W. Victor Cook
Author of “The Shark’s Cage,” “Ben Hanan’s Title-Deeds," etc.
IT had been rather a tedious fortnight for Donald Bruce and his Catalan friend, Pablo Pajarillo, the “Little Bird,” while the French authorities investigated the Andorran frontier affair in which they had been concerned. The court had finished with them at last, and both the young Scot and the old Spaniard had been handsomely complimented on behalf of the Government upon the part they had played in a business which had resulted in the unearthing of a dastardly conspiracy to convey to German agents in Spain information as to the movements of Allied shipping in the southern French ports.
“To-morrow, Little Bird,” said Bruce, as they walked that morning beside the broad river, “we shall be able to return to Barcelona, and you w'ill at last have the satisfaction of seeing again your wife and family, whom I hope you will find in the best of health.”
The long, gaunt old Catalan took the cigar from between his lips, and held it thoughtfully for some moments between his wrinkled, brown fingers. “Quiera á Dios!” he piously said. “Yet I am not so sure, Señor Bruce. I am anxious, as you know, to see my poor wife, from whom I have now' been separated for seven months. But last night I met a man whom I know.”
“So did I, Pablo mió. I wonder if it was the same. I met the French lieutenant—you remember Casimir Fanelle, whom we helped to blow' up the Boche submarine off Soller? He commands a submarine of his own now. She is dowm at the mouth of the
The older man’s dark, deep-set eyes showed a momentary gleam of interest, but he shook his head. “I remember. But it was not he. It w'as a black villain named Carril. If what he said is true, I fear there may be yet another delay before we see Barcelona.”
“Little Bird,” said Bruce with a faint smile, “I believe you smell adventure again. But would a black villain be likely to tell the truth?”
“The very question I asked myself, señor. Yet they say that when thieves fall out, honest men come by their own. And this fellow Carril has certainly fallen out with his captain. I can never forget that these accursed Boches drowmed my poor brother Pedro there in the Gulf of Lyons. Besides, there is my bargain with your honorable firm to consider. If this Carril’s story is true, it may be that I can earn yet another of the generous rewards offered by the Señores M'llroy, M’llroy, and M'Allister.”
Donald Bruce smiled again. When the Little Bird spoke thus, there was certainly something useful on his mind.
“You forget, Pablo, I do not yet know who this Carril is.”
Pajarillo pointed with the smoking end of his cigar to a steamer lying out
in the stream. “He is the wireless operator on the Spanish steamer Mosca. She has brought mules and provisions from South America, and she sails again tomorrow for Spain to re-victual for another voyage. It seems she has been bringing mules for the past six months.” “In that case she is working on the right side, my friend.”
“Quien sabe! She is making money both ways, Señor Bruce.”
“How do you mean?”
The Little Bird took a long pull with closed eyes, and exhaled the blue smoke slowly before replying. “It seems that her captain has friends in Spain, who in their turn have friends in Berlin. It seems there is a curious secret about La Mosca. The captain, it seems, has other friends in South America, who, again, have friends in Berlin. It seems that whenever she passes the neighborhood of the Azores, she somehow contrives to leave something in the sea which is not mentioned on her papers. It seems also that a number of ships near which she has passed on one or another of her voyages have not been heard of again.”
“Spurlos versenkt!” muttered the Scot. “What did you say, señor!”
“Nothing. Go on, Little Bird. ’ The Scot’s lips set tight.
“There is nothing else of importance, Señor Bruce, except that down there, in South America, this Carril and the captain of La Mosca are both interested in the same lady. I gather that the lady is more interested in Carril—there is no accounting for the taste of some ladies. And both of them are very much afraid of the captain. But Señor Carril is persuaded that if he could rid himself of the captain without making too disagreeable a scene, he could prevail on the lady to avail herself of his devotion, and of the wealth which his villainy has amassed. Do I make myself clear?”
“Not entirely, Pablo. It would be interesting to know the nature of this commodity which the captain of La Mosca leaves in the sea.”
The Little Bird gave his grave smile. “This Carril is a difficult fellow.” said he. “He talks in metaphors. But if he is to be believed, the captain is interested in the culture of bulbs, and is in the habit of leaving specimens which he has collected, to be planted in a special spot where they may enjoy the benefits of the warm southern sun and the ocean breezes.”
“I do not profess to know much about bulbs,” said Bruce, “but I had an idea they throve best in a northern clime. In the interests of science, it would be good to obtain a few of these specimens.”
“It might be very dangerous, Señor Bruce,” said the Catalan.
THE young Scotsman stood with folded arms, staring out upon the broad river. Presently he turned sharply, the light dancing in his gray northern eyes. “Little Bird, I have an idea. But first tell me, why should this fellow Carril give you this information?”
“As to that,” said the Spaniard, “this Carril, knowing me for a man of some judgment, and, if I may say so, of some resource—we were acquainted when I was a contrabandista in the south—considered that between us he and I might devise some scheme whereby we might divide a substantial reward.”
“I guessed as much,” replied Bruce. “We must see that neither of you is disappointed, Pablo mio.”
“He is an arrant villain,” the Little Bird objected.
“We are not concerned with his morals,” answered the Scot. “The only question is, how far is he to be trusted?”
“One can trust a traitor just as far, to an inch, as his interest and his safety coincide, and not an inch beyond.”
“I agree. And if one promises, one must give security to such a one for the fulfilment. So far my plan will secure us. Little Bird, I am going to lunch with lieutenant Fanelle. I invite you to accompany me.”
“But you will not consult the authorities!” The Catalan’s wrinkled face was blank at the notion of official interference.
Donald Bruce patted him on the shoulder. “A naval officer is not like a government official. He is a man of sense, who acts first, and talks very little afterwards. On this occasion we cannot do what ought to be done without some outside help. Come!”
A couple of hours afterwards, in a private room at the little restaurant where they lunched, the three conspirators arranged the final details of the plan which Bruce had thought out beside the river.
“Ma foi, but you are bold, Monsieur Bruce,” said the young lieutenant. “It is a great risk that you run. You ought to be in the navy. As for my commandant, I will answer for his permission. Our big friend here will have to accompany me in my little ship—as a mere formality, bien entendu, for I trust him as I do yourself. And before we start he must find a way of dropping a hint to this creature Carril. You make your attempt, then, tonight. If you do not return before dawn, we shall know that this rascally Spanish skipper has swallowed the bait, and we shall make our dispositions accordingly. If he does not take the bait, you will not need to risk your life, but, on the other hand, an important part of our object may be unattained. In that case you, as well as your friend here, will make the trip with me.”
“Monsieur le lieutenant, I hope to succeed with my bait,” said Bruce.
“Bonne chance!" exclaimed the officer as they parted with a handshake.
''pHE night fell dark and still and warm.
In the sternsheets of a little patrol launch Donald Bruce sat stripped to the skin, but with a small bundle of clothes tied on his back. Five hundred yards above the point at which the dark bulk of the Mosca loomed in the tideway he slipped silently into the water, and with slow, regular strokes let himself be carried towards the vessel. She lay in complete darkness save for her riding lights. Bruce seized her thick mooring chain, and after waiting a few minutes to recover his full breath, sent up a cautious hail in Spanish. At first there was no reply, but a second and louder hail was followed by the annearance of a man at the peak of the fo’c’sle. A surly voice inquired who called.
“For the love of God, fetch the Señor Copilan,” said Bruce. “It is a matter of life and death !”
“Who are you?” repeated the voice.
“The captain! Fetch the captain!” gasped the Scot, as one in dire extremity.
The figure disappeared, and presently reappeared with another. “I am the captain of the Mosca. Who the devil are you in the water?”
The tone was uninviting in the last degree, but Bruce had not looked for cordiality. “One who craves a word with you. Señor Copitan, on a business of life and
death. I beg you, pull me aboard. I have money.”
The captain laughed gruffly. “Por Dios, that is a good thing to have.” Bruce heard an order given, and presently a rope splashed near the ship’s cut-water.
“Catch hold, and cling tight,” he was directed. A few moments later he was hauled up, none too gently, and in the dim light on the ship’s deck found himself face to face with a stout black-bearded man, in whose hand he,perceived a naked knife.
LIKE a man in the last stage of exhaustion, Bruce dropped to the deck. “I am an Englishman, Señor Capitán,” he panted. “I live in Barcelona, but I have been staying in France. But now the French government is making all Englishmen serve in the army, and, valga-meDios, I do not want to serve in the army. I am afraid. I confess it, I am afraid. You are about to cross the ocean. I beg you to take me with you—away from these horrible lands of war. I have money with me—three thousand francs, and I have friends across the sea who will pay as much again.”
“Who told you I was crossing the ocean, my brave Señor Chicken-Liver?” demanded the Spaniard with an oath.
“It is known at the docks where the ships are going,” answered Bruce. “Señor Capiton, I will work my passage. I will stoke. I will do anything to escape this
“Show me your money,” came the order; and Bruce, shivering, unrolled his wet clothes and produced a wad of notes.
“Paper!” snorted the captain. “Paper money is at a large discount over there, my friend. Gold would have been better.” He thrust forward a villainous face till the black bristles of his beard almost touched the Scotsman. His knife gleamed as he held it up.
“Cowardly dog,” he hissed, “tell me what is to prevent me from putting your money in my pocket, and sticking this knife into your carcase, and throwing you overboard again?”
“Nothing,” Bruce replied, with a steadiness somewhat out of keeping with the part he was playing. “Only in that case, captain, you would deprive yourself of the further sum which my friends on the other side would pay.”
The skipper lowered his knife. “True,” he grunted. “These friends of yours must be great fools to part with good money for such a creature as you. Follow me, Chicken-Liver.”
Bruce followed the captain down a hatchway. In the light of a swinging lamp the Spaniard stood to count the notes in his hand, and to glare from them to the Scot. A sardonic grin overspread his dark face.
“The money is all right,” he announced. “You are a favorite of fortune, ChickenLiver. It happens that I want a stoker. While you remain on this ship, therefore, your name will be Juan Calin of Valencia. 1 advice you to remember it well.” He pushed open a door, and Bruce followed him inside the close, ill-smelling forecabin. In the first berth they came to lay a dead man. The captain called hoarsely, “Pedro!”
A hawk-faced, shambling fellow in shirt-sleeves tumbled out of one of the other hunks and approached, eyeing the naked Scot with a squint of curiosity.
“Juan Calin is dead, Pedro,” said the captain. “The stokehold was too hard for him. Well, I have found you another who answers to the name. Viva Juan
Calin ! He loves work as a pig loves acorns. Don’t you, Chicken-Liver?" Here the captain gave Bruce a poke of facetious humour. “He is not accustomed to stoke, but he has brought a hundred francs which he is anxious to give to you and your fellows for the trouble you are going to have in teaching him. Put something heavy on Juan Calin primero, and drop him in the river before dawn. Take off his clothes, and give them to Juan Calin segundo, whose own clothes had better go down with Juan Calin primero into the river. You follow me?”
“I follow you, captain,” said the squinting rascal.
“Juan Calin segunda must look the part before the inspection,” said the captain. “Keep an eye on him, and keep him busy. I rely on you, Pedro.”
The squinting Pedro grinned appreciation of the position. “I will teach him his trade, mi capitan. Trust me.”
'T'HE fortnight which Donald Bruce spent in the bowels of the Mosca was a period on which he afterwards looked back as a nightmare of humiliation and torment. Nothing but a dogged obstinacy of purpose and an unusually sound constitution pulled him through it. Something of his story seemed to have got about the ship, and he was a butt for the jeers of every mar. on board. The crew, from the skipper down, were as sinister a lot of desperados as he had ever imagined could be collected in one ship’s company— the very sweepings of the ports of Spain. He had the clear conviction that any hour of his life on board might well prove to be his last. Often, as he sweated, grimy and half-fainting, at the bunkers and the furnaces, he realized with bitterness that had he had foreknowledge of what his adventure would cost him, he would never have been mad enough to undertake it. As the days passed, the belief deepened in him that there was a deliberate intention on the part of those into w'hose power he had given himself that he should never reach the other side of the Atlantic alive. Even before the ship left Europe, while they lay off a Spanish port taking in sup-
plies, his position had become so bad that he was sorely tempted to throw up the sponge, and try to swim ashore. But the squint-eyed Pedro was as good as his word, and Bruce never had an opportunity to try so desperate an experiment. So with grim obstinacy he settled down to lie on the bed which he had made, and await the outcome of the adventure.
Only once or twice during the voyage did he come within speaking distance of Carril, the wireless operator.
T'HE first occasion was when they were A a few days out from Europe. Bruce had come up on deck for a breath of fresh air after a sweltering turn at the furnaces. He was leaning over the side, idly watching the heaving blue ocean floor across which the ship was sliding at a good pace. The strong-winged gulls were flying steadily astern, ana the Sect sadly contrasted his present condition with their magnificent freedom.
Some one passed slowly behind Bruce along the deck. As the man passed, Bruce heard distinctly the three words: “Watch the wake!” spoken in a low, clear tone. He turned and saw Carril, but Carril did not look back.
Bruce moved off to a position from which he could see the ship’s wake, lying like a broadening white ribbon across the calm blue of the sea. About a mile away he thought he saw the top of a periscope low in the water. No one else seemed to have observed it, and even as he watched it, it submerged.
The second time he saw Carril was on an eventful day—eventful, because on the morning of that day Donald had made an important discovery. He made it by accident, and was surprised that a device so simple had not occurred to him before.
The Mosca had been making heavy weather of it for a couple of days, but that morning the sky had cleared and the sea had somewhat abated. Bruce judged roughly that they must be nearing the Azores group. He had been sent by Pedro with a message to the cook’s galley. The cook, a wrinkled Chinaman, had taken pity oii the grimy stoker, and presented
him with a tit-bit. The Scot was surreptitiously devouring it behind the galley door, when he saw the black-bearded captain of the ship encounter the chief engineer outside, and heard the captain say: “We must test the springs. The water she has been shipping may have got to the mechanism. When will you do it?”
“The sooner the better. Come now,” was the answer. They moved off together.
Bruce put his head out of the galley and watched them go down an alley-way which led, as he knew, to the extreme after-part of the vessel. Bruce, who was not altogether a novice is seafaring matters, suddenly had an inspiration. He had kept his eyes open since he had been on board the Mosca, and he had noticed—though at the time it had conveyed nothing to his mind—that the ship had an unusually full stern, with an unusual mass of overhang. It was to that quarter of the vessel that the captain and the chief had gone like conspirators to “test the springs.” It suddenly flashed upon him that it was there the Mosca carried her secret cargo, which at the chosen time and place those “springs” were to release.
DRUCE dared not follow the two officers, but he returned to the stifling stokehold with a new elation. After all, he had not gone through the inferno of this voyage in vain. That evening, just after sundown, he was smoking on deck when Carril came along in the dusk, a cigar in his mouth. Passing close beside the Scot, Carril let his cigar fall, and stooped to pick it up. “To-morrow. Six bells in the morning watch,” said the Spaniard slowly and clearly as he picked up his cigar. Again he passed on without further notice of the man beside him.
With dismay Bruce realized that it would be his watch on duty. But on second thoughts his dismay gave -way to satisfaction. For, he reflected, if he were in his bunk when the crucial moment came, it would be a difficult, if not impos-
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sible, matter for him to get on deck without arousing suspicion. On the other hand, the heat of the stokehold in these subtropical latitudes would give him. if he went to work carefully, the plausible opportunity which he sought. It was no uncommon thing for men to faint at the furnaces. He had fainted once before himself, and he knew what would follow. The unconscious man would be carried on deck. A bucket of sea-water would be flung unceremoniously over his halfnaked body, and he would be left to recover as best he might.
Having made up his mind on his course of action, Bruce carried it through with characteristic determination. Midnight came, and he went to the stokehold with his mates. By way of preparing his way, he told the man next him, soon after the work had started, that he felt very queer that night. A quarter of an hour before six bells—that is to say, at 2.45 a.m., Bruce contrived a fainting-fit which would have done credit to any melodrama, right in front of the raging mouth of the furnace he was about to feed. Another stoker was close at hand—the Scot had made sure of that—and with a great deal of cursing Bruce was lifted and carried on deck, where the programme he had foreseen was carried out to the letter. He was even so fortunate that the engineer in charge of the watch ordered a man fling a tarpaulin over him when he had been well soused with sea-water. Then they left him to his own devices. It had all happened so quickly that Bruce began to fear that some one would come to look for him again before six bells sounded.
From where he lay he could see the dim outline of the steamer’s bridge, and the shape of two men standing near the wheel-house.
Suddenly a light flashed from the bridge —once, twice, thrice—a ray from a strong electric torch. There was no other signalling that Bruce could see, but almost immediately the bridge telegraph rang half-speed, and then dead slow. One of the figures left the bridge, and presently two men, whom by their step Bruce knew in the darkness for the captain and the chief-engineer, passed along the communication-bridge leading to the poop.
D EMOVING his shoes, he stole along the after-deck below them and a little in their rear. He had been so intent on his plan that up to this time he had not noticed that the ship was showing no lights. The circumstance facilitated his cautious ascent of the poop ladder, and he hastened to conceal himself under a boat slung on its davits. The ship was still going dead slow, and Bruce, creeping aft, could make out the forms of the two men stooping over the deck. He had got within half-a-dozen yards of them, though still sheltered by the boat, when one of them uncovered a flash-lamp, and he started back into the shadow. The Spaniards, however, were too intent on their business to look about them. Bruce clearly saw them raise a plank of the deck, and insert into something just beneath a thing like a steel bar; then the lamp was switched off.
“Now!” came the captain’s voice.
The two threw their joint weight on the lever, shoving it hard over. There was an indistinct rumbling from well below the deck, followed by a heavy splash
in the water alongside. Bruce peered over the rail, but the Mosca was still forging ahead slowly, and he could see nothing. He heard the captain sing out to the bridge for full steam, and glancing back to the deck, saw that the bar had been taken out, and the plank replaced in position.
The Scot began to steal back towards the poop ladder. In doing so it was his bad luck, notwithstanding his caution, to stumble slightly on a projection of some deck fittings.
In a moment there was a hail from behind him. “Quien se mueve?’’ An angry oath followed as Bruce ran for the ladder, but the flash-lamp caught him ere he reached it. He heard the captain’s fierce exclamation: “It is the Englishman!
Por Dios, a spy!”
Well knowing there would be no mercy for him if caught, Bruct instinctively rushed back behind his boat. A revolver bullet followed him, splintering the gunwhale of the boat as he dived behind it. Next moment he realized the trap into which he had run. His pursuers took an end of the boat each. The captain’s light was on him, remorseless, unescapable. For a moment both his enemies seemed to hesitate to shoot for fear of hitting one another. In his desperate situation the young Scot seized a desperate chance. The ray of the flash-lamp showed him a row of life-belts slung on the side of the boat above him, ready for immediate use in the emergencies of the times. Tugging with frenzied strength at one of these, he broke the sun-rotted cord which held it, and without a moment’s hesitation leaped overboard as two shots rang out together.
UE lost the life-belt in his wild plunge, A A (jived deep to escape the screw, and presently came to the surface gasping for breath, and seized with the physical panic that the strongest swimmer may on occasion experience. Fighting it down with a great effort of will, he looked about for the steamer. She was already at some distance, and showed no intention of altering course. Putting a strong curb on his fear, Bruce swam slowly in the direction he calculated his life-belt must have taken, and, after some terrible minutes, he had the unspeakable relief of sighting it from the crest of a wave. Having secured it, he rested on the heaving waters, and tried to envisage his position.
If the sharks did not get him, he might last a few hours before exhaustion set in. His fate lay with a shocking literalness between the devil and the deep sea.
But what was it the Mosca had dropped into the ocean? Whatever it was, logic told him it must be floating, and that it must sooner or later be picked up. He wondered bow far the steamer had come since he had heard that great splash. Things had happened so quickly that he told himself, hoping against hope, it could not be very far. And he set himself, guided by the stars, to swim doggedly back along what he conceived to have been the vessels’s course.
Though the water was not cold, Bruce, weakened by his toil in the stokehold and by bad feeding, soon found himself wearied out. He ceased struggling on, and floated limply, clinging to his life-belt, half-minded to give up the hopeless contest with the immensity of ocean, and let himself go for good and all. How long he had been in the water he could form no notion. It seemed to have been an eternity.
The night was not so dark as it had been. Bruce thought it must be the dawn coming, and when the waning crescent of the moon slid up out of the heaving waste in the east he thought he must be going light-headed. For it meant he had not been in the water an hour. The silvery light lay in a shivering lane across the ocean, a lane of which he seemed to make one end and the moon the
Suddenly the heart of the despairing man seemed to stand still. In that faint path of light something was moving besides the waves which heaved him up and lowered him into their troughs—a small black object, like the projecting top of a sunken mast. It was moving slowly towards him, a little obliquely.
Even in the first shock of amazement he knew, of course, what it was. It could be nothing else but a submarine. And in a passion of suddenly renewed hope he set himself to swim so that he might cross its path through the water. Fear lent strength to his limbs, for he realized how remote was the possibility of success. He discarded the life-belt as an encumbrance, even though, he knew he would never have strength to recover it, should he lose in this gamble for life or death.
AND Bruce won! Five yards less progress on his part, and he would have drowned. But he met the rising swirl of water and the slowly moving periscope fairly in its course, and next moment he had encircled the dark upright with arms and legs, and was being borne along with it through the sea. Even in the moment of success a cold horror seized him at the thought that the vessel might submerge completely. Friend or foe, down in that invisible abode of life beneath the uneasy waters, must be equally unconscious of his presence. At any moment, in their ignorance, they might send him to death by the touch of a lever.
The agony of the young man’s position quickened his wits for a last bout with fortune. One of the useful things he had learned in the course of a not uneventful life was the Morse code. Barking his knuckles at every blow, he struck out desperately on the metal shaft to which he clung the longs and the shorts for the one word ‘Help.’ He waited with a frightful anxiety for the result. There was none, save that the swirl of the water about him seemed greater, and that the periscope appeared to move faster through the waves. Again Bruce hammered out his four letters on the shaft. Still the periscope moved on. He felt his muscles failing, and knew that he could not hold on much longer. The splash of the water as the ship drove thn.ugh it smothered him every few moments, blinding and confusing him.
Then suddenly he realized that the seas were swamping him no longer. His limbs, unaided by the water, were taking his full weight. Glancing down, he perceived the conning-tower emerge from the waves, and then, sparkling with green phosphorescence like shot silk, the line of the decks came into view. The watertight door of the conning-tower opened, and a man came out.
“Help!” cried Bruce, and tumbled limply as a strong hand seized him.
A FTER a blank interval the Scot open(.¡i his eyes. He was dry. He was warm. Electric lamps glowed about him. Some one was chafing his limbs, and a young man with a black moustache was watching him with a pleasant smile of
anticipation from under the peak of a gold-laced cap.
“Eh bien, comment ca va?” said the young man cordially.
Bruce recognized dreamily the French lieutenant Fanelle. He tried to sit up, but failed. So he smiled—an inane smile, he felt. “Pas mal,” he muttered. He was drowsily conscious of a gaunter, more familiar countenance peering into
his own. “Little Bird”-he began, but
for the life of him could get no further. Tears filled his eyes.
Pajarillo covered them with a large hand. “Go to sleep, my friend,” said he. “The Señor Teniente is for the moment rather busy, but is anxious, when you have rested, to have the pleasure of some conversation.”
Bruce dropped off to sleep like a child in the hands of its nurse.
Hours later, the dull shock of an immense explosion startled him wide awake. Pajarillo was standing beside his bunk in a listening attitude, clinging to a hand-
“What is the matter, Little Bird?” asked Bruce.
“Nothing is the matter, Señor Bruce— with us. That teniente is very skilful. He should get promotion for this.”
“Find me some clothes, Pablo mio. Dios! I though we were torpedoed.”
“We were not,” answered the Little Bird grimly. “But the bulb-merchant I told you about back there in France—I should not be surprised if he is out of business. I will try and find you some clothes, señor, but everybody is very busy. Meanwhile, have the goodness to drink
A quarter of an hour later, Donald Bruce, temporarily attired in the clothes of a French sailer, ascended the ladder of the conning-tower and emerged suddenly from the electric light into the midst of a wonderful transformation
For a moment the dazzling glare of the subtropical morning almost blinded him. All around the water sparkled in a wide basin, fringed with low, jagged rocks. A quarter of a mile from the ship, in the midst of the bay, a pall of smoke hung in the clean, still air. On the submarine’s deck all was activity. At the forward gun Lieutenant Fanelle was standing with half-a-dozen men, the French tricolour hanging above them. The gun was ranged on a group of low huts on the shore some five hundred yards away. In front of the huts a machine-gun was in position, but was unattended. A few men from the huts had come down to the water’s edge, where they were standing on a little wooden jetty, their hands held above their heads. The submarine was lowering a boat, in which seamen with fixed bayonets were hurriedly embarking.
The young lieutenant turned as Bruce came up. His keen dark face was alight. “Ah !” he nodded. “Ca va mieux?”
“The German U-boat?" queried Bruce.
“Ah !” came the quick ejaculation again. “Hors de combat, mon ami. What they call in their jargon, I believe, kaput. Voila!” He pointed to the cloud of smoke, beneath which Bruce now made out a few objects floating on the sunlit water.
I IEUTENANT FANELLE, though the soul of courtesy, was adamant in his refusal to allow either Bruce or the Little Bird to go ashore until matters there were squared up to his satisfaction. “Monsieur Bruce, this is war,” said he. “You
and your friend are brave men, and although through the force of circumstances you are wearing the uniform of the Republic, nevertheless you are civilians. One must observe the rules of the game.”
So the Scot and the Catalan were left on board to exercise what patience they might. They saw the men from the huts rounded up, disarmed, and secured under guard. They saw the lieutenant set off again from the jetty, and with a couple of prisoners in the bow of his launch, proceed to make a tour of the basin.
The Little Bird methodically rolled cigarettes for Bruce and himself. “Hombre!” said he. “It is good to talk one’s own language again and be understood. That teniente is a terrible fellow. I assure you, señor, for ten days until this morning I have not seen the blessed light of the sun. The stars at night, yes, and the dark water, and your ship ahead of us when we came up for a breath of clean air. From the day we left the river I do not believe there has been a moment when the teniente lost sight of her. Tell me now, what happened to you, Señor Bruce, for assuredly you have been near death as ever we have been together.”
Sitting down on the deck, which was already dry and warm with the sun, Bruce told of his days on board the Mosea.
“Maria purísima !” muttered the Catalan. “It is not easy to kill you! Your government will certainly give you a medal.”
Bruce laughed. “Medals are for soldiers and sailers, Pablo mio. You and I are amateurs, mere aficionados. But after you have gone home to your wife and family, I shall ask my employers’ permission to join the regular forces. I confess the life of an amateur becomes too trying for me. Now tell me where we are and how we came here.”
“As to that, I confess I do not know,” answered the Spaniard. “The Señor Teniente will perhaps enlighten you. His boat is coming back. But I warn you, he does not say much.”
L'OR once, however, the Little Bird was quite mistaken. The young Frenchman was full of the enthusiasm of success. His first thought was to order lunch. His second was to demand a repetition of the story which Bruce had told his comrade. ‘‘Mon cher,” cried Fanelle, “let me tell you this is a very fine piece of business. Do you know that in this Sacre bulb-garden there are enough bulbs—ha! a pretty word !—enough bulbs to blow up a navy? They are planted in the water of the bay ready for use; they are stored in the huts on shore. Some have a little bar above them, and some have it below them—a terrible little bar, which, if you touch it, pouf! Good-bye all! Oh, a magnificent collection of bulbs! I have wirelessed for a ship to come and take them away. We can make use of them, I dare say, to form plantations of our
“Where are we?” asked Bruce.
“We are about twenty leagues from anywhere—that is to say, from the Azores. We are in the midst of a maze of reefs and currents and uninhabited rock islets. It was decidedly clever cf Messieurs les Boches to think of making a storeroom in such a spot. Name of a name! We could never have found our way in if that fellow had not shown us the course. You must know that we have not lost sight of your Mosca since we left the river. In the daytime we used to keep our distance, but at night we closed up, and that last night we were so near alongside
that we actually saw through our peephole the splash when the bulbs were dropped. At that moment, I confess, I was anxious. You see, I did not know what it was that the Mosca had dropped under our noses. But there came into my mind that mot of one of your great men—a cautious man, parbleu, though his name escapes me. ‘Wait and see,’ said he. Well, I stopped and waited. But seeing nothing, after some minutes I ventured to come to the surface—oh, but not too much, I can tell you. And there was a great buoy painted white and red floating on the sea. I did not know till that moment that the water was so shallow. ‘There is the rat-trap baited,’ thought I, ‘but where is the rat?’ And I gave the order at once to submerge, for the moon was coming up. And good luck that I did, for scarcely were we down again when up came another submarine. Monsieur le Boche, if you please! By the mercy of Providence he had not seen us, and it was clear he was not expecting any interruption, for he came right up to the surface, and began cruising about in the moonlight looking for the buoy. ‘Time to dip,’ thinks I, and down we went out of sight. But I did not wish to lose that sportsman, so when we had gone, as I judged, far enough to be safe, I poked up my periscope again. I could not see him—we had come farther than I thought, following the direction of your ship. I was on the point of going about, when mille tonnerres! there was a tapping or my periscope. Mon Dieu, if I was frightened ! An aviator who should see the horned devil sitting on a cloud, stretching out his claws, would not be more scared. ‘Tap—tap, tap, tap!’ The sweat ran down my face. Then suddenly it was quiet. And then it began again. ‘Casimir,’ I said to myself, ‘you are a coward.’ And when I heard myself called that name, I swore. I told myself : ‘Casimir, if you are to die, you will first go up and face that devil of the sea.’ So, very cautiously, I pushed the conning-tower above the water and went on deck. There was a black thing like a great ape—you will excuse me, but it so seemed to my fear—clinging round the periscope, and suddenly the thing shouted out ‘Help!’ and flopped down almost on my head. No sooner had we got it down the ladder, than that big friend of yours gave a shout to startle us all, and pushing us aside, began to pull off its wet clothes like a man possessed. In three minutes he had you rolled in blankets in his own bunk, and was turning the ship upside down to find the means of restoring you. One would have said you were his only
“He is a loyal comrade,” said Bruce with feeling. “He and I have been through many adventures together, mon Heal enant."
“May you live to go through many more” cried the Frenchman heartily. “Ha! there goes the wireless.”
DRESENTLY a petty officer approach* ed and handed his commander a paper over which Lieutenant Faneile pored for some minutes.
“It is as I hoped,” he announced. “I am to stay and take care of the bulbgarden till this canaille of the Mosca gets back from South America. Then I am to have the pleasure of a conversation with your friend the captain, who will show me over his interesting vessel. In the meantime I regret that my orders are to send you, Monsieur Bruce, and this
Little Bird of yours, to the Azores with the ship which is on its way here.”
“I shall be sorry to miss the captain of the Mosca,” said Bruce; “but my friend Pajarillo is a family man, and anxious to get home. So perhaps it is for the
Some two months later, much indignation was being expressed in a crowded compartment of a train leaving Portugal for Madrid. An excited Madrileño had just read to the company a paragraph from a Spanish newspaper he had obtained on crossing the frontier. “We learn from a well-informed correspondent at Vigo,” said the paragraph, "that the Spanish steamer Mosca, well known in our Atlantic ports, has been captured as a prize off the Azores—it is believed at the instigation of the Portuguese authorities, on an allegation of carrying contraband of war. This extraordinary seizure of a Spanish vessel is the more unaccountable, inasmuch as the Mosca is known to have been engaged in carrying muchneeded goods from South America to France. A vigorous protest by our government is confidently anticipated.”
Angry comment went round the compartment. Every one had something to say, except two weather-tanned men who sat opposite each other in corner seats. Their silence seemed to irritate the owner of the newspaper, who turned to the elder of the two. “We are all good Spaniards here, I think,” said he. “What do you, señor, say to all this? It has come to something, when a neutral Spanish vessel, laden with a cargo sent from a neutral South American state to a French port—a French port, mark you—is to be waylaid and stolen on such a transparent pretext. ‘Beware of silent men and dogs that do not bark,’ says the proverb. I ask you, señor, do you approve of such an outrage?”
The sunburned old man looked up with a disarming smile. “As to that, caballeros, I am a Catalan,” said he, “and know little of shipping matters on this side of Spain. But in Cataluña we have a saying: ‘The ass that has many owners,
wolves devour him.’ ”
“And again,” put in the younger man opposite, “they say also in Barcelona that a woman, a glass, and a ship, are always in danger. Ay de mi, how slowly the train goes! What did you say was the ship’s name, señor?”