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   Chapter 5 STORMING SAN MARCO.

A Jolly Fellowship By Frank R. Stockton Characters: 15914

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


We started out on our storming expedition on a Tuesday night, about nine o'clock; we had a latch-key, so we could come home when we pleased. Rectus carried the rope, and I had the grapnel, wrapped in its cotton wool. We put newspapers around these things, and made pretty respectable packages of them. We did not go down the sea-wall, but walked around through some of the inner streets. It seemed to us like a curious expedition. We were not going to do anything wrong, but we had no idea what the United States government would think about it. We came down to the fort on its landward side, but our attack was to be made upon the waterfront, and so we went around that way, on the side farthest from the town. There were several people about yet, and we had to wait. We dropped our packages into the moat, and walked about on the water-battery, which is between the harbor and the moat, and is used as a sort of pleasure-ground by the people of the town. It was a pretty dark night, although the stars were out, and the last of the promenaders soon went home; and then, after giving them about ten minutes to get entirely out of sight and hearing, we jumped down into the moat, which is only five or six feet below the water-battery, and, taking our packages, went over to that part of the wall which we had fixed upon for our assault.

We fastened the rope to the grapnel, and then Rectus stood back while I made ready for the throw. It was a pretty big throw, almost straight up in the air, but I was strong, and was used to pitching, and all that sort of thing. I coiled the rope on the ground, took the loose end of it firmly in my left hand, and then, letting the grapnel hang from my right hand until it nearly touched the ground, I swung it round and round, perpendicularly, and when it had gone round three or four times, I gave it a tremendous hurl upward.

It rose beautifully, like a rocket, and fell inside of the ramparts, making only a little thud of a sound.

"First-rate!" said Rectus, softly; and I felt pretty proud myself.

I pulled on the rope, and found the grapnel had caught. I hung with my whole weight on it, but it held splendidly.

"Now, then," said I to Rectus, "you can climb up. Go slowly, and be very careful. There's no hurry. And mind you take a good hold when you get to the top."

We had arranged that Rectus was to go first. This did not look very brave on my part, but I felt that I wanted to be under him, while he was climbing, so that I could break his fall if he should slip down. It would not be exactly a perpendicular fall, for the wall slanted a little, but it would be bad enough. However, I had climbed up worse places than that, and Rectus was very nimble; so I felt there was no great danger.

Up he went, hand over hand, and putting his toes into nicks every now and then, thereby helping himself very much. He took it slowly and easily, and I felt sure he would be all right. As I looked at him, climbing up there in the darkness, while I was standing below, holding the rope so that it should not swing, I could not help thinking that I was a pretty curious kind of a tutor for a boy. However, I was taking all the care of him that I could, and if he came down he'd probably hurt me worse than he would hurt himself. Besides, I had no reason to suppose that old Mr. Colbert objected to a little fun. Then I began to think of Mrs. Colbert, and while I was thinking of her, and looking up at Rectus, I was amazed to see him going up quite rapidly, while the end of the rope slipped through my fingers. Up he went, and when I ran back, I could see a dark figure on the wall, above him. Somebody was pulling him up.

In a very few moments he disappeared over the top, rope and all!

Now, I was truly frightened. What might happen to the boy?

I was about to shout, but, on second thoughts, decided to keep quiet; yet I instantly made up my mind that, if I didn't see or hear from him pretty soon, I would run around to the gate and bang up the people inside. However, it was not necessary for me to trouble myself, for, in a minute, the rope came down again, and I took hold of it. I pulled on it and found it all firm, and then I went up. I climbed up pretty fast, and two or three times I felt a tug, as if somebody above was trying to pull me up. But it was of no use, for I was a great deal stouter and heavier than Rectus, who was a light, slim boy. But as I neared the top, a hand came down and clutched me by the collar, and some one, with a powerful arm and grip, helped me over the top of the wall. There stood Rectus, all right, and the fellow who had helped us up was the big Indian, "Maiden's Heart."

I looked at Rectus, and he whispered:

"He says there's a sentinel down there in the square."

At this, Maiden's Heart bobbed his head two or three times, and, motioning to us to crouch down, he crept quietly over to the inner wall of the ramparts and looked down.

"What shall we say we came for?" I whispered, quickly.

"I don't know," said Rectus.

"Well, we must think of something," I said, "or we shall look like fools."

But before he had time to think, Maiden's Heart crept back. He put his finger on his lips, and, beckoning us to follow him, he led the way to a corner of the fort near one of the lookout towers. We followed as quietly as we could, and then we all three slipped into the narrow entrance to the tower, the Indian motioning us to go first. When we two stood inside of the little round tower, old Maiden's Heart planted himself before us in the passage, and waited to hear what we had to say.

But we couldn't think of anything to say. Directly, however, I thought I must do something, so I whispered to the Indian:

"Does the sentry ever come up here?"

He seemed to catch my meaning.

"I go watch," he said. "Come back. Tell you." And off he stole, making no more noise than a cat.

"Bother on him!" said Rectus. "If I'd known he was up here, I would never have come."

"I reckon not," said I. "But now that we have come, what are we going to do or say? That fellow evidently thinks we have some big project on hand, and he's ready to help us; we must be careful, or he'll rush down and murder the sentinel."

"I'm sure I don't know what to say to him," said Rectus. "We ought to have thought of this before. I suppose it would be of no use to mention my poster to him."

"No, indeed," said I; "he'd never understand that. And, besides, there's a man down there. Let's peep out and see what he's doing."

So we crept to the entrance of the passage, and saw Maiden's Heart, crouched near the top of the inclined plane which serves as a stairway from the square to the ramparts, and looking over the low wall, evidently watching the sentry.

"I'll tell you what let's do," said Rectus. "Let's make a rush for our rope, and get out of this."

"No, sir!" said I. "We'd break our necks if we tried to hurry down that rope. Don't think of anything of that kind. And, besides, we couldn't both get down before he'd see us."

In a few minutes, Maiden's Heart crept quickly back to us, and seemed surprised that we had left our hiding-place. He motioned us farther back into the passage, and slipped in himself.

We did not have time to ask any questions before we heard the sentry coming up the stairway, which was near our corner. When he reached the top, he walked away from us over toward the Indian barracks, which were on the ramparts, at the other end of the fort. As soon as he reached the barracks, Maiden's Heart took me by the arm and Rectus by the collar, and hurried us to the stairway, and then down as fast as we could go. He made no noise himself, but Rectus and I clumped a good deal. We had to wear our shoes, for the place was paved with rough concrete and oyster-shells.

The sentry evidently heard the clumping, for he came running down after us, and caught up to us almost as soon as we reach

ed the square.

"Eugh!" said he, for he was an Indian; and he ran in front of us, and held his musket horizontally before us. Of course we stopped. And then, as there was nothing else that seemed proper to do, we held out our hands and said "How?" The sentinel took his gun in his left hand, and shook hands with us. Then Maiden's Heart, who probably remembered that he had omitted this ceremony, also shook hands with us and said "How?"

The two Indians now began to jabber to each other, in a low voice; but we could not, of course, make out what they said, and I don't think they were able to imagine what we intended to do. We were standing near the inner door of the great entrance-way, and into this they now marched us. There was a lamp burning on a table.

Said Rectus: "I guess they're going to put us out of the front door;" but he was mistaken. They walked us into a dark room, on one side of the hall, and Maiden's Heart said to us: "Stay here. Him mad. I come back. Keep still," and then he went out, probably to discuss with the sentinel the nature of our conspiracy. It was very dark in this room, and, at first, we couldn't see anything at all; but we soon found, from the smell of the bread, that we were in the kitchen or bakery. We had been here before, and had seen the head-cook, a ferocious Indian squaw, who had been taken in the act of butchering a poor emigrant woman on the plains. She always seemed sullen and savage, and never said a word to anybody. We hoped she wasn't in here now.

"I didn't know they had Indian sentinels," said Rectus. "That seems a little curious to me. I suppose they set the innocent ones to watch the guilty."

"I don't believe that would work," said I, "for the innocent chaps would want to get away, just as much as the others. I guess they make 'em take turns to stand guard. There has to be a sentinel in a fort, you know, and I suppose these fellows are learning the business."

We didn't settle this question, nor the more important one of our reason for this visit; for, at this moment, Maiden's Heart came back, carrying the lamp. He looked at us in a curious way, and then he said:

"What you want?"

I couldn't think of any good answer to this question, but Rectus whispered to me:

"Got any money with you?"

"Yes," said I.

"Let's buy some sea-beans," said Rectus.

"All right," I answered.

"Sea-beans?" said Maiden's Heart, who had caught the word; "you want sea-beans?"

"Yes," said Rectus, "if you have any good ones."

At this, the Indian conducted us into the hall, put the lamp on the table, and took three or four sea-beans from his pocket. They were very nice ones, and beautifully polished.

"Good," said I; "we'll take these. How much, Maiden's Heart?"

"Fifty cents," said the Indian.

"For all?" I asked.

"No. No. For one. Four bean two dollar."

We both exclaimed at this, for it was double the regular price of the beans.

"All right," said Maiden's Heart. "Twenty-five cents, daytime. Fifty cents, night."

We looked at each other, and concluded to pay the price and depart. I gave him two dollars, and asked him to open the gate and let us out.

"ANOTHER BEAN."

He grinned.

"No. No. We got no key. Captain got key. Come up wall. Go down wall."

At this, we walked out into the square, and were about to ascend the inclined plane when the sentinel came up and stopped us. Thereupon a low conversation ensued between him and Maiden's Heart, at the end of which the sentry put his hand into his pocket and pulled out three beans, which he held out to us. I did not hesitate, but gave him a dollar and a half for them. He took the money and let us pass on,-Maiden's Heart at my side.

"You want more bean?" said he.

"Oh, no!" I answered. "No, indeed," said Rectus.

When we reached the place where we had left our apparatus, I swung the rope over the wall, and, hooking the grapnel firmly on the inside, prepared to go down, for, as before, I wished to be under Rectus, if he should slip. But Maiden's Heart put his hand on my shoulder.

"Hold up!" he said. "I got 'nother bean. Buy this."

"Don't want it," said I.

"Yes. Yes," said Maiden's Heart, and he coolly unhooked the grapnel from the wall.

I saw that it was of no use to contend with a big fellow like that, as strong as two common men, and I bought the bean.

I took the grapnel from Maiden's Heart, who seemed to give it up reluctantly, and as I hooked it on the wall, I felt a hand upon my shoulder. I looked around, and saw the sentinel. He held out to me another bean. It was too dark to see the quality of it, but I thought it was very small. However, I bought it. One of these fellows must be treated as well as the other.

Maiden's Heart and the sentry were now feeling nervously in their pockets.

I shook my head vigorously, and saying, "No more! no more!" threw myself over the wall, and seized the rope, Rectus holding the grapnel in its place as I did so. As I let myself down from knot to knot, a thought crossed my mind: "How are we going to get that grapnel after we both are down?"

It was a frightening thought. If the two Indians should choose, they could keep the rope and grapnel, and, before morning, the whole posse of red-skins might be off and away! I did not think about their being so far from home, and all that. I only thought that they'd be glad to get out, and that they would all come down our rope.

These reflections, which ran through my mind in no time at all, were interrupted by Rectus, who called down from the top of the wall, in a voice that was a little too loud to be prudent:

"Hurry! I think he's found another bean!"

I was on the ground in a few moments, and then Rectus came down. I called to him to come slowly and be very careful, but I can't tell how relieved I was when I saw him fairly over the wall and on his way down.

When we both stood on the ground, I took hold of the rope and shook it. I am not generally nervous, but I was a little nervous then. I did not shake the grapnel loose. Then I let the rope go slack, for a foot or two, and gave it a big sweep to one side. To my great delight, over came the grapnel, nearly falling on our heads. I think I saw Maiden's Heart make a grab at it as it came over, but I am not sure. However, he poked his head over the wall and said:

"Good-bye! Come again."

We answered, "Good-bye," but didn't say anything about coming again.

As we hurried along homeward, Rectus said:

"If one of those Indians had kept us up there, while the other one ran into the barracks and got a fresh stock of sea-beans, they would have just bankrupted us."

"No, they wouldn't," I said. "For I hadn't much more change with me. And if I had had it, I wouldn't have given them any more. I'd have called up the captain first. The thing was getting too expensive."

"Well, I'm glad I'm out of it," said Rectus. "And I don't believe much in any of those Indians being very innocent. I thought Maiden's Heart was one of the best of them, but he's a regular rascal. He knew we wanted to back out of that affair, and he just fleeced us."

"I believe he would rather have had our scalps than our money, if he had had us out in his country," I said.

"That's so," said Rectus. "A funny kind of a maiden's heart he's got."

We were both out of conceit with the noble red man. Rectus took his proclamation out of his pocket as we walked along the sea-wall, and, tearing it into little pieces, threw it into the water. When we reached the steam-ship wharf, we walked out to the end of it, to get rid of the rope and grapnel. I whirled the grapnel round and round, and let the whole thing fly far out into the harbor. It was a sheer waste of a good strong rope, but we should have had a dreary time getting the knots out of it.

After we got home I settled up our accounts, and charged half the sea-beans to Rectus, and half to myself.

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