"If I tell you that I am a friend of the American boys, is that enough?"
"Quite. You need have no fear; we shall be undisturbed here."
The man, reassured, stepped forward and threw off his coat and hat. Mr. Wyman looked him over curiously for a moment and then pointed to a chair.
"Be seated, Captain Dynamite," he said, quietly.
O'Connor started back in some dismay.
"You know me?" he said. "How?"
"The boys described you to me very accurately. You have a pair of very staunch friends in those youngsters, sir."
"Yes, yes, I know," said O'Connor, eagerly. "Tell me of them—they are safe?"
"They are alive and well, but they are not safe."
"What do you mean?"
"In the first place tell me if Miss Juanita reached you in safety?"
"Yes, thank God, and she has told me much of what the boys have risked for her and me. That is why I am here."
"Yes, and there is not another man with a price upon his head who would place it in the lion's mouth as you are doing. Why did you come here alone? You can do no good single handed."
O'Connor leaned forward and whispered:
"But I am not alone. There are twelve picked men with me."
"Where are they?"
"Pardon me the liberty, but they are out there in your garden."
"How did you get here?"
"By methods known only to Indians and Cubans."
"Humph," said Mr. Wyman, somewhat annoyed, "I may not get clear of this affair without getting shot myself. But what can twelve men do?"
"Twelve such men as those can do much. But tell me, please, so that I may act with proper dispatch, just what the situation is in regard to the boys."
The men drew their chairs closer together and in a low tone Mr. Wyman began to tell in sequence the events that had transpired since he had been involved in the affair.
"So," said O'Connor, when Mr. Wyman had finished, "then I am not much too soon. Now, let us consider what is the best way to proceed. I shall probably have to ask you for a trifle of aid."
"But I must be off to Weyler. I have not a minute to waste if I wish to reach him in time."
"In time for what?" asked O'Connor, in surprise.
"In time to secure a reprieve."
"May I ask what is nonsense, Captain Dynamite?" said Mr. Wyman, whose dignity was injured.
"In the first place, it is nonsense to expect any aid from Weyler, who always staunchly supports his lieutenants, whether right or wrong, and in the second place, we do not want a reprieve. We've got to get them clean away from here before they will be safe—clean off the blooming island. I'll take them back to the old Mariella—that's the safest place for them. I wish to goodness they had never left her."
"But how, my good sir—how under the sun are you going to get them to the Mariella when they are locked up in a Spanish jail?"
"No jail is impregnable."
"But you cannot storm it in the face of a garrison of men with a handful of twelve."
"There are more than fifty times twelve almost within gunshot, but I still think the twelve will be sufficient for my purpose."
"Do you mean that the city is threatened by insurgents?" Mr. Wyman looked worried. "I must get my wife away, sir."
"Don't worry, consul. If it comes to that the American flag is sacred to the insurgents; but if there is any fighting it will be on the picket line only, I fancy."
"But what is your plan?"
"To take the boys out of that jail first."
"Is it strongly guarded?"
"Inside and out. It is a military prison."
"How many men?"
"Four outside and four within, in charge of an officer."
"Oh, that's easy."
"But the first sound of a conflict would arouse the garrison, which is directly in the rear of the prison."
"There will be no sound of conflict after we get to work, Mr. Wyman."
"How can I aid you?"
"By securing permission to visit the boys in their cell. Can you do it?"
"I am not sure. General Serano's mood is not the best in the world just now. The boys have tantalized him beyond measure. He cannot seem to beat them, and aside from his official pride, his personal dignity has suffered. My position as defender of the youngsters has gained for me his ill-will. But I will try. What am I to do?"
"Simply leave the jail at a time that I shall fix. We will do the rest. You will not be involved in any way, except that you may be seemingly handled a little roughly, but that will only be done to divert suspicion from yourself. Do not resist."
"There will not be too much violence, I hope?"
"No more than is needed, sir. I do not like violence myself. There may be a broken head or two, but they are soon mended. It it now nine o'clock. What time does the watch change?"
"Very well. Now, if you will permit me, I will call one of my men."
"Make what use you please of me and my house. I wish to aid you in any way I can."
O'Connor stepped to the window and drew aside the curtain. As he did so, a dark form darted into the shadow of a bush. O'Connor saw it and paused.
"There is someone in your garden beside my men," he whispered to the consul.
"Impossible. The servants have gone to bed."
"Someone was listening at this window."
"Whom can it be?"
"Someone who suspects you. Can you think whom it would be?"
"No." The consul shook his head nervously.
"Very well, we'll see."
O'Connor turned and darted out of the window. In a moment he returned holding General Serano's official spy by the scruff of the neck. The interpreter's genial smile had given place to a look of terror and he trembled with fear. O'Connor swung him around so that he faced the consul.
"Do you know him?" he asked.
"Yes," answered Mr. Wyman, as he looked the man over with an expression of disgust, "he is General Serano's man Friday." Then to the man he said sternly: "What are you doing here, in my garden, at this time of night?"
"Preoccupation, Mr. Wyman, preoccupation of the mind. I must have strayed in by mistake. I hope you will pardon me."
"Well, we will think that over, my man," interrupted O'Connor. "How long had you been listening at the window?"
"Listening! O, sir, far be it from me to listen at the window of our esteemed consul."
"You weren't very far from it just now."
"I had just discovered my error, sir, and was about to retrace my steps——"
"Having heard all that you wished," O'Connor broke in.
"I hope the gentleman is jesting. I should be grieved indeed if he held so evil an opinion of me."
"Please consider yourself grieved. Now, Mr. Wyman, I should like to still further impose on your hospitality. This gentleman, I believe, is very anxious to serve me—is that not true, Mr. Friday?"
"Oh, quite true, sir; it shall be my pleasure; but the name, sir, is not Friday—it is Villamonte."
"Mr. Wyman, can I trouble you for a short piece of rope?"
The consul left the room and returned with a piece of clothes-line about three feet long which he handed to O'Connor.
"Now Mr. Monte, I shall have to ask you to extend your hands behind you."
"Surely your excellency will not bind me?"
"My excellency sure will. Stick 'em out and be quick about it."
"I protest. General Serano shall hear of this outrage."
"I am quite confident of that, but I am not ready to lose your company yet, Monte."
O'Connor turned the man around much as he might have done a child, and bound his hands behind him. Then he led him to a chair into which he thrust him and lashed his hands tightly to the back, Villamonte jabbering vehemently in Spanish the while.
"Now, Mr. Wyman," said O'Connor, when he finished, "this gentleman's providential preoccupation of mind will relieve you from the necessity of visiting General Serano. I think he will be very glad to carry out any instructions I may give him." As O'Connor spoke, he carelessly removed a pistol from his belt, and as he examined it he held the muzzle so that it covered the trembling Villamonte, who cowered back in the chair.
"Won't you, Mr. Monte?"
"Whatever his excellency wishes shall be my pleasure," stammered the interpreter.
"Good; now we understand each other, Monte."
GENERAL SERANO MEETS CAPTAIN DYNAMITE
The new cell in which the boys had been placed when the escape of Miss Juanita was discovered, looked out through its barred windows onto the main street of the little straggling town. In the distance, although the house was concealed from view by intervening buildings, they could see the American flag floating over the consulate. This outlook had afforded them some occupation during the day, and even when night fell they stood together gazing silently out into the deserted street, lighted only by the brilliant moon. They began now to feel that their position was critical, and Bert, who more easily yielded to the depressing effects of circumstances, bemoaned his fate and all the series of events that had led up to their present unenviable plight. He was inclined to blame Harry for the initial step.
"If you only hadn't taken it into your Quixotic head to try to aid Captain Dynamite, who is able to take care of himself, we might now be safe on the Mariella," he growled, "instead of waiting patiently for some one to take us out and shoot us."
"Why, Bert, old man, we've got two more days before we step out and play targets. Many things may happen in that time."
"Nothing to help us out of this scrape that I can see."
"Mr. Wyman will surely do all that lies in his power to aid us."
"Yes, but you know yourself that since Serano suspects his connection with the escape of Miss Juanita his power has been very much curtailed."
"Well, there's Captain Dynamite yet to be counted on."
"Humph, where is he and what could he do if he were here?"
"I don't know, Bert, but you can't make me believe that he would abandon us completely to our fate. It's not like him, I tell you."
"If all the hope we have is centred in Dynamite or Wyman I think it is time we began to think of doing something for ourselves."
"Sure," answered Harry in surprise, "but what under the sun can we do, Bert?"
"We might——" Bert hesitated and glanced nervously at his companion; "we might effect some compromise with Serano."
"How?" asked Harry, coldly.
"We might agree to tell him what he wants to know about how we got to the island when we can be assured that it will injure no one."
"There are two reasons why that plan would be useless. In the first place how are we going to tell when Captain Dynamite is safe, and in the second place the affair has gone so far now that I do not think Serano would be satisfied with simply that information. He is pretty well convinced that in some way we are connected with the Cuban cause."
"Oh, gee, I wish I had never gone sailing."
"That's going back a long way to make a connection between cause and effect, Bert," said Harry, who could not help smiling at his companion's hopeless view of the situation.
They were silent again for a time. Not a sound broke the stillness of the night save the regular steps of the sentinel below them. Some light clouds scurried across the moon, shutting off for a time the flood of silver light and throwing a gray shadow over the street.
"Look," said Harry, suddenly. "Didn't you see a man creeping along there?"
"Where?" asked Bert, eagerly.
"In the deep shadow close in by the wall of that house."
"I can see no one," said Bert, after straining his eyes in an effort to penetrate the darkness.
"Watch," whispered Harry. "I know I saw some one creeping along as if he did not want to be seen."
"Even if you did, what does it signify?"
"Captain Dynamite would come that way," answered Harry, confidently.
Suddenly the clouds swept on and again the street was flooded with a radiance that made the shadows cast by the walls of the houses as black as the darkest night in contrast.
"Then did you see?" asked Harry, excitedly.
Bert nodded quickly in the affirmative.
As the moon flashed out they had both seen a man dart closer into the protection of the deep shadow of the wall.
"There's another," whispered Bert, pointing out through the bars in his eagerness, to a point about ten feet beyond where the first man had appeared. "What if the guard should see them too?"
"The sentinels are on the same level and cannot see as well as we can up here. I wonder who they are. See, there is another."
"Who can they be?"
"I'll bet you a dinner when we get home that Captain Dynamite is in town."
"O, Hal, do you think we will ever get home?"
"I'm beginning to feel very sure of it. See, there are other men in the distance and all are coming toward the jail."
The prison stood in a narrow plaza or square facing the main street. Toward the dark shadow of a building that formed a corner of the square the indistinct forms of the men seemed to be making their way. The boys counted nearly a dozen, closely hugging the walls of the low houses, slip one by one into the wider shadow of the corner building. Still the regular steps of the guard below told that the mysterious gathering had not been discovered.
Presently four men emerged boldly from the shadow, and arm in arm, and with unsteady gait approached the prison. In hiccoughing tones they sang a Spanish drinking song. In the bright glare of the moonlight the boys could see that they wore the uniform of Spain.
"Pshaw," said Harry, in a disgusted tone. "They are only a lot of drunken Spanish soldiers after all, making their way back to the barracks."
Harry was keenly disappointed. He had been confident that the strange movements of the men indicated that some action was on foot which he imagined Captain Dynamite was directing.
"But where are the others?" whispered Bert. "There are more in the shadow."
"Probably waiting a chance to slip into the barracks without attracting too much attention from their officers."
The four men reeled on. The regular pacing of the sentinel ceased and he hailed the approaching quartet in a jocular way. They answered with thick tongues and coarse laughter. Presently they passed out of view of the boys, having come close within the shadow of the wall below them.
Then suddenly there was a muffled sound as of one trying to cry out with a heavy pressure on his throat, the hard breathing of men desperately struggling, and then silence.
The boys looked at one another in wonderment. What could it mean? Possibly a drunken squabble between the men and the guard. Now the slow pacing of the sentinel was resumed. Apparently the difficulty had been adjusted.
"I think we might as well get to bed," said Harry, after they had waited for ten minutes without any further developments. "There is nothing doing to-night, I guess."
As he spoke, the cry of a night bird sounded on the still air, but, strangely enough, it seemed to come from directly below their window, instead of from the air above. Almost immediately an answering call was heard in the distance, and then all was still again.
"I am not so sure, after all, that those men were Spaniards," said Harry, as he turned eagerly to the window again.
"Did you hear those signals?"
"I heard a bird."
"I don't think it was a bird."
"Listen; if they were birds we shall hear them again."
The boys listened patiently for several minutes, but the sound was not repeated.
"I believe they were signals, and—look—look! Isn't that Captain Dynamite himself coming out of the shadow further up the street?"
"It certainly looks like him," gasped Bert, "but who is that with him and how does he dare to walk openly in the streets?"
"It's the Spanish interpreter," whispered Harry, after a minute's inspection; "and—and Captain Dynamite, sure. Hooray."
"Don't hooray yet," said Bert, wagging his head disconsolately. "Remember there are more Spaniards in the shadow there."
"Yes, if they are Spaniards."
"And see how closely the interpreter walks. Can Captain Dynamite be a prisoner?"
"Not of that little man," sniffed Harry. "Look at the size of him beside O'Connor."
The two men whom the boys had seen in the distance were indeed O'Connor and Villamonte. They came on through the bright moonlight apparently as unconcerned as if there were not a price on the head of one. And they walked as close together as bosom friends, but a pistol in the coat pocket of Captain Dynamite pressed closely against the side of his companion.
"Now you are sure you know your part, Monte?" said O'Connor, as they neared the prison.
"Sure, your excellency."
"And you know what it means to play any tricks, do you?" As he spoke O'Connor emphasized his remark by jabbing the muzzle of the pistol into Villamonte's ribs.
"Surely your excellency can trust me," quaked the interpreter.
"Yes, under the circumstances. You also want to recollect that I understand Spanish, so you cannot fool me in that way—- and my finger is always on the trigger. At the first word or sign of warning off it goes. Now take that scared expression off and look pleasant; we are nearly there."
At the door of the prison they were met by a Spanish officer, who received Villamonte with great deference and looked wonderingly at O'Connor, who wore his cloak and sombrero so that little of his face was visible.
"Now you've got your cue," said O'Connor, in English, in a low tone, at the same time pressing the pistol harder into Villamonte's side.
"We come from General Serano," said the interpreter reluctantly. "He wishes the American boys removed secretly to the government house, as he anticipates a plot to release them."
The officer bowed and Villamonte and O'Connor passed into the jail.
"Do you wish your escort to enter also?" asked the officer.
Villamonte turned in surprise and saw eight men close upon their heels, but as he quickly noted that they all wore Spanish uniforms, he smiled triumphantly.
"Yes," said O'Connor, in English, and again the pressure against his side brought Villamonte to his senses.
"Yes," he repeated to the officer, and the men filed silently in and the door was closed behind them.
"Now," said O'Connor, turning to the officer in command, and for the first time speaking in Spanish, "if you will kindly conduct us to the cell of the American prisoners we shall be obliged to you, and if we wish to please General Serano, haste is essential."
The officer preceded them down the corridor, which was lighted dimly, and then ascended a winding stone staircase to the floor above. He opened the door of a cell and stood aside for them to enter.
As Harry saw O'Connor's big form in the doorway he rushed forward with a glad cry:
"I knew it, Bert, it's Captain Dynamite. I told you he would come."
"Hush," said O'Connor, as he took the youngsters in his arms, much as one would two children and gave them a bear-like hug, "not so loud. We can take no chances, for we are not out of the woods yet."
"It's the terrible Captain Dynamite," cried the officer in dismay. Then he turned and fled down the stairs. Villamonte, relieved from the pressure on his ribs, slunk towards the door. O'Connor saw him and laughed.
"Run along, Monte, if you wish. I don't need you any more."
"But he will give the alarm," said Harry, in a frightened tone.
"No, I think not; but gather up your things, if you have any, for we must lose no time in getting out of here."
"We've got nothing but what we stand in, Cap," said Harry, laughing, "and this old Spanish uniform does not fit me very well, at that. Maybe Miss Juanita is through with my clothes by this time."
"God bless you, youngster, they served her well."
"She is all right?"
"Right as a trivet and safe aboard the old Mariella by this time, thanks to you."
As they reached the lower corridor one of the men saluted and said:
"We put them in there, sir," pointing to a room opening off the corridor, which was used by the officer in command of the watch. O'Connor looked in and burst into one of his hearty laughs.
"Come here, youngsters, and take a last look at the valiant jailers," he said. The boys stepped forward and looked into the room. The four soldiers, gagged and bound hand and foot, were sitting with their backs against the wall, and facing them, and also bound in the same ignominious manner, were the commander and Villamonte.
Harry could not refrain from gloating a little over his fallen enemy.
"How about the glory of Spain, Mr. Interpreter?" he enquired. Villamonte scowled but did not reply.
"Come now, boys, we must be moving. This place is pretty hot for me," said O'Connor.
At this moment some one knocked loudly on the door of the prison and a deep voice called in Spanish:
"Open, captain of the guard; it is I."
"Who is I?" asked O'Connor.
"Open at once. I am General Serano."
The boys caught the name and it struck terror to their souls. O'Connor smiled.
"Is General Serano alone?" he enquired.
"Yes; why do you keep me here. Open, I say."
O'Connor motioned to the boys to step behind the men, who were grouped a few feet in the rear of the corridor awaiting instructions. Then he threw open the prison door and stood back for General Serano to enter.
THE ESCAPE—VILLAMONTE AGAIN BEATEN.
As General Serano stepped ever the threshold of the jail, O'Connor slipped the heavy bolts and turned the big key in the lock; then he placed the key in his pocket.
"Who are you, and where is the captain of the guard?" asked Serano, starting back in surprise when he saw O'Connor.
"The captain is engaged at present," said O'Connor, bowing and smiling impudently; "what can I do for your excellency?"
"Take me at once to the American prisoners. I have decided to revoke the two days' reprieve. Their sentence shall be executed in the morning unless they choose to bend their stubborn spirits and tell me for whom they are acting. They are not alone in this thing. Even now their friends may be gathering and threatening our outposts."
"That is quite true, your excellency; it certainly is wise to take every precaution. Your visit was very well timed, as a few minutes later you might have found the prisoners out. They were just starting for a little airing. The prison is very close, don't you think?"
Serano looked puzzled, and O'Connor said, in English:
"Step forward, boys, and say 'How-de' to his excellency."
Harry and Bert came from behind the men, and stopping in front of the general, saluted him gravely.
"What does this mean?" demanded Serano, looking from the boys to O'Connor, as a suspicion that all was not right flashed into his mind. "Where is the captain of the guard? I insist that he shall report to me at once. And who are you, sir, who usurps the authority of the commandant here?"
"I am Captain Dynamite, at your service, your excellency," said O'Connor, making an elaborate bow and doffing his sombrero so that his features were revealed to the now thoroughly frightened general.
Serano leaped back and for a moment seemed dazed. Then his eyes fell on the eight soldiers standing back of the boys. His waning courage returned, and drawing himself up, he pointed his finger at O'Connor as he addressed the men.
"There is a price on that man's head. Seize him and see to it that he does not escape."
Not a man stirred. O'Connor, who had rolled a cigarette, turned to Serano.
"May I trouble you for a light, general. There is no reason why we should not talk this thing over calmly."
"Dogs," continued the general, stamping his foot, "why do you not obey me? Seize that man. He is a desperate outlaw."
Some of the men jeered and others took a threatening step or two in the direction of the general, who jumped back into a corner of the corridor.
"What plot is this?" he gasped.
"Those are my men, general," said O'Connor calmly. "I should advise you not to be so violent. They do not like your language, you see. May I trouble you for that light?"
Serano drew out his match box and held it at arms length, lest O'Connor come too near him.
"Have no fear, sir," said O'Connor, who saw his perturbation, "No harm will come to you if you are wise enough to follow my instructions. You see, you are helpless. We hold the jail and no one will discover the plot until the watch is changed at midnight. Your guards are bound and gagged, and enjoying a siesta with your spy, Villamonte, in there." "Villamonte, too," exclaimed Serano, in surprise.
"Yes; he was kind enough to secure for me the entree to your jail, a favor any one in town would have been eager to grant, I doubt not, but Monte was the first to present himself. Perhaps you would like to see him. You will find him in there with the others."
General Serano walked to the door of the officers' room and looked in. He started back with an expression of anger.
"This is an outrage on her majesty's soldiers for which you shall pay dearly, sir."
"Let's not talk about pay between gentlemen, General Serano. I think you will admit that if it came to a settlement I have rather the best of it just now, and if I were so inclined, I could remove one of Cuba's most implacable enemies with one stroke of a machete. But I am not here for that purpose. There are others who will undoubtedly attend to that later. Now, all that I require of you is that you sit down at that table and write me a pass that will take me and my friends through your lines."
"Never, sir. I will call the outside guard," and the general made a leap for the door.
"The night is warm, general. Don't over-exert yourself. The door is locked and the key is in my pocket, and besides, if I should let you out you would only fall into the hands of more of my men. Your outside guard is also bound and gagged, and reclining against the wall of the jail in the shadow. The sentinels you saw on patrol when you approached the jail are my men. You see, there is no escape."
"But the uniforms—they are Spain's."
"Yes, they belonged to unfortunate men who fell fighting for your cause. We Cubans have quite a stock of them on hand. I think you said you would write that pass."
"No, sir, never," roared the general, with a rattling Spanish oath.
"Very well, then I am sure you will pardon a few liberties."
O'Connor turned to the waiting men and said: "Remove the general's uniform."
"What is the meaning of this new outrage?" gasped Serano, backing into his corner again as O'Connor's men started to execute his order.
"Your uniform will serve as a passport if you refuse to write the pass," said O'Connor laughing.
"I'll write the pass," said the general quickly, and O'Connor motioned back his men. "My uniform shall never be so disgraced."
"Suit yourself, general—uniform or pass—it's all the same to me. There is pen and ink."
Serano sat down and with ill grace wrote something on a piece of paper which he handed to O'Connor. The latter read it and handed it back, with a shake of his head.
"You will have to try again, general," he said. "Now write as I dictate."
"Your nevers come trippingly on the tongue, general. Boys, the general's uniform, please."
"No, no, I'll write it."
"Very well, but please to remember that I have no time for elocutionary exercises. One more never and off comes that uniform. I'll give you just three minutes to write this: 'Pass Captain O'Connor and his party through all Spanish lines and outposts.' That's right; now sign it."
Reluctantly Serano affixed his signature.
"Thank you," said O'Connor, with mock respect, as he took the paper. "Now there is just one more little favor that I feel sure you will be pleased to grant me, and that is to step upstairs with my men and see how you like the room the American boys have just vacated. You will find it quite comfortable. Our accommodations are a little overtaxed just now. Don't forget to leave your key at the office when you go out, and don't blow out the gas. Now boys, show the new guest to his room."
O'Connor laughed until he was forced to hold his sides as his men, delighted with their task, roughly hustled the astonished and fuming officer along the corridor and up the steps. They heard an iron door slam and the men returned and saluted with grinning faces.
"Always find it a good thing to let your men have a little enjoyment mixed in with their work. Come on now, let's say good-bye to Monte and go. It only lacks an hour of midnight and when the watch changes it will not be long before our little game is discovered."
As he spoke, O'Connor walked to the door of the officer's room and looked in, followed by the boys.
"Good-bye, Mr. Interpreter," said Harry, "what are the quotations on glory to-night?"
Villamonte wagged the ends of his waxed mustache in an effort to speak. O'Connor laughed and turning to the door, unlocked it, and slipping back the bolts, gave a low whistle, like the one the boys had heard from their cell window. In a moment the answer came.
"Come on," said O'Connor, "the coast is clear."
They passed silently out into the night. The eight men joined their comrades and the next moment, one by one, they darted across the streak of moonlight and disappeared in the deep shadow of the building at the corner of the square. O'Connor stopped and looked around to see if they had been observed, but the streets were deserted.
"Aren't you afraid that General Serano will yell through the window and give an alarm?" asked Harry, looking up to the bars of the cell they had so recently occupied.
"My men never leave a prisoner so that he can yell," said O'Connor, chuckling. "We have about an hour's start, and if we make the best of that we should be well out of the woods before the escape is discovered."
O'Connor walked rapidly and they soon reached the outskirts of the little straggling town without meeting anyone to question them. Now and then Harry saw dark forms ahead gliding along in the shadows of the low buildings or darting swiftly across patches of moonlight, and he knew O'Connor's men were within call. O'Connor, himself, walked openly, with a boy on each side of him. In half an hour they had left the last of the huts of the reconcentrados behind them and struck boldly out into the open country, the twelve men, at a command from O'Connor, falling into marching order behind him.
In the dim distance lay their haven of safety: the dark, wooded foothills of the mountain that towered in black, ragged outlines before them, and the low-lying jungle at its base, within whose shelter O'Connor knew nearly a thousand determined men lay, only waiting word from him that his mission had failed, to move like a whirlwind on the unsuspecting outposts entrenched between them and the town.
"We must be getting close to their lines," said O'Connor, looking at his watch. Then he turned quickly and put his hand to his ear in a listening attitude. At first the boys could not distinguish the sound that his quick ear had caught, and then indistinctly a faint, hollow clatter came over the plain from behind them. They strained their eyes but could see nothing that might cause it.
"It's a horse—galloping hard," said O'Connor, and his mouth set into that straight line that the boys knew so well. "Lie down."
O'Connor set the example and dropped on his stomach, with his ear to the ground. After a moment he raised his head slightly, and said:
"I think there is only one, but it will be safer to get under cover. Crawl to those bushes and lie low."
They all wriggled along the ground until they were partially concealed from view by one of the clumps of low trees and shrubs that dotted the plain.
"Do you think they have discovered our escape?" asked Bert.
"Can't tell yet," answered O'Connor, who was standing up behind a tree, trying to catch a glimpse of the rider whose approach was heralded by the vigorous pounding of his horse's hoofs. "I am satisfied that there is but one horse and it hardly seems likely that one man would set out in pursuit of a dozen, nor can I think it is a courier riding so hard at this time of night."
The clatter of hoofs now became distinct, and away in the distance they could see a speck that grew larger each minute, until it took the form of a horse and rider. The course he was taking would bring him within an eighth of a mile of the party. As he came nearer O'Connor strained his eyes to make out the rider. The moon was getting low, but there was still light enough on the plain to make it possible to distinguish faces at some distance.
On came the horse, and the watchers could see that his rider was urging him with voice and spur. Nearer and nearer they came until the foam flecks shone white in the moonlight.
"By thunder," said O'Connor, suddenly; "it's the old villain, Monte. How did he get out?"
"Who is it?" asked Harry, eagerly.
"Villamonte, the interpreter."
"Then the escape has been discovered."
"But what is he doing out here alone?"
There was a moment's silence while O'Connor watched the panting horse come tearing on. Now he was almost abreast of the clump of trees, and even the boys, with their untrained eyes, could make out their persistent enemy, Villamonte.
"He's riding for the outpost to revoke this pass," said O'Connor, slowly tapping the pocket that contained the paper. "They think that is the best means of trapping us."
"It's all up with us then, if he gets there first," said Bert, "and we have no horses to stop him."
"No, but we have something just as good," said O'Connor, turning quickly to the man behind him; "let me have your Mauser, Pedro."
He took the rifle and stepped out into the open. Dropping on his knee, he raised the weapon to his shoulder and seemingly without aiming at the flying mark, fired. The boys shrank back involuntarily. Bloodshed, no matter how necessary, was revolting. Still, they could not help watching to see the result of O'Connor's shot. The horse pitched forward and rolled over on his side, pinning his rider beneath him.
"Shoot the horse if he is not already dead, and bring in the man," said O'Connor, coolly handing the rifle back. Two men started on a dog trot for the fallen horse and rider.
"Is—is he dead?" asked Harry, hesitatingly.
"The horse or the man?"
"No, there is nothing the matter with Monte more than a broken arm perhaps. I shot at the horse. I am sorry—I would almost rather have shot the man. But it had to be done."
BACK TO THE MARIELLA
Perspiration dripped from the drooping ends of Villamonte's waxed mustache as the men brought the discomforted interpreter before O'Connor. He had suffered nothing worse than a few bruises, but he was covered with dust and dirt and his expression was a strange mixture of fear and amazement. He could not seem to comprehend what had happened.
"We couldn't lose you, could we, Monte?" said O'Connor laughing. "I am sorry to have had to deprive you of your horse, but you were riding faster than the speed limit. Now I think the safest thing to do with you is to take you right along with us. You seem to like our company. Pedro, bind the gentleman's hands behind him and slip a gag into his mouth. We cannot take any more chances with you, Mr. Interpreter."
Villamonte, who knew that it would be useless to protest, contented himself with scowling at O'Connor and the boys. Then they took up the march again and met with no further obstacle until they were challenged by the outposts at the trenches. General Serano's pass took them into the presence of the officer in command, who looked the party over with some surprise.
"You are escorting a prisoner, Captain O'Connor, I see," he said. "General Serano does not mention him in his pass."
"I did not know that General Serano had to explain his affairs to his subordinates, sir."
"It is a little unusual."
"I should advise you to ask no questions in this matter. It is a mission in which the general is deeply interested. These two young men have been for some days his guests, awaiting an opportunity to get to the coast. This prisoner is a man of so desperate a character that it is not deemed safe to even grant him ordinary privileges. I dare not remove the gag from his mouth even while safe within the lines, lest some secret signal he might utter bring a horde of insurgents about our ears. There is a price on his head. General Serano does not mention him in the pass, captain, because of this. In the strictest confidence I will mention a name to you that will explain the need for extraordinary caution."
O'Connor lowered his voice almost to a whisper as he leaned confidentially toward the officer and said:
"Captain Dynamite is in this party."
"Ah! He is the terrible Captain Dynamite?" gasped the commander, taking a few steps backward and pointing at Villamonte. O'Connor put his finger to his lips and said:
"'Sh! Remember I have not said so."
"I understand, Captain O'Connor. I am honored by your confidence. Pass on with your prisoner with what speed you may."
The party made their way rapidly through the lines and within an hour, with O'Connor as guide, they had reached the shelter of the thick brush that separated them from the lagoon where the Mariella lay.
"Now, boys," said O'Connor, as he slackened his pace, "you are as safe as if you were under your own roof trees. There are a thousand men at our command lying within these woods and stretched from the coast to the mountain yonder. All of Spain's army could not fight its way through that line."
"Why have we not been challenged by the sentries?" asked Harry. "The Spaniards might creep among them as we have done."
"O, no, we are expected and our approach has been watched and covered by ready guns for some time. There are men now within ten feet of us. See?"
O'Connor uttered that peculiar bird cry, which was answered at once from the bushes near at hand, and the next moment, as silently as an Indian, a man stepped out in front of them and saluted O'Connor.
"Where is the general?" asked the captain.
"At his headquarters in the clearing. He wished to be notified of the safe arrival of your party."
"We will go to him at once. Take this prisoner and keep him securely bound, but you can remove the gag now. My dear Monte, you will kindly accompany this gentleman. And now, my men," he continued to his twelve companions, who still grouped themselves about him, "you have done your part well. I thank each of you for your fidelity. You can join your separate companies and present my thanks to your commanders."
The men, as they passed O'Connor, shook his hand warmly. There was something about the man that made everyone with whom he came in contact glad to serve him.
"Now, come on, boys; we will go to the general and thank him for his aid."
"What general is it?" asked Bert.
"General Gomez, bless him," answered O'Connor, doffing his sombrero to an imaginary presence.
"Then we shall see General Gomez," said Harry, eagerly.
"That ye will, and a fine bit of a fighter ye'll see, too."
With O'Connor in the lead they pushed their way through the dense brush until they came out into an open space that had been cleared by axe and machete, but that it was no new rendezvous was evident from the directness with which O'Connor approached it through the pathless underbrush. It was about forty feet square and in the middle there had been erected a rough shelter, or hut, without walls, the thatched roof being supported by four poles. Under this, in a reclining camp chair, sat the grizzled old warrior, with several of his staff officers. He rose as they entered the clearing and advanced toward O'Connor with his hand extended in greeting.
For some time they talked earnestly together, O'Connor making a report of his expedition into the town and the rescue of the prisoners. Now and then the old general would turn his weather-beaten face toward the boys, and in the flickering light of the camp fire they could see the expression of cold severity melt away into a smile as soft and gentle as a woman's. Presently, the conference ended, he stepped over to Harry and Bert, shook each by the hand, and then retired to the hut again, and at once began to issue orders to his staff. One by one they saluted and left him.
"Are they going to attack the town?" asked Harry.
"No, my boy, not now. Had we not appeared the attack would have been made within an hour. As it is, the general will return to Cubitas to continue his campaign as originally planned, and Captain Morgan, who moved up here to co-operate with the general, will return and cover the removal of our cargo. All that remains now is to take the old Mariella safely out of these waters and then we can say, 'All's well that ends well!' In the meantime, as I am a bit anxious myself to get away, we will press on and make the lagoon by dawn. Then you boys will have a chance to put in a little sleep, for, as our friend Washington would say, I'm not such a mucher at guessing, but I'll warrant you are running a little short of rest since your arrival on these lively shores."
The boys were indeed completely fagged out. The reaction following the nervous strain and the excitement of the past few days was beginning to set in, and Harry felt that if he could once more climb into his bunk on the Mariella he could sleep for twenty-four hours. Still, they pulled themselves together and struck out again into the bush close in the wake of O'Connor, who seemed to be made of iron.
As they reached the shores of the lagoon the sky was just brightening with the gray dawn. The outlines of the Mariella were dimly discernable. Bert and Harry, now completely exhausted, threw themselves at full length on the beach. O'Connor put his fingers to his lips and again that strange bird cry floated out on the still air over the dark lagoon. There was no answer, but in a moment the sound of creaking ropes could be heard, and then there was the splash of a boat in the water, followed presently by the regular sound of oars. O'Connor lighted a match and held it for a second above his head as a signal to the rowers.
A boat's keel grated on the sand and Suarez leaped out and seized O'Connor's hand in both of his.
"Glad to see you back safe, sir," he said, earnestly. "Miss Juanita and her mother are safe on board and I see you have the two young gentlemen with you, so we are all accounted for again."
"Good, Suarez, and how about the cargo?"
"Nearly all on shore. We shall be ready for sea again by midnight if Morgan returns to take charge of the removal on shore."
"Morgan and his men will be here within a few hours. Keep the cargo moving; I shall not feel at rest until I get well out to sea again."
Suarez turned toward the boat and the boys heard him mutter:
"Petticoats always do knock the pluck out of a man."
As they rowed alongside of the Mariella, day had dawned and the boys could distinguish Miss Juanita, Mason, and Washington leaning over the rail. Little Mason swung his cap and shouted in his joy.
At this point Washington seized him and dragged him back, at the same time placing his finger on his own lips to indicate that he should be quiet.
"O, bother," grunted Mason, "who's afraid now the cap's back?"
Miss Juanita greeted them warmly as they came over the side. She took a hand of each boy and kissed it with a pretty little courtesy. Washington was so jubilant that he could not refrain from a few steps of a double shuffle on the deck.
"Ah guessed Massa Cap'n Dynamite'd bring 'em all back all right, all right, an' ah ain't such a mucher at guessin' either," he said, with a wide grin.
The boys, quite abashed by Miss Juanita's demonstrative thanks, stammered a few words in reply and turned to greet their eager companion.
"Say, fels, tell me all about it," said the Midget, dragging them off to the forward part of the deck.
"First got to go to the galley with George Wash Jenks and get some coffee and bite to eat. Ah bet you suah hungry, Misser Harry an' Misser Bert."
"We suah are, Washington. What have you got to eat in there?"
"Ah guess ah got some suah 'nough fresh doughnuts."
"Oh, doughnuts for ours," cried the boys in chorus.
"Also for mine, Wash," said Mason solemnly. "I may not be a hero, but I've got just as good an appetite for fresh doughnuts as if I had rescued the maiden all forlorn. How about that, Wash?"
"Suah, Misser Mason, you get doughnuts too."
"Very well, then, lead on."
They followed the grinning and happy negro into the galley, while O'Connor and Miss Juanita joined her mother on the after deck. For half an hour they were busy tucking away Washington's doughnuts and coffee, while Mason waited patiently for the story of their adventures. Full stomachs and a sense of safety after a period of excitement and danger, however, brought about a lethargy that only rest and sleep could dispel, and with heavy eyes and weary legs they dragged themselves aft to their stateroom, and crawling into their bunks, fully dressed as they were, fell into a heavy sleep despite the disgusted protests of Mason, who was finally obliged to leave them to their dreamless slumber.
THE ESCAPE FROM THE LAGOON
When the boys awoke it was dark again. They had slept through the day without a break. Mason, who had been hovering around restlessly all day, poked his head into the stateroom just as Harry was rubbing his eyes.
"O, say, you chaps, have you returned to life again? Do you know you have been pounding your ears for thirteen hours?"
"Where are we, Midget?" asked Harry, yawning.
"Still in the blooming lagoon."
"Oh, yes, I remember now." Harry sighed comfortably and turned over.
"Oh, say, you fellows; turn out. You have had sleep enough and I am as lonely as a cow in a strange pasture. You've had all the fun; now the least you can do is to get up and tell me about it."
"Fun, eh?" said Bert, who had been awakened by the conversation. "I wish you had had my part of the enjoyment. More quiet amusement will do for me."
"I am as hungry as a bear," said Harry, jumping out of bed. "If you won't let us sleep we must eat. Have you had supper yet?"
"No; Cap said he was going to wait until you waked up."
"All right; if you'll get a bucket of water we'll be ready in short order. I've got to wash up. I'm as dirty as a digger Indian."
When Harry turned out he found his own suit, carefully mended and pressed, laid out over a chair. He gladly discarded his badly fitting Spanish uniform, and after a good wash, donned his own clothing again and made quite a presentable appearance as he walked out on deck, where he found O'Connor and Miss Juanita and her mother lounging lazily in steamer chairs.
O'Connor jumped up and warmly welcomed the boys, and Miss Juanita insisted upon presenting them to her mother as "the brave American lads who had saved her from the vengeance of General Serano."
"And now, youngsters," said O'Connor, as soon as they had blushingly acknowledged the warmly expressed gratitude of Miss Juanita's mother, "I know you are hungry and dinner waits. My Waldorf chef has done himself proud in honor of the occasion and George Wash Jenks, his assistant, has begged to be allowed to serve us. Let's get busy." He rose as he spoke and the boys saw that he had dressed himself with scrupulous care again, in a suit of light flannel, yachting cap, and immaculately white canvas shoes.
It was a merry party that gathered around the cabin table, which, with its elaborate setting of crystal and silver, would have been a credit to any domestic establishment. Washington, in a white coat and apron, his face wide ajar with a happy grin, served them skillfully. After dessert had been cleared away and O'Connor had secured permission from the ladies to smoke his cigarette, Mason, who had been for many hours impatiently waiting to hear the story of his comrades' adventures, saw his opportunity, and rising and bowing to the company with his funny, grave expression, said:
"Ladies and gentlemen, and our distinguished host: Little as I am accustomed to public speaking, I wish right here to say that I consider that I have been very shabbily treated. Fickle fortune robbed me of an opportunity to become a hero, and it looks as if I would now be denied even the poor gratification of enjoying the thrilling adventures of my brave comrades by word of mouth. I know I'm little and perhaps my suit would not have fitted Miss Juanita as well as my friend Hamilton's, but it was not because of my size that unkind fate singled him out for the hero part and left me not so much as an understudy. It was pure hard luck, and now I demand, as the slighted party, that the story of the rescue from the Spanish prison be told in the minutest detail for the benefit of the assembled company by those who acted the principal parts. Captain Dynamite, I leave it to you if it is not due to a disappointed, would-be hero?"
O'Connor laughed heartily at the boy, who kept a serious and sober face during his harangue.
"Your position is well taken, Master Mason," he said. "I propose that Master Hamilton begin the story at the point where he and his companion fell into the hands of the Spaniards."
After some urging Harry told in an easy narrative style the story of his and Bert's adventures, to which Mason listened breathlessly, while Washington, who had been permitted to stand behind O'Connor's chair, alternately grinned and stared in amazement. The story of the misfortune of Villamonte seemed to amuse him greatly, and as Harry described his expression as he lay bound and gagged in the prison, the negro slapped his leg in glee, and for a moment forgetting himself, cried out.
"Ah guess Misser Tree Card Monte not bother Massa Cap'n Dynamite no more. He, he, ha, ha."
They all joined with Washington in his mirth, and in the midst of their hilarity the cabin door opened and Suarez, with a reproachful expression, looked in at O'Connor and waited for the noise to subside.
"Captain Morgan's sentinels on the point report a light off shore, sir," he said, as soon as he could make himself heard.
"What sort of a light, Suarez?" asked O'Connor, without showing any excitement.
"Probably a vessel's light, sir."
"Very well. Call me if it seems to be making in shore."
Suarez cast another glance at O'Connor that seemed to say, "Petticoats are out of place on filibusters," but he wisely refrained from expressing any such opinions aloud.
Harry continued his narrative and O'Connor appeared to listen with as great an interest as if he were not familiar with the details already. Harry noticed, however, that every now and then he cast a glance at the door as if he expected Suarez to return. He had reached that point in his story where they discover Villamonte riding madly after them on the plain and Washington's eyes were bulging with excitement, when the door again opened and Suarez stepped in and saluted.
"I think you had better come on deck, sir," he said, quietly.
"All right, Suarez," said O'Connor, jumping up quickly. "Go on with your story, my boy, I will join you again shortly. Keep up the interest; you've got your audience in the proper mood now." With a light laugh, intended to allay any anxiety Suarez's words might have caused his guests, O'Connor left the cabin.
Harry realized that some danger threatened them, but catching a significant look in the eyes of the captain as he left the room, fell in with his purpose readily and continued his story as if nothing had happened.
"What is it, Suarez?" asked O'Connor, as soon as they were alone on deck.
"She's headed in shore and directly for the inlet, sir."
"Can you make her out yet?"
"I have not been ashore, sir, but Morgan's men say they can only see her lights."
"Lower a boat and let me take your glasses. I do not want to alarm the ladies by returning to the cabin for mine."
"Women are a bit of a nuisance at such times, sir," said Suarez, who could no longer refrain from expressing his views, however mildly.
"No, you are wrong there, Suarez," said O'Connor, who understood the mate's aversion to everyone and everything that was not working directly for the good of the cause. "They are only an incentive to extra caution, which you must admit is an admirable thing for me." Suarez shook his head doubtfully as he went forward to get the boat in the water and O'Connor laughed at his officer's crochet.
A boat was quickly lowered and manned, and O'Connor was rowed to the point of land that separated the lagoon from the ocean. He made his way to a group of men who, in the shelter of some palm trees, were watching the red and green lights of an approaching vessel.
"Can you make her out?" asked O'Connor, eagerly.
"No, sir. We have no glasses. Perhaps you can tell what she is."
O'Connor took a long look at the lights, which were yet mere specks.
"I can't make her out yet," he said, as he lowered his glasses, "but whoever she is she must know the coast hereabouts pretty well to head in so close."
He sat down with his back to one of the trees and his face to the sea and rolled a cigarette. He smoked calmly for ten minutes and then put his glasses to his eyes again.
"She's a gunboat," he said finally. "Let me know in fifteen minutes if she still holds her course."
He turned back to his boat and was rowed rapidly back to the Mariella. Suarez met him at the gangway.
"Did you make her out, sir?" he asked eagerly.
"Yes, she's a gunboat—I think our old friend the Belair, and if it be she there is no significance in her presence here. She has probably been cruising up and down the coast since we left her trying to solve the mystery of our sudden disappearance. But in any event you better prepare for the worst; but quietly, Suarez, quietly. We do not want to alarm the ladies unnecessarily."
"Bother the ladies," grumbled Suarez to himself, as he went forward to carry out the captain's orders. O'Connor leaned on the rail facing the black point of land that hid them from view. Presently a boat put out from the shore and as she came under the Mariella's quarter, O'Connor whispered:
"Only the red light shows now, sir," answered a man in the small boat.
"She has changed her course, then. Good. Keep a sharp lookout and let me know at once if she changes again."
"It seems to be steady, sir. I think she has come to anchor."
"Whew," whistled O'Connor; "that's bad."
The little boat put back to shore and O'Connor stood leaning over the rail in deep thought. Meanwhile dark shapes moved quickly, but silently, across the deck as the men took their quarters. The mate aroused O'Connor from his reverie.
"All is ready, sir," he said.
"Very good, Suarez. I think I know what her game is now. She's beating the coast for just such hidden spots as this lagoon. Get word at once to the men on the point to watch carefully for the approach of a launch or small boat. There is to be no demonstration unless they find the inlet. In that case let them see that no one gets out again. And Suarez, the machete—no guns. There must be no noise to tell the Belair what has happened."
O'Connor rejoined the party in the cabin with a smile on his lips that belied the weight of anxiety on his mind.
"Now ladies," he said cheerily, "if Harry has finished his tale of adventure we will bid you good night, as I have to make ready for sea. You will occupy my cabin, as I have no doubt the boys will be quite willing to bunk with me in a spare stateroom forward."
The boys bade the ladies good night and retired to the deck with the captain.
"What's up, Cap?" asked Harry, as soon as the door closed behind them.
"Can't fool you, eh?" laughed O'Connor.
"I knew something had gone wrong, sir, as soon as you left the cabin."
"Well, I suppose I might just as well tell you boys, for you will find out sooner or later, but I do not want a word of it to reach the ladies; you understand?"
"We'll be as silent as clams at high water," said Mason, "but I should like to have it thoroughly understood that I am next in line for any hero parts."
"There is a Spanish gunboat—the same one we had the little mix-up with coming down, I think—lying just off the inlet. I believe that her commander suspects that we have hidden away in some such place as this and he is beating the shore with small boats in the hope of locating us."
"But what chance would a small boat have if she did discover us?"
"If the boat crew discovered us and got away the gunboat could shell us out or sink us in the lagoon."
"Another cheery outlook," groaned Bert. "I thought we were safe on the Mariella and it seems that it is only a choice between Spanish guns ashore and Spanish shells at sea."
"Oh, it's not quite so bad as that, Master Wilson," said O'Connor laughing, but with an anxious look in the direction of the cabin. "If they do not discover our hiding-place we shall sneak out all right under cover of darkness, and if they do discover it, we shall have to fight for it; but in either event we shall get out." O'Connor's mouth tightened into that straight line that indicated his desperate moods. He stepped over to the rail and fixed his eyes on the black shore of the lagoon. It was his usual abrupt method of closing a conversation, and the boys who were now familiar with his peculiarities, did not attempt to question him further.
The tide was running into the inlet and the Mariella had swung around on her anchor chains until she was pointed directly for the hidden opening to the sea. The boys left O'Connor to his thoughts and strolled forward. The sky was partially overcast and the moon, which had just risen, was almost obscured by heavy, slowly moving clouds. Now and then, however, it broke through a rift, flooding the lagoon with its silvery light and throwing the black sides of the Mariella into bold relief. Not a breath of air stirred leaf or twig.
"We are ready for action," whispered Harry, as they passed the silent forms of the men standing quietly at their stations. "They won't catch Captain Dynamite napping, any way."
Near the fo'c'sle deck they found Washington at his post, a Mauser in his hand and machete and pistols in his belt.
"Hullo, Wash," said Mason, "are we going to have another mix-up?"
The negro grinned and bobbed his head rapidly at the same time placing his finger on his lips.
"What's the matter? Lost your tongue again?"
"'Sh. George Wash Jenks can't talk on fightin' duty."
"That's right, Wash; obey orders," said Harry, as they passed on.
The dark forms of the waiting men, the dead silence that hung over the steamer, and the tense air of anxiety and doubt that pervaded all began to have a disquieting effect upon the boys who, at first, full of confidence in the courage and experience of O'Connor, had regarded their situation as only remotely dangerous. For a long time they stood looking off at the screen of trees and vines that separated them from the sea, where the gunboat lay in wait for its prey.
A black cloud that had obscured the face of the moon slowly passed over it, and again the shores of the lagoon stood out in detail, almost as if the sun shone upon them. Harry placed a hand quickly on Bert's shoulder and pointed ahead of them. There was a commotion in the leafy screen as if something was forcing its way through. The next moment the bow of a boat crept slowly out until its full length was visible within the lagoon. Another cloud began to draw a fleecy fringe across the moon, but before its darker center passed over the shining disc, the boys could see many black moving spots on the surface of the water, rapidly approaching the boat from behind.
"We must tell the captain," said Harry, turning quickly, only to find O'Connor with folded arms standing silently behind them, watching the scene with contracted brow. He did not appear to notice the presence of the boys.
"Now, quick," he hissed between his teeth, as if coaching someone in the distance, and at the same time the boys saw the black spots rise from the water, as many arms shot up and seized the gunwale of the boat. Then a veil of darkness shut out the dramatic scene as the cloud shut out the light of the moon.
There was a sound of splashing water, a low cry or two and then silence again. O'Connor turned away and joined the mate, who had watched the brief spectacle from the bridge.
"It was well done, Suarez," said O'Connor.
"Aye, aye, sir; it was a neat job. Trust Morgan's men for that." The splash of oars alongside interrupted them and the sentries' boat appeared again. O'Connor leaned over the bridge.
"Boat and four men captured at the inlet, sir," called a voice from out of the darkness.
"Good; anyone hurt?"
"Not a soul, sir. We were two to one and they threw up their hands when we climbed over the stern of their boat. What shall we do with the prisoners?"
"Turn them over to Captain Morgan; and now, Suarez, when can we go to sea?"
"Whenever you please, sir. The cargo is all ashore."
"Get up steam at once."
"Are you going to take her out to-night, sir, in the face of the Belair?"
"If I don't take her out to-night we shall have to run the gauntlet in a hail of solid shot. It will not be long before they will suspect that something has happened to that boat. By daybreak the Belair will move in. Our only chance is to get out under cover of darkness. She is well within range now, but we can get clear of the inlet with a bit of speed on before she discovers us, and if we've got to fight I prefer the open sea."
"Very well, sir. Shall I heave the anchors?" asked Suarez.
"You can't heave the anchors until you get up steam, man."
"I told you we were ready for sea, sir," said Suarez, in a reproachful tone. "The Mariella is always at your command."
Fifteen minutes later O'Connor stood in the pilot house with his hand on the wheel. He looked back for a moment at the two sentinel palms and then he rang the bell for full speed ahead.
The engines throbbed, the screws churned the still water of the lagoon into a white froth and the Mariella, with rapidly increasing speed, poked her nose into the green foliage that barred her passage to the sea. Branches and vines scraped along her sides for a moment and then, released from their impeding embrace, she forged ahead with a tremble and start into the open sea. The red portlight of the waiting gunboat gleamed in the darkness a few points off her port bow. O'Connor swung her head around until the light was off the Mariella's quarter. Then he turned the wheel over to the steersman who stood beside him.
"Keep her steady, now," he said, as he left the pilot house and returned to the bridge, where Suarez stood with his glasses trained on the red light.
"No sign of movement, yet, sir," he said.
"You have no lights burning?"
"Not a light aboard, sir, except in the binnacle."
"All depends upon the moon then. She'll hardly make us out against the shore. If the moon stays in for fifteen minutes we shall be out of range of her guns and we can outfoot her in a stern chase."
Mrs. Hamilton sat on the broad veranda of her cottage looking wistfully out to sea. She was pale and languid from the weight of many anxious days and sleepless nights. Before her lay the treacherous ocean, now calm and peaceful, rippling laughingly in the summer sunshine. The white sails of tiny pleasure craft skimmed lightly over its placid surface, and in striking contrast to her unhappy mood, nature and the world seemed to show their cheeriest faces. The laughing voices of merry youngsters, the twitter of the sparrows in the trees, the soft notes of a girl's happy song wafted to her from a passing yacht, all grated harshly on her overwrought nerves. Day in and day out, in sunshine and storm, since Harry's disappearance, she had sat in a sheltered corner of the veranda and—waited.
Mr. Hamilton stepped out of the cottage, and drawing a chair beside her, took her hand gently in his and caressed it silently.
"There is no word yet?" she said, finally, without taking her eyes from the dancing water.
"And you have been unable to learn anything of the steamer,—the Mariella?"
"All that my agents can find out is that she is apparently a tramp, and that she cleared from Boston for southern ports with a cargo of general merchandise."
"And she has not been reported since?"
"There can be little hope then?"
"We must not despair yet."
"There could have been no mistake in the name of the steamer that picked them up?"
"I hardly think so. I saw the captain of the steamer that reported them and he is positive that he could have made no mistake in reading the signal."
"Then she should have arrived at some port long ago."
"Yes; but these tramp steamers are sometimes very slow and it is not unusual for them to be many days overdue and turn up all right. I think, Mary, it is best that you should go home. This anxiety is killing you and the surroundings here keep you constantly overwrought. I have every point covered from which a report of the steamer might be received, and then, who knows, if Harry should land in the South, he might go West at once."
Mrs. Hamilton shook her head and pointed out over the sea.
"No, Edward, that is the way he went and I shall wait for him here."
A boy on a bicycle rode up to the house.
"Telegram for Mr. Hamilton," he called, as he jumped from his wheel.
"Quick, Edward, it may be news from Harry," said Mrs. Hamilton, rising eagerly as her husband took the yellow envelope from the boy and broke the seal hastily.
"The Mariella is bound in," he almost shouted, as he passed the paper to his wife. She took it in her trembling hands and read:
EDWARD HAMILTON, Cliff Cottage, Cottage City, Mass.
Tramp steamer Mariella just reported passing in. Bound for Boston.
WILLIAM COFFIN, Nantucket.
Mrs. Hamilton sank back into her chair, an expression of eager hope lighting up her wan face.
"Do you suppose that Harry is on board, Edward? Can it be that he is coming home at last?"
"I hope so, Mary, but I cannot understand it. Where has the steamer been and why has she not been reported out?"
"Can this be a mistake?" asked the woman plaintively, holding out the telegram.
"No, I think not."
"Then let us go to Boston at once and meet him."
"That would be unwise. By the time we could reach there, Harry—if he is aboard—might be on his way here. It is best to wait, Mary, and hope for the best. In the meantime, I will wire to my agent in Boston to meet the steamer."
With a sigh of resignation, Mrs. Hamilton resumed her weary vigil. Suddenly she started up with a new idea.
"Edward," she said, "if she is coming in she will pass out there."
"Yes, but too far out for you to see her, Mary."
"Never mind; bring me the glasses. It will help to pass the weary hours of waiting."
Mr. Hamilton brought her a pair of marine glasses, and rearranging the cushions behind her head with a tender hand, he left her eagerly scanning the horizon for some sign of a passing steamer.
When he returned from the telegraph office she called to him eagerly:
"Look, Edward, just off the point. There is a steamer."
"Yes, probably a collier."
"But she seems to be headed this way."
"They go up the sound to New York."
"But might she not be the—the——"
"No, Mary; she would have to head out around Cape Cod to make Boston."
"I know, I know, but perhaps she may land him here."
"That would take her out of her course and mean the loss of time. Her captain would not do that."
For fifteen minutes more, Mrs. Hamilton watched the steamer in silence and then she turned again to her husband, and said:
"She is not going up the sound, Edward; she is headed in here." Mr. Hamilton took the glasses and scanned the steamer.
"She does seem to be headed this way."
"It is the Mariella, Edward."
Mrs. Hamilton spoke in a low tone of deep conviction. Her husband looked at her anxiously.
"You are trying to make coincidences fit your wishes, Mary," he said. "Do not build up false hopes; the disappointment will be too much for your worn nerves."
"I shall not be disappointed, Edward; see, she is headed straight in now."
"It is strange," said Mr. Hamilton, beginning himself to take an interest in the steamer, which was now certainly headed almost for the cottage.
"Quick, Edward, the glasses; I can see people on her decks."
Mrs. Hamilton rose from her chair as she spoke and almost snatched the glasses from her husband's hands in her eagerness. For a long time she stood like a statue with the glasses trained on the steamer, and then suddenly she took a white shawl from her shoulders and waved it wildly above her head.
"It is Harry," she cried, sobbing with excitement, as she thrust the glasses into her husband's hands. "See, they have seen us, too, and Harry is waving his hat."
Her overwrought nerves could not stand the excess of joy and she sank into her husband's arms.
Mr. Hamilton carried her into a big room that overlooked the water and placed her gently on a lounge. When she recovered consciousness and opened her eyes, she looked up into the face of her son, who bent anxiously over her.
"Harry," she whispered, her happiness sending the warm blood back into her face again.
"Mother," he cried, seizing her in his strong young arms.
When she was stronger they led her out to her seat on the veranda where she had kept her weary vigil, and she warmly greeted Bert and the Midget, who had just returned from the telegraph office, where they had sent word at once to their homes telling of their safe arrival in America. O'Connor who had come ashore at Harry's earnest solicitation, stood in the background talking with Mr. Hamilton, to whom he had briefly outlined the adventures of the three boys since they had been his guests on the Mariella.
Harry took the big man by the hand and led him over to his mother.
"Mother," he said, proudly, "I want you to know my friend, Captain Dynamite."
"Captain Dynamite?" repeated Mrs. Hamilton, in wonder.
"Captain O'Connor, I mean; they call him Dynamite because when you touch him off there's sure to be something doing. He saved our lives twice—once from the sea, and once from the Spaniards."
"The Spaniards—my son, what are you talking about?"
"That's a long story, mother. I will tell you that to-night."
After much persuasion, O'Connor was induced to remain overnight on condition that all hands would dine on the Mariella. He went back to the steamer and sent a large boat ashore for his guests and no happier party could have been found that night than those who gathered around the table in the cabin of the old Mariella. Miss Juanita made Mrs. Hamilton's heart glow with the pride of a mother as she told of Harry's sacrifice to save her, and after dinner, as they all gathered on the after deck under the starlit sky, Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton listened with breathless interest as the various actors told the story of their adventures during the voyage with Captain Dynamite.
It was long after midnight when all the farewells had been said and the boat that was to put the departing guests ashore left the side of the Mariella. As the sailors pushed off, O'Connor and Juanita stood at the rail, his big hand resting gently on hers.
"Say, Cap," shouted the Midget, as they moved away, "count us in when you cut that wedding cake."