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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Kidnapped President By Guy Boothby Characters: 25035

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


It was a new experience to me to find myself at sea as a passenger, to have no watches to keep, and no round of irksome duties to perform. It was a pleasant change to be able to turn into one's bunk at ten o'clock and to enjoy a good night's rest, after being used to leaving it at midnight in order to go up and pace a cold and cheerless bridge for four long hours at a time. I had a vague premonition that I should be recognized as soon as I arrived on board. Strangely enough this proved to be the case, for I had no sooner set foot on the promenade deck, before a well-known voice hailed me.

"Hulloa, Dick Helmsworth," it said. "What on earth brings you aboard this hooker?"

I turned and recognized the speaker as an old shipmate, who, like myself, had once sailed with Harveston. But, more fortunate than myself, he had managed to retain his billet after so doing. In reply to his question I informed him that I was proceeding to Barbadoes on private business, and that I profoundly hoped I had abandoned the sea as a profession. From him I learnt the names of the various officers of the boat. For more reasons than one I was glad to hear that they were unknown to me, and also that there was only one first-class passenger for Barbadoes. He proved to be an old French priest, and from what I saw of him, I gathered that he would not be likely to remember me, or, indeed, any one else, when once he had left the vessel.

A good passage down Channel and a smooth crossing of the Bay carried us well on our way. We reached Madeira in due course, and afterwards settled down for the voyage across the Atlantic. Among other things, I had to familiarize myself with the character I was about to portray. To be a rich young Englishman, with a passion for yachting, would not at first thought seem a difficult part to play. It was not as easy, however, as it would appear. In order that it might come the more naturally to me, I determined to cultivate a manner while on board. I accordingly spoke with a somewhat affected drawl, interlarded my speech with "Reallies," "Bah Joves," "Don't you know," and other exotic flowers of speech, until my old friend Kirby, the chief officer, found occasion to remonstrate with me.

"What on earth has come over you, Dick?" he cried. "You're as affected as a school-girl. You'll have to come back to sea, my lad, or you'll be developing into a masher of the worst type. It's very evident that lying in at night don't suit you. You ought to be back on the bridge again, standing your watch like a man."

"Not if I know it," I replied. "I've had enough of that sort of thing to last me a lifetime. Wait until you come into a bit of money, my boy, and then you'll see how nice it feels to watch others work."

"Egad! I wish I could," he answered. "I'd never trouble the briny again. Give me a cottage somewhere in the country, with a bit of garden, and some fowls to look after, and I wouldn't change places with the Czar of all the Russias."

Two days before we were due to reach Barbadoes, I made a resolve. This, in due course, took me along the alley-way to the barber's shop. As soon as the passenger whose hair he had been cutting departed, I seated myself in the vacated chair, and when the barber asked me what he could do for me, I put up my hand to my moustache.

"Take this off," I said.

The man gazed at me in astonishment. My moustache was a heavy one, and it was plain that he thought me mad to want to get rid of it.

"You don't mean to say, sir, that you want me to take it off," he remarked, as if he had not heard aright.

"That's exactly what I do mean," I replied. "I want it out of the way."

He thereupon took up his scissors and began his work of destruction, but in a half-hearted fashion. When he had finished I sat up and looked at myself in the glass. You may believe me or not, when I tell you that I scarcely recognized the face I saw there.

"If I were to meet you in the street, my lad, I should pass you by," I said to myself. Then to the barber I added: "What a change it makes in my appearance."

"It makes you look a different man, sir," the barber replied. "There's not many gentlemen would have sacrificed a nice moustache like that."

I paid him, and, when I left the shop, went to my cabin. Once there, I unlocked my trunk, and took from it a smart yachting cap and a leather case, containing various articles I had purchased in London. One of these was an eye-glass, which, after several attempts, I managed to fix in my eye. Then, striking an attitude, I regarded myself in the mirror above the washstand.

"Good-day, Mr. George Trevelyan," I muttered. "I'm very pleased to make your acquaintance."

"Really, bah Jove, that's awfully good of you to say so," I answered in my assumed voice. "I hope, bah Jove, we shall be very good friends for the time that we're destined to spend together."

"That will only be until we get back to Barbadoes," Dick Helmsworth replied. "After that, Mr. George Trevelyan, you can clear out as soon as you please. From that day forward I shall hope never to set eyes on you again."

I thereupon placed the eye-glass in its case, put the cap back in the trunk, and relocked the latter. After that I went on deck to receive the chaff I knew would be showered upon me by my fellow-passengers.

Two days later, that is to say, on the twenty-ninth of the month, we reached the island of Barbadoes and came to anchor in the harbour of Bridgetown. When I had collected my baggage, I bade my friends on board good-bye and made my way ashore. I had already carefully searched the shipping, but I could see no sign of any yacht, such as I had been led to expect I should find awaiting me there. I did not worry myself very much about it, however, knowing that her captain had been furnished with my address, and feeling sure that he would communicate with me as soon as he arrived. On landing I drove to the Imperial Hotel and engaged rooms in my own name. I had intended adopting my assumed cognomen on quitting the ship, but to my dismay I learnt that some of the passengers had also come ashore and were due to lunch at my hotel. To have entered my name as Trevelyan upon the books, and have been addressed as Helmsworth in the hearing of the proprietor, might have sowed the seeds of suspicion in his mind. And this I was naturally anxious not to do. Later in the day the passengers returned to the steamer, and she continued her voyage. As I watched her pass out of the bay I wondered whether I should ever see her again. Before it would be possible for me to do so, many very strange adventures would in all probability have happened to me.

On my return to the hotel, I inquired for the proprietor, who presently came to me in the verandah.

"I expected to have met a friend here," I said, "a Mr. Trevelyan. I am given to understand, however, that he has not yet arrived?"

"There is no one staying in the hotel at present of that name," he replied. "There was a Mr. Trevelyan here last year, but, if my memory serves me, he was a clergyman."

"I'm afraid it cannot have been the same person," I said, with a smile. "By the way, should any one happen to call, and inquire for him, I should be glad if you would give instructions that he is to see me."

"I will do so with pleasure," the other replied. "At the same time perhaps I had better reserve a room for your friend?"

"You need not do that," I answered. "There is no knowing when he will be here. It is just possible I may pick him up in Jamaica."

Having thus put matters on a satisfactory footing I prepared to wait patiently until news should reach me from Captain Ferguson. Though I sat in the verandah of the hotel and carefully scrutinized every one who entered, I went to bed that night without seeing any person who at all answered the description I had been given of him. I spent the following morning partly in the verandah of the hotel, and partly searching the harbour for the yacht. I returned to lunch, however, without having discovered her. In the afternoon I went for a short stroll, leaving word at the hotel that, should any one call to see me, he or she had better wait, for I should be back in an hour. When I returned I questioned the head waiter, but he assured me that no one had called to see either Mr. Trevelyan or myself. Once more darkness fell, and once more after dinner I sat in the verandah smoking. The evening was far advanced, and once more I was beginning to contemplate turning in, feeling certain that Ferguson would not put in an appearance that night, when a short, stout individual came briskly up the steps and entered the building. He was dressed entirely in white, and had a broad-brimmed Panama hat upon his head. He might have passed for a merchant or a planter, but something, I cannot say what, instinctively told me that he belonged to the seafaring profession. After a few moments he reappeared again, this time accompanied by the head waiter.

"This gentleman," the latter began, addressing me, "wishes to see Mr. Trevelyan. I told him that we had no one of that name staying at the hotel, but that you were Mr. Trevelyan's friend."

"That is certainly so," I said. "I presume you are Captain Ferguson?"

"That is my name," the other replied, and when the servant had disappeared, he continued: "May I ask whom I am addressing?"

"My name is Helmsworth," I answered in a low voice, at the same time motioning him to be seated. "A certain gentleman of the name of Silvestre, however, thinks I had better be known by the name of the person whom the waiter informed you had not yet arrived in the island."

"In that case you are Mr. Trevelyan," he said in a whisper, drawing his chair a little closer to mine as he did so, and closely scrutinizing me. "Perhaps you have something for me?"

"I have a letter," I replied, thinking at the same time that I had seen his face somewhere before. "What have you for me?"

"This," he replied laconically, and in his turn produced a small silver coin, which he handed to me.

I rose from my chair and carried it down the verandah as far as the hall door. The light there enabled me to see that it was stamped with the name of Equinata. I thereupon returned to the captain, and handed him the letter Don Guzman had given me for him.

"And where is the yacht?" I inquired.

"In the harbour," he replied. "We got in at dark, and she is coaling now as fast as we can get the stuff aboard. When will you be ready to start?"

"Whenever you please," I replied. "The sooner we are out of this place the better for all people concerned."

"Would nine o'clock to-morrow morning be convenient to you?"

"It would suit me admirably. How am I to get my traps aboard?"

"If you will have them sent down to the wharf I will arrange the rest," he answered. "The boat for Santa Lucia will be in shortly after daylight, and the hotel folk will naturally suppose that you have gone aboard her. Of course you understand, Mr. Helms-Mr. Trevelyan, I mean, that in this matter I am acting under your orders, and that I shall endeavour to do all in my power to bring the business upon which we are engaged to a satisfactory conclusion."

"You quite understand what is required of me?" I asked.

"Perfectly," he answered. "My instructions have been most complete."

"And what do you think of it?"

"I think you will have all your work cut out for you," he replied. "Don Fernandez is as sharp as a weasel and as cunning as a fox. But perhaps it would be better for us to say no more upon the matter, at least at present. We can talk it over if we want to, with greater safety, on board. And now, if you don't mind, I'll bid you good-night. I've got a lot of work to get through before we leave to-morrow morning."

We shook hands, and after he had promised to have a boat ready for me at nine o'clock next morning, he bade me good-night and left me.

From the little I had seen of him, I liked the look of the man. He had a resolute air about him, and it struck me that in him I had found one who was likely to prove himself a useful ally. But where on earth had I seen him before? For the life of me I could not remember. Lighting another cigar, I seated myself, and once more pondered over the matter. When the cigar was finished I retired to my room to fall asleep directly I was in bed, and to dream that I was abducting the Chairman and Directors of my old Company, and that I was flying thr

ough the air with them in a balloon built on the principles of a motor-car.

Next morning I was astir early, had had my breakfast, had paid my bill, and had seen my trunks on their way to the wharf, before a quarter to nine. On my arrival at the water's side, however, there was no sign of any yacht's boat. Some distance out I could perceive the Inter-Colonial mail steamer with a crowd of boats about her, and a dozen cables or so distant from her a handsome white yacht, which, I gathered, was to be my home for the next few weeks. I had just rewarded the porters, who had brought my luggage down, and had sent them about their business, when a neat gig, pulled by four men and steered by a fifth, came into view round the end of the jetty. Pulling up at the steps below me, the coxswain touched his hat and inquired whether he was addressing Mr. Trevelyan. Upon my answering in the affirmative, two of his men jumped ashore, and carried my baggage down to the boat. I thereupon took my place in the stern and we set off.

"That, I presume, is the Cynthia, lying astern of the mail-boat?" I said to the coxswain, as we pulled out into the harbour.

"Yes, sir, that's the Cynthia," he replied. "When you get a bit closer, sir, you'll say she's as fine a craft as you'd see in a long day's sail."

He certainly spoke the truth. The vessel in question could scarcely have been less than a thousand tons. (As a matter of fact that was her tonnage.) To my thinking, however, she was somewhat heavily sparred for her size, but the coxswain hastened to assure me a better sea-boat could not be found.

Captain Ferguson met me at the gangway, and saluted me as if I were really owner of the vessel and not a make-believe, such as I really was.

"You will find your cabin prepared for you," he said. "If you will permit me I'll show you to it."

Then, going on ahead, he conducted me into the main companion, and through an elegant saloon to a large and most comfortable cabin, evidently built and intended for the owner. It was a gorgeous affair. Indeed, the luxury of the vessel, what I had seen of it, astonished me. I had overhauled many yachts in my time, but had never seen one like this before. She was as spic and span as if she had only just left the builder's hands.

When I had seen my baggage arranged, I ascended to the deck, where I found Captain Ferguson in the act of getting under weigh. Ten minutes or so later, our anchor was aboard and we were steaming slowly out of the harbour. In an hour the island lay like a black dot upon the horizon behind us, and a few minutes later had vanished altogether. I was seated in the cabin with Captain Ferguson at the time, and when he rang the bell and ordered the servant who answered it to bring up a bottle of champagne, we pledged each other in it, and drank to the success of our enterprise.

"It's a small world, sir," he said at last, as he set down his glass, "and few of us really understand how small it is. I wonder what you'll say when you hear what I've got to tell you. I remember once being in Hong Kong. It was in the wet season, and I was on my way out to Japan to meet a boat in Nagasaki, that I was to take over on behalf of the Company I was then serving. On the evening of my arrival in Hong Kong I went ashore to dine with some friends, and didn't start to come off to the mail-boat until pretty late. When I did I hired a sampan and told one of the crew where my ship was. Thinking that he understood, I took my place under the covered arrangement that those boats have, and away we went. Perhaps I may have been a bit drowsy after the festivities of the evening. I'll not say anything about that, either way. The fact, however, remains, that we had not gone very far before I became conscious that there was something wrong. It seemed to me as if the tilt, or cover, under which I was sitting, was coming down upon me. I sprang to my feet and endeavoured to push it up, giving a shout as I did so."

All this time I had been listening to him with ill-concealed impatience. As I have already remarked, it had struck me on the previous evening that I had seen the man's face somewhere before.

"I think I can tell you the rest," I interrupted. "A ship's boat happened to be passing at the moment, and, on hearing your shout, she came alongside and a couple of men in her sprang aboard the sampan. I was one of those men. We bowled over the owner of the craft, and pulled you out from under the cover, just as you were about done for. Good heavens! I thought I recognized you last night at the hall door, and now you bring that adventure back to my mind, I remember you perfectly."

"And I you," he answered. "I've been puzzling my brains about your face all night. You had a moustache then, but I should know you now again. I don't think, Mr. Trevelyan, you will find me go into this business any the less warmly for what you did for me that night."

"You were right when you declared it to be a small world," I said. "Fancy our meeting again and on such an errand as this."

I then proceeded to question him concerning the officers and men under his charge.

"My chief officer," he said, "is a man of the name of Burgin. He has seen a good deal of rough-and-tumble work in various parts of the world, and, as I have satisfactorily proved, can be thoroughly relied on when it comes to a pinch. The second is a young fellow of the name of Brownlow. He took part in the last Cuban expedition, and had a bit of fighting afterwards in the Philippines. The crew number thirty all told, and have been most carefully selected. I have tested them in every way, and feel sure they can be reckoned upon to do their duty. Now perhaps you'd like to have a look round the vessel? You've seen next to nothing of her yet."

He accordingly conducted me over the yacht from stem to stern, until I was familiar with every detail. If I were to pose as a young Englishman whose hobby was yachting, I could scarcely have had a finer craft wherewith to indulge my fancy. She was a Clyde-built vessel of, as I have already said, exactly a thousand tons; her length was not far short of two hundred and fifty feet. Her engine-room was amidships, and was as perfectly fitted as everything else. The drawing-room was a model of beauty, while the saloon was capable of seating at least fifty persons. The quarters of the officers and crew left nothing to be desired on the score of comfort. Only on one question was the captain at all reticent, and that was concerning the identity of the yacht's owner. Her papers, I discovered, were made out in my name, or rather, I should say, in my assumed name, but whether she was the property of Silvestre, or of somebody else, I was never able to ascertain.

Though Silvestre had informed me that, from the moment I set foot on board, I should be considered the yacht's owner, I had not attached any great importance to the remark. I soon discovered, however, that there was more in it than I supposed. For instance, when I was told that evening that dinner was upon the table, I made my way to my cabin, prepared myself for it, and entered the saloon to find that I was expected to dine in solitary grandeur. Two men-servants were present to wait upon me, but there was no sign of the captain.

"Where is Captain Ferguson?" I inquired of one of the men when I had waited some two or three minutes for him to put in an appearance.

"He dines in the officers' mess, sir," the man replied.

Resolving to remedy this state of things on the morrow, and feeling that it was of no use my sending for him that night, I proceeded with my dinner without further remark. Accustomed as I was to good living on board a mail-boat, I can only say that, in all my experience, I had never met with anything like the meal that was served to me that evening. If Silvestre had given orders that my comfort was to be studied, he had certainly been carefully obeyed. When I rose from the table I went to my cabin, changed my coat, filled a pipe, and mounted with it to the bridge. Ferguson met me by the chart-room door, and expressed the hope that I had been made comfortable. I told him that the only fault I had to find was on the score of company, and went on to say that I expected him for the future to take his meals with me.

"It would be out of place for a captain to dine with his owner until he is invited to do so," he said, with a laugh. "However, if you wish it, I shall be very pleased to do so in the future."

I remember that it was a beautiful night; the sea was like glass, and the great stars overhead were reflected in the deep as in a mirror. As I smoked my pipe I thought of Molly, and wondered what she was doing at that moment. That I was a trifle homesick I will not deny. At ten o'clock Ferguson invited me to his cabin, and for about an hour we sat there discussing the business that lay before us. He had never visited Equinata before, but he was conversant with the character of the country. Having procured a chart from a locker, he made me aware of the whereabouts of the President's palace; showed me where he thought it would be best for the yacht to lie, and various other details that had struck him as being applicable to the case in hand.

"And now one other question: What do you know of Fernandez himself?" I inquired, when he had rolled up the chart and replaced it in the locker.

"Only what I have heard," he replied. "He is an exceedingly clever man, and as unscrupulous as any president who has ruled in South America, not excluding our friend Silvestre. It is quite certain that if he has the least suspicion of what we are after, ours is likely to be a short shrift. I presume you thought the whole business out well before you embarked upon it?"

I answered to the effect that I had given it all due consideration, and that whatever chances there might be I was prepared to take them. There was one question, however, that I had been desirous of putting to him ever since I had been on board, and now that we were alone together I resolved to ask it, and to risk his refusal to reply.

"With regard to Don Guzman de Silvestre," I said, "what do you know of him?"

Somewhat to my surprise he was quite frank with me.

"I know very little of him," he answered, "except that I owe my present position to him. Of one thing, however, I am aware, and that is the fact that he is not a man to be trifled with."

After a while I bade him good-night, and left him to go below to my cabin. Before entering the companion, however, I leant upon the bulwarks and gazed across the sea. Scarcely a sound broke the stillness of the night; the monotonous pacing of the officer of the watch, the look-out's cry, "All's well," and the throbbing of the engines, were all that broke the silence. I went over my talk with Ferguson again. After what he had said it appeared to me that the task I had undertaken was an almost hopeless one. One little mistake and my life would pay the forfeit. Failure seemed certain, and in that case what would happen to Molly and my mother? They would hope against hope, waiting for the man who would never return. I told myself that I was a fool ever to have had anything to do with the business. What was Don Guzman de Silvestre and his ambition to me? Why should I risk my life and my dear one's happiness for the sake of a paltry ten thousand pounds? In sheer disgust I turned on my heel and went to my cabin. Whatever my thoughts may have been on deck, they certainly did not trouble me very much below. I slept like a top all night, and when I came on deck next morning I had well-nigh forgotten my melancholy musings of the previous evening.

For the next four days our life scarcely varied. I read and smoked on deck, chatted with Ferguson, improved my acquaintance with the other officers, and counted the days until we should reach our destination. As you may suppose, it was a welcome moment when the skipper announced that we were only a matter of ten hours' steaming from the Republic of Equinata. Next morning a faint smudge was discernible on the horizon straight ahead of us; by breakfast-time this had taken to itself the appearance of land, and when I returned to the bridge after my meal, a range of mountain peaks were plainly to be seen. By ten o'clock we were near enough to discern the entrance to the harbour, and by half-past we were steaming in between the heads, to drop our anchor in the bay.

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