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HOME > Short Stories > The Sportman's Club Afloat > CHAPTER IX. WILSON RUNS A RACE.
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 The diversion of which we have spoken was caused by the sound of stealthy footsteps, and an indistinct murmur of voices which came from the opposite side of the storehouse. Somebody was coming down the lane. Believing that it was the Don returning with the horses, Wilson arose slowly to his feet and stood awaiting the orders of the guard, while Chase stopped his walk and looked first one way and then the other, as if he were going to run off as soon as he could make up his mind which direction to take. The actions of the overseer, however, seemed to indicate that there was some one besides the Don approaching—some one whom he had not been expecting and whom he did not care to see. He stood for a few seconds listening to the footsteps and voices, and then moving quickly into the shadow of the storehouse, crouched close to the ground, muttering Spanish ejaculations[165] and acting altogether as if he were greatly perplexed. His behavior did not escape the notice of Wilson, and it at once suggested to him the idea of escape. His first impulse was to rush out of his concealment and throw himself upon the protection of the new-comers; but sober second thought stepped in and told him that it would be a good plan to first ascertain who they were. He moved to the corner of the storehouse, and looking up the lane, saw four men approaching. They were dressed like sailors—he could see their wide trowsers and jaunty hats, dark as it was—and he noticed that two of them carried handspikes on their shoulders. They were so near to him that he was afraid to move lest he should attract their attention, and they came still nearer to him with every step they took. They were directing their course toward the storehouse, talking earnestly as they approached, and presently some startling words, uttered by a familiar voice, fell upon his ear. “I tell you this is the house. I guess I know what I am about. When I first discovered it the negroes belonging to the plantation were gathered here in a crowd, and a white man was serving them with corn-meal and bacon. All we’ve got to do is[166] to bust open this door, and we’ll find provisions enough to last us on a cruise around the world. Now, Bob, I want you to clap a stopper on that jaw of yours and hush your growling. If I don’t take you safely to Havana, I’ll agree to sign over to you all the prize money I win in that privateer.”
“I ain’t growling about that,” replied another familiar voice. “I don’t like the idea of stealing private yachts and running away with them. It looks too much like piracy.”
“Well, it can’t be helped now. The Banner is ours, and the best thing we can do is to use her while we’ve got her. Give me that handspike and I’ll soon open this door. Keep your weather eyes open, the rest of you.”
Wilson listened as if fascinated; and when the conversation ceased, and the door began to creak and groan as the handspike was brought to bear upon it, he thrust his head farther around the corner of the storehouse, and at the imminent risk of being seen by the men, who were scarcely more than four feet distant, took a good survey of the group. His ears had not deceived him. The men who had thus unexpectedly intruded their presence upon him, were none other than Tomlinson and the rest of the[167] deserters from the revenue cutter. He could distinctly see every one of them. Tomlinson was engaged in breaking open the door of the storehouse, and the others stood a little farther off, some looking up and the rest down the lane.
“Now here’s a go,” thought Wilson, so excited that he scarcely knew what he was about. “Them fellows have stolen the Banner, and are preparing to supply themselves with provisions for their voyage to Havana. What will become of us if we don’t get that boat back again? They shan’t have her. We’ll slip away from this overseer and turn their triumph into defeat before they are ten minutes older.”
Wilson turned to look at the guard. The man was standing close behind him, and seemed to be awaiting the result of his investigations. Acting upon a resolution he had suddenly formed, the young sailor stepped aside, and motioned to him to look around the corner of the building. The man complied, and no sooner was his back turned, than Wilson ran swiftly, but noiselessly, along the side of the storehouse, looking everywhere for Chase; but the latter was not in sight. Greatly surprised at his sudden disappearance, and almost ready to[168] doubt the evidence of his eyes, he glanced along the building again and again, and even spoke his friend’s name as loudly as he dared, but without receiving any response.
“He has watched his chance and taken himself off,” thought Wilson. “I’ll soon find him, and if we don’t upset the plans of Tomlinson and his crew, I shall miss my guess. Good-by, Mr. Overseer! When the Don returns and asks where your prisoners are, you may tell him you don’t know.”
So saying, Wilson dodged around the corner of the storehouse, and struck off toward the beach with all the speed he could command.
And where was Chase all this time? If Wilson had known the reason for his disappearance, he would not have had a very high opinion of his friend. That worthy had been thinking deeply since his last conversation with Wilson, and had at length hit upon what he conceived to be a remarkably brilliant plan for extricating himself from his troubles.
“The expedition is a failure—that’s plain enough to be seen,” he had said to himself; “and instead of trying to rescue Fred Craven, it strikes me that it would be a good plan to look out for our own[169] safety. I am not going back to town with the Don, and the only way to avoid it is to desert. Yes, sir, that’s just what I’ll do. I shall be much safer alone than in the company of such fellows as this Wilson and Walter Gaylord, who are continually getting themselves and others into trouble, and I’ll see home before they do, I’ll warrant. I’ll get out of Cuba, at any rate. I’ll ship aboard the first vessel that leaves port, I don’t care if she takes me to South America.”
It never occurred to Chase, while he was congratulating himself upon this idea, that, in carrying it into execution, he would be making a very poor return for Wilson’s kindness and friendship. He forgot the fidelity with which the latter had clung to him through thick and thin, and the assistance he had rendered him in inducing Walter Gaylord to interest himself in his affairs. All he thought of was his own safety. The approach of the deserters was a most fortunate thing for him, for it gave him the very opportunity he was waiting for. He heard the voices and the footsteps, and the alarm the sounds at first produced gave way to a feeling of exultation, when he saw Wilson and the overseer move cautiously toward the opposite end of the[170] storehouse. Had he waited a minute longer he might have escaped in company with his friend, and saved himself a good many exciting adventures which we have yet to relate; but the guard with his dreaded pistols was at the farther end of the building, and the chance was too good to be lost. He sprang around the corner of the storehouse, and in an instant was out of sight in the darkness.
Wilson, little dreaming what had become of him, pursued his way with rapid footsteps across the field toward the beach, taking care to keep the negro quarters between him and the men at the storehouse. He kept his eyes roving through the darkness in every direction, in the hope of discovering Chase, but was disappointed.
“He can’t be far away, and when I come up with him, I will tell him how we can beat these deserters at their own game,” chuckled the young sailor, highly elated over the plans he had formed. “If they came here in the Banner, she must be at anchor somewhere along the beach. As there are but four of them, and they are all at the storehouse, it follows as a thing of course that they must have left the yacht unguarded. It will be the easiest thing in the world to swim off to her, hoist the sails, and[171] put to sea before they know what is going on. I declare, there’s Chase now, and the yacht, too! Hurrah!”
Wilson had by this time arrived within sight of the little bay, which set into the shore at this place, and just then, the rays of the moon, struggling through a rift in the clouds, gave him a fair view of the scene before him. The first object his eyes rested upon was the yacht, riding at anchor about a quarter of a mile from the shore. The next, was a stone jetty extending out into the water, beside which were moored several boats. In one of them a sail was hoisted. This was probably the one which the deserters intended to use to convey the stolen provisions on board the yacht. The third object was a human figure, standing on the beach near the jetty. He wore a cloak and a slouch hat, and Wilson thought he recognised in him his missing friend, although he at the same time wondered how he had come by the articles named, for he certainly had not worn them the last time he saw him. Hearing the sound of his approach, the figure stepped upon the jetty and moved nervously about, as if undecided whether to take to his heels or wait until he came up.
“Don’t be alarmed, Chase; it is I,” exclaimed Wilson, as soon as he came within speaking distance. “What possessed you to run off without saying a word to me? It is only by good luck that I have found you again. Do you see what those deserters have been doing?” he added, pointing to the yacht. “Let’s get into one of these boats and take possession of her before they return. We’ve got the best right to her.”
Wilson, who had shouted out these words as he approached the figure, was a good deal surprised at the manner in which his proposition was received. It did not meet with the ready response he had expected, for the figure, whoever he w............
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