You may well believe, reader, that we lost no time in leading the way to the pit's mouth, and as quickly as possible urging our Spanish friends there into; but it was one thing to show them the way and quite another to get them to travel it. For, as we considered it yet dangerous to light a candle or a torch, the gleam whereof might betray us to anyone outside the hut, we had to grope in the dark. And it was no easy matter to indicate to the three foreigners, mostly by signs, as we had to, that they must duck beneath the cot, then drop into the pit, one at a time, and thence make their way through the subterranean passage to the cave above in the cliffs.
Methinks there may have been positions in my life almost as trying as this, but not quite. The Don and his daughter were tractable enough, but not so the maidservant, who was prone to shriek out every moment, really believing, I think, that we were going to bury her alive. I knew no more than a dozen or so of Spanish words, and those few would not come at my bidding; while Eli's Spanish was of a kind not readily understood. So there we were, huddled within the hut, all of us, Eli striving with all his might to quiet the servant, I to reassure the Don and the maiden, and John wringing his hands in sheer despair.
Every moment was a precious one, of a surety, for outside there was a noise as of a pursuing party taking up the trail.
At last I let drop the words "subterreanean" and "cave," at which the Don, most fortunately, caught with eagerness, turning to me and saying, "Subterraneo y cueva?" which I at once guessed were Spanish words for an under ground passage and a cave, and said "yes "—si—with equal readiness, grasping at a straw, as it were. Then he turned to his companions, and said something to them in his own tongue in which occurred these words, and I knew he was explaining to them just what we wanted them to do.
Then there was no more delay, for, one after another we dropped into the pit, I leading, the maiden following right after, and then the Don, with the maidservant at his heels. As soon as I had reached the passage leading out from the cave I lighted my torch—being then safely out of sight from any one in or near the hut—and our captives followed the light like moths pursuing a candle flame. There was no more hesitation, and in a few minutes we were all in the great chamber. I first hung a blanket over the vine-draped opening, lest the flicker of a light through it might betray our whereabouts, then motioned to the maiden to seat herself on one of the skin-covered couches, and the Don and servant to do the same. They obeyed with alacrity, and while they reclined at ease Eli and I mixed some wine and water for their refreshment.
Needs not that I should say that they were grateful, when finally assured of safety and the integrity of our intention. The Don rose and embraced me, in true Spanish fashion, calling me "hijo" and "amigo," which I later learned were "son" and "friend; "while the maiden swept me over with a glance so full of gratitude that I felt my face burn with blushes, and was very glad the darkness hid it from the sight of others. The Don also embraced Eli and patted him on the back, pouring forth a torrent—so it seemed to us—of words that it seemed he would never check. We tried to make them understand that they were welcome to all they found in the cave, and also they must not venture out until we gave the word.
The Don shook his head as if to say he understood, and his daughter also nodded; but the serving maid maintained a sullen silence. She had not yet made up her mind that we were incarcerating them with friendly intent, it appeared, and she couldn't forgive Eli for so rudely checking her cries when he clapped his hand over her mouth. But that did not matter, so long as the master and mistress comprehended. We relied on them to lie low and keep out of sight. They had everything they could need for weeks and months in the matter of eatables and drinkables; their only deprivation would be of sunshine and outdoor air. The gloom of the cave might prove oppressive after a while; but that was not our fault. We had done the best we could under the circumstances, as Eli said, and if they preferred to take their chances at being shot or hanged, that they were still privileged to do.
So we left them fairly well content, and went back to face the music—in other words, the hubbub outside—which, by the time we had reached the hut, had swelled almost to a hurricane—what the Indians call an "ouragan." We found John still on guard, but in somewhat of trepidation, for not a few of the brethren had poked their heads in at the door to ask him if he had seen aught of the Spaniards. As he in very truth could say that he had not—the darkness having prevented—they had all departed none the wiser for their visits, he told us.
"Did any of 'em have torches or lanthorns?" asked Eli.
"A few," replied John; "but they didn't appear to be examining the sand for footprints, if that's why you ask."
"That is just why," rejoined Eli, "and the very fust thing for us to do now is to wipe out them telltale footprints. I only hope it ain't too late, that's all. There's three sets of foot-prints, the Don's, the maiden's and the serving woman's, and for the life of me I don't see how we're going to oblit'rate 'em all before the gang gets on the trail."
"Well," said John (and I thought he spoke up pretty frowardly for one of his retiring disposition), "suppose you go out and see if they show up very much, Mr. Eli. I think I am safe in offering you a Portuguese Jo for every woman's footprint you'll find in the sand within bowshot of our hut."
"What? What d' you mean, youngster? There ain't been any storm of rain or anything to wash 'em away. And I know one of them females made a pooty deep print, by the way she dug her heels into the sand as I tried to drag her along. Jewhizzer, but she's a Tartar, that same gal. But I'll go out, just the same, and see what I can see."
Eli soon came back with the information that, so far as he could see by the light of the moon, there wasn't a trace of any woman's shoe-print anywhere to be found. "But they's a lot of blamed big boot-prints that looks if they 'night have been made by a number ten or 'leven boot, and the man that wore 'em drunk at that, near's I can find out, for he seems to have fell down and wallered in the sand every dozen yards or so. Whoever he was, he's done us a mighty big service, lemme tell you, boys; for, blame me, if he hain't destroyed the telltale track clean as a whistle."
"Hush, Eli, not so loud," replied John, at the same time chuckling to himself in a way that it did me good to hear, he had been so solemn and silent ever since lie was wounded.
"But I was the one who wiped out the tracks, and here is what I did it with," he said, reaching under the bed and pulling out a pair of old boots that had belonged to one of the sailors who went to the sharks that gruesome day after the fight in the harbor.
"I just jumped into them, after you had all gone underground, and, as you say, 'wallered about' till I was satisfied there would be no trace of the trail. I didn't want to sit here idle while you and Humphrey were doing everything, did I?"
"Well, I vum to gracious, Jack; I didn't think you had so much gumption. I do believe there's the making of a man in you, after all. Couldn't a done it better myself; no, nor even half so well, Jackie, boy. There ain't a sign now by which them Spaniards can be tracked to this here hut, and if we don't know nothing, but just set still and look wise when the old man comes along to catechize us, why, there won't be nobody the wiser, I figger it out. Leastwise, unless that she cat, the serving woman, gives it all away."
"But, Hump, what we going to do with 'em now we've got 'em—'—as was said before? The way we hustled them poor critters into the cave, without saying's much as 'by your leave,' was a caution to snakes. The whole thing reminds me of a yarn my father used to tell about an exper'ence of his 'n down to Louisburg. He and another soldier went out hunting, and what'd they come up ag'inst but a big bull moose. My father up and let drive as he come a-chargin' straight at him, and hit him square in the centre of his forid, atwixt the eyes, but didn't do nothing but stun'd him a bit, so 't he stumbled to his knees and was kinder dazed, just long 'nough for father to grab him by the antlers. Well, no sooner'd father got a good grip than the moose begun to come to, and the way he did rare and tear, father said, was a caution to snakes and little grasshoppers. But father held on, knowing that his life depended on 't, and was thrown this way and that and shaked up and down through the undergrowth, till he hadn't scarcely a whole stitch of clothes on his back, let alone his legs and arms. As for his gun, he hadn't no sort of an idee where that was, and didn't care, s' long 's he hadn't no chance to load it up and fire another bullet into the critter.
"Well, things went on this way for quite a while, until, just as that air moose had about worn father out, his partner up and comes along and yells for him to hold on—which was about as foolish a piece of advice as he could have given him, seeing's he couldn't do nothing else without running the resk of being gored to death. The man tried to slip up close to the moose on t' other side from where father was last, but he couldn't seem to fix it no how; for father he was being slung this side and that, so 't there wa'n't no locating him at all. But at last he managed to hamstring the brute with his hunting-knife, and then cut his capers short with a bullet in his heart.
"Well, what I was coming at was the sim'larity betwixt father's case and ours: for when I used to ask father what he was thinking of mostly when he was a-being slung about so tormentedly, he used to say that he was a-wishing most for somebody to help him let go that moose!
"See the p'int, hey? Here we've got our fine Spaniards safe in our castle, so to speak, and so far 's we know there ain't any reason why we can't keep 'em there; but how, and when, in the name of all tarnation, are we going to let go of 'em, hey?"
"I don't know, Eli, I'm sure. But let's leave that trouble till we have to meet it. God showed us a way to get them there without bloodshed, and that's more than we expected a few hours ago, wasn't it?"
"It was that, Hump, my boy. We done our dooty and God helped us. There aint no getting away from that, sure 's we're alive. And I do believe that if we continue to do our dooty—as I'm sure we shall—He will help us some more. Now, what do you say?"
"You know our sentiments, Eli—Jack's and mine. If it wasn't for some sort of a faith like that—but there, you'll say I'm preaching."
"Not a bit, old feller. Heave ahead. That ain't preaching—it's only clenching an argyment. Still, it ain't no use to waste breath trying to prove what's as plain 's the nose on your face. It was providential, and let it go at that."
"Hist, here comes somebody with a light. It's old Jaques, sure 's I'm a sinner. Hola, Jaques, old boy, what's up?"
"Alt, mon ami, zat yo, eh? Vat ees oop, you say, eh? Vell, all is oop, all is ovair; ze Espagnoles, zey haiv aiscape. Sacre tombeau!"
"What, the Spaniards have escaped? When? Where are they?"
"Sacre fou! how ees eet I shall know, ze where and ze when? Eet is suffisamment zat zey air gone; vamoose, ze bag and ze baggage. Non, not all, ze—vat you call?—ze sailor men, zey all join ze fraternite."
"Oh, ah, so the sailors have joined the brotherhood, hey? That is good. You hear that, Hump?" [In an aside to me]
"That will set your mind easy."
"So nobody is to be shot—eh, Jaques?"
"Non—that is, nobody but me; only Jaques he is to be shot!"
"Nonsense, man, you're joking. Why should you be shot, hey?"
"Oh, nozing; only it was I zat guard ze Espagnoles, and—and—zey aiscape, zat is all. N'importe—it don't matter nozing. Je suis content. M'sieu Eli, have you ze tabac pour la pipe? I vill to smoke.
"Yes, yes, here's tobacco—all you want. But look here. They won't shoot you, Jaques; will they now, honest Injun?"
"Sure. Why not? Ze Capitaine Mansvelt he say so; Morgan he say so."
"But why did you leave your post, Jaques? You might have known."
"Oui, oui, certainement. I know; but I have —what you call?—ze soif ze great thirst, and I go to get ze vin, or ze rum—only one leetle demi heure, and when I return zey have depart. Eh bien, give me ze light. En peu de feu, si'l vows plait, M'sieu Eli."
"This is awful," I said to Eli, in a whisper. What can we do?"
"Do? Why I shall see Mansvelt at once. I vum, but I'm glad it wa'n't my wine did the business. Poor old Jaques! He sha'n't be shot, though, not if I have to stand in his place."