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   Chapter 7 ALL BUT KILLED

Under the Star-Spangled Banner By F. S. Brereton Characters: 19442

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Undoubtedly an attempt had been made to deprive Hal of his charge. Had Hal waited another minute before discovering the absence of his possession, the thieves would certainly have escaped with the valuables.

"Yes, they are rogues," said Mr. Brindle that evening, returning to the subject as he and Hal sat down to dinner, "and the more I think about it the more certain I feel that I am right. After dinner we will endeavor to ascertain who they are."

Accordingly, half an hour later, they rose from their seats, just as the train drew up at a platform, and walked from end to end of the long string of cars, failing, however, to see the two adventurers.

"They've gone; and, after all, it was to be expected," exclaimed Mr. Brindle. "I suppose they slipped off a few minutes after boarding the train. There can have been no difficulty, as we crawled out of the station. Well, we shall not be troubled again; but let it be a lesson to you, Hal. Nowadays, one ought to be most careful when dealing with strangers."

Sauntering back, they took their seats once more, and looked at the people on the platform. At length the bell clanged, and to the familiar cry of "All aboard!" the cars were once more set in motion.

"Hallo! Those fellows were here all the time," said Hal, glancing at two figures on the platform. "Look, Mr. Brindle! There are the men who tried to steal the bag!"

"Ah, is that so, Hal?" exclaimed Mr. Brindle. "Precious scoundrels they look too, and the one with the beard strikes me again as being a man I have met before. Well, we need not trouble, for the train is off, and they are left behind. Now, lad, we'll have a good sleep, and to-morrow, when we leave our berths for breakfast, we shall be within an hour of Sable Bay."

Ten minutes later our hero was lying between the sheets, looking sleepily at the shaded electric light above him.

Meanwhile, what had become of the two men who had attempted to deprive Hal of the bag?

No sooner had the car passed in which Mr. Brindle and his young engineer were seated, than the swarthy-looking foreigners leaped on to the step of the following one, and hastily passing through the smoking-saloon, entered a small cupboard set apart for the porter.

"That was well managed, Se?or Capitan," the darker of the two at once exclaimed, seating himself. "Ha, ha, did you not see them look at us? It is clear that they suspected our game, and no doubt their inspection of the cars was to discover us and have us ejected. We have played our cards well. While they fancy that we are miles behind them, we are in reality but a few yards away. No doubt this negro will entertain us till the time for action arrives, and then we will have the gold you say the bag contains, even though that stalwart young Englishman objects."

He spoke in Spanish, gesticulating and gabbling the words, and introducing a tone of marked disdain when alluding to the porter. There was little doubt that he was a half-caste, and owed some part of his existence to the negro race to which he had alluded with such contempt.

"When do we make the attempt, Se?or Capitan?" he asked. "See, it is half-past eight now, and the majority of passengers are thinking of going to bed. Shall you try at midnight, or will you think it best to wait till the early hours of to-morrow?"

The man addressed did not answer for the moment, but, removing the beard from his chin, slowly rolled a cigarette. He was a small, active-looking man, of undoubted Spanish blood. At first sight he would have been called a handsome fellow, but a glance at his eyes and mouth altered that impression. There was something not altogether pleasing about him.

"You are overhasty, and forget yourself, Pedro," he said at length. "One would have thought that it was all of your planning. Remember that it was I who decided how we would act; and do not forget that in undertaking to abstract this bag, I am risking far more than you."

"For which you will, no doubt, extract a proportionately large share of the booty," grumbled the one who had been called Pedro.

"Perhaps. And why not? Am I not the leader? and are you not the servant? But do not let us argue so, or we might quarrel, and that would be bad for one of us. Listen to me, and see that you do not interrupt. This English brat, who just awoke in time to upset the plan which I had devised so carefully, is still in charge of the precious bag for which we have traveled so far, and from which we hope to recoup ourselves. We know that he is about to retire for the night, for the porter has told us so. Very good. What of the others? They are weary, and will turn in early, so as to awake fresh and rested to-morrow. Our accomplice here, the negro whom you scowl at so heavily, will tell us when all in that car have retired. That will be our time. Any noise we may make will be unnoticed, owing to the fact that it is so early; while if this young fool of an Englishman shouts-well, perhaps the rattle of the train will drown everything!"

"Perhaps," Pedro growled. "And what if the sounds are heard?" he asked. "Supposing the Se?or Englishman cries loudly for help?"

"Ah! then he must look to himself. We will deal gently with him till then; but if he refuses to be silent--In any case, you have the revolver and some inches of steel? Now we understand each other," said the Spaniard. "We will wait till all is clear, when we will enter the Se?or Englishman's compartment and bind him. That done, this porter will signal for the cars to stop and will raise an alarm. Of course he will not know precisely what has happened, nor, if questions are asked will he have an idea of the appearance of the two mountebanks who have dared to commit robbery on the cars. Our friend, the Se?or Brindle, will not dream of us; for did he not see us descend from the cars some miles back? By the time the passengers have collected their senses we shall be a mile behind, hidden in the forest, and it will be evil luck indeed if the bag which we covet is not with us. Then back to 'the ever-faithful island,' Cuba, the island of freedom, where a Spaniard who is poor may live in contentment, certain of being able to return to his native country with provision for the remainder of his life, and all plucked from the islanders. Yes, Pedro, we will return home and, later on, we will repeat the process of bleeding the Se?or Brindle."

"Buenos, Se?or Capitan! You are a veritable wonder!" Pedro cried excitedly, waving his cigarette in the air, and patting his comrade on the knee. "And now to pass the time. It is dull sitting here doing nothing but smoke and listen to the rattle of the train. Here, boy, bring glasses and a bottle."

Thus addressed, the porter produced a decanter of liquor and two tumblers, and for an hour or more the two conspirators refreshed themselves, and carried on an eager conversation in low tones, in the voluble, gesticulating manner common to their countrymen. At length the porter, who had departed and left them to themselves, returned to inform them that all was clear.

"Now for the money, Pedro!" the Spaniard exclaimed. "Wait, though; let us pay this good fellow for his services."

Taking a purse from his pocket, he placed four dollars in the porter's hand, and led the way into the smoking saloon. Two minutes later they were standing at the end of the car in which Hal was sleeping. They paused for a moment as if in fear, then they opened the door, and crept along the passage till they were outside the compartment he occupied.

"No, not there, Se?or Capitan. The English boy has gone into the other bunk," Pedro whispered, pointing to the next compartment, in which Mr. Brindle lay. "See, I am sure of it, for here is his coat, hanging outside the door."

"Are you quite sure, Pedro?" the Spaniard asked doubtfully. "The porter said we should find him in the fifth from the forward end of the car, and this is certainly the one."

"That is as you say," was the reply. "But here are the young man's boots. It is clear the negro is mistaken."

For more than a minute the two crouched silently in the corridor, doubtful as to the compartment in which Hal slept, and in which lay the bag they hoped to capture. It was, indeed, a puzzle, and it was long before they could come to any solution. To enter the wrong compartment meant ruin to all their hopes. But more than that might come of it, for Mr. Brindle was a powerful man, and to be caught in his clutches would be no joke. It was not a pleasant thing to think about, and it troubled the Spaniard. He ground his teeth, and, muttering an oath, whispered in Pedro's ear:

"Keep the revolver," he said, "and give me the knife. Whatever happens, we must contrive to get away."

Convinced by the boots which Hal had placed too far to the right when leaving them in the corridor for the porter to attend to, they crept on a pace, and grasped the handle of the compartment in which Mr. Brindle was sleeping.

"Quick, the key!" whispered the Spaniard, trying the door, and finding it locked.

There was a grating sound and a faint click as the key was introduced, and the bolt thrown back. But slight though the noise was it reached Hal's ears, even amidst the rattle of the wheels, and startled him from his sleep. Ignorant as to what had disturbed him, he lay on his back, his eyes wide open. Another minute, and he would have turned over to sink into sleep once more, when something bumped heavily against the woodwork which separated his compartment from Mr. Brindle's.

"Don't move, or it will be the worse for you, Se?or Englishman!" he heard a hoarse voice exclaim in threatening tones.

It took a few second

s for Hal to comprehend what was happening. "Don't move, or it will be the worse for you!" That meant that someone was in difficulties next door.

"By Jove, those rascals are making another attempt!" he exclaimed; and at once sprang from his bunk.

Flinging the door open, he rushed into the next compartment, to see kneeling on the floor, in the full glare of the electric light, which had been switched on by the Spaniard, Pedro, revolver in hand, the muzzle of which was pressed into Mr. Brindle's ear, while the other hand was placed over his mouth.

Hal had just time to notice that the other scoundrel was busily searching for the bag beneath the bunk, when both men turned and rushed at him, Pedro pressing the trigger of his revolver. There was a blinding flash, followed by a loud report, and Hal felt something strike him on the left shoulder with stunning force. Next second the Spaniard's face, with the long, coal-black beard, suddenly appeared before him in the smoke, and he struck at it with all his might, sending the ruffian staggering back; but he recovered himself in a moment, and rushed towards the doorway, throwing Hal to the floor as he passed.

"How is that now, lad? How do you feel, old boy? Better? That's it; you're smiling. That's the way. Pull yourself together, and drink this off."

It was Mr. Brindle who was speaking, and, scarcely understanding what was said, but feeling dazed and queer, and much inclined to close his eyes and sleep, Hal swallowed the contents of the tumbler which was placed to his lips. But suddenly Mr. Brindle's well-known voice brought him to his senses.

"By Jove, what a fright you gave me!" he said. "How do you feel, Hal? Come, pull yourself together and look at me."

"Eh, what? I'm all right! What's happening? Here, let me sit up!" exclaimed Hal, suddenly suiting the action to the word, and looking about him with wide-open eyes. "Why, what's this? I was asleep, and then--Those thieves! What is it, Mr. Brindle? I dreamed that they had made another attempt, and that I happened to hear them. It looked as though all was up with you, and I remember feeling in a terrible way. After that, everything seemed to stop, and I fell into a glorious dream."

"That is just about what has happened, my lad, and very fortunate it was for me that you awoke when you did; though for you, poor lad, it has meant trouble. Those Spanish scoundrels did make a second attempt, but, in their endeavor to get possession of the bag, they pitched upon the wrong compartment. I can tell you that it was a ticklish moment for me. As I lay there, not daring to move, I saw you come in. The only wonder to me is that the gentleman called Pedro did not have his revenge at once by shooting me. At any rate, he managed to put a bullet into your shoulder, and then he escaped from the car. The other rascal, whom you tackled so gamely, and who will have a splendid black eye for his pains, also got clear away, leaving some of his property behind him. Here it is."

He held up a mass of black hair, which had formerly covered the chin of the Spaniard.

"Now, Hal, you have the whole story," he continued. "You were wounded and fainted from loss of blood. A fellow passenger, who happens to be a doctor, has already examined and dressed the shoulder, and reports most favorably. A week will see you up and about, so he says, for the bullet was of very small caliber."

"What? A week in bed, Mr. Brindle!" exclaimed Hal, aghast. "Why, I am fit to get up now. See here, I feel quite myself again."

He struggled to his feet, but next moment he was glad to sit down again, and was forced, though much against his inclination, to confess that he was shaken. However, with his old dogged determination, he resolved not to give way, and not to submit to being put ignominiously to bed.

"I am a bit groggy," he admitted. "My legs don't seem quite to belong to me; but it's only a temporary matter. Thank you, I will have another sip."

The tumbler was raised to his lips, and he drank deeply, for the loss of blood had induced a violent thirst.

"There you see for yourself how fit you are," said Mr. Brindle. "And now, as the thieves have escaped, and your wound has been seen to, you will lie down and sleep till morning."

There was no gainsaying this direct order, for Mr. Brindle waited to see that Hal lay full length on the bunk. Then he left the section, and entered his own. As for Hal, though badly shaken, he suffered little pain. The injured shoulder felt numbed, but nothing more. After lying awake for half an hour, thinking over the little adventure through which he had passed, he, too, dozed off, and finally sank into a deep sleep, from which he was awakened by the opening of his door.

"Breakfast in half an hour," said Mr. Brindle, putting his head into the compartment. "How goes it with you this morning, old boy?"

"I feel quite myself," said Hal briskly, sitting up in his bunk. Then, to demonstrate the truth of his words, he stood up. "Yes," he continued, "I feel ever so much stronger than I did last night. I suppose the excitement and the shock had unnerved me, but now I am perfectly steady."

"That's good, Hal, and I am glad to see you making an effort. After all, there is no reason why a bullet wound in the shoulder should lay you up. Last night, as you say, the shock and suddenness of the injury had upset you, and no doubt you felt the rapid loss of blood. A few hours' sleep have made that good, so that you will quickly mend. I have no fear of the wound going wrong, for it was skillfully treated from the first. Now, let me lend a hand, and help to put your clothes on."

Half an hour later, with his left arm in a sling, and his empty sleeve pinned to the coat, arm in arm with Mr. Brindle, Hal entered the breakfast saloon, where they took their places at one of the many small tables. Numbers of other passengers were already there, and they looked at our hero with curiosity and admiration.

An hour later the engine steamed into a large station, and the passengers descended from the cars.

"Just look out for the youngsters, Hal," said Mr. Brindle. "They'll be coming to meet their dad."

"Youngsters? Your youngsters?" asked Hal, in surprise; for Mr. Brindle had never mentioned that he was married and had a family.

"Why, mine to be sure! There's Dora, the dearest blue-eyed girl that ever breathed; and Gerald, the biggest and most mischievous monkey that ever wore clothes. You'll know them at once. Ah, there they are, or I am mistaken."

"Hallo! There you are, dad!" cried the boy, a sturdy young fellow of some sixteen years. "Hi! Come along, Dora! Here he is, looking as fat and jolly as possible."

Breathless, and with hat tossed to the back of his head, the lad rushed at Mr. Brindle and embraced him, a graceful and pretty girl, looking charming and dainty in a white frock, following suit quickly.

"There, there, how glad I am to see you both again, my dears!" exclaimed Mr. Brindle. "Both of you looking as well as ever too. But I am forgetting my duties. Dora-Gerald-come here and let me introduce you a very great friend, who is to be my overseer. Steady now, shake hands gently, for he has been in the wars. Hal, my dear boy, let me present you to my dear children."

Each in turn shook Hal heartily by the hand, Dora looking sympathetically, and, at first, somewhat shyly at him; while Gerald, boy-like, took good stock of the new overseer, not fearing to look well into his face.

"What has happened to your arm, Mr. Marchant? What war have you been in? And are you very much hurt?" Dora asked these questions in rapid succession.

"Dora," said her father, "this young gentleman was shot by a ruffian who attempted to steal my bag. He has risked his life for me, and he is helpless. I place him in your charge. You have had some experience of nursing and will do your best. Now, let us get to the carriage."

Dora was a young lady about whom there was no nonsense. Here was a fellow-being who was obviously suffering; somehow he had come by his injury in protecting her father. That was enough for any daughter. For his sake she would look after Hal. So she marched our hero from the platform, chuckling secretly at the blush which had now changed his cheeks from dullest white to brilliant red. They stepped into the comfortable carriage, and at a crack of the whip, the team of mules set forward at a hand-gallop.

What thoughts were Hal's as he was driven to his new home? It seemed like a dream, for, a few weeks back, he was an orphan, with few friends. Then he had decided to start to America, where he would be entirely unknown. But what had happened? Friends seemed to have risen up on every side. Yes, it was good fortune. At least, that was what he thought as his eyes wandered from Mr. Brindle and Gerald to Dora. Never before had Hal taken notice of any girl.

And here he found himself unconsciously glancing at Dora, and listening eagerly to every word she said. It was sense too. Indeed, she discussed everyday matters with her father in a manner which opened Hal's eyes.

"She's clever," thought Hal, "and she's a pretty girl. How kind she was to me!"

And what of Dora? She, on her part, was taking stock of the overseer. Beneath her lashes she stole many a glance at him, always to meet his steady eyes, and turn away in confusion. But still, she was able to come to a conclusion. She saw a stalwart young man, who had yet an inch or more to grow. He had an open face, and eyes which never flinched or turned away.

"I like the new overseer," she said to herself. "He looks honest, brave, and kind. But how pale he is!"

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