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HOME > Short Stories > The Sportman's Club Afloat > CHAPTER III. OUTWITTED.
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“Well,” continued Walter, after he and his companions had walked out of earshot of Mr. Bell; “what do you think of that.”
“Let somebody else tell,” said Bab. “It bangs me completely.”
“Now I’ll tell you something,” observed Perk: “He is trying to humbug us—I could see it in his eye. If there is a fellow among us who didn’t see Henry Chase standing in the mouth of the cave, when we rounded the point, and hear him shout to us that that schooner there is a smuggler, and that Fred Craven is a prisoner on board of her, let him say so.”
Perk paused, and the Banner’s crew looked at one another, but no one spoke. They had all seen Chase, and had heard and understood his words.
“That is proof enough that Chase is on the[46] island,” said Walter, “for it is impossible that five of us should have been so deceived. Now, if we heard and saw him, what’s the reason Mr. Bell didn’t? That pirogue must be hidden about here somewhere. If you fellows will look around for it, I will go back to the yacht, see how our deserters are getting on, and bring a lantern and an axe. Then we’ll go up and give ‘The Kitchen’ a thorough overhauling.”
Walter hurried off, and his crew began beating about through the bushes, looking for the pirogue. They searched every inch of the ground they passed over, peeping into hollow logs, and up into the branches of the trees, and examining places in which one of the paddles of the canoe could scarcely have been stowed away, but without success. There was one place however, where they did not look, and that was in the fire, beside which Mr. Bell lay. Had they thought of that, they might have found something.
When Walter returned with the axe and the lighted lantern, the crew reported the result of their search, and the young captain, disappointed and more perplexed than ever, led the way toward “The Kitchen.” While they were going up the gully, they[47] stopped to cut a pole, with which to ascend to the cave, and looked everywhere for signs of anybody having passed along the path that night; but it was dark among the bushes, and the light of the lantern revealed not a single foot-print. Arriving at the bluff, they placed the pole against the ledge, and climbing up one after the other, entered the cave, leaving Eugene at the mouth to keep an eye on the yacht, and on the movements of the smugglers below. But their search here was also fruitless. There was the wood which the last visitors from the village had provided to cook their meals, the dried leaves that had served them for a bed, and the remains of their camp-fire; but that was all. The axe that had done Chase such good service, his blankets, bacon, and everything else he had brought there, as well as the boy himself, had disappeared.
Eugene, who was deeply interested in the movements of his companions, did not perform the part of watchman very well. On two or three occasions he left his post and entered the cave to assist in the search; and once when he did this, Mr. Bell, who still kept his recumbent position by the fire, made a sign with his hand, whereupon two men glided from the bushes that lined the beach, and clambering[48] quickly over the side of the smuggling vessel, crept across the deck and dived into the hold. Eugene returned to the mouth of the cave just as they went down the ladder, but did not see them.
“Now then,” said Walter, when the cave had been thoroughly searched, “some of you fellows who are good at unravelling mysteries, explain this. What has become of Chase? Did he leave the cave of his own free will, and if so, how did he get out? We found no pole by which he could have descended, and consequently he must have hung by his hands from the ledge and dropped to the ground. But he would not have done that for fear of a sprained ankle. He surely did not allow any one to come up here and take him out, for with a handful of these rocks he could have held the cave against a dozen men. Besides, he would have shouted for help, and we should have heard him.”
None of the crew had a word to say in regard to Chase’s mysterious disappearance. They sighed deeply, shook their heads, and looked down at the ground, thus indicating quite as plainly as they could have done by words, that the matter was altogether too deep for their comprehension. More bewildered than ever, they followed one another[49] down the pole, and retraced their steps toward the beach.
“What shall we do to pass away the time until the tug and cutter arrive?” asked Perk. “I wish that schooner could find a tongue long enough to tell us what she’s got stowed away in her hold.”
“If she could, and told you the truth, she would assure you that Fred Craven is there,” said Wilson, confidently. “Of that I am satisfied. He’s on some vessel, for Chase told me so while we were at Coulte’s cabin. If this schooner is an honest merchantman, why did she come in here? There’s nothing the matter with her that I can see. She didn’t come in to get out of the wind, for she can certainly stand any sea that the Banner can outride. Coulte and his sons belong to the smugglers, because I heard Bayard say so. Chase told me that he was to be carried to the island in a pirogue, and we met her as she came down the bayou. Now, put these few things together, and to my mind they explain the character of this vessel and the reason why she is here.”
“Go on,” said Eugene. “Put a few other things together, and see if you can explain where Chase went in such a hurry.”
“That is beyond me quite. But the matter will be cleared up in a very few minutes,” added Wilson, gleefully, “for here comes the cutter.”
As he spoke, the revenue vessel came swiftly around the point; and so overjoyed were the boys to see her, that they swung their hats around their heads and greeted her with cheers that awoke a thousand echoes among the bluffs. Being better handled than the Banner was when she came in, she glided between the two vessels lying in the cove, and running her bowsprit among the bushes on the bank, came to a stand still without even a jar. Her captain had evidently made preparations to perform any work he might find to do without the loss of a moment; for no sooner had the cutter swung round broadside to the bank, than a company of men with small-arms tumbled over the side, followed by the second lieutenant, and finally by the commander himself.
“Here we are again, captain,” said the latter, as Walter came up, “and all ready for business. Bring on your smugglers.”
“There they are, sir,” answered Walter, pointing to the crew of the schooner, who had once more[51] congregated about the fire, “and there’s their vessel.”
“That!” exclaimed the second lieutenant, opening his eyes in surprise. “You’re mistaken, captain. That is the Stella—a trader from Bellville, bound for Havana, with an assorted cargo—hams, bacon, flour, and the like. I boarded her to-night and examined her papers myself. She no doubt put in here on account of stress of weather.”
“Stress of weather!” repeated Walter, contemptuously. “That little yacht has come from Bellville since midnight, and never shipped a bucket of water; and the schooner is four times as large as she is. Stress of weather, indeed!”
“Well, she is all right, any how.”
“I am sure, captain, that if you will take the trouble to look into things a little, you will find that she is not all right—begging the lieutenant’s pardon for differing with him so decidedly,” said Walter. “Some strange things have happened since we came here.”
“Well, captain, I will satisfy you on that point, seeing that you are so positive,” replied the commander of the revenue vessel. “Mr. Harper,”[52] he added, turning to the lieutenant, “send your men on board the cutter and come with me.”
A landsman would have seen no significance in this order, but Walter and his crew did, and they were not at all pleased to hear it. The sending of the men back on board the vessel was good evidence that the revenue captain did not believe a word they said, and that he was going to “look into things,” merely to satisfy what he thought to be a boyish curiosity. It is not likely that he would have done even this much, had he not been aware that the young sailors had influential friends on shore who might have him called to account for any neglect of duty. Walter’s disgust and indignation increased as they approached the fire. The men composing the crew of the smuggling vessel stepped aside to allow them to pass, and Mr. Bell advanced with outstretched hand, to greet the revenue captain.
“Why, how is this?” exclaimed the latter, accepting the proffered hand and shaking it heartily. “I did not expect to find you here, Mr. Bell. Ah! Captain Conway, good morning to you,” he added, addressing the red-whiskered master of the schooner. “Captain Gaylord, there is no necessity of carrying this thing any farther. The presence of these[53] two gentlemen, with both of whom I am well acquainted, is as good evidence as I want that the schooner is not a smuggler.”
“A smuggler!” repeated the master of the Stella.
“Why, what is the matter?” asked Mr. Bell, opening his eyes in surprise, and looking first at Walter, and then at the revenue captain, while the crew of the schooner crowded up to hear what was going on.
“Why the truth is, that this young gentleman has got some queer ideas into his head concerning your vessel. He thinks she is the smuggler of which I have been so long in search.”
“And I have the best of reasons for thinking so,” said Walter; not in the least terrified or abashed by the angry glances that were directed toward him from all sides. “In the first place, does she not correspond with the description you have in your possession?”
“I confess that she does,” replied the revenue captain, running his eye over the schooner from cross-trees to water-line.
“She answers the description much better than the yacht, does she not?”
“Yes. But then she has papers, which my lieutenant[54] has examined, and I know these two gentlemen. You had no papers, and I was not acquainted with a single man on board your vessel.”
“A smuggler!” repeated the red-whiskered captain, angrily; “I don’t believe there’s such a thing in the Gulf.”
“I am inclined to agree with you,” answered the revenue commander. “I have looked everywhere, without finding one.”
“I own the cargo with which this vessel is loaded,” said Mr. Bell, producing his pocket-book, and handing some papers to the revenue captain, who returned them without looking at them, “and there are the receipts of the merchants from whom I purchased it. I am a passenger on her because I believe that, by going to Cuba, I can dispose of the cargo to much better advantage than I could sell it through agents. That is why I am here.”
“And the schooner is heavily loaded, and I couldn’t make the run without straining her,” said the master of the Stella. “Having got into the cove I must wait until the wind dies away before I can go out. That’s why I am here.”
The commander of the cutter listened with an air which said very plainly, that this was all unnecessary—that[55] he had made up his mind and it could not be changed—and then turned to Walter as if to ask what he had to say in reply.
“What these men have said may be true and it may not,” declared the young captain, boldly. “The way to ascertain is to search the schooner. There are some articles on board of her that are not down in her bills of lading.”
“And if there are it is no business of mine,” returned the commander of the cutter.
“It isn’t!” exclaimed Walter in great amazement. “Then I’d like to know just how far a revenue officer’s business extends. Haven’t you authority to search any vessel you suspect?”
“Certainly I have; but I don’t suspect this schooner. And, even if I did, I would not search her now, because she is outward bound. If she has contraband articles on board, the Cuban revenue officers may look to it, for I will not. All I have to do is to prevent, as far as lies in my power, articles from being smuggled into the United States; I don’t care a snap what goes out.”
“But you ought to care. There is a boy on board that schooner, held as a prisoner.”
“Why is he held as a prisoner?”
“Because he knows something about the smugglers, and they are afraid to allow him his liberty.”
“Humph!” exclaimed Mr. Bell.
“Every word of that is false,” cried the master of the Stella, who seemed to be almost beside himself with fury. “It is a villainous attempt to injure me and my vessel.”
“Keep your temper, captain,” said the commander of the cutter. “I want to see if this young man knows what he is talking about. Where are those two smugglers who brought that boy over here in a canoe?”
“I don’t know, sir. We have searched the island and can find no trace of them.”
“That is a pretty good sign that they are not here. Where is the boat they came in?”
“I don’t know that either. It is also missing.”
“Where is the boy they brought with them?”
“When the Banner rounded the point he was standing in the mouth of that cave,” replied Walter, pointing to the Kitchen, “and shouted to us to get away from here while we could—that this schooner is a smuggler and that Fred Craven is a prisoner on board of her.”
“Well, where is the boy now?”
“I can’t tell you, sir.”
“Isn’t he on the island?”
“We can find no signs of him.”
“Then he hasn’t been here to-night.”
“He certainly has,” replied Walter, “for we saw him and heard him too.”
“Who did?”
“Every one of the crew of the Banner.”
“Did anybody else? Did you, Mr. Bell? Or you, Captain Conway? Or any of your men?”
The persons appealed to answered with a most decided negative. They had seen no boy in the cave, heard no voice, and knew nothing about a prisoner or a pirogue. There was one thing they did know, however, and that was that no dugout that was ever built could traverse forty miles of the Gulf in such a sea as that which was running last night.
“Well, young man,” said the revenue officer, addressing the captain of the yacht somewhat sternly, “I am sure I don’t know what to think of you.”
“You are at liberty to think what you please, sir,” replied Walter, with spirit. “I have told you the truth, if you don’t believe it search that schooner.”
“You have failed to give me any reason why I should do so. Your story is perfectly ridiculous. You say that a couple of desperate smugglers captured an acquaintance of yours and put him in a canoe; that you met them in a bayou on the main shore and had a fight with them; that they eluded you and came out into the Gulf in a gale that no small boat in the world could stand, and brought their prisoner to this island. When I expressed a reasonable doubt of the story, you offered, if I would come here with you, to substantiate every word of it. Now I am here, and you can not produce a scrap of evidence to prove that you are not trying to make game of me. The men, the boy, and the boat they came in, are not to be found. I wouldn’t advise you to repeat a trick of this kind or you may learn to your cost that it is a serious matter to trifle with a United States officer when in the discharge of his duty. Mr. Bell, as the wind has now subsided so that I can go out, I wish you good-by and a pleasant voyage.”
“One moment, captain,” said Walter, as the revenue commander was about to move off; “perhaps you will think I am trifling with you, if I tell[59] you that I have some deserters from your vessel on board my yacht.”
“Have you? I am glad to hear it. I have missed them, and I know who they are. I thought they had gone ashore at Bellville, and it was by stopping to look for them that I lost so much time. Haul your yacht alongside the cutter and put them aboard.”
“I am going to set them at liberty right where the yacht lies,” replied Walter, indignant at the manner in which the revenue captain had treated him, and at the insolent tone of voice in which the order was issued; “and you can stand by to take charge of them or not, just as you please.”
“How many of them are there?”
“Only two? Then the others must have gone ashore at Bellville, after all,” added the captain, turning to his second lieutenant. “I wish they had taken your vessel out of your hands and run away with it. You need bringing down a peg or two, worse than any boy I ever saw.”
Walter, without stopping to reply, turned on his heel, and walked around the cove to the place where the Banner lay, followed by his crew, who[60] gave vent to their astonishment and indignation in no measured terms. The deserters were released at once. When informed that their vessel was close at hand, and that their captain was expecting them, they ascended to the deck, looking very much disappointed and crestfallen, and stood in the waist until the cutter came alongside and took them off. They were both powerful men, and the boy-tars were glad indeed that they had been discovered before they gained a footing on deck. If Walter had been in his right mind he would have examined the hold after those two men left it; but he was so bewildered by the strange events that had transpired since he came into the cove, that he could think of nothing else.
While the crew of the yacht were liberating the deserters, the smuggling vessel filled away for the Gulf—her captain springing upon the rail long enough to shake his fist at Walter—and as soon as she was fairly out of the cove, the cutter followed, and shaped her course toward Bellville.
The boys watched the movements of the two vessels in silence, and when they had passed behind the point out of sight, turned with one accord to[61] Walter, who was thoughtfully pacing his quarter-deck, with his hands behind his back.
“Eugene,” said the young captain, at length, “did you keep an eye on the smuggler all the time that we were in The Kitchen?”
“O, yes,” replied Eugene, confidently. “I saw everything that happened on her deck.” And he thought he did, but he forgot that he had two or three times left his post.
“You didn’t see Chase taken on board the schooner, did you?”
“I certainly did not. If I had, I should have said something about it.”
“Then there is only one explanation to this mystery: Chase was somehow spirited out of the cave and hidden on the island. We will make one more attempt to find him. Three of us will go ashore and thoroughly search these woods and cliffs, and the others stay and watch the yacht.”
Walter, Perk, and Bab, after arming themselves with handspikes, sprang ashore and bent their steps toward The Kitchen to begin their search for the missing Chase. As before, no signs of him were found in the cave, although every nook and crevice large enough to conceal a squirrel, was peeped into.[62] Next the gully received a thorough examination, and finally they came to the bushes on the side of the bluff. A suspicious-looking pile of leaves under a rock attracted Bab’s attention, and he thrust his handspike into it. The weapon came in contact with something which struggled feebly, and uttered a smothered, groaning sound, which made Bab start back in astonishment.
“What have you there?” asked Walter, from the foot of the bluff.
“I don’t know, unless it is a varmint of some kind that has taken up his winter quarters here. Come up, and let’s punch him out.”
Perk and Walter clambered up the bluff to the ledge, and while one raised his handspike in readiness to deal the “varmint” a death-blow the instant he showed himself, the others cautiously pushed aside the leaves, and presently disclosed to view—not a wild animal, but a pair of heavy boots, the heels of which were armed with small silver spurs. One look at them was enough. With a common impulse the three boys dropped their handspikes, and pulling away the leaves with frantic haste, soon dragged into sight the missing boy, securely bound and gagged, and nearly suffocated. To give him[63] the free use of his hands and feet, and remove the stick that was tied between his teeth, was but the work of a moment. When this had been done, Chase slowly raised himself to a sitting posture, gasping for breath, and looking altogether pretty well used up.
“You don’t know how grateful I am to you, fellows,” said he, at last, speaking in a hoarse whisper. “I’ve had a hard time of it during the half hour I have been stowed away in that hole, and I never expected to see daylight again.”
“Now I’ll tell you what’s a fact,” said Perk. “You never would have got out of there alive if Walter hadn’t been thoughtful enough to search the island before going home. Now let me ask you something: Where did you go in such a hurry, after shouting to us from the mouth of The Kitchen?”
“I can’t talk much, fellows, till I get something to moisten my tongue,” was the almost indistinct reply. “If you will help me to the spring, I will tell you all about it. Where are the smugglers?”
“Don’t know. We haven’t seen any,” said Walter.
“You haven’t?” whispered Chase, in great[64] amazement. “Didn’t you see those men who were standing on the beach when you came in?”
“Yes; but they are not smugglers. They’ve got clearance papers, and the captain of the cutter says he knows they are all right. Besides, one of them was Mr. Bell.”
“No difference; I know they are smugglers by their own confession, and that Mr. Bell is the leader of them. O, it’s a fact, fellows; I know what I am talking about. Where are they now?”
“Gone! Where?”
“To Havana, most likely. That’s the port their vessel cleared for.”
“And did you rescue Fred Craven? I know you didn’t by your looks. Well, you’ll have to find that schooner again if you want to see him, for he’s on board of her, and—wait till I rest awhile, fellows, and get a drink of water.”
Seeing that it was with the greatest difficulty that Chase could speak, Perk and Walter lifted him to his feet, and assisted him to walk down the gully, while Bab followed after, carrying the handspikes on his shoulder. Arriving at the spring, Chase lay down beside it and took a large and hearty drink,[65] now and then pausing to testify to the satisfaction he felt by shaking his head, and uttering long-drawn sighs. After quenching his thirst, and taking a few turns up and down the path to stretch his arms and legs, he felt better.

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