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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSoldiers Of Fortune - Chapter XI
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Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter XI Post by :Mark_888 Category :Long Stories Author :Richard Harding Davis Date :March 2011 Read :3678

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Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter XI

There was no chance for Clay to speak to Hope again, though he
felt the cruelty of having to leave her with everything between
them in this interrupted state. But their friends stood about
her, interested and excited over this expedition of smuggled
arms, unconscious of the great miracle that had come into his
life and of his need to speak to and to touch the woman who had
wrought it. Clay felt how much more binding than the laws of
life are the little social conventions that must be observed at
times, even though the heart is leaping with joy or racked with
sorrow. He stood within a few feet of the woman he loved,
wanting to cry out at her and to tell her all the wonderful
things which he had learned were true for the first time that
night, but he was forced instead to keep his eyes away from her
face and to laugh and answer questions, and at the last to go
away content with having held her hand for an instant, and to
have heard her say ``good-luck.''

MacWilliams called Kirkland to the office at the other end
of the Company's wire, and explained the situation to him. He
was instructed to run an engine and freight-cars to a point a
quarter of a mile north of the fort, and to wait there until he
heard a locomotive whistle or pistol shots, when he was to run on
to the fort as quickly and as noiselessly as possible. He was
also directed to bring with him as many of the American workmen
as he could trust to keep silent concerning the events of the
evening. At ten o'clock MacWilliams had the steam up in a
locomotive, and with his only passenger-car in the rear, ran it
out of the yard and stopped the train at the point nearest the
cars where ten of the `Vesta's' crew were waiting. The sailors
had no idea as to where they were going, or what they were to do,
but the fact that they had all been given arms filled them with
satisfaction, and they huddled together at the bottom of the car
smoking and whispering, and radiant with excitement and
satisfaction.

The train progressed cautiously until it was within a half mile
below the fort, when Clay stopped it, and, leaving two men on
guard, stepped off the remaining distance on the ties, his little
band following noiselessly behind him like a procession of ghosts
in the moonlight. They halted and listened from time to time as
they drew near the ruins, but there was no sound except the
beating of the waves on the rocks and the rustling of the
sea-breeze through the vines and creepers about them.

Clay motioned to the men to sit down, and, beckoning to
MacWilliams, directed him to go on ahead and reconnoitre.

``If you fire we will come up,'' he said. ``Get back here as
soon as you can.''

``Aren't you going to make sure first that Kirkland is on the
other side of the fort?'' MacWilliams whispered.

Clay replied that he was certain Kirkland had already arrived.
``He had a shorter run than ours, and he wired you he was ready
to start when we were, didn't he?'' MacWilliams nodded.

``Well, then, he is there. I can count on Kirk.''

MacWilliams pulled at his heavy boots and hid them in the bushes,
with his helmet over them to mark the spot. ``I feel as though I
was going to rob a bank,'' he chuckled, as he waved his hand and
crept off into the underbrush.

For the first few moments the men who were left behind sat
silent, but as the minutes wore on, and MacWilliams made no sign,
they grew restless, and shifted their positions, and began to
whisper together, until Clay shook his head at them, and there
was silence again until one of them, in trying not to cough,
almost strangled, and the others tittered and those nearest
pummelled him on the back.

Clay pulled out his revolver, and after spinning the cylinder
under his finger-nail, put it back in its holder again, and the
men, taking this as an encouraging promise of immediate action,
began to examine their weapons again for the twentieth time, and
there was a chorus of short, muffled clicks as triggers were
drawn back and cautiously lowered and levers shot into place and
caught again.

One of the men farthest down the track raised his arm, and all
turned and half rose as they saw MacWilliams coming toward them
on a run, leaping noiselessly in his stocking feet from tie to
tie. He dropped on his knees between Clay and Langham.

``The guns are there all right,'' he whispered, panting, ``and
there are only three men guarding them. They are all sitting on
the beach smoking. I hustled around the fort and came across the
whole outfit in the second gallery. It looks like a row of
coffins, ten coffins and about twenty little boxes and kegs. I'm
sure that means they are coming for them to-night. They've not
tried to hide them nor to cover them up. All we've got to do is
to walk down on the guards and tell them to throw up their hands.
It's too easy.''

Clay jumped to his feet. ``Come on,'' he said.

``Wait till I get my boots on first,'' begged MacWilliams. ``I
wouldn't go over those cinders again in my bare feet for all the
buried treasure in the Spanish Main. You can make all the noise
you want; the waves will drown it.''

With MacWilliams to show them the way, the men scrambled up the
outer wall of the fort and crossed the moss-covered ramparts at
the run. Below them, on the sandy beach, were three men sitting
around a driftwood fire that had sunk to a few hot ashes. Clay
nodded to MacWilliams. ``You and Ted can have them,'' he said.
``Go with him, Langham.''

The sailors levelled their rifles at the three lonely figures on
the beach as the two boys slipped down the wall and fell on their
hands and feet in the sand below, and then crawled up to within a
few feet of where the men were sitting.

As MacWilliams raised his revolver one of the three, who was
cooking something over the fire, raised his head and with a yell
of warning flung himself toward his rifle.

``Up with your hands!'' MacWilliams shouted in Spanish, and
Langham, running in, seized the nearest sentry by the neck and
shoved his face down between his knees into the sand.

There was a great rattle of falling stones and of breaking vines
as the sailors tumbled down the side of the fort, and in a half
minute's time the three sentries were looking with angry,
frightened eyes at the circle of armed men around them.

``Now gag them,'' said Clay. ``Does anybody here know how to gag
a man?'' he asked. ``I don't.''

``Better make him tell what he knows first,'' suggested Langham.

But the Spaniards were too terrified at what they had done, or at
what they had failed to do, to further commit themselves.

``Tie us and gag us,'' one of them begged. ``Let them find us
so. It is the kindest thing you can do for us.''

``Thank you, sir,'' said Clay. ``That is what I wanted to know.
They are coming to-night, then. We must hurry.''

The three sentries were bound and hidden at the base of the wall,
with a sailor to watch them. He was a young man with a high
sense of the importance of his duties, and he enlivened the
prisoners by poking them in the ribs whenever they moved.

Clay deemed it impossible to signal Kirkland as they had arranged
to do, as they could not know now how near those who were coming
for the arms might be. So MacWilliams was sent back for his
engine, and a few minutes later they heard it rumble heavily past
the fort on its way to bring up Kirkland and the flat cars. Clay
explored the lower chambers of the fort and found the boxes as
MacWilliams had described them. Ten men, with some effort, could
lift and carry the larger coffin-shaped boxes, and Clay guessed
that, granting their contents to be rifles, there must be a
hundred pieces in each box, and that there were a thousand rifles
in all.

They had moved half of the boxes to the side of the track when
the train of flat cars and the two engines came crawling and
twisting toward them, between the walls of the jungle, like a
great serpent, with no light about it but the glow from the hot
ashes as they fell between the rails. Thirty men, equally
divided between Irish and negroes, fell off the flat cars before
the wheels had ceased to revolve, and, without a word of
direction, began loading the heavy boxes on the train and passing
the kegs of cartridges from hand to hand and shoulder to
shoulder. The sailors spread out up the road that led to the
Capital to give warning in case the enemy approached, but they
were recalled before they had reason to give an alarm, and in a
half hour Burke's entire shipment of arms was on the ore-cars,
the men who were to have guarded them were prisoners in the
cab of the engine, and both trains were rushing at full speed
toward the mines. On arriving there Kirkland's train was
switched to the siding that led to the magazine in which was
stored the rack-arock and dynamite used in the blasting. By
midnight all of the boxes were safely under lock in the zinc
building, and the number of the men who always guarded the place
for fear of fire or accident was doubled, while a reserve,
composed of Kirkland's thirty picked men, were hidden in the
surrounding houses and engine-sheds.

Before Clay left he had one of the boxes broken open, and found
that it held a hundred Mannlicher rifles.

``Good!'' he said. ``I'd give a thousand dollars in gold if I
could bring Mendoza out here and show him his own men armed with
his own Mannlichers and dying for a shot at him. How old Burke
will enjoy this when he hears of it!''

The party from the Palms returned to their engine after many
promises of reward to the men for their work ``over-time,'' and
were soon flying back with their hearts as light as the smoke
above them.

MacWilliams slackened speed as they neared the fort, and moved up
cautiously on the scene of their recent victory, but a warning
cry from Clay made him bring his engine to a sharp stop.
Many lights were flashing over the ruins and they could see
in their reflection the figures of men running over the same
walls on which the lizards had basked in undisturbed peace for
years.

``They look like a swarm of hornets after some one has chucked a
stone through their nest,'' laughed MacWilliams. ``What shall we
do now? Go back, or wait here, or run the blockade?''

``Oh, ride them out,'' said Langham; ``the family's anxious, and
I want to tell them what's happened. Go ahead.''

Clay turned to the sailors in the car behind them. ``Lie down,
men,'' he said. ``And don't any of you fire unless I tell you
to. Let them do all the shooting. This isn't our fight yet,
and, besides, they can't hit a locomotive standing still,
certainly not when it's going at full speed.''

``Suppose they've torn the track up?'' said MacWilliams,
grinning. ``We'd look sort of silly flying through the air.''

``Oh, they've not sense enough to think of that,'' said Clay.
``Besides, they don't know it was we who took their arms away,
yet.''

MacWilliams opened the throttle gently, and the train moved
slowly forward, gaining speed at each revolution of the wheels.

As the noise of its approach beat louder and louder on the
air, a yell of disappointed rage and execration rose into the
night from the fort, and a mass of soldiers swarmed upon the
track, leaping up and down and shaking the rifles in their hands.

``That sounds a little as though they thought we had something to
do with it,'' said MacWilliams, grimly. ``If they don't look out
some one will get hurt.''

There was a flash of fire from where the mass of men stood,
followed by a dozen more flashes, and the bullets rattled on the
smokestack and upon the boiler of the engine.

``Low bridge,'' cried MacWilliams, with a fierce chuckle. ``Now,
watch her!''

He threw open the throttle as far as it would go, and the engine
answered to his touch like a race-horse to the whip. It seemed
to spring from the track into the air. It quivered and shook
like a live thing, and as it shot in between the soldiers they
fell back on either side, and MacWilliams leaned far out of his
cab-window shaking his fist at them.

``You got left, didn't you?'' he shouted. ``Thank you for the
Mannlichers.''

As the locomotive rushed out of the jungle, and passed the point
on the road nearest to the Palms, MacWilliams loosened three long
triumphant shrieks from his whistle and the sailors stood up
and cheered.

``Let them shout,'' cried Clay. ``Everybody will have to know
now. It's begun at last,'' he said, with a laugh of relief.

``And we took the first trick,'' said MacWilliams, as he ran his
engine slowly into the railroad yard.

The whistles of the engine and the shouts of the sailors had
carried far through the silence of the night, and as the men came
hurrying across the lawn to the Palms, they saw all of those who
had been left behind grouped on the veranda awaiting them.

``Do the conquering heroes come?'' shouted King.

``They do,'' young Langham cried, joyously. ``We've got all
their arms, and they shot at us. We've been under fire!''

``Are any of you hurt?'' asked Miss Langham, anxiously, as she
and the others hurried down the steps to welcome them, while
those of the `Vesta's' crew who had been left behind looked at
their comrades with envy.

``We have been so frightened and anxious about you,'' said Miss
Langham.

Hope held out her hand to Clay and greeted him with a quiet,
happy smile, that was in contrast to the excitement and
confusion that reigned about them.

``I knew you would come back safely,'' she said. And the
pressure of her hand seemed to add ``to me.''

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The day of the review rose clear and warm, tempered by a lightbreeze from the sea. As it was a fete day, the harbor wore anair of unwonted inactivity; no lighters passed heavily from thelevees to the merchantmen at anchor, and the warehouses along thewharves were closed and deserted. A thin line of smoke from thefunnels of the `Vesta' showed that her fires were burning, andthe fact that she rode on a single anchor chain seemed to promisethat at any moment she might slip away to sea.As Clay was finishing his coffee two notes were brought to himfrom messengers
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Clay and Langham left MacWilliams and Stuart to look after theirprisoner, and returned to the Palms they dined in state,and made no reference, while the women were present, to theevents of the day.The moon rose late that night, and as Hope watched it, from whereshe sat at the dinner-table facing the open windows, she saw thefigure of a man standing outlined in silhouette upon the edge ofthe cliff. He was dressed in the uniform of a sailor, and themoonlight played along the barrel of a rifle upon which heleaned, motionless and menacing, like a sentry on a rampart.Hope opened
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