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   Chapter 6 A FRIEND IN NEED

Under the Star-Spangled Banner By F. S. Brereton Characters: 14282

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


It would be tedious to describe the manner in which the Mohican finally reached New York, for from the date of the accident to her machinery, and the successful plugging of the enormous rent in her side, all went well.

But what had once been a fine-looking vessel was now little better than a bare hulk, with smoke-stack and masts rising from a deck which was clear of everything save the broken remnants of fixtures which had defied the fury of the seas.

"There's one thing about her," said Mr. Broom to Hal, "she's been stripped clean, and looks dismantled, but she's right and tight still, and will well repay the overhauling which will be necessary before she can put to sea again. Wait till we get alongside the dock; there will be no end of excitement! And when it is known through what dangers we have come, we shall be the talk of New York; and won't the newspaper correspondents rush for us!"

And, indeed, this was the case. No sooner was the Mohican moored than thousands came down to look at her, and roamed all over her decks, marveling at the manner in which she had been buffeted, and at the pluck and skill which had brought her safely into port.

"I call it wonderful!" said the line manager, addressing the crew after their arrival. "Two weeks ago business called me across from England to New York, and I experienced the full fury of the same hurricane which wrought such destruction here. I know what your difficulties have been, and I am glad to be here to congratulate you all. It is difficult to thank you sufficiently, and it is almost impossible to single out any individual for special praise when all have worked so well. Your captain, however, has done remarkably; he has shown such seamanship, skill, and courage, that I at once promote him to the command of one of our big passenger ships. Your second and third engineers have well earned promotion, and, by all accounts, so has one of their subordinates. I refer to the youth called Marchant. He, too, shall be rewarded. And now, as by bringing the Mohican safely to port you have saved the company a considerable loss, I am glad to be able to tell you that two thousand pounds will be divided proportionately amongst you."

The manager bowed and retired, leaving the crew to discuss the matter. Next morning Hal found that his share was ten pounds, and to this a further sum of ten was added for stopping the engines at the time of the accident.

"You're a rich man," said Mr. Brindle chaffingly. "At any rate, you have made more in one trip than you would have earned in three or four months. What do you propose to do with yourself, may I inquire?"

"Really I cannot say, Mr. Brindle; of course, I am awfully lucky! The twenty pounds, with what I had before, will enable me to live while I am looking for a job."

"And have you any decided preference?" asked Mr. Brindle. "I mean, must the employment be in America? I have a proposal to make, and you must consider it before you decide. I am a Cuban planter. I told you that I had some rough engineering knowledge. It has been acquired amongst the machinery on my plantations. I want an engineer, one who can act as master in my absence. Will you accept the post? The pay shall be good. You shall have a percentage on the profits, and where your department is concerned I will give you a free hand. But in addition to the engines, I shall want you to help me with the management of the plantation."

He sat on the rail of the ship, and looked curiously at Hal; for he had taken a fancy to our hero, and was impressed by his behavior on the ship.

"It is very good of you, Mr. Brindle," Hal exclaimed. "I never expected to be offered such an important post, and I accept with pleasure. Tell me when I am to sail, and where I am to go to."

"I am glad you fall in with the plan," Mr. Brindle answered. "To tell you the truth, I have been itching to get hold of you ever since you set us to work at that trimming. You showed a fine example. You see, appearance and manner is everything when dealing with blacks; and the natives of Cuba, who are anything from genuine negro to almost pure Spanish, recognize and look up to a European who knows how to treat them, and can show them what to do. Now, as to marching orders, I have business which will keep me in New York for a few days; after that we'll go to Florida, where I have another plantation. From there we will sail to Havana, and three days later we shall reach the hacienda, which goes by the name of 'Eldorado,' and is one of the most beautiful spots I have ever seen. But when can you leave the ship? I should be glad to take you with me this evening."

"I can get away whenever I wish," Hal answered, overwhelmed by the prospect before him. "But where do you stay? I am sorry to say that my clothes are rough, and scarcely fitted for polite society."

"That is a matter that is easily arranged, my lad. Now, pack your traps, and come along. Leave the clothes to me, for as my engineer you are given a free kit, just as they say to the soldier."

Mr. Brindle smiled pleasantly, and, turning away, hurried to his cabin to collect his baggage.

Left to himself, Hal went below, and soon had his few belongings packed in a bag. Then he went the round of his friends, and took farewell of them.

"Lucky beggar!" exclaimed Masters, whom Hal found propped up in his bunk, with his head enveloped in bandages. "You are a fortunate fellow, Marchant! But you deserve it all. I wish you were staying, for, after what has passed, I am sure we should have been capital friends, and had some splendid trips together. And now you say you are off to Cuba, and I suppose in a few weeks' time you will be lording it over hundreds of niggers. Well, old man, must you go? Good-by, and the best of luck."

"Thank you," Hal answered, with a laugh. "A rapid recovery to you. As to my looking a swell and doing the grand, why, that's all humbug. Ta, ta; and if ever you come to Cuba, look me up."

Whatever idea Hal may have had of his appearance in the future, the matter was soon settled when he and Mr. Brindle had left the ship.

"There, in you hop," said the latter, motioning him to enter the cab which had pulled up beside the wharf.

Then he mentioned the name of a fashionable hotel, to which they were driven. They obtained rooms, then emerged from the enormous building, which rose for many stories into the air, and entered one of the numerous electric cars that run through the streets of New York, and within ten minutes they were entering the doors of a big tailoring establishment known as Riarty's Store.

"I always get my clothes here," said Mr. Brindle. "It is not more expensive than obtaining them locally in Cuba, and as they have my measure for suits, boots, and hats, I can get anything by writing. Ah, good-day, Mr. Riarty."

He suddenly stepped towards a florid man, whose enormous proportions almost dwarfed his own.

"This young gentleman is my overseer, and requires suitable clothes for plantation life," he said. "You can take his measure, and I should like the things in four days. But he want

s a ready-made suit for wearing in town, and an evening one as well. Can you do it?"

"To be sure I can," was the ready answer. "Step this way. One of the assistants shall attend to you."

Hal was astonished at the extent of the order. In the old days-which already seemed so very long ago, though only a few weeks had actually elapsed-he would have thought nothing of it. Then he was the son of a wealthy man, and had no need to stint himself; now it was totally different, and a gentleman, who was not much more than a stranger, though one with a kind heart, would pay whatever was called for.

"But you are ordering too much," expostulated Hal. "I shall never need all these clothes. Besides, think of the cost!"

"The cost, my dear young sir; that is my affair," Mr. Brindle laughed pleasantly. "I can assure you that if you only do your duty by me you will rapidly repay the outlay. As to there being too many things, you will want every suit I have ordered. I am an old hand, and know now exactly what will be useful."

Hal was silenced, but determined to do his utmost to repay the kindness of his benefactor. Fortunately, Mr. Riarty had a smartly cut plain suit which fitted his youthful customer, and another of evening clothes which required but slight alteration.

"We'll take the first with us," said Mr. Brindle, "and Mr. Riarty can send the other to the hotel in time for dinner. Good-day, sir, and please do not disappoint me. Remember, in four days' time we require the bulk of the order. Come along now, my friend. By the way, I must have some shorter name for you. Marchant is far too long. How are you usually called? Hal? Ah, that is short, and sounds well. It fits your character, and is a good one."

Five days later they boarded the railway cars running south, and Hal had his eyes opened as to the possibilities of traveling in comfort. The saloons and dining-cars were decorated in sumptuous fashion; and when night came, the accommodation had nothing of the make-shift about it. Americans, he discovered, did not consider that discomfort went hand-in-hand with travel. Their railways were designed for speed, safety, and easy running, and their cars for rest and freedom from vibration. Mr. Brindle led the way into the smoking-room at the end of the cars, and pressed the button for the porter.

"We shall want two compartments through to Florida," he said. "See that it is a good one, and take our small traps there."

When the man had gone Mr. Brindle turned to Hal, and, pointing to a hand-bag, said:

"All save that may remain in the sleeping saloon, but the bag you see contains notes, gold, and valuable securities. Now, I am going to give you a job. Your duties will commence from this moment, for I place you in charge of the bag, and will beg of you never to allow it out of your sight."

"Then you may rely upon me to look after it, and wherever I go your bag shall come with me."

Hal was as good as his word. Hour after hour the train hurried on. Occasionally the cars would pull up at some wayside station to allow a change of locomotives, and then the passengers would descend and take a short walk to stretch their legs and take the stiffness out of them. On such an occasion Hal strolled along the platform, leaving Mr. Brindle reading in the car. It was a sultry morning, and, feeling hot and fatigued, he sat down on a bench, being joined first by one passenger and then by a second, the former entering into conversation with him.

"Busy scene, sir," he said with some foreign accent. "Traveling alone, sir?" continued the stranger. "I should say you're not. The gentleman with you is Se?or-I mean, Mr. Brindle of Cuba?"

Hal felt annoyed at the catechism through which he was being put.

"Well," he answered curtly, "and what if he is?"

What reply the dark-bearded stranger was about to give was cut short by the sudden clanging of a bell, and by the cry from the conductor, "All aboard!"

Starting from the seat, Hal ran some dozen paces, when he remembered the bag intrusted to him, and which he had placed by his side. To his consternation it was not where he had left it on the bench; a moment later, however, he noticed with a thrill of surprise that the stranger had it, and was hastening with it along the platform.

"Hi, there! Stop!" cried Hal, running after him. "What do you mean by taking my bag?" he demanded indignantly, rushing up to the man, and grasping the handle.

"Se?or's bag! Pardon, but this is my friend's," replied the dark, Spanish-looking stranger, feigning astonishment and some amount of anger.

"Your friend's! Nonsense! It's mine! Give it up!" Hal cried, and without more ado wrenched the bag away.

"Sir, how do you dare? Ah, but here is my friend himself. He will explain," the stranger replied hotly. "Then, se?or, you shall answer."

"What is this? What is the trouble?" the second man, a short, swarthy-looking fellow, asked, joining them at this moment. "Come, the cars are about to start."

"The trouble!" his friend replied. "See; we hasten to board the train, and you forget your bag. I would rescue it for you when this fine gentleman wishes to prevent me."

"But the bag is not mine; it belongs to him," the second man replied blandly, indicating Hal with a wave of his hand.

At once the face of the first speaker changed. He smiled, showing an excellent set of teeth, and made a profuse apology.

"My dear se?or, but you must pardon me," he said. "It was my error, and a grievous one indeed. A thousand pardons. Se?or must have thought me a thief!"

Hal certainly did, but it was not quite wise to admit it, and as the cars were moving, he acknowledged by a curt nod the theatrical bow with which he was favored, and hurriedly exclaiming, "I am glad the matter is settled," turned on his heel and boarded the cars. But one thing struck his attention at the last moment and filled his mind with suspicion. In the hurry of replacing his hat the Spanish-looking stranger had displaced a coal-black beard, and disclosed for the fraction of a minute a clean-shaven chin. Next moment the beard was back in its place, and the two men had leaped on to the train.

"I don't like the look of those fellows," thought Hal, as he took his place beside Mr. Brindle. "It was a trick to steal the bag, and from what was said I feel sure that they know who we are, and what valuables I was in charge of. Do you happen to know either of those two men who were speaking to me on the platform?" he suddenly asked, leaning forward to address his companion.

"Do you mean those who joined the cars after you? No, I cannot say that I do; and yet something about the bearded one struck me as familiar. What about them? They seemed to me to be holding a heated conversation with you."

"They very nearly walked off with your bag," Hal answered. Then he described the facts of the case.

"Yes, it looks nasty," said Mr. Brindle at last. "It appears to me that those two are scoundrels. Strange, but one certainly seems to have a familiar face. Pshaw! It cannot be! But we must be on our guard in future."

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