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HOME > Short Stories > The Sportman's Club Afloat > CHAPTER X. A LUCKY FALL.
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 “Are we not in luck for once in our lives? Who would have thought that the storm which blew us so far out of our course, was destined to prove an advantage instead of a hindrance to us?” “Not I, for one, but I can see it now. If we had gone to Havana, as we intended, we should never have seen the Stella again, or Featherweight either. Now that we have found him, what is the next thing to be done?”
“We’ll talk about that as we go along, and keep them in sight until we have decided upon a plan of action. There they go over the hill. Let’s hurry on, for we must allow them no chance to give us the slip.”
This conversation was carried on by Walter and Perk, as they ran up the hill in pursuit of Fred Craven, whom they had seen going toward the village in company with Mr. Bell and Captain Conway.[182] They knew it was Fred, and they knew too that he saw them, and was aware that they were following him, for once, just before he disappeared from their sight, he drew his handkerchief from his pocket and waved it in the air behind him. The movement was executed with but little attempt at concealment; but, although the Captain and Mr. Bell must certainly have seen it, they made no effort to check it.
As we have seen, from the few words that passed between them, the young sailors had left the yacht without any very definite object in view. They wanted to assist Fred Craven, if the opportunity were presented, but just how they were going to set about it they could not tell. Should they hurry on, and when they came up with him demand his release; or should they wait and see what his captors were going to do with him? While they were talking the matter over, the objects of their pursuit disappeared over the brow of the hill, and that was the last they saw of them, although they at once quickened their pace to a run, and in a few seconds were standing on the very spot where they had last seen them. They looked in every direction, but the men and their captive had vanished. Before them was[183] a wide and level road, leading through the village and into the plain beyond, and they could see every moving thing in it for the distance of a mile. There were people there in abundance, but none among them who looked like Fred Craven and his keepers. Where could they have gone so suddenly?
“Now this beats everything I ever heard of,” said Walter in great bewilderment. “We are not dreaming, are we?”
“No sir,” replied Perk, emphatically. “I was never more fully awake than I am at this moment. There’s some trick at the bottom of this.”
“What in the world is it?”
“I should be glad to tell you if I knew. You take one side of the street, and I’ll take the other. Don’t waste time now, but be careful to look into every shop and behind every house you pass.”
Walter, prompt to act upon the suggestion, set off at the top of his speed, followed by Perk, who, although equally anxious to get over a good deal of ground in the shortest possible space of time, conducted his search with more care. Had the former looked into one of the cross-streets past which he hurried with such frantic haste, he might, perhaps, have caught a partial glimpse of the burly form of[184] Captain Conway standing in a doorway; and had he approached him he would have found Mr. Bell and Featherweight standing close behind him. But he did not know this, and neither was he aware that as soon as he and Perk passed on down the street, the master of the smuggling vessel came cautiously from his place of concealment, and looking around the corner of a house, watched them until they were two hundred yards away. But the Captain did this, and more. Having satisfied himself that the young tars had been eluded, he returned to the doorway and held a short conversation with Mr. Bell. When it was ended, that gentleman hurried off out of sight, and the Captain, drawing Fred’s arm through his own, conducted him along the cross-street and through lanes and by-ways back to the wharf, and on board a vessel—not the Stella, but a large ship, which, if one might judge by the hustle and confusion on her deck, was just on the point of sailing. As he and his captive boarded her, they were met by the master of the vessel who, without saying a word, led them into his cabin and showed them an open state-room. Without any ceremony Fred was pushed into it, the door closed and the key turned in the lock.
“There,” said Captain Conway, with a sigh of relief, “he is disposed of at last. If any of those Banner fellows can find him now, I should like to see them do it. Mr. Bell’s been in this business too long to be beaten by a lot of little boys.”
This was only a part of Mr. Bell’s plan; and while it was being carried into execution, some other events, a portion of which we have already described, were taking place in the harbor. The mate of the smuggling vessel visited the yacht, and after enticing Tomlinson and the rest of the deserters on board the Stella by the promise of a good breakfast, and a pipe to smoke after it, and starting off Wilson and his companion on a wild-goose chase, by sending them a note purporting to come from Walter, had cleared the coast so that he could carry out the rest of his employer’s scheme without let or hindrance. The first thing he did was to convey some bales and boxes containing arms, ammunition and military trappings, on board the yacht—for what purpose we shall see presently—and his second to secure possession of Walter’s clearance papers. When these things had been done, the mate returned on board the Stella and received some more instructions from Mr. Bell; after which he came[186] out of the cabin and joined the deserters who were in the forecastle, discussing the breakfast that had been prepared for them. By adroit questioning he finally obliged Tomlinson to confess what he had all along suspected—that he and his companions belonged to the United States revenue service, and that they had deserted their vessel and stolen a passage across the Gulf, with the intention of shipping aboard a Cuban privateer. When the mate had found out all he wanted to know, he left them with the remark that there was a privateer lying off Havana, all ready to sail as soon as she had shipped a crew, and that if the deserters wanted to find her they had better start at once. He added that they might waste a good deal of valuable time if they waited for a vessel to take them to the city, and that the best thing for them to do would be to steal a small sailboat. There were plenty of them about the harbor. Havana was only a hundred miles away, and with a fair wind they could sail there in a few hours. If they adopted that plan, they had better wait until dark in order to escape the vigilance of the Spanish officials, who boarded all vessels, even skiffs, as they entered and left the port.
“What have you fellows got to say to that?”[187] asked Tomlinson, as soon as the officer had ascended to the deck. “The mate’s plan agrees with mine exactly, and that proves that it is worth trying. We will go back and take the Banner as soon as we have finished our breakfast. I am going, at least, and I’d like to know who is with me. Speak up!”
All the deserters spoke up except Bob. He grumbled as usual, and had some objections to offer. “Tom,” said he, “you haven’t yet answered the question I asked you once before: who’s going to navigate the vessel? You can’t do it.”
“Can’t I? What’s the reason? All we’ve got to do is to follow the coast.”
“And get lost or wrecked for our pains! No, thankee. And there’s another thing you haven’t thought of. We shall want some clearance papers, and how are we going to get ’em? That officer who boarded us as we came in will be sure to visit us again. The mate said so.”
“We’re going to give him the slip.”
“But suppose we can’t do it? What if he sees us and hails us?”
“We won’t stop, that’s all. He goes around in a row-boat, and the yacht will easily run away from her.”
“You forget that there are two men of war in the harbor, and a fort on the point. I don’t care to run the fire of a hundred guns in such a craft as the Banner. Put me on board the old gunboat Cairo, if she was as good as before she was sunk by that rebel torpedo in Yazoo river, and I wouldn’t mind it.”
“We’re not going to run the fire of a hundred guns, or one either,” replied Tomlinson. “I’ll tell you just how we will manage it. We’ll take the Banner at once; that’s the first thing to be done. Then we’ll run her over to the other side of the harbor—there are no wharves there, you know—and anchor off shore until dark, when we will make sail and slip out; and no one will be the wiser for it.”
“But we shall want something to eat,” persisted Bob. “There isn’t a mouthful on board the yacht. We may meet with head winds, you know, and be a week reaching Havana.”
“Haven’t I told you that it will be the easiest thing in the world to land somewhere on the coast and steal some grub?” demanded Tomlinson, losing all patience.
“So it will, mate, and I know just where to get[189] it,” said a strange voice, in a suppressed whisper above their heads.
The deserters, not a little alarmed to find that their conversation had been overheard, glanced quickly upward and saw a man crouching at the top of the ladder and looking down at them. It was Pierre, who having thus addressed them, made a gesture of silence, and after looking all around the deck as if fearful of ............
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