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HOME > Short Stories > The Sportman's Club Afloat > CHAPTER VII. DON CASPER.
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 Many were the speculations in which Chase and Wilson indulged, as they were whirled along over the rough road, and bumped about from one side to the other of the cotton wagon. What sort of a situation was Featherweight in? Where had Walter and Perk found the wagon; and how had they made the negro understand the service required of him, seeing that the man could speak neither English nor French, and the captain and his companion could not talk Spanish? These, and a multitude of questions of like character, occupied the minds of the boy-tars for the next half hour, and during that time, they left the village more than five miles behind them; but still they were whirled along without the least diminution of speed, the negro swinging his whip and yelling with all the power of his lungs, and the heavy wagon rolling and plunging in a way that reminded the young[130] sailors of the antics the Banner had performed during her voyage across the Gulf. “There’s one thing about it”—shouted Wilson, holding fast to the side of the vehicle, and speaking in a very loud tone of voice, in order to make himself heard—“if Walter told this darkey to drive fast, he is obeying orders most faithfully. Where do you suppose he is taking us? And tell me, if you can, how Walter and Perk could have got so far out into the country, during the hour and a half they have been gone from the vessel?”
“That is the very question that was passing through my own mind,” said Chase. “To tell the truth, there’s something about this business that doesn’t look exactly right.”
“Well, you needn’t mind knocking my brains out, if it doesn’t look exactly right,” roared Wilson, as a sudden lurch of the wagon brought his friend’s head in violent contact with his own. “Keep on your side if you can, Chase.”
The loud rumbling of the wheels, and the rocking and swaying of the clumsy vehicle as it flew over the uneven road, proved an effectual check to conversation. The boys clung to opposite sides of the wagon, noting the different objects of interest[131] as they sped along, and wondering what was to be the end of this adventure. Every mile of the way, they saw something to remind them that Cuba was in a state of insurrection. Groups of excited men were gathered in front of every plantation house they passed, and now and then they met squads of government patrols riding leisurely along the road. The officers of these squads all looked suspiciously at the boys, as they dashed by, and one, in particular, bent such savage glances upon them, that they were glad when he had passed out of sight.
“I say, Wilson,” shouted Chase, suddenly, “do you know that the expression on that officer’s face, has set me to thinking?”
“I don’t doubt it,” yelled Wilson, in reply. “It set me to thinking, too. Wouldn’t it have been a joke on us, if he had taken us for spies or something, and arrested us?”
“I confess, I can’t see where the joke would come in. How could we ever get out of a scrape of that kind? We are in a strange country, among people who speak a language different from ours, and we haven’t a friend within seven or eight hundred miles. It would be a serious matter for us, the first thing you know. I am glad that fierce-looking[132] fellow is out of sight, and I hope we shall not meet another like him.”
If the boys had known what the officer did in less than five minutes after they met him, they might not have felt so very much relieved after all. He rode straight ahead, until a bend in the road concealed him from view, and then suddenly halting his squad, addressed a few words to two of his men, who wheeled their horses and galloped back in pursuit of the young sailors. They rode just fast enough to keep the wagon in sight, and when they saw it draw up at the door of a plantation house, they faced about again and hurried back to their companions. They must have had some exciting report to make, for when their officer heard it, he ordered his men into their saddles, and led them down the road at a rapid gallop.
When the negro driver reined his mules through a wide gateway, and drew up in front of the door of the house of which we have spoken, the boys knew that their ride was ended. They were glad of it, for it was anything but pleasant to be jolted and bumped about over such roads as those they had just traversed. They jumped out when the wagon stopped, and after stretching their arms and[133] legs, and knocking the dust out of their hats, looked about them with interest. They saw before them a large and comfortable plantation house, situated in a little grove of oleanders and orange trees, flanked by neat negro quarters, and surrounded by extensive sugar-fields, which stretched away on every side. They looked around for Walter and Perk, but could see nothing of them. They were not allowed much time for making observations, however, for the moment the wagon stopped, a portly foreign-looking gentleman, whom the boys at once put down as the proprietor of the plantation, made his appearance at the door. He looked curiously at his visitors, and while the latter were wondering what they ought to say to him, the negro driver mounted the steps, and taking a letter from the crown of his hat, handed it to his master. The reading of the document had an astonishing effect upon the man. He opened his eyes to their widest extent, and muttering something in Spanish, hurried down the steps, and seized each of the boys by the hand.
“Come in! come in!” said he, hurriedly, and in tolerable English. “I am delighted to see you, but I am surprised that Captain Conway should[134] have sent you out here in the day time. Come in, before the patrols see you.”
Chase and Wilson looked inquiringly at one another. “Captain Conway!” whispered the latter, as he and his companion followed the gentleman up the steps. “If he had any hand in sending us here, we are in a scrape, as sure as we’re a foot high.”
“I would give something to know what is in that letter,” said Chase. “Where are Walter and Perk?”
“Haven’t the slightest idea; but I know that we shall not find them here. The chances are ten to one that we shall never see them again. If there were not so many negroes standing around, I would take to my heels in short order.”
Chase was bewildered and perplexed beyond measure. The simple mention of the name of the captain of the Stella, had aroused a thousand fears in his mind; and imagining that all sorts of dreadful things were about to happen to him, he was more than half inclined to spring off the steps and make a desperate dash for his freedom, in spite of the presence of the negroes; but while he was thinking about it, the foreign-looking gentleman conducted[135] him and his companion through the hall and into a room, the door of which he was careful to close and lock behind him. The two boys watched his movements with a good deal of anxiety, and while Wilson glanced toward the open window, Chase stepped forward and confronted the man.
“I am afraid,” said he, “that there is some mistake here, Mr.—— Mr.—— ”
“Don Casper Nevis,” said the gentleman, supplying the name. “There is no mistake whatever.”
“But where is the captain?” continued Chase, “we expected to find him here.”
“O, he’ll not come until dark; and he ought not to have sent you out here in broad daylight, when he knows that every mile of the road is guarded. Where is the schooner?”
“We left her at the wharf.”
“She ought to be up here. These Spanish officers are getting to be very strict lately, and it is a wonder they didn’t search her the moment she landed. I understand that both you and your vessel are known and suspected. You must be very cautious. Your safest plan would be to go back to town, and have the schooner brought into the bay[136] at the rear of my plantation. I have boats there, and everything in readiness.”
“But, Don,” replied Chase, “I don’t see the necessity for so much secrecy.”
“My young friend, you don’t understand the matter at all,” said Don Casper with a smile. “But you are weary with travel, and we will say no more about it, until you have refreshed yourselves. We shall have ample time to make all the arrangements after you have drank a cup of chocolate and eaten a piece of toast.”
As the Don said this, he unlocked the door and went out, leaving the boys to themselves.
“Didn’t I tell you that this thing didn’t look just right?” demanded Chase, in an excited whisper. “That darkey has made a mistake, and brought us to the wrong house.”
“But how in the name of sense could he do that?” asked Wilson, utterly confounded. “He must have known where Walter was when he gave him that note. By the way, let me look at it a moment.”
Chase handed out the letter, and was more amazed and alarmed than ever by the expression that settled on his friend’s face as he ran his eye over the missive.[137] “What’s the matter now?” he asked. “Anything else wrong?”
“Nothing much,” was the answer; “only that’s not Walter Gaylord’s writing—that’s all.”
“Eh!” exclaimed Chase, jumping from his chair.
“O, it is the truth, as you will find out when you meet Walter again. I can tell his writing as far as I can see it.”
“Then who wrote this letter?”
“I wish I knew. Somebody has humbugged us very nicely, and I believe that Captain Conway and Mr. Bell are at the bottom of it.”
“Let’s jump out of this window and make the best of our way back to town,” exclaimed Chase, almost beside himself with excitement and terror. “There’s no knowing what this old Creole intends to do to us.”
“And there’s no knowing what may happen to the Banner in our absence. What if those deserters should run off with her? Here we are in Cuba, without a cent in our pockets, and if we should lose the yacht how would we ever get home?”
“Gracious!” exclaimed Chase.
“I’ll jump out of the window and run if you will,” continued Wilson.
With a common impulse the two boys arose from their seats and moved across the floor on tiptoe; but just as Chase placed his hands on the window-sill preparatory to springing out, the door suddenly opened, and three negroes came in—one bringing a small table, and each of the others carrying a tray filled with dishes and eatables on his head. So sudden was their entrance that the boys did not have time to retreat to their chairs, and Chase remained standing with his hands on the window-sill, gazing steadily out into the sugar-field as if he saw something there that interested him very much, while Wilson, with his hands clasped behind his back, and his head turned on one side, appeared to be lost in admiration of a picture that hung on the wall.
The boys stood in these positions until they were aroused by a tap on the shoulder. They turned to find themselves alone with one of the negroes, and to see the table spread in front of a window, and loaded with a most tempting display of viands. They did not wait for a second invitation. They had taken no breakfast; there was no knowing when and where they would obtain another meal; and there was no reason why they should go hungry[139] even if they were in trouble. No one, to have seen them at the table, would have imagined that they were under any apprehensions of danger, for the way the eggs and toast disappeared was wonderful; but in the midst of their enjoyment, and before their appetites were half appeased, the door was suddenly thrown open and Don Casper entered pale and breathless.
“The patrol!” he almost gasped. “It is just as I feared it would be. You have been seen and followed, and if you are found here, I am ruined. No time is to be lost. Come with me immediately.”
The man spoke so hurriedly and brokenly that the boys could not understand all he said, and consequently they were at a loss to determine what the danger was that threatened them. But the expression on the face of their host warned them that there was something amiss; and without stopping to ask questions, they caught up their hats and followed him from the room. As they were hurrying along the hall, they glanced toward the gate and, through a dense cloud of dust, raised by a multitude of horses’ hoofs, they caught a partial glimpse of a squadron of troopers who were galloping into the yard. And these were not the only soldiers upon[140] the premises, as they found when they reached the door which opened upon the back verandah. There was another squad of cavalrymen approaching along the lane that led to the negro quarters. The house was surrounded.
“Gracias á Dios!” ejaculated the Don, turning ghastly pale.
“What’s the matter?” asked Wilson, innocently. “We have done nothing wrong, and we are not afraid of the patrols.”
“Nothing wrong!” the Don almost shrieked. “Is it nothing to smuggle cases of arms into a country in a state of rebellion?”
“Cases of arms!” repeated Chase.
“Smuggle!” echoed Wilson. “We know a smuggler, but we never——”
“Don’t stop to talk,” interrupted the Don, almost fiercely; and as he spoke he seized the boys by their arms, and dragged them along the hall and down a flight of rickety steps that led into the cellar. Chase and Wilson, more perplexed than ever, tried to gain his ear for a moment, but he seemed all of a sudden to have been struck both deaf and dumb, for he would say nothing or listen to nothing, but hurried them along through utter darkness, and[141] finally, after giving them both a strong push, released his hold of them. A moment afterward the boys heard a door softly closed behind them, and a key turned in a lock. Filled with consternation, they stood for a few seconds speechless and motionless, listening intently, and afraid to move for fear of coming in contact with something in the darkness. Chase was the first to break the silence.
“Well, this beats all the scrapes I ever got into,” said he. “Do you begin to see through it yet?”
“I believe I do,” replied Wilson. “The last words that old Creole uttered, explain the matter clearly. He takes us for smugglers, and imagines that we have come here with a cargo of small-arms.”
“How did he get that impression?” asked Chase, who wanted to see how far his friend’s opinions coincided with his own.
“Through the note that negro gave him.”
“Who wrote that note?”
“Mr. Bell. He saw us come into the harbor, and he would have been dull indeed if he could not guess what brought us there. He and his crew have set themselves at work to outwit us, as they outwitted the revenue captain in the Cove.”
“And they have accomplished their object, and[142] got us into a pretty mess besides. They are altogether too smart for us. What’s that?”
The tramping of feet, the rattling of sabres, and the jingling of spurs sounded from the rooms overhead, telling them that the soldiers had arrived and were searching the house. Backward and forward passed the heavy footsteps, and presently they were heard upon the cellar stairs. The boys listened with curiosity rather than fear, and by the sounds which came to them from the cellar could tell pretty nearly what the soldiers were doing. They heard them talking to one another, and overturning boxes and barrels, and they knew too when the search was abandoned, and the soldiers returned to the room above.
The young tars did not breathe any easier after they were gone, for they were not in the least frightened by the proximity of the Spanish troopers. They were not smugglers, and they could prove the fact to anybody’s satisfaction. They almost wished they had not permitted the Don to conceal them, for that of itself looked like a confession of guilt, and might be used as evidence against them in case they were captured. The papers, which were safely stowed away in Walter’s desk in the cabin of the[143] Banner, would show who they were and where they came from, and a few minutes’ examination of the yacht would prove that there were no small-arms on board of her. The boys thought of all these things, and waited impatiently for the Don to come and release them. They wanted to explain matters to him, if they could by any possibility induce him to listen.
For fully half an hour the troopers continued to search the house, and at the end of that time, having satisfied themselves that the boys were beyond their reach, they mounted their horses and galloped out of the yard. The young sailors now became more impatient than ever for the Don to make his appearance, but they waited in vain. They held their breath and listened, but could not hear a single footstep. The house was as silent as if it had been deserted. As the hours dragged slowly by without bringing any one to their relief, the boys became harassed by a new fear, and that was that the master of the plantation did not intend to release them—that he was keeping them locked up for some purpose of his own. Filled with dismay at the thought, they arose from the boxes on which they had seated themselves, and began moving[144] cautiously about their prison with extended arms. A few minutes’ examination of the apartment showed them that it was a wine-cellar, for there were shelves on three sides of it, which were filled with bottles. On the fourth side was the door, and that was the only opening in the walls. There was no window to be found, nor even a crevice large enough to admit a ray of light. There was no way of escape. Wilson, determined to make the best of the matter, kept up a tolerably brave heart, but Chase, as was usual with him when in trouble, became despondent.
“We’re here,” said he, in a gloomy voice, “and here we may remain for the term of our natural lives, for all we know. If Mr. Bell wrote that note which we thought came from Walter, I know what object he had in view. This Don Casper is a friend of his, and now that he has got us in his power, he is going to hold fast to us.”
“He won’t if he gives us the least chance for our liberty,” said Wilson, striving to keep up his friend’s courage. “But things may not be as bad as you think.”
“They are bad enough, are they not? To be thrown as we were, under the most suspicious circumstances,[145] into the hands of a man we never saw before, who, without condescending to give us an intelligible explanation of the motive that prompts his actions, shuts us up in a dark cellar, and walks off with the key in his pocket, to be gone nobody knows how long—that is bad enough, but there may be worse things yet to come. Do you know that we are in a country in which a terrible war is being carried on?”
“I do.”
“And that both sides are treating their prisoners with the greatest cruelty; in some cases shooting them?”
“Certainly. Having read the papers, I am not likely to be ignorant of the fact.”
“Well, now, did it ever strike you that we—Eh? You know,” said Chase, unable to give utterance to the fears that just then passed through his mind.
“No,” replied Wilson; “it never did.”
“It has struck me that some such thing might happen to us,” continued Chase, in a trembling voice. “This Creole is a rebel, and thinks we are friends of his. The Spaniards think so too, for they have searched the house with the intention of[146] capturing us. If we had fallen into their hands, might they not have put an end to us without giving us an opportunity to say a word in our defence, believing as they do that we are friends of the Cubans?”
“It is possible,” replied Wilson, coolly.
“Gracious! If I had thought of all these things, I never would have had anything to do with this expedition, I tell you. How would I look, set up against a brick wall, with half a dozen Spaniards standing in front of me, ready to shoot me down at the word? I wish I had stayed on Lost Island and starved there.” And Chase, terrified almost beyond measure by the picture he had drawn, jumped to his feet, hurried off through the darkness, and bumped his head severely against the solid oak planks which formed the door of their prison.
“You are not set up against a brick wall yet, at all events,” said Wilson, laughing, in spite of himself. “Don’t take on so, old fellow, or I shall believe you are in a fair way to become a coward. Here’s a dry-goods box. Let’s lie down on it and try to get a wink of sleep.”
“Sleep!” groaned Chase, holding one hand to[147] his head, and with the other feeling his way through the darkness, in the direction from which his companion’s voice sounded; “how can you think of such a thing? Don’t lie there so still. Wake up and talk to me.”
It was not possible that Chase could ever become a greater coward than he was at that moment, and he told himself so. The thought that he was in a strange country, surrounded by men who were in arms against one another, and that some of them—perhaps the very ones who had perpetrated the cruelties of which he had read in the papers—had been in that very house searching for him, was dreadful. It tested his fortitude to the very utmost. Even the darkness which filled the wine-cellar had terrors for him, and he hardly dared to move a finger, for fear it might come in contact with some living thing. For three long hours he sat upon his box, in a state of terror beyond our power to describe, and all this while, the plucky Wilson, with a happy indifference to circumstances, which Chase greatly envied, slumbered heavily.

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