A VOYAGE WITH CAPTAIN DYNAMITE
A VOYAGE WITH CAPTAIN DYNAMITE
BY CHARLES EDWARD RICH
NEW YORK A. S. BARNES & COMPANY 1907
COPYRIGHT, 1907, BY A. S. BARNES & COMPANY All rights reserved
I. CAUGHT IN A GALE 1 II CARRIED AWAY TO SEA 11 III "SHE'S LIKE A WARSHIP BELOW" 24 IV. A LESSON IN PATRIOTISM 37 V. SENDING THE MESSAGE 51 VI. "VIVA, CUBA LIBRE!" 63 VII. IN THE DANGER ZONE 73 VIII. A BRUSH WITH THE GUNBOAT 86 IX. THE MIDNIGHT MESSAGE 99 X. INTO THE ENEMY'S COUNTRY 112 XI. CAPTURED BY SPANIARDS 125 XII. ON TO GOMEZ 139 XIII. HARRY REFUSES TO BETRAY CAPTAIN DYNAMITE 151 XIV. THE SECRET PASSAGE 165 XV. THE EXECUTION AT DAWN 177 XVI. THE ESCAPE 185 XVII. "YOU WILL BE SHOT AS SPIES" 198 XVIII. CAPTAIN DYNAMITE FINDS JUANITA 208 XIX. DRAWING THE NET CLOSER 218 XX. CAPTAIN DYNAMITE TO THE RESCUE 231 XXI. GENERAL SERANO MEETS CAPTAIN DYNAMITE 242 XXII. THE ESCAPE—VILLAMONTE AGAIN BEATEN 254 XXIII. BACK TO THE MARIELLA 266 XXIV. THE ESCAPE FROM THE LAGOON 275 XXV. HOME AGAIN 291
A VOYAGE WITH CAPTAIN DYNAMITE
CAUGHT IN A GALE
"Let go the jib halliards, Mason. Lay out there, Bert, and get in that slack sail. It's blowing a bit. Gee, see that bank of wind coming up."
The little pleasure boat careened and took aboard a few barrels of water as she faced a sudden puff of wind that almost put her on her beam ends. But she was a game little craft, and came back from the onslaught of the elements with a sturdiness that indicated strong timbers, and a build that was meant to cope with the sudden squalls that come out of a clear sky off the coast of Martha's Vineyard during the early autumn days.
"She's good for anything that you will get around these parts, and she is the fastest boat of her length in these waters."
This recommendation by Tom, the veteran skipper of the summer fleet, had been sufficient to complete the sale of the sloop to three enthusiastic boys. And the boat had made good her reputation and served her purpose well. During the two months that the boys had owned her, there had been few days when she had not been in commission, either cruising for blue fish, or skimming along the shores of the island in a pleasant, summer way, lazily passing the days away for the youngsters, who lolled contentedly on her deck.
Since we shall follow the crew of the yacht through many adventures, let us make their acquaintance at once. At the helm stood Harry Hamilton, a boy of sixteen, strong of build and an athlete of renown within the circles of his school. Honest and straightforward in all his dealings, and with a cheery disposition, he commanded the respect and admiration of his fellows, and because of his natural characteristics, was usually looked upon as the leader in their sports. With his parents he was spending his vacation at their summer home at Cottage City.
With him were two schoolmates, Geoffrey Mason and Bertram Wilson, who were staying with him. Bertram was about Harry's age. Geoffrey, nicknamed "Midget" Mason, or the "Midget," was a year younger than his chums, and although small for his age, was strong and wiry. Light hearted and fun loving, he was always the life of any gathering of boys. He was one of Harry Hamilton's staunchest friends and admirers. For weeks the boys had enjoyed the sailing, bathing, fishing, golf, and other sports, but their particular diversion was sailing. Under the instruction of old Tom, the boys were soon able to handle alone the little boat that they had bought by clubbing together their resources.
"Don't worry, mother, she's as safe as a scow," Harry would say, as he saw the expression of anxiety spread over his mother's face when he announced that they were off for a day's cruising.
On this day they had started early in the morning for a blue-fishing cruise, and all had gone well until the homeward voyage. The cockpit was full of big fish and the boys took much pleasure in anticipating their reception when they made fast to the pier. The little sloop was skimming along under full sail, when just off Edgartown a stiff puff of wind struck them.
Harry jammed the helm hard down and the boat responded gamely, coming quickly up into the wind. It was then that he called sharply to Mason to let go the jib halliards. The sail was so light and the wind slapped it from side to side with such angry vehemence that it would not run down on the stay. Harry dropped the helm, and holding it down with the pressure of his leg, seized the down haul and brought the jib, flapping and pounding, down to the bowsprit.
"Get out there and furl that jib, Bert," he shouted. "We'll have to reef down the mainsail soon."
Bert climbed cautiously out of the cockpit and made his way along the slippery deck until he reached the bowsprit. Clinging to the mainmast, he steadied himself while he surveyed the thrashing sail, whose folds of canvas hung over and trailed in the water until, caught every now and then by the wind, it bellied out like a balloon. A wave bigger than the rest completely submerged the bowsprit as the boat plunged into the trough of the sea.
To furl the jib it was necessary to climb out on the lower stay, which acted as a foot rope, and it required the agility of a cat to hang on and drag the water-soaked, wind-thrashed sail onto the bowsprit and make it fast with canvas stops. For a moment Bert hesitated, but Harry waved to him eagerly to go on. Bert nodded in assent and began to climb gingerly out onto the stay. Harry held the boat up into the wind to aid his companion in getting in the wet and flapping sail.
They plunged into wave after wave, carrying Bert almost completely under, as a bather goes under a comber in the surf. But he hung onto the light spar with one hand while he dragged in the sail with the other. When his task was completed and he climbed inboard again, Bert was as wet as if he had been overboard.
Then came the task of reefing the mainsail, which the boys accomplished successfully, though not without a hard struggle, for the wind increased in violence every moment. Holding the boat, which now carried only a few square yards of canvas, well up into the wind, they pounded along with the gunwale under the rushing water. She rode a little easier and the boys settled down for a breathing spell.
"There is nothing to be done now but to let her run," said Harry, as he gripped the helm hard to meet a sudden plunge into a head sea.
"But we are heading straight out to sea," said Bert, with a tone of worriment in his voice.
"Can't be helped. This wind has not reached its limit yet, and I would not dare to try to take her in before it. It might take the mast out of her."
"It's getting dark, too," said Mason, nervously.
"That can't be helped either."
"Can't you ease her off for the Massachusetts shore?"
"I tell you, Bert, there is nothing to be done with safety but to keep her right up into the eye of the wind."
"But this blow may last for a day or two."
"Now look here, Bert, you and I have been caught in one or two hard blows and we have pulled out all right together. If you think you know more about handling this boat than I do, I will turn the helm over to you and you can have your own way."
"Skipper," said Bert, with a return of his natural good humor, "I seek neither the honor nor the responsibility. Keep the helm and sail her on to whatever port this blooming gale may be heading us for. It looks to me as if we would make the coast of Ireland for our first stop."
"She is not making as much headway as she appears to be. I have got her jammed way up into the wind."
The sky was constantly growing darker and the wind seemed each moment to increase in fury. To add to the discomfort of the situation, it began to rain. The wind howled and shrieked and lashed the surface of the water into a white foam, lifting at times the crests from the waves and hurling the fine spray into the faces of the boys.
Darkness was falling rapidly, and away off in the distance behind them the lights of Cottage City flashed out as the cottagers began to light the lamps.
Harry sat silently at the helm, with his eyes fixed on the sail, now and then changing their course a little as the gusty wind veered a point or two.
On they plunged into the teeth of the ever increasing gale. Soon complete darkness shut in around them and it was impossible to see beyond the bow of the boat, that at times rose high on the crest of a rushing wave and then swooped down to meet the next with a crash that sent a shiver through her timbers. But she was a sturdy little craft, and shaking herself like an animal, she would rise lightly to the top of the next wave, ready to fight it out to the end.
Mason and Bert perched grimly on the windward rail of the cockpit. Neither had spoken for a long time.
"Take a turn at the pump, Bert," said Harry, "I think she is taking water."
Bert started towards the pump, slipped on the fish that filled the cockpit and pitched head-foremost into the lee scuppers.
"Throw half a dozen of those fish into the cuddy and chuck the rest overboard," said Harry, who, notwithstanding their serious situation, could not refrain from laughing at Bert's frantic efforts to regain his feet among the slippery cargo. "We may need some of them for food before we get out of this, but the others are in the way."
Mason climbed down from his perch with care and helped to throw the fish overboard.
"Pretty dangerous situation, skipper," said the imperturbable youngster, "when we have to sacrifice the cargo. However, over they go."
The little cabin, or cuddy, of the boat was so low that it was with difficulty that one could crawl into it. On either side the boys had fitted up small bunks that served for lounging during calm weather, and in the middle of this space, on the centreboard box, they had arranged a table on which stood a small oil stove. Here they frequently cooked their luncheons when cruising.
After the fish were disposed of, Bert manned the pump, and for five minutes was busy getting the water out of the hold.
"This blow has opened up some of her seams," said Harry, as Bert began to puff. "We shall have to work to keep the water out of her, boys."
"What about eating?" asked Mason, whose stomach never quailed, even in the face of danger.
"We'll go without eating for the present, young man, and you may think yourself very lucky if you get out of this even with an empty stomach."
"O, fudge, I can sneak down into the cuddy and fix up a nice mess of baked beans that will make your mouth water. There are three cans left. Besides, if we are going to drown, what's the use of drowning on empty stomachs?"
"Don't you even put your head in that cuddy, Midget," said Harry, sharply. "If anything should happen to this boat you would be drowned like a rat in a trap, in there."
"Pish, pish and tush, tush, what's the use of having a skipper if he is going to upset his craft? Bert, it is high time the crew mutinied. What—"
At this moment a big wave struck the bow of the boat and swept her from stem to stern, filling Mason's open mouth with salt water.
"Skipper," he sputtered, as soon as he could speak, "I confidently believe you did that on purpose."
"This is not a time for your nonsense, Mason," said Harry, somewhat sternly.
As he spoke, a fiercer gust of wind, veering a point or two, caught the sloop amidships, and before Harry could let go the sheet or bring her closer up, she heeled over to the blast until the water poured in a torrent into the cockpit. Harry jammed down the helm and let go the mainsheet and she righted herself, trembled under the strain and plunged ahead once more into the seas.
It was mere chance that both Bert and Mason were not swept into the sea by the sudden careening of the boat. As it was, they were thrown into the cockpit, and when they climbed back in the darkness to their places on the weather rail, the Midget wore a much more serious expression on his naturally comical face.
"You are right, Hal," he said, solemnly, "I guess it's no joke after all."
The rain was now coming down in vicious torrents that beat in the boys' faces, almost blinding them.
Suddenly in the blackness ahead there flashed a bright, green light like the eye of some monster of the deep. It appeared to be about as high above them as the mast head of the sloop. They each saw it at the same time, and each knew, with a thrill of horror, what it meant.
"Hold fast," shouted Harry, in tones that could just be heard above the howling of the gale, and at the same time he put the helm hard down. "She's almost on us."
It was too late. There was a crash and the sound of splintering timbers.
The big steamer cut the little craft in two as cleanly as with a knife.
CARRIED AWAY TO SEA
As the big, black hull of the steamer crashed into the sail boat, a loud shout went up from her deck. The note of fright in it penetrated even through the shrieks of the gale.
"Boat under our starboard bow, sir—we've run her down."
The warning shout and the cry that announced the disaster were punctuated only by a breath. Then followed a babel of orders and the quick clanging of signal bells in the engine room. The sudden churning of the screws in the angry waters told that the steamer's engines were reversed.
A man rushed out of the cabin and took a commanding place on the steamer's bridge.
"Where did she go down?" he shouted in the ear of the mate, who clung to the rail and peered back into the darkness.
"About a hundred feet aft, sir," the man answered, pointing into the blackness that enveloped the steamer.
"Lower the port lifeboat," shouted the newcomer on the scene to the men who were collected on the forward deck.
He darted back toward the cabin as he spoke and the sound of creaking ropes told that his orders were being rapidly carried out.
"The boat will never live in this sea," shouted the mate.
The man turned at the cabin door with a scowl.
"You heard my orders," he said, sharply. "There are lives to be saved and it is not a question whether the boat will live. We will make her live. Call for volunteers if the men have any scruples about trusting themselves with me, but get the boat into the water at once. Every minute counts."
He was gone but a second and emerged from the cabin in a heavy suit of oilskins. He sprang nimbly down the companionway to the deck.
"Who goes with me in the boat?" he shouted to the assembled crew.
"I, sir, and I," cried the men in chorus, all anxious to be in the boat with their commander.
"You, and you, and you," he shouted, as he designated six men with a quick movement of his forefinger. The men tumbled over the side into the boat that was tossing like a cockle shell in the waves that threatened to dash her to pieces against the big steamer. The captain slipped over the side and took his place in the stern. It was a difficult task to get the boat safely off, but it was finally accomplished by skill and strength; and as she rode away from the side on the top of a nasty roller she was greeted with a cheer from the disappointed men who had been left behind and who longed to be with their commander in his perilous undertaking.
As they rowed away from the steamer there was no sign in the darkness of the little boat they had run down, but the man at the tiller steered as determinedly as if he knew for just what point in the blackness he was headed. With his head bent slightly forward and his big body swaying with the rock and pitch of the lifeboat he kept his eyes fixed straight ahead.
Suddenly he half rose in the tossing boat and shouted to the rowers, who were bending their backs to the oars that every now and then would sink deep into a towering wave and the next instant swing viciously through the air as the boat rolled up on the crest of a big billow.
"Steady all," he called in a deep growl. "Now hold her."
The men dug their oars into the tumbling sea in an effort to bring the boat to a standstill, but the waves caught her and hurried her on. The sailors caught a fleeting glimpse in the darkness of the bottom of an upturned boat to which three boys were clinging. The man at the tiller swung the boat's head around as they swept by and, caught broadside on by a big wave, she rolled for a moment as if she was about to capsize. But the trained sailors held stoutly to the leeward oars, and the boat righted herself and rose like a cork on the wave and settled down so close to the wrecked yacht that the man in the stern leaned over and tossed the end of a rope beyond the heads of the boys.
"Catch it and make fast to something," he cried, as the rope fell. "We cannot get any closer to you without smashing this boat. Jump!"
* * * * *
When Harry came to the surface after the collision he found that he was not hurt and, shaking his head like a dog, he prepared to make a fight for his life against the sea. His first thought was of his companions, but it was impossible to tell what their fate had been. It took all his strength to battle with the waves and keep himself afloat. Now and then, as he was carried helplessly to the crest of a big billow, he tried to peer into the darkness that surrounded him. He could see nothing but empty blackness. It was impossible to swim, had he known in which direction to head. All he could do was to husband his strength to keep on the surface and to breast and rise with each wave that passed under him.
He knew it would be useless to shout, for his voice was weak from his exertions and could not be heard above the howling of the wind and the lash of the sea. He could faintly hear the commotion on the steamer and see the lights from her portholes when she rode a high wave. But he had no hope that any boat that might be lowered could reach him in that sea.
Once he thought he heard faint cries for help near him, and as he sank into the trough of a sea, a black mass swept by him. He groped wildly to reach it and his hand touched a dangling rope. He seized it with the frenzy of a drowning man and the next instant had pulled himself alongside of what proved to be the wreck of the yacht. He dragged himself up and threw his arms over the keel and for the first time since he had been swept under the surface of the water drew a long breath. The touch of something solid in that angry sea put new life into him and he shouted feebly for very joy.
An answering cry, weak as his own, came from the other side of the wreck and he saw two heads just above the line of the keel. Bert and Mason had also been fortunate enough to reach the upturned half of the boat, and for a time at least all were saved from the maw of the sea.
Just then the lifeboat reached them and the rope cast by the captain's strong hand fell over their heads. Harry caught it and managed to make it fast to a ring bolt. Then without hesitation the boys one by one dropped off into the water and half swimming and half dragging themselves by the rope, made their way from the wreck to the lifeboat into which they were pulled by strong hands. As soon as they were dragged aboard, the boys sank to the bottom of the boat exhausted.
"How many of you were there?" asked the captain, as the last of the three boys was pulled into the boat.
"Only three," answered Harry, weakly.
"All right, then," said the captain, with a tone of relief in his voice, "You are all accounted for. Pull men."
By the time they reached the steamer the boys had revived and were able to scramble up the rope-ladder that was lowered over the side. The captain was the last to go aboard. As he reached the deck he looked at the bedraggled youngsters with a good-natured smile.
"Better come below and get on some dry clothes," he said, as he nodded his head to the mate on the bridge.
The bells in the engine-room jingled and the big steamer began to forge ahead again into the storm as if nothing had happened to delay her voyage. The drenched boys gladly followed the captain into his cabin. He was a man of enormous build, big-boned and muscular. His head was covered with a mass of curling blond hair and his face was clean-shaven. As he threw off his oilskins and tossed them into a corner of the cabin the boys saw to their astonishment that he wore a fashionable suit of summer flannels and a handsome negligee shirt. His trousers, which were turned up at the bottom in the latest mode, were suspended by a fancy leather belt and his feet were encased in low tan shoes. He looked like the owner of a yacht off on a summer pleasure cruise, but to the eye of the veriest land lubber it would be at once apparent that the steamer which he commanded was not a yacht. He was about thirty years old and carried his size and weight with an ease that showed the training of an athlete.
After he had thrown aside his oilskins, he began to rummage through a big chest and finally threw out a lot of old togs for the inspection of his involuntary guests.
"Good deal like a Baxter Street fit, I guess," he said, laughing. There was just a touch of brogue in his voice. "Never mind. Chuck off the wet ones. These will have to do until we can get the others dried in the engine-room. Roll up the trousers and sleeves and look out that I don't tread on the tails of your coats."
The boys were glad to get out of their wet and chilled clothing and needed no second invitation. They were a funny looking trio when they had rigged themselves out in the captain's duds. The sleeves of the Midget's coat hung to the ground and his trousers' legs doubled up twice before he could walk. Harry was the tallest of the three and yet the captain's clothes hung on him like a sack on a pole.
"Now I'll bet you are hungry," said the captain as he surveyed the boys with a twinkle of amusement in his eyes. "What do you say to a cup of hot coffee and bite of biscuit? This ship is no hotel, as you will find before you get through with her. Nothing better in the cabin than in the fo'c'sel. But we have plenty of the sort we have and as often as we want it."
He stepped to the door of the cabin as he spoke and called to a man on deck:
"Send the cook aft."
"Aye, aye, sir," came an answering shout through the howling of the wind. Presently another man appeared in the doorway and stood respectfully awaiting orders.
"Cook, have these clothes taken to the engine-room to dry and then bring us a pot of coffee and some biscuits. And serve coffee to the men on watch—it is a nasty night."
"Aye, aye, sir," answered the man cheerily. It was plain the men were glad to serve their captain.
In a short time the boys were sitting around the small table in the cabin eagerly discussing the coffee and hardtack as if it had been the most delicious repast.
A remark made by the captain had stuck in Harry's mind, and he took the first opportunity to put the question that was bothering him.
"Where are you going to land us, captain?"
The big man leaned back in his chair and laughed long and loud. The boys looked at him in surprise. It was not an agreeable laugh although there was no ill-humor in it.
"What in thunder does he see to laugh at?" whispered Bert to Harry in a disgusted tone.
"Wait, we shall find out in good time."
"We should like to be put ashore at Cottage City, if you please," continued Harry, ignoring the captain's merriment, "but if that is too much out of your way, Nantucket will do and we can take the boat home in the morning."
Again the captain went off into a paroxysm of laughter. The peals of loud guffaws grated on the ears of the anxious boys.
"He can't be a bad man at heart," whispered Mason to Harry, "or he wouldn't have taken so much trouble and run so much risk to pick us up after his steamer ran us down."
"No, I don't understand it. I feel as if I were being kidnapped," said Bert.
Presently the captain's fit of humor passed and his face became serious again.
"Boys," he said, "I shall have to ask you to take things as they are and ask no questions. You are my guests. Do not worry."
"But, captain, we must get home," said Mason petulantly.
The man smiled at the speaker.
"I hope we will all get home sometime," he said, quietly.
"You speak as if there were some doubt about it," said Harry quickly.
"There is," answered the captain, slowly.
The boys looked at one another in dismay. What did it mean? Harry was the first to recover his composure.
"You surely intend to land somewhere," he said, half questioningly.
"Sure—if we are lucky."
"You mean that this storm is so bad that there is danger we may not weather it?"
Again the captain laughed his big laugh.
"We'll weather this all right. It's only a capful of wind for the old Mariella. She has ridden out many a storm that would make this one look like thirty cents."
"Then if there is no danger from the weather, we demand that you land us at the nearest port."
Harry drew himself up and looked very important as he spoke. The captain only smiled indulgently.
"You might as well learn at the start, young gentlemen," he said quietly, "that there is no such word as demand recognized by Captain Dynamite."
"Sounds like a pirate name," whispered the irrepressible Midget, loud enough to be heard by the captain.
"I am something of a pirate," said the big man as if in reply. "Now I will be quite frank with you. I shall not make any port except that of my destination and that will be, if we have luck, in about six days from to-night. I am sorry that you will have to remain with me against your wishes, but you will admit that I am not responsible for your coming aboard. In fact, if you will pardon the allusion to the little accident back there, you are very lucky to be where you are and not tucked away in Davy Jones' locker. I shall consider you my guests and you may have the free run of the ship, but it will be impossible for you to leave it until we reach port. Make the best of the situation, boys. It has been forced on us both."
Harry jumped up impulsively, and held out his hand to the big man across the table.
"Do not think we are ungrateful, sir. We know that we owe our lives to you and that you risked yours to save us from drowning. But you forget that we have folks ashore who will think we are drowned if we cannot get some word to them."
The big skipper jumped to his feet, grasped Harry's outstretched hand and shook it warmly.
"My boy," he said, "it is unfortunate and I regret it as much as you, but it cannot be helped. If we pull through this voyage all right, you will be able to get a message to your folks in the course of two weeks. Now, it is pretty well into the night and I must go on deck for the last watch, so you had better turn in."
As he spoke, the captain opened a door that led off the cabin and disclosed a room as large as an ordinary stateroom with two berths on each side.
"Here are four bunks. Turn in and sleep well. By the way, begin to feel any little qualms at the stomach yet?"
The steamer, while like a house in comparison with the small boat in which they had been tossed about, was still rolling and heaving in the heavy seas with which she was battling. But the boys were all good sailors and none of them felt anything like an attack of seasickness.
Harry, whose anxiety for the worry and pain which his absence would cause those on shore, could not get off his mind the subject, and in a persistent way returned to it like a terrier to a bone.
"Well, captain," he said, "admitting that for some reason which you do not care to tell us, it is impossible for you to land until the end of your voyage; will it not be possible to hail some passing vessel and send a message back that we are safe and sound?"
The captain's face darkened, and a look such as the boys had not seen there before, spread over his countenance. Instinctively they fell back from him in his anger.
"I have told you that the situation cannot be remedied. Let us not discuss the matter further. You are my guests. Do not force me to make you my prisoners."
"SHE'S LIKE A WARSHIP BELOW."
As the captain left the cabin the boys looked at one another without speaking, for some minutes.
"What do you make out of him?" asked Bert, who was the first to break the silence.
"Sure enough pirate" said the Midget, confidently. "Gee, did you see his face?"
"Yes, he evidently has a very bad temper and it will be well for us not to cross him too far," said Harry, thoughtfully; "but I don't propose to stay on this ship any longer than is necessary, whatever her mission, and I shall keep my eyes open for a chance to get ashore, or to signal some passing vessel."
"Well, we cannot do anything in the escape line to-night, so we might as well take his advice and turn in," said Bert, with a yawn.
An inspection of the stateroom showed a very comfortable room fitted with two narrow bunks on each side. They were neatly made up, and the linen was fine and clean. Thoroughly worn out, the boys prepared for bed and for the time cast their troubles aside.
As they were about to jump into their bunks, a slight grating noise was heard. They all stopped and waited in silence. There was no further sound. It seemed to have come from the cabin beyond. After a second's thought, Harry stepped quickly out of the stateroom and to the door that led to the deck.
"We are no longer guests," he said, quietly, as he turned back into the stateroom and jumped into his bunk with resignation.
"What do you mean?" asked Bert, in a whisper.
"I mean that we are prisoners," answered Harry. "The door of the cabin is locked on the outside. That is the noise we heard. However, we can do nothing to-night, and as I am very tired and sleepy I am going to turn in."
"Say, Hal," said Mason, in an awed tone, "what are we up against?"
"Search me," replied Harry, in a sleepy voice. "We may be able to learn something in the morning. Let's go to sleep now. We may need all our wits by and by."
Notwithstanding the mystery of their situation the boys were soon fast asleep, and when they awoke, the sun was streaming through the port holes of the cabin. The steamer seemed to be moving along on an even keel. Apparently they had ridden out the storm of the night before. Harry was the first to spring from his bunk. He hastened to the cabin, his first impulse being to try the door and see if they were still prisoners. He started with surprise when he reached the outer room. At the table in the centre sat the captain working at some maps and papers. He looked up pleasantly as Harry entered.
"Good morning," he said cheerily, "did you sleep well after your ducking?"
"Perhaps we should have slept better if we had not been locked in," answered Harry, a little surprised at his own temerity.
The man laughed good-humoredly.
"Oh, that should not have disturbed you," he said. "You see we did not seem to understand each other very well last night when I left you. I think we shall do better to-day. Now what do you say to some breakfast? You have slept pretty late. It is twelve o'clock. There are your clothes. You all better tumble out and get dressed. I am hungry myself and just about to turn in. I have been on deck all night. The storm has passed, and we are making very good time on our voyage, you will be glad to hear, no doubt."
All the temper of the night before had disappeared, and the captain was again the big, bluff, good-natured man that had first impressed the boys. There was nothing to do but to follow his advice and watch for developments, and Harry, putting aside any thought of further prying into the affairs of the mysterious ship and her strange skipper for the present, returned to the stateroom and began to dress. The captain went to the door of the cabin and called. Again the same man answered with a respectful salute.
"Tell the cook to serve breakfast."
"Aye, aye, sir."
These words seemed to be the extent of the man's vocabulary. The boys soon learned that it was the only spoken formula of the ship's crew unless in reply to questions, which were rarely asked. The captain's words were commands. He ruled the entire ship's company with a power as absolute as that of a monarch. But the yoke did not seem to gall. The men's obedience was the sort that is given to one loved and honored.
By the time the boys had gotten into their clothes, which had been carefully dried and pressed, they found that breakfast had been spread in the cabin. It was as tempting as a meal at home. The hard tack of the night before had been replaced by an omelet, hot biscuits, fried potatoes, and a steaming pot of coffee, which from previous experience the boys knew to be good. The savory odor of the food appealed strongly to their appetites, and for the moment they forgot everything except that they were very hungry and that there were good things to eat at hand. The captain took his place smilingly at the head of the table, and the Midget whispered to Harry:
"He's not such a bad sort, after all. I wonder what kind of a pirate he is, anyway."
"Sit down, boys, and buckle to. Hard tack does not stay long by you, but I told you last night I only eat what I give my men so that I could offer you nothing better then. I hope you will enjoy your breakfast. I have a very good cook. Used to sub at the Waldorf but got into a little trouble on shore and is trying the sea. Stuck his mate under the rib with a carving knife and is taking a voyage with me for the benefit of his health."
"Aren't you afraid he might do the same to you some time if he lost his temper?" asked Mason, looking at the captain with his eyes as big as saucers. He did not like the idea of sailing with a desperado of that sort.
"Oh, no," answered the big man, carelessly; "I should stick first, you know, and then it was in self defense that the blow was struck. Let me give you some of this omelet. You will find it as good as any you could get at home."
The boys looked at the strange man in wonder. They could not make out his character. But they ate their breakfast with a relish just the same, and the captain entertained them with tales of the sea that made them alternately laugh at his drollery or wonder at his daring. Not that he ever brought himself into the stories, but the boys knew that he was the hero of the adventures which he related, because they felt that he would have acted in just the way his heroes did. There was a strange air about the man that attracted them to him. They felt that he would be a firm friend and an unrelenting enemy. They liked to be with him, liked to hear him talk, liked to see him smile, but they all felt that they should dread to incur his anger.
He was rough and unpolished, but he dressed like a dandy. He had evidently changed his clothing since coming off watch, for he wore at breakfast another flannel suit and low, patent leather shoes. His trousers were carefully creased and turned up. He resembled more, in appearance, a prosperous broker than the captain of a steamer whose mysterious character made him seem all the more out of place aboard. When they had finished breakfast he took a gold cigarette case from his pocket, and offered it to the boys.
"Smoke?" he asked, carelessly.
The boys declined with thanks. The captain stretched himself and yawned as he rose from the table.
"Now, young gentlemen," he said, "I am going to turn in. Make yourselves at home. I take it that I have your word that you will not concern yourselves with that which does not concern you."
"That depends upon how you construe the remark," said Harry, promptly. "I should prefer to remain a prisoner in this cabin than not to use my senses to my own advantage. For one, captain, I shall not promise except that I will not do anything that might be considered prying into your affairs. We feel sufficiently under obligations to you to prevent us from taking advantage of your hospitality. It might be proper for me to tell you, though, that I shall make every effort to get off your ship. Not that I object to your company, but because we all feel that we owe it to the folks at home."
The captain laughed. He did not seem at all annoyed at Harry's frank statement.
"Begorra, I like you for your honesty. Go on deck and get the air. You will find that I have not much to fear in the way of losing your company just at present. Believe me, though, youngsters"—here he became serious again—"if I could do so—with—what shall I say—with safety, I should be only too glad to put you ashore and to relieve the anxiety of those who are waiting for you. But in this matter I must be the judge, for there are more persons involved and more interests at stake in the voyage of the Mariella than you can conceive. But I will put no restrictions on you. Go on deck and amuse yourselves as well as you can and make the best of the situation. Before we part company you will understand my position better. Wait, I will introduce you to the mate."
He stepped to the cabin door and called:
"Aye, aye, sir," came the prompt response, and a small man appeared in the doorway.
"Suarez," said the captain, "these are the young gentlemen we picked out of the sea last night. They are rather unwilling voyagers, for which they cannot be blamed. Take them on deck and let them have the run of the ship."
The mate looked up quickly at the captain in a questioning manner, as if he would like to protest, if he dared. The captain smiled.
"The run of the ship, Suarez," he repeated, as if in answer to the unspoken protest.
Again the mate saluted, and turned gravely to the deck, followed by the boys. He was a small, swarthy man, in great contrast to the captain. He looked like a Spaniard. His hair was black and he wore a mustache and goatee, and his small, black eyes were as alert as a cat's and seemed to take in everything at once in all parts of the ship. His expression was one of keen shrewdness, but there was a look of care and anxiety that softened it. His actions and manner were those of a man who does not wish to attract attention. As they reached the deck he turned to the boys, and bowing, said with a slight foreign accent:
"Good morning, young gentlemen. I hope you rested well after your unfortunate experience. The captain says you are to have the run of the ship. Make yourselves at home, and if there is anything that I can do to add to your pleasure, pray call upon me without reserve."
His voice was soft, and he spoke with a great politeness of manner.
"He's too smooth," whispered Mason. "He will bear watching."
The mate did not seem inclined to further conversation. He bowed again, waved his hand as if to indicate that the ship was theirs, and turned and walked to the bridge.
The boys looked around them. There was nothing to be seen but an expanse of water. There was not a sign of land or a vessel. The storm of the night before had subsided, except that the waves were still running high under a brightly shining sun. Harry put his hand to his eyes to shade them, and scanned the horizon in every direction, but there was not even a speck to be seen.
"The captain was right when he said there was not much danger of losing our company," he said, as he finished his observation.
"Unless we jump over and swim for it."
"What would we swim for?"
"I am very well satisfied to keep the planks under my feet and wait for something to turn up."
"Me, too," piped the Midget. "Let's make a round of the ship."
The steamer was comparatively small. In the darkness of the night and the storm, and viewed from the little sloop, she had looked like an ocean liner as she suddenly came upon them. Everything about her was spick and span. The decks were as clean as holy stone and water could make them, and all the brasswork shone brightly in the sun. The decks seemed strangely deserted. Suarez, the mate, paced the bridge stolidly. On the forward deck two men were on lookout. In the pilot-house a sailor stood at the wheel, while behind him stood a man whose eyes roamed constantly from the compass to the horizon.
The boys walked to the gunwale and looked over at the broad expanse of sea. For some time no one spoke. Each was thinking of the worry and anxiety that those at home were suffering.
"Say, Hal," said Bert, finally, "what do you make out of this craft? Of course it is out of the question to think of a pirate in these days, but there is certainly some mystery about this steamer and her captain."
"Did you notice he said that if he could do so with safety he would put us ashore? What does that word 'safety' mean? There is no danger from the elements, he admits. What other danger threatens him if he goes ashore? There is some mystery here and as we have become a part of it it is up to us to find out what it is."
"Yes, but how?"
"By keeping our eyes and ears open is all I can suggest now."
"Let's go forward and take a look around."
The boys strolled along the deck that narrowed into a passage about three feet wide as they reached the forward house, which apparently contained the petty officers' rooms. In the centre was the door that opened into the engine-room. Only the upper works of the big engines were visible. The boys stopped. A man, evidently the engineer, or one of his assistants, sat on a leather-covered seat facing the levers and indicators. He looked up for a moment from the paper he was reading, and nodded to the boys with a smile, and then returned to his reading without a word.
"Fine morning, sir, after the storm," said Bert.
The man nodded again without raising his eyes from his paper.
"Cheery lot of conversationalists," said Bert, in disgust, as they moved on.
At the forward end of the house was the galley. As they reached this a black, woolly head popped out of the open half-door. The negro grinned widely and quickly drew back his head.
"Good morning, Sambo," said the persistent Bert.
The negro bobbed his head, and grinned still more broadly, but did not speak a word.
"All lost their tongues," said Bert.
Just forward of the deck house a small hatch stood open. It led to a narrow iron ladder that ran almost perpendicularly down into the dark depths below. The boys peered into the blackness without being able to distinguish anything.
"I am going down," said Harry, after a moment's pause.
He stepped over the edge and placing his foot on the first rung of the ladder, began to descend with great caution. The others watched him anxiously until he disappeared in the darkness. They waited at the hatch for a long time before he reappeared. When he did he climbed out with a serious face and drew his companions away to the other side of the steamer's deck.
His expression indicated that he had discovered something of more than ordinary interest.
"What is it?" whispered Bert, when they were out of range of the galley and engine-room.
Harry leaned toward his companions impressively as he answered in an awed tone:
"Say, fellows, she's a regular warship down below."
A LESSON IN PATRIOTISM
The boys huddled together at an obscure part of the deck and Harry described to them what he had seen below decks.
"There are two eight pounders and two rapid fire guns with their noses poked against port holes that can be opened at a moment's notice. And besides these, there is an arsenal of small arms like rifles, pistols, swords, and cutlasses. Everything seems to be in apple pie order and all ready for use. If we were living in the days of the old pirate ships, I should say that we were likely to fly the black flag at any moment."
"What do you make of it, Hal?" asked Bert.
"I tell you I cannot make anything of it. It is beyond me. The only thing we can do is to keep our weather eyes open and watch for developments. It is certainly a ship of mystery and the captain does not apparently propose to enlighten us as to her character. But he seems to be an honest man, and I think we are perfectly safe in leaving all to him, and I believe that sometime we shall know what we are up against. In the meantime, however, as I warned him, I shall make every effort to get off the ship, or to notify some passing craft that we are on board safe and sound, so that word may be carried to those on shore. They must believe that we are drowned by this time, particularly if they have picked up the wreck of the yacht."
"Let's go aft and take a look over the cabin while the captain is asleep. All's fair in love and war, you know, and we are certainly entitled to find out all we can about our surroundings, particularly in view of Hal's investigations below."
The boys strolled leisurely aft, taking care not to arouse the suspicions of any one about the decks. They entered the cabin. All was still. The sun shone brightly through the port holes and lay in a wide beam on the big map that the captain had been studying when the boys turned out of bed.
"Let's have a look at this," said Bert, quickly approaching the table as he spoke. "It may tell us something of our destination."
The boys gathered eagerly around.
The map was a hydrographic chart of the Caribbean Sea. Cuba and Porto Rico appeared on a large scale. The boys studied it in silence and finally Mason shook his head in despair.
"That does not tell much," he said. "We may be going to Cuba or Porto Rico, but if we are, why all this secrecy and those firearms?"
"They may fit in together more closely than you think," said Harry, who had been studying the map thoughtfully.
"What do you mean?" asked Bert.
"I do not mean anything yet. Let us wait. Speculation and guessing will not solve this mystery."
"Look here," said the Midget, who had been browsing around the cabin. He had lifted one of the cushions from a settee and disclosed beneath a locker which contained a number of flags of different colors and shapes.
"What are those?" asked the boys in chorus.
"They are signal flags. Now let's find the code and then we can signal some passing ship."
"Here's the code," announced Harry, who, as soon as Mason had spoken had gone to a little book shelf on the wall of the cabin. "But how are we to get the flags up without attracting attention?"
"Easy. We will make up our signal and then take the flags necessary to show it and conceal them where we can get them at any moment. Then when we sight a vessel we can bend them onto the halliards and have them aloft before anyone can interfere. It would be a minute or two before they could haul them down, even if they discovered them at once, and in that time it is likely that the other ship would have read them. Anyway, it is worth trying."
"I think you are right," said Harry. "Nothing venture, nothing have. Let's make the signal."
He took the code book from the shelf and opened it on the table.
"In the first place, it is necessary to know what you want to say before you pick out your flags. Now what shall the message be?"
"Say we have been kidnapped by a pirate ship and want assistance," suggested the Midget, wisely.
"Nonsense," replied Bert, "we don't want to say anything about the ship. We have nothing against her, nor her captain. Didn't they save our lives? All that we want is to be taken off and if that is not possible to have word sent home that we are all right, and then we can see the thing out comfortably. In fact, I for one, would much prefer staying aboard if it were possible to get word ashore. We do not know what interesting adventures may be in store for us aboard this strange craft."
"Well, anyway, let's frame a message."
"It's got to be short, for we cannot use any more flags than is absolutely necessary, as we may be discovered before we can get them up. How's this: 'Report Hamilton, Mason, and Wilson picked up from wrecked yacht off Cottage City by steamer Mariella. All well.'"
"Fine," said Mason. "Hal, your massive intellect astonishes me more and more each day."
After some discussion, the boys selected the proper flags and laid them to one side. The problem of getting them aloft then presented itself.
"There must be halliards already bent for the use of signals," said Harry. "I will go out on deck and have a quiet look for them."
He returned shortly from his inspection.
"Everything is ready for instant use," he reported, "but we must have the flags bent onto a separate piece of rope so that all we shall have to do is to fasten the rope to the halliards and send the flags aloft. And then we must also stow the flags somewhere where we can get at them easily as soon as we see another vessel."
"Leave that to me, captain," said Mason, saluting with a grin. "Right under my bunk is a place. All you fellows watch where I put them, so that if I am not with you when the ship comes along you can do the trick. No telling when a man of my fiery temper may be put in irons on a ship like this."
The boys carefully stowed away the flags after they had bent them in their proper order to a spare piece of rope which Mason picked up on deck. They now felt that they had done as much as lay within their power to relieve the anxiety of the folks at home, and all that remained was to keep a sharp lookout for a passing ship. They arranged watches so that one of them should be on deck during all of the daylight hours, and all hands were to keep their eyes open through the port holes and from such other points of vantage as they could take at all times when it was light enough to see a passing ship.
This satisfactorily off their minds, the boys took more interest in a survey of their prison ship, for so they had begun to look upon her, although each one of them had made up his mind that he would like to see the adventure out.
That night before dinner they met the captain again in the cabin. The maps were still lying on the table.
"Do you see this big island here, boys?" he asked. "It looks big on the map, but it is a very small spot on the face of the earth, and yet its people have suffered more misery, injustice, and oppression than the world will ever know."
"Discontented people always quarrelling with their government are usually unhappy. They bring most of their misery on themselves."
Harry spoke carelessly. He was not much interested in the wrongs of Cuba. He was surprised to see the captain's eyes flash again with that fierce fire that had marked them when he first defied him.
"Discontented, is it," almost shouted the captain. "And do you know why, boy?"
"I am sure I do not, Captain Dynamite, except that it is apparently born in them."
"Yes, that's the way most of the world, ignorant of poor Cuba's trials, looks at the matter. Statesmen have investigated and reported back to the halls of Congress and Cuba and her wrongs have been laid away in the dusty archives."
"Look," he said, pointing again at the map, and involuntarily the boys gathered closer around him and peered at the parchment. "That land, as God made it, was the fairest that the eye ever looked upon."
Captain Dynamite paused for a moment and seemed to grow more calm. He seated himself with his elbows on the table behind him and deftly rolled a cigarette with one hand. The boys, interested now because of his intense feeling, waited for him to continue.
"Youngsters," he said finally, "let me give you a little piece of history of these 'discontented' folks and perhaps you will regard their condition with different eyes and hearts. Your text-books at school have undoubtedly told you that Spanish rule in Cuba began in 1511, when Diego Valesquez subjugated the peaceful natives, and the Spanish methods of conquest made a record that lives to this day.
"See this island here," said the captain, pointing to Hayti. "At that time almost uninhabited, its wild shores and hidden inlets served as places of concealment for buccaneers. These pirates of the Spanish Main not alone indulged in the adventurous pastime of smuggling, but they attacked and plundered Spanish trading ships and even made forceful expeditions upon land, ravaging cities and towns. They were encouraged in their depredations by other nations unfriendly to Spain. Henry Morgan, one of these buccaneers, who was commissioned as a privateer, was knighted by England in 1671 because of his prowess as a legalized pirate.
"In 1762, Havana was besieged by the English and the Seven Years War began. The British were successful and under English rule the ports of Cuba were opened to free trade and an era of progress was inaugurated. But it was short lived, and in 1763 Cuba fell again into the hands of Spain, England trading the island for Florida. The two first governors under the new Spanish regime were liberal, just, and progressive. They were Luis de Las Casas, appointed in 1790, and the Count of Santa Clara, who succeeded him in 1796.
"It was about 1810 that the general discontent of the colonist with the tyrannical home government resulted in the formation of political societies whose purpose was to plan insurrections in the hope of wresting the island from Spanish rule, as did Buenos Ayres, Venezuela, and Peru. There was no open revolt for ten years, when the revolutionary leaders proclaimed a governing law, and after two years of turmoil the king yielded to their demands. But as Spain's promises were made only to be broken, other insurrections soon sprang up among the colonists. One of the most important revolutionary movements of those days was led by Narciso Lopez, a Venezuelan. This was in 1848. He was unsuccessful, but escaped with many of his followers to New York, where he found many sympathizers and practical aid. The United States government frustrated his attempt in 1849 to return to Cuba with a small invading force. A year later he reached the island with six hundred men, but was forced to take to his ship again, and with a Spanish gunboat close astern, made Key West and disbanded the expedition.
"By this time the Lopez revolution had gained much fame and many sympathizers in the United States who, while they were not inspired with the patriotic sentiment that stirred him, were strong admirers of his courage and determination. With a small band of four hundred and fifty men, and with Colonel Crittenden, of Kentucky, a West Pointer who won his title in the Mexican War, as second in command, Lopez started for Cuba from New Orleans the next year. On landing, Crittenden and one hundred and fifty men remained near the shore to guard the supplies, while Lopez, with the rest of the little invading army, marched inland. Both parties were discovered by the Spaniards, surrounded, and after a desperate resistance, completely wiped out."
"Do you mean that Lopez and Crittenden were both killed?" asked Bert, who had listened to the captain's recital with intense interest.
"Lopez and Crittenden and every man jack of the expedition," replied the captain, solemnly.
"Who was the next to try it?" asked Harry, whose eyes shone with excitement.
"Up to this time the grievances that inspired the Cuban colonists to revolt were mostly of a political character, based upon that bone of contention that inspired your own revolution against the British—taxation without representation. The little island to-day pays to Spain every year over $20,000,000 in revenue. In 1868, a lawyer named Cespedes declared independence of Spanish rule on a little plantation at Yara. He had back of him only one hundred and twenty-eight men, but in a few weeks after his declaration ten thousand men gathered under his leadership. A republican form of government was established, with Cespedes at its head. General Quesada commanded the poorly equipped but determined and patriotic army. Until 1878 the insurgents held the field with about fifty thousand men. They constantly met and vanquished the Spanish forces under the Count of Valmaseda, but the resources of the Spaniards were greater, and finally the Cubans were disintegrated, but still maintained a guerilla warfare, constantly harassing and defeating the Spanish forces sent against them. But neither side made any progress toward the end and at the end of the year both were ready for a compromise, which resulted in the treaty of El Zanjon. At this time the Spaniards were commanded by General Campos, and the insurgents by Gen. Maximo Gomez—that grand old warrior who still holds the field for Cuba against the forces of Spain—I kiss his hand."
Captain Dynamite, as he mentioned the name of Gomez, rose to his feet, bowed solemnly and reverentially, and lifted to his lips an imaginary hand.
"Fighting, still fighting for Cuba," he whispered as he resumed his seat. After a moment's pause he shook himself as if awakening from a dream and continued his narrative.
"That treaty promised Cuba representation in the Spanish Cortes, or congress, but while it was kept in the letter it was broken in spirit. The government obtained control of the polls and the deputies, or representatives elected were always government tools or sympathizers. So poor Cuba, after her long struggle, was no better off than before, and in 1894 Jose Marti, at the head of a new insurrection, set sail from New York with three ships, men, and munitions of war. But the United States authorities stopped them. Marti then joined Gomez in Cuba and was killed in a skirmish. He was succeeded in command by General Gomez, who still fights on with a hungry, ill-clad handful of men against the best of Spain's army. One hundred and forty-five thousand men have been sent against him but he still fights; he still lives to fight, although he is over seventy-five years old.
"I have told you of the dogged determination, the splendid patriotism of the men who are fighting to lift the yoke of Spain from poor Cuba. Surely there must be something more than mere political wrongs to inspire such a spirit. You have heard of Weyler—'Butcher Weyler' they call him, and he is proud of the title. Frightened by the courage and resistance of the insurgent army, Spain looked about for a man capable of crushing the indomitable spirit of the rebels. In Weyler she thought she had found the man. He arrived in Havana in 1896. Among his first acts looking to the pacification of Cuba was his order of concentration. You have heard perhaps of the wretched 'reconcentrados?' They are the product of Weyler's order. Under this policy nearly a million peaceful Cubans, farmers and dwellers in the country, have been driven from their homes into nearby cities and their deserted houses burned to the ground. These people are mostly women and children and old men—non-combatants. In this way Weyler sought to stop the aid that was being given to the insurgents in the field. From the 'pacificos,' as they are known the rebels could at any time secure food, clothing, and shelter.
"Concentrated in the towns, without food or money to buy it, and many without clothing, these reconcentrados quickly became the victims of famine and disease. A part of Weyler's order of concentration provided for the gifts of ground to cultivate, and the Spaniard's answer to the charge of inhumanity is a shrug of the shoulders and the reply that the reconcentrados starve because they are too lazy to work. 'We give them the land,' he says, 'and they will not till it.' True, they gave them land, but no seed to sow and no tools to reap and they have no money to buy them. Everything they owned is in the heap of ashes that marks the spot where the little thatched cottage once stood. Thousands and thousands of human beings are herded together like cattle, with no means to feed themselves, and, unlike cattle, with no one to feed them.
"Why, I have seen—I have been told by those who have seen it—of little children with the skin drawn like parchment over their bodies. And boys, when you think that among these poor victim's of Spain's pacification policy are the wives and children, sisters and sweethearts of the struggling insurgents in the field, is it any wonder that the spirit of independence will not down in the Pearl of the Antilles?"
That the captain was a man of feeling and education there could be no further doubt in the minds of the captive boys. That he should have taken the trouble to thus enlighten them on the subject of Cuba's wrongs was a compliment to their understanding which was not lost.
SENDING THE MESSAGE
The captain no longer interfered in any way with the actions of his young guests. They were entirely free to do as they pleased on the ship, and apparently were under no surveillance. As they came on deck on the fourth morning at sea, the day was beautifully bright and clear. The sky was taking on that peculiar blue that is seen only in the lower latitudes. The atmosphere seemed to have thinned, and the horizon to have moved away a mile or two. The sea was as smooth as glass and the steamer was ploughing her way along at the rate of fifteen knots (miles) an hour. As usual, the decks were deserted, with the exception of the man at the wheel and the two lookouts who were always on post, day and night, no matter how clear the day, or how unnecessary the double watch might seem.
It was the custom of the boys in the morning to distribute themselves around the deck so that they could take in all the points of the compass, and for a time each would study the horizon with careful scrutiny, in the hope of sighting some vessel to which they might signal. Everything had been carefully arranged so that as soon as a ship of any sort was seen, word was to be passed quietly from one to another without attracting the attention of anyone on deck, and then each knew his duty.
Hamilton was the custodian of the flags. On him rested the responsibility of displaying the signal so that the passing ship might read the message.
The boys had studied the compass and the maps that were each day displayed in the captain's cabin, and they knew that they were headed south. Although that gave them little or no clew to their ultimate destination, they felt some comfort in the knowledge that the shore of America lay to the starboard, and away off somewhere beyond the dreary horizon was the country they all loved, and where their anxious friends and families were awaiting some word from them.
Bert's post was a little forward of the beam on the starboard side. As he took his place this morning, his heart was heavy. He was thoroughly tired of the monotony of the voyage, and the mystery that enveloped the ship was beginning to wear upon him. For days now they had sailed without seeing anything but a dreary expanse of water on every side, unbroken by anything that was human. Porpoises played around the bows of the steamer, and gulls shrieked as they swooped above her. Now and then a fish leaped out of the water as the steamer ploughed through the waves.
Bert leaned on the rail with his chin resting in his hands and his eyes fixed upon the blank before him. Suddenly he raised his head, and an expression of surprise crept into his face. He turned and looked stealthily around him. Harry was slowly walking up and down the main deck just aft of the fo'c'sle where the lookouts were stolidly pacing.
Bert again turned his eyes toward the horizon. What appeared like a thread in comparison with the vastness of space around them wavered above a small black speck. Bert watched it with eager eyes. At this moment Harry stopped in his walk as he approached the starboard side, and placing his arms on the rail looked out over the sea in the direction of the black thread. Then the boys turned to one another and a questioning glance passed between them. Little by little they moved in toward one another until they met.
Harry looked carefully around him before he whispered:
"Bert, I think it is a steamer."
"I'm sure of it, Hal. Have you got the signals ready?"
"I can get them in a minute, but she is too far away yet."
"You know passing vessels always study one another with a glass."
"But I do not believe she could make out our signals even with a glass, yet."
At this moment one of the men on lookout turned and looked up at the second mate, who silently paced the bridge.
"Steamer off the starboard bow, sir," he said, quietly.
"Keep closer watch. I've seen her," replied the mate, gruffly.
"Aye, aye, sir," came the usual response, without a change in tone.
Involuntarily the boys turned their eyes aft to the captain's cabin. As they did so the door opened gently and the natty, flannel-garbed figure of the commander moved out onto the deck and to the bridge. He carried a glass in his hand, which he raised to his eyes after he had spoken a few words to the mate.
"I thought so," said Bert, dolefully. "You can't lose him."
"Never mind," said Harry, "if she comes near enough I will get the signals up before he can stop me, and we will have to take chances on their being read before he can get them down."
"But aren't you afraid of what he may do?" asked Bert, in some fear.
"What can he do?"
"He seems to be capable of doing a whole lot that might be unpleasant. For instance, he might put you in irons and chuck you down in the hold."
"I do not think he would dare do that. But anyway, I am going to take the chance. We owe it to the folks at home."
"You are right there, Hal. I'm with you whatever comes of it."
"Oh, he's not a cannibal, or a pirate. He might be pretty mad and perhaps use us a bit rough at first, but I think he would laugh at it afterward, when he recovered his temper."
"Gee, but think of all the unpleasant things that might happen before he decided that it was time to laugh."
Harry smiled at the mournful face of his chum, and turned again to look at the speck in the distance. Seemingly, it had grown larger. The captain, who had finished his scrutiny, looked down at them and smiled and waved his hand.
"Sleep well, lads?" he called to them pleasantly.
They nodded sheepishly in reply.
"I can't help liking him," replied Bert.
"There is something big and honest about him like a Newfoundland dog," answered Harry. "I feel sort of mean about trying to trick him. He would be a good friend and a mighty bad enemy."
The captain took another look at the approaching vessel, spoke in a confidential tone to the mate, and again disappeared into his cabin.
"She's coming on," said Harry, with satisfaction. "Unless she changes her course, I will send up the signals in five minutes." He looked at his watch as he spoke. "Pshaw, I'm always forgetting that the salt water has somewhat interfered with the internal arrangements of this affair," he continued, laughing.
By this time the strange steamer was pretty well hull up and the boys could distinguish her masts and funnel as well as see what appeared to be flags fluttering in the breeze.
"In order that we shall not cause any suspicion, Bert," said Harry, presently, "you go and get the Midget and stroll forward. I do not need your help any more than to distract attention from me as much as possible."
Bert turned, and walking around the deck, joined Mason who, while he had heard the call of the lookout man and knew that there was a steamer in sight, had not deserted his post, although he was keen with anxiety when Bert reached him.
"Where is she?" he asked, eagerly.
"She's off the starboard bow, but don't ask fool questions. Move up forward so that Hal can get a chance to have the flags up."
Although burning with a desire to watch the proceedings, the boys kept their faces steadfastly turned to the bow as Harry began in an unconcerned manner to work his way aft. He slowly climbed the companionway that led to the upper deck, and carelessly approached the mast to which the signal halliards were attached.
He stood there for a moment as if watching the oncoming steamer, but his eyes were scanning the decks and the bridge on which the second mate slowly paced to and fro. Then he turned his back to the mast and as he stood with his hands clasped behind him, he cast off the halliards from the cleat to which they were fastened. He was almost concealed from view by the big mast.
When he had loosened the ropes, he turned quickly, and taking the end of another rope from under his coat tied the two together. After one final peep around the mast he threw his coat open boldly, made several quick turns and unwound from his body the rope to which the signal flags were attached. Then with a strong pull he began to send them aloft rapidly.
As the colors sped upward and broke into the wind, his heart almost stopped beating from excitement.
Now they were half way up to the masthead and no one had seen them. The second mate still paced the bridge with his back to him. He glanced at the captain's cabin. No one appeared from there.
"I shall get them up," he whispered to himself through his tightly shut teeth, "but will they be read?"
Now they were chock with the pulley block and he made the ends of the halliards fast to the cleat and stood back to view his work. It seemed scarcely possible that they should not be seen and read by the passing steamer which was now so close that he could almost make out her colors with the naked eye.
With a feeling of triumph he looked aloft at the flags that, aided by a friendly breeze and the motion of the steamer, were fluttering out straight from the masthead. As he dropped his eyes from aloft he started back with a slight cry of fear and surprise.
The head of Suarez, the mate, appeared above an after companionway, his eyes flashing with anger. He rushed at the boy like an enraged animal, but Harry, determined to protect his signal as long as possible, stepped to the mast and took a capstan bar from its place at the base and stood defiantly awaiting the onslaught of the mate, who rushed upon him regardless of his threatening attitude. Before Harry knew what had happened the bar flew out of his hands, and he lay sprawling on the deck from a blow from the open hand of the mate.
Suarez paid no further attention to him, but seizing the halliards hauled down the signal. The scuffling of feet and the fall of the heavy capstan bar caused the second mate to turn quickly, and at the same moment the captain's door opened and he stepped out on the deck. His face flushed with anger as he saw the signal-flags, and then he turned quickly to the other vessel.
As he did so, Harry, whose eyes followed his, saw what he believed to be an answering signal, creep up the mast of the passing steamer. Suarez saw it, too, for he turned to Harry with an ugly look in his eyes.
"The mischief is done, you young devil," he said.
"I hope so," answered Harry, quietly rubbing the arm on which he had fallen. "Your hand is heavy, Suarez."
"I am sorry if I hurt you, Master Hamilton," said the man, somewhat more calmly, "but you are guilty of insubordination and you have broken your word to the captain."
"You are mistaken, Suarez," said a deep voice behind them, and they both looked quickly around to find Captain Dynamite beside them, his glass raised to his eyes as he scanned the passing steamer. "Master Hamilton made me no promise; in fact, he warned me that he would take the first opportunity that presented itself to get ashore, or to communicate with a passing ship. He has been too sharp for us, that is all."
"Message received all right, captain?" asked Harry, eagerly.
Dynamite smiled at the boy's assurance.
"Yes, received and acknowledged," he answered; and then turning to Suarez he continued, in a low tone:
"I do not think it has done any harm. She does not apparently wish to learn anything further of us."
"Captain Dynamite," said Harry, warmly, "there is a big load off my mind, and now we will stick to you through thick and thin. We owe our lives to you, and we are not ungrateful. Whether you wish to take us into your confidence or not, I do not believe, whatever may be the mystery of your voyage, that there is anything dishonorable about it, and you can count on us as part and parcel of your crew. We have succeeded in getting word to our friends at home as I told you I would try to do; now we are yours to command."
The captain looked down into Harry's earnest face, his own quite serious and solemn.
"You are a fine lot of lads," he said, "and if I was on a pleasure cruise I would not ask for better companions, but look you, this voyage of mystery, as you call it, is a very serious piece of business and I wish you were all safe ashore and well out of it."
"But we don't want to be out of it, captain," asserted Harry, stubbornly. Bert and Mason had now joined the group on the after deck.
"No, captain," piped the Midget, "we are in it so far and we want to stick. You can't chuck us overboard very well, and as long as we have got to be a part of your expedition, I think you better muster us in as a part of the crew."
"Well, youngsters, as much as I regret it, you may have to cast your fortunes in with ours after all, but until that necessity arises we will go along as we are, I your host and you my unwilling guests."
"No, not unwilling now, cap," replied Mason. "So long as the folks know we are safe and sound I think I had rather be aboard this queer craft with you than any place I can think of just now. What do you say, Bert?"
"Right, as usual."
"Well, boys, while I have perfect confidence in your integrity and all necessity for further secrecy is about past, still I think for your own good, in view of possible happenings, it is best that I and my mission remain a mystery to you."
The captain turned toward his cabin as he spoke, as if to terminate the conversation.
"Perhaps it is not such a mystery after all, captain," said Harry, quietly. "We must be pretty near the coast of Cuba."
The man turned quickly, a glint of that fierce light in his eyes, and then he burst into a hearty laugh.
"Pretty sharp youngsters, eh, Suarez?" he said. "We may be able to make some use of them yet. I think they better dine with us to-night."
VIVA, CUBA LIBRE!
Although used to the eccentricities of costume in which the captain indulged, Harry was not prepared for the formal gentleman who greeted them as they entered the cabin that night.
Captain Dynamite was in full evening dress, and Harry could not help thinking how well he looked with his big, athletic form draped in conventional attire. But he had not looked for such dress on shipboard, or at least on a ship of the mysterious character of the Mariella.
"Welcome to our little dinner party," said the captain, solemnly, as he shook each boy by the hand and pointed to seats on the big divan. "This is the first time that strangers have graced our board on this occasion. I hope it portends a successful ending to our voyage."
"We certainly hope so too, captain. We should be very sorry to feel that our presence on your steamer might cause trouble to you."
"O, one never knows what the morrow may bring. This is our farewell night. To-morrow we enter the zone of danger. But to-night we will be merry. Is not that an excellent idea?"
"The idea is all right, captain, but where is the danger?"
"Ah, that you may know to-morrow."
"All right, cap," said Mason, carelessly throwing one leg over the other and thrusting his thumbs into the armholes of his vest, "we'll stick to you."
"I believe you will, boys, but it will be my care to keep you free from harm if possible. That is one reason why I have made so much of a mystery to you of the voyage of the Mariella. Whatever may befall us you will have had no part in the purpose of this voyage, and remember, above all things, that you are American citizens. There are American consuls in every port and Uncle Sam will take care of his own, perhaps not with the alacrity that we sometimes could wish for, but in due course of time. So shout loudly for Uncle Sam if you need him and if he does not hear you, don't forget that John Bull speaks your language."
The boys were puzzled by the captain's speech, but they knew him well enough to realize that it would be useless to question him. At this point the mate entered the cabin. His appearance was so odd that Bert had to hide his face behind his handkerchief to laugh. His expression was as solemn as the captain's. He wore a pair of blue pilot cloth trousers, a vest with brass buttons and an old-fashioned swallow-tailed coat. The trousers, which were badly creased and puckered from long service inside the tops of his sea boots, were now pulled down outside, but the wide tops of the boots showed in a ring at the knee.
The captain greeted him in the same dignified way that he had received the boys, and he gravely took a seat on the divan beside them. The next to put in an appearance was the engineer, who wore his service uniform. The second mate was the last to arrive. He was dressed in blue flannel vest and trousers and a Tuxedo coat. Notwithstanding his own almost faultless attire, the captain did not seem to notice the neglige of his men. He greeted each warmly and in the same sober manner. When they had all assembled, he rang a bell and the steward promptly responded.
"You may serve dinner," he said. "There are seven at table to-night."
"A fair prospect for a good run to-morrow, captain," said Suarez, rubbing his hands with the air of one who looked forward with pleasure to a coming event.
"Sure one never knows what the daylight will show," answered the captain, with a touch of his brogue. "We may find ourselves in the very divil of a hornets' nest when the sun shows over the horizon. But Suary, me boy, we have pulled together out of many a bad hole, haven't we, old man, and we are ready for another, eh?"
"The captain knows he can count on me when there is any fighting to be done in the good cause."
"Fighting, eh," whispered Bert to Harry. "What do you suppose these queer guys are talking about?"
"I think I begin to have a small notion."
"What do you divine, most noble chief?"
"I do not think it would be wise to say until I am surer of my facts."
"And do your suspicions point to some dreadful mystery of the deep?" whispered Mason, with mock fear, while his mischievous eyes sparkled with fun.
"Something perhaps a little more serious than we have been mixed up in before, if I am right."
"As serious as powder and bullets can be."
"Powder and bullets," repeated Bert in some alarm. "What do you mean, Hal?"
"I tell you I cannot speak until I am surer of my ground. You know I made an expedition into the hold to-day while the hatches were open."
"Yes, but you did not tell us that anything that you saw there was at all suspicious."
"I do not know that it is, but I can tell you this: instead of carrying a general cargo of merchandise for trading purposes, as we are supposed to do, we are loaded to the gunwales with guns and ammunition."
"Well, guns and ammunition are perfectly legitimate articles of merchandise."
"That all depends upon where and for what purpose they are shipped."
"What do you mean?"
"If two nations are at war and a nation supposed to be friendly to each should send arms and ammunition to one or the other, it would be a violation of international law, and would be looked upon as an act of war on the part of the friendly nation."
"But suppose the nation had nothing to do with it and that the cargo was shipped by individuals who were in sympathy with the cause of one or the other?"
"The friendly nation is supposed to see to it that no such cargo is shipped from its shores, and the vessel undertaking such a task ranks as a pirate and is called a filibuster."
"But there are no two nations now at war, so that theory cannot hold good."
"There are no two nations at war, but there is a nation that has had on its hands for many years a warfare within its own borders as Captain Dynamite told us very entertainingly to-day."
"And do you think that Captain Dynamite is one of those buccaneers that he told us about?"
"Let us wait and see."
"Say, but that would be fine, wouldn't it, Hal?"
"You might not think it so fine if a Spanish warship should open fire on us."
"But we will not mix up in their quarrel."
"No, but a Spanish gunboat would mix it up with us very quickly if she saw us first."
"What right would she have to interfere with a ship flying the American flag?"
"If we could not give a proper account of ourselves in her waters she would stand on very little ceremony."
"And do you think we are likely to get mixed up in any real fighting with real powder and bullets?" asked Bert, in some dismay.
"I don't know. Look out, the captain is watching us."
"Gee," whispered Mason, "I wish I was back in Cottage City."
Captain Dynamite, who had been talking with his officers while the boys discussed their situation in whispers, now looked over at them curiously. Harry did not care at present to have to explain his suspicions. At this moment, fortunately, the steward entered with the soup and created a diversion. Captain Dynamite rose, and waving his arm toward the table, said:
"Gentlemen, dinner is served. Let us be seated."
The captain took his place at the head of the table, and his men grouped themselves around him while the boys found seats near the bottom and facing all. It was certainly a curious gathering for a dinner table: the four bronzed, earnest-faced men at one end of the table and the three fresh-faced, wondering youngsters at the other. For a moment there was a deep silence, and Bert leaned over to Harry and whispered:
"Say, Hal, I feel as if something ought to explode, or the captain ought to break out the black flag. This atmosphere is getting too tense for me."
"'Sh, keep quiet," said Mason, "don't you see old Dynamite is going to say something? Perhaps he may let us into his secret. He seems to be feeling pretty good natured."
"Gentlemen," said the captain, rising at his seat, "fill your glasses."
As he spoke, he passed a black bottle that stood at his right hand to the mate, who filled his glass and passed the bottle on to the engineer.
"There is lemonade in that pitcher at your hand, youngsters," said the captain. "Fill your glasses."
The boys did as directed and the captain raised his glass of grog high in air. His men rose silently from their seats and did likewise.
"Here's to the good cause and confusion to its enemies," he said, in a deep voice.
"Good luck to the cause," shouted the men as they dashed off their liquor and sat solemnly down again.
For half an hour scarcely a word was spoken, as they all did full justice to the cook's excellent dinner. When they were through, the steward removed the cloth and the captain brought out a box of cigars which he passed around, this time not overlooking the boys, but they each refused, with thanks. The steward replaced the black bottle and it made another circuit of the table. After a short silence, during which the men puffed vigorously on their cigars, the captain said quietly:
"Men, to-morrow we begin to get busy. You all know what dangers we are facing and you have all been through them before. I know you will acquit yourselves well if it comes to a tight rub, for your hearts are all with the cause. That we may all know to what end to bend our individual endeavors, and in case anything should happen to any of us, I will now read to you the orders under which we are sailing. Always remember our compact. We have our numbers. If number one falls, number two takes command, and to him you give your true allegiance, always with your minds free from personal ambitions and petty jealousies, working only as human machines for the good of the cause."
The men turned and looked nervously in the direction of the boys. The captain noticed their suspicious glances.
"Do not fear," he said, addressing particularly the furtive-eyed Suarez, "I will answer for them. They are my guests."
There was in the captain's tone just a touch of defiance, as if he challenged opposition to his views.
"Now listen, and mark well the directions in the order. It is in Spanish, but I will read it to you in English, as I believe none among you, save Suarez and myself, understand Spanish."
The captain produced from a large wallet a paper which he read slowly, dwelling long upon those passages containing detailed instructions:
HEADQUARTERS OF THE INDEPENDENT GOVERNMENT AT CUBITAS.
TO CAPTAIN DYNAMITE, Boston, Massachusetts, U. S. A.
GREETING: When, with the assistance of a power higher than mortal endeavor, you shall have safely brought your expedition within the lines of the enemy's ships, proceed with all possible dispatch to that point on the coast mutually agreed upon by us at our last meeting. There, should a kind and just Providence so will it, you will find your landing covered by five hundred men under Captain Morgan, who is your friend. From him you will receive any necessary further instructions. May our just cause shield you from harm and bring you safely through your dangerous mission to the arms of your friends who kiss your hand.
(Signed) BETANCOURT. GOMEZ.
"You know those names, my friends," said Dynamite, after reading the order. "In their name and in ours, out of the fullness of our hearts, I give you our toast—Viva Cuba Libre!"
The men sprang to their feet and raising their glasses while their eyes shone with the fever of excitement, shouted:
"Viva, viva, Cuba libre!"
"I thought so," said Harry, as the sound died away.
"What does that lingo mean?" asked Bert.
"It means 'hurrah for free Cuba,'" answered Harry.
IN THE DANGER ZONE
Harry was awakened the next morning by the clanking of heavy chains, rumbling of iron trucks, banging of doors, creaking of cordage, and the hoarse shouts of men. Above the unusual din the voice of the captain rose deep and resonant. Harry sat up in his bunk in wonderment. The usually quiet and methodical ship seemed to have in an instant been transformed into what to the ear might easily resemble an iron foundry. The noise also aroused Bert and Mason.
"What's our friend the buccaneer up to now?" queried Mason, rubbing his sleepy eyes.
"The sooner we get on deck, the quicker we shall find out," answered Harry, jumping from his bunk and beginning to dress hurriedly.
"Sounds to me suspiciously like a pirate chief and his blood-thirsty crew preparing to board an unsuspecting ship," said the irrepressible Midget, as he poked his head into his shirt. "Shouldn't be a bit surprised when we get on deck to find a lot of evil-faced men armed to the teeth—you know pirates are always evil-faced. By the way, did you ever know how the expression 'armed to the teeth' originated? Well, you see, after a pirate has stuck his belt full of pistols and cutlasses, and has both hands full of guns, he just chucks a dirk in his mouth and then, of course, he is armed to the teeth. Singular how you fellows are always drawing on my fund of general information. One dollar, please."
"Stop your nonsense, Midget," said Harry. "Remember what Captain Dynamite said last night. We are in the zone of danger to-day."
The noise had now somewhat subsided, and by the time the boys were dressed the usual quiet pervaded the ship.
Harry stepped from their stateroom into the main cabin and was surprised to see the captain sitting quietly at the table with his back turned to him. His elbows were resting on the table and his face was in his hands. He was looking intently at some object in front of him. He did not move as Harry approached, and the boy could see that he was gazing at a portrait.
"Good morning, sir," said Harry, stopping at a respectful distance. "Have we struck the danger zone, yet?"
The captain almost shrieked the words as he leaped to his feet, and clasping the portrait to his breast as if to protect it, turned fiercely on the boy.
"O, it's you," he said quickly, on recognizing Harry. Then he passed his hand over his eyes as if returning from a trance.
"I was with her when you spoke," he said softly, "and then the thought of danger drives me mad. See——"
The captain held out the photograph for the boy's inspection. It was the picture of a beautiful young woman of Spanish type, with dark hair and eyes.
"This time I take her home as my bride. She has promised it. I have left her too long at the mercy of Weyler's bloodhounds. But Gomez will see that no harm comes to my Juanita. He has promised. The general has promised, and soon—very soon, I shall take her away—away from this danger zone."
The big man seemed dreaming again as his eyes rested with an expression as soft as a woman's on the fair face of the girl. Then with that characteristic shake of his huge body he placed the portrait carefully in an inner pocket, next his heart, and turned again to Harry with his dare-devil laugh on his lips.
"Ha, ha! Danger zone? Oh, sure, we are in it. But we are ready for 'em, my boy. All's in shipshape for friend or foe. We've set a smiling face to the fore, my lad, but a broad laugh would uncover some moighty sharp teeth." At this moment the mate hurriedly entered the cabin and saluted.
"What is it, Suarez?" asked the captain, quickly.
"Smoke off the starboard bow, sir."
"Can you make her out?"
"Not yet, sir."
"Call me when you can."
The mate saluted again and retired. The captain turned away from Harry unceremoniously, and Bert and Mason having joined him, the boys went on deck. There was no change apparent that would have accounted for the strange noises that had awakened them, except that the hatches were now fastened down with heavy iron bars and the little forward hatch where Harry had made his first tour of inspection was guarded by two men, who stood with folded arms on either side. There were now two men on lookout aft as well as forward. They paced slowly to and fro, their eyes fixed astern. Amidships, on both the starboard and port sides, a man walked backward and forward over a space of about fifteen feet, always closely scanning the sea on either side. Off the starboard bow could be seen a thin thread of smoke that rose almost perpendicularly in the still air.