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   Chapter 4 TO THE RESCUE.

A Jolly Fellowship By Frank R. Stockton Characters: 16879

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The next morning, I was awakened by Rectus coming into the room.

"Hello!" said I; "where have you been? I didn't hear you get up."

"I called you once or twice," said Rectus, "but you were sleeping so soundly I thought I'd let you alone. I knew you'd lost some sleep by being sick on the steamer."

"That was only the first night," I exclaimed. "I've made up that long ago. But what got you up so early?"

"I went out to take a warm salt-water bath before breakfast," answered Rectus. "There's an eight-cornered bath-house right out here, almost under the window, where you can have your sea-water warm if you like it."

"Do they pump it from the tropics?" I asked, as I got up and began to dress.

"No; they heat it in the bath-house. I had a first-rate bath, and I saw a Minorcan."

"You don't say so!" I cried. "What was he like? Had he horns? And how did you know what he was?"

"I asked him," said Rectus.

"Asked him!" I exclaimed. "You don't mean to say that you got up early and went around asking people if they were Mohicans!"

"Minorcans, I said."

"Well, it's bad enough, even if you got the name right. Did you ask the man plump to his face?"

"Yes. But he first asked me what I was. He was an oldish man, and I met him just as I was coming out of the bath-house. He had a basket of clams on his arm, and I asked him where he caught them. That made him laugh, and he said he dug them out of the sand under the wharf. Then he asked me if my name was Cisneros, and when I told him it was not, he said that I looked like a Spaniard, and he thought that that might be my name. And so, as he had asked me about myself, I asked him if he was a Minorcan, and he said 'yes.'"

"And what then?" I asked.

"Nothing," said Rectus. "He went on with his clams, and I came home."

"You didn't seem to make much out of him, after all," said I. "I don't wonder he thought you were a Spaniard, with that hat. I told you you'd make a show of yourself. But what are you going to do with your Minorcans, Rectus, when you catch them?"

He laughed, but didn't mention his plans.

"I didn't know how you got clams," he said. "I thought you caught them some way. It would never have entered my head to dig for them."

"There's lots to learn in this town about fish, and ever so many other things besides; and I tell you what it is, Rectus, as soon as we get through with the fort,-and I don't know how long that will take us, for I heard on the steamer that it had underground dungeons,-we'll go off on a first-class exploring expedition."

That suited Rectus exactly.

After breakfast we started for the fort. It is just outside of the town, and you can walk all the way on the sea-wall, which is about a yard wide on top,-just a little too wide for one fellow, but not quite wide enough for two.

The United States government holds the fort now, of course, and calls it Fort Marion, but the old Spanish name was San Marco, and we disdained to call it anything else. When we went over the drawbridge, and across the moat, we saw the arms of Spain on a shield over the great gate of the fort. We walked right in, into a wide hall, with dark door-ways on each side, and then out into a great inclosed space, like a parade-ground, in the centre of the fort, and here we saw a whole crowd of Indians. We didn't expect to find Indians here, and we were very much surprised. They did not wear Indian clothes, but were dressed in United States military uniform. They didn't look like anything but Indians, though, for all that. I asked one of them if he belonged here, and he smiled and said "How?" and held out his hand. We both shook it, but could make nothing out of him. A good many of them now came up and said "How?" to us, and shook hands, and we soon found that this meant "How d' ye do?" and was about all they knew of English.

"HOW?"

We were lucky enough, before we got through shaking hands with our new friends, to see Mr. Cholott coming toward us, and he immediately took us in charge, and seemed to be glad to have a job of the kind. There was nothing about the fort that he didn't know. He told us that the Indians were prisoners, taken in the far West by United States troops, and that some of them were the worst Indians in the whole country. They were safe enough now, though, and were held here as hostages. Some were chiefs, and they were all noted men,-some as murderers, and others in less important ways. They had been here for some years, and a few of them could speak a little English.

He then took us all over the fort,-up an inclined plane to the top of the ramparts, and into the Indian barracks on one of the wide walls, where we saw a lot of Cheyennes and Kiowas, and Indians from other tribes, sitting around and making bows and arrows, and polishing sea-beans to sell to visitors. At each corner of the fort was a "lookout tower,"-a little box of a place, stuck out from the top of the wall, with loopholes and a long, narrow passage leading to it, with a high wall on each side to protect from bullets and arrows the man who went to look out. One of the towers had been knocked off, probably by a cannon-ball. These towers and slim little passages took our fancy greatly. Then Mr. Cholott took us downstairs to see the dungeons. He got the key and gave it to a big old Indian, named Red Horse, who went ahead with a lighted kerosene-lamp.

We first saw the dungeon where the Indian chief, Osceola, was shut up during the Seminole war. It was a dreary place. There was another chief, Wild Cat, who was imprisoned with Osceola, and one night Osceola "boosted" him to a high window, where he squeezed through the bars and got away. If Osceola had had any one to give him a lift, I suppose he would have been off, too. Rectus and I wondered how the two Indians managed this little question of who should be hoisted. Perhaps they tossed up, or perhaps Wild Cat was the lighter of the two. The worst dungeon, though, was a place that was discovered by accident about thirty years ago. There was nothing there when we went in; but, when it was first found, a chained skeleton was lying on the floor. Through a hole in the wall we crept into another dungeon, worse yet, in which two iron cages were found hung to the wall, with skeletons in them. It seemed like being in some other country to stand in this dark little dungeon, and hear these dreadful stories, while a big Indian stood grinning by, holding a kerosene-lamp.

Mr. Cholott told us that one of the cages and the bones could now be seen in Washington.

After Mr. Cholott went home, we tramped all over the fort again by ourselves, and that afternoon we sat on the outer wall that runs along the harbor-front of the fort, and watched the sail-boats and the fishermen in their "dug-outs." There were a couple of sharks swimming up and down in front of the town, and every now and then they would come up and show themselves. They were the first sharks we had ever seen.

Rectus was worked up about the Indians. We had been told that, while a great many of the chiefs and braves imprisoned here were men known to have committed crimes, still there were others who had done nothing wrong, and had been captured and brought here as prisoners, simply because, in this way, the government would have a good hold on their tribes.

Rectus thought this was the worst kind of injustice, and I agreed with him, although I didn't see what we were going to do about it.

On our way home we met Rectus's Minorcan; he was a queer old fellow.

"Hello!" said he, when he saw Rectus. "Have you been out catching clams?"

We stopped and talked a little while about the sharks, and then the old man asked Rectus why he wanted to know, that morning, whether he was a Minorcan or not.

"I just wanted to see one," said Rectus, as if he had been talking of kangaroos or giraffes. "I've been thinking a good deal about them, and their bold escape from slavery, and their--"

"Slavery!" sung out the old man. "We were never slaves! What do you mean by that? Do you take us for niggers?"

He was pretty mad, and I don't wonder, if that was the way he understood Rectus, for he was just as much a white man as either of us.

"Oh no!" said Rectus. "But I've heard all about you, and that tyrant Turnbull, and the way you cast off his yoke. I mean your fathers, of course."

"I reckon you've heard a little too much, young

man," said the Minorcan. "Somebody's been stuffin' you. You'd better get a hook and line, and go out to catch clams."

"Why, you don't understand me!" cried Rectus. "I honor you for it."

The old man looked at him and then at me, and then he laughed. "All right, bub," said he. "If ever you want to hire a boat, I've got one. My name is Menendez. Just ask for my boat at the club-house wharf." And then he went on.

"That's all you get for your sympathy with oppressed people," said Rectus. "They call you bub."

"Well, that old fellow isn't oppressed," I said; "and if any of his ancestors were, I don't suppose he cares about remembering it. We ought to hire his boat some time."

That evening we took a walk along the sea-wall. It was a beautiful starlight night, and a great many people were walking about. When we got down near the fort,-which looked bigger and grayer than ever by the starlight,-Rectus said he would like to get inside of it by night, and I agreed that it would be a good thing to do. So we went over the drawbridge (this place has a drawbridge, and portcullises, and barbicans, and demi-lunes, and a moat, just as if it were a castle or a fort of some old country in Europe),-but the big gate was shut. We didn't care to knock, for all was dark, and we came away. Rectus proposed that we should reconnoitre the place, and I agreed, although, in reality, there wasn't anything to reconnoitre. We went down into the moat, which was perfectly dry, and very wide, and walked all around the fort.

We examined the walls, which were pretty jagged and rough in some places, and we both agreed that if we had to do it, we believed we could climb to the top.

As we walked home, Rectus proposed that we should try to climb in some night.

"What's the good?" I asked.

"Why, it would be a splendid thing," said he, "to scale the walls of an old Middle-Age fort, like that. Let's try it, anyway."

I couldn't help thinking that it would be rather a fine thing to do, but it did seem rather foolish to risk our necks to get over the walls at night, when we could walk in, whenever we pleased, all day.

But it was of no use to say anything like that to Rectus. He was full of the idea of scaling the walls, and I found that, when the boy did get worked up to anything, he could talk first-rate, and before we went to sleep I got the notion of it, too, and we made up our minds that we would try it.

The next day we walked around the walls two or three times, and found a place where we thought we could get up, if we had a rope fastened to the top of the wall. When General Oglethorpe bombarded the fort,-at the time the Spaniards held it,-he made a good many dents in the wall, and these would help us. I did climb up a few feet, but we saw that it would never do to try to get all the way up without a rope.

How to fasten the rope on the top of the wall was the next question. We went in the fort, and found that if we could get a stout grapnel over the wall, it would probably catch on the inside of the coping, and give us a good enough hold. There is a wide walk on top, with a low wall on the outside, just high enough to shelter cannon, and to enable the garrison to dodge musketry and arrows.

We had a good deal of trouble finding a rope, but we bought one, at last, which was stout enough,-the man asked us if we were going to fish for sharks, and didn't seem to believe us when we said no,-and we took it to our room, and made knots in it about a foot apart. The fort walls are about twenty feet high, and we made the rope plenty long enough, with something to spare. We didn't have much trouble to find a grapnel. We bought a small one, but it was strong enough. We talked the matter over a great deal, and went to the fort several times, making examinations, and measuring the height of the wall, from the top, with a spool of cotton.

It was two or three days before we got everything ready, and in our trips to the fort we saw a good deal of the Indians. We often met them in the town, too, for they were frequently allowed to go out and walk about by themselves. There was no danger, I suppose, of their trying to run away, for they were several thousand miles from their homes, and they probably would not care to run to any other place with no larger stock of the English language than one word, "How?" Some of them, however, could talk a little English. There was one big fellow-he was probably the largest of them all-who was called "Maiden's Heart." I couldn't see how his name fitted, for he looked like an out-and-out savage, and generally wore a grin that seemed wicked enough to frighten settlers out of his part of the country. But he may have had a tender spot, somewhere, which entitled him to his name, and he was certainly very willing to talk to us, to the extent of his ability, which was not very great. We managed, however, to have some interesting, though rather choppy, conversations.

There was another fellow, a young chief, called Crowded Owl, that we liked better than any of the others, although we couldn't talk to him at all. He was not much older than I was, and so seemed to take to us. He would walk all around with us, and point out things. We had bought some sea-beans of him, and it may be that he hoped to sell us some more. At any rate, he was very friendly.

We met Mr. Cholott several times, and he told us of some good places to go to, and said he'd take us out fishing before long. But we were in no hurry for any expedition until we had carried out our little plan of surprising the fort. I gave the greater part of our money, however, to Mr. Cholott to lock up in his safe. I didn't like old Mr. Colbert's plan of going about with your capital pinned to your pockets. It might do while we were travelling, but I would rather have had it in drafts or something else not easily lost.

We had a good many discussions about our grapnel. We did not know whether there was a sentinel on duty in the fort at night or not, but supposed there was, and, if so, he would be likely to hear the grapnel when we threw it up and it hit the stones. We thought we could get over this difficulty by wrapping the grapnel in cotton wool. This would deaden the sound when it struck, but would not prevent the points of the hooks from holding to the inner edge of the wall. Everything now seemed all right, except that we had no object in view after we got over the wall. I always like to have some reason for doing a thing, especially when it's pretty hard to do. I said this to Rectus, and he agreed with me.

"What I would like to do," said he, "would be to benefit the innocent Indian prisoners."

"I don't know what we can do for them," said I. "We can't let them out, and they'd all go back again if we did."

"No, we can't do that," said he; "but we ought to do something. I've been around looking at them all carefully, and I feel sure that there are at least forty men among those Indians who haven't done a thing to warrant shutting them up."

"Why, how do you know?" I exclaimed.

"I judge from their faces," said Rectus.

Of course this made me laugh, but he didn't care.

"I'll tell you what we could do," said he; "we could enter a protest that might be heard of, and do some good. We could take a pot of black paint and a brush with us, and paint on one of the doors that open into the inner square,-where everybody could see it,-something like this: 'Let the righteous Indian go free.' That would create talk, and something might be done."

"Who'd do it?" said I. "The captain in command couldn't. He has no power to let any of them go free."

"Well, we might address the notice to the President of the United States-in big black letters. They could not conceal such a thing."

"Well, now, look here, Rectus," said I; "this thing is going to cost too much money. That rope was expensive, and the grapnel cost a good deal more than we thought it would; and now you want a big pot of black paint. We mustn't spend our money too fast, and if we've got to economize, let's begin on black paint. You can write your proclamation on paper, and stick it on the door with tacks. They could send that easier to the President than they could send a whole door."

"You may make as much fun as you please," said Rectus, "but I'm going to write it out now."

And so he did, in big letters, on half a sheet of foolscap.

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