Page:In the Roar of the Sea.djvu/396

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ing darkness drawing shoreward with the rising tide; but it was certain that for another hour or two the men would have to wait before she dropped anchor, and those ashore came down to the unloading.

A lantern was lighted, and the cave was explored. Certainly Coppinger's men from the land would arrive before the boats from the Black Prince, and it was determined to at once arrest them, and then await the contingent in the boats, and fall on them as they landed. The party was small, it consisted of but seven men, and it was advisable to deal with the smugglers piecemeal.

The men, having leisure, brought out their food, and tapped the keg they had procured at the Rock. It was satisfactory to them that the Black Prince was apparently bent on discharging the cargo that night and in that place, thus they would not have to wait in the cave twenty-four hours, and not, after all, be disappointed.

"All your pistols charged?" asked Wyvill.

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Then take your suppers while you may. We shall have hot work presently. Should a step be heard below, throw a bit o' sailcloth over the lantern, Samson."

Oliver was neither hungry nor thirsty. He had both eaten and drunk sufficient when at the station. He therefore left the men to make their collation, prime their spirits, pluck up their courage, screw up their nerves, polish their wits, all with the same instrument, and descended the slope of shingle, stooped under the brow of rock that divided the lower from the upper cave, and made his way to the entrance, and thence out over the sands of the cove. He knew that the shore could be reached only by the donkey-path, or by the dangerous track down the chimney—a track he had not discovered till he had made a third exploration of the cave. Down this tortuous and perilous descent he was convinced the smugglers would not come. It was, he saw, but rarely used, and designed as a way of escape only on an emergency. A too-frequent employment of this path would have led to a treading of the turf on the cliff above, and to a marking of the line of descent, that would have attracted the attention of the curious, and revealed to the explorer the place of retreat.

Oliver, therefore, went forward toward the point where the donkey-path reached the sands, deeming it