Chapter XXV. The Trail Through the Jungle
 

"Sid Merrick is certainly in deadly earnest," was Mr. Rover's comment, after the boys had finished their tale. "He means to get hold of that treasure by hook or by crook, and he will stop at nothing to gain his end."

"We want to go after him and his gang," said Dick. "We ought not to lose a minute doing it."

"Can you walk, Dick?"

"I guess so, although being tied up made me rather stiff."

"I see your wrist is bleeding."

"Yes, and I tried pretty hard to free myself."

"And I tried, too," added Sam. "But I couldn't budge a single knot."

"We could not unknot the knots," added Tom, who was bound to have his joke.

It was now morning, for which all were thankful. The lights were put out, and the whole party partook of some of the provisions on hand.

"I believe Merrick would have left us to starve," said Sam. "He is the greatest rascal I ever knew!"

The Rover boys pointed out the direction Sid Merrick and his party had taken. Bahama Bill said that trail was new to him, and if it led to the treasure cave he did not know it.

"But I'll know the cave as soon as I see it--if it is still there," he added.

"Well, you won't see it if it isn't there," said Dick, grimly. "That earthquake may have changed the whole face of that portion of the isle."

The trail appeared to make a wide sweep to the westward, and led them over ground that was unusually rough. The trailing vines were everywhere and they had to brush away innumerable spider webs as they progressed. Once Songbird came upon some spiders larger than any he had yet seen and two crawled on his shoulder, causing him to yell in fright.

"What's the matter?" asked Dick.

"Spiders! Two were just going to bite me, but I got rid of 'em!"

"Don't be afraid, Songbird," came from Tom. "Why don't you study them and write a poem about them?"

"A poem about spiders! Ugh!" And Songbird's face showed his disgust.

"Der spider vos a pusy little animal," observed Hans. "He sphins his veb und attends strictly to business. I dink I make up some boetry apout him," and the German boy began:

"Der vos von lettle sphider
Vot lifed owid in der voot,
He made himself a leetle veb
Und said dot it vos goot."

"Hurrah, for Hans!" cried Tom. "He's the true poet of spiderdom!" and then he added: "Hans, we'll crown you poet laureate if you say so."

"I ton't von no crown," answered Hans, complacently. "I chust so vell vear mine cap alretty."

As the party progressed the way become more uncertain, and at last they reached the edge of a swamp, beyond which was some kind of a canebrake. They saw numerous footprints in the soft soil, and these led further still to the westward.

"Listen!" said Dick, presently, and held up his hand.

All did as requested and from a distance heard somebody calling to somebody else. Then came a reply in Sid Merrick's voice.

"Merrick is talking to Shelley," said Dick. "They have lost the right trail, too."

"Hang the luck!" they heard Shelley say.

"No path at all?"

"None," answered Sid Merrick.

"There is no path here either--it's a regular jungle," came from Cuffer, who was not far off.

"I'm all stuck up with the thorns," put in Tad Sobber. "I think we were foolish to come to such a spot as this."

"You can go back if you want to," answered his uncle, who was evidently out of patience. "Nobody is keeping you."

"I am not going back alone--I couldn't find the way," answered Tad.

"Then don't growl."

"I reckon we'll all have to go back and wait till that Spaniard can show us the way," said Shelley.

"That's well enough to say, Shelley. But supposing those Rovers come here in the meantime?"

"Those boys?"

"Yes, and their father, and the others on that steam yacht," went on Sid Merrick earnestly.

"They can't find the cave any quicker than we can--if Wingate did as he promised."

"But if he didn't? He's a good deal of a coward and perhaps he didn't have the nerve to dose Bahama Bill."

More talk followed, but as the men were now moving in another direction the Rovers and their companions made out little more of the conversation.

"What shall we do, confront them?" asked Sam of his parent.

"Not if they are going back to their ship," answered Mr. Rover. "We can watch them and see what they do."

At the end of half an hour they saw that the Merrick party had started for the north side of the isle. They waited in silence until all were well out of hearing.

"I am glad we are rid of them--at least for the time being," said Anderson Rover. "Now we can continue the treasure hunt in peace."

"But dem fellers will be suah to come back," interposed Aleck.

"I know that, Aleck, but they won't come back right away. Evidently they are returning to their vessel to get that Spaniard, Doranez."

"I'd like to have punched Merrick's head for tying me up," growled Tom.

"It will be punishment enough for him if we get the treasure," answered Mr. Rover.

"If we do."

"You are not ready to give up yet, are you, Tom?"

"Oh, no. But finding that treasure isn't going to be as easy as I thought."

"We ought to be able to find some trace of the cave pretty soon--the isle is so small. If the isle was large it would be a different matter."

They decided to advance, some of the party skirting the swamp in one direction and some in another. It was difficult work and they did not wonder that Merrick and his party had given up in disgust. Occasionally they had to wade in water up to their ankles and then climb through brushwood that was all but impassible. They tore their clothing more than once, and scratches were numerous.

The sun had been shining brightly, but now, as if to add to their misery, it went under some heavy clouds, casting a deep gloom over the jungle.

"We are goin' to have a storm," said Bahama Bill. "An' when it comes I reckon it will be a lively one. I remember onct, when I was on the island o' Cuby, we got a hurricane that come Putty nigh to sweepin' everything off the place. It took one tree up jest whar I was standin' an' carried it 'bout half a mile out into the ocean. Thet tree struck the foremast o' a brig at anchor an' cut it off clean as a whistle. Some o' the sailors thought the end o' the world was comin'."

"They certainly do have some heavy hurricanes down here," remarked Anderson Rover. "But let us hope we'll escape all such, even though we get a wetting," he added, as he felt a few drops of rain.

Soon it was raining steadily, and when they reached a spot clear of trees they got soaked to the skin. But as it was very warm they did not mind this.

"It's like taking a bath without troubling about undressing," said Tom, and this remark caused a smile.

They were now in a bunch once more, with Bahama Bill leading them. The old tar was looking sharply ahead and soon he gave a grunt of satisfaction.

"What is it?" asked Anderson Rover eagerly. "I know where I am now," was the reply.

"And unless that earthquake knocked it skyhigh thet cave ought to be right ahead o' us!"