stream, bathing his foot. He's had the douce of a tumble, and sprained his ankle."

"And Chang—where is he?"

"I've sent him down to the boat to keep an eye on it."

"And who's got the pearls now?"

"I have, but I sha'n't have 'em much longer if we stick here yarning all night. Come on! The sooner we're back at the boat and off to the ship, the better."

He turned and plunged rapidly through the bush, and Dick followed.

Fifty yards farther down, in a little opening, they found Barstow sitting on a rock. His left boot was off, and his foot dangling in the running water.

"How is it?" asked Barry.

"Rotten!" growled Barstow. "The derned thing's swelled like a bladder! I guess it'll be a week afore I kin walk like a white man!"

"Don't matter what sort of a man you walk like so long as you get to the beach," returned Barry. "Dick here has knocked out Burke with a whack over the head with a pistol, but he wouldn't shoot him as I told him, and the place ain't going to be precisely a health resort when that fat blighter gets on our trail again!"

"Snakes, Damer, ye'd ought to ha' made a job of it!" said Barstow reproachfully. "There'll sure be trouble when he wakes up again. Wal, I guess we'd better be moving!"

He scrambled up, but when he took his foot out of the water Dick saw at once that he could never get his boot on again. The ankle was puffed up like a football.

"We'll have to carry him," he said to Barry.

"Guess you'll find that a mighty tough contract," remarked Barstow. "I ain't what you might call fat, but I weighs a hundred and fifty, stripped."

"Don't jaw! Come along!" said Barry curtly. "Dick, you go one side; I'll go the other. Now, Barstow, you keep that foot off the ground, and your weight on us. Go easy!"

Easy they had to go, there was no question about that. It was not as though they had an open path back to the beach. It was all through the thickest kind of scrub, where there was often not room for one, let alone for three abreast.

Neither Barry or Dick were feeling any too fresh after all they had done that night already, and progress grew slower and slower, till it was a regular snail's crawl.

Barstow, too, was in great pain. Though he was plucky enough, now and then a groan or an oath was wrenched from him, and when a shaft of moonlight struck down through the trees on to his face, it showed it white and twisted with agony.

"Say, boys, I'll have to rest a minute," he said at last.

Barry grunted impatiently as Barstow dropped down on a fallen tree, and took his damaged foot in both hands.

"I'll bandage it," said Dick, as he pulled out his handkerchief, and ripped it in four. He knotted the pieces together, rolled them up like a bandage, and was just setting to work when a distant shot came echoing down the valley.

"Gosh, that's Burke!" exclaimed Barry sharply. "He's come round!"

"That's right, Mr. Freeland. It's Burke for a dollar, and getting mighty agitated, too, or he wouldn't be burning powder all on his lonesome up there in the scrub! Reckon he's a-calling up his reserves, so to speak."

"You mean he'll have the whole caboodle down on us?"

"He will that, if he gets his niggers out. They kin track like bloodhounds!"

"Then come on, for any sake! I don't mind a scrap, but I bar losing those pearls!"

Barstow glanced up.

"Say, you chaps have treated me white. I guess you'd best shove along and leave me right here. Gimme a gun and I'll look after myself. I can't bring myself to walk nohow."

"Rats!" snapped back Barry. "Come along. We haven't a great way to go!"

"Far enough to lose them pearls, I reckon," replied Barstow coolly.

There came another shot, and it was much closer than the first.

"That's some o' them answering him from the camp," said Barstow. "I tell you right now, you'd best shove along. Get the pearls off to the ship. Then if you wants to, you kin come along back for me. I'm right smart as a gun-man, I am, and ef I kin hold them off, I'll maybe get along down to the beach afore morning."

It was Barry who, with his customary directness, cut in and solved the difficulty.

"Dick, you take the pearls, go along down to the boat, and you and Chang pull out to the schooner, and leave 'em with Captain Kempster. Then get two more of the Chinks, and come back for Barstow and me. I'm going to stay along with Barstow."

Dick gasped.

"But Burke. Suppose he gets all his crowd together! What chance will you have then?"

"Same as we've got now, I guess!" snapped back Barry. "And, anyway, if the pearls are safe aboard the Rainbow, Burke won't get 'em."

As he spoke, he pulled the two bags of pearls out of his pockets, and handed them to Dick.

Dick still hesitated.

"Git!" said Barry curtly. "I'm going to carry Barstow up into them rocks"—pointing to a huddle of crags on the hillside to the left. "We've got plenty o' cartridges, and if they do find us, we'll make one or two sorry before we get through!"

It was clear that Barry meant what he said, and Dick very reluctantly stowed the pearls in his side-pockets.

"You know the way?" said Barry.

"Oh, yes, I know the way now," Dick answered.

"Then hurry. No one won't interfere with you, for this is the only way down to the cove, and"—with a grim set of his lips—"there won't be no one get by so long as we can hold a gun."

Dick had felt badly enough when he was hunting Burke through the bush, but that was nothing to his present feelings as he started away down the gorge, leaving Barry and Barstow behind.

For the first time since he and Barry had been on the track of the pearls he had them in his own keeping, and realised their enormous value. The responsibility made him so nervous that the merest rustle of a leaf or the click of a pebble under foot brought his heart into his mouth.

And all the time his ears were straining for the sound of Burke's people, and in his mind's eye he seemed to see the fat man with his terrible smile creeping down the valley with his crew of cut- throats behind him on the trail of Barry and Barstow.

But he heard nothing. There were no more shots. The stillness of the sultry night was unbroken, except by the stream as it poured down its rocky channel on the right.

At last the trees broke away, and he got a glimpse of the bay sleeping peacefully in the moonlight. Reaching the edge of the bush, he dropped down and peered out on to the beach. He felt he could not be too cautious. It was just possible that some of Burke's people had got ahead of him and might be waiting for him.

But all was quiet, and he began to push on towards the rocks behind which the boat was hidden. Then, to his immense relief, he caught sight of Chang's blue blouse as its owner sat coolly on a rock close by the boat.

"Chang!" Dick called softly.

The Chinaman was on his feet in a flash.

"Dat you, Mistel Damel?"

Dick came forward quickly.

"Chang, you and I have got to go back to the schooner as quickly as we can and get help. Barstow is hurt, and Mr. Freeland is looking after him. They are among some rocks about half-way up the hill."

Dick did not mention the pearls. Though he had no reason to mistrust Chang, he had begun to acquire a certain amount of worldly wisdom, and to realise clearly what an enormous temptation such a gigantic fortune must be.

"Welly well," Chang answered simply, and moved towards the boat, which he had already got afloat.

Dick was following, when all of a sudden the sharp crack of a rifle broke the stillness of the silent forest, and was echoed back from the tall cliff on the far side of the bay.

"That's Barry!" said Dick, pulling up sharply.

"Me tink dem pletty close," observed Chang.

Next moment there burst out a regular volley—eight or ten shots in quick succession.

"They're tackling Mr. Freeland, Chang!" exclaimed Dick. "I can't stand this! I must go back and help!"

"Me come along, too," said Chang coolly. "Me help Mistel Fleeland kill one piecee pilate!"

"Good man, Chang! But have you a gun?"

"One piecee lifle left in boat. Me gettum," said Chang.

At that moment Dick remembered the pearls. There was not only the danger of getting caught with them in his possession and losing them, but also they were a very considerable weight.

He made up his mind quickly. He must hide them.

He looked round. Rocks fallen from the cliff above littered the foreshore. One, he noticed, had fallen against another, leaving a deep crevice between them. That was the place, and he ran towards it.

Then he remembered that he must not leave tracks, and he sprang on the nearest rock and began jumping from one to another. In this way he reached the spot without touching foot to the sand, and, taking the two bags from his pockets, pushed them into the crevice as far as he could reach, and wedged them fast. As he turned to come back, a fresh volley rang through the timber above.

He thrust a clip of cartridges into the magazine, and, with Chang at his heels, ran hard up the brookside.

There were no more volleys, but every now and then a single shot, the sound of which served to guide them to the scene of the fighting. Soon they were so near that they could see the flashes from the muzzles.

Dick pulled up.

"Mr. Freeland is up in those rocks on the hillside." he explained to Chang. "I can't see where the others are."

"Me tink dem pretty close down below," Chang answered. "Me tinkum bettel wait one piecee minute. See where dem pilates lie, den shoot stlait at dem."

Chang's advice seemed sound, and he and Dick stood side by side, waiting breathlessly for the next outburst of firing.

But the firing seemed to have ceased, and all was as still as though there was not a human being within miles.

"Can't make it out!" muttered Dick. "What the mischief are they up to?"

As if in answer to his question, there came one shot from up among the rocks, then shouts and the sound of a furious scuffle.

Dick started forward, then stopped. He was half frantic with anxiety, yet did not know what to do.

"What are they at, Chang? They must have crept in on them."

"Me tinkum pilates clawl in flom behind," said Chang sagely. "S'pose we climb up topside, den we see bettel?"

Dick nodded, and started up the hillside at the rate of knots.

He had to force his way through a lot of thick brush before he could get a clear sight of the rocks from among which came the sound of the struggle. But he was so excited that he hardly noticed the thorns that ripped his remaining clothes to ribands or the branches that switched his face.

Panting with exertion, he at last broke his way into the open, and found himself on the edge of a big strip of bare hillside so thickly covered with loose stones that nothing grew except a few stunted shrubs.

A groan of dismay burst from his lips.

Half-way down the slope he saw Barry Freeland and Barstow, each in the grip of a couple of ugly-looking natives, who were dragging them down towards the brook.

It was clear enough what had happened. While some of the rest of Burke's crew had kept up a fusillade from below, the niggers had stolen round and swooped down on the clump of rocks from the rear.

Dick turned to Chang with a gesture of despair.

"Too late!" he muttered. "We're just too late!"

Not a muscle of Chang's face moved.

"Me no tinkum too late. What for you shoot dem bottle if you no can shoot dem black niggels?"

Dick started.

"You mean I'm to shoot the men who are holding them? But it's an awful risk. I might kill Barry."

"If you no shoot niggel, Burke he shoot Mistel Fleeland plenty klick," was the stolid answer, and Dick realised that Chang probably spoke the truth.

Burke, indeed, would probably not be content with mere shooting. Dick's flesh crawled as he thought of the fate that was most likely in store for his friend. It was up to him to shoot, and he dropped flat on the ground and rested his rifle on a rock in front of him.

He was shaky with the hurried rush up the hillside, the light of the moon was new to him for shooting, and the niggers bobbed up and down as they dragged their captives over the rough, stony ground.

There was no time to waste. The men were getting terribly near to the trees at the bottom of the bare patch. He drew a bead on the nearest man, who was on the left-hand side of Barstow, and, with a silent prayer that he might not miss, pulled the trigger.

With the flash and crack the burly black brute leaped three feet into the air, and pitched headlong down the hill.

"Me tinkum topside shot!" came Chang's voice close alongside. "Now shootee klick again."

At Dick's successful shot, the second nigger who was holding Barstow, dropped him like a hot coal and bolted down hill. He had not gone ten steps before Barstow drew a pistol and brought him down. Barry's niggers, however, were evidently made of sterner stuff. They hung on and rapidly dragged Barry towards the trees.

Dick took careful aim at the nearest of them, and was in the act of pulling the trigger, when a rifle barked from near the brook, and the bullet whined just over his head. He started ever so slightly, yet enough to jerk his muzzle an inch or so. The result was a clean miss.

At the same moment, Barstow, who was lying in among the stones, took a snap at Barry's captors. But he, too, missed.

"Sharp, now!" came a shout from one of Burke's men below. "A bottle o' gin apiece if you get him in safe."

The natives swung Barry clear off his feet, and ran him down the hill at a furious pace. They were not twenty yards from the trees as Dick sighted again.

It was neck or nothing this time, and he knew it. If he missed again it was all up with Barry.


CHAPTER XIV. — THE ROCK PRISON.

THE very urgency of the situation seemed to brace Dick's nerves. All in a moment he was steady as a rock, and the sight of the rifle seemed to drop upon the near side man of its own accord.

He seized the moment as the two natives checked a moment to drag Barry over a long ridge of rock which lay full in their path, and the moment the dark, glistening body of the man rose into full view he pressed the trigger.

As the sharp report echoed back from the belt of trees opposite the nigger stumbled forward, and, pitching on his head, vanished into the hollow on the far side of the rock.

Without a second's hesitation Dick fired again at the other man. The bullet smacked upon the rock just behind the fellow's feet, and must have ricocheted and caught him in the legs, for he gave a piercing yell and sprang high into the air. Then, stumbling and swaying, he ran wildly for the belt of trees.

"Velly good shots!" said Chang approvingly, and Dick gave a deep sigh of relief.

But although the danger was over for the moment, only half the work of rescue was done. Barry and Barstow were still out there among the rocks within easy shot of Burke's people, who were hidden among the trees at the bottom of the slope.

"What's to be done now?" asked Dick, turning anxiously to Chang.

"No can do anyting. Me tink dem clawl back."

Chang was right. Barry was already on his way back to Barstow. He went on hands and knees, taking cover cleverly behind the scrub and boulders.

Dick saw him reach Barstow. Then the two came back together, both crawling on all-fours, and making for the nearest timber. This was a point some distance below where Dick and Chang were stationed, and at Dick's suggestion he and the Chinaman went down to meet them.

Dick did not waste much time in reaching the place, and when he reached it he found that Barry and Barstow had not yet arrived. Barstow's damaged ankle made his movements very slow, and Barry stayed with him.

All this time not a shot was fired, and this struck Dick as decidedly strange. In spite of the cover afforded by the boulders, it seemed to him that Burke's people must have had several chances for a pot-shot.

At last Barry gained the edge of the timber and helped Barstow into cover. Barstow was almost done. He lay limply on the ground, but Barry stood up and stretched himself.

"Gosh, but I've had enough of that!" he growled. Then he looked at Dick. "So it was you who potted the niggers?" he remarked.

"It was some shooting," said Barstow from the ground. "Moonlight too!"

There was a new respect in his voice which gave Dick a little thrill of surprise and pleasure.

"I'll allow it was pretty shooting," said Barry. "But didn't I tell you to lake the pearls back to the schooner?"

"You did," said Dick.

"Then why didn't ye do it?"

Dick's jaw hardened.

"Because I heard shooting, and knew you were in a tight place. And," he added calmly. "I'll disobey orders every time under the same conditions."

Barry drew a long breath. For a moment Dick hardly knew what he was going to do.

All of a sudden he gave a short laugh.

"'Pon my Sam, you are the queerest chap I ever ran into!" he muttered. "Well, what have ye done with the pearls—left them in the boat for a prize package for Burke?"

"I may be a fool, but I'm not such a fool as that!" retorted Dick. "I've hidden them."

Barry grunted.

"The sooner we find 'em the better," he said. "Chang, think you can carry Mr. Barstow on your back as far as the beach?"

"Me tly," Chang answered simply.

He hoisted up the lame man, and the procession started. Barry walked in front, carrying Chang's rifle. Chang was in the middle, with Barstow on his back, while Dick brought up the rear.

It was a long job, for naturally Chang could only go very slowly, and even so, had to put his burden down and rest once or twice. But they were not molested. There was no sound or sign of the enemy, and at last they came to the break in the bush, and saw the moon shining on the smooth surface of the bay.

"Not a sign of the beggars!" muttered Barry, in a puzzled tone, as he pulled up in the shadow and looked across the moonlit beach.

"There's the boat all right," said Dick. "Come on. Let's get the pearls and get away from this beastly island. I've had enough of it to-night to last me for a long time."

Barry caught him by the arm.

"Go slow, Dick! I don't believe we've seen the last of Burke's crowd yet. Like as not they've stalked us, and are laying up in the bush on one side or the other, waiting to pot us as we get into the open. Burke ain't going to let them pearls go as easy as all that."

"By gum, he ain't!" put in Barstow. "Say, Mr. Freeland. I reckon we'd best do the Injun act, and crawl down in among them rocks. We don't want to give Burke's crowd any better targets than we have to."

"That's sense," Barry answered. "Shall I go ahead?"

"Guess you'd best let me go first," said Barstow; "me being the snail o' the party, so to speak."

Barry agreed, and Chang carried Barstow along the edge of the trees till they were opposite the boat, then put him down, and both started crawling towards the boat.

Dick and Barry stood meantime with their rifles ready, listening and watching keenly. The many excitements of the past few hours had steadied Dick wonderfully, but even so, he found the suspense horribly trying, and felt that he would give half his share of the pearls if he could only be safe in the boat and out of rifle- shot of the shore.

Five long minutes dragged away, and everything was so still that Dick could distinctly hear the slight rustling sound as Barstow and Chang crept across the shingle.

Barry turned to Dick.

"They're at the boat. Come along!"

He led the way, and Dick followed closely. Barry did not crawl, but, bending double, dodged from rock to rock.

A dozen yards from the boat he stopped.

"Where are the pearls?"

"In a crack between those two rocks just over there," whispered Dick. "Shall I get them?"

"Yes; but go quietly, kid. We don't want to bust up the show now we're so near the safe end of it."

Dick nodded, and slipped away. To get to the hiding-place he had to cross a long ridge of rock which rose like the rib of some extinct monster out of the shingle, and which it would take too long to go round. It was only about a yard high, and before creeping over it he took a quick glance over his shoulder.

There was nothing suspicious in sight, and, raising himself softly, he flung a leg over the rock.

His foot struck something which squirmed beneath him, and before he could draw it back it was gripped in a clutch of iron, and he was jerked violently forward and pulled down in a heap on the shingle.

"Look out, Barry!" he just managed to shout before a hand upon his throat cut short his warning cry, and a man was kneeling on his chest, crushing the very breath out of him.

"Hands up!" It was Burke's voice. "Hands up, my son, or I shall reluctantly be compelled to blow your head off!" he repeated, and Dick knew that Burke was addressing Barry.

Dick struggled frantically, but it was no use, and the rock behind which he lay cut off all sight of Barry.

"That's better," came Burke's voice again, with the soft, sneering intonation that Dick knew so well. "Take his gun, Pyke. Where's Barstow?"

"It's all right, cap'n. The niggers have got him and the Chink, and Wigram has the boy. We've roped the whole bunch in proper."

"Roped the bunch, have ye?" returned Burke, with biting sarcasm. "Ay, but have ye roped the pearls?"

"You brat, have you got them pearls?" demanded the man called Wigram, hissing his question in Dick's face.

"No, I haven't!" retorted Dick. "You can search me if you don't believe me."

The man ran his hands through Dick's pockets, and gave an angry exclamation as he found them empty.

"Ay, I thought as much," came Burke's voice—"I thought as much! If you had only obeyed orders, Wigram, instead of grabbing the boy before I told you to, we should have had the pearls as well as the prisoners. But, then, you always did know more than your boss, Mister Wigram."

"I couldn't help it," Wigram answered, in an injured tone. "The brat stepped right on top of me."

"Well, it is your loss, Wigram—it is your loss," said Burke, with a soft chuckle. "It is a blunder which is quite likely to cost you a few thousand pounds."

"What's the use of talking like that?" retorted Wigram, with sudden violence. "If they've a-hidden them pearls, they got to tell us—that's all. You leave 'em to me, cap'n. I'll see they tells."

"Threats, my good Wigram—threats!" said Burke, in his most oily tone. "Let that lad up. I feel sure that he will relieve our curiosity without such crude methods."

"Get up, you!" growled Wigram, as he rose and hauled Dick roughly to his feet.

"Ah," said Burke, "it is my young friend of the forest! Sonny, my head is still sore from your violence. But, there, I am of a forgiving nature. Tell me where those two little bugs are hidden, and bygones shall be bygones."

"Don't tell, Dick!" burst out Barry, whom Dick now saw to be standing a few yards away, with his hands firmly roped behind his back.

"I haven't the least intention of doing so," snapped Dick.

"Dear me—dear me!" said Burke mildly. "This is very sad! My boy, bethink yourself. Although, personally, I am of a peaceful nature, yet it annoys me to see my property stolen and my requests defied. And my friends, alas, are not so long-suffering as myself. I fear that, if you do not comply with my request they may make themselves unpleasant."

Dick was boiling. Even Wigram's brutality was infinitely preferable to this man's half-veiled threats.

"You can do anything you like," he answered curtly. "But I tell you straight, you won't got a word out of me!"

"So young and yet so stubborn," sighed Burke.

"Let me try a bit o' string round his head, captain," put in Wigram eagerly. "I never knowed that fail."

Burke seemed to consider a moment.

"The hour grows late," he said, "and, after all, there is no hurry. The pearls will not run away. I think that we will defer these little pleasantries until the morning. We shall then have more time to devote ourselves to business. Meantime, we will put the prisoners in safe keeping. Let us return to our humble abode."

It was a proof of Burke's extraordinary personality that, though Pyke and Wigram were, both of them, clearly sweating with anxiety to lay their hands on the pearls, they did not attempt to alter Burke's decision. They did not even grumble openly.

Wigram quickly pulled Dick's hands round behind his back and fastened his wrists with stout cord. Then, attaching a length of the same stuff to the lashings, he drove the boy before him.

Once more Dick found himself travelling up the valley alongside the stream. But this time, only for a little distance. A couple of hundred yards back from the beach the party turned to the left, crossed the brook, and began climbing a rough track up the far side of the gorge.

It is not easy to walk at all with one's hands tied behind one's back. To climb a steep, rocky path under such circumstances is all but impossible. Time and again Dick stumbled and fell, until shins and knees were one mass of cuts and bruises.

Wigram jeered at each fall, and jerked Dick back to his feet so roughly that he nearly dislocated his wrists. But Dick set his teeth, and did not make a sound. He vowed he would not give these brutes the satisfaction of letting them think they could hurt him.

Anyhow, he was not nearly so badly off as Chang, for Chang had to carry Barstow all up the cliff-side. Pyke walked behind him, and lashed him when he faltered with a length of rattan which he had cut for the purpose.

At last they reached the top, and came out on a piece of fairly level ground, covered with the usual bush. But here there was a regular beaten path, which made the going a trifle easier.

The path wound in and out among the trees, and Dick soon lost all sense of direction. It ended in a clearing, where stood four of the beehive-shaped brush-huts, such as are built by the natives of the Solomons.

They were frail-looking things, made of twisted rattans and matched with branches. Dick's first idea, when he saw them, was that they would not make very good prisons. The walls would be easy enough to break through.

Burke said something to Pyke which Dick did not catch; then, to Dick's surprise, Burke turned to the left, and led the way down a track so narrow and dark that it was more like a tunnel than anything else. This ended quite suddenly in a steep ledge of rock, in the middle of which was an opening just high enough for a man to walk into without bending his head.

One of the natives—of whom there were three with Burke's party—took a torch from a niche and lighted it. By its red, smoky flare Dick saw that a tunnel led into the heart of the rock.

The native led the way, and the rest followed.

The floor of the tunnel was smooth and greasy with drippings from the roof. The tunnel itself ran downwards at a steepish angle. It was all Dick could do to keep his feet.

On and on they went, in a grim silence, broken only by the occasional rattle of a loose stone or the splash of a foot in a puddle lying in a hollow in the floor. The air, though hot, was fresh enough.

Here and there the tunnel bulged out into small caves, where the crimson glow of the torch shone weirdly on snow-white stalactites hanging from the roof; and once Dick noticed a hideous carving in relief on the rock wall. It looked like a man with the head of an alligator.

At last they came out into a cave larger than any yet, and Dick felt a fresh draught of air blowing in his face.

Here Burke stopped.

"Gentlemen, behold your lodgings!" he said. "Your quarters do not err upon the side of luxury, but they are, at any rate, weather- proof and warm. They are also well lighted and aired." As he spoke he pointed to an opening in the wall about six feet from the floor, through which the moonlight shone. "A natural window, you deserve," he continued, with the soft-voiced sarcasm which always filed Dick with an intense longing to kick him. "Still, I should not advise you to investigate it too closely. It opens on the face of the cliffs, some forty feet above the bay, and, as I feel sure you are aware, those tropical waters contain a large number of those unpleasant creatures known as tiger-sharks. The sharks will be your warders on that side, and on the other we have a little arrangement in the shape of a stone which seals the passage."

He paused, and chuckled softly.

"Good-night, gentlemen! Pleasant dreams! And I shall hope that the morning will bring wisdom, and that you will by that time have decided to restore to me the property which you have stolen. Otherwise—"

He left the threat unfinished, and, with a flourish of his fat hand, turned and walked away up the passage.

Pyke, Wigram, and the natives followed, and the four prisoners were kept standing in the cave, with the moon's rays shining through the rift above and lighting up their torn clothes and blood-streaked hands and faces.

A minute later, and from somewhere up the passage came a heavy clang, which sent a quiver through the rocks.

"That's the stone, I reckon," said Barry. "Burke's boxed us properly this journey."


CHAPTER XV. — BARRY'S BID FOR FREEDOM.

"YOU didn't mention this little contraption," continued Barry presently, speaking to Barstow.

"That's a fact, mister. But the truth is, I never knowed of it. It's jest one of them little surprises as Burke has kept up his sleeve. Yes, I guess he's boxed us this time. We're right up against it."

Barry grunted.

"Oh, I don't know," he said. "We've got three or four hours before daylight. A heap might happen before then."

He spoke so coolly that Dick's spirits, which had been dropping to zero, at once revived.

"We've jolly well got to make it happen," he said suddenly. "Let's get our hands free, and see what we can do!"

"Bravo, kid!" said Barry, with his reckless laugh. "That's the way to talk. Here, Chang, you're the only one they haven't tied. Get these lashings off of my wrists."

Chang's long, yellow fingers made short work of the knots, and in a very few minutes they were all free.

"That's a heap better," said Barry, rubbing his stiff wrists. "Now, Mr. Barstow, you know Burke. What do you suppose he's up to?"

"Something mighty unpleasant for us!" answered the American drily.

"You mean he's going to put us through it?"

"Jest exactly that, mister. He's a-going to turn that peach Wigram loose on us till we owns up where them pearls are planted. And if you knowed Wigram as I do, you wouldn't exactly hanker after his little attentions."

Dick shuddered. He had learnt to bear pain with the best, but the idea of deliberate torture made him feel sick.

"What beats me," said Barry, after a short pause, "is why Burke kept Wigram off us to-night."

"He didn't do it without some reason," Barstow answered. "I'll lay my last cent on that! Maybe he thought we'd be more likely to cough up after thinking it over all night or maybe he wants to keep it all to himself."

"Keep it to himself?" repeated Barry puzzled.

"Ay! The pearls, I mean. Ye see, when they was hidden up in the gas-pit, I was the only other chap as knowed where they were. And I'm figuring that he's on the same lay again. I know Burke a sight too well to think he ever meant to divvy up fair with the rest of us. I guess that's the reason why he sent Redstall and Dent and me off in that canoe to look for a ship—I mean afore you picked us up. He knowed there was weather brewing, and he didn't reckon as he'd ever see any of us again!"

Barry nodded.

"Strikes me we're wasting time, jawing."

He turned as he spoke, and swung up into the embrasure as lightly and easily as a monkey. Lying flat on his stomach on the sill, he put his head out as far as he could without overbalancing.

"Just about forty feet to the water," he said. "I'd chance the dive all right if it wasn't for the sharks."

"There's no way of climbing out, then?" asked Dick.

"Not below. That's like a wall. I'm not so sure about the upper part. It looks to me as if there was some foothold just above the opening, but you can't see by moonlight. We'll have to wait till dawn."

"But if Barstow is right, Burke will probably be here pretty early," said Dick.

"I'll lay he will," put in Barstow.

"Then let's have a shot at getting out the other way," insisted Dick. "Oh, I heard the stone rolled back all right! But this cave is a pretty big one, and the rock is limestone. It's quite likely that there's some other passage hidden by stalactites, and if we could find one it might lead us to open air again."

"Or it might drop us into some shaft full o' water," returned Barry. "All the same, I'm willing to take chances. I'd sooner finish up that way than let that swine Wigram get his dirty hands on me."

"There's jest one thing you've forgot, gents," said Barstow, in his quiet drawl. "We ain't got no lights."

"I've got my torch," answered Dick quietly. "I hid it inside my shirt, and they didn't find it."

"Then I guess you'd better get right along." said Barstow. "And if you should run on any kind o' outlet, why mebbe you'll give me a call, and I'll sort o' creep after you."

Dick gasped.

"Oh, I say, I'd quite forgotten about your being lame!"

"Don't you worry, Mr. Damer. I kin creep if I can't run. And I tell ye straight I'd sooner creep clear across this here island than meet up with Burke in the morning. There's always the chance that he might finish you folk off quick. But he ain't going to forget as I've been in with his crowd. It'll be something slow and lingering for yours truly."

"All right; we'll come back for you," said Barry briskly. "Chang, you makee stay with Mr. Barstow. We'll fetch you both. Come along, Dick. There isn't a lot of time, and, anyhow, your torch won't last for ever."

As they went, Dick turned his light from one side to the other, and wherever there was any sort of a hollow in either wall they went in and explored it.

"Where's your way out, Dick?" growled Barry at last.

"There may be one higher up," Dick answered hopefully.

"If there is we can't reach it, old hoss," said Barry, pointing to a great slab of stone which closed the whole passage, and barred their way.

"So that's the stone Burke spoke of," said Dick, turning his light upon it. "Why, it's a regular door, and fitted into grooves. Must have taken a lot of fixing. I only wish I knew how it worked."

"Not from this side. You may bet your boots on that," answered Barry.

Dick did not speak. He was still examining the door. At last he looked up.

"I say, Barry, if we can't get out, at any rate, we can keep them from getting in. Look at these grooves. We have only got to wedge a few bits of stone in, and nothing short of dynamite would shift it."

Barry looked, and nodded thoughtfully.

"Not a bad notion, Dick—not a bad idea at all. It's a bit awkward not having any grub, but at any rate this will give us time to look round. Here, let's nick a few bits off these stalactites, as you call 'em, and make a job of it while we're about it."

Ten minutes' work, and the trick was done. The door was fast, and, as Dick had said, nothing short of dynamite would move it.

"And now," said Barry, "we'll go back and get forty winks. Sleep a what we all need worse than anything else."

He was right. All four were absolutely done, and, though they had to lie on hard rock, they were hardly on their backs before they were all sound asleep.

It was the sunlight shining full on his face from the rift above which awoke Dick.

"Didn't hear Burke knock, did you, Dick?" observed Barry, with a grin.

"I never heard anything," Dick answered. "I say, I'd give something for a wash."

Barry laughed outright.

"That's you all over. Myself, I'd do without water if I could get some grub. However, it's no blessed use thinking of breakfast. Here, I'm going to have a squint out of the window."

"Let me have a look, too," said Dick eagerly.

"All right. But hurry up! There's no time to waste."

Dick clambered up into the opening. It was a heavy, sultry morning, with a ring of dark clouds surrounding the horizon, and the water of the inlet lay like a sheet of molten glass under the brazen sun-glare.

The Rainbow was not visible. A headland to the left cut off all sight of her. But away to the right, across a low spit of land covered with mangrove, the masts of another vessel were visible, and Dick realised that she must be the Brant.

But what caught Dick's eye at once was a black, bulbous object resembling an overturned boat, which was floating out in the centre of the inlet. All round it the slack water was stirred by moving creatures of some sort, and the mysterious object itself bobbed about in the oddest fashion, sending slow ripples fanning out in every direction.

Barry came scrambling up alongside Dick.

"What's up, Dick? What are you staring at?"

Dick pointed.

"What the mischief is that?" he asked.

"Gee! A dead whale; and all the sharks in the Solomons round it. Say, Dick, this is a piece o' luck!"

"Luck? Why, what do you mean?"

"Don't you catch on? If the sharks have got a feed like that they won't be worrying about anything else. Here's my chance!"

Dick turned horrified eyes on his companion.

"You don't mean—"

"Of course I do!" cut in Barry impatiently. "I'm going to do a dive, and make a dash for it."


CHAPTER XVI. — BARRY'S DIVE FOR FREEDOM.

"DON'T, Barry—don't try it!" begged Dick. "It's a terrible height to dive; and you can't be sure about the sharks. And—and, Barry, I couldn't stand it to see you taken by one of those brutes."

Barry stared at Dick. There was a queer look in his face.

"Why, bless the chap, he's got tears in his eyes!" he muttered. "It's all right, Dick," he said, in a softer voice than Dick had ever heard him use. "Honestly, there's less risk from the sharks than from the chance of Burke's folk being on the lookout from above. You ask Barstow if you don't believe me. Here, get down a minute, and hear what Barstow says."

"I reckon you're right, Cap'n Freeland," said Barstow, when he had heard Barry's proposal. "There won't be no sharks along the cliff when there's a free feed for 'em out in the middle. It's right smart of a dive, though," he added.

"That's nothing," Barry answered quickly. "I've been off as big a height before, and there's plenty of water right under the foot o' the cliff."

"What's your notion, then?" asked Barstow. "Do you reckon to get back to the boat?"

"No, too far. I'd have to swim right round that headland to the left. My idea is to get across to the spit on the right, and cross over and get out to the Brant. D'ye know if there's a boat alongside her?"

"I reckon there is. Burke keeps one ashore, and there's two at the schooner."

"That's all right. Then I'll take one of those, and pull right back to the Rainbow, collect all hands, and come right back, and take Burke's crowd from the rear."

Barstow looked doubtful.

"Sounds all right, but what about them seeing you from the shore? Burke's a right smart shot with a rifle. He'll be mighty likely to spot you afore you can get out o' range."

"I've got to take the chances," replied Barry impatiently. "Anything's better than sticking here and starving, or—"

His sentence was cut short by a thunderous clang which echoed through the cave.

"Guess that's Burke a-calling us to breakfast!" remarked Barstow, in his dry way.

"Well, if he's there he won't be on top of the cliff," said Barry quickly. "Here's my chance!"

As he spoke, he was unlacing his boots, and next moment he had flung them off, and was clambering back into the opening.

Dick followed. As he did so, the whole cave resounded with sledge-hammer blows upon the stone door.

Barry turned to him with a grin.

"Keeps 'em good and busy, eh, Dick? So much the better for me."

Dick tried to smile back, but failed.

"It's a terribly long drop, Barry," he said, as he glanced down at the quiet blue water lying so far beneath.

"That's nothing," declared Barry emphatically. "I've dived that high lots of times. Cheer up. Dick! I'll get through all right."

He gave Dick his hand, and Dick wrung it speechlessly.

Barry rose to his full height. He was wearing nothing but blue jean trousers and a thin undervest. The sunlight falling upon him showed the great muscles that rippled easily in his back and shoulders.

At the last moment he turned once more to Dick.

"It's likely I'll be some time before I can get back," he said quickly. "If Burke gets hold of you, and starts any dirty games, I give you free leave to tell him where the pearls are. I'd a darned sight lose them than you, old son!

"So-long!" he ended, and, raising his arms above his head, gathered himself and sprang outwards.

Dick breathlessly watched him shoot head downwards through the brilliant sunlight. He saw him strike the water clean as a dropping arrow, and vanish in a tiny cloud of spray.


Illustration

From the force of his long fall it seemed to Dick as though Barry must go clean to the bottom, yet it was only a matter of a few seconds before his chestnut-red head reappeared on the surface. He turned, treading water, and waved his hand to Dick, then started off swimming at such a pace that he left a wake of transparent foam bubbling behind him.

The pounding from up the passage was deafening in its clangour, but Dick paid no attention. With his heart in his mouth he stood watching Barry drive onwards along the base of the cliff towards the mangrove spit.

Nothing touched him, and within little more than five minutes from the time he had dived, he waded ashore. Once more he turned, and waved a hand to Dick. Then he plunged into the gloomy depths of the swamp, and disappeared from view.

"He's safe!" said Dick, turning to Barstow.

"I'm real glad o' that!" Barstow answered, with more feeling than he usually displayed. "He's a white man is Freeland. But say, Mr. Damer, sounds to me like Burke won't be long before he gets that there door down. And he ain't going to be pleased when he finds Freeland gone."

Dick considered a moment.

"Tell you what, why shouldn't he find us all gone?"

Barstow shook his head.

"Guess I'd break my back if I tried that there jump!"

"I don't mean that," Dick said quickly. "I couldn't do that dive myself. What I mean is, let's hide. When we were looking for a way out last night I spotted a deepish sort of hole in one side of the passage. The mouth is hidden by a screen of stalactite. There's room for us all three to lie up there, and I'll bet they'll be some time finding us!"

"I guess it's good enough to try," Barstow answered "It's time that counts now, for even if Freeland gets through it's going to be three or four hours afore he can get back with help."

"Come on, then," said Dick. "I'll show you the way."

The rest had done Barstow's ankle good, and with Dick on one side and Chang on the other, he managed to hobble up the passage. Dick led him straight to his hiding-place, and they stowed themselves away in the darksome niche behind the stalactites.

By this time the pounding had stopped. But in the quiet of the cave they could hear a low, grating sound.

"Guess Burke's putting a charge in," remarked Barstow, in a low voice.

Then for a long time no one spoke, and the silence was broken only by the grating of the drill. This stopped, and was followed by a tapping sound.

"They're stamping home the charge!" whispered Barstow. "Look out for squalls when they looses her off!"

"What do you mean?" asked Dick.

"Roof falls," replied Barstow briefly. "I used to work underground in Queensland. I've seed a dynamite cartridge bring down the whole of a cavern afore now."

The tapping ceased, and for a while there was utter silence. The three crouching in their narrow refuge hardly breathed. Even Chang seemed to be affected by the atmosphere of suspense.

"She's about due!" said Barstow at last.

The words were hardly out of his mouth before there came a tremendous thud. The air rushed back in a wave that almost stunned them. It was as if a giant had struck the cliff-top above them with a thousand-ton hammer.

The solid rock quivered, then before the first sound had died, it was followed by a long, reverberating crash, and the whole air was thick with dust.

"Guess that charge was a mite too heavy!" muttered Barstow in Dick's ear. "It's busted the roof, jest as I told you!"


CHAPTER XVII. — CLUB AGAINST SPEAR.

THE air was so thick they could hardly breathe, and for many seconds the crackling, splitting sounds continued. The explosion had shaken the whole cave, and every moment some fresh mass of stalactite, loosened by the shock, would come clanging down from the roof to the stony floor below.

Several pieces dropped close to where the three lay crouched on their shelf, but, fortunately, none large enough to do harm, and by degrees the uproar died away, and all was still.

Through the dusty darkness a light glowed redly, and there came a sound of steps. Dick pinched Barstow's arm.

"Lie low," he whispered—"lie low, and they won't see us in this smother!"

The stops came closer.

"I told you the charge was too heavy, Pike. A nice mess you've made of it! The chances are that you have wiped them all out!"

The voice was that of Wigram.

They heard Burke's oily chuckle.

"A case of the pot calling the kettle black," he observed "My good Wigram, you and Pyke are always so impulsive. The effect of the explosion will have spent itself long before reaching the outer cave. I do not imagine that our friends have taken any harm."

Dick felt Barstow quiver with a soundless chuckle.

"Burke's right that time, but I guess he'd be a whole lot surprised if he knowed we was here listening to what he's saving," he whispered in Dick's ear.

The steps passed on, and the crimson torch-glow died away down the slope running towards the sea cave.

"Now," muttered Dick—"now's our chance! Let's got out before they come back."

"Chances are the opening's guarded," Barstow replied. "Burke's too 'cute to run any chances."

"Then it'll be only niggers," was Dick's answer. "And they won't have firearms."

"They'll have their nasty great spears," objected Barstow "And we ain't heeled at all."

"We'll use rocks, fists—anything! We must rush them! Anything's better than waiting here for Burke to find us. You said yourself last night you'd rather crawl across the island than fall into Wigram's hands."

"Ay, I did! Come on, then. May as well die scrapping as any other way!"

"But I wish to blazes I had two sound legs!" he groaned, as Dick helped him down off the rock shelf.

Dick dared not use his lamp and they stumbled among piles of fallen rock and stalactite. Fortunately, it was not very far to the mouth, and soon they caught the welcome gleam of daylight.

Dick stooped, and picked up a two-foot length of hard, white rock, which looked like an icicle turned to stone. Chang, silent as usual, followed his example.

They had Barstow between them, each holding him under one arm, and he contrived to hobble along. But it was slow work, and Dick was in an agony of impatience. Every moment he expected to hear Burke and the others coming back from their fruitless search. If there had only been a little time to spare, they might have tried to block the passage with some of the broken stone, but that was out of the question.

Near the entrance Barstow signed to them to stop.

"You leave me right here," he whispered. "Guess you'll need all your hands to tackle them niggers."

Dick nodded, and leaving Barstow propped against one wall of the passage, he and Chang crept soundlessly forward. Dick's heart was pounding, and he grasped his stone club with desperate energy.

He reached the opening, paused a moment listening, but heard nothing, and presently ventured to peer cautiously around the corner.

There was no sign of life, and, after waiting a few seconds he walked out into the open.

"Me tinkum all gone inside," said Chang.

"There's no one here, anyhow," replied Dick quickly, and hurried back to Barstow.

"That's mighty odd," remarked Barstow, frowning in puzzled fashion. "Almost looks like as if Burke was wanting us to get away."

In spite of his anxiety, Dick nearly laughed. Such an idea was too preposterous. Then his quick ears caught a sound from somewhere far down the tunnel.

"He'll have us in about two twos if we don't hurry up!" he said sharply. "Take my arm and come on!"

The jungle path outside was hot as a furnace. There was no breeze, and the sun beat down through the branches with a scorching glare. Never in his life had Dick felt such a temperature.

As they hurried along fast as Barstow could hobble Dick looked anxiously from side to side. He was searching for some side-path, into which they might dodge and hide. But the bush was like a wall. A rabbit could hardly have squeezed its way into the terrific tangle of cane and creepers.

Dick felt like a person in a nightmare who is trying to run away from some awful danger, and finds himself chained to the ground. Alone, he and Chang could have raced away, and made sure of safety. But Barstow's best pace was nor more than three miles an hour, and every moment Dick expected to hear a shot or a yell.

None came, and, dripping at every pore, they struggled into the clearing where the huts were.

"Me velly thilsty," said Chang.

"Thirsty! I'm dying for a drink!" answered Dick. "See here, Barstow, those huts are empty. Let's try for some water and food. For all we know, we may get stuck up in the bush all day before Barry gets back, and if we've nothing to eat, we shall be simply done for!"

"Right you are, partner! You and Chang go ahead. I'll find a stick and hobble across into the woods t'other side. We're bound to have them niggers after us before long. I guess they can track mighty nigh as well as the black fellows over in Queensland."

"Come on, Chang!" said Dick.

And he and the Chinaman made a rush for the nearest hut.

As they reached it a man sprang out of the low, arched entrance. He was a native. A short, stocky, powerful-looking brute, and black as the ace of spades. He had a face more like a monkey than a man, and his clothes were a narrow waistband and nothing else. The lobes of his ears hung down on his shoulders, a copper cartridge-case decorated one and a clay pipe the other. He was about as repulsive a specimen of humanity as Dick had over set eyes on, and, to add to his other attractions, he carried a long spear with an ironwood handle and a point toothed like a saw.

For one second he stood glaring at Dick with little beadlike eyes. Then, without a sound, he charged at him. Dick sprang but the native was as quick as a wildcat, and swerved after him. He would have got him, too, but for Chang. The Chinaman was a little behind Dick, and as the man ran at Dick he lifted his stone club and hurled it at him with all his force.

The club caught the nigger full in the chest, and bowled him over like a ninepin. Before Dick had recovered from his surprise Clang had rushed forward, picked up his club, and finished the wretched native with one tremendous blow over the head.


Illustration

Although Dick had done his share in the previous day's fighting, this was the first time that he had seen a man killed at close quarters, and for a moment he felt sick and shaken.

But there was no time to think. Chang was already at the hut door, and Dick followed.

Chang merely put his head in, and was out again.

"Dis no use, boss. Him niggel hut."

"The big one's Burke's."

It was Barstow's voice from behind.

Dick dashed in. There was an upturned packing-case in the middle, and on it the remains of a meal—biscuits and corned beef. The latter had just been turned out of a tin, and was untouched. Dick crammed it into one pocket, and filled the other with biscuits. He looked round for a gun, but saw none.

"They're coming; I hear 'em," hissed Barstow from outside.

Dick did not waste another moment. He made a rush for the open, he and Chang caught hold of Barstow, and, lifting him clean off his feet, rushed him into the bush opposite. They found a trail of some sort, and plunged along it frantically, nor did they stop until they were so done up that they were forced to pull up and lean, panting and dripping, against the trunk of a gigantic tree.

They listened keenly, but could hear nothing.

"We've dodged them," said Dick.

But Barstow shook his head.

"Don't think it! So long as they've got niggers they can run us down any time they want to."

"Then the only thing is to get to the boat," said Dick firmly. "They can't track us once we're afloat."

Barstow shrugged his shoulders.

"May as well try that as anything else. But I don't reckon they're left any bottom in the boat, and if they have it's the first place they'll go to. Ye see, they knows I'm lame."

"It's our only chance," said Dick doggedly. "And, anyhow, it will take us across the brook. We must have water, or we shall go under."

That was true enough. They were all three suffering agonies from thirst. The heat was awful, and seemed to grow worse all the time.

"Guess this is the way, then," said Barstow, pointing downhill, and off they started again. Barstow pluckily did his best to help himself along with a stick he had picked up, but his ankle was almost useless, and they had to help him. It was a terribly slow business, for they were off the path and working through a fearful tangle of bush. Every moment Dick expected to hear Burke's natives on the track.

At last they caught the sound of running water, and it spurred them to fresh exertions. Dick could hardly repress a cry of relief as they came out at last on a steep bank with a deep pool at the bottom, and an exquisite little waterfall tumbling in white foam into the head of it.

Next instant they were all in it, waist-deep, lapping the water like dogs, half-crazed with the delight of its exquisite coolness.

"That's a heap better," said Barstow, raising his head with a sigh of relief. "Guess I'll be able to walk right down to the beach after this."

"Guess again, Barstow!" came a voice from above, and Wigram, with a malicious grin on his unpleasant face, stood on the bank, covering them with a pistol in each hand.


CHAPTER XVIII. — BURKE OFFERS TERMS.

"THERE ain't a-going to be no more delays, Cap'n Burke. Me and Pyke has made up our minds to that, and so you needn't to say nothing more!"

It was Wigram speaking, and his words came clearly enough to Dick's ears. Dick at the moment was lying, tied hand and foot, on the floor of one of the huts, and Wigram and Burke and Pyke, so far as he could make out, were in the next hut. Barstow and Chang, he believed, were in another hut, but whether they were together, or why he had been separated from them, were questions for which he had, at present, no answer.

"You mean, my good Wigram," answered Burke, in his silkiest tone, "that you and Pyke, being two to one, have resolved to set my authority at defiance? Pray do not be afraid of hurting my feelings!"

"Have it any way you like!" Wigram retorted sulkily. "All I got to say is that Pyke an' me is tired o' this shilly-shallying. We knows as one o' them three has hid the pearls, and if they won't talk—why, we're a-going to open their mouths for 'em, that's all!"

"We're tired of waiting, we are," Pyke put in. "And I'll lay, if any of 'em knows, it's Barstow."

"It may be so." From Burke's tone Dick guessed that he was shrugging his great shoulders. "It may be so. Suppose, now, that you two go and ask him nicely. You might just mention the Pit of Scales to him. If he does happen to know where the pearls are hidden—why, I have little doubt that he will oblige you!

"But mind," he added sternly, "none of your head-cords or finger- twisting. Barstow is my meat, and I claim to deal with him!"

Wigram growled something under his breath which Dick could not catch. Then, by the sound, the two went out of the hut.

A moment later, and Burke came slipping in through the door of Dick's prison.

For a moment or two he stood looking down at the boy with that grin which to Dick seemed worse than any scowl.

"You're giving me a heap o' trouble, sonny!" he observed.

"The boot's on the other foot!" Dick retorted.

Burke chuckled.

"I like that. Here you come butting in and stealing my property and hiding it, and then you're annoyed because I want it back!"

"Don't talk nonsense!" said Dick. "The pearls were never yours!"

"I reckon it was me and my crowd fished them up out of the lagoon," Burke answered. "If that don't give me a claim to them I don't know what does!"

Dick did not answer. He felt it was not worth while to argue.

"See here," Burke went on. "I stopped these chaps o' mine from handling you as they wanted to last night. But I can't hold them any longer. They've got that impatient that there's no doing anything with them, and I tell you straight they're going to make things mighty unpleasant for you if you don't own up where you planted the pearls!"

He paused a moment, and seemed to listen. Then, lowering his voice, he continued:

"I'm no hog, and here's my proposal. You tell me where you planted the pearls, and I'll share 'em up with you, half and half. What's more, I'll give you back your gun and your boat, and start you off safe and sound to your schooner."

Dick pretended to hesitate.

"The pearls are not mine," he said. "I should have to ask Freeland first."

"Freeland's sharks' meat hours ago!" Burke answered curtly, and for once his usual grin was gone from his face.

"How do you know?" demanded Dick, in sudden panic.

"Never you mind how I know. It's a fact, anyhow."

Dick gasped. For once it seemed as though Burke were speaking the truth. It occurred to him that Burke might have spotted Barry from the window of the cave and shot him as he rowed back to the Rainbow.

"There's no hope from Freeland, if that's what you're counting on," continued Burke; "and as pearls are no use to him where he's gone, it's up to you to accept my offer."

Dick's lips set.

"I'll see you sharks' meat first!" he said deliberately.

Burke's face darkened ominously. For a moment. Dick fully expected a blow or a kick. But the man controlled himself.

"I'd the notion you'd got more sense," he said, with a bitter sneer. "Well, I guess you'll change your mind before a great while. The mere look of that pit is a mighty fine persuader."

He turned and went out, leaving Dick in a state of mind better imagined than described.

If Barry was really gone, all hope of rescue was at an end. There was nothing left but to face the end with as much pluck as was left to him.

He had not long to wait. In loss than five minutes Pyke and Wigram came in.

Wigram jerked him roughly to his feet.

"So Burke couldn't make you speak—eh? I'll lay a pearl to a penny you'll squeal afore I'm done with ye!"

He roped Dick's hands behind his back and drove him out of the hut. Outside, Barstow and Chang stood in charge of a couple of unpleasant-looking natives. Then all three were marched off down a narrow path which led through the scrub in a direction exactly opposite to the path leading to the brook.

As before, the unfortunate Chang was made to carry Barstow on his back. How he managed it Dick did not know, for if the heat had been scorching earlier in the day it was now positively terrific.

A faint mutter of thunder shook the sullen air.

"Guess we'll have a shower," Dick heard Pyke say to Wigram.

"Good job, too! It's hot enough to boil a man's brains!" growled Wigram.

The path dropped steeply. The bush on either side was a solid wall. The ground underfoot became wet and greasy.

Dick slipped several times, and Chang fell twice. Each time he was cursed and thrashed to his feet again. Chang did not speak, but Dick saw a gleam in his dark eyes which boded ill for his tormentors if he ever got his hands on them.

Just as Dick had begun to wonder if this horrible path was ever coming to an end he caught a glimpse of daylight, and next minute the path ended in an open space.

It was a sort of marshy glade, surrounded by heavy bush, and in the centre was a black, sullen-looking pool, with banks of slimy mud sloping steeply to the oily water.

Burke turned to Dick.

"Come along with me, sonny," he said. "I've got something pretty to show you."

He led Dick forward to the very edge of the pool, and now Dick saw floating among the thick scum which covered the foul and stagnant surface a number of objects which looked like trunks of dead trees.

"Now, you just stand there, my lad," said Burke, and, turning, said something in a language Dick did not understand to one of the natives who accompanied the party.

The man came forward, grinning evilly. His front teeth had been filed to sharp points, which made his grin the most hideous thing imaginable.

This man handed to Burke a large chunk of raw meat which he had been carrying, and Burke took it, swung it, and sent it flying out over the pool. It fell with a sullen splash far out in the dark water.

Instantly the dead trunks took life, and with one accord shot through the water with the speed of torpedoes, making for the spot where the meat had fallen.

The scummy water rolled in greasy ripples, and the heavy air became thick with a sickening odour of musk.

Next instant half a dozen of the monsters met around the meat, and as many pairs of yard-long jaws clashed like great traps as their scale-clad owners fought savagely for the morsel.

"Pretty pets, ain't they?" chuckled Wigram, as he watched the hideous conflict. "Pity there ain't enough meat to go round!"

Dick hardly heard. It was the first time that he had ever seen crocodiles, and the horror of these monstrous, scale-clad lizards held him spellbound.

Burke's fingers closed vicelike on his arm.

"What d'ye think of 'em, sonny? Nice spot for a swim on a warm afternoon like this!" he purred in Dick's ear.

Dick stared at him in a vague sort of way.

"Want, me to make it plainer?" grinned Burke. "Got to explain in so many words. All right, sonny! It's you for the swim if you don't tell us where you've hid the pearls!"

At last Dick understood, and his very flesh crawled, while, in spite of the awful heat, he shivered till his teeth chattered.

"Told you he wouldn't stick it," he heard Wigram say to Pyke.

The contempt in the man's tone stung him. He set his teeth.

"All right. Chuck me in if you like!" he answered fiercely. "It won't help you to the pearls. That's one thing sure."

There came an ugly gleam in Burke's small eyes.

"We will see if your opinion is the same after you have seen these pretty creatures make a meal of one of your friends. Wigram, conduct Mister Barstow to the edge of the pit. Keep the rope on him, and don't let him go till I give the word."

Without a moment's delay Barstow was driven forward to the edge of the horrible place. It seemed that the monsters beneath realised what was being prepared for them One by one they came gliding across through the iridescent scum until, below the black slime of the bank, there lay a long array of gnarled heads and green, unwinking eyes set under rims of horn.

The horror of the sight turned Dick sick. In spite of all his pluck, he shuddered with horror.

"Shall I push him off, Cap'n?" asked Wigram.


CHAPTER XIX. — THE STORM.

"STOP!" cried Dick. "Stop! He doesn't know where the pearls are."

Burke gave a low chuckle.

"It works," he said—"it works! Then it lies between the Chink and the boy. Bring the Chink along, Pyke. Let's see what he's got to say for himself. I'll bet you—"

His words were drowned in a thunder clap, far louder and nearer than any yet. The smoke-like mist had thickened, but the air remained as breathlessly still as ever.

Dick paid no attention to the sky. He was watching with horrified eyes as the unfortunate Chang was dragged forward to the brink of the pit, close alongside Barstow.

Chang's pluck was wonderful. There was hardly any change in his yellow face. Only his eyes showed signs of the terror which inwardly consumed him.

"Chink, d'ye see them alligators?" said Pyke. "'Cos you're going to feel 'em if you don't open up about them pearls."

Chang gave Dick one quick glance; then he shut his mouth resolutely.

"In with him!" said Burke curtly.

Dick's self-control gave way.

"No!" he shouted. "No! He doesn't know, either. I'm the only one who knows. I hid them."

Pyke, who was in the very act of pushing Chang over the edge, stopped, and glanced at Burke.

"If you throw Chang in, you shall never know where the pearls are!" cried Dick vehemently.

"I'm tired of this fooling," said Burke to Dick. "You've given us enough trouble for ten. This is your last chance. Out with it! Where are the pearls?"

"Take Barstow and Chang away from the edge," Dick said desperately, "then I'll tell you."

A blinding blaze lit the scene, followed instantly by a crash like the explosion of a powder-magazine. A great dead tree on the far side of the pool was shattered to atoms. The whole air seemed full of darting streaks of flame, and the earth quivered under foot with the enormous concussion. Dick staggered back and fell, sitting on the wet ground.

Before the stunning echoes died, the sky seemed to open, and down came rain, not in drops, but in vast sheets, which splashed up from the ground in a mist of foam. Daylight went like the blowing out of a candle, and thick darkness settled on the scene.

Blinded, half drowned, Dick lay where he had fallen, his bound hands making it impossible for him to rise, or help himself in any way.

Crash after crash followed, and great snakes of electric fire darted through the darkness, yet so tremendous was the downpour that the lightning failed to do more than throw momentary gleams through the night-like gloom. Dick could not see Burke, who a moment before had been within a yard of him.

A hand dropped on his shoulder.

"Keep still!" muttered a voice in his ear.

Nothing seemed any longer too wonderful to be true, and he was hardly surprised to recognize Barry's voice.

Next instant the cords dropped away from his wrists, and he was jerked to his feet. Barry's big hand seized him by the arm, and he found himself racing away, his feet splashing through the water, which, pouring down the slope, swept in a shallow torrent towards the pool.

He fancied he heard a shout behind, followed by the snap of a pistol. But the din of rain and thunder were so tremendous that he could not be sure.

They plunged through thick grass almost as high as their heads, then reached more open ground, and turned downhill. Dick had no notion where they were going. He was content to trust to Barry.

The first fury of the storm passed, it still rained in torrents, but it grew a little lighter, and now a blast of wind bent the trees as if they had been rushes, and tearing away branches and leaves sent them swirling through the forest.

Barry gave an angry exclamation.

"Rotten luck!" he muttered. "Rotten luck! If this lasts, we're done!"

Dick did not know what he was talking about, and did not ask. He needed all the breath and energy that were left him to fight his way onwards against the enormous weight of the wind.

The gale increased in force every moment, roaring so that it drowned the thunder-peals, but as it increased so did the light, and presently Dick caught a glimpse through the thinning bush of the surface of the inlet lashed into one boiling mass of foam by the tremendous force of the wind.

Dick's heart was beating as if it would burst. He stumbled as he ran. This furious race on top of everything else had nearly finished him.

Barry kept on until he reached the edge of the open beach. Then he suddenly jerked Dick aside into a thick patch of scrub. The moment they stopped, Dick dropped to the ground and lay in a heap, panting for breath.

Barry thrust something into his hand.

"Drink this," he said curtly.

It was a flask, and full of some strong-smelling spirit.

Dick took a gulp. It was rum, and it nearly strangled him. As a matter of fact, it was the first time that he had ever tasted raw spirits.

Barry laughed grimly.

"It won't hurt you. It'll pull you together. Gosh, I reckon you've had a sweet time!"

"I have," Dick answered, with a shiver. Then, after a pause: "Barry, I was going to tell," he said, in a strained voice.

"I know. I heard you. Small blame to you, either. I'd let a barrel o' pearls go rather than have seen Chang chucked to those filthy brutes!"

"You really mean that?" demanded Dick.

"Of course I do, you blithering idiot!"

Dick gave a sigh of relief.

"But how did you get there, Barry?" he asked. "How on earth did you manage to turn up just when you did? Burke swore you were dead, and for once I thought he was telling the truth."

"I reckon he thought so, too I got off to the Brant all right, and collared one of the boats. As I was rowing back someone spotted me from the shore, and set to work on me with a rifle. They holed the boat, and I had to nip over into the water."

"That was Burke from the cave window," put in Dick.

"Don't know where it was from," Barry answered. "Anyway, he didn't hit me, but I had to hang on there and drift for a deuce of a time, expecting every minute to get my legs nipped off by a shark. But I guess the sharks were still busy with that whale, and after a bit the tide put the boat back near the Point, and I swam in again. I took a rest, and then had another shy for the Brant, and got her other boat. But that one hadn't got oars, so all I could do was to paddle her ashore with a bit of board.

"Then I thought I'd try and work overland to our own boat over by the brook mouth, and it was just luck that brought me up along by that alligator pond. I saw the whole business from behind a tree, and I was just thinking of running amok with a club, when the storm broke and gave me my chance."

"And you saved me and left Chang and Barstow," said Dick.

"Of course I did," growled Barry. "You were in the worst fix, anyway. You'd owned up you knew where the pearls were."

He paused a moment.

"The boat's down there," he said, pointing. "If this wind lets up a bit we'll shove along out to the Brant. There's no one aboard, and I guess we can hold the ship even if Burke does come out and tackle us."

"But what about Chang and Barstow?" said Dick. "We can't leave them in Burke's hands."

Barry frowned.

"What else can we do?" he demanded. "Are you going back to tackle Burke & Co. with your bare hands?"

"I don't know," Dick answered slowly. "But we can't possibly leave them. It wouldn't be playing the game." As he spoke he scrambled to his feet and turned inland. "Come on, Barry," he said.


CHAPTER XX. — AFTER DARK.

"THE kid's clean crazy," said Barry, in a sort of despair—"plumb, absolutely loony!"

He sprang to his feet, reached Dick in two jumps and caught him by the arm.

"Stop it!" he said "Chuck it! Why, you blithering idiot, you'll only do for yourself, and them, too. Burke & Co. are just about mad enough to pitch the whole lot of us to the crocs if they lay their hands on us."

Dick's face was very white and drawn as he turned to Barry.

"We mustn't leave Chang and Barstow behind," he insisted feebly. "It wouldn't be fair."

"But we can't help it," retorted Barry. "We can't help it. If we go back Burke bags the bunch of us. If we get away to the Rainbow we can get our guns and come back. Don't you understand?"

Dick stared at him in a queer, bewildered fashion. Then quite suddenly his knees gave way, and Barry caught him just in time to save him from falling.

"Well, I'm jiggered!" he muttered. "The poor young beggar's absolutely done in!"

With some difficulty he hoisted Dick on his back and carried him slowly down through the yelling gale towards the beach.

When Dick came to himself the first thing he heard was the roar of wind and the splash of waves. Compared with the awful heat of the morning, the air was deliciously cool.

A splash of salt spray sprinkled his face, he opened his eyes, and found that he was lying full length in the bottom of a boat, while Barry, humped up in the stern sheets close by, was watching him anxiously.

A look of relief crossed his face as he saw Dick's eyes open.

"Hallo, old son! Waked up?"

"Have I been asleep?" asked Dick, puzzled.

"Fainted, more like." Barry's voice was more gentle than usual. "No, nothing to be ashamed of. You were just done in. How d'ye feel now?"

"A bit queer in my head. But nothing much. I say, I'm most frightfully hungry."

Barry grinned, and tumbled in his pocket.

"That's a good sign. Here, scoff this!" handing over a ship's biscuit. "Dry stuff, but it'll taste better if you know it's collared from Burke."

"I don't care where it comes from," said Dick, between bites. "Seems to me it's as good as anything I ever ate."

He finished every crumb, and sat up.

"That's a lot better," he said. "To tell the truth. I was jolly near starved. But, I say, what's this boat, and where are we?"

"The boat's Burke's, like the biscuit. And we're lying up in a bit of a creek, waiting for this infernal gale to calm down."

"I remember now," said Dick slowly. "And Chang and Barstow are up there"—pointing towards the shore.

"You needn't worry. Burke won't kill 'em."

"Why?"

"Because they're hostages, you ass! Don't you see? He'll hold 'em so as to swap 'em for the pearls."

Dick's face brightened a little.

"I hadn't thought of that."

"No, you wanted to go back and wade in bald-headed," Barry said, with a laugh. "Just sit light, and we'll get 'em out of it some way or other. Have another biscuit?"

Dick accepted gratefully. It was not until some time after he had eaten it that he realised it was Barry's last. He was full of apologies, but Barry only grinned.

"There's plenty more in the Brant, and that's where we're going as soon as the wind drops. Now you lie down and take a snooze. There'll be plenty to do when we once get started."

Dick was absolutely fagged out, and the very moment he laid down he was asleep. He woke to find Barry shaking him vigorously, and sat up drowsily.

"Why, it's dark!" he exclaimed.

"And a good job, too!" answered Barry. "If it hadn't been, Burke would have spotted us for a certainty."

"What! Has he been after us?"

"You bet! He and two niggers in the other boat. They came by the first time half an hour ago, and pulled out to the Brant, and it's barely five minutes since they went back. I couldn't see 'em the last time, but I heard the oars."

"Then they may be waiting for us," muttered Dick.

"No. I heard 'em go ashore again. They reckon that we've got back to the Rainbow, or else that we're hidden somewhere ashore.

"Gosh, I'll bet Burke's in a holy rage!" he went on, with a chuckle, as he picked up the piece of board which, during his long watch, he had whittled into the shape of a paddle. "Now, we're going to shove out to the Brant."

"Why not straight to the Rainbow?"

"Because the tide won't turn for another hour or more, and we shall be a darned sight safer on the schooner than here. For another thing, I'm ready for some supper. I don't know how you feel."

"As if I could eat an ox," Dick answered, as he got his hands against the rock under which the boat lay, and pushed her off into deeper water.

The storm was over, and the wind had dropped to a light breeze. Under Barry's strong strokes the boat drove quietly through the ripples. The moon was not yet up, and it was very dark.

Dick, listening anxiously, heard no suspicious sound, and after a little while caught the dark bulk of Burke's schooner looming up through the gloom.

As Barstow had said, she was hard aground, and canted over at an awkward angle.

"No wonder they didn't want to stay aboard her," said Dick, as he scrambled aboard, and found it almost impossible to stand on the heavily-sloping deck.

"I'll stay with the boat," said Barry. "I don't suppose there's any danger, but it's as well to be on the safe side. You go aft, Dick, and down to the cabin. You'll find grub of some sort in the cupboard. Fetch it up, and we'll feed in the boat."

Dick obeyed, but he went cautiously. There was no knowing what surprises Burke might spring on him. He crept softly down the companion, and felt his way into the cabin. He listened a moment, then switched on his electric.

There was no one there. The cabin itself was dirty and squalid. In the middle was a long table covered with oilcloth. Some dirty plates still lay on it, held in position by the fiddles.

He found the cupboard and opened it. There was a tin of maggotty biscuits, and the remains of some corned beef. He decided that this was not good enough, and by means of his electric found his way to the pantry. Here, after a bit of searching, he discovered a fresh tin of biscuits, and several of potted meat. There was also a Dutch cheese, as well as tea, coffee, sugar, and condensed milk.

He selected the best of the food, and carried it back to Barry.

"There's tea and all sorts of stuff there," he said. "Pity we couldn't light a fire and have a square meal."

"Not good enough," Barry replied. "They might see the light from the shore. No, chuck over the grub and let's make the best of a cold feed."

The two biscuits were all that Dick had eaten in twenty-four hours. He was ravenous, and biscuits, cheese and potted meat disappeared in very short order. There was something particularly pleasant in the idea that the delicacies they were consuming were Burke's property.

Suddenly Barry began to chuckle.

"I say, Dick, what price putting a light to the old schooner? We could get away before she blazed up. It 'ud make Burke & Co. sit up, eh?"

"Yes, and they'd proceed to take it out of Chang and Barstow," Dick retorted. "If you ask me, I think it's a crazy notion."

Barry laughed again.

"What's up now?" asked Dick, puzzled.

"Nothing, Dick. I was only thinking you wouldn't have talked that way to me a week or two ago."

"I suppose I shouldn't," Dick answered thoughtfully, and once more Barry chuckled.

"Tide's beginning to turn," said Barry presently. "If we had another paddle we could get on faster."

"I'll find a bit of plank," replied Dick, jumping aboard again.

He soon got a piece that would do, and also a hatchet, and Barry very soon whittled out a second paddle. Then he cast off, and the boat, with the tide under her and two paddles going, slid rapidly out round the mangrove spit.

"Starboard, Dick!" said Barry presently.

"Why, I thought the Rainbow lay dead ahead," answered Dick.

"So she does; but you're not going aboard without the pearls, are you?" returned Barry, with some contempt.

"'Pon my word, I'd almost forgotten them," said Dick.

"I hadn't," retorted Barry. "And once they're safe aboard the Rainbow, I shall feel a deal easier in my mind. Whatever happens then, we hold trumps."

"Paddle easy," he continued, as the boat turned beach-ward. "There's always the off-chance that Burke or some of 'em may be laying for us."

Dick gave a little gasp.

"It's quite likely he will. You see, he knows the pearls are somewhere on the beach. I practically told him that when I acknowledged that I was the only one of us three who knew where they were."

"Don't Chang know? He was with you."

"No. He was down by the boat. He didn't see me hide them."

Barry was silent a moment.

"This is going to be awkward," he said. "Dick, do you think you can go straight to the place where you hid them?"

"I think so. The double rock sticks up a bit above the others. And it's quite close to the water's edge, you know."

"How far from that ledge where you were collared last night?"

"Not more than thirty yards."

"You don't think Burke's found 'em already?"

"He hadn't this morning, because he offered to go halves with me if I'd tell him where they were. Anyhow, it would be a thousand to one against anyone hitting on the place. The whole beach is covered with wells."

"I'll bet he's had a try," said Barry grimly. "Now then"—as he caught the loom of the land through the darkness—"slip in as soft as you can. Make for that spit of rock. We'll lay the boat behind it where she won't be seen, then we'll creep up the beach together."

Dick carefully obeyed directions, and without so much as a rustle the boat came to rest behind the rock. Barry did not drag her up, for the tide was ebbing. He dropped her grapnel into the shingle and left her afloat a little way out. Then he slipped quietly overboard and waded ashore. Dick followed.

During the past twenty-four hours Dick had had quite a number of exciting experiences, and had become pretty well hardened to danger. All the same, this creeping along the beach tried his nerves worse than anything he had done yet.

It was the horrible uncertainty that he found so hard to bear. That and the darkness together. For all he knew, Burke might be crouching there among the rocks within a few yards, listening to his and Barry's every movement. He could almost see the evil grin on the man's bloated face.

Bent double, he crept on tiptoe in and out between the rocks that littered the beach. The sand swarmed with tiny spider-crabs which kept up a continual rustling. This and the low murmur of the ripple on the beach made it impossible to hear if anyone else was moving near by.

The darkness, too, was horribly confusing. True, the clouds which had covered the sky over since the storm were now breaking, and stars beginning to shine through. All the same, there was not light enough to see anything at more than a few feet distance, and one rock looked exactly like the next.

Dick's only real guide was the fact that the double rock, in the cavity of which he had hidden the pearls, was somewhat higher than those around it, but in the darkness the heights appeared all much the same.

Dick began to feel that he could bear the strain no longer—not if all the pearls in the islands depended upon his doing so. He was on the point of turning and telling Barry so when he saw just in front of him a humped pinnacle which was certainly higher than the rest. He quickened his pace, and, getting close under it, stood up and felt it with his hands.

He gave a sigh of deepest relief. It was the cleft rock.

"Got it at last!" he whispered to Barry.

"About time, too!" was the muttered answer. "We're a douce of a way from the boat!"

Dick crept around the rock and found the opening. He bent over and stretched his arm in. To his horror, his fingers met a smooth surface of wet sand.

He groped this way and that. The hollow was of no great size. He covered the whole of it, and felt the rough rock all around.

At last he turned to Barry.

"They're not here!" he whispered despairingly. "There's no sign of them at all."


CHAPTER XXI. — A GAME OF HIDE-AND-SEEK.

BARRY muttered something that was not a blessing.

"I don't see who could have got 'em," he whispered. "As you said just now, it's a thousand-to-one chance against anyone else hitting on the hiding-place. Here, let me have a shot!"

Dick made way for him, and Barry plunged his long right arm into the opening.

Dick stood by in breathless silence.

Barry groped about for a full minute. At last he withdrew his arm.

"You're right, Dick. They're gone!" he said. And his voice held such despair as wrung Dick's heart. It was the first time that he had ever known Barry give way at all, and it frightened him.

"Nothing there but sand," went on Barry. "That brute Burke has bested us, after all! Gad, I'd thought the old lady was safe and happy for the rest of her life—and now!"

What he was talking about Dick had not the faintest idea, any more than who the "old lady" was to whom Barry referred. But next instant all his wonder was forgotten as a sudden inspiration seized him.

"The storm!" he whispered sharply. "We'd forgotten the storm."

"What in thunder do you mean? Have you gone loony?"

"No!" Dick answered impatiently. "Don't you see what I mean? The storm has drifted a lot of fresh sand into the hollow. I believe the pearls are there all right, only buried under a lot of fresh sand."

Barry gasped.

"There's a chance. You may be right."

As he spoke he dived again into the hollow, and began rummaging frantically in the sand.

Again Dick waited, in such suspense that he could hardly breathe.

"I feel something!" Barry panted, pushing forward until his face was hard up against the opening. "I feel something! Gosh, it's one o' the bags!"

He jerked it out, and Dick, as he took it from Barry's hand, had all he could do to keep himself from uttering a shout of triumph.

Another few moments, and out came Barry's arm again.

"Here's the other! Dick, I'll never say you haven't got a head on your shoulders! I'd never have thought of the bags being buried like this in a month o' Sundays!"

Dick glowed with the praise. But he did not let his feelings run away with him. Even in the midst of his delight the fear of Burke touched his heart with a cold finger.

"We're not out of the wood yet," he whispered cautiously.

"I know that," agreed Barry. "Like as not Burke's laying for us not so many yards away."

"We'd best not go back the same way," suggested Dick "You see, if he is on the beach he'd naturally wait till we came back to the boat before tackling us."

Barry nodded.

"That's a fact. He'd lie up somewhere near the boat, with his pistol handy. Now we've got the pearls, he's got no object in leaving us alive. Gosh, I wish it wasn't so infernally dark!"

"I'm glad it's dark!" returned Dick. "It's better for us than for him. If the moon was up he could lie off twenty yards away and shoot us. As it is he'll have to come to close quarters."

"Ay, that's so. I didn't think of it that way. What d'ye think we'd best do, Dick?"

It was something new for Barry to ask Dick's advice, but Dick was equal to the emergency.

"We'd better split up. You take the pearls and wade into the sea and get round to the stern of the boat. I'll go a little way up the beach and creep through the thickest of the rocks. I shall make a round, and come on the boat from the far side."

Barry considered a moment.

"It's a good notion, Dick. But seems to me you take the biggest risk. I guess we'd better swap places."

"No," Dick answered firmly. "You can swim a great deal better than I can. And there are holes quite close inshore. If I went into one I should make a beastly splash. You won't. Another thing, I'm not so tall as you, and I sha'n't be so likely to be seen as I creep along."

"You're right again, Dick. Now there's only one other thing that bothers me. Suppose you spot Burke, how are you going to let me know?"

Dick shook his head.

"I don't know. Strikes me the only thing to do will be for me to crawl down to the water's edge and pitch a pebble close to you."

"Sounds rather chancy. But I don't see anything else for it. Give me the pearls, then, and I'll start."

He took the two bags, and stowed them carefully in his pockets.

"So-long, old chap! Take care of yourself!" he said.

And then, to Dick's surprise, he thrust out his hand, took Dick's, and wrung it hard.

Perhaps it was this action of Barry's that did as much as anything to make Dick realise the risk before him. All the same there was a warm glow at his heart as he started on his perilous and uncomfortable journey.

Uncomfortable, because he no longer dared to walk. He went on hands and knees, and wherever the ground was open between the rooks, crawled flat on his stomach.

As before, he found the darkness very confusing, but the sound of the ripples breaking on the beach helped him to steer a course. Every minute or so he stopped and listened. But for all he saw or heard he might have been the only human being within miles.

He made a good deep curve inwards, and at last, when he felt sure that he must be about opposite to the boat, began to work backwards towards the water. Soon he was near enough to see the slightly phosphorescent ripples breaking on the shingle, but still there was no sign of Burke.

Dick's spirits rose a little. He began to think that it was possible, after all, that Burke was not in waiting. Yet, knowing the man as he did, he took no risks, and crept on as cautiously as before.

He gained a table-shaped rock, which stood up black and square and solid to a height of about four feet, and here he ventured to rise softly to his feet, and very cautiously peer over the top.

During the past quarter of an hour it had grown a good deal lighter. The clouds had blown off, and although the moon was not yet up, the great tropical stars hung like small globes of light in the rain-washed sky.

Dick's first sensation was one of intense relief. He found that he had hit the exact spot he had meant to. He was within twenty yards of the boat, and on the far side of it. He stared hard at the water, but could not see Barry.

Then his eyes searched the beach. The rocks were everywhere, and in the dim, uncertain light looked like squatting monsters. Some were strangely like living creatures, and one in particular had the strongest resemblance to a man.

For many seconds Dick remained quite still, with his eyes fixed upon this oddly-shaped rock. But there was not the slightest movement or sign of life about it, and at last he made up his mind that it was nothing but a rock, and resolved to risk it, and cross to the boat.

He did not, however, relax any of his precautions, and, dropping down softly again on hands and knees, set out to creep around the table-shaped rock behind which he had been hiding.

He poked his head around the end, stopped, and took another look.

It was as well that he did so, for the first thing that he realised was that the oddly-shaped boulder had vanished. He stayed quite still, staring, hardly able to believe his eyes. But there was no doubt whatever about it.

The rock was gone!

Dick's heart pounded. He knew that his first suspicions had been correct. The rock was no rock at all but Burke himself. There were two questions to be solved. Had he seen Dick? Where had he gone?

If the former, he was no doubt making a circle with the object of getting behind his victim; if the latter—why, then he was probably creeping upon the boat.

Very softly Dick crept back behind his shelter, and lay flat, with his ear against the ground. The whole beach was alive with the tiny creepings of the spider crabs, but he fancied—he could not be quite sure—that he heard the crunch of shingle under a heavier weight.

Suspense became almost beyond bearing. He had a mad impulse to spring to his feet, and make a rush for the boat. Yet he knew that, if he did so, he would be instantly shot down. Burke carried a repeating pistol capable of throwing fifteen shots in rapid succession.

He racked his brain for some plan, and could think of none. Then it occurred to him that, if Burke had really spotted him, the best thing that he could do was to get round to the seaward side of his rock.

Quietly as one of the very crabs he did so, and then made another careful inspection of the beach all around.

This had no result, so he ventured forward a little, and got between two smaller rocks, closer to the sea.

Here, at any rate, he was safe for the moment, and he waited a while, drawing deep breaths, and trying to get control of his jumping nerves.

It was horrible—this game of hide-and-seek, in which the prize was not merely one hundred thousand pounds' worth of pearls, but life itself. For Dick had not the very faintest doubt but that Burke would butcher Barry and himself as calmly as he would have shot a couple of rabbits.

A minute passed—two. Dick's anxiety grew with every second, and it was not more for himself than for Barry.

At last he heard a sound that was certainly not made by a crab. It was something much heavier, for the shingle crunched under a considerable weight. So far us he could judge, the sound came from his right—that is, in the direction of the boat.

At all risks he felt he must see what was happening, and, with infinite care, he raised his head.

Every drop of blood in his body seemed to fly to his heart, for there, within ten feet of him, Burke himself lay crouched behind a rock.

He had his back to Dick, and was peering cautiously over the rock. There was light enough for Dick to see his great squat, toadlike figure and the automatic, which he held in his right hand and rested on the top of the rock.

He was staring hard in the direction of the boat, and Dick realised with a fresh shock that Barry must long ago have reached it, and was no doubt standing in the water under the stern.

Did Burke know this? That was the question. Dick quivered with anxiety as he stared through the gloom, trying to make out whether any part of Barry was visible.

He could see nothing, but it soon became clear that Burke could. Dick saw him raise himself a trifle, and point the muzzle of his pistol towards the boat.

At that moment Dick would cheerfully have given his left hand for a weapon of some sort. Then, with one of those flashes of inspiration, which come sometimes at a moment of great mental strain, he realised that he had one at hand. Under his very knees were a number of large, rounded pebbles weighing a pound or more apiece.

Quick as thought he snatched one up, and counting the risk as nothing if he could save Barry, rose quickly to his feet.

Dick was no great hand at throwing, but at so short a distance Burke offered a mark that could hardly be missed. Dick drew back his arm, and hurled the stone with all his might.

He aimed at the back of Burke's head, but though his missile struck a few inches low, it did the trick all right. Up went Burke's arms as though driven by a spring, the pistol cracked harmlessly, flinging its bullet towards the sky, and Burke toppled over face forwards upon the rock.


Illustration

Dick arrived almost as soon as the stone. He was in a regular panic for fear Burke would get hold of his pistol again, and he simply hurled himself upon it, and snatched it up.

"Put your hands up!" he ordered, shoving the muzzle hard against Burke's forehead.

But Burke did not move. Dick's stone had practically knocked him out.

"Pull the trigger, Dick; it'll save a heap of trouble!"

It was Barry's voice, and Barry, dripping with salt water, came rushing across from his hiding-place behind the boat.

"Shoot him!" he urged. "He deserves it!"

"I know he does," answered Dick grimly; "but I can't do it in cold blood. Besides, if we keep him we can swap him for Chang and Barstow."

"Swap him! Gosh, I'll lay Pyke and Wigram will be only too glad to be rid of him!" growled Barry. "Much better put a lump o' lead through his head. It'll save us a heap of trouble in the long run."

If Dick had known at that moment how true a prophet Barry was, he might have overcome his natural repugnance to shooting the brute in cold blood; but he did not know, and he could not bring himself to such butchery.

"Tie him up," he said. "We can try him and hang him later."

"Well, he's your meat," grumbled Barry, as he neatly secured Burke's wrists behind his back with a length of cord. "Now catch hold of him, and let's sling him into the boat!"

Burke seemed quite insensible, and he was so heavy that it was all they could do to carry him the short distance to the boat. They dumped him down 'midships, and, taking their paddles, set off as hard as they could go for the Rainbow.


CHAPTER XXII. — FENG SHIN.

"WHERE'S Captain Kempster?" demanded Barry.

They had reached the Rainbow at last, but the only members of the crew who were on deck to receive them were Ah Lung and another Chinaman named San Hoang, but generally known as Sam.

"Him velly sick, boss," answered Sam.

Barry gave vent to an angry exclamation.

"This is the very dickens! Here, you two, lift this man aboard and take him down to the lazarette."

Dick caught Barry's arm.

"No," he whispered. "Don't put him with Redstall and Dent. They may hatch up some mischief between them. Let's lock him in the spare cabin."

"Wish we'd finished him when we had the chance," muttered Barry. "But you're right, Dick. We'll put him there for the night. I shall put leg-irons on him," he added.

"I'd put a strait-waistcoat on him if we had one," said Dick.

Burke, who had now recovered his senses, gave a chuckle.

"You don't seem to trust me, my young friends," he said.

"I'll never trust you till I see you swinging in a rope necktie," retorted Barry. "Still, I guess we'll fix you so you can't do any damage this night, anyhow."

"Give me a mouthful of grub and some place to sleep," Burke answered easily. "I know when I'm under dog as well as the next man."

They wasted no time in stowing him away safely, and he made no objection to the leg-irons or any of their precautions.

Dick, however, had learnt by experience. Knowing the man's powers of persuasion, he would not let any of the Chinamen attend to him, but brought him some supper himself, and, locking the door, took the key away with him.

Barry, meantime, went to see Kempster. He met Dick later in the main cabin.

"The old man's down with fever," he said. "Sharp go, too. He won't be fit for anything for a couple of days."

"That's bad," Dick answered. "We can't leave the ship to the Chinamen."

"It isn't the ship, it's the prisoners. I can't sleep easy with those swine aboard. Wish to goodness we had Barstow here!"

Dick nodded.

"We'll have him pretty soon," he said quietly. "I'll fetch him off some way to-morrow. Now let's have some supper, and then we'll take watch and watch."

Barry stared.

"You take it deuced coolly, Dick."

"It's no use worrying, is it?" Dick answered calmly. "And anyhow, we've got the pearls and we've got Burke. That's not a bad day's work."

"No, it's none so dusty. All the same, I sha'n't be happy till the anchor's up and we're out of sight o' the Solomons. And see here," he added, "I take first watch. No, it's no use your arguing. You go and swallow five grains of quinine and turn in. I'll rouse you out when I want you."

As Dick peeled off the ragged remains of the suit of clothes which he had started out with on the previous morning, his mind was full not of Burke, nor even of Chang and Barstow. It was Barry he thought of. He had begun to realise that this tough, hard-bitten youngster of whom, only a few weeks ago, he had been actually afraid, was a friend worth having. He himself was learning fast, but in all that he had learnt Barry had been his teacher.

In spite of his sleep in the boat, his head was hardly on the pillow before he was off again. How long he slept he had no idea, but it was still dark when he felt a hand shaking him by the shoulder.

Long weeks at sea had taught him to rouse up smartly, and he was sitting up in a moment.

"All right, Barry. I'll be on deck in two twos."

"I didn't mean to wake you for another couple of hours," said Barry. "But the fact is there's something up, and I can't make out what."

"What do you mean? Not Burke?" Dick asked quickly as he flung his legs out and began searching for his boots.

"No, not Burke, for he's in his cabin all right. I don't know what the deuce it is. Didn't you hear anything?"

"Not a thing. A gun-shot would hardly have waked me. What was it?"

"That's just what I don't know—" He broke off sharply. "Did you feel that?"

"Yes; I thought I felt something. Seemed to me as if the schooner lifted. Is there a swell setting in?"

"Sea's as calm as glass," returned Barry shortly. "There! Now do you feel it?"

Dick gave a startled exclamation.

A gentle vibration ran through the whole frame of the schooner. He could feel it plainly through the woodwork of the bunk on the edge of which he was sitting.

"She's aground!" he muttered.

"No, she isn't. That's what I thought at first, and I had the lead over at once. There's full five fathoms under her keel."

The queer trembling died away, ceased completely, then began again. They could hear the glasses rattling in the rock in the main cabin outside.

A nasty creepy feeling seized Dick.

"What the mischief is it?" he said uncomfortably, and began dressing with all speed.

"I'm hanged if I know!" growled Barry. "It beats me! I'm going on deck again. Come up as soon as you can."

It was hardly two minutes before Dick was beside Barry on the deck. By this time all was perfectly quiet again. The breeze had died out utterly, the surface of the bay was like glass, and the schooner lay upon a perfectly even keel. The moon was up now, and there was light enough to see the beaches, the cliffs, and the dark forest covering the steep hills that rolled inland.

"I don't hear anything," said Dick after a moment's pause.

"'Sh! There it is again!"

Once more the schooner began to quiver. From stem to stern, from keel to masthead, she was all ashake.

"Feels as if a whale was rubbing against her keel," said Dick.

"That's rot! How could a whale get under her right inshore here? Besides, who ever heard of a whale playing such a fool trick?"

Barry spoke rapidly, angrily. The queer antics of the Rainbow had got upon his nerves badly.

"I've been at sea five years," he said, "and I never knew anything like this. I—"

He broke off suddenly as the schooner heaved under them. Dick and Barry both gripped at stays to keep their feet. Up she went, up, and up, and then dropped suddenly again and lay rocking, her timbers groaning.

Up through the forward hatch came the Chinese crew. They were shrieking and chattering like monkeys. From somewhere down below came terrified yells.

Barry spun round, facing his frightened crew.

"What's the matter with you? Don't make such a filthy noise! Get below!"

But Sam ran up to him.

"No likee!" he said, in a trembling voice. "China boy, him plenty much afraid!"

For once Barry refrained front turning on them.

"Poor beggars!" he muttered. "No wonder they're scared out of their souls! Well, Sam, what do you think it is?"

"Feng Shin," answered Sam, with chattering teeth.

"What's he mean?" asked Dick, in a low voice.

"Witchcraft," was the answer. "Dick, we're up against it. Nothing will keep a Chink aboard a ship he thinks is bewitched."

As he spoke the schooner once more began to quiver like a fiddle- string. With one accord the Chinese made a rush for the boat in which Barry and Dick had returned from shore, and which was still towing astern.


CHAPTER XXIII. — TERMS.TERMS.

"GET back, you swine!" roared Barry to the Chinamen, and dashing through and past them, gained the stern.

Dick raced after. Ordinarily speaking, the Chinese crew of the Rainbow were the easiest in the world to handle. But now they were blind with panic, and, just as a cornered rat will fight like a fury, so they turned on their skipper, and, flinging themselves upon him, tried to pull him down.

Barry had no weapons except his fists, but of these he made such splendid use that at the very first rush he floored two of the men. Dick, who had managed to snatch up a belaying-pin, caught a third man such a rap over the head as dropped him to the deck, and now there were only three to two.

"Get back!" shouted Barry again; and they hesitated an instant before renewing the attack.

"Come on, Dick," he cried, and dashed at them.

The remaining Chinks broke and ran. Feng Shin was bad, but this towering white boy with his fierce face and iron fists was worse. They dashed back towards the fo'c's'le hatch and scurried below.

Barry was for following them, but Dick checked him.

"Easy does it, Barry!" he cried.

"The cowardly swabs!" growled Barry, who was thoroughly roused. "They want the very stuffing hammered out of them!"

"No; much better go slow. They're not vicious, only scared. You let me talk to them."

Barry stared.

"Talk!" he repeated. "Talk all you've a mind to; but look out they don't knife you. I'd as soon trust a trapped rat as a scared Chink!"

But Dick stuck to his idea, and when the three damaged men had revived and been ordered forward, Dick went below into the fo'c's'le.

"You think that shaking Feng Shin," he said. "I tell you it is nothing of the sort. Your joss angry because we no save Chang. Now you burn joss sticks, and to-morrow we go fetch Chang. Then sail away back to Sydney. All you fellows have one piece pearl. You rich for life. See?"

It was the first speech Dick had ever made, and Barry, who was listening, felt his lips twitch. But, for all that, it worked. Whether the men really believed what Dick said it was impossible to say. They were still very nervous. But, at any rate, they had got over their first blind panic, and at once began to burn strong-smelling punk-sticks before their big brass joss. Others pasted slips of red paper inscribed with mottoes on the foremast, and quiet reigned once more aboard the schooner.

All the same, the rest of the night was an anxious time for Dick and Barry, and both remained on deck ready for any emergency. They knew that if the queer antics of the schooner began again a second panic might prove worse than the first. Fortunately, however, the disturbance, whatever it was, seemed to have died down, and the schooner lay quietly at anchor without any more tremblings or jumping.

Dawn came at last, leaping up crimson at a bound, and Dick insisted on Barry going below for a sleep. Barry had had hardly any rest for forty-eight hours, and, as Dick warned him, they had a busy day in front of them.

One of the Chinamen brought Dick a cup of coffee, and he paced the deck, his head full of Chang and Barstow, and wondering how in the world they were going to be rescued.

He went down and peeped into Captain Kempster's cabin. Much to his relief, he saw that the latter was asleep. At the same time he could tell by the yellow colour of his skin that the fever had been very sharp, and he realised that it was out of the question for him to take charge of the ship for some days to come.

This left everything to himself and Barry, and once more he was driven to wonder how they were going to manage about rescuing the two prisoners on the island.

Barry came into the cabin to breakfast about eight. He seemed quite fresh after his short sleep.

"What are we going to do?" said Dick, as he helped himself to a second cup of coffee. "What about Chang and Barstow?"

"I reckon I'll take a couple of the Chinks and go along," Barry answered. "You'll have to stay by the ship."

"Three's not enough for this game," said Dick. "Pyke and Wigram will see you coming, and lie up on the cliff and pot you."

"If they can pot three of us they can pot half a dozen, so far as that goes," replied Barry. "We'll have to sneak ashore somewhere close at hand, and cut across through the bush."

"At that rate it might be better to wait till night," suggested Dick. "In daylight everything is on their side, for they can see us, and we can't see them."

Barry frowned.

"I want to sail to-night. If we have any more of these shake-ups like we had last night there'll be no holding the Chinks. They're scared stiff as it is. Pah! The whole place reeks with their beastly punk-sticks!"

Before Dick could answer the door opened, and Sam appeared.

"Boat, him come off, boss," he said to Barry.

Barry sprang to his feet.

"Boat coming off. By gosh, it's those beggars come to offer terms!"

He ran up on deck, and Dick followed.

Sure enough a boat was pulling off from the shore, and two men in it. A white handkerchief was tied to a boathook stuck up in the bow.

"Told you so!" said Barry, with his glasses to his eyes. "It's Pyke and Wigram, sure enough! Gosh, I'm just itching to pump lead into 'em!"

"You can't do it, Barry! They've got a flag of truce."

"Much they'd care for that if it was the other way on. But just as you say. We'll hear 'em talk."

"Go slow with them, Barry," said Dick warningly. "Don't lose your temper. Remember, we want to get away from this place as quick as ever we can."

"Oh, I'll keep my hair on—if I can!" growled Barry.

Another few minutes and the boat was alongside.

"Good-morning!" said Wigram, an ugly grin twisting his thin lips.

"The morning's all right," returned Barry curtly. "You're the only blot on it! What do you want?"

"A drink and a smoke and five minutes' talk," was the cool answer.

"I won't drink with you. I don't smoke, but I'll hear what you've got to say," replied Barry curtly.

"You needn't be so darned rude about it!" snarled Wigram. "You don't hold all the trumps—yet!"

"All except one Chink. As for Barstow, he's your man, not ours."

Wigram scowled.

"Guess you passed your word to him he was to have his share of the loot—eh?"

"All the more for us if he doesn't turn up," Barry answered.

For a moment Dick, who stood by, was horrified, but he had begun to realise that Barry was playing a part.

"Well, I guess you want your Chink back, anyhow," said Wigram, trying to speak in a more conciliatory tone. "And as Pyke and me are pretty well fed up with this here island we're willing to come to terms."

"That's mighty kind of you! And what sort of proposal were you thinking of making?"

"We was thinking that you'd give us a free trip home and a share o' them pearls—that's what we was thinking," replied Wigram bluntly.

Barry burst out laughing.

"You're modest, aren't you? Why, the violet isn't in it with you. A free trip and a share o' the pearls! 'Pon my Sam, you do take the cake!"

"You'd better remember as we've still got Chang and Barstow!" said Wigram angrily.

"Oh, I'll admit that! And suppose we leave them to you, what are you goin' to do with 'em—eat 'em, or spend the time that's left you in watching them crocs chow them up? You said just now we didn't hold all the trumps. Well, we've got our ship, we've got the pearls, we've got Redstall and Dent, and—best of all—we've got Burke.

"Now, you knew just as well as we do that Burke's been the only one of you that could handle your niggers. Suppose we leave you, how long's it going to be before they spear you in your sleep? And if they don't, how are you going to live? I've been aboard the Brant. I know there isn't a deal of grub left. What'll ye do when its finished? Tell me that.

"As for any other ship coming in here—well, the chances are a thousand to one against it! For why—there's nothing to bring them."

Wigram's jaw dropped. Well he knew that every word that Barry spoke was literal truth, but he had never reckoned on Barry being so well posted.

Barry saw his advantage, and drove it home mercilessly.

"See here, if I did the right thing, I'd take you both now, and hang you. It's less than you deserve. I'd have shot you on sight if it hadn't have been for Damer here, who said we must respect your white rag. Now, I'll go this far. You go back and bring Chang and Barstow off at once, and I'll give you passage as far as the first port we touch in Queensland. Then I'll put you ashore, and you can take your chances. As for paying ransom, I'll not give you a red cent."

Wigram lost his temper.

"Then, by thunder, you can whistle for your men! We'll have the satisfaction of seeing them die, anyhow, before we get wiped out ourselves!"

Barry turned to Dick.

"Man a boat!" he ordered, and Dick sprang to obey.

"What's that for?" demanded Wigram.

"I'll tell you. I mean to follow you back to shore. Your safe conduct doesn't carry, once you're on land. And if you ever reach camp again, I guess you'll both be too full o' lead to do much harm to Chang or Barstow."

Pyke spoke for the first time.

"I told you those swine wouldn't play the game!" he said bitterly.

Barry, who had quietly slipped a pistol out of his pocket, and held it easily in his right hand, laughed outright.

"You're pretty folk to talk of playing the game! Now, I give you a last chance. What's it to be? Do you give up Chang and Barstow and take my offer? Or is it war?"

The pair of scoundrels exchanged glances.

"All right!" growled Wigram. "We'll fetch 'em."

"Not the least need for that," answered Barry. "We can spare 'em another look at your ugly faces. Come right aboard, please, and we'll do the fetching."

Wigram saw how he had been caught. With an oath, he made a snatch at the pistol in the holster at his belt. Before he could reach it, Barry made a spring over the low side of the schooner, and came right on top of him.

Wigram tried to dodge, lost his balance, caught his heels against the thwart, and went over with a loud splash into the sea.

He came up again in an instant. His ugly face was a mask of hideous terror.

"Help! Help!" he screamed, and Barry, leaning over, made a snatch, and caught him by the collar.

It was too late. One of the great tiger-sharks which always hung about the stern on the look out for offal, was already on the spot. One ghastly shriek, and the man was jerked back out of sight.

Next moment the clear water was clouded with a dull crimson stain, and that was the last of Burke's first mate.

"It was his own fault!" said Barry sternly. He swung round on Pyke, who was literally shaking with fright.

"Get aboard!" he said.

And Pyke, without a word of protest, scrambled hastily out of the boat on to the schooner's deck, where a moment later he was ironed and led below.

"Boat's ready, sir!" said Dick formally to Barry.

Barry nodded.

"You will stay aboard, and see that all is well. I am going off to fetch Chang and Barstow."

He stepped into the boat which was manned by two of the Chinamen.

"Take good care of the prisoners," was his last word, as he took the helm, and the boat shot away.


CHAPTER XXIV. — THE WAVE.

IT was with a very anxious heart that Dick watched the boat rowing rapidly landwards across the glassy surface of the bay.

In spite of the fact that the last of Burke's precious crew were safe under hatches, he knew that there were still the natives to be dealt with. How many he had no notion, but there were evidently more than Barstow had fancied, and a nasty, treacherous, ugly lot as ever lived.

And Barry, if plucky as they make men, was rash, too; he had the true sailors' fault of despising all natives.

The boat vanished round the headland, and Dick turned to give his attention to the Rainbow. There was plenty to do. Barry, he knew, meant to sail that very night, and there was rigging to be tightened, sails to be looked through, and fresh water to be brought off. The latter business would have to wait until Barry's return, for he himself could not leave the ship.

Another thing that did not help to soothe his nerves was the fact that Burke was aboard. Dick had a dread of the man that was almost superstitious. There was no saying what Burke was planning in that great head of his, and, in spite of the irons and the locked door, Dick had always the feeling that he must be on the watch.

After giving the necessary orders to the four remaining Chinamen, he went below, and took food to his prisoners. Redstall and Dent were both sulky, and scowled at him without speaking, but Burke, though still ironed, was perfectly genial.

"Good-morning, Mr. Damer!" he said, with his usual grin. "I was beginning to fear you had forgotten me. However, better late than never. And when do we sail?"

"I'm not captain. You had better ask Mr. Freeland."

"I should be rejoiced to do so, but I fancy he is not aboard at the moment."

Dick was startled, but he realised that Burke must have heard Barry's order to get the boat out.

"So you are left in charge, Mr. Damer?" continued Burke, with his evil smile.

"Yes. I am in charge," returned Dick. "And don't you go thinking that I shall be asleep, either!" he added warningly.

"Bless my soul, that is the last thing I should be guilty of supposing. No, Mr. Damer, I am already paying for the fact that I underrated your abilities. I am not likely to make the same mistake a second time."

He chuckled softly as he spoke, and Dick, as he left the cabin, felt that he would far rather have seen the man cursing and scowling. There was something much more ominous in Burke's smile than in anyone else's frown.

He went next to Captain Kempster's cabin, and found him awake and a little better. He gave him quinine and coffee, and told him the news.

Kempster's eyes gleamed as he heard of the fate of Wigram.

"The murdering villain!" he growled. "I'm glad he's gone. All I wish is that Burke was alongside him in the shark's belly. I'll never feel safe for a minute so long as we've got that son o' perdition aboard!"

His words agreed so well with Dick's feelings that Dick felt all the more uncomfortable, and he left the cabin and went on deck again to see that the Chinese were carrying out his orders properly.

The bay lay like a sheet of green glass under the molten sun glare. There was not a ripple, and the heat was terrific. The deck planks burnt his feet through his thin canvas shoes, and the pitch bubbled in the seams.

Dick glanced at the brassy sky, but there was no sign of coming storm, nor of wind, either, and he wondered, uneasily, if they would get a breeze that night, or if they were in for a long calm.

In spite of the awful heat, he stayed on deck, watching the shore constantly for any sign of Barry. But still there was no movement, or any sound, and as the hours passed he grew more and more uneasy.

Dinner-time came. He drank two cups of tea, but could not eat. Then he went back to his watch.

About two the sound of shots came faintly to his ears.

Two first, then half a dozen more in a rapid volley. They seemed to come from far up in the bush, and Dick's anxiety grew almost unbearable. It was cruel to have to wait and do nothing when—for all he knew—Barry was fighting for his life up in those sultry thickets on the inland hills.

Five o'clock came, and through the breathless heat a fresh sound came to his ears.

It was the rattle of oars in rowlocks, and a few minutes later a boat shot into sight around the point.

Trembling with eagerness. Dick focused his glasses on it. He could have shouted with pure joy when he saw that there were five people in it, and that Barry himself was steering.

As the boat drew closer he got a speaking-trumpet and hailed:

"Is it all right?"

"All right!" came back Barry's voice, echoing faintly across the glassy bay.

All right it was, but when the boat came alongside Chang, as well as Barstow, had to be helped over the side. They were in miserable condition—covered with cuts and scratches, and with hardly a rag of clothes left on them.

"Niggers had collared 'em and carried 'em off," explained Barry briefly. "We had to follow 'em. More by luck than anything else that we caught 'em. And," he added with a grim smile. "I guess there's half a dozen niggers less in San Cristobal than there was this morning."

"You've got them—that's the great thing," Dick answered, with a sigh of relief. "Now, all we need is a breeze of wind, and then I hope we'll see the last of this poisonous place."

Barry glanced round.

"Well, I see you've done your job all right," he said approvingly. "Now I'm going to have a wash and something to eat, and as soon as the land-breeze comes we'll have the hook up and be off."

But half an hour later, when he came on deck, the bay was still like a sheet of glass, and although it was near sundown the thermometer had not dropped a degree. The air was heavy with a moist, sticky heat which was almost unbearable.

"Don't know what to make of it!" growled Barry, staring at the sky. "I'd think there was going to be a storm, but the glass is steady enough. It's as rum weather as ever I saw."

The sun went down, the stars came out, and still not a breath of wind broke the dead calm.

Barry was clearly worried, and as for Dick he could settle to nothing. He paced the deck, watching the sky.

It was about ten o'clock, and the night still almost as hot as the day, when Dick suddenly felt the schooner begin to quiver exactly as she had done the previous night.

Barry, who was close beside him, at the rail, started up.

"Feng Shin again!" he muttered. "Get your gun, Dick! We shall have seventeen different kinds of trouble with the Chinks if this game starts up again."

The quivering was very slight. It passed, and both drew a breath of relief. The silence settled again. It was so quiet that they could distinctly hear the low roar of the brook which fell into the sea more than a mile away.

But the respite was short. A few minutes later, and the trembling started afresh. Then she began to lift. She rose by the bow, so that the whole deck was tilted at a steep angle—so steep that they both had to hang on in order to keep their feet.

It was just as if some sportive giant had put a finger under the bow, and was tilting her to see how far she could go without sliding right under.

The tension ceased. She dropped back to an even keel with such force that the masts quivered like reeds. The water surged away on either side into small waves.

"Look out!" said Barry sharply.

And as he spoke up came the Chinamen, shrieking like frightened children.

"Hold on!" roared Barry. "Steady, you yellow idiots! Nothing's going to hurt you!"

Remembering their lesson of the previous night, the terrified crew paused. Chang, newly dressed and clean, came dashing aft with his pigtail flying straight out behind him.

"What make 'um shake?" he gasped. "No likee! Heap aflaid!"

"No use getting scared, Chang," said Dick. "Anyhow, we're due to sail as soon as there's any wind."

Up went the schooner as if heaved on the crest of a wave. And all the time she shook until down below they could hear crockery and other small objects falling with a clatter from their places.

Then down again to an even keel, the water splashing away from her sides.

And the worst part of it was the deathly stillness. There was not enough air moving to blow out a match. So quiet was it that they could hear the low splash as the ripple broke against the cliff- foot hundreds of yards away.

The Chinese were scared nearly out of their lives. They were quite beyond making any rush for the boat. Most of them were simply grovelling flat on their faces on the deck.

Suddenly Barry gave a yell.

"Look, Dick! For any sake, look at that!"

He pointed seawards, and Dick following the direction of the pointing hand, felt his very skin crawl, while his heart seemed to rise to his throat and choke him.

Out on the open sea, pouring in majesty through the mouth of the bay, came a great smooth wall of water. It glistened faintly in the star-shine, and was sweeping in towards them at appalling speed.

One moment he stared in horror, hardly able to believe his eyes. Then he sprang for the nearest hatch.

"A tidal wave!" he shouted. "Batten down everything, or we shall be swamped!"


Illustration

Barry rushed among the crew, lugging them to their feet.

"Up, up, you cowardly swine! Batten down the hatches! Make all fast! You'll be drowned, every mother's son of you, if you don't hurry!"

Chang and Sam had sense enough to see their peril, and sprang to obey. The rest were beyond helping themselves or anybody else. It was Barry, Dick, and these two who worked furiously during the few moments left them before the arrival of the wave.

On it rushed with no sound except a slight seething of the band of white foam which crested its mighty summit. Then it curled upon the little schooner, seeming as high as her main-mast.

"Hang on, Dick!" roared Barry.

There was no need for the warning. Dick had already got hold of a stay, and was clinging to it with both hands.

He felt the Rainbow rise suddenly under his feet. Then, with a mighty roar, the crest of the wave came over her bow, washing aft in a solid mass of green water.

It struck Dick, and swung him out straight, so that his feet were on a level with his head. It tugged at him with such force that his arms felt as though they were being dragged out of their sockets. Deafened, buried, half-drowned, he knitted his fingers around the stay, and clung for dear life.

He felt the schooner sinking beneath him. He gave up all hope of her safety. It seemed to him that the gigantic weight of the wave was pressing her down to the very bottom.

Through the deep roar came a sharp spang! He felt the schooner rise and race away. Instinctively he realised that the anchor- chain had snapped.

His lungs were bursting, yet he still clung to his hold. The schooner was rising again. Another moment, and his head was above water, and he was able to take a long breath.

The sea was still streaming off the deck, and the schooner, caught in the rush of the wave, was flying onwards with the speed of a train. Suddenly came a heavy shock, and the Rainbow stopped with a jar that nearly tore Dick from his hold. There followed a series of sharp cracking sounds, then a heavy crash as the fore topmast snapped like a carrot and came down, carrying with it a whole raffle of rigging.

"We're aground!" gasped Dick; and then he struggled to his feet. "Barry!" he shouted. "Barry!"

There was no answer, and a horrible fear gripped Dick's heart. If Barry was gone all was indeed lost.


CHAPTER XXV. — THE BLACK TRAMP.

"BARRY!" he shouted again, and went stumbling across the deck, which was cumbered with ropes and spars.

He caught his foot in something, and fell at full length across a body. For a moment he thought it was Barry, then found it was one of the Chinamen. The man was dead, his head hideously crushed by a broken spur.

A voice came out of the dimness:

"Am dat you, Mistel Dick?"

It was Chang.

"Yes, I'm here. Where's Mr. Freeland?"

"I tinkum gone ovel into sea!"

Dick gasped.

"I tinkum you and me left and nobody else," said Chang.

At that moment Dick heard a groan from somewhere aft. He dashed in the direction, and saw a body wedged against a part of the after-rail which still remained.

He pulled out his torch, which was still serviceable, and flashed the light. It fell on Barry, lying at full length against the rail. His face was blue, and his eyes were closed, but he was still alive.

"Here, Chang!" shouted Dick. "Mr. Freeland is here! Give me a hand with him!"

They lifted him, and carried him into the deckhouse, which, by some miracle, still stood. Chang lighted a lamp; Dick found brandy, and forced some down Barry's throat.

Presently Barry gasped, spluttered, then opened his eyes.

"You, Dick?" he said hoarsely. "Gosh, I never expected to see you again!"

"Nor I you!" answered Dick. "It was pretty awful! Are you much hurt?"

Barry moved his arms and then his legs.

"Nothing broke, anyhow," he said. "Guess I was mighty near to drowning, though. Ugh! I feel as if I'd been through a thrashing- machine."

"Give me a lick more o' that brandy," he added.

The spirit brought some colour back to his cheeks.

"That's better," he said, and heaved himself up to a sitting position. "The stay I had hold of was carried away," he explained. "When it went I made sure I was overboard."

He climbed to his feet.

Dick watched him anxiously. Dick believed that he was more hurt than he would admit, but if he was he refused to allow it.

"Let's go and take stock o' the damage," he said. "She's aground, by the feel of her."

"She's aground fast enough," Dick answered bitterly. "And the fore topmast is gone. Looks as if we were going to be stuck in this sweltering hole for good and all."

"It don't look healthy, and that's a fact," admitted Barry grimly, surveying the scene of wreck "If she ain't stove in it's a mercy.

"The first thing," he went on, "is to see whether we've got any crew left. It'll take more'n you an' me an' Chang to handle her, even if she can float."

"Guess ye can count me in," came a voice, and Barstow appeared limping up from below. "Snakes, but the schooner looks as if a hurricane had struck her! What was it, anyway? I was asleep below, and I reckoned the last trump had sounded."

"It was a tidal-wave," said Dick. "At least, that's what they call them. But really it must have been an earthquake wave. And those queer shakings and quiverings were the first shocks."

Barry gave a low whistle.

"Gosh, and I never had a notion of it! Dick, your books are some use, after all. But this isn't any time for talking. Let's get to work and see how much water she's lying in. And, Chang, you makee see how many of your chaps are still left in the old hooker."

The sea, now that the giant wave had passed, was calm as ever, but the air was noticeably cooler.

Barry himself heaved the lead, first in the bow, then the stern.

"Plenty o' water forrard," he said; "but her stern's hard and fast. Not rock, though, so far as I can make out. Seems to be sand. Now we'll try the well."

"I've tried it," said Dick. "She hasn't much water in her—only about ten inches."

"That won't hurt if she ain't making any more. And what about the Chinks? How many are left?"

Chang came forward and answered that only two were missing. That was not counting the unfortunate man who had been killed by the falling spar. But one of the survivors was badly hurt, his head being cut open.

Barry grunted.

"That's three sound Chinks left. And there's us three, and Kempster. I guess, if we can ever get her off again, that's enough to work her home. Well, boys, we can't do a thing to her in the dark; we'd best stand watch and watch, and wait till morning."

"All right!" said Dick quickly "Let me take first watch, Barry. And perhaps Barstow will stand it with me."

Barry hesitated.

"Do let me!" begged Dick. "You've had an awfully hard day, and you're badly knocked about. Go down and take a sleep. It'll do you all the good in the world."

"Guess I will, then," said Barry "But mind and keep your eyes open for another of those ripples."

"We sha'n't get another," said Dick confidently. "That was the finish."

"Guess it came mighty nigh it," remarked Barstow drily. "All right, Mr. Damer, I'll keep watch along with you. Gee, I'd a sight rather be on deck than below if there's any more o' them catastrophes a-coming!"

In spite of his first meeting with Barstow, and the fact that the American had on that occasion as near as possible killed him, Dick had come, not only to tolerate, but rather to like the man. Barstow had a good deal of dry humour, and on the island he had shown the coolest possible pluck in the face of almost certain death. He was still very lame, but Dick fetched him a chair, and left him in charge while he himself ran below to see how Captain Kempster was faring. But he found that Barry had already been in and told him of the disaster, and that the old chap had gone peacefully to sleep again.

He went back on deck, and sat yarning with Barstow and hearing wild stories of the cruise of the Brant and the exploits of Burke. Barstow, it seemed, had just the same sort of half- superstitious fear of the man that Dick owned to.

"I tell ye what, Mr. Damer," he said, in his queer drawl, "if you gets Burke back to Australia, and gives him up to justice, I guess you'll hev done something as you might be proud of. There's British warships and French warships been a-trying to lay him by the heels these seven years past, and nary one succeeded. I reckon Burke's the slippiest customer as has sailed the islands since Bully Hayes was finished up."

Dick was anxious that Barry should have his sleep out. It was not until the pink and crimson of dawn was showing in the east that he went below and called him. All he got for his pains was the rough side of Barry's tongue, but this no longer troubled him, and as Barry, though stiff, seemed himself again, he turned in, and was asleep himself inside sixty seconds.

It was ten when he woke, and a pleasant breeze was blowing through the open port. He hurried on deck, but was horrified at the scene of ruin and disaster shown by the brilliant sunlight.

The decks had been swept almost clean by the great earthquake wave, and broken rigging and a raffle of cordage hung in every direction. The Rainbow looked little better than a wreck.

Barry, busy helping his men to clear away the wreckage, looked up as Dick came towards him.

"Here's the breeze," he said bitterly; "but a fat lot of use it is! We sha'n't be able to shift till the next spring tide—if then!"

"But that will be only three or four days," Dick answered quickly. "Is she leaking?"

"No, thanks be, her hulls sound enough!"

"Well, it's bad luck," said Dick philosophically; "but it might be worse. It will take us some days to get that fore topmast fixed."

"Ay, and she's cracked. We'll need a new spar."

"Then we'll go ashore and cut one. There's plenty of good stuff. How's Captain Kempster?"

"He's a deal better. This cool air's doing him good. Get your breakfast, Dick, and come and lend a hand."

All that day they worked savagely, and by night things were beginning to look more shipshape. The breeze blew fresh all day, and Kempster improved rapidly.

Next morning he was able to be on deck; so, leaving him and Barstow in charge, Dick and Barry, with Chang and Sam, took a boat and pulled across to the nearest beach.

Shouldering their axes, they went up into the bush, and, after some trouble, found a tree straight enough to give them the spar they wanted.

All the trees in the Solomons are of the very hardest sort of wood, and it was no joke cutting and trimming the timber they wanted. Every few minutes they had to stop and sharpen their axes. And when at last the spar had been roughed down, it was all they could do to lift it.

They had to cut rollers to move it down to the water's edge.

They were still busy with this job when suddenly the crack of a rifle rang across the bay.

Barry sprang up, listening keenly, and almost instantly came a second shot.

"It's from the schooner!" he snapped out "Gosh! I wonder if Burke's loose?"

He raced away down to the beach, Dick hard at his heels.

As Barry broke through the trees, which grew right down to the very edge of the sand, Dick heard him give a startled exclamation:

"Look at that!" he cried. "What is she? Where does she come from?"

Dick could hardly believe his eyes A steamer had entered the mouth of the bay, and was heading straight for the Rainbow. She was a black, ugly-looking tramp of five or six hundred tons, and a trail of foul black smoke dragged from her funnel.

For a moment the two boys stood staring in silence, then Dick swiftly pulled his glasses from their case and put them to his eyes.

Barry heard him give a queer gasp.

"What's up?" he demanded.

"Look for yourself," answered Dick, handing over the glasses. "If that isn't Cripps himself on the bridge I'll eat him. And, if I'm not very much out, that sweet creature Wesley Crane is standing beside him."


CHAPTER XXVI. — CUT OFF FROM THE RAINBOW.

"I NEVER saw either of the blighters before," replied Barry, as he lowered the glasses. "I was gassed when Cripps came aboard the Kauri. But I take your word for it. I reckon they're after the pearls, too, ain't they?"

"Not a doubt of it," said Dick sharply; "though how Cripps got safe seems a sort of miracle. I thought the Kauri had gone down in that squall."

"She couldn't have. But never mind that now. Hop into the boat—sharp. We've got to get back to the Rainbow before they board her, or it's all up with the pearls and everything else."

"Not with the pearls," put in Dick quietly. "You see, I brought 'em ashore with me."

Barry stopped short and stared.

"Well, you are the holy limit! What did ye do that for?"

"I thought it was safest," Dick replied apologetically. "You see, I couldn't feel they were safe, with Burke aboard the Rainbow."

"Safest!" exploded Barry. "Gosh, you're the only one o' the bunch that's got a head on his shoulders! But what are we going to do with 'em now?"

"Bury them, I think," said Dick. "It will be safer, in case of accidents."

"Right! Slap 'em in under that rock there. Sharp, before the Chinks come down. Hurry! That darned steamer will be right up against the Rainbow before we can get out!"

Dick wasted no time at all in burying the two bags of pearls, and a minute later he and Barry and the two Chinamen were in the boat. Barry took one oar, Chang the other, and the little whale- boat fairly lifted across the crested ripples.

"Shall we do it?" panted Barry, laying his back into it till the blade bent.

"I'm afraid not. She's coming in very fast."

A whiplike crack came from the steamer, and a bullet smacked the water an oar's-length from the boat, and went skipping shorewards, sending up little puffs of foam as it struck the waves. Almost instantly came a second shot, and then a third, which struck and splintered Barry's oar-blade.

Barry gave an angry exclamation.

"And we haven't got a gun among the bunch of us!" he exclaimed.

"It's no use," said Dick. "They'll only pick us all off. We'd best get back."

As he spoke Chang gave a cry. A bullet had grazed his arm.

"Round! Put her round, Dick!" cried Barry; and Dick instantly obeyed.

The boat skimmed back, Dick steering so as to bring her under the spit which projected on the inner side of the beach which they had just left.

The firing from the steamer still continued, but it was very wild; and though several bullets came unpleasantly near, no one was hit again, and they shot in under cover.

"All right, Barry," said Dick. "'Vast pulling."

Barry turned, and shook his big fist in the direction of the steamer.

"You blighter!" he growled. "You shall pay for this!"

Dick did not say anything, but he was wondering how Barry meant to make good his threat. They were four, and unarmed. How were they to tackle the crew of the steamer, all, no doubt, armed to the teeth, and led by the redoubtable Cripps?

"What's to be done now?" demanded Barry. "Hang it all! We can't even go back to the beach and get our pearls?"

"Never mind that. They'll be safe enough where they are. The question is rather, what will they do?"

"Cripps, you mean, and Crane? Why, they'll collar the Rainbow, and tow her off, I suppose. Probably they'll murder Kempster and Barstow."

"I don't think they will," Dick answered thoughtfully. "Cripps might, but Wesley Crane will be thinking of nothing but the pearls. He'll hang on to Kempster, in the hope that Kempster will tell him where they are."

"But Kempster don't know where they are."

"That's true, but Crane won't believe him; so I don't think that either Kempster or Barstow are in any immediate danger."

"And what will they do with Burke?" asked Barry.

"Keep him where he is; or, more likely, jam him down in the hold," Dick answered. "Cripps knows Burke all right. You may be sure of that."

Barry nodded.

"I reckon he does; but that don't help us a mite. Here are we, without grub or shooting irons, and presently we'll be without a ship. Strikes me we're up against it worse than ever we were."

"It does look rather that way," allowed Dick. "All the same, we're not quite done for yet. There's always the Brant."

"Gosh, so there is! I'd clean forgotten the old hooker." He paused for a moment. "But I say, Dick, don't you reckon that wave last night busted her to blazes?"

"It very likely lifted her, but it's hardly likely to have sunk her. You see, being up that inlet, she'd have been out of the full force of it. Even if she is wrecked, we can get aboard her, and there are probably weapons of some sort in her."

"It's good enough to try, anyhow," said Barry. "If we sneak along inshore we ought to be able to reach her without getting another dose o' lead. And if she's afloat, we can hold her against a boat attack. Pull on, Chang."

"Wait a minute," said Dick. "I'll just put a handkerchief round that arm of his. It's bleeding a bit."

"Not velly much bad," observed Chang, as he rolled up his loose sleeve. "But him bleedee vellee lot."

"No; there's not much wrong," said Dick, as he bound up the wound. "All the same, Sam had better row, I think, Barry."

The change was made, and the boat moved off again. It was all right so long as they had the spit between them and the steamer. But a quarter of a mile further on they lost this protection, and Dick turned and steered boldly across the bay towards the northern inlet where the Brant lay.

As soon as ever they were in the open the firing began again. But now the range was a good thousand yards, and the bullets went very wide.

"They haven't got anyone up to your form, Dick," chuckled Barry.

"Me allee same glad," observed Chang, breaking his usual silence. "Mistel Dick too muchee good shot."

"Thank you, Chang," said Dick, with a smile. "That's a very nice compliment."

Barry and Sam pulled hard, and in a few minutes they were behind the mangrove spit, and safe from the fire from the steamer.

Dick gave a sudden exclamation.

"The Brant's gone!"

"Told you so!" said Barry grimly. "That blessed wave has finished her. She's at the bottom, right enough."

"Well, pull on a bit," said Dick. "We ought to see her masts. It's not deep here."

Barry bent his back again to his oar, and Dick steered out a little, so as to get a better view of the inlet which, just beyond, curved inwards to the right, like a bent finger.

Suddenly Dick shouted again, but this time it was a joyful yell.

"She's not sunk! There she is! Quite close in under this shore. On a level keel, too!"

The boat drove on with renewed vigour.

Presently Chang spoke.

"Me tinkum she floatee."

"By Jove, I believe he's right!" said Dick eagerly, as he bent forward, and, shading his eyes with one hand from the sun glare, stared at the schooner.

"She is afloat, if I'm not badly mistaken. Barry, that wave did us a good turn, after all."

"Can't see that," Barry said grumpily. "If it hadn't come, we'd have been off and away this morning."

"Yes; and, like as not, run into that thundering old pirate Cripps somewhere outside. He'd have been coming up on our course, and what earthly chance should we have had then? He'd have slit our throats, chucked us overboard, and gone off with the pearls!"

"You're mighty buckish over it all," said Barry, looking oddly at Dick.

"Well, I am," replied Dick. "There certainly don't seem to be much to buck about, but I've a sort of notion that we're coming out topside after all."

"I hope to goodness we are," said Barry doubtfully. "But I can't say prospects look rosy to me. Seems as if our only possible chance was a night attack, and it's hardly likely we shall take 'em by surprise. If we don't, the odds are a darned sight too long to give us any sort of show."

"Easy, all!" said Dick, as the boat glided alongside the Brant. "Hurrah, she is afloat!"

"So she is," answered Barry; "though it beats me how it happened. Now, by gosh, I see! Her anchor chain held when she was washed off that other shoal, and her hook has caught again, and saved her going ashore."

As he spoke he sprang aboard, and Dick followed.

For a moment Dick stood staring round, first at the decks, then at the masts. Then he turned to Barry.

"She seems sound, her rigging's all right. What's to hinder us from sailing her out and fetching help?"

But Barry shook his head.

"The bay's too narrow, old son. And these nights are too light. They'd spot us for a certainty as we passed, and the steamer would run us down. Then Cripps would follow the programme you suggested just now."

Dick's face fell.

"I suppose you're right," he said, with a sigh. "Well, let's turn to and see if there are any rifles aboard."


CHAPTER XXVII. — A NIGHT ATTACK.

"NARY a gun," said Barry, at he met Dick half an hour later in the dirty, ill-smelling cabin. "I can't find a rifle or a pistol or even a scatter gun Guess Burke took 'em all ashore. He may have been afraid of the niggers getting hold of 'em."

"I expect that was it," Dick answered "I haven't found any guns either. But if they're ashore we'd best go and have a hunt in Burke's old camp."

"Fat lot o' good that would be! Why, the niggers will have raided every last stick left there, down to the empty cartridge-cases!"

"We've got to have something to tackle Cripps with," said Dick doggedly. "I'll tell you what there is down in the hold—a barrel of black powder. Couldn't we make bombs or something?"

"Black powder!" exclaimed Barry. "Gee! That must have been for their old cannon. Don't you remember Kempster said that they sunk his craft at Nameless Island with a gun?"

Dick drew a long breath.

"I'd clean forgotten. But where's the gun?"

"I don't see it," he added, looking all round.

Barry made a sudden dive for a boat which lay on the deck forward, turned upside-down.

"Here, Dick—Chang, give me a hand!"

Dick trembled with eagerness as, between them, they managed to lift the boat, and turn it over. Underneath was something covered with a tarpaulin, which was carefully laced to eyes fixed in the deck planks.

Dick's fingers shook as, without waiting to unlace the cords, he cut them with his knife.

Next moment the tarpaulin was ripped away, and even Barry shouted with delight. For there, on a swivel, was the gun itself.

Barry examined it rapidly.

"A twelve-pounder," he said. "A regular old-time muzzle loader, but she's all right, and in first chop condition. Say, Dick, this beats rifles."

"Beats them silly, if we can only use it. Have you ever fired a gun?"

"Yes; a small signal gun."

"But this has got to be aimed," said Dick doubtfully.

"We'll aim her all right," Barry answered. "We'll go close enough to make sure of hitting," he added, with a grim chuckle.

Dick nodded.

"Yes, that'll be the best plan. But if we do they'll be banging away with their rifles. Couldn't we fix up a gun shield, something like what they have on a battleship?"

"Good egg!" said Barry. "We'll rake out some timber from down below, and build up some sort of a fence round her."

"And we might arrange a few dummy figures to draw their fire," suggested Dick.

"Gosh, it's you have got the head on you, Dick!" replied Barry, with hearty approval. "We'll make you skipper of this old hooker."

Chang had been standing by, listening to the conversation, and taking it all in.

"Me tinkum velly good plan," he remarked. "Me tinkum go below, cook suppel, then makee them dummy men."

"You can make all the dummies you like, Chang," said Barry, "but as for supper, we'll have to wait for that until we've fixed up this gun-shield. We'll need all the daylight there is left to do it proper."

`They set to work without waiting a moment. Luckily they had their axes in the boat, and it did not take long to rip out some stout planking from the partitions below. They found hammer and nails aboard, and soon had a shield several inches thick, and quite enough to stop an ordinary Winchester bullet.

All the time they were keeping a smart look-out, for there was always the off-chance that Cripps might send a boat off to see what had become of them. But as the probabilities were strong that he did not know of the existence of the Brant, he would most likely take it for granted that they were ashore.

Anyhow, as Dick said, he and Crane would be turning the Rainbow inside out to look for the pearls. That would keep them busy for the rest of the day.

No boat appeared, and by sunset they had not only finished the shield, but also got the mainsail ready to hoist. Then Barry got into the boat again, and, taking Sam to row, started to hunt out the channel. He used the lead freely, and after a while came back quite cheerful.

"Plenty of water round the end of the bank," he said. "I've got the channel clear in my head, and if the breeze lasts I'll get her round without trouble."

"Are you going to try it to-night?" asked Dick.

"You bet. What's the use of waiting? We'll start as soon as we've had some supper, and got those dummies fixed."

"Chang's fixing some grub," said Dick. "And I've dug out some stuff from the slop chest for the dummies. We'll stuff 'em with blankets and pillows."

Chang was a wonderful cook, and out of odds and ends he had found in the pantry and store-room he had succeeded in preparing a really first-rate meal.

Hungry with their long day's work, Barry and Dick did full justice to it, and no thought of the desperate venture they were going to engage in was allowed to spoil their appetite.

The one thing they were anxious about was the breeze. If it failed they were done. Even if it changed it would be impossible to get out, for the channel was too narrow to tack.

At sunset it had shown signs of dying away, but when they came up from supper, to their great relief it had strengthened again.

"Plenty to take us out," said Barry, with quiet satisfaction. "Now about those dummies, Dick—are they ready?"

As he spoke Chang appeared with one under each arm. They were really works of art, and when stiffened with pieces of board and topped off, each with a straw hat, they had an absurdly life-like appearance.

They arranged them on different parts of the deck, but none anywhere near the gun.

The next job was to load the gun. Dick had found the rammer and the shells, or, rather, projectiles. But of the latter there were only three left.

"It's plenty," said Barry. "If we don't fix 'em with three we certainly won't get the chance to use any more. Let me see. The powder goes in a bag, don't it?"

"I don't know anything about that," Dick admitted. "That's your job, not mine."

"Glad there's something I know that you don't," answered Barry. "Yes, I've got, the hang of the thing. But it's precious old- fashioned. I guess Burke bought it out of a junk shop."

Bare-armed, he rammed the projectile home on top of the powder, and put a length of match ready. Then he primed the touch-hole.

"Now, then, up with the mainsail," he said. And presently the blocks were creaking, and the big sail rose slowly into position.

Getting up the anchor was no easy job, for the cable was foul of something at the bottom. At last, however, they managed to heave clear, and Barry sprang to the wheel. The big sail filled, and the Brant began to move slowly through the water.

"Gosh, it's a sound I began to think I'd never hear again!" said Barry, listening to the tinkle of the ripples under the schooner's forefoot. "Tell you what, Dick, if we had that foresail set she'd be handier. She steers like a mud barge with only the main."

"All right. We'll get her up," answered Dick; and, calling to Chang and Sam, went forward.

Barry was right. The foresail helped her wonderfully, and she came through the channel without touching anywhere. Barry threw her up towards the end of the mangrove spit.

"Watch out now!" he said warningly to Dick. "They'll begin to let fly as soon as they spot her."

"If you run up the middle of the bay, they're bound to spot us at once," replied Dick. "Why not keep her close under the south shore? There's plenty of water, and she won't show up so much against the cliffs."

"H'm! I'll try it, anyhow," Barry answered, giving the wheel a spin. "It may work all right."

It did work all right. The Brant's sails were of dark-coloured canvas, and with the tall cliff as a background, they must have been practically invisible in the starlight. Minute after minute they crept quietly on until they could plainly see the Rainbow and the dark, squat, ugly shape of the steamer lying just to the northward of her.

"We're in range already," whispered Dick, "and the beggars haven't spotted us yet. I'll bet it isn't Cripps's watch on deck, anyhow."

"So much the worse for him," muttered Barry. "Now, see here, Dick. I'm going bang up to her. The Rainbow is still on the shoal, but there's water this side, and we can slip up, keeping the Rainbow between us and the steamer."

"I see," said Dick eagerly. "Then they won't be able to shoot at us until we're past her."

"Just so; or if they do, they won't be so apt to hit us. Now I'm going to carry on until they begin shooting, or until they hail us. Then you must take the wheel—I can't trust it to Chang—and I'll go straight to the gun. Keep her head straight for the steamer, and I shall try and bang the first shot into her engines."

Dick nodded.

"Right you are! Make Chang and Sam keep alongside you behind the shield."

"I'll do that." Barry paused a moment. "It's you who are getting the worst of it, Dick," he said. "You stand the chance of being hit."

"Don't worry about me. I shall duck down as close as I can to the deck. The light's bad, and they're no great shots. I shall be all right."

The breeze was very light, and silent as a phantom ship the Brant crept up along the edge of the shoal. Dick, with his eyes fixed on the dim hulk of the steamer, hardly breathed.

Nearer and nearer they came, until barely three hundred yards separated them from the big ugly hulk.

"Schooner, ahoy! Who are you?" came a startled shout from the steamer.

"Spotted us at last!" muttered Barry. "Take the wheel, Dick!"

Dick's hands instantly gripped the spokes, and Barry glided forward to the gun.

"Schooner, ahoy!" cried the same voice from the steamer. "Where are you coming to? Sheer off! D'ye hear?"

In spite of his anxiety, Dick smiled to himself. By the sound of the voice, the man who had hailed him was evidently badly rattled.

There came the faint thud of bare feet on the steamer's deck, and a sound of confused shoutings. By this time the Brant was barely two hundred yards from the steamer's side.

"Sheer off, you!" came a great, bellowing roar. It was Cripps's voice. "Sheer off, or I'll shoot the stuffing out of you!"

"Two can play at that game!" muttered Dick, but at the same moment he dropped down on his knees, keeping hold of the lower spokes.

It was as well, for next instant sharp flashes sprang from the steamer's side, and the sound of shots woke the echoes from the cliffs on either side.

Dick heard the vicious ping of bullets overhead, and then thud and smack as they struck the deck around him. One actually hit the wheel, cutting splinters from it. But he himself remained untouched, and still the schooner crept steadily forward, with her bow pointed straight for the side of the anchored ship.

The firing redoubled, but it was shockingly wild. It was quite clear to Dick that panic reigned aboard Cripps's vessel. Small wonder either, for the soundless, steady approach of the schooner was enough to try anyone's nerves.

Dick wondered how the dummies were faring. He fancied they must have collected a good deal of lead already.

Nearer came the Brant—nearer still. It looked as if she were bent on ramming the steamer. Dick began to wonder whether something had gone wrong with the gun.

They were so near that he could distinctly see a dozen or more figures lining the side of the steamer. The firing was very heavy. All around him the white splashes showed where the deck planks had been splintered by bullets. But barring a slight cut on the arm from a flying splinter, he himself was unhurt.

Suddenly he saw the flash of a match behind the shield forward, and next moment came a crash which utterly eclipsed the crackling of the rifles. He felt the schooner jerk back slightly with the force of the recoil.

With the crash, or just after it, came a clang like an earthquake in an armourer's shop. The twelve-pound shot had torn through the side of the steamer as easily as a rifle bullet through a tin kettle, and smacked clean into the middle of the engines.

What damage it had done it was impossible to say, but by the noise it was evidently considerable. The crew of the steamer were panic-stricken. With wild yells and shouts they ran in all directions.

"Hurrah for you, Barry!" shouted Dick, in huge delight; and next moment his shout changed to a cry of pain, for a bullet, just grazing his elbow, sent a tingle of agony through the whole arm.

"Hard aport!" came Barry's voice, loud and sharp. "Hard aport, or you'll be aboard her!"

The order pulled Dick together, and, in spite of his pain, he managed to pull the wheel over. The tide, which was still making, helped the schooner round, and she fell off just in time to escape wrecking herself on the steamer's iron side.

But she was so close that, had Cripps's people kept their heads, they could have absolutely raked her with rifle-fire, and probably killed every soul aboard her.

Luckily for Barry and Dick, they were too flabbergasted by the utterly unexpected cannon-shot to do anything of the sort. Only a few scattering shots were fired, then the Brant, catching a puff, was running sharply out into the centre of the bay.

"Keep her out till we've loaded again!" came Barry's order.

"All right," Dick answered weakly. His elbow was giving him such agony that he felt quite faint and sick.

Barry came dashing back towards the wheel.

"What's the matter, Dick? Are you hit?" he asked with real anxiety in his voice.

"It's only a touch," replied Dick. "A graze on the elbow. Hurts like sin, but nothing worth worrying about."

"Sure you can hang on?" asked Barry anxiously.

"Quite sure! Don't worry. Go and load up. And, Barry, put the next one between wind and water. It's no use disabling her. You've got to sink her."

"That's what I mean to do," Barry answered grimly. "They've brought it on themselves. They attacked us first."

"Bah! You don't need any excuse for wiping out Cripps and Crane," said Dick.

But Barry had already run back to the gun, and was sponging it out in the smartest style.

Dick kept the schooner close to the wind. The first agony of pain had worn off a little, and he was watching the steamer, which buzzed like a stirred wasps' nest.

Someone was still taking long shots at them, but the light was not good enough to give the marksman a chance.

A minute later came Barry's voice again:

"Round with her, Dick! We're ready!"


CHAPTER XXVIII. — THE BRANT IS BOARDED.

IT was all Dick could do to spin the spokes, but, luckily, the Brant was handy in stays, and she came round easily.

There were wilds yells from the steamer as they saw their enemy coming back, and a series of heavy volleys crashed out from her deck.

But Dick lay flat, and the others were well protected by the timber shield. Relentless as Fate, the Brant bore down and came up to within the same short range as before.

"Now!" roared Barry, and Dick threw her up so that her bow pointed straight for the steamer.

Again the gun roared, and as the smoke cleared, Dick heard Barry give on exciting yell:

"We've done it this time! We've settled their hash, Dick!"

There was no doubt whatever about that. The last shot had struck the steamer exactly on the water-line, and only a few feet from the spot where the first had entered.

It had knocked a great, ragged hole through the plating, big enough for a man to get his body through, and through this the water was simply sluicing into the ugly old black tank.

Dick did not wait to see any more. As quickly as possible he came round again and ran out, until there was no longer risk from rifle-shots.

"We've done the trick this time," said Barry, coming up to Dick. "They'll never plug that hole. She's bound to sink."

"Unless they run her ashore," said Dick.

"Run her ashore! How will they do it? That first chunk of iron made hay of her engines. No; she'll just lie where she is till she goes flop to the bottom. Now, while we're waiting, let's see to that arm of yours.

"Ay, it's only a graze, as you say," he continued; "but it touched your funny-bone, so no wonder it hurt!"

As he spoke, he bound it up rapidly.

"They're getting out a boat, Barry," said Dick.

"Small blame to 'em! They'll need it."

"Yes, but they'll board the Rainbow."

"Can't help it if they do; and it won't help them much. The Rainbow is hard and fast for the net three days, so she's absolutely at our mercy. We can make any terms we like."

"The tide's shifting us," said Dick. "We'll drift right down the bay, if we don't look out. Hadn't we better anchor?"

"Not good enough. Leaves us at their mercy, if they tackle us with boats. We must keep cruising until we see what's going to happen."

"The steamer's going to sink. That's one thing that'll happen," remarked Dick drily. "Look at her. She's got a regular list already."

"And they're all tumbling into their boats at the double-quick," said Barry. "Yes, they're going to the Rainbow. Wonder how Kempster and Barstow are making it?

"Tell you what, Dick," he added. "The best thing we can do is to sink the boat, and get rid of the whole outfit. What with Burke and his crowd, as well as Cripps & Co. there'll be too heavy a contract for us to handle aboard the Rainbow."

"You forget," returned Dick. "We've only one shot left. Anyhow, it would be a bit too much like murder to pile it into an open boat. It was a different thing sinking the steamer."

"Then we'd best shove aboard the Rainbow before they get there," said Barry. "You'd better remember they'll have their guns with 'em, and we don't want to have to plunk our last shot into the Rainbow."

Dick grunted.

"I doubt if we can do it, but we'll have a shy, if you like. Take the wheel, will you? My arm's so stiff I can hardly use it."

Barry took the wheel, and Dick walked forward to get a better view of the steamer. She was sinking all right; there was no doubt about that. One boat had pushed off, and another was alongside. So far as Dick could make out in the dim starlight, there were still several men on the deck who were flinging their kit into this second boat.

The Brant, carried by the tide, had drifted past the steamer's stern, and was floating out into the bay. Barry brought her round and put her up into the wind; but, between the lightness of the breeze and the contrary set of the tide, she was very sluggish in getting under way.

As Dick stood peering forward, and wondering what the chances were of reaching the Rainbow before the steamer's boats, a slight sound from somewhere aft attracted his attention. He turned sharply, and the movement undoubtedly saved his life, for at that moment a pistol cracked, and a bullet whizzed past so closely that he felt the wind of it on his cheek.

As he turned he caught sight of a boat which had slipped up, unnoticed, under the Brant's counter. There were four men in it, and one had just caught hold of the rail, and was pulling the boat up so as to jump aboard.

"Look out, Barry!" yelled Dick, and started running as hard as he could go towards the stern.

But he had hardly started, before he remembered that he had no weapon of any sort. The men in the boat had firearms.

He glanced round, and his eyes fell upon the third and last of their cannon-shot, which lay upon the deck beside the gun. On the impulse of the moment he snatched it up, and raced on.

Two more shots snapped viciously from the boat. He hardly noticed them, and he and Barry arrived at the stern almost at the same moment.

"Out of the way, Barry!" he shouted, and, without an instant's hesitation, raised the big twelve-pound shot in both hands and flung it straight down into the boat.

There was a crash and a yell. The man who had been standing up made a wild spring aboard, but the boat, with the bottom knocked out of her, drifted away, settling rapidly.

"Look out Barry!" shrieked Dick again. "It's Burke!"

There was no mistaking that great, squat, toad-like form, but before Burke could regain his balance or raise his hand to use his pistol Barry was on him.

With one sweep of his arm Barry knocked the pistol flying into the sea. Burke, with a quickness amazing in a man of his great bulk, sprang at Barry, and threw both arms round his waist. He flung his weight forward, and tried to bear Barry to the deck.

With Dick—with any person of ordinary strength—Burke's manoeuvre would have succeeded. But Barry's muscular power was enormous—greater even than that of Burke.

He did not yield an inch, but, stooping swiftly, got his arms round Burke's body. Then, with one mighty effort, he lifted him bodily and swung him clean over his shoulder.

Burke's hold broke in the swing, and the huge bulk of him sailed through the air, and came down upon the planking of the deck with a shock that made the whole fabric of the schooner quiver.


Illustration

There he lay motionless as a sack of coals.

"You—you've killed him!" muttered Dick.

"Hope so, anyhow," panted Barry. "If I have, I've saved the hangman a job. What about the others?"

A fearful scream ringing out through the night was his answer. There was a rush and a swirl of water a few yards astern, but when they turned there was nothing to be seen.

Dick shivered.

"The sharks have got them," he muttered.

He felt absolutely sick with the sudden reaction; but Barry seemed unmoved.

"Three of them, weren't there?" he said.

"Yes; four in all, including Burke."

"Redstall, Dent, and Pyke," said Barry. "Well, that's settled Burke's outfit, anyhow. Wonder how they got loose?"

Dick did not answer. He was bending over Burke.

"He's not dead," he said. "Give me a hand, and let's carry him below."

But Barry had already sprung back to the wheel. A puff of wind had come up suddenly, and he was only just in time to save the schooner from gybing.

"He'll have to stay where he is for the present, Dick. We've lost too much time already. Cripps is aboard the Rainbow, and he and his crowd will take some shifting."

Dick glanced across to the Rainbow. Barry was right. The two boats from the steamer were already alongside the schooner, and their crews had climbed aboard.

He shook his head.

"We've lost our chance," he said despondently. "They've got her, and they've got their rifles. And we—we have fired our last shot."

"Our last shot?" repeated Barry. "We've only fired two."

"Yes," said Dick; "but I used the last to sink Burke's boat."

A thick laugh startled them both.

"Ho, ho, my lads! So you have done yourselves down this time!" came Burke's jeering voice.


CHAPTER XXIX. — CRIPPS PLAYS FOUL!

BARRY turned in a fury.

"Keep your mouth shut, you swine!" he ordered.

Burke only laughed again.

For a moment it looked as though Barry would finish the man by stamping out what life remained in him, but Dick caught him by the arm.

"Don't notice him. He's beyond doing us any more harm. Here, let's move out of earshot of him."

Barry controlled himself with an effort, and Dick led him away.

"I was a fool to use that last shot," said Dick. "But it was the only thing handy. You see, I had no gun."

"You were perfectly right, old chap. If the rest of Burke's crowd had boarded us, that would have seen our finish in about half no time. Don't blame yourself."

"But what are we going to do?" said Dick. "We can't leave Kempster and Barstow to the tender mercies of Cripps & Co., to say nothing of the rest of our Chinamen. And the gun is the only weapon of any sort aboard the Brant."

Barry stood silent for a moment. There was a frown on his big, handsome face. He was evidently thinking hard.

All of a sudden the frown passed, and he gave a short bark of laughter.

"I've got it, Dick—I've got it! We must put up a bluff. They don't know that we've not got any more shot. What's to stop us from sailing up, and telling them that we'll blow the Rainbow to blazes if they don't make terms?"

Dick gasped.

"Jove, it's a gorgeous notion, Barry! Yes; after what we've done already to their old iron tank, I believe it will work all right."

He paused.

"I've got a better notion still," he said eagerly. "See here, Barry; we've got plenty of powder left. Let's put a charge of that in, and fill her up with nails and scrap-iron. Then, if the worst comes to the worst, we have always a chance of finishing off some of the sweeps!"

"Good egg!" said Barry. "I can always trust you to think out something smart. All right; you go and take the wheel, and tell Chang to scoot below, and hunt out some nails. Keep her on and oft until I give the word."

Dick nodded and obeyed. The moon was rising, and by her faint light he could plainly see that the deck of the Rainbow was thick with men. It seemed to him that they were watching the movements of the Brant with considerable suspicion. He chuckled a little to think what a horrid fright Wesley Crane must be suffering under at that moment.

Barry did not waste much time in reloading the gun.

"Ready, Dick!" he shouted. "Put her about!"

The Brant swung obedient to her tiller, and turned her shapely bows once more towards the Rainbow. As before, Dick crouched low. He fully expected that rifle-shots would soon be flying again.

But in this he was wrong. Aboard the Rainbow all remained quiet, and the Brant had come within a couple of hundred yards before the silence was broken.

"Schooner, ahoy!" came Cripps's familiar bellow. "Schooner, ahoy! Is Damer aboard?"

"Ay, I'm aboard!" shouted back Dick.

It was a shout, too; very different indeed from the timid voice which Cripps had last heard from him.

So different that Cripps seemed staggered.

"That's not Damer!" he answered.

Dick felt a queer throb of exultation.

"You'll jolly soon find who it is, if you don't get off that ship, you infernal pirate!" he roared back.

"Bravo, Dick!" chuckled Barry from the gun. "That's the way to talk to the blighter!"

"Me get off my own ship!" bellowed Cripps, in a furry. "You let me get my hands on you, and I'll skin you alive!"

"Two can play at that game, Cripps!" retorted Dick, in a voice that carried half across the bay. "What's to hinder us from blowing you and Crane and the rest of your pirates into the sea?"

The Brant was so close to the Rainbow that Dick could distinctly hear the gasp or surprise which came from Cripps's lips. When he answered, it was in a decidedly milder tone.

"You daren't do it! You'd kill your own folk as well as us!"

"I reckon they'd as soon be dead as in your hands!" shouted out Barry, for the first time taking a share in the conversation. "Anyhow, I guess I can finish you right now without touching them. I've only got to put this match to the touch-hole, and if there's anything left of you after—why, I'll eat it!"

There came a terrified shriek from the deck of the Rainbow, and someone flung himself flat on his face on the planking.

"It's all right, Barry," laughed Dick. "It's only the brave Wesley!"

Cripps, if a brute, had pluck. He stood up, big, square, and menacing, in the pale moonlight.

"What do you ducks want, anyway?" he demanded. "I suppose you ain't a-going to say as this ain't my ship?"

"Exactly what I do say," returned Dick, as he gave the spokes a turn so as to hold the Brant in the eye of the wind. "Exactly what I do say. You lost her when you left her, and Mr. Freeland here salved her. Any Court would give us the verdict, and that you know as well as I do!"

Cripps swore savagely.

"There ain't no courts o' law in the Solomon Islands. What I wants to knows is what you fellers are after? What do you want?"

Dick did not answer at once.

"I say, Barry," he said, in a lower voice, "do you give me a free hand to make terms?"

"Go ahead!" was the quick reply. "Anything you say goes. But look out for treachery. I wouldn't trust one of 'em!"

"All right," answered Dick.

Then, raising his voice again:

"I'll tell you what we want, Cripps. You hand over Captain Kempster, Barstow, and our Chinamen, our own personal possessions, and the stores we need for the journey home. Then you can keep the Rainbow, and the rest of the grub aboard."

"Of all the infernal impudence—" began Cripps in a voice that was like a bull's.

And then he stopped suddenly as some one beside him plucked at his sleeve.

The two talked in voices too low to be heard aboard the Brant.

"Hurry up!" shouted Dick. "We haven't all night to waste! Do you agree, or don't you?"

"All right!" growled Cripps sourly. "We'll agree!"

Dick noticed a curious tone of surprise in the man's voice. He almost laughed, for he himself fully realised that when he and Cripps had last met, he could not for the life of him have tackled the great bully so successfully.

"We agree!" repeated Cripps. "One o' you had best come aboard for the things!"

"You will send Captain Kempster and Barstow over first," answered Dick sharply. "And the Chinamen. Afterwards, I will come across for our kit!"

"Bravo, Dick!" exclaimed Barry, from the gun. "That's the way to do it, my boy!"

There was further consultation aboard the Rainbow. Cripps was clearly unwilling to agree to Dick's last suggestion, and Dick himself waited very anxiously indeed. If Cripps refused, it was a case of stale-mate. He and Barry dared not fire for fear of killing some of their own folk.

But his suspense did not last long.

"All right! They're a-coming!" Cripps called across.

And as he spoke Dick saw several men being led across the deck to one of the steamer's boats which lay alongside the Rainbow.

He counted them—six in all. Kempster, Barstow, and the four remaining Chinamen.

Barry stood by his gun, match in hand, fully prepared for any sign of treachery. But nothing of the sort occurred, and in a very few minutes the refugees were safe aboard the Brant.

"Say, Mr. Damer, I never thought you'd got the nerve to talk to Old Man Cripps the way you did!" was Barstow's greeting as he hobbled up to Dick.

Old Kempster's face, still yellow from the bout of fever, bore an unaccustomed grin.

"I'm mighty glad to see you again, Damer!" he remarked. "But what's pleased me a sight more than anything else was the way you and Freeland used that gun. My word!" He chuckled outright. "It was fine to see the way it made hay of Crane's new steamer. I reckon he won't get much insurance back on that; and I'll lay the charter cost him a cool thousand!"

He gave Dick his hand as he spoke, and Dick grasped it warmly.

"There's about a score of questions I want to ask you, captain," said the boy; "but they'll have to wait. I must go across now, and get the stores we want for our trip home."

"Then you look out for Cripps," said Kempster warningly. "He's in a mighty ugly temper."

"I've no doubt of that," Dick answered, with a smile; "but you needn't worry. We've got that old gun loaded up with nails and potleg and if Barry touches it off there won't be much left of that crowd of larrikins on the Rainbow's deck."

"Perhaps you'll take the wheel, sir?" he added courteously. "And, by the by, Burke is lying there on the deck. You might order two of the men to carry him below."

"Burke?" snarled Kempster, his face changing in the most extraordinary fashion. "Burke? How did he come here?"

"In a boat he must have stolen from the Rainbow. No need to worry, captain. His accomplices are dead, and he is as good as dead. By the look of him, his back is broken."

"And a good job, too," said Kempster fiercely. "Of all the work you youngsters have done, that is the best."

His whole face was absolutely lighted up. He looked as if years had suddenly rolled off him. And Dick, remembering those fleshless bones on Nameless Island, could not wonder at the old man's delight.

But there was no time to waste. He called Chang, and he and the tall Chinaman got into the same boat in which Kempster and Barstow had just come across. Then, while Captain Kempster and Barry kept the muzzle of the gun full on the other schooner, they pulled quickly across, and within a couple of minutes were on the Rainbow's deck.

Cripps was standing by the rail, a huge and formidable figure. He scowled at Dick as the boy sprang lightly aboard.

"Think yourself some pumpkins, don't you?" he sneered; and yet, even in the sneer Dick caught the same tone of wonder that he had noticed before.

"Oh, I'm learning to take care of myself, thank you, captain!" he said easily "Barry Freeland has seen to that."

"You mean that cub we found in the Kauri?"

"Ay! He's a fine sailor, and a good friend!" said Dick emphatically. "But how did you get away safe, Captain Cripps? We saw nothing of the Kauri after the storm had passed."

"I was picked up," Cripps answered sourly. "And as you're so fond o' questions, what about them there pearls?"

Dick laughed.

"They're all right And if it interests you to hear if, we took them from Burke and his crowd, and we mean to make the most of them when we get back to Sydney."

"And what about my share?" demanded Cripps.

Dick laughed again.

"Upon my word, captain, you really are the limit. What earthly right have you got to any share in them?"

Dick had gone too far. Cripps's savage temper rose to the surface, and before the boy knew what was happening, the man had him in a grip like that of a gorilla.

"You tell me where them pearls are!" he growled in Dick's ear. "Tell me where they are, or, by the living jingo, overboard you go to the sharks!"


CHAPTER XXX. — THE DEFEAT OF CRIPPS.

DICK, though badly startled, did not lose his presence of mind.

"I wouldn't, if I were you," he answered. "You can chuck me overboard if you like, but if you do it will be the last act for you at well as me. That gun's loaded to the muzzle with potleg. There won't be many left alive on the deck if Freeland puts the match to the touch-hole."

The great brute paused.

"No, by thunder!" he snarled. "You're worth more alive than dead."

Still holding Dick in his tremendous grasp, he hailed the Brant.

"Say, you, Freeland, I'm going to have my share of them pearls, and don't you forget it. Half of 'em is the price o' Damer's life. You hear me?"

There was no answer from the Brant. Dick, so held that he could not see what was happening, was only aware that a cloud had covered the moon, and that a gust of wind was sweeping up the bay.

"You hear me?" roared Cripps again.

"Shoot!" cried Dick. "Shoot, Barry! Don't mind me!"

There was a moment's pause. Dick could not endure the suspense. He made a sudden struggle.

Cripps's grip tightened so that Dick fell his ribs crack. He could not breathe.

"No, you don't!" bellowed Cripps, in a fury. He began dragging Dick forward to the rail.

Dick, with a sudden conviction of what was happening, flung his own arms round Cripps' huge body, and clung like a leech. Still he was dragged forward. Instinctively, he realised that he was actually against the rail of the schooner.

His very flesh crawled. The screams of Burke's pirates as the sharks had seized them still rang in his ears. Was this going to be his fate, too?

"Let go, will you?" cried Cripps, with a savage oath, as he made a furious effort to wrench away Dick's tight-clasped arms.

A month ago he would have succeeded easily, but that month had made all the difference. Dick was now as hard as nails. He was all muscle and sinew. In spite of Cripps's vast strength, the man was unable to release himself from the boy's clinging arms.

He let go of Dick with one arm, and made a brutal blow at his head. But Dick's head was almost buried in his opponent's burly chest, and Cripps's fist lit upon his shoulder instead of his skull. Even so the blow fell like a pile driver, paralysing Dick's left arm.

With a beast-like roar, Cripps tore himself loose, and Dick felt himself being lifted high in the air.

Another moment, and he would have been food for the sharks which swarmed in the phosphorescent water below.

But ever as Cripps lifted him, came a shock which made the Rainbow reel, and Cripps, flung off his balance, fell with a crash backwards on the deck.

Next instant a tall figure seemed to shoot through the air, and Dick heard something whiz past his head. There was a thud, a groan, and as Dick rolled away on to the bare planks of the deck he saw Barry, with the rammer of the gun in his hands standing over the prostrate and motionless form of the ex-captain of the Rainbow.

There came a thud of bare feet upon the deck. Several of the bolder spirits among Cripps's crew were running up to avenge their leader.

Barry did not wait for them. With savage rage he rushed at them, whirling his terrible weapon in swinging circles around his head.

As Dick scrambled, panting, to his feet, he saw the two nearest bowled over like ninepins. The rest, evidently thinking discretion the better part of valour, ran for their lives.

Barry chased them like a fury, and, screaming with terror, they bolted down the open hatch. The deck was left empty but for Dick, Barry, and the prostrate Cripps.

Barry swung round to Dick.

"Did the brute hurt you?" he panted.

"I feel rather as if I'd had a mix up with a grizzly," Dick answered; "but really I'm all right. So you rammed her, Barry?"

"It was the only thing to do, Dick. If I hadn't, he'd have had you over."

Dick looked down at Cripps. His great heavy face was livid; blood from a great cut on his head was staining the white deck planks.

"It will be quite a time before he can do anything of the same kind again, Barry," he said. "'Pon my word, you've done yourself proud to night! To put out Burke and Cripps inside an hour is rather warm work."

"Only wish I'd finished 'em both!" growled Barry, glaring down at the insensible Cripps.

"Never mind that. They're both beyond doing us any harm for the time being. Tell me, is the Brant afloat, or did you ground her when you rammed the Rainbow?"

"Her forefoot's just on the shoal," Barry answered; "but she'll come off all right at high water."

"Then we'd best spend the time in getting all we want aboard the Brant," suggested Dick.

"Ay, and the first thing will be a couple of rifles to keep those steamship larrikins in order," said Barry. "I'll get 'em right now, before their scare's worn off. You keep the deck, old son."

He was off with his usual quickness, and Dick was left in sole possession of the deck. He kept a sharp look-out, and picked up a belaying-pin, so as to be on the safe side if anyone tackled him. But no one did, and he had time to get his breath back. Then he took a look at Cripps, and, kneeling down beside him, examined the wound on his head.

It was a bad cut, but the bone was not broken. Cripps's skull was evidently as hard as a board.

Dick took out a handkerchief and made a rough bandage.

A slight sound attracted his attention. In an instant he was on his feet, swinging up the heavy belaying-pin over the head of a man who had come up softly behind him.

"Oh—oh, don't do that! Don't hit me! I don't mean no harm!" whined the latter, in a terrified tone.

"Why—why, it's Crane!" exclaimed Dick.

"Y-yes," stammered the other. "I—I am Wesley Crane, your cousin, you know. I—I just came up to say 'How d'ye do?'"

Dick laughed outright.

"You're not a good liar, Crane," he said. "If the truth were told you hoped to give me a jab in the back, thinking you might collar the pearls from me.

"Drop that knife!" he added sharply, so sharply that the knife dropped tinkling out of Wesley Crane's hand upon the deck.

Dick put his foot on it.

"Lucky for you I heard you," he said grimly. "Freeland would have cut the liver out of you, you miserable cur!"

"I—I wouldn't have touched you," said Crane, his teeth chattering with fright. "I only carried the knife because I was frightened with all this fighting."

"Hallo! Whom have you got there?"

It was Barry's voice, and Barry himself appeared, a regular walking arsenal. He had four rifles, and his pockets bulged with cartridges.

"It's my kind friend, Mr. Wesley Crane," said Dick. "It appears that he had the amiable intention of sticking a knife into me."

"The swine who kidnapped you!" roared Barry, in such a voice that Wesley's legs gave under him and he dropped on his knees on the deck.

"He's the worst of the whole bunch, to my mind," growled Barry. "See here, Dick, we're making a clean sweep! What's the matter with putting him over the side? I guess there's sharks that are still hungry."

He nudged Dick as he spoke, and Dick, entering into the joke, spoke quite seriously.

"I agree with you, Barry. He's certainly fit for nothing but shark meat."

Wesley Crane gave a scream and flung himself flat on his face at Dick's feet.

"No, no! I'm not ready to die! Don't do it, Damer! I can be useful to you. I swear I can. You take me back to Australia, and I'll make you a rich man."


Illustration

"Oh, oh!" said Dick. "Now we're hearing something. Make me a rich man, will you? How will you do that?"

"I'll share your uncle's property with you. A full half. I swear it!"

"My uncle!" said Dick shrewdly. "Just now you said you were my cousin. In that case, how is it he wasn't your uncle, too?"

"He was. I ought to have said 'our' uncle."

Dick laughed again, but it was not the sort of laugh to reassure the shrinking Crane.

"And because of 'our' uncle's property you bribed Cripps to kidnap me and carry me off to sea—eh, Crane?"

"I never did. It was Bale."

"Liar!" snapped Dick, now growing really angry. "I heard you with my own ears that night at Bale's place on the wharf. I heard almost every word you said, 'Pon my soul, you make me sick! You're worse than Cripps; you're as bad as Burke. Just now I was only pulling your leg, but now I really have a mind to put you over the aide. The world would be a sight cleaner without you."

Wesley Crane was beyond speech. He could only squirm.

For a moment or two there was silence. Then Dick turned to Barry and whispered in his ear.

Barry burst out laughing.

"Good egg. Dick—oh, good egg!"

Dick gave Wesley a contemptuous kick.

"Get up!" he ordered; and Wesley, shaking in every limb, rose to his feet.

"Get into that boat!" Dick bade him. "Get into it, and if I catch you as much as moving, overboard you go that instant!"

Crane crept, shivering, into the boat which lay alongside.

Dick turned to Barry.

"Give me a rifle," he said, "just to be on the safe side. And then don't you think we'd best call over some of our Chinks? There'll be a heap of stuff to be carried aboard, and we don't want to lose the tide."

"There's the pearls to be got still," whispered Barry.

Dick nodded.

"That won't take long," he said. "An hour to load up, half an hour to the beach and back. We'll be off by two in the morning."


CHAPTER XXXI. — HOMEWARD BOUND.

DICK DAMER lifted his head and drew in a long breath of the open sea breeze.

"Jove, that smells good!" he exclaimed. "D'ye know, Barry, I had begun to think that we were never going to get away from that stuffy bay."

Barry, standing beside Dick at the rail of the Brant, laughed drily.

"We mighty near didn't. And even now we're sailing home in a craft that we didn't come in and never saw before."

"What's that matter?" returned Dick, balancing himself as the schooner lifted to a real Pacific swell. "The Rainbow was not ours, either, and the Brant seems a decent sea boat."

"You bet she is. Burke never sailed in anything else. Of course, she's foul now, but put her in proper trim and I guess there's nothing of her size to touch her in the Islands."

"Speaking of Burke, have you seen him since he was taken below?" asked Dick.

"Not me," answered Barry, shrugging his great shoulders. "And I don't want to, either."

Dick hesitated.

"I think I ought to have a look at him before I turn in," he said slowly. "Perhaps I can do something for the wretched man."

"Deuced little," answered Barry shortly. "I believe his back is broken."

Dick nodded.

"That's what Chang thinks, and he's a bit of a doctor. It's rather awful, isn't it? If he lives, he'll be bed-ridden for the rest of his days."

Barry looked at Dick curiously.

"'Pon my soul, I believe you're sorry for the swine."

"I am in a way," said Dick. "I'd be sorry for a tiger in the same case."

Barry grunted.

"Your sorrow's wasted, Dick. Once a tiger, always a tiger, and as long as there's breath of life in Burke, just so long he's dangerous. Go and see him, if you want to, but don't chance his getting a grip of you. One thing I'm sure of, and that is that he'd finish every last one of us if he had the chance, even if he had to go with us."

"I wish I'd finished him," he added, with a frown. "I sha'n't know a moment's peace with that beast still aboard."

He spoke so seriously that Dick was oddly impressed. For a few moments there was silence, then Dick straightened up.

"Well, I'm going below now, Barry. I'll be on deck at six to take over. Kempster won't be fit for duty for a day or two yet."

As Dick went below he became suddenly conscious of a faint smell of smoke. In the main cabin the swinging lamp was alight, though turned low. It seemed to him that the flame looked dim, as though seen through a faint haze.

"Something is burning!" muttered Dick.

There is perhaps nothing in the world more terrifying than a fire at sea, and Dick half turned, meaning to run on deck and inform Barry.

A few days ago that is what he would have done. Now, strong in his new-found manhood, he determined to investigate for himself.

He went on aft, sniffing and looking from one side to the other. Yes, the smoke was thicker here. It stung his eyes, he began to cough and choke.

A swift suspicion seized him, and he made straight for the cabin where he knew that Burke had been taken.

The door was closed. Dick listened for a moment, then softly turned the handle. As he opened the door, out rolled the smoke in a dense grey cloud. So dense was it that for the moment Dick was driven back. He leaned against the opposite bulkhead, choking, his eyes burning.

But only for a moment. Then he dashed into the little cabin.

It was quite on the cards that Burke still had sense and strength sufficient to seize him. And once in the grip of those mighty arms, Dick was well aware that he would be strangled as surely as between the paws of a grizzly bear.

But he wasted no time on thoughts of that kind. Without any hesitation he plunged through the smother to the bunk opposite. His groping hands touched the huge bulk of Burke's body. It did not move. There was no sign of life in it. He began to feel all round, and next moment his fingers encountered something scorchingly hot, and red sparks glowed through the smoke. The mattress was afire.

He could not breathe, his head began to spin, but he managed to find the tin water-can in the corner of the cabin, and, seizing it, dashed its contents over the blaze. Then he ran out and fled forward, shouting for Chang.

Within an incredibly short time the tall Chinaman appeared.

"Bring water!" ordered Dick curtly. "Quick! Ship's afire!"

Chang could move when real occasion arose. He did so now, and inside twenty seconds was back with two brimming buckets of sea- water. These Dick took from him and dashed them impartially over Burke and his burning mattress.

Then he and Chang together continued to drag the great bulk of the insensible pirate out of the smoke-filled cabin.

The second bucket extinguished the remains of the fire which had been smouldering in the straw of the mattress, and then they were able to open the port so as to allow the smoke to escape.

By this time the ship had been alarmed, and Barry himself had arrived on the spot.

"What did I tell you?" he said to Dick, as he stared angrily at the smoking remains of the mattress and the great, bloated body of Burke. "What did I tell you? He'd have burnt himself if he could have made a bonfire of the rest of us. The brute!" he went on angrily. "If he wasn't half dead already I'd hang him at once."

As he spoke he took up a fresh bucket of water which Chang had just brought and shot the contents over Burke.

Burke opened his eyes, and looked around. That slow smile which Dick hated so intensely spread across his big flat face.

"Well, gentlemen," he said softly, "I am not dead yet."

Chang drew out the big claspknife which all Chinese seamen carry.

"Me makum dead pletty klick if boss Bally say so," he remarked, as he ran his finger along the keen edge. "Me no wantee be bulnt up by dis pilate man."

Burke did not flinch. His deep-set eyes regarded the tall yellow man with a contemptuous stare.

Barry looked at Chang.

"Put up that knife," he said shortly. "It was our own fault for not searching him. Dick, just see that he has no more matches in his pockets. I'll stand by while you do it."

Dick found a matchbox, a knife, and a small bottle full of white pellets, all of which he took away. Burke made no protest, and when the searching was over, and they were sure that the man could do no more harm, another mattress was fetched, and he was lifted on to it and left to himself.

Then Dick, who was quite worn out, turned in, and Barry went back to his watch on deck.

In spite of all the excitement of the previous twelve hours Dick slept like a log, and felt mightily refreshed when he turned out in the dawn of a brilliant breezy morning.

He went on deck, stripped, and got one of the Chinese hands to fling half a dozen buckets of sea water over him, then, after a cup of hot coffee and a biscuit in the cabin, relieved Barry.

A glorious breeze was blowing, the ocean was covered with leaping foam-crests, and the Brant, now under a full suit of canvas, was lying down to it, and making a good ten knots.

Lost in a day-dream, Dick did not for the moment notice that the breeze was stiffening. It was not until the lee rail was buried and a wave-top came sluicing halfway up to the hatch that he realised that it was time to get in topsails.

He shouted the necessary orders, and the three Chinamen on deck sprang to obey.

"Where's Crane?" he demanded of Chang. "Crane—that white man I brought off the Rainbow last night."

"Me tinkum sleepee," answered Chang stolidly.

"Asleep—at this hour of the day! Go and rout him out, and tell him to come on deck this minute!"

There was a queer gleam in Chang's eyes, which Dick knew represented what would have been a smile in another man, and he went off briskly to obey.

He brought Crane straight up to Dick.

"G-good-morning, Damer!" said Crane, with a greasy attempt at geniality.

Dick looked at him a moment without speaking, and Crane wilted visibly.

"Foremost hands address their officers as 'sir,'" remarked Dick quietly. "You will go forward, Crane, and assist in taking a reef in the main tops'l."

"G-go forward! B-but I'm not a sailor!" answered Crane, in a tone of absolute terror.

"I feel quite sure that you have never done anything useful in the whole course of your life," said Dick, with some contempt. "It is about time you learnt. Now get forrard!"

Crane flared up.

"I can't, I won't. I'm a gentleman. I won't mix with a lot of dirty Chinks!"

Before he knew what was happening Dick had caught him by the collar, and with one sharp, decisive kick sent him flying forward. With the roll of the schooner he had lost his feet, and sat down with an emphasis that jarred the deck.

Dick took one stride after him, but Crane, with a cry of terror, scrambled to his feet again and fairly ran forward.

For once in his life Chang's lips parted in a real smile, and he hurried forward after Crane.

Dick had by no means forgotten his first days on the Rainbow, and the humiliation he had suffered at the hands of Cripps—humiliations which were due directly to Crane. He would hardly have been human if he had not thoroughly enjoyed the sight of Crane taking his first lesson in seamanship.

At supper that evening Dick and Barry met, and after Captain Kempster had retired to his bunk, the two went on deck together.

"I say, Dick," said Barry suddenly, "what in thunder have you been doing with that chap Crane? I give you my word I didn't know him when I saw him on deck this afternoon."

"I've been teaching him," said Dick quietly. "I've been giving him a little of what I went through myself under Cripps."

Barry stared at Dick for a full half-minute without speaking.

"You've got me beat, Dick," he said slowly. "Absolutely beat. I can't believe you're the same chap that I found hanging on to a stay that day of the squall aboard the Rainbow."

"I'm not the same," Dick answered simply. "I've learnt since then. And—and it's you have taught me, Barry."

"I reckon you've taught me one or two things, too, old chap!" said Barry.

Dick stared.

"Oh, yes, you have! You've taught me to keep my temper, for one thing, and to play the game all round. You see, Dick, I've never had any decent schooling. I've been knocking about at sea ever since I was thirteen. I've often thought what a queer thing it was, you and me meeting up like this, for I was kidnapped to sea very much the same way you were."

He paused. Dick waited breathlessly. He had long suspected that there was some story behind Barry's curious silence. But Barry had never yet breathed a word of it.


CHAPTER XXXII. — THE CRUISER.

"I'M Devonshire," said Barry, staring out to sea. "Dartmouth. Gosh, what good times I used to have there as a kid, fishing and boating up the river, and climbing those ripping red cliffs. We hadn't anything special to do with the sea. My dad had a bit of a farm, and some house property in the town. That was rising in value, and we were well off.

"When I was about twelve I came home from school one day, and found a stranger talking to dad. Dad told me he was my Uncle Stephen just home from sea.

"He was dad's half-brother, a big, handsome chap, but with a pair of queer, shifty eyes. I never liked him.

"He stayed with us some time, and he and dad were always talking. It was only afterwards that I knew that he was persuading father to put up the money for buying a ship to go into a big trading scheme along the New Guinea coast.

"Mother hated the notion, but in the end Uncle Stephen persuaded father. He sold out everything, left mother and me with enough to carry on for a year, and sailed with uncle in their new ship."

Barry paused, and his face went very grim. Dick did not speak.

"We never saw either of them again," said Barry curtly. "Mother wrote and wrote. There was no answer. The money began to run out; it was awful to see her get thinner and more worried every day.

"I was fourteen then, and big for my age. I reckoned it was time I did something to help her, so I got a job aboard a craft called the Ping Ho, which was bound for Brisbane. Mother hated my going, but I said I'd got to find dad, and if I couldn't do that I must make some money for her."

"And did you find your father?"

"No," Barry answered gruffly. "I've been sailing these seas ever since—five years now—but I've never heard of him or of my uncle or of their ship. And as for money—well, it's dashed little I've made so far—until now, I mean.

"Still," he added. "I've managed to send mother a few pounds off and on, and I've written to her every time I got to port."

"You've never seen her since?"

"Never set eyes on her," Barry answered sadly. "Never been within ten thousand miles of her."

"But you'll go to her now," said Dick quickly.

Barry's face lit up.

"As fast as steam can take me. And then I'm going to bring her back with me, to live with us on our place. You won't mind, Dick?"

"Mind, old man? It will be ripping! You know," he added quietly. "I can hardly remember my own people at all."

The breeze held for three days, then dropped, and there followed two days of light and baffling head winds. Barry's spirits fell; he paced the deck like a caged tiger, watching every flaw, and keeping the crew on the run, sweating up sails to catch every puff. Wesley Crane did more work in those few days than in the whole of his previous life.

On the sixth day they sighted an island.

"It's Arima," said Barry, after consulting the chart.

Dick studied the chart for a few moments.

"What do you say to running in for water, Barry? We ought to fill our tanks again. And if we could get some green stuff, yams and coconuts, it would be useful. We should all be better for it."

Barry hesitated.

"It may save time later on," said Dick. "We haven't enough in the tanks to carry us home."

"All right," said Barry.

And, going on deck, he gave the necessary orders.

It was slow work, and it was getting late in the afternoon by the time that the Brant made the entrance of a small harbour on the east side of the island. Barry took her in cautiously, but found plenty of water, so anchored about half a mile from shore, and ordered out a boat.

The sun was low as they pulled across the smooth blue surface of the bay. Ashore, dark-fronded palms waved lazily in the light evening breeze, and birds of brilliant plumage flew in and out among the scrub. Among the trees were a few native huts, but there was no sign of human life.

Barry and Dick landed, and walked up towards the huts. A drove of small black pigs sprang up before them, and ran squealing through the undergrowth. The two went right up to the huts, and Barry shouted, but there was no reply.

His face darkened.

"Some black-birding scoundrel!" he said harshly. "Probably they have kidnapped all the men, and the women and children have cleared. Well, we may as well have what we can get. Here are bananas spoiling, and yams running to waste. Call Chang and Sam, Dick. Tell 'em to bring the sacks."

There was not much daylight left, and the party from the Brant had to make the most of their time. It was dusk when, with loaded sacks, they went slowly down to the boat again.

The breeze was freshening a little and Barry's spirits rose with it.

"We'll get off at once," he said briskly. "Once we run out of this belt of calms, we'll soon be on the road home. Hallo!" He broke off sharply as a heavy boom crashed through the warm air. "What the mischief is that?"

"Sounds like a gun," said Dick, in a puzzled tone. And then: "Look! Look!"

He pointed. Round the spit of high land to the north came steaming a long, grey vessel. Smoke poured from two funnels, overhead the web of her wireless installation showed in a fine tracery against the evening sky, and along her side grey guns grinned through her gun-shields.

Dick stared.

"She's a warship, isn't she?"

"A British cruiser," Barry answered shortly. "Most likely she's after these black-birding gentry."

"She's coming into the bay," said Dick eagerly.

Barry grunted.

"We'd best get back to the Brant," he said.

They pulled rapidly back, and were met at the rail by Kempster. Dick noticed, with some surprise, that he was looking grave and rather worried.

"The Dione," he said briefly to Barry, jerking his thumb in the direction of the cruiser.

"I see," Barry answered, with equal brevity, as he sprang aboard. "Get those things stowed!" he said to Chang. "We'll be off as soon us we can."

Dick looked from one to the other, but while both Bury and Kempster were plainly ill at ease, neither gave him any reason.

By this time the Dione had dropped anchor about a quarter of a mile away. Dick stared at her. Although only a third-class cruiser, she looked very big and imposing compared with the schooner. Scores of Bluejackets were moving on her deck.

"She's getting a boat out," he said to Barry.

Barry gave an impatient exclamation:

"More delay! Hang it all; I wish we'd get away before she came on us!"

"Why, what's the matter?"

"You'll see if you live long enough," Barry answered gruffly. And then, with sharp impatience: "Don't you know we've got no papers? This is going to be infernally awkward!"

But neither he nor Dick realised at that moment how awkward.


CHAPTER XXXIII. — BURKE'S LAST CARD.

DOWN the bay, straight for the schooner, the boat shot. Its crew, in white jumpers and straw hats, pulled with that beautiful clockwork precision known only in the British Navy.

In the stern sat an officer, holding the tiller-strings; in the bow was a small but businesslike-looking swivel-gun.

Within a very few minutes she was alongside. One word from the officer, and her oars were shipped. She came to rest with mathematical precision by the schooner's side, and the officer, springing to his feet, stepped briskly aboard.

He was quite a young man, little older than Barry. His clean- shaven face was brown with tropic suns. He had white teeth and very blue eyes.

With one quick glance he took in Barry's towering figure in his blue jean trousers and thin shirt, Dick with his bright interested face, and Kempster, his mahogany skin in curious contrast to his snow-white hair. Barstow at the moment was not on deck.

"You surrender?" he said curtly, speaking to Kempster, whom he evidently considered to be the captain.


Illustration

"What do you mean, sir?" returned Kempster.

"Come, now! That's no use," said the officer, still more shortly. "It's no use pretending you don't understand."

Barry cut in:

"I'm skipper here, and I don't propose that anyone, even an officer of his Majesty's Navy, should talk like that to me on my own deck. There is no pretence about it. None of us understand what you mean."

The young officer's eyes widened.

"This is the Brant, isn't it?"

"It is, sir."

"Then it's hardly news to you that we've been looking for you for the past twelve months," said the officer drily.

"You may have been looking for the Brant, sir," Barry answered, with a dignity which Dick did not know he possessed, "but not for us. I have the honour to inform you that we took her from the pirates who previously owned her at San Cristobal a week ago."

The officer stared hard at Barry, but Barry returned his look with equal keenness.

"This is a queer story," said the former. "I don't want to seem to doubt your word, but I shall have to ask you to prove it."

"You can ask any of us any questions you please," said Barry. "I can't say more than that."

"May I ask your name?"

"Freeland—Barry Freeland. This is Captain Kempster, whom we found marooned on Nameless Island, and this is Dick Damer, who was aboard the Rainbow, which picked me up out of the Kauri, which was damaged in a storm and left derelict."

"Thank you!" replied the officer, speaking less curtly. "I am Lieutenant Selby. Now, if you please, Captain Freeland, we will go below, and I will hear how you came into possession of the Brant."

Dick cut in:

"In case there should be any doubt, Lieutenant Selby, would it not be as well to question each of us separately? You could then see whether our stones agree. I think that if you found they did, that would go some way towards convincing you that they were genuine."

Selby looked at the boy with some surprise. Clearly Dick's tone and manner amazed him. They were certainly not what he would expect to find aboard a piratical schooner.

"It seems quite a good idea," he answered. "If you are all agreeable to such a test. I certainly sha'n't object to it."

"We are very willing," said Captain Kempster. "I suggest, sir, that you should put us under guard, in order to make sure there shall be no collusion."

"If you are pirates, you are certainly very queer ones," muttered Selby under his breath. He ordered four of his men to come aboard, and, leaving Dick and Captain Kempster under their charge, went below with Barry.

The questioning took some time, for the stories each had to tell were pretty long ones. It was nearly an hour before Dick, who came last, had finished his evidence.

Then Selby asked all four to come in at once.

"Gentlemen," he said courteously, "your stories tally absolutely, and they have gone far to convince me that they are all true. At the same time, you will admit that this in itself is not proof of your innocence. We find you in possession of a vessel whose reputation is of the blackest, you have a gun aboard which has recently been used, you have no papers of any description. As for the stories, it is, of course, possible that they were concocted beforehand."

Barry moved impatiently.

"Don't be angry, Mr. Freeland," said Selby. "You will understand that I am speaking from a purely official standpoint.

"Now, you tell me," he continued, "that you have aboard the ex- captain of this ship, the pirate Burke. Before I return to my ship I should wish to see him."

"You can, if you like," said Barry, "but I tell you straight that you won't get one word of truth out of the fellow."

"Still, I must see him," said Selby firmly.

"Very well, Mr. Selby. I will take you to his bunk," Barry replied. "This way, please!"

He led the young lieutenant to the door of the cabin, and then came back and joined the others. His face bore the scowl that Dick knew so well.

"That's upset the apple-cart," he said, between set teeth. "That swine will fill Selby up with lies. There'll be trouble now. I know it."

"Surely he will be able to see through Burke?" said Dick. "The man is such an obvious blackguard."

"You don't know Burke yet," Barry answered grimly. "He'd humbug a judge if he turned on the soft stop."

Kempster nodded. His face was as grim as Barry's. Between the two of them, Dick began to feel decidedly unhappy.

It was another quarter of an hour before Selby returned, and the moment Dick saw his face his worst forebodings were realised.

"Gentlemen," he said curtly, "you must consider yourselves under arrest, and accompany me back to the Dione."

"So you're going to take the word of that blackguard Burke against ours?" said Barry bitterly.

"It is not in my province to discuss the matter further," replied Selby drily. "The rest must lie with Captain Burnham. Have I your promise that you will make no resistance?"

"You can take that for granted," answered Captain Kempster, in a tone as dry us Selby's own.

"I told you I ought to have finished Burke while I was about it," said Barry aside to Dick, as they went on deck again. "Now, the deuce only knows what's going to happen."

"You can't kill a man in cold blood," Dick answered doggedly.

Half a dozen bluejackets were left in charge of the Brant. Only the Chinamen and Burke were left aboard her. Wesley Crane and Barstow, as well as Barry, Dick, and Captain Kempster, were ferried across to the cruiser.

They were placed in separate cabins and all under guard. Apart from that, they had no reason to complain of their treatment. An excellent supper was served to each, and their sleeping accommodation was equally good. Word was brought them that Captain Burnham would hold a court of inquiry on the following morning.

Dick, from his porthole, saw a boat cross again to the Brant. Aboard was an officer he had not seen before. He took it that he was the ship's doctor, going to see what he could do for Burke.

In spite of his troubles, Dick slept soundly enough. He woke to a singing of wind in the wireless high overhead and the lap of ripples against the steel sides of the ship. A glorious breeze was blowing, and he thought of Barry's bitter disappointment at not being able to take advantage of it.

But there was no use grousing. He got up, tubbed, and dressed, and presently a big marine brought him such a breakfast as he had not tasted for many weeks. The man did not speak, but by the way he eyed Dick, Dick felt sure that he was storing up a mental picture of the "boy pirate" for the edification of his fellows forward.

Presently the captain's galley went off, in the stern sheets Captain Burnham himself, a square-shouldered man with a hawk's nose and a trim yellow beard. Selby was with him.

"So he's going to talk to Burke," muttered Dick. "Let's hope he has sense enough to see through the fellow."

Captain Burnham was away for about half an hour, and soon after he returned to his ship the door of Dick's cabin slid back, and another marine appeared and told him politely that Captain Burnham wished to see him in his cabin.

Dick had never before seen captain's quarters in a warship. The size and spaciousness of the day cabin struck him with wonder. The interior was painted white and gold, there was a real fireplace, there were pictures, books, dainty hangings, and the whole was flooded with light and air from the large, square ports.

Captain Burnham sat at a table, his clerk beside him, and Selby on the other side. There was no one else in the cabin.

Dick was led up to the table facing the captain.

The captain fixed his keen eyes upon him.

"You are Richard Damer?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. That is my name."

"Take a seat, please."

The marine placed a chair and withdrew.

"I will ask you, Mr. Darner, to repeat the story you told to Lieutenant Selby last night," said Captain Burnham.

Dick did so readily. He told of his arrival in Australia, his encounter with Wesley Crane, his kidnapping aboard the Rainbow; then, saying as little as possible of his sufferings at the hands of Cripps, went on to speak of the rescue of Barry from the Kauri, the visit to Nameless Island, and the discovery of Captain Kempster.

From this he went on to the arrival at San Cristobal, the finding of the pearls, the fighting with Burke on the island, and eventually the arrival of Cripps and Crane in the steamer.

It was only when he told how he and Barry had got the Brant out and sunk the steamer that Captain Burnham interfered.

"Do you mean to say that you and Freeland and one Chinaman handled the schooner and the gun alone?"

"We had two Chinamen, sir. The Brant is very handy, and the breeze was light and fair. We had no great difficulty."

"That dodge of the dummy figures to draw fire does you credit," said the captain, with a slight smile. "Continue, please."

Dick finished his story, and was then asked to retire to his cabin again. As before, he was under guard.

There was a long wait. It was more than an hour before he was called again.

Then he found that Barry, as well as Kempster, Barstow, and Wesley Crane, were all in the cabin. All five were provided with seats, then Captain Burnham addressed them.

"Gentlemen, I have adopted the same plan as that of Lieutenant Selby. I have heard from each of you separately the stories of how you come to be in possession of the notorious Brant. The stories of Captain Kempster, of Captain Freeland, of Barstow, and of Damer, I find, tally in every respect. That of Mr. Crane, however, differs in some important particulars."

"It would!" broke in Barry contemptuously.

"I must ask you not to interrupt me," said the captain sharply. "I was going to say," he continued, "that Mr Crane's part in the whole curious business is so comparatively unimportant that his evidence is of less value in this inquiry than that of the rest of you."

Crane scowled, but said nothing.

"I have, however," went on the captain, "myself interviewed the injured man Burke, and, as he is seriously ill, have taken his depositions. This evidence, it is my duty to tell you, entirely contradicts that of the rest of you. Burke declares on oath that you were all part of his crew aboard the Brant. He swears that you assisted him in the raiding of the lagoon at Nameless Island, and sailed with him to San Cristobal. There, according to his evidence, you, Freeland, together with Barstow, led a mutiny, and stole the pearls. In the fighting that followed he accuses you of having caused the death of the four men—Redstall, Pyke, Wigram, and Dent.

"Burke's evidence, which has been given very fully and freely, and in which he does not spare himself, naturally weighs heavily. It has decided me that this case is beyond my jurisdiction. Under the circumstances I have decided to place a prize crew aboard the Brant, and send her to Sydney. You yourselves will remain in this ship until I can hand you over to the civil authorities."

For a moment there was dead silence. Four at least of the prisoners exchanged glances of intense dismay.

Dick was the first to recover himself.

"May I say something, sir?" he asked of the captain.

"Certainly, if it bears on the matter in hand."

"It is this. You say that Burke's evidence is valuable because he does not spare himself. But does that count. Burke is dying. His one idea is revenge. Neither the pearls nor the ship is of any use to him any longer. All he wants is to get even with us. Surely that goes far to reduce the value of his evidence."

Captain Burnham gave the boy a long and searching glance.

"There is something in what you say, Damer," he answered thoughtfully. "The man may be actuated by revenge. At the same time, the depositions of a dying man—and Dr. Parslow says that he cannot live much longer—are always of value in a court of law. I am most unwilling to do any injustice to you or your companions, but it is my candid opinion that the matter is beyond me, and can only be decided by a civil court on land."

"And then, even if we do win our case, we shall have wasted half the value of the pearls in law costs," said Barry bitterly—"to say nothing of months of time."

"I am sorry," said the captain. "But you will see that I have no choice. It is not as though any one of you were able to prove his identity. One of you, indeed"—looking at Barstow—"openly acknowledges that he has been a partner of Burke in his misdeeds."

"That's true, sir," said Barstow. "But, say. I haven't no objection to coming along with you, if you'll let these other folk free, captain. I guess I know 'em well enough to be right sure they'll keep my share o' the pearls against the day I've served my time."

For the first time Captain Burnham smiled.

"This is the best testimonial I have heard yet to the character of the rest of you. Indeed, I am sorry for the step which I feel compelled to take. But, as I said before, I have no choice in the matter."

He began to gather his papers together, as though the interview was at an end. Dick, however, was not beaten yet.

"One moment, sir!" he said sharply. "One moment! Suppose that I was able to prove that Burke was a liar, would that alter your opinion of his evidence?"

Captain Burnham hesitated.

"Upon my word, you are a very pertinacious person!" he said. "But, yes. If you could actually prove that fact, it would, of course, go far to destroy the value of the man's evidence."

"Then listen, sir! I think I know a way to do it..."


CHAPTER XXXIV. — WITS WIN.

"IT'S a queer plan, sir," said Dick, "but the only one I can think of. Will you tell me, please, did Burke say anything about the Chinamen who were, as I and Freeland have told you, part of the original crew of the Rainbow?"

"Yes; he told me that he picked them up out of a vessel which he sunk at Nameless Island."

Dick's eyes glowed.

"Oh, that was his story! Well, in that case, sir, of course, he would know their names, would he not?"

"Why—why, I suppose so," answered Captain Burnham, in evident surprise. "Yes, of course, he would, if he worked them as part of his crew during the passage to the Solomons."

"But, according to our story, he has never seen them, except Chang, the cook, who has helped to wait on him during the time he has been a prisoner aboard the Brant."

"That is so," replied Captain Burnham.

"Well, see here, sir," said Dick eagerly. "There are five of the Chinamen in all—four besides Chang—at present aboard the Brant. Now, if you would take the trouble to visit the ship again and see those Chinamen, then ask them their names, and write them down. When you have their names, let them be brought one by one into Burke's cabin, and see whether he knows them—see, I mean, what he calls them. If he is wrong, surely that would go far to prove him a liar."

Captain Burnham paused a moment. Then, for the second time that morning, a smile parted his lips.

"Upon my word, it is the very oddest proof I ever heard of! And yet—yet it is a good one. Very well, Damer, I agree. It shall be tried, and, under the circumstances, I think that you yourself shall be a witness of the trial."

He rose as he spoke.

"Order my galley, please, Mr. Selby," he said. "There will be plenty of time to try this experiment before lunch."

It was wonderful to see the relief pictured on the faces of Barry and the rest. But Dick had no opportunity to speak to any of his companions as he followed Captain Burnham out of the cabin and up the companion to the deck.

Two minutes later he was being ferried swiftly across to the Brant.

Captain Burnham set about carrying out the test with great thoroughness. First, he called up Chang, and got from him a list of his companions. Chang being head man, had this list written in Chinese characters on a sheet of rice-paper, which he carried with him. As luck would have it, Burnham, who had been years in the East, was able to read these.

Next he sent Chang away, and had other four up before him. One by one they approached, and each was made to write his name separately. He then put numbers, from one to four, opposite the names, and marked corresponding numbers in ink on the palms of the left hand of each man.

The Chinamen took the whole proceedings with their accustomed stolidity.

"Now we will go to Burke's cabin," said the captain.

He and Dick led the way. The Chinamen, under escort of two bluejackets, followed.

"I will see the man first," whispered Captain Burnham to Dick. "You will wait outside, and out of sight."

He opened the door and went in. Dick, standing silent outside, listened keenly.

"Burke," said Captain Burnham abruptly, "there is a matter on which I omitted to speak to you earlier this morning."

"Yes, sir. And what may that be?" Burke asked suavely.

"That of the Chinese portion of your crew. Their names did not appear in the deposition you signed this morning. For the purposes of justice it will be necessary to identify them."

"Just so, sir—just so. Well, I am sorry for them, but I suppose that they will have to appear in the dock with the rest? Of course, sir, you will understand that they are not so guilty as the rest. They only did what they were told by Barstow and Freeland and Damer."

Dick outside ground his teeth.

The captain answered coldly:

"They will have to stand their trial with the rest. I propose to bring them in one by one for you to identify them."

There was a momentary pause.

"Very good sir. I'll help you all I can, seeing it's all I can do now that I'm so near my own end."

The man's hypocrisy made Dick feel positively sick.

"Surely," he thought, "the captain must see through that sort of thing."

"Very well," Captain Burnham replied, and turned to his coxswain. "Jackson, bring in the first man."

Ah Lung was the first to be led into the little cabin.

"So it's you, Sam," said Burke. "Sam's what we call him, sir," he explained to the captain. "I don't know what his real name is."

"We will put him down as 'Sam,' then," said the captain blandly.

Outside, Dick's face lighted up. Burke had no doubt heard someone calling for Sam, but he had hit on the wrong man. This was mistake number one.

Ah Lung went out. The next to enter was the real Sam, whose Chinese name was San Hoang.

"This is Ping Lee, sir," said Burke, without hesitation.

"Thank you!" said the captain dryly, as he made a note on the pad in his hand. "Next, please!"

The third was Wing Lo. Burke at once addressed him as Chang Si, while the fourth, whose real name was Yuan, he called Lo Si Kai.

The captain turned to the door.

"Come in, Damer!" he said sharply.

Burke's great face, now waxen with illness, changed curiously as he saw Dick enter. His eyes, for the first time since Dick had seen him, seemed to shrink and turn cloudy.

"My man," said Burnham, in a voice that bit like steel, "your treachery has failed. I took the precaution of getting these men's real names before I brought them here. I had grave doubts of your story when I first heard it. Now I am thoroughly convinced that it was one pack of lies from beginning to end. You have done just the reverse of what you had hoped to do. So far from incriminating the others, you have removed from them all trace of suspicion."

For once Burke had no answer. The captain, without another look at him, left the cabin, went straight on deck, and motioned Dick into the boat.

Five minutes later they were on the deck of the Dione. The captain gave a brief order to his coxswain, and a few moments later Barry, Captain Kempster and Barstow appeared. They were looking very anxious and puzzled, but the sight of Dick's cheerful face did something to improve their spirits.

"Gentlemen," said Captain Burnham, and he spoke in a clear, ringing voice easily audible all over the decks, "the rest which this young man"—laying a kindly hand on Dick's arm—"has suggested has proved successful. The man Burke was utterly unable to identify a single one of the four Chinamen. I am satisfied with the truth of your story. You are free."

As he spoke he raised his hand to his cap in graceful salute.

"And now," he said, "as the wind is fair, and I know you are all in a hurry to be off, I will not detain you. The boat is at your orders."

Barry looked round.

"We might as well take Crane with us, sir. Damer here hopes to make a sailor of him before we get home."

The captain laughed outright.

"I wish you joy of the job, Damer. I'm afraid you won't find it an easy one. Well, I trust you will deal faithfully with him."

He saw them to the side, and after they were in the boat Wesley Crane, with a very scared face, was tumbled in after them, and they were pulled rapidly back to the Brant.

As Barry set foot once more on the schooner's deck he gave a long sigh of relief.

He turned to Dick.

"This is your doing, Dick," he said with more feeling than Dick had believed he possessed. "It's your doing, and I'll never forget it the longest day I live."

Then, before Dick could recover from his astonishment, Barry was once more the smart skipper, shouting orders in a voice which rang far over the bay.

Everyone sprang to help except Barstow, who was still too lame to do much. He look the wheel.

With extraordinary speed the anchor was hove tip and sails were set. Within less than half an hour the Brant, with every sail set and drawing, heeled to the breeze and ran swiftly for the harbour mouth.

As she passed the cruiser the whole watch lined the rails and gave her a rousing cheer, to which the Brant's people responded with hearty goodwill.

Outside the bay the wind blew strong and free, and the Brant, lying down till her lee rail was level with the sparkling brine, tore through it.

Barry glanced back over his shoulder at the cruiser, and once more drew a deep sigh of relief.

"They were decent to us, Dick," he said, "but, by Jove, I'm glad to see the last of her. That was a closer call than I liked. It's mighty little of our pearls would have been left if we'll had to fight the case out with those land sharks in the courts."

Dick nodded gravely.

"Burke very nearly did us down," he answered. "By the by, Captain Burnham said that if he survived we should have to hand him over to the authorities at Sydney."

"What! And waste days, perhaps weeks, giving evidence?" exclaimed Barry, horrified.

"I don't think you need worry, Barry," Dick answered. "By what the doctor said, he isn't likely to live very long."

At this moment Chang came up.

"Dinner, him leady, boss."

"And so am I," said Barry, recovering his spirits. "I'm as hungry as a horse."

Leaving Captain Kempster in charge, they went below. A savoury stew with a pile of baked yams awaited them.

Dick hesitated a moment before sitting down.

"I think I'll just go and have a look at Burke," he said, and stepped hastily aft to Burke's cabin.

A moment later Barry heard him call, and hurried after.

"He's dead," said Dick, in a low voice.


THE breeze held, and twelve days' steady sailing brought the Brant safe into Sydney Harbour. Those twelve days did something else. They made something approaching a man out of Wesley Crane. For Dick k had taken no advantage of his position to bully the man. He had merely insisted upon his doing his fair share of work, and Crane himself was not quite so low that he did not realise this fact and feel a certain gratitude towards Dick.

He confessed that he had been merely a clerk in the employ of Dick's uncle, Nicholas Damer, but that, when the latter died, he had, by means of a forged will, pretended that he was his heir.

So Dick, who was not in the humour to be hard, shook hands with him and forgave him, and promised to start him in some sort of business.

It fell to Dick and Captain Kempster to divide the pearl money. Everyone had his fair share, including Barstow and the Chinese crew. The latter, with one exception, packed off at once to their own country. The exception was Chang, who refused to leave Barry and Dick, and who is at present cooking for them and for Mrs. Barry at their place up country.


THE END