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"In one respect," Geoffrey said, as they were talking over their chance of escape, "I am sorry that the bey has behaved so kindly to us."
"What is that?" Stephen Boldero asked in surprise.
"Well, I was thinking that were it not for that we might manage to contrive some plan of escape in concert with the galley slaves, get them down to the shore here, row off to the galley, overpower the three or four men who live on board her, and make off with her. Of course we should have had to accumulate beforehand a quantity of food and some barrels of water, for I have noticed that when they go out they always take their stores on board with them, and bring on shore on their return what has nor been consumed. Still, I suppose that could be managed. However, it seems to me that our hands are tied in that direction by the kindness of the bey. After his conduct to us it would be ungrateful in the extreme for us to carry off his galley."
"So it would, Geoffrey. Besides I doubt whether the plan would succeed. You may be sure the Spaniards are as jealous as can be of the good fortune that we have met with, and were we to propose such a scheme to them the chances are strongly in favour of one of them trying to better his own position by denouncing us. I would only trust them as far as I can see them. No, if we ever do anything it must be done by ourselves. There is no doubt that if some night when there is a strong wind blowing from the southeast we were to get on board one of these fishing boats, hoist a sail, and run before it, we should not be far off from the coast of Spain before they started to look for us. But what better should we be there? We can both talk Spanish well enough, but we could not pass as Spaniards. Besides, they would find out soon enough that we were not Catholics, and where should we be then? Either sent to row in their galleys or clapped into the dungeons of the Inquisition, and like enough burnt alive at the stake. That would be out of the frying pan into the fire with vengeance."
"I think we might pass as Spaniards," Geoffrey said; "for there is a great deal of difference between the dialects of the different provinces, and confined as you have been for the last ten years with Spanish sailors you must have caught their way of talking. Still, I agree with you it will be better to wait for a bit longer for any chance that may occur rather than risk landing in Spain again, where even if we passed as natives we should have as hard work to get our living as we have here, and with no greater chance of making our way home again."
During the time that they had been captives some three or four vessels had been brought in by the corsair. The men composing the crews had been either sold as slaves to Moors or Arabs in the interior or sent to Algiers, which town lay over a hundred miles to the east. They were of various nationalities, Spanish, French, and Italian, as the two friends learned from the talk of the natives, for they always abstained from going near the point where the prisoners were landed, as they were powerless to assist the unfortunate captives in any way, and the sight of their distress was very painful to them.
One day, however, they learned from the people who were running down to the shore to see the captives landed from a ship that had been brought in by the corsair during the night, that there were two or three women among the captives. This was the first time that any females had been captured since their arrival at the place, for women seldom travelled far from their homes in those days, except the wives of high officials journeying in great ships that were safe from the attack of the Moorish corsairs.
"Let us go down and see them," Boldero said. "I have not seen the face of a white woman for nine years."
"I will go if you like," Geoffrey said. "They will not guess that we are Europeans, for we are burnt as dark as the Moors."
They went down to the landing place. Eight men and two women were landed from the boat. These were the sole survivors of the crew.
"They are Spaniards," Boldero said. "I pity that poor girl. I suppose the other woman is her servant."
The girl, who was about sixteen years of age, was very pale, and had evidently been crying terribly. She did not seem to heed the cries and threats with which the townspeople as usual assailed the newly arrived captives, but kept her eyes fixed upon one of the captives who walked before her.
"That is her father, no doubt," Geoffrey said. "It is probably her last look at him. Come away, Stephen; I am awfully sorry we came here. I shall not be able to get that girl's face out of my mind for I don't know how long."
Without a word they went back to their hut. They had no particular work that day. Geoffrey went restlessly in and out, sometimes pacing along the strand, sometimes coming in and throwing himself on the divan. Stephen Boldero went on quietly mending a net that had been damaged the night before, saying nothing, but glancing occasionally with an amused look at his companion's restless movements. Late in the afternoon Geoffrey burst our suddenly: "Stephen, we must try and rescue that girl somehow from her fate."
"I supposed that was what it was coming to," Boldero said quietly. "Well, let me hear all about it. I know you have been thinking it over ever since morning. What are your ideas?"
"I do not know that I have any ideas beyond getting her and her father down to a boat and making off."
"Well, you certainly have not done much if you haven't got farther than that," Stephen said drily. "Now, if you had spent the day talking it over with me instead of wandering about like one out of his mind, we should have got a great deal further than that by this time. However, I have been thinking for you. I know what you young fellows are. As soon as I saw that girl's face and looked at you I was dead certain there was an end of peace and quietness, and that you would be bent upon some plan of getting her off. It did not need five minutes to show that I was right; and I have been spending my time thinking, while you have thrown yours away in fidgeting.
"Well, I think it is worth trying. Of course it will be a vastly more difficult job getting the girl and her father away than just taking a boat and sailing off as we have often talked of doing. Then, on the other hand, it would altogether alter our position afterwards. By his appearance and hers I have no doubt he is a well to do trader, perhaps a wealthy one. He walked with his head upright when the crowd were yelling and cursing, and is evidently a man of courage and determination. Now, if we had reached the Spanish coast by ourselves we should have been questioned right and left, and, as I have said all along, they would soon have found that we were not Spaniards, for we could not have said where we came from, or given our past history, or said where our families lived. But it would be altogether different if we landed with them. Every one would be interested about them. We should only be two poor devils of sailors who had escaped with them, and he would help to pass it off and get us employment; so that the difficulty that has hitherto prevented us from trying to escape is very greatly diminished. Now, as to getting them away. Of course she has been taken up to the bey's, and no doubt he will send her as a present to the bey of Algiers. I know that is what has been done several times before when young women have been captured.
"I have been thinking it over, and I do not see a possibility of getting to speak to her as long as she is at the bey's. I do not see that it can be done anyhow. She will be indoors most of the time, and if she should go into the garden there would be other women with her. Our only plan, as far as I can see at present, would be to carry her off from her escort on the journey. I do not suppose she will have more than two, or at most three, mounted men with her, and we ought to be able to dispose of them. As to her father, the matter is comparatively easy. We know the ways of the prison, and I have no doubt we can get him out somehow; only there is the trouble of the question of time. She has got to be rescued and brought back and hidden somewhere till nightfall, he has got to be set free the same evening, and we have to embark early enough to be well out of sight before daylight; and maybe there will not be a breath of wind stirring. It is a tough job, Geoffrey, look at it which way you will."
"It is a tough job," Geoffrey agreed. "I am afraid the escort would be stronger than you think. A present of this kind to the bey is regarded as important, and I should say half a dozen horsemen at least will be sent with her. In that case an attempt at rescue would be hopeless. We have no arms, and if we had we could not kill six mounted men; and if even one escaped, our plans would be all defeated. The question is, would they send her by land? It seems to me quite as likely that they might send her by water."
"Yes, that is likely enough, Geoffrey. In that case everything would depend upon the vessel he sent her in. If it is the great galley there is an end of it; if it is one of their little coasters it might be managed. We are sure to learn that before long. The bey might keep her for a fortnight or so, perhaps longer, for her to recover somewhat from the trouble and get up her good looks again, so as to add to the value of the present. If she were well and bright she would be pretty enough for anything. In the meantime we can arrange our plans for getting her father away. Of course if she goes with a big escort on horseback, or if she goes in the galley, there is an end of our plans. I am ready to help you, Geoffrey, if there is a chance of success; but I am not going to throw away my life if there is not, and unless she goes down in a coaster there is an end of the scheme."
"I quite agree to that," Geoffrey replied; "we cannot accomplish impossibilities."
They learned upon the following day that three of the newly arrived captives were to take the places of the galley slaves who had been killed in the capture of the Spanish ship, which had defended itself stoutly, and that the others were to be sold for work in the interior.
"It is pretty certain," Boldero said, "that the trader will not be one of the three chosen for the galley. The work would break him down in a month. That makes that part of the business easier, for we can get him away on the journey inland, and hide him up here until his daughter is sent off."
Geoffrey looked round the bare room.
"Well, I do not say as how we could hide him here," Boldero said in answer to the look, "but we might hide him somewhere among the sand hills outside the place, and take him food at night."
"Yes, we might do that," Geoffrey agreed. "That could be managed easily enough, I should think, for there are clumps of bushes scattered all over the sand hills half a mile back from the sea. The trouble will be if we get him here, and find after all that we cannot rescue his daughter."
"That will make no difference," Boldero said. "In that case we will make off with him alone. Everything else will go on just the same. Of course, I should be very sorry not to save the girl; but, as far as we are concerned, if we save the father it will answer our purpose."
Geoffrey made no reply. Just at that moment his own future was a very secondary matter, in comparison, to the rescue of this unhappy Spanish girl.
Geoffrey and his companion had been in the habit of going up occasionally to the prison. They had won over the guard by small presents, and were permitted to go in and out with fruit and other little luxuries for the galley slaves. They now abstained from going near the place, in order that no suspicion might fall upon them after his escape of having had any communication with the Spanish trader.
Shortly after the arrival of the captives two merchants from the interior came down, and Geoffrey learned that they had visited the prison, and had made a bargain with the bey for all the captives except those transferred to the galley. The two companions had talked the matter over frequently, and had concluded it was best that only one of them should be engaged in the adventure, for the absence of both might be noticed. After some discussion it was agreed that Geoffrey should undertake the task, and that Boldero should go alone to the house where they were now at work, and should mention that his friend was unwell, and was obliged to remain at home for the day.
As they knew the direction in which the captives would be taken Geoffrey started before daybreak, and kept steadily along until he reached a spot where it was probable they would halt for the night. It was twenty miles away, and there was here a well of water and a grove of trees. Late in the afternoon he saw the party approaching. It consisted of the merchants, two armed Arabs, and the five captives, all of whom were carrying burdens. They were crawling painfully along, overpowered by the heat of the sun, by the length of the journey, and by the weight they carried. Several times the Arabs struck them heavily with their sticks to force them to keep up.
Geoffrey retired from the other side of the clump of trees, and lay down in a depression of the sand hills until darkness came on, when he again entered the grove, and crawling cautiously forward made his way close up to the party. A fire was blazing, and a meal had been already cooked and eaten. The traders and the two Arabs were sitting by the fire; the captives were lying extended on the ground. Presently, at the command of one of the Arabs, they rose to their feet and proceeded to collect some more pieces of wood for the fire. As they returned the light fell on the gray hair of the man upon whom Geoffrey had noticed that the girl's eyes were fixed.
He noted the place where he lay down, and had nothing to do now but to wait until the party were asleep. He felt sure that no guard would be set, for any attempt on the part of the captives to escape would be nothing short of madness. There was nowhere for them to go, and they would simply wander about until they died of hunger and exhaustion, or until they were recaptured, in which case they would be almost beaten to death. In an hour's time the traders and their men lay down by the fire, and all was quiet. Geoffrey crawled round until he was close to the Spaniard. He waited until he felt sure that the Arabs were asleep, and then crawled up to him. The man started as he touched him.
"Silence, senor," Geoffrey whispered in Spanish; "I am a friend, and have come to rescue you."
"I care not for life; a few days of this work will kill me, and the sooner the better. I have nothing to live for. They killed my wife the other day, and my daughter is a captive in their hands. I thank you, whoever you are, but I will not go."
"We are going to try to save your daughter too," Geoffrey whispered; "we have a plan for carrying you both off."
The words gave new life to the Spaniard. "In that case, sir, I am ready. Whoever you are whom God has sent to my aid I will follow you blindly, whatever comes of it."
Geoffrey crawled away a short distance, followed by the Spaniard. As soon as they were well beyond the faint light now given out by the expiring fire they rose to their feet, and gaining the track took their way on the backward road. As soon as they were fairly away, Geoffrey explained to the Spaniard who he was, and how he had undertaken to endeavour to rescue him. The joy and gratitude of the Spaniard were too deep for words, and he uttered his thanks in broken tones. When they had walked about a mile Geoffrey halted.
"Sit down here," he said. "I have some meat and fruit here and a small skin of water. We have a long journey before us, for we must get near the town you left this morning before daybreak, and you must eat to keep up your strength."
"I did not think," the Spaniard said, "when we arrived at the well, that I could have walked another mile had my life depended upon it. Now I feel a new man, after the fresh hope you have given me. I no longer feel the pain of my bare feet or the blisters the sun has raised on my naked back. I am struggling now for more than life -- for my daughter. You shall not find me to fail, sir."
All night they toiled on. The Spaniard kept his promise, and utterly exhausted as he was, and great as was the pain in his limbs, held on bravely. With the first dawn of morning they saw the line of the sea before them. They now turned off from the track, and in another half hour the Spaniard took shelter in a clump of bushes in a hollow, while Geoffrey, having left with him the remainder of the supply of provisions and water, pursued his way and reached the hut just as the sun was shining in the east, and without having encountered a single person.
"Well, have you succeeded?" Boldero asked eagerly, as he entered.
"Yes; I have got him away. He is in hiding within a mile of this place. He kept on like a hero. I was utterly tired myself, and how he managed to walk the distance after what he had gone through in the day is more than I can tell. His name is Mendez. He is a trader in Cadiz, and owns many vessels. He was on his way to Italy, with his wife and daughter, in one of his own ships, in order to gratify the desire of his wife to visit the holy places at Rome. She was killed by a cannon shot during the fight, and his whole heart is now wrapped up in his daughter. And now, Stephen, I must lie down and sleep. You will have to go to work alone today again, and can truly say that I am still unfit for labour."
Four days later it became known in the little town that a messenger had arrived from the merchant who bought the slaves from the bey, saying that one of them had made his escape from their first halting place.
"The dog will doubtless die in the desert," the merchant wrote; "but if he should find his way down, or you should hear of him as arriving at any of the villages, I pray you to send him up to me with a guard. I will so treat him that it will be a lesson to my other slaves not to follow his example."
Every evening after dark Geoffrey went out with a supply of food and water to the fugitive. For a week he had no news to give him as to his daughter; but on the eighth night he said that he and his companion had that morning been sent by the bey on board the largest of the coasting vessels in the port, with orders to paint the cabins and put them in a fit state for the reception of a personage of importance.
"This is fortunate, indeed," Geoffrey went on. "No doubt she is intended for the transport of your daughter. Her crew consists of a captain and five men, but at present they are living ashore; and as we shall be going backwards and forwards to her, we ought to have little difficulty in getting on board and hiding away in the hold before she starts. I think everything promises well for the success of our scheme."
The bey's superintendent came down the next day to see how matters were going on on board the vessel. The painting was finished that evening, and the next day two slaves brought down a quantity of hangings and cushions, which Geoffrey and his companion assisted the superintendent to hang up and place in order. Provisions and water had already been taken on board, and they learnt that the party who were to sail in her would come off early the next morning.
At midnight Geoffrey, Boldero, and the Spaniard came down to the little port, embarked in a fisherman's boat moored at the stairs, and noiselessly rowed off to the vessel. They mounted on to her deck barefooted. Boldero was the last to leave the boat, giving her a vigorous push with his foot in the direction of the shore, from which the vessel was but some forty yards away. They descended into the hold, where they remained perfectly quiet until the first light of dawn enabled them to see what they were doing, and then moved some baskets full of vegetables, and concealed themselves behind them.
A quarter of an hour later they heard a boat come alongside, and the voices of the sailors. Then they heard the creaking of cordage as the sails were let fall in readiness for a start. Half an hour later another boat came alongside. There was a trampling of feet on the deck above them, and the bey's voice giving orders. A few minutes later the anchor was raised, there was more talking on deck, and then they heard a boat push off, and knew by the rustle of water against the planks beside them that the vessel was under way.
The wind was light and the sea perfectly calm, and beyond the slight murmur of the water, those below would not have known that the ship was in motion. It was very hot down in the hold, but fortunately the crew had nor taken the trouble to put on the hatches, and at times a faint breath of air could be felt below. Geoffrey and his companion talked occasionally in low tones; but the Spaniard was so absorbed by his anxiety as to the approaching struggle, and the thought that he might soon clasp his daughter to his arms, that he seldom spoke.
No plans could be formed as to the course they were to take, for they could not tell whether those of the crew off duty would retire to sleep in the little forecastle or would lie down on deck. Then, too, they were ignorant as to the number of men who had come on board with the captive. The overseer had mentioned the day before that he was going, and it was probable that three or four others would accompany him. Therefore they had to reckon upon ten opponents. Their only weapons were three heavy iron bolts, some two feet long. These Boldero had purchased in exchange for a few fish, when a prize brought in was broken up as being useless for the purposes of the Moors.
"What I reckon is," he said, "that you and I ought to be able to settle two apiece of these fellows before they fairly know what is happening. The Don ought very well to account for another. So that only leaves five of them; and five against three are no odds worth speaking of, especially when the five are woke up by a sudden attack, and ain't sure how many there are against them. I don't expect much trouble over the affair."
"I don't want to kill more of the poor fellows than I can help," Geoffrey said.
"No more do I; but you see it's got to be either killing or being killed, and I am perfectly certain which I prefer. Still, as you say, if the beggars are at all reasonable I ain't for hurting them, but the first few we have got to hit hard. When we get matters a little even, we can speak them fair."
The day passed slowly, and in spite of their bent and cramped position Geoffrey and Stephen Boldero dozed frequently. The Spaniard never closed an eye. He was quite prepared to take his part in the struggle; and as he was not yet fifty years of age, his assistance was not to be despised. But the light hearted carelessness of his companions, who joked under their breath, and laughed and ate unconcernedly with a life and death struggle against heavy odds before them, surprised him much.
As darkness came on the party below became wakeful. Their time was coming now, and they had no doubt whatever as to the result. Their most formidable opponents would be the men who had come on board with the bey's superintendent, as these, no doubt, would be fully armed. As for the sailors, they might have arms on board, but these would nor be ready to hand, and it was really only with the guards they would have to deal.
"I tell you what I think would be a good plan, Stephen," Geoffrey said suddenly. "You see, there is plenty of spare line down here; if we wait until they are all asleep we can go round and tie their legs together, or put ropes round their ankles and fasten them to ring bolts. If we could manage that without waking them, we might capture the craft without shedding any blood, and might get them down into the hold one after the other."
"I think that is a very good plan," Stephen agreed. "I do not like the thought of knocking sleeping men on the head any more than you do; and if we are careful, we might get them all tied up before an alarm is given. There, the anchor has gone down. I thought very likely they would not sail at night. That is capital. You may be sure that they will be pretty close inshore, and they probably will have only one man on watch; and as likely as not even one, for they will nor dream of any possible danger."
For another two hours the sound of talk on deck went on, but at last all became perfectly quiet. The party below waited for another half hour, and then noiselessly ascended the ladder to the deck, holding in one hand a cudgel, in the other a number of lengths of line cut about six feet long. Each as he reached the deck lay down flat. The Spaniard had been told to remain perfectly quiet while the other two went about their task.
First they crawled aft, for the bey's guards would, they knew, be sleeping at that end, and working together they tied the legs of these men without rousing them. The ropes could not be tightly pulled, as this would at once have disturbed them. They were therefore fastened somewhat in the fashion of manacles, so that although the men might rise to their feet they would fall headlong the moment they tried to walk. In addition other ropes were fastened to these and taken from one man to another. Then their swords were drawn from the sheaths and their knives from their sashes.
The operation was a long one, as it had to be conducted with the greatest care and caution. They then crept back to the hatchway and told the Spaniard that the most formidable enemies had been made safe.
"Here are a sword and a knife for you, senor; and now as we are all armed I consider the ship as good as won, for the sailors are not likely to make much resistance by themselves. However, we will secure some of them. The moon will be up in half an hour, and that will be an advantage to us.
The captain and three of the sailors were soon tied up like the others. Two men were standing in the bow of the vessel leaning against the bulwarks, and when the moon rose it could be seen by their attitude that both were asleep.
"Now, we may as well begin," Geoffrey said. "Let us take those two fellows in the bow by surprise. Hold a knife to their throats, and tell them if they utter the least sound we will kill them. Then we will make them go down into the forecastle and fasten them there."
"I am ready," Stephen said, and they stole forward to the two sleeping men. They grasped them suddenly by the throat and held a knife before their eyes, Boldero telling them in a stern whisper that if they uttered a cry they would be stabbed to the heart. Paralysed by the sudden attack they did not make the slightest struggle, but accompanied their unknown assailants to the forecastle and were there fastened in. Joined now by the Spaniard, Geoffrey and his companion went aft and roused one of the sleepers there with a threat similar to that which had silenced the sailors.
He was, however, a man of different stuff He gave a loud shout and grappled with Boldero, who struck him a heavy blow with his fist in the face, and this for a moment silenced him; but the alarm being given, the superintendent and the two men struggled to their feet, only however to fall prostrate as soon as they tried to walk.
"Lie quiet and keep silence!" Boldero shouted in a threatening voice.
"You are unarmed and at our mercy. Your feet are bound and you are perfectly helpless. We do not wish to take your lives, but unless you are quiet we shall be compelled to do so."
The men had discovered by this time that their arms had gone, and were utterly disconcerted by the heavy and unexpected fall they had just had. Feeling that they were indeed at the mercy of their captors, they lay quiet.
"Now then," Boldero went on, "one at a time. Keep quiet, you rascals there!" he broke off shouting to the sailors who were rolling and tumbling on the deck forward, "or I will cut all your throats for you. Now then, Geoffrey, do you and the senor cut the rope that fastens that man on the port side to his comrades. March him to the hatchway and make him go down into the hold. Keep your knives ready and kill him at once if he offers the slightest resistance."
One by one the superintendent, the three guards, the captain and sailors were all made to descend into the hold, and the hatches were put over it and fastened down.
"Now, senor," Geoffrey said, "we can spare you."
The Spaniard hurried to the cabin, opened the door, and called out his daughter's name. There was a scream of delight within as Dolores Mendez, who had been awakened by the tumult, recognized her father's voice, and leaping up from her couch threw herself into his arms. Geoffrey and his companion now opened the door of the forecastle and called the two sailors out.
"Now," Boldero said, "if you want to save your lives you have got to obey our orders. First of all fall to work and get up the anchor, and then shake out the sails again. I will take the helm, Geoffrey, and do you keep your eye on these two fellows. There is no fear of their playing any tricks now that they see they are alone on deck, but they might, if your back were turned, unfasten the hatches. However, I do not think we need fear trouble that way, as for aught they know we may have cut the throats of all the others."
A few minutes later the vessel was moving slowly through the water with her head to the northwest.
"We must be out of sight of land if we can by the morning," Stephen said, when Geoffrey two hours later came to take his place at the helm; "at any rate until we have passed the place we started from. Once beyond that it does not matter much; but it will be best either to keep out of sight of land altogether, or else to sail pretty close to it, so that they can see the boat is one of their own craft. We can choose which we will do when we see which way the breeze sets in in the morning."
It came strongly from the south, and they therefore determined to sail direct for Carthagena.
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