I was still thinking of Falstead when a sharp cry reached me from the yard outside, followed by a prolonged scuffling noise. Then there was a heavy fall, another, and yet another. After that all was silence once more.
"What on earth is the matter?" I asked myself. "It sounded like a struggle of some sort. Can they by any chance have captured Ferguson, and have brought him here to be my fellow-prisoner?"
A few moments later some one approached my door. A key was placed in the lock and turned, then the door opened, and a man, carrying a lantern, entered quickly, closing the door behind him. The upper half of his face was hidden by a black mask. My astonishment may be imagined when, after he had removed it, I discovered that he was none other than Don Jose de Hermanos.
"Hush!" he began, holding up his hand as a sign to me not to speak. "I want you to listen to what I have to say, and not to interrupt me until I have finished. In the first place, let me inform you that the President has discovered everything! While you were talking to him to-night at the ball, he knew why you were in Equinata, and, what is more, had already laid his plans to effect your arrest. The reason why he did it so secretly, and why you were not taken to the regular cartel, is because he does not want, for reasons of his own, to attract public attention just at present. I was warned in time, but was unable to communicate with you. Now, by a stratagem, we have overpowered your gaolers, and you are free!"
"But where am I?" I asked, in the same low voice.
"In the old cartel on the outskirts of the town," Hermanos replied.
"Now I want you to pay attention to what I am about to say to you.
There is still time to retrieve matters, if we go the proper way to work about it. The President, when he left the ball to-night--and now you will be able to understand his reasons for leaving so early--drove out to consult with General Mopaxus, who is lying ill at his house six miles distant on the road to Sarba.s.sa. The road in question is hilly, and it will take him at least an hour to get there. We will say that he remains with the General an hour. In that case, he should not reach the Capital until four o'clock at the earliest. Word must be sent to the captain of the yacht to shift his moorings and to have a boat ash.o.r.e at the little bay of h.o.r.ejos at three o'clock. h.o.r.ejos is three miles outside the city, and Fernandez will have to pa.s.s through the village on his way home. We must catch him at any hazard."
"How many men have you with you?"
"Seven," he replied.
"Can they be relied upon?"
"To the death! They know that their own safety depends upon getting Fernandez out of the way. Four of them he has suspected for some time past. They would prefer to shoot him, and so make sure of him, but as there are definite orders against that, they feel that the next best thing they can do is to get him out of the country. And between ourselves, that is exactly my own case."
"And what about the Guards here?"
"They are safe for the present," he answered. "But no time must be lost, for it is more than likely that at daybreak others will come to take their places."
"And how am I to communicate with Ferguson?"
He fumbled in his pocket for a moment.
"Here is a sheet of paper, an envelope, and a pencil. He knows your writing, of course. When you have written it, one of my men shall take it aboard. If he has to get steam up, there is not any too much time for him to do so. Every moment is of the utmost importance."
I forthwith pencilled a hasty note to the captain, bidding him get up steam, weigh anchor, and have a boat ash.o.r.e in h.o.r.ejos Bay at three o'clock, and stand by to leave Equinata at latest by four o'clock.
This note I handed to Hermanos, and when I had done so, followed him from the cell.
Once outside, I found myself in a large yard, illuminated by the bright moonlight. I looked about me for the bodies of my captors, but was informed by my companion that they had been securely bound and placed in an adjoining cell. On hearing our steps, six figures appeared from the shadow of the wall. They did not speak, but at a sign from Hermanos, one went on ahead and opened the gates, whereupon two of them pa.s.sed out. After an interval of some thirty seconds, two more disappeared in the same mysterious fashion, the remaining pair making themselves scarce when the same duration of time had elapsed.
"Now it is our turn," Hermanos whispered. "With the exception of the man who has gone to the yacht, each company will proceed to the rendezvous by different routes through the city. Fernandez has spies everywhere, and we must be careful that our behaviour does not attract their attention. To that end I have brought this poncho and hat for you."
I had noticed a bundle upon the ground, and had wondered what it might be. My own hat had disappeared, goodness only knows where. So placing the sombrero on my head, I pulled the poncho over my shoulders, and then we, in our turn, left the cartel.
As Hermanos had said, the lock-up was on the outskirts of the city, and the locality through which he led me was quite unknown to me.
What was the end of our adventure to be?
It was evident to me that Hermanos had laid his plans most carefully, for some hundred and fifty to two hundred yards from the gate, we found a vehicle of the _volante_ description awaiting our coming. We entered it, and the driver, without asking for instructions, set off at a sharp pace. We had proceeded some distance before Don Jose spoke.
"I hope you understand, Senor Trevelyan," he said at last, "what a serious risk I am running on your account?"
"Many thanks," I replied. "I am afraid, however, you do me too much honour. I fancy if it had only been a question of _my_ safety, I should have had to appeal to you for some time before I should have had your a.s.sistance."
I spoke out of the bitterness of my heart, half expecting that my words would offend him. To my surprise, however, they did not do so.
He only laughed in a quiet way, and then lapsed into silence once more. The carriage rattled through the silent streets, and at length pa.s.sed out into the open country on the other side. So far we had not attracted attention. Eventually we pulled up at the foot of a steep hill, one side of which was formed by the mountain, the other looking down upon a stretch of plain, beyond which again was the open sea.
"We must climb this hill," said Hermanos, "and when we have descended it again we shall be at the rendezvous. Let us hope Fernandez has not made his appearance yet."
We accordingly alighted from the vehicle, and, when we had seen it return citywards, began to climb the steep ascent. At the summit, and just before the hill begins to descend on the other side, were three palms. When we reached these my companion uttered a low and peculiar whistle. It was answered from the shadow, and a moment later a figure emerged from the darkness and stood before us. Hermanos went to him and said something in an undertone which I did not hear.
"It's all right," he remarked when he returned to me. "Fernandez has not returned yet. They are watching for him in the valley below, and we had better join them."
"With all my heart," I replied, for, as you may suppose, I was eager to have the business over and done with.
We accordingly descended the hill in the direction indicated. The road here was little better than a cart-track, and one that I should have been very sorry to drive along on a dark night. In the moonlit valley below could be seen the little fishing village of h.o.r.ejos. I examined my watch and discovered that it wanted twenty minutes to three o'clock. Needless to say, I profoundly hoped that Ferguson had received my message, and that we should find the boat awaiting us.
When we reached the foot of the hill, it was to discover that the road ran between two walls of rock. Blasting operations were accountable at this point for the existence of the track, which would otherwise have been impa.s.sable. On the top of the rock on the right, and continuing up the hill-side, was a thick wood, in which it would have been possible for some hundreds of men to have lain concealed. Behind the rock on the other side was a gentle slope continuing to within a few dozen yards of the sh.o.r.e. All things considered, a better place for the work we had in hand could scarcely have been imagined. It would have been out of the question for two carriages to have pa.s.sed abreast, owing to the width of the road; and one glance was sufficient to show me that it would be quite possible for a determined man to bring a vehicle to a standstill at such a spot. That Hermanos was in a state of considerable trepidation regarding his share in the business I could see. From what he had already said to me I gathered that, had he not advanced so far in the business, he would even at the eleventh hour have drawn back. Had he been left to himself, he would doubtless have allowed General Fernandez' rule to continue without bothering himself about Silvestre. Unfortunately, however, Silvestre had obtained too great a hold upon him, and, in consequence, in order to cover the shortcomings of his own past, he had been compelled to take up arms at the very juncture when he was most desirous of remaining quietly in the background. Who the men with him were I had no sort of idea, nor did he inform me. That they were desperate like himself I could very well imagine.
When we reached the spot just described, Hermanos again gave utterance to the low and peculiar whistle I have already mentioned. This whistle was answered by another, and then a voice from the darkness said in Spanish, "All is well! He has not pa.s.sed yet!"
A moment later a man scrambled down the bank and stood before us. He wore a poncho, and had a broad-brimmed sombrero.
"No sign of him yet, Luiz?" Hermanos said.
"No, there is no sign yet, senor," the other replied. "But he can't be long now. In another hour it will begin to grow light, and if he does not come before daybreak, then our opportunity will be gone."
"When he comes, what do you propose to do?" I inquired.
"I thought that when the carriage arrives here some of us would appear in the road and stop the horses, while you go to the door and cover the President with your revolver."
I should here remark that when Hermanos had handed me the hat and poncho, he had also given me a heavy Colt's revolver.
"And having done that?" I asked, more for the sake of seeing what he would say than for any other reason.
"March him down by the path yonder to the sea, put him into the boat, and take him out to the yacht," he answered. "After that you can do with him as you please."
"I trust the boat has arrived," I said. "Is there no way of finding out? We ought to make sure of that!"
"I will send a man to see," he replied, and then ordered the individual named Luiz to go to the beach and discover whether the boat was there.
The fellow made off; and after he had left us we walked a little further down the road and seated ourselves upon the bank. A quarter of an hour pa.s.sed, during which time we discussed everything but the business before us. Then the messenger returned with the information that the boat was waiting for us, a couple of hundred yards or so away, in charge of the chief officer.
"So far, all is well," I said, and as I spoke the sound of wheels reached us from the distance.
"He is coming," Hermanos exclaimed, springing to his feet; then, turning to the man who had just returned from the beach, he cried: "Call the others, Luiz!"
« Previous My Bookmarks Chapters Next»