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HOME > Short Stories > The Sportman's Club Afloat > CHAPTER XIII. THE SPANISH FRIGATE.
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 “How came you here?” was of course the first question the Club addressed to the new-comer, as soon as they had made sure of his identity. “I came in that boat,” replied Wilson, who was quite as much surprised to see his friends as they were to see him. “But how did you come here? I heard Tomlinson say that he and his crowd had stolen the Banner.”
“So they did; but they stole us with her, for we were hidden in the hold. What we want to know is, how you happen to be out here in the country. We left you and Chase to watch the yacht.”
“It is a long story, fellows, and I will tell it to you the first chance I get. But just how we have something else to think of. There comes Pierre,” said Wilson, pointing over the stern. “He is after[232] me. Tomlinson and the rest are ashore stealing some provisions.”
“Does Pierre know where Featherweight is?” asked Eugene.
“I shouldn’t wonder. He seems to be pretty well acquainted with Mr. Bell’s plans.”
“Then we will see if we can make him tell them to us,” said Walter. “Eugene, go down and get a lantern; and the rest of us stand by to receive our visitor with all the honors.”
“Why, where did you get this?” asked Wilson, as Eugene placed his carbine in his hands.
“‘Thereby hangs a tale;’ but you shall hear it in due time.”
“Here he is, fellows,” whispered Walter. “Keep out of sight until he comes over the side.”
Pierre was by this time close aboard of the schooner. He came up under her stern, and sprang over the rail with the yawl’s painter in his hand. “I told you that you shouldn’t go off in this vessel,” said he, looking about the deck in search of Wilson. “You needn’t think to hide from me, for I am bound to find you. You will save yourself some rough handling by getting into this yawl and going straight back to shore. We don’t want you here.”
“But we want you,” exclaimed Walter, starting up close at Pierre’s side and presenting his carbine full in his face.
The others jumped from their concealments, and at the same moment Eugene opened the door of the cabin and came out into the standing-room with a lighted lantern in his hand. For a few seconds the smuggler was so completely blinded by the glare of the bull’s-eye, which Eugene turned full upon him, that he could not distinguish even the nearest objects; but presently his eyes became somewhat accustomed to the light, and he was able to take a view of his surroundings. He was much astonished at what he saw. There stood Wilson, whom he had expected to drag from some concealment, looking very unlike the cringing, supplicating youth he had met on the jetty. And he was not alone either, for with him were the boys whom he believed he had left ten miles behind him, and also Bab, whom he had last seen bound and helpless in the hold. They were all armed too, and were holding their cocked guns in most unpleasant proximity to his face.
“Well, if you have anything to say for yourself let’s have it,” said Wilson, breaking the silence at[234] last. “You’ll let me go off in this vessel after all, won’t you? There’s a good fellow.”
Pierre had not a word to say. He seemed to be overcome with bewilderment and alarm. He did not even remonstrate, when Eugene, after placing his lantern on the deck, stepped up, and passing a rope around his arms confined them behind his back. When the operation of tying him was completed, he seemed to arouse himself as if from a sound sleep, and to realize for the first time that he was a prisoner; but then it was too late to resist even if he had the inclination. The knowledge of this fact did not, however, appear to occasion him any uneasiness. As soon as the first tremor, caused by the sight of the cocked weapons, passed away, he began to recover his courage.
“There,” said Eugene, taking another round turn with the rope, “I think that will hold you. Didn’t I tell you that you would never get far away with the yacht? You’re fast enough now.”
“But I’ll not be so long,” replied Pierre, with a grin. “There’s a man-of-war coming, if you only knew it, and she’ll be along directly.”
“Well, what of it?”
“Nothing much, only she will take you and your[235] vessel, and set me at liberty; that’s all. She is looking for you.”
“She is? We don’t care. We’ve done nothing to make us afraid of her.”
“You’d better be afraid of her,” replied Pierre, significantly. “You’ve got no papers.”
“Yes, I have,” interrupted Walter.
“How does that come?” asked Pierre, in a tone of voice that was aggravating to the last degree. “Did you clear from Port Platte?”
“No, because we didn’t get the chance. You stole the vessel and run away with her. But I can show that we cleared from Bellville.”
“No, you can’t. And, more than that, you’ve got guns and ammunition aboard intended for the use of the Cubans.”
Pierre paused when he said this, and looked at the boys as if he expected them to be very much astonished; and they certainly were. They knew now where the carbines came from, and why they had been placed in the hold, and their words and actions indicated that if the guilty party had been within their reach just then, he would have fared roughly indeed. Walter was the only one who had nothing to say. He stood for a moment as mute[236] and motionless as if he had been turned into stone, and then catching up the lantern, rushed into his cabin. He opened his desk, and with nervous haste began to overhaul the papers it contained.
“O, you’ll not find them there,” said Pierre, “they’re gone—torn up, and scattered about the harbor.”
“What’s the matter, Walter?” asked all the boys at once.
“Our papers are gone, that’s all,” replied the young captain, calmly. “Some one has stolen them. Now, Pierre,” he added, paying no heed to the exclamations of rage and astonishment that arose on all sides, “I want you to tell me what has been going on on board my vessel this afternoon.”
“Well, I don’t mind obliging you,” answered the smuggler, “seeing that it is too late for you to repair the damage, and, in order to make you understand it, I must begin at the beginning. You see, although we cleared from Bellville for Havana, we did not intend to go there at all. This very bay is the point we were bound for, but it is an ugly place in a gale, and so we put into Port Platte to wait until the wind and sea went down, so that we could land our cargo. Perhaps you don’t know it,[237] but the Stella is loaded with just such weapons as these you’ve got.”
“I don’t doubt it,” said Walter, “but why did you bring some of them aboard this vessel?”
“I’ll come to that directly. When you set out in pursuit of us, after we left Lost Island, we knew that you must have found Chase, and that he had told you the whole story; but we didn’t feel at all uneasy, for we believed that when we once lost sight of you we should never see you again. As bad luck would have it, however, the storm blew you right into Port Platte, and of course you found us there. When we saw you come in we knew what you wanted to do, and set our wits at work to get the start of you, and I rather think we’ve done it. We laid half a dozen plans, believing that if one failed another would be sure to work. In the first place Mr. Bell directed the attention of the custom-house officers to you and your vessel. He is well acquainted with them all, you know, and he has fooled them more than once, as nicely as he fooled the captain of that cutter at Lost Island. He told them that you were the fellows who were smuggling all the arms into this country for the use of the rebels; that you had intended to land somewhere[238] on the coast, but had been compelled by the gale to come into the harbor, and that you would probably go out again as soon as the wind died away. Having excited the officers’ suspicions, the next thing was to do something to back them up; and we thought the best way would be to smuggle some weapons aboard the Banner. But in order to do it we had to work some plan to get you away from the yacht, so that we could have a clear field for our operations. Mr. Bell and Captain Conway took Fred Craven up the hill in plain sight of you, and, as we expected, some of you followed him. Then the mate found one of Don Casper’s niggers on the wharf, and used him to help his plans along. He wrote a note to Chase, and signed Walter’s name to it.”
“Aha!” interrupted Wilson. “I begin to see into things a little. But how did Mr. Bell know that Chase was left in command of the yacht?”
“He didn’t know it—he only guessed it from seeing him so active in setting things to rights.”
“Don Casper,” repeated Perk. “His name is on those boxes in the hold. Who is he?”
“He’s the man to whom we deliver our weapons, and he sends them to the rebels. As I was saying,[239] Mr. Bell wrote this note to Chase, asking him to bring all the crew of the vessel to assist in releasing Fred, and another to Don Casper, and hired the darkey to deliver them and take the boys out to the Don’s in his wagon. But when the mate, who had the management of the affair, reached the yacht, he found that Tomlinson and his crowd, whom he supposed to be visitors from some neighboring vessel, were a part of the crew, and of course he had to get rid of them in some way; so he invited them down to the Stella to get breakfast. Then he went back, gave the negro the notes, and he took Chase and Wilson out to Don Casper’s. After that, the mate returned to the yacht, and taking some arms and ammunition, stowed them away on board the yacht, and wound up by stealing your clearance papers, which Mr. Bell destroyed.”
“And much good may the act do him,” exclaimed Eugene, angrily.
“All’s fair in war,” replied Pierre. “You came here to get us into trouble, and of course if we could beat you at your own game, we had a perfect right to do it.”
“No, you hadn’t,” retorted Wilson. “We were engaged in lawful business, and you were not.”
“No matter; we make our living by it. As time passed, and you did not come back and sail out so that the officers could board you—”
“But why were you so very anxious to have us go out?” asked Walter. “Simply because you wanted us captured?”
“Well—no; we had something else in view. You see, we were in a great hurry to go up to the Don’s and land our weapons, but we had a suspicion that some sharp eyes were watching us and our vessel. Mr. Bell knew by the way the officers acted, that they hadn’t quite made up their minds which vessel it was that was carrying the contraband goods—The Stella or the Banner. They didn’t like to search us, for they didn’t want to believe anything wrong of Mr. Bell—they had known him so long and were such good friends of his; just like the captain of that cutter, you know. But yet they couldn’t believe that your yacht was the smuggler, for she didn’t look like one. We wanted the officers to find the arms on board your vessel; and until that event happened, we were afraid to ask for a clearance—that’s the plain English of it. Well, as you didn’t come back and take the yacht out, and Mr. Bell was very anxious[241] that she should go, he thought it best to change his plans a little. Learning that Tomlinson and his friends had come to Cuba to ship aboard a privateer, he hired me to join in with them and steal the Banner. He told me that it would be a desperate undertaking, for the officers were all eyes and ears, the fort was ready to open fire on the yacht if she tried to slip out, and if that didn’t stop her, a frigate was near by to capture her. But he offered me a hundred dollars to do the job, and I agreed to smuggle her out. I did it, too. The fort fired more than fifty shots after us—”
“It did!” ejaculated Eugene.
“Were those guns we heard pointed at my vessel—at us?” demanded Walter, in a trembling voice.
“Not exactly at us, but in the direction we were supposed to have gone. I brought her through all right, however, and I can take her safely away from under the very guns of the frigate; but you can’t do it, and I am glad of—”
“Take this man into the hold and shut him up there!” cried Walter, almost beside himself, with indignation and alarm. “I don’t want to hear another word from him.”
“O, you needn’t mind those things,” said Pierre,[242] as Perk and Bab picked up their carbines. “I am willing to go, but I shan’t stay there long. You are as good as captured by that frigate already.”
“Take him away!” shouted Walter. “Stay here, Perk, I want to talk to you.”
The young captain began nervously ............
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