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HOME > Short Stories > The Sportman's Club Afloat > CHAPTER VIII. CHASE RISES TO EXPLAIN.
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 Wilson knew, as well as Chase, that the latter had not overestimated the dangers of their situation. Cuba was in a state of insurrection, having declared her independence of Spain. Several battles had been fought between the rebels and the Spanish troops, and deeds of violence were daily enacted in every part of the island. Wilson knew all this before the voyage for Cuba was commenced, but he had never dreamed that he and the rest of the crew of the yacht could in any way become mixed up in the troubles. He had set out simply with the intention of assisting to rescue Fred Craven from the power of the smugglers, and here he was suspected of being a smuggler himself, and of having in his possession cases of arms to be delivered to the agents of the Cuban government. Don Casper, to whose house he had been brought[149] in so strange a manner, thought that such was his occupation and character, for he had said so; and he had also hinted that the Spanish troopers suspected them, and that it would be dangerous to fall into their hands. This was certainly an unlooked for termination to the expedition upon which he and the members of the Sportsman’s Club had entered with so much eagerness, and it was enough to awaken in his mind the most serious misgivings. But he was a courageous fellow, and knowing that much depended upon keeping up the spirits of his desponding friend, he affected an indifference that he was very far from feeling. He slept because he was utterly exhausted by the labor and excitement he had undergone during the last few days. Chase was equally wearied by his nights of watching and exposure, but his fears effectually banished sleep from his eyes. For three long hours, as we have said, he sat motionless on the dry-goods box, listening intently and wondering how his captivity was to end, and at the expiration of that time, he was frightened almost out of his senses by hearing a stealthy footfall outside the door of the wine-cellar, and the noise of a key grating in the lock. Utterly unable to speak, he sprang to his feet, and[150] seizing his slumbering companion by the shoulders, shook him roughly.
“Ay! ay!” replied Wilson, drowsily. “I will be on deck in five minutes. Is Cuba in sight yet?”
“You are not on board the yacht,” whispered Chase, recovering the use of his tongue by an effort, “but in the cellar of that old Creole’s house; and here come the Spaniards to arrest us.”
These words aroused Wilson, who rubbed his eyes and sat up on the dry-goods box just as the door opened, admitting a muffled figure in slouch hat and cloak, who carried a lighted lantern in his hand. Chase looked over the man’s shoulder into the cellar beyond, expecting to see the troopers of whom he stood so much in fear; but their visitor was alone, and, if any faith was to be put in his actions, he had come there with anything but hostile intentions. He held his lantern aloft, and after gazing at the boys a moment, nodded his head and motioned to them to follow him. Wilson promptly obeyed, but Chase hung back.
“I am not sure that it will be safe,” said he, doubtfully. “Perhaps we had better ask him to tell who sent him here, and what he intends to do with us.”
“Let’s follow him now and listen to his explanation afterward,” replied Wilson. “I don’t care much what he does with us, so long as he leads us into the open air. Anything is better than being shut up in this dark prison.”
Chase was not fully satisfied on that point, but he was not allowed even a second to consider it. Wilson and their visitor moved off, and finding that he was about to be left alone in the dark, Chase stepped quickly out of the wine-cellar and followed them. The man led the way to the stairs, which he ascended with noiseless footsteps, stopping now and then to listen, his every movement being imitated by the anxious captives. They reached the hall, and moved on tiptoe toward the door, which opened upon the back verandah; but just before they reached it their guide paused, and after giving each of the boys a warning gesture, raised his hand and stood pointing silently before him. The young sailors looked, and their hearts seemed to stop beating when they discovered, stretched out directly in front of the door, the burly form of one of the Spanish troopers. He slumbered heavily upon his blanket, one arm thrown over his head, and the other resting upon his carbine which lay across his[152] breast. What was to be done now? was the question each of the boys asked himself, and which was quickly answered by their guide, who, with another warning gesture, moved forward, and stepping nimbly over the prostrated sentinel, beckoned to them to follow. Wilson at once responded and reached the verandah without arousing the sleeper; but it seemed as if Chase could not muster up courage enough to make the attempt.
“I can’t do it,” he whispered, in reply to Wilson’s gestures of impatience. “Tell that man to come back and lead me out of the house by some other door.”
“What good will it do to talk to him?” replied Wilson, in the same cautious whisper. “It is very evident from his actions that he can’t talk English; and, besides, if there were any other way to get out, it isn’t likely that he would have brought us here. I’d show a little pluck, if I were you. Come on.”
“But what if that soldier should awake and spring up just as I was about to step over him?” continued Chase, in an ecstasy of alarm. “He’d catch me, sure.”
“He will catch you if you stay there—you may depend upon that.”
Chase might still have continued to argue the[153] point, had not the actions of the guide aroused him to a full sense of his situation. The man, who had been beckoning vehemently to him, suddenly faced about, and tapping Wilson on the shoulder, started down the steps that led from the verandah to the ground. Then Chase saw that he must follow or remain a prisoner in the house. He started and passed the sleeping sentinel in safety; but his mind was in such a whirl of excitement and terror that to save his life he could not have told how he did it. When he came to himself he and Wilson were following close at the heels of their guide, who was leading the way at a rapid run along the lane that led to the negro quarters.
“I wish I had never seen or heard of the Sportsman’s Club,” panted Chase, drawing his handkerchief across his forehead, for the exciting ordeal through which he had just passed, had brought the cold perspiration from every pore of his body; “I never was in a scrape like this before, and if I once get out of it you’ll never see me in another. Fred Craven can take care of himself now; I am going home.”
“When are you going to start?” asked Wilson.
“Just as soon as I reach the village.”
“How are you going?”
“I don’t know, and what’s more, I don’t care. I’ll float there on a plank before I’ll stay here twenty-four hours longer. There’s another sentry. He’s awake too, and coming toward us. Which way shall we run now?”
While Chase was speaking a man stepped into view from behind the fence and hurried toward them; but they soon found that there was no cause for alarm, for the new-comer was Don Casper himself.
“My lads,” he exclaimed, gleefully, “I am overjoyed to see you once more, and in possession of your liberty too.” And as he threw aside his cloak and extended a hand to each of them, the boys saw that he wore a sword by his side, and that his belt contained a brace of pistols. “This afternoon’s work has ruined me,” continued the Don, hurriedly. “It was very wrong in Captain Conway to send you out here in broad daylight, knowing as he does that I have long been suspected of being a rebel, and that the patrol were only waiting for some proof against me to arrest me. They’ve got that proof now, and my property will all be confiscated.”
And now something happened which Wilson had feared and was on the lookout for—something[155] which came very near placing him and his friend in a much worse predicament than they had yet got into. It was nothing more nor less than an effort on the part of Chase to explain matters to the Don. Wilson had thought over their situation since his release from the wine-cellar, and he had come to the conclusion that, in the event of again meeting with their host, it would not be policy to attempt to correct the wrong impressions he had received concerning them, for the reason that it might prove a dangerous piece of business. He was afraid that the Don might not believe their story. In order to make him understand it, it would be necessary to go back to the day of the panther hunt, and describe what had then taken place between Bayard Bell and the members of the Sportsman’s Club. That would consume a good deal of time, and there would be some things to tell that would look very unreasonable; and perhaps the Don would do as the captain of the revenue cutter had done—declare that it was all false. He would very likely think that the boys were trying to deceive him, and he might even go so far as to believe that they were in sympathy with the Spaniards, and that they had been employed by the............
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