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BLOOD WILL TELL
David Greene was an employee of the Burdett Automatic Punch Company. The manufacturing plant of the company was at Bridgeport, but in the New York offices there were working samples of all the punches, from the little nickel-plated hand punch with which conductors squeezed holes in railroad tickets, to the big punch that could bite into an iron plate as easily as into a piece of pie. David's duty was to explain these different punches, and accordingly when Burdett Senior or one of the sons turned a customer over to David he spoke of him as a salesman. But David called himself a "demonstrator." For a short time he even succeeded in persuading the other salesmen to speak of themselves as demonstrators, but the shipping clerks and bookkeepers laughed them out of it. They could not laugh David out of it. This was so, partly because he had no sense of humor, and partly because he had a great-great-grandfather. Among the salesmen on lower Broadway, to possess a great-great-grandfather is unusual, even a great-grandfather is a rarity, and either is considered superfluous. But to David the possession of a great-great-grandfather was a precious and open delight. He had possessed him only for a short time. Undoubtedly he always had existed, but it was not until David's sister Anne married a doctor in Bordentown, New Jersey, and became socially ambitious, that David emerged as a Son of Washington.
It was sister Anne, anxious to "get in" as a "Daughter" and wear a distaff pin in her shirtwaist, who discovered the revolutionary ancestor. She unearthed him, or rather ran him to earth, in the graveyard of the Presbyterian church at Bordentown. He was no less a person than General Hiram Greene, and he had fought with Washington at Trenton and at Princeton. Of this there was no doubt. That, later, on moving to New York, his descendants became peace-loving salesmen did not affect his record. To enter a society founded on heredity, the important thing is first to catch your ancestor, and having made sure of him, David entered the Society of the Sons of Washington with flying colors. He was not unlike the man who had been speaking prose for forty years without knowing it. He was not unlike the other man who woke to find himself famous. He had gone to bed a timid, near-sighted, underpaid salesman without a relative in the world, except a married sister in Bordentown, and he awoke to find he was a direct descendant of "Neck or Nothing" Greene, a revolutionary hero, a friend of Washington, a man whose portrait hung in the State House at Trenton. David's life had lacked color. The day he carried his certificate of membership to the big jewelry store uptown and purchased two rosettes, one for each of his two coats, was the proudest of his life.
The other men in the Broadway office took a different view. As Wyckoff, one of Burdett's flying squadron of travelling salesmen, said, "All grandfathers look alike to me, whether they're great, or great-great-great. Each one is as dead as the other. I'd rather have a live cousin who could loan me a five, or slip me a drink. What did your great-great dad ever do for you?"
"Well, for one thing," said David stiffly, "he fought in the War of the Revolution. He saved us from the shackles of monarchical England; he made it possible for me and you to enjoy the liberties of a free republic."
"Don't try to tell me your grandfather did all that," protested Wyckoff, "because I know better. There were a lot of others helped. I read about it in a book."
"I am not grudging glory to others," returned David; "I am only saying I am proud that I am a descendant of a revolutionist."
Wyckoff dived into his inner pocket and produced a leather photograph frame that folded like a concertina.
"I don't want to be a descendant," he said; "I'd rather be an ancestor. Look at those." Proudly he exhibited photographs of Mrs. Wyckoff with the baby and of three other little Wyckoffs. David looked with envy at the children.
"When I'm married," he stammered, and at the words he blushed, "I hope to be an ancestor."
"If you're thinking of getting married," said Wyckoff, "you'd better hope for a raise in salary."
The other clerks were as unsympathetic as Wyckoff. At first when David showed them his parchment certificate, and his silver gilt insignia with on one side a portrait of Washington, and on the other a Continental soldier, they admitted it was dead swell. They even envied him, not the grandfather, but the fact that owing to that distinguished relative David was constantly receiving beautifully engraved invitations to attend the monthly meetings of the society; to subscribe to a fund to erect monuments on battle-fields to mark neglected graves; to join in joyous excursions to the tomb of Washington or of John Paul Jones; to inspect West Point, Annapolis, and Bunker Hill; to be among those present at the annual "banquet" at Delmonico's. In order that when he opened these letters he might have an audience, he had given the society his office address.
In these communications he was always addressed as "Dear Compatriot," and never did the words fail to give him a thrill. They seemed to lift him out of Burdett's salesrooms and Broadway, and place him next to things uncommercial, untainted, high, and noble. He did not quite know what an aristocrat was, but be believed being a compatriot made him an aristocrat. When customers were rude, when Mr. John or Mr. Robert was overbearing, this idea enabled David to rise above their ill-temper, and he would smile and say to himself: "If they knew the meaning of the blue rosette in my button-hole, how differently they would treat me! How easily with a word could I crush them!"
But few of the customers recognized the significance of the button. They thought it meant that David belonged to the Y. M. C. A. or was a teetotaler. David, with his gentle manners and pale, ascetic face, was liable to give that impression.
When Wyckoff mentioned marriage, the reason David blushed was because, although no one in the office suspected it, he wished to marry the person in whom the office took the greatest pride. This was Miss Emily Anthony, one of Burdett and Sons' youngest, most efficient, and prettiest stenographers, and although David did not cut as dashing a figure as did some of the firm's travelling men, Miss Anthony had found something in him so greatly to admire that she had, out of office hours, accepted his devotion, his theatre tickets, and an engagement ring. Indeed, so far had matters progressed, that it had been almost decided when in a few months they would go upon their vacations they also would go upon their honeymoon. And then a cloud had come between them, and from a quarter from which David had expected only sunshine.
The trouble befell when David discovered he had a great- great-grandfather. With that fact itself Miss Anthony was almost as pleased as was David himself, but while he was content to bask in another's glory, Miss Anthony saw in his inheritance only an incentive to achieve glory for himself.
From a hard-working salesman she had asked but little, but from a descendant of a national hero she expected other things. She was a determined young person, and for David she was an ambitious young person. She found she was dissatisfied. She found she was disappointed. The great-great-grandfather had opened up a new horizon--had, in a way, raised the standard. She was as fond of David as always, but his tales of past wars and battles, his accounts of present banquets at which he sat shoulder to shoulder with men of whom even Burdett and Sons spoke with awe, touched her imagination.
"You shouldn't be content to just wear a button," she urged. "If you're a Son of Washington, you ought to act like one."
"I know I'm not worthy of you," David sighed.
"I don't mean that, and you know I don't," Emily replied indignantly. "It has nothing to do with me! I want you to be worthy of yourself, of your grandpa Hiram!"
"But HOW?" complained David. "What chance has a twenty-five dollar a week clerk--"
It was a year before the Spanish-American War, while the patriots of Cuba were fighting the mother country for their independence.
"If I were a Son of the Revolution," said Emily, "I'd go to Cuba and help free it."
"Don't talk nonsense," cried David. "If I did that I'd lose my job, and we'd never be able to marry. Besides, what's Cuba done for me? All I know about Cuba is, I once smoked a Cuban cigar and it made me ill."
"Did Lafayette talk like that?" demanded Emily. "Did he ask what have the American rebels ever done for me?"
"If I were in Lafayette's class," sighed David, "I wouldn't be selling automatic punches."
"There's your trouble," declared Emily "You lack self- confidence. You're too humble, you've got fighting blood and you ought to keep saying to yourself, 'Blood will tell,' and the first thing you know, it WILL tell! You might begin by going into politics in your ward. Or, you could join the militia. That takes only one night a week, and then, if we DID go to war with Spain, you'd get a commission, and come back a captain!"
Emily's eyes were beautiful with delight. But the sight gave David no pleasure. In genuine distress, he shook his head.
"Emily," he said, "you're going to be awfully disappointed in me."
Emily's eyes closed as though they shied at some mental picture. But when she opened them they were bright, and her smile was kind and eager.
"No, I'm not," she protested; "only I want a husband with a career, and one who'll tell me to keep quiet when I try to run it for him."
"I've often wished you would," said David.
"Would what? Run your career for you?"
"No, keep quiet. Only it didn't seem polite to tell you so."
"Maybe I'd like you better," said Emily, "if you weren't so darned polite."
A week later, early in the spring of 1897, the unexpected happened, and David was promoted into the flying squadron. He now was a travelling salesman, with a rise in salary and a commission on orders. It was a step forward, but as going on the road meant absence from Emily, David was not elated. Nor did it satisfy Emily. It was not money she wanted. Her ambition for David could not be silenced with a raise in wages. She did not say this, but David knew that in him she still found something lacking, and when they said good-by they both were ill at ease and completely unhappy. Formerly, each day when Emily in passing David in the office said good-morning, she used to add the number of the days that still separated them from the vacation which also was to be their honeymoon. But, for the last month she had stopped counting the days--at least she did not count them aloud.
David did not ask her why this was so. He did not dare. And, sooner than learn the truth that she had decided not to marry him, or that she was even considering not marrying him, he asked no questions, but in ignorance of her present feelings set forth on his travels. Absence from Emily hurt just as much as he had feared it would. He missed her, needed her, longed for her. In numerous letters he told her so. But, owing to the frequency with which he moved, her letters never caught up with him. It was almost a relief. He did not care to think of what they might tell him.
The route assigned David took him through the South and kept him close to the Atlantic seaboard. In obtaining orders he was not unsuccessful, and at the end of the first month received from the firm a telegram of congratulation. This was of importance chiefly because it might please Emily. But he knew that in her eyes the great-great-grandson of Hiram Greene could not rest content with a telegram from Burdett and Sons. A year before she would have considered it a high honor, a cause for celebration. Now, he could see her press her pretty lips together and shake her pretty head. It was not enough. But how could he accomplish more. He began to hate his great-great-grandfather. He began to wish Hiram Greene had lived and died a bachelor.
And then Dame Fortune took David in hand and toyed with him and spanked him, and pelted and petted him, until finally she made him her favorite son. Dame Fortune went about this work in an abrupt and arbitrary manner.
On the night of the 1st of March, 1897, two trains were scheduled to leave the Union Station at Jacksonville at exactly the same minute, and they left exactly on time. As never before in the history of any Southern railroad has this miracle occurred, it shows that when Dame Fortune gets on the job she is omnipotent. She placed David on the train to Miami as the train he wanted drew out for Tampa, and an hour later, when the conductor looked at David's ticket, he pulled the bell-cord and dumped David over the side into the heart of a pine forest. If he walked back along the track for one mile, the conductor reassured him, he would find a flag station where at midnight he could flag a train going north. In an hour it would deliver him safely in Jacksonville.
There was a moon, but for the greater part of the time it was hidden by fitful, hurrying clouds, and, as David stumbled forward, at one moment he would see the rails like streaks of silver, and the next would be encompassed in a complete and bewildering darkness. He made his way from tie to tie only by feeling with his foot. After an hour he came to a shed. Whether it was or was not the flag station the conductor had in mind, he did not know, and he never did know. He was too tired, too hot, and too disgusted to proceed, and dropping his suit case he sat down under the open roof of the shed prepared to wait either for the train or daylight. So far as he could see, on every side of him stretched a swamp, silent, dismal, interminable. From its black water rose dead trees, naked of bark and hung with streamers of funereal moss. There was not a sound or sign of human habitation. The silence was the silence of the ocean at night David remembered the berth reserved for him on the train to Tampa and of the loathing with which he had considered placing himself between its sheets. But now how gladly would he welcome it! For, in the sleeping-car, ill-smelling, close, and stuffy, he at least would have been surrounded by fellow-sufferers of his own species. Here his companions were owls, water-snakes, and sleeping buzzards.
I am alone," he told himself, "on a railroad embankment, entirely surrounded by alligators."
And then he found he was not alone.
In the darkness, illuminated by a match, not a hundred yards from him there flashed suddenly the face of a man. Then the match went out and the face with it. David noted that it had appeared at some height above the level of the swamp, at an elevation higher even than that of the embankment. It was as though the man had been sitting on the limb of a tree. David crossed the tracks and found that on the side of the embankment opposite the shed there was solid ground and what once had been a wharf. He advanced over this cautiously, and as he did so the clouds disappeared, and in the full light of the moon he saw a bayou broadening into a river, and made fast to the decayed and rotting wharf an ocean-going tug. It was from her deck that the man, in lighting his pipe, had shown his face. At the thought of a warm engine-room and the company of his fellow creatures, David's heart leaped with pleasure. He advanced quickly. And then something in the appearance of the tug, something mysterious, secretive, threatening, caused him to halt. No lights showed from her engine-room, cabin, or pilot-house. Her decks were empty. But, as was evidenced by the black smoke that rose from her funnel, she was awake and awake to some purpose. David stood uncertainly, questioning whether to make his presence known or return to the loneliness of the shed. The question was decided for him. He had not considered that standing in the moonlight he was a conspicuous figure. The planks of the wharf creaked and a man came toward him. As one who means to attack, or who fears attack, he approached warily. He wore high boots, riding breeches, and a sombrero. He was a little man, but his movements were alert and active. To David he seemed unnecessarily excited. He thrust himself close against David.
"Who the devil are you?" demanded the man from the tug. "How'd you get here?"
"I walked," said David.
"Walked?" the man snorted incredulously.
"I took the wrong train," explained David pleasantly. "They put me off about a mile below here. I walked back to this flag station. I'm going to wait here for the next train north."
The little man laughed mockingly.
"Oh, no you're not," he said. "If you walked here, you can just walk away again!" With a sweep of his arm, he made a vigorous and peremptory gesture.
"You walk!" he commanded.
"I'll do just as I please about that," said David.
As though to bring assistance, the little man started hastily toward the tug.
"I'll find some one who'll make you walk!" he called. "You WAIT, that's all, you WAIT!"
David decided not to wait. It was possible the wharf was private property and he had been trespassing. In any case, at the flag station the rights of all men were equal, and if he were in for a fight he judged it best to choose his own battle-ground. He recrossed the tracks and sat down on his suit case in a dark corner of the shed. Himself hidden in the shadows he could see in the moonlight the approach of any other person.
"They're river pirates," said David to himself, "or smugglers. They're certainly up to some mischief, or why should they object to the presence of a perfectly harmless stranger?"
Partly with cold, partly with nervousness, David shivered.
"I wish that train would come," he sighed. And instantly? as though in answer to his wish, from only a short distance down the track he heard the rumble and creak of approaching cars. In a flash David planned his course of action.
The thought of spending the night in a swamp infested by alligators and smugglers had become intolerable. He must escape, and he must escape by the train now approaching. To that end the train must be stopped. His plan was simple. The train was moving very, very slowly, and though he had no lantern to wave, in order to bring it to a halt he need only stand on the track exposed to the glare of the headlight and wave his arms. David sprang between the rails and gesticulated wildly. But in amazement his arms fell to his sides. For the train, now only a hundred yards distant and creeping toward him at a snail's pace, carried no head-light, and though in the moonlight David was plainly visible, it blew no whistle, tolled no bell. Even the passenger coaches in the rear of the sightless engine were wrapped in darkness. It was a ghost of a train, a Flying Dutchman of a train, a nightmare of a train. It was as unreal as the black swamp, as the moss on the dead trees, as the ghostly tug-boat tied to the rotting wharf.
"Is the place haunted!" exclaimed David.
He was answered by the grinding of brakes and by the train coming to a sharp halt. And instantly from every side men fell from it to the ground, and the silence of the night was broken by a confusion of calls and eager greeting and questions and sharp words of command.
So fascinated was David in the stealthy arrival of the train and in her mysterious passengers that, until they confronted him, he did not note the equally stealthy approach of three men. Of these one was the little man from the tug. With him was a fat, red-faced Irish-American He wore no coat and his shirt-sleeves were drawn away from his hands by garters of pink elastic, his derby hat was balanced behind his ears, upon his right hand flashed an enormous diamond. He looked as though but at that moment he had stopped sliding glasses across a Bowery bar. The third man carried the outward marks of a sailor. David believed he was the tallest man he had ever beheld, but equally remarkable with his height was his beard and hair, which were of a fierce brick-dust red. Even in the mild moonlight it flamed like a torch.
"What's your business?" demanded the man with the flamboyant hair.
"I came here," began David, "to wait for a train--"
The tall man bellowed with indignant rage.
"Yes," he shouted; "this is the sort of place any one would pick out to wait for a train!"
In front of David's nose he shook a fist as large as a catcher's glove. "Don't you lie to ME!" he bullied. "Do you know who I am? Do you know WHO you're up against? I'm--"
The barkeeper person interrupted.
"Never mind who you are," he said. "We know that. Find out who HE is."
David turned appealingly to the barkeeper.
"Do you suppose I'd come here on purpose?" he protested. "I'm a travelling man--"
"You won't travel any to-night," mocked the red-haired one. "You've seen what you came to see, and all you want now is to get to a Western Union wire. Well, you don't do it. You don't leave here to-night!"
As though he thought he had been neglected, the little man in riding-boots pushed forward importantly.
"Tie him to a tree!" he suggested.
"Better take him on board," said the barkeeper, "and send him back by the pilot. When we're once at sea, he can't hurt us any."
"What makes you think I want to hurt you?" demanded David. "Who do you think I am?"
"We know who you are," shouted the fiery-headed one. "You're a blanketty-blank spy! You're a government spy or a Spanish spy, and whichever you are you don't get away to-night!"
David had not the faintest idea what the man meant, but he knew his self-respect was being ill-treated, and his self-respect rebelled.
"You have made a very serious mistake," he said, "and whether you like it or not, I AM leaving here to-night, and YOU can go to the devil!"
Turning his back David started with great dignity to walk away. It was a short walk. Something hit him below the ear and he found himself curling up comfortably on the ties. He had a strong desire to sleep, but was conscious that a bed on a railroad track, on account of trains wanting to pass, was unsafe. This doubt did not long disturb him. His head rolled against the steel rail, his limbs relaxed. From a great distance, and in a strange sing-song he heard the voice of the barkeeper saying, "Nine--ten--and OUT!"
When David came to his senses his head was resting on a coil of rope. In his ears was the steady throb of an engine, and in his eyes the glare of a lantern. The lantern was held by a pleasant-faced youth in a golf cap who was smiling sympathetically. David rose on his elbow and gazed wildly about him. He was in the bow of the ocean-going tug, and he saw that from where he lay in the bow to her stern her decks were packed with men. She was steaming swiftly down a broad river. On either side the gray light that comes before the dawn showed low banks studded with stunted palmettos. Close ahead David heard the roar of the surf.
"Sorry to disturb you," said the youth in the golf cap, "but we drop the pilot in a few minutes and you're going with him."
David moved his aching head gingerly, and was conscious of a bump as large as a tennis ball behind his right ear.
"What happened to me?" he demanded.
"You were sort of kidnapped, I guess," laughed the young man. "It was a raw deal, but they couldn't take any chances. The pilot will land you at Okra Point. You can hire a rig there to take you to the railroad."
"But why?" demanded David indignantly. "Why was I kidnapped? What had I done? Who were those men who--"
From the pilot-house there was a sharp jangle of bells to the engine-room, and the speed of the tug slackened.
"Come on," commanded the young man briskly. "The pilot's going ashore. Here's your grip, here's your hat. The ladder's on the port side. Look where you're stepping. We can't show any lights, and it's dark as--"
But, even as he spoke, like a flash of powder, as swiftly as one throws an electric switch, as blindingly as a train leaps from the tunnel into the glaring sun, the darkness vanished and the tug was swept by the fierce, blatant radiance of a search-light.
It was met by shrieks from two hundred throats, by screams, oaths, prayers, by the sharp jangling of bells, by the blind rush of many men scurrying like rats for a hole to hide in, by the ringing orders of one man. Above the tumult this one voice rose like the warning strokes of a fire-gong, and looking up to the pilot-house from whence the voice came, David saw the barkeeper still in his shirt-sleeves and with his derby hat pushed back behind his ears, with one hand clutching the telegraph to the engine-room, with the other holding the spoke of the wheel.
David felt the tug, like a hunter taking a fence, rise in a great leap. Her bow sank and rose, tossing the water from her in black, oily waves, the smoke poured from her funnel, from below her engines sobbed and quivered, and like a hound freed from a leash she raced for the open sea. But swiftly as she fled, as a thief is held in the circle of a policeman's bull's-eye, the shaft of light followed and exposed her and held her in its grip. The youth in the golf cap was clutching David by the arm. With his free hand he pointed down the shaft of light. So great was the tumult that to be heard he brought his lips close to David's ear.
"That's the revenue cutter!" he shouted. "She's been laying for us for three weeks, and now," he shrieked exultingly, "the old man's going to give her a race for it."
From excitement, from cold, from alarm, David's nerves were getting beyond his control.
"But how," he demanded, "how do I get ashore?"
"When he drops the pilot, don't I--"
"How can he drop the pilot?" yelled the youth. "The pilot's got to stick by the boat. So have you."
David clutched the young man and swung him so that they stood face to face.
"Stick by what boat?" yelled David. "Who are these men? Who are you? What boat is this?"
In the glare of the search-light David saw the eyes of the youth staring at him as though he feared he were in the clutch of a madman. Wrenching himself free, the youth pointed at the pilot-house. Above it on a blue board in letters of gold-leaf a foot high was the name of the tug. As David read it his breath left him, a finger of ice passed slowly down his spine. The name he read was The Three Friends.
"THE THREE FRIENDS!" shrieked David. "She's a filibuster! She's a pirate! Where're we going?
David emitted a howl of anguish, rage, and protest.
"What for?" he shrieked.
The young man regarded him coldly.
"To pick bananas," he said.
"I won't go to Cuba," shouted David. "I've got to work! I'm paid to sell machinery. I demand to be put ashore. I'll lose my job if I'm not put ashore. I'll sue you! I'll have the law--"
David found himself suddenly upon his knees. His first thought was that the ship had struck a rock, and then that she was bumping herself over a succession of coral reefs. She dipped, dived, reared, and plunged. Like a hooked fish, she flung herself in the air, quivering from bow to stern. No longer was David of a mind to sue the filibusters if they did not put him ashore. If only they had put him ashore, in gratitude he would have crawled on his knees. What followed was of no interest to David, nor to many of the filibusters, nor to any of the Cuban patriots. Their groans of self-pity, their prayers and curses in eloquent Spanish, rose high above the crash of broken crockery and the pounding of the waves. Even when the search-light gave way to a brilliant sunlight the circumstance was unobserved by David. Nor was he concerned in the tidings brought forward by the youth in the golf cap, who raced the slippery decks and vaulted the prostrate forms as sure-footedly as a hurdler on a cinder track. To David, in whom he seemed to think he had found a congenial spirit, he shouted Joyfully, "She's fired two blanks at us!" he cried; "now she's firing cannon-balls!"
"Thank God," whispered David; "perhaps she'll sink us!"
But The Three Friends showed her heels to the revenue cutter, and so far as David knew hours passed into days and days into weeks. It was like those nightmares in which in a minute one is whirled through centuries of fear and torment. Sometimes, regardless of nausea, of his aching head, of the hard deck, of the waves that splashed and smothered him, David fell into broken slumber. Sometimes he woke to a dull consciousness of his position. At such moments he added to his misery by speculating upon the other misfortunes that might have befallen him on shore. Emily, he decided, had given him up for lost and married--probably a navy officer in command of a battle-ship. Burdett and Sons had cast him off forever. Possibly his disappearance had caused them to suspect him; even now they might be regarding him as a defaulter, as a fugitive from justice. His accounts, no doubt, were being carefully overhauled. In actual time, two days and two nights had passed; to David it seemed many ages.
On the third day he crawled to the stern, where there seemed less motion, and finding a boat's cushion threw it in the lee scupper and fell upon it. From time to time the youth in the golf cap had brought him food and drink, and he now appeared from the cook's galley bearing a bowl of smoking soup.
David considered it a doubtful attention.
But he said, "You're very kind. How did a fellow like you come to mix up with these pirates?"
The youth laughed good-naturedly.
"They're not pirates, they're patriots," he said, "and I'm not mixed up with them. My name is Henry Carr and I'm a guest of Jimmy Doyle, the captain."
"The barkeeper with the derby hat?" said David.
"He's not a barkeeper, he's a teetotaler," Carr corrected, "and he's the greatest filibuster alive. He knows these waters as you know Broadway, and he's the salt of the earth. I did him a favor once; sort of mouse-helping-the-lion idea. Just through dumb luck I found out about this expedition. The government agents in New York found out I'd found out and sent for me to tell. But I didn't, and I didn't write the story either. Doyle heard about that. So, he asked me to come as his guest, and he's promised that after he's landed the expedition and the arms I can write as much about it as I darn please."
"Then you're a reporter?" said David.
"I'm what we call a cub reporter," laughed Carr. "You see, I've always dreamed of being a war correspondent. The men in the office say I dream too much. They're always guying me about it. But, haven't you noticed, it's the ones who dream who find their dreams come true. Now this isn't real war, but it's a near war, and when the real thing breaks loose, I can tell the managing editor I served as a war correspondent in the Cuban-Spanish campaign. And he may give me a real job!"
"And you LIKE this?" groaned David.
"I wouldn't, if I were as sick as you are," said Carr, "but I've a stomach like a Harlem goat." He stooped and lowered his voice. "Now, here are two fake filibusters," he whispered. "The men you read about in the newspapers. If a man's a REAL filibuster, nobody knows it!"
Coming toward them was the tall man who had knocked David out, and the little one who had wanted to tie him to a tree.
"All they ask," whispered Carr, "is money and advertisement. If they knew I was a reporter, they'd eat out of my hand. The tall man calls himself Lighthouse Harry. He once kept a light-house on the Florida coast, and that's as near to the sea as he ever got. The other one is a dare-devil calling himself Colonel Beamish. He says he's an English officer, and a soldier of fortune, and that he's been in eighteen battles. Jimmy says he's never been near enough to a battle to see the red-cross flags on the base hospital. But they've fooled these Cubans. The Junta thinks they're great fighters, and it's sent them down here to work the machine guns. But I'm afraid the only fighting they will do will be in the sporting columns, and not in the ring."
A half dozen sea-sick Cubans were carrying a heavy, oblong box. They dropped it not two yards from where David lay, and with a screwdriver Lighthouse Harry proceeded to open the lid.
Carr explained to David that The Three Friends was approaching that part of the coast of Cuba on which she had arranged to land her expedition, and that in case she was surprised by one of the Spanish patrol boats she was preparing to defend herself.
"They've got an automatic gun in that crate," said Carr, "and they're going to assemble it. You'd better move; they'll be tramping all over you.
David shook his head feebly.
"I can't move!" he protested. "I wouldn't move if it would free Cuba."
For several hours with very languid interest David watched Lighthouse Harry and Colonel Beamish screw a heavy tripod to the deck and balance above it a quick-firing one-pounder. They worked very slowly, and to David, watching them from the lee scupper, they appeared extremely unintelligent.
"I don't believe either of those thugs put an automatic gun together in his life," he whispered to Carr. "I never did, either, but I've put hundreds of automatic punches together, and I bet that gun won't work."
"What's wrong with it?" said Carr.
Before David could summon sufficient energy to answer, the attention of all on board was diverted, and by a single word.
Whether the word is whispered apologetically by the smoking-room steward to those deep in bridge, or shrieked from the tops of a sinking ship it never quite fails of its effect. A sweating stoker from the engine-room saw it first.
"Land!" he hailed.
The sea-sick Cubans raised themselves and swung their hats; their voices rose in a fierce chorus.
"Cuba libre!" they yelled.
The sun piercing the morning mists had uncovered a coast-line broken with bays and inlets. Above it towered green hills, the peak of each topped by a squat blockhouse; in the valleys and water courses like columns of marble rose the royal palms.
"You MUST look!" Carr entreated David. "it's just as it is in the pictures!
"Then I don't have to look," groaned David.
The Three Friends was making for a point of land that curved like a sickle. On the inside of the sickle was Nipe Bay. On the opposite shore of that broad harbor at the place of rendezvous a little band of Cubans waited to receive the filibusters. The goal was in sight. The dreadful voyage was done. Joy and excitement thrilled the ship's company. Cuban patriots appeared in uniforms with Cuban flags pinned in the brims of their straw sombreros. From the hold came boxes of small-arm ammunition of Mausers, rifles, machetes, and saddles. To protect the landing a box of shells was placed in readiness beside the one-pounder.
"In two hours, if we have smooth water," shouted Lighthouse Harry, "we ought to get all of this on shore. And then, all I ask," he cried mightily, "is for some one to kindly show me a Spaniard!"
His heart's desire was instantly granted. He was shown not only one Spaniard, but several Spaniards. They were on the deck of one of the fastest gun-boats of the Spanish navy. Not a mile from The Three Friends she sprang from the cover of a narrow inlet. She did not signal questions or extend courtesies. For her the name of the ocean-going tug was sufficient introduction. Throwing ahead of her a solid shell, she raced in pursuit, and as The Three Friends leaped to full speed there came from the gun-boat the sharp dry crackle of Mausers.
With an explosion of terrifying oaths Lighthouse Harry thrust a shell into the breech of the quick-firing gun. Without waiting to aim it, he tugged at the trigger. Nothing happened! He threw open the breech and gazed impotently at the base of the shell. It was untouched. The ship was ringing with cries of anger, of hate, with rat-like squeaks of fear.
Above the heads of the filibusters a shell screamed and within a hundred feet splashed into a wave.
From his mat in the lee scupper David groaned miserably. He was far removed from any of the greater emotions.
"It's no use!" he protested. "They can't do! It's not connected!"
"WHAT'S not connected?" yelled Carr. He fell upon David. He half-lifted, half-dragged him to his feet.
"If you know what's wrong with that gun, you fix it! Fix it," he shouted, "or I'll--"
David was not concerned with the vengeance Carr threatened. For, on the instant a miracle had taken place. With the swift insidiousness of morphine, peace ran through his veins, soothed his racked body, his jangled nerves. The Three Friends had made the harbor, and was gliding through water flat as a pond. But David did not know why the change had come. He knew only that his soul and body were at rest, that the sun was shining, that he had passed through the valley of the shadow, and once more was a sane, sound young man.
With a savage thrust of the shoulder he sent Lighthouse Harry sprawling from the gun. With swift, practised fingers he fell upon its mechanism. He wrenched it apart. He lifted it, reset, readjusted it.
Ignorant themselves, those about him saw that he understood, saw that his work was good.
They raised a joyous, defiant cheer. But a shower of bullets drove them to cover, bullets that ripped the deck, splintered the superstructure, smashed the glass in the air ports, like angry wasps sang in a continuous whining chorus. Intent only on the gun, David worked feverishly. He swung to the breech, locked it, and dragged it open, pulled on the trigger and found it gave before his forefinger.
He shouted with delight.
"I've got it working," he yelled.
He turned to his audience, but his audience had fled. From beneath one of the life-boats protruded the riding-boots of Colonel Beamish, the tall form of Lighthouse Harry was doubled behind a water butt. A shell splashed to port, a shell splashed to starboard. For an instant David stood staring wide-eyed at the greyhound of a boat that ate up the distance between them, at the jets of smoke and stabs of flame that sprang from her bow, at the figures crouched behind her gunwale, firing in volleys.
To David it came suddenly, convincingly, that in a dream he had lived it all before, and something like raw poison stirred in David, something leaped to his throat and choked him, something rose in his brain and made him see scarlet. He felt rather than saw young Carr kneeling at the box of ammunition, and holding a shell toward him. He heard the click as the breech shut, felt the rubber tire of the brace give against the weight of his shoulder, down a long shining tube saw the pursuing gun-boat, saw her again and many times disappear behind a flash of flame. A bullet gashed his forehead, a bullet passed deftly through his forearm, but he did not heed them. Confused with the thrashing of the engines, with the roar of the gun he heard a strange voice shrieking unceasingly:
"Cuba libre!" it yelled. "To hell with Spain!" and he found that the voice was his own.
The story lost nothing in the way Carr wrote it.
"And the best of it is," he exclaimed joyfully, "it's true!"
For a Spanish gun-boat HAD been crippled and forced to run herself aground by a tug-boat manned by Cuban patriots, and by a single gun served by one man, and that man an American. It was the first sea-fight of the war. Over night a Cuban navy had been born, and into the limelight a cub reporter had projected a new "hero," a ready-made, warranted-not-to-run, popular idol.
They were seated in the pilot-house, "Jimmy" Doyle, Carr, and David, the patriots and their arms had been safely dumped upon the coast of Cuba, and The Three Friends was gliding swiftly and, having caught the Florida straits napping, smoothly toward Key West. Carr had just finished reading aloud his account of the engagement.
You will tell the story just as I have written it," commanded the proud author. "Your being South as a travelling salesman was only a blind. You came to volunteer for this expedition. Before you could explain your wish you were mistaken for a secret-service man, and hustled on board. That was just where you wanted to be, and when the moment arrived you took command of the ship and single-handed won the naval battle of Nipe Bay."
Jimmy Doyle nodded his head approvingly. "You certainty did, Dave," protested the great man, "I seen you when you done it!"
At Key West Carr filed his story and while the hospital surgeons kept David there over one steamer, to dress his wounds, his fame and features spread across the map of the United States.
Burdett and Sons basked in reflected glory. Reporters besieged their office. At the Merchants Down-Town Club the business men of lower Broadway tendered congratulations.
"Of course, it's a great surprise to us," Burdett and Sons would protest and wink heavily. "Of course, when the boy asked to be sent South we'd no idea he was planning to fight for Cuba! Or we wouldn't have let him go, would we?" Then again they would wink heavily. "I suppose you know," they would say, "that he's a direct descendant of General Hiram Greene, who won the battle of Trenton. What I say is, 'Blood will tell!'" And then in a body every one in the club would move against the bar and exclaim: "Here's to Cuba libre!"
When the Olivette from Key West reached Tampa Bay every Cuban in the Tampa cigar factories was at the dock. There were thousands of them and all of the Junta, in high hats, to read David an address of welcome.
And, when they saw him at the top of the gang-plank with his head in a bandage and his arm in a sling, like a mob of maniacs they howled and surged toward him. But before they could reach their hero the courteous Junta forced them back, and cleared a pathway for a young girl. She was travel-worn and pale, her shirt-waist was disgracefully wrinkled, her best hat was a wreck. No one on Broadway would have recognized her as Burdett and Sons' most immaculate and beautiful stenographer.
She dug the shapeless hat into David's shoulder, and clung to him. "David!" she sobbed, "promise me you'll never, never do it again!"
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