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Title: Swift and Sure
Author: Strang, Herbert
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Swift and Sure" ***

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[Illustration: Cover art]

                                  ————

[Illustration: IN THE NICK OF TIME]



                             SWIFT AND SURE

                       The Story of a Hydroplane



                                   By

                             HERBERT STRANG

    Author of ’King of the Air,’ ’Barclay of the Guides,’ etc., etc.



                      ILLUSTRATED BY J. FINNEMORE



                                 LONDON
                              HENRY FROWDE
                          HODDER AND STOUGHTON
                                  1910



                    RICHARD CLAY AND SONS, LIMITED,
                      BREAD STREET HILL, E.C., AND
                            BUNGAY, SUFFOLK.



                                PREFACE

Exactly a century has passed since the French invasion of Spain gave the
signal for a general revolt of the Spanish-American Colonies.  In the
twenty years’ struggle that ensued, Spain paid in kind for more than
three centuries of Colonial misrule.  Her garrisons, again and again
reinforced from the mother country, fought a losing fight, with the
old-time Spanish gallantry that had won for Ferdinand the Empire of the
West.  But the tide of freedom swept them remorselessly from one
province after another, and with them went the swarms of corrupt
officials who since the days of Cortes and Pizarro had plundered the
colonies for the benefit of the Spanish treasury.

In the northern provinces the leading spirit of revolt was Simon
Bolivar, a man whose many faults of character were obscured by an
extraordinary energy and enthusiasm.  He is said to have fought four
hundred battles; his victories were sullied by inhuman barbarities; his
defeats were retrieved by unconquerable perseverance.  Bolivar was
instrumental in founding five republics, among them that of his native
province of Venezuela, of which he was the first President.

Ten years of one of the grimmest struggles known to history gave freedom
to Venezuela and her sister republics; but in the north, as in many
other parts of the Continent, freedom has for the past century spelt,
not liberty, but licence.  Centuries of slavery, in fact if not in name,
had rendered the mixed races of South America unfit for self-government.
The mass of the people merely exchanged one set of corrupt rulers for
another; the history of the South American Republics has been for the
most part a chronicle of incessant civil war between the partisans of
rival dictators.  Venezuela has in this respect one of the saddest
records.  Since Bolivar, her first liberator, died in exile eighty years
ago, she has enjoyed scarcely five consecutive years of peace.  Although
blessed with boundless natural resources, the country is probably the
most backward of all states that can claim a place among civilized
nations.  The population of Venezuela is believed to be less at the
present time than during the Spanish domination; and it is doubtful
whether the condition of the people has been sensibly bettered by a
hundred years of self-government.

The best hope for this and other South American republics seems to be in
the gradual opening up of the Continent by the capital and enterprise of
more progressive communities.  This movement has hitherto been checked
by the insecurity of life and property due to constantly recurring
revolutions.  But sooner or later trade and commerce, one of the
greatest of civilizing agencies, must bring the nations of South America
into such close relationship with Europe and the United States that they
cannot fail to recognize the value of stable political institutions.
This recognition will be the first step towards what the wars of
independence should have given, but did not give them--liberty.

HERBERT STRANG.

                                  ————



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER I--JAGUAR AND HYDROPLANE
    CHAPTER II--THE HACIENDA
    CHAPTER III--AN ARMED PARTY
    CHAPTER IV--SIMPLE SUBTRACTION
    CHAPTER V--A SCRAP OF PAPER
    CHAPTER VI--THE HOLE IN THE WALL
    CHAPTER VII--CARABAÑO’S PLANS
    CHAPTER VIII--A RACE AGAINST TIME
    CHAPTER IX--THE ATTACK ON CIUDAD BOLIVAR
    CHAPTER X--SCOUTING
    CHAPTER XI--A LEAP IN THE DARK
    CHAPTER XII--THE KIDNAPPERS
    CHAPTER XIII--A SNAG
    CHAPTER XIV--REPAIRS
    CHAPTER XV--HYDROPLANE _VERSUS_ LOCOMOTIVE
    CHAPTER XVI--THE END OF A REVOLUTION

                                  ————


                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

In the Nick of Time
A Scrimmage at Railhead
Assault and Battery
The Race to the Swift



CHAPTER I--JAGUAR AND HYDROPLANE


The level rays of the early sun were struggling with the mist that
lingered upon a broad full river, like a sluggard loth to quit his bed.
As yet the contest was unequal, for the banks of the stream were covered
with trees and shrubs, crowding upon one another as if in competition
for elbow-room, through whose thick ravelled foliage the sunbeams could
not clear a way.  Here and there, however, the dense screen was parted
by little alleys or open spaces carpeted with grass or moss, and through
these a golden radiance shone, dispersing the mist, and throwing a
glistening pathway across the river.

At one such glade, withdrawn a little from the brink, stood a jaguar,
which, from moment to moment, lifted its head and gave utterance to a
roar.  It faced the stream: its tail lashed its flanks, to the annoyance
of countless flies which would fain have found a temporary lodgment in
its sleek and glossy coat.  It roared, and roared again, with curious
persistence, for the mere pleasure of roaring, an observer might have
thought.  And yet such a person, had he been worthy of the name
observer, would have detected a reason for this strange behaviour. Had
he watched the surface of the water opposite to where the jaguar stood,
he would have marked a gradual assembling of greenish-yellow objects,
scaly and hard; and, set in each, two glassy leering eyes. They were in
fact the snouts of alligators, or caymans as they are known in
Venezuela.

Moment by moment the assemblage increased, the hideous creatures gaping
at the jaguar like an enraptured audience at a popular baritone.  The
quadruped, indeed, was executing his solo for their amusement, though
hardly for their benefit.  One could have fancied, as the audience grew,
that he derived encouragement from their presence, and exerted himself
with ever greater abandon.  The performance, however, came to an end
surprisingly abrupt.  Suddenly the roarer turned his head up-stream and
set off with lolloping gait along a winding track that led among the
trees.  The observer, following him, would have seen him force his way
through the undergrowth, now leaping a fallen trunk that lay across his
path, now pressing his body through a tangle that might have seemed
impenetrable.

Meanwhile the caymans also had turned upstream, and swam after the
jaguar, like an idle crowd following at the heels of a street singer.
But though their movements were rapid, they had to stem the current, and
the object of their solicitation drew away from them.  Nor did he stop
to practise his vocal powers again.  Steadily he pursued his way until
he had left them a mile or more behind.  Then, compelled to strike off
to the left by a peculiarly dense mass of thorn, he quitted the brink of
the stream for a few yards.  Coming upon it again through a glade, he
looked warily about him, advancing with slow and stealthy tread.  It was
at this spot that he purposed to cross the river.  All at once he
stopped short, and sinking to the ground, lay motionless, scarcely
distinguishable from the jungle around him, so closely did his colouring
harmonize with it.  In a few moments, with the silent undulating
movement of a cat stalking a bird, he crept forward.  No caymans were
near; having attracted them by his vocalization he had left them in the
lurch, and was content.  But on a branch of a tree overhanging the river
he had spied the form of a dark-skinned man stretched at full length.
The hunted was now the hunter.  The reptiles had lost their victim; he
in his turn was intent on seizing his prey.

The man lay close upon the branch, his eyes fixed upon some object on
the farther bank, a little distance up-stream.  The tree being rooted in
the base of the bank, which here rose a few yards above the river, the
jaguar was somewhat higher than the man, stretched all unsuspecting upon
a lower bough.  Noiselessly, without so much as a rustle, the animal
glided down the face of the bank, and coming to the tree, began to climb
up the slanting trunk behind his destined victim.  No ear could have
detected his furtive movements; the man’s attention was absorbed by the
object of his gaze; yet, when the beast was only a few feet from him,
some instinct warned him of impending danger.  He turned his head, and
beheld the savage creature crouching for a spring.  Quick as thought,
the man rolled himself round the branch, and dropped with a heavy splash
into the river.  The jaguar was already launched in air when the man let
go his hold, but instead of striking his prey, he lighted on the vacant
branch.  The force of his spring was too great to be checked by the grip
of his claws upon the bark.  He lost his footing, and fell plump into
the water where it still eddied from the plunge of the man.

A hundred yards up the river, moored to a tree-stump in the further
bank, lay a motor-boat of unusual shape.  Its only occupant, a young
white man, in the act of casting off, had looked up when he heard the
first splash.  Before he could see what had caused it, the jaguar
tumbled headlong from the branch.  With the instinct of a sportsman, the
young man instantly stretched his hand towards the rifle that lay at his
side, only to draw it back as he remembered that the charge was small
shot.  The head of the jaguar appeared above the surface; the white man
wondered what had caused the first splash, but seeing the animal
swimming downstream he was not specially interested, and was on the
point of lifting his mooring-rope on board when he suddenly caught sight
of a black head on the surface, a little beyond the jaguar.  It was the
head of a man swimming desperately towards the nearer bank.

Will Pentelow was interested enough now.  The jaguar also had seen the
swimming man, and with a low snarl started in pursuit.  There was little
chance of the swimmer gaining the bank before the beast.  Even if he
did, it would merely be to fall a prey.  Flinging the rope into the
bottom of the boat, Will pressed the lever.  The little vessel started,
and, assisted by a four-knot current, rapidly gathered way. But the man
and the jaguar were also helped by the current, though they were
swimming diagonally across the stream.  They were so near to each other
now that Will doubted whether, at the full speed of the engine, he could
overtake them in time to intervene.  If he fired, the spreading of the
shot would injure the man as well as the beast.  Our observer would
certainly have concluded that the swimmer was doomed.

Suddenly, however, the boat shot forward with marvellous velocity.  The
bow, or rather the platform at the forepart, rose clean out of the
water, and the vessel seemed to skim along the surface.  Fast as the
jaguar was overhauling the man, the vessel was still faster closing in
upon the jaguar.  Will steered straight upon the tawny head.  The boat
appeared to fly along.

Hitherto the jaguar had been so intent upon his victim as to be
oblivious of all else.  Even the whirring of the propeller had not
struck upon his senses.  But when no more than three yards separated him
from the man, he became suddenly aware that he in his turn was pursued.
He turned half round, to see a rushing monster almost upon him.  In
another instant there was a heavy thud; the boat quivered from stem to
stern, but with no perceptible slackening of speed passed clean over the
spot where the animal had been.

A few moments more, and the hydroplane was floating on the water like an
ordinary boat.  Looking back, Will saw the swimmer scramble up the bank.
Almost opposite him was the jaguar’s head, bobbing up and down on the
surface.  The impact of the vessel had broken the creature’s back.
Immediately the Indian caught sight of it, he rushed along the bank in
pursuit.  The animal disappeared, but emerged again a few yards lower
down.  Then the man drew a knife from his belt, and plunged into the
river.  A few strokes brought him level with the carcase, and catching
it by the ear, he drew it after him to the bank.

Meanwhile Will Pentelow had turned his vessel round, and, driving her
against the current, came opposite to the Indian just as he reached the
bank.  The ground was steep and slippery, and the man was unable to drag
the huge body out of the water.  Will glanced all round with a caution
born of familiarity with this haunt of caymans; but reflecting that the
hydroplane would have scared away any of the dread reptiles that might
have been lurking near, he threw out an anchor, and waded to the
assistance of the Indian.  Together they heaved the carcase out of the
water and threw it on the bank.  Then they looked at each other.



CHAPTER II--THE HACIENDA


William Pentelow was one of those boys who make up their mind early what
they are going to be, and work steadily towards this settled aim. The
son of a professional man of moderate income, he was sent to a
well-known London day-school, showed no special promise for a year or
two, but after his first lesson in mechanics declared that he must be an
engineer, and from that time made rapid progress in science.  His father
recognized his bent, and sent him to the Heriot Watt College, where he
was thrown among young fellows of many different nationalities, a
circumstance that had two results: it caused him to think for the first
time of going abroad, and it gave him opportunities of picking up a
certain knowledge of foreign tongues.  With French and Spanish he was
soon at home; German bothered him; he was making strides in Hindostani
when a sudden offer launched him on his career.

A friend of his father was superintending the building of a railway in
Venezuela, for a British company engaged in working asphalt mines.
Originally they had sent their products by barge along a tributary of
the Orinoco, down that great river itself, and thus to sea.  But after
the company had been in existence for some years, the Jefe of the
province of Guayana, by indirect means in which the South American
official is an adept, secured a monopoly of the navigation of the
tributary in question, and at once levied exorbitant transit dues on the
only people who used it as a commercial waterway--the asphalt company.

The directors put up with this extortion for a time.  Then the accession
of a new president drove matters to a climax.  This President, unlike
almost every other ruler of Venezuela from the time of Bolivar, aimed,
not at enriching himself and his clique, but at purifying the public
life of the country.  One of his first administrative acts was to
dismiss the Jefe of Guayana, a notoriously corrupt official, who
immediately set about making good his loss of income by doubling his
fees to the asphalt company.  This was more than the Company could
stand.  The directors made a vigorous protest to Government, but the
Jefe was acting strictly within his legal rights, and there was no
redress.  The upshot was that the Company obtained a concession for a
branch railway line, to run from their mines, along the right bank of
the Jefe’s river, to a junction with the trunk line about fifty miles
distant.  The work was immediately put in hand; the services of Mr.
Pentelow’s friend, Mr. George Jackson, were engaged as chief of the
construction staff; and just before sailing, Mr. Jackson bethought
himself of young Pentelow, now near the end of his pupilage, and offered
him his first job.  Will accepted with alacrity.  The opportunity of
gaining experience and at the same time seeing a foreign country was too
good to be neglected.  He sailed with Mr. Jackson, and had been several
months in Venezuela when our story opens.  Forty miles of the railway
had already been completed, and was in use for the carriage of asphalt,
this being conveyed to railhead from the mines on mules.  The Company
had ceased to pay dues to the ex-Jefe of Guayana, whose monopoly was now
not worth an old song.

Will’s only regret in leaving England was the interruption of his hobby.
He had been for some time enthusiastically interested in motor-boats,
and when Mr. Jackson’s sudden offer came, was in the midst of
experimenting with a hydroplane.  This he had to leave behind.  But he
had not been long in Venezuela before he found an opportunity of taking
up his hobby again.  The labourers on the railway, a strangely assorted
crowd of Spaniards, Spanish-Indians, Indo-negroes and other mongrels,
were scrupulous in one matter: the observance of holidays. Saints’ days
and festivals were numerous, and on these all work stopped.  Finding
himself thus with plenty of spare time on his hands, Will turned it to
account.  In Caracas one day he picked up a petrol engine, very light
and at the same time of considerable horse-power. It was part of a
motor-car which a wealthy Venezuelan had imported from New York.  One
break-down after another, imperfectly repaired--for the Venezuelans are
notoriously bad mechanicians--had disgusted the owner of the car, who
was glad to sell it for a mere trifle.  Since the car was useless
outside Caracas--and indeed inside the city, for the matter of that, the
paving of the streets being remarkably primitive--Will removed the
engine, conveyed it to the head-quarters of the branch railway, and with
the assistance of a handy man on the staff, by name Joe Ruggles, adapted
it to a hydroplane which he built himself.  The basin of the Orinoco is
so much intersected by rivers and streams of all sizes that the new
railway was at no point very far from a watercourse deep enough to float
the vessel.  The constantly recurring fête days gave Will many
opportunities of indulging his hobby, on which he was the object of much
good-humoured banter among his colleagues.

The boat, as Will had to confess, was a somewhat rough and ready affair.
It was not the kind of thing that would be turned out at Thorneycroft’s,
and it would no doubt have been regarded with a sniff of contempt by a
professional boat-builder.  In its essentials it was a kind of punt, the
flat bottom being fitted with planes inclined at an angle, so that when
the propelling force was sufficient, the forward part of the boat was
raised out of the water, skimming along the surface instead of cutting
through it like an ordinary boat.  The crew and engines were
accommodated aft, this disposition of the weight facilitating the
skimming action on which the speed of the vessel depended.  Although
some twenty-four feet long and eight feet in beam, her draft at rest was
only a few inches.  As Ruggles was accustomed to say, she could go
anywhere if the dew was heavy enough.  For the hull Will used a light
steel framework covered with very thin planking.  A boat-shaped
windscreen, pierced for two ventilators intended to cool the engines,
gave shelter to the crew, a very necessary precaution when the boat was
moving at high speed.

Will’s principal difficulty lay in converting his engine to this new
use.  The driving shaft he found answered admirably as a propeller
shaft, the bevel wheels he melted in a crucible to form a propeller. The
latter he had to cast himself, making a pattern, moulding it in sand,
and pouring the melted brass into the mould.

The petrol was stored in a tank accommodated under the back seat.  Will
found that some twelve gallons gave him a speed of about forty knots for
a four hours’ run, which was quite enough for any ordinary expedition.

For a hundred and fifty miles above Ciudad Bolivar, Will soon knew most
of the principal tributaries of the Orinoco.  In fact the only limit to
his expeditions lay in the capacity of his petrol tank, but even this he
could supplement on occasion by taking with him a number of extra cans.
He had of course one or two exciting experiences; these were inevitable
in navigating tropical rivers at a speed of forty knots. More than once
the blades of his propeller were injured by half-submerged logs.  After
tinkering at them some hours on the bank of a creek or river, he would
return at four knots to the place from which he had started at forty.
These, however, were merely exhilarating incidents; they lent just that
spice of risk that made the sport thoroughly enjoyable.

Such risks were due to great speed, but there were occasions when in
this very speed lay safety from disaster.  One day, having a longer
holiday than usual, Will ran down nearly to the mouth of the Orinoco.
While going easy at some twenty knots he saw what looked like a bank of
water stretching right across the river ahead of him.  It did not need a
second glance for him to recognize that a tidal wave was sweeping up the
river, and threatening to engulf him within a few moments.  Before he
could bring the hydroplane round, the mass of water, moving at
tremendous speed, was almost upon him.  He had perhaps five seconds to
spare, and drove the hydroplane at its hardest.  For a moment it seemed
to him that the issue hung in doubt, a very unpleasant moment, as he
afterwards confessed.  Then the vessel began to draw away, and the
immediate danger was over.  But for ten or fifteen miles he thought it
wise to keep a respectful distance between himself and the tidal wave,
which followed him, although at a gradually diminishing speed.  Since
then he had avoided the Orinoco itself, and limited his excursions to
the tributaries within easy distance of the advancing railway.

                                  ————

We left Will on the bank of the river, the Indian before him, the dead
jaguar at his feet.  The Indian glanced at his rescuer with a timid,
hunted look; then, as if reassured, began to thank him in harsh
imperfect Spanish.  Will had perceived at once that the man was not one
of the workers on the railway.

"Where do you come from?" he asked.

The hunted look returned to the man’s eyes.  He glanced nervously up and
down the river, and towards the opposite bank.  Lifting his hand, he
described a half-circle with it in the air.

"But where is your home?" Will asked again.

"I have no home, señor," muttered the Indian.  "It was burnt with fire."

"How was that?"

The man hesitated, then mumbled something which Will failed to catch.
Evidently he was suspicious, and did not wish to be communicative. Will
noticed scars on the upper part of his body; and from other slight
indications, as well as the man’s manifest nervousness, guessed that he
was a fugitive.

"Well, you had better go," he said, "and keep out of the way of tigers.
Here, take this beast if it’s any good to you."

"It is yours, señor," said the man, surprised.

"I don’t want it; you may have it."

He had seen that the animal’s skin was ruined by the impact of the
hydroplane.  The Indian, however, was delighted with the gift; the claws
would be valuable to him.  He thanked Will with servile effusiveness,
and stooped to the animal.  Will stood watching him for a few moments,
then got into his vessel and started it down-stream, increasing the
speed until it reached at least thirty knots.  In about a quarter of an
hour he came to a tributary entering the river on the right bank.  He
had already slowed down, and steering the vessel round, he made his way
up the smaller stream.  In parts it was very narrow, and so closely
overhung by trees on both banks that Will more than once had to bend to
avoid the branches.  Here and there the stream was shallow; but the
hydroplane drew so little water that she was nowhere in danger of
running aground.

Following its winding course for some two miles, Will came to a straight
canal scarcely twenty feet broad, running into the stream on the left.
He steered his vessel into this, and arrived in a few minutes at a small
lake.  On the further shore, some feet above the water-level, stood a
fine hacienda--a sort of superior bungalow--surrounded by luxurious
gardens.  It was a long, broad dwelling of one storey, with verandas,
the door, which was open, leading through a light hall into the patio--a
spacious court, with a flowerbed in the centre, on which all the rooms
of the house opened. Below, at the foot of a terrace, a small jetty
projected into the lake. Will steered the hydroplane to this, and moored
her beside a diminutive sailing yacht that already lay there.  Then he
made his way towards the house, giving a loud coo-ee.

He was half-way to the door when a young man, a few years older than
himself, came to meet him.  He was dressed in white drill, with a
brilliant sash or cummerbund about his waist, a white sombrero on his
head, and a long cigarro in his mouth.

"Hullo, old chap!" he said, with a scarcely noticeable accent.  "I
wondered when you would come again.  I was just thinking of coffee: come
along!"

He linked his arm with Will’s, and led him towards the house.

"I say, can you lend me some slippers?  I can’t appear before the ladies
like this."

Will glanced down at his long boots, which had dried green after their
immersion.

"Don’t worry, my dear boy, I’m alone: the ladies aren’t here."

Will looked disappointed rather than relieved.  The two went together
into the patio; a servant placed chairs for them at a little round
table, upon which coffee, bread, cheese, and fruit had already been
laid.

"Yes," continued Antonio de Mello, speaking now in Spanish, "I thought I
had better send my mother and sister away.  There’s a storm brewing."

"A revolution?"

"Undoubtedly a revolution, my friend.  The President has made an enemy
of every villain in the country, and General Carabaño, who is as big a
rascal as Venezuela has ever known--and that’s saying a good deal--is
beginning to make things lively."

"In Caracas?"

"No, not yet.  He has raised his flag about fifty miles from here, and
if he can get a big enough army together he’ll make for the capital and
try to overthrow the Government.  And I tell you, my friend, there’s
trouble ahead for your railway.  Carabaño is hand in glove with the late
Jefe, who doesn’t love your Company."

"But why did you think it necessary to send the ladies away?"

"Because Carabaño is a particularly offensive person.  He has an old
grudge against me, and if the railway brings him in this direction, he
will not be able to deny himself the pleasure of a visit.  I do not care
that my mother and sister should meet him; nor shall I meet him myself
if I can avoid it.  I have made arrangements for a hasty departure if I
hear that he is in the neighbourhood....  But come and see my new
stables.  They’re finished since you were here last, and I’ve got a new
hunter you’d give your eyes for.  Come along!"

Antonio de Mello was very proud of his new stables.  He had lived for
some time in England, whence he returned with a pretty taste in
horseflesh and an ambition to start a stud.  Like many of his countrymen
he was a good linguist, being equally at home in English, French, and
Spanish, and having some knowledge also of the native dialects of his
district.  He had met Will one day when riding in the neighbourhood of
the railway, and struck up a friendship with him. Will had been several
times to his house, where the señora and señorita had made him very
welcome.

He accompanied Antonio to the stables, just completed, and duly admired
their up-to-date appointments and the new hunter.  He thought it a
little odd that the old stables were still left standing.  They were
very tumbledown; indeed, an English gentleman who owned a house and
gardens like the hacienda would have regarded them as an eyesore which
it behoved him to remove as soon as possible.  But the typical
Venezuelan is not fastidious, and though Antonio had acquired some of
the manners and something of the outlook of Englishmen, he still
retained much of the careless and happy-go-lucky traits of the South
American, and was quite content to allow his old stables to fall to
pieces within a few yards of his front door.

After strolling round for half-an-hour, Will declared that it was time
to be off.  Antonio went down with him to the jetty; and, promising to
repeat the visit before long, Will set the hydroplane skimming down the
canal until he came to the stream again.  Then, turning to the left, he
went on for three or four miles, until the silence of the forest was
broken by a low humming sound, in which, as it grew louder, it was
possible to distinguish the blows of hammers, the thuds of spades, and
the shouts of men.  The labourers were not in sight, being concealed by
the high bank and its dense vegetation.

Bringing his vessel to a stop, Will gave a low whistle.  Instantly a
dark face appeared in the mass of foliage on the bank, and a negro boy,
about sixteen years of age, slid down towards the brink of the stream.
To him Will flung the painter; the boy caught it and, plunging back
among the bushes, began to haul in, Will lying at full length on the
deck.  The hydroplane passed through the screen of foliage into a
shallow recess in the bank, where it was completely hidden from view,
either from the stream or from the ground above.  Owing to the constant
shifting of the camp as the railway lengthened, Will had had some
trouble in finding harbourage at once secure and convenient for his
vessel.  The labourers were a rough lot, and though it was unlikely that
any of them would have been able to work the engine, it was always
possible that one of them, if feloniously inclined, or perhaps simply
bent on mischief, might paddle or pole the vessel down the river, or at
any rate do a good deal of damage to it.  Will therefore always sought
for some secret place in which he might lay it up.

The recess into which it had now been hauled was discovered a few days
before.  It struck Will as a very suitable place for mooring the vessel,
though it cost him and the negro boy some hours of hard work to clear it
of frogs and other old inhabitants.  The water was only about two feet
deep, so that there was little fear of encountering alligators; but it
was swarming with electric eels, one of which gave Will a severe shock
as he waded in with his vessel.  He was very careful not to give the
creatures another chance.

"Why weren’t you here when I started this morning?" said Will as he made
the hydroplane fast.

"Very sorry, señor," replied the boy, "but señor did not wish the place
to be known.  I was coming, as señor ordered, but I met Señor Machado,
who walked by my side.  What could I do?  I walked round about, but
Señor Machado kept with me a long time, and when he left me alone, and I
came here, your excellency was gone."

"You did very well, José.  Señor Machado is a friend of yours, eh?"

"No, señor, but very friendly."

"Ah! a distinction and a difference.  He asked you questions, no doubt?"

"No, señor, no questions, but he would have liked me to give answers."

"And got none.  Very well, José; always keep your mouth shut.  I don’t
want Señor Machado or any one else to meddle with my boat."

He unscrewed the throttle and put it into his pocket.  Then, having seen
that the painter was securely wound about an iron stake driven into the
ground, he scrambled up the bank, walked along for a few yards, shoving
aside the entangling undergrowth with his arms, and came to a spot
whence he could overlook the scene from which the sounds proceeded.
Several hundreds of dusky labourers were engaged in constructing an
embankment along the edge of a wood nearly a quarter of a mile away.  To
the left, the railway line disappeared among the trees.  A small engine
was drawing a train of trucks filled with earth towards the partly built
embankment.  Below this, on a stretch of sward, were the tents of the
engineering staff; at a considerable distance to the left were those of
the coolies.  Will forced his way through the trees, remaining out of
sight from the encampment, and approached the tents by a circuitous
route.  The sudden friendliness of Señor Machado for his boy José
confirmed him in his determination to keep the whereabouts of the
hydroplane a profound secret.  True, Señor Machado had hitherto seemed a
quiet inoffensive fellow, attentive to his duty as telegraphist; but the
telegraph was not constantly in use, and Will thought it just as well to
keep temptation out of Señor Machado’s way.



CHAPTER III--AN ARMED PARTY


Will went to his tent, washed and changed into his working clothes, and
then set off to report himself to Mr. Jackson, known among the staff as
the Chief.  Work had been going on since shortly after daybreak, and as
a rule Will would have been in charge of a squad; but the Chief had told
him the night before that he need not come on duty until ten o’clock,
when he wished to see him about a special job.  It was just ten when he
came to Mr. Jackson, who was perched on a goods wagon, watching the
jointing of the rails some distance from the encampment.

"Here you are," said the Chief, taking his watch from his pocket. "I’ll
say this for you, that you’re punctual, in spite of your toy. Broke down
yet?"

"Not yet, but I broke a jaguar down this morning: came smack on him just
as he was going to get his claws into an Indian."

"Not one of our men?"

"Oh no!  It was some miles from here, beyond De Mello’s place.  I heard
a splash, and there was the jaguar, full pelt after the man, who was
swimming his hardest.  It was a near thing, and----"

"Yes, I dare say, but I’m not particularly anxious to get a fellow to
fill your place just as you’re becoming useful.  Your hydroplane is all
very well as a plaything for your spare time; but it’s no earthly use,
and I only hope it won’t lead you into scrapes.  A stitch in time saves
nine."

Will’s eyes twinkled, and the ghost of a smile played about his lips.
The Chief had a habit of finishing his little speeches with a proverb,
not always appropriate to the occasion.

"Well now, this job," continued Mr. Jackson.  "I want you to check some
calculations of level about six miles up.  Here you are, on the plan:
that’s the section.  You’ve been over the ground before; it’s the most
difficult part of the track.  You can take Ruggles as rodman.  You’ll be
some time over the job, so take some grub with you, and be as quick as
you can.  Time and tide waits for no man."

"Can I have the plan?"

"No.  Trace a copy of the section: it won’t take you twenty minutes.
And, I say, make sure your level’s in order; it won’t do to get there
and find there’s a screw loose.  Look before you leap, you know."

Having traced the plan of the section he was to survey, Will got his
instruments (a hand-level, a surveyor’s camera, and a pocket compass),
his revolver, and a note-book, sent José to find Ruggles and saddle a
couple of ponies, and in half-an-hour set off on his task.  The country,
as the Chief had said, was the worst bit of the whole line. It was much
broken by hills and ravines, and the surveyor, choosing the easiest way
for the iron road, had been compelled to trace out a rather tortuous
course, which was indicated by stakes driven into the ground at
intervals.  The line would twice cross the little stream which Will had
recently navigated in his hydroplane.  Fortunately it was fordable at
both points.

Will rode on with his companion at a steady trot.  Ruggles was a sturdy
grizzled veteran of about fifty years of age.  He was the handy man of
the staff.  He could act as rodman, chainman or slopeman as
circumstances required.  He could build a boat, repair an engine, and
cook a dinner with equal facility, and once he surprised Will by helping
him out in a knotty calculation in trigonometry.  It had been a source
of wonder to Will that a man whose attainments were so various should
have risen no higher than the humble situation he at present occupied.
One day he ventured delicately to hint at the matter.

"I’ll never earn more than two pound a week as long as I live," said
Ruggles.

"But why?  I earn more than that, and you could do my work better than I
can."

"Drink--that’s why.  Every sixpence I earned above two pound would go in
drink, and so, to be on the safe side, I’m never going to earn a penny
more, that’s flat."

Will could not help feeling amused at the old fellow’s emphatic
declaration, more especially because the man was not a teetotaller, but
drank his glass of ale at dinner like the rest, and was never known to
exceed.  He guessed that there was some story in the background, and
hoped that some day Ruggles would tell it; but the man was reserved
about his own affairs, though as sociable and cheerful a man as any on
the staff.

It was near midday when they reached the section Will was to level, and
as the sun was high they decided to eat their lunch in the shade of the
trees and begin work later.  Ruggles produced bread and cheese and a
bottle of beer, and when this had been disposed of, filled an enormous
pipe and lay on his back contentedly puffing away, throwing out a remark
occasionally.  At last Will sprang up, saying they must set to work.
For several hours they walked over the ground, making calculations which
Will entered in his notebook, and taking photographs for after use.
Will often found that such photographs when developed disclosed features
of the country that had escaped notice.  The ground he was now working
over was very rough, and even in the few weeks that had elapsed since
his predecessor visited the spot the track which had been partially
cleared had become overgrown with tropical weeds. Ruggles found plenty
of work for his knife and the axe he carried in his belt.

Will proved in course of time that the previous calculations had been
very accurately made.  In some cases he found lateral deviations of six
or seven feet on a ten-degree slope; these he corrected.  In one case he
saw reason to suggest a slackening of grade on a curve in a long
gradient; and he noted an alternative means of crossing a small stream,
for the consideration of the Chief.  It was tiring work, done in the
heat of the sun, and both were glad when it was finished.  They returned
to the spot where they had left their ponies tethered to two of the
surveyor’s stakes, and were on the point of mounting when Ruggles drew
Will’s attention to a number of horsemen crossing an open space between
two belts of woodland about two miles away.  Will looked at them through
his field-glass.

"They’re coming this way, in single file.  Wonder who they are," he
said.  "Have a look, Ruggles."

"About thirty of ’em, as near as I can count," said the man, after a
long look.  "I can’t make anything of ’em."

"Are they muleteers?"

"No."

"Perhaps they are soldiers."

"Don’t look like it.  I can’t see any uniform, nor rifles either.  We’d
better make tracks."

"What’s the hurry?  I’ve seen nothing to be afraid of in the natives;
they’re a pretty poor lot so far as I have come across them."

"That’s a fine healthy English way of looking ac things, but if you’d
lived in this country as long as I have you’d know that when you spot
such a troop in the distance the best thing you can do is to clear
out--unless, that is, you have any particular wish for trouble."

"But why on earth should you suppose they’re not peaceable folk--a
hunting-party, perhaps?"

"Supposing’s neither here nor there.  Hunters don’t ride in a line,
without hounds.  My belief is that they’re brigands, and we shan’t have
much to say to them with one revolver between the two of us."

"They may be soldiers."

"That’s only another name for brigands here.  The only difference is
that a soldier is a brigand in office, and a brigand is a soldier out of
office.  And, by Jeremy! they’ve got a prisoner.  There’s a man trotting
a-foot beside one of the horses; ten to one he’s tied to the stirrup.
Take a look, Mr. Pentelow."

"You’re right; and I can see now they’ve got rifles slung to their
backs.  They’re making a bee-line this way.  What’s their game, I
wonder?"

"Shouldn’t be surprised if they’ve paid a visit to the mines, to begin
with."

"I think I’ve got it," said Will, the recollection of what Antonio de
Mello had said flashing across his mind.  "There’s a revolution brewing:
these fellows are either Government troops or rebels.  We had better get
back and tell the Chief."

"I said so five minutes ago, if you recollect, Mr. Pentelow.  In this
country there are always plots against the Government, whether it’s
good, bad, or indifferent--and it’s mostly bad.  Revolution is always on
the simmer, you may say, and every few years it boils over.  It’s the
curse of the country.  Any big job like this railway of ours is like
sitting on a powder-barrel: any moment you may be blown sky high, in a
manner of speaking.  If Government don’t interfere with you, then
Revolutionists will; and I’ll lay ten to one those horsemen are one or
the other, beating up recruits.  They haven’t seen us yet or they’d be
coming faster, so we had better slip in among the trees and gallop for
railhead.  We can at least put the Chief on his guard."

They led the ponies into the wood, then mounted and set off at full
speed.  Mr. Jackson looked grave when he heard their report, to which
Will added the information given him by Antonio de Mello in the morning.
He at once whistled up the other European members of his staff from the
scattered points at which they were engaged.  When they came up he
explained the position to them.

"They mayn’t bother us," he said, "but if they’re making for railhead,
as Mr. Pentelow says, we must be prepared for squalls.  There’s no
highway in this direction, and if they’re not making for us, where are
they bound for?"

"Perhaps they’re going to pay a visit to De Mello," suggested Will.

"Maybe.  Well, forewarned is forearmed: the question is, what’s to be
our line if they show up here?  Ruggles, you know the country better
than the rest of us: what do you say?"

"Speak ’em fair, sir, but have your rifles ready."

"How many do they muster?"

"There seemed about thirty, but may be more.  If they’re revolutionaries
they’ll have plenty of cheek, and think themselves more than a match for
our handful."

"What will our men do?"

"Nothing but look on.  My notion is that they’re after recruits, and the
men won’t join them unless they’re obliged.  They know they’d only be
food for powder.  But they’ve got no arms except machetes and their
tools, and they won’t run the risk of being shot at."

A tall engineer of about thirty, who had been leaning against a tree,
with crossed legs, a pipe in his mouth, then quietly made a suggestion.

"If I were you, Chief," he said, "I’d try a little stratagem."

"How do you mean, O’Connor?"

The man took the pipe from his mouth and pointed with it towards the
embankment, thirty yards from the Chief’s tent.

"Line that with rifles," he said.  "We muster fifteen all told, counting
in the foremen, who’ll stick by us, I fancy.  We’ve got four or five
revolvers, too.  Well, my notion is to post our rifles out of sight on
the reverse slope, just behind those trucks.  The beggars will have to
pass on this side, and they won’t see us.  It’s about time to knock off
work, and they won’t be surprised if they see you on a camp-stool at the
door of your tent reading.  I can lend you a month-old _Times_."

"What then?"

"Why, they’ll speak to you, I suppose, and you’ll soon see if they’re
bent on mischief.  Then you can give us a sign and we’ll empty a few
saddles."

"Rather strong measures, O’Connor."

"Why not try bluff first?" said Will.

"You’ve got an idea, have you?  Come into my tent, and we’ll talk it
over.  You too, O’Connor.  You others, go and get the rifles; and,
Ruggles, tell the men that a small armed party is coming this way, but
they needn’t be alarmed.  They can get their suppers and keep out of the
way."

The Chief, accompanied by Will and O’Connor, walked to his tent.  It was
separated by a few yards from the embankment on one side, and the tents
of the European staff on the other.  There was a broad open space in
front of these, with a large tree standing in the middle.  The
approaching horsemen, if they came from the expected direction, would
pass between two groups of tents occupied by the labourers, into the
compound, as it might be called, of which the tree marked the centre.

The colloquy in the Chief’s tent did not last long.  O’Connor came out
first, still puffing at his pipe.  Nobody in the camp was aware of it,
but Jerry O’Connor had once held the King’s commission in the Royal
Engineers.  There had been no more popular or capable officer in the
corps than Jerry, and many were grieved when he had to leave the army,
under a cloud.  He was the best-liked member of the engineering staff of
the new railway, and none get more work out of his men.  He was soon
joined by the other Europeans and the Venezuelan foremen, all armed with
rifles.  Knocking the ashes from his pipe, he put it into his pocket,
and led his little company of thirteen to the rear of the embankment,
where they lay flat on their faces just below the top, perfectly
screened from observation on the other side.

Meanwhile Will also had left the Chief’s tent, and made his way quickly
towards a little wooden cabin that stood a few yards from the end of the
railway line.  As he approached, a slight young man with a swarthy
sallow face came out of the cabin and walked towards the embankment.
Will hailed him.

"The Chief wants you, Machado," he said.

"At once, señor?  I was going to watch the horsemen who are said to be
approaching.  Perhaps I might be able to reassure the Chief."

"You had better come and see what he wants first."

The Venezuelan gave way with a shrug, and walked by Will’s side to the
tent, at the door of which Mr. Jackson was standing.

"Señor Machado," said the Chief, who was always scrupulously polite to
the Spaniards on his staff, "I shall be glad of your assistance.  These
horsemen will be here in a few minutes, and I want you to remain here as
a witness of what passes.  Mr. Pentelow will remain also.  We shall then
have one of their own countrymen and one of mine, a useful precaution,
you will agree."

Señor Machado smiled his assent.  Mr. Jackson knew that, in dealing with
revolutionaries in Venezuela, foreigners, and even peaceable natives,
were, as he put it, between the devil and the deep sea.  If he should be
suspected of giving aid or countenance to the rebels he would be hauled
over the coals by the Government.  If he refused such aid he might be
held in durance or perhaps attacked by the rebels.  Whichever party
proved victorious in the struggle would refuse to make good any loss he
might sustain, while if either could foist upon him any charge of
assisting the enemy he would lose all his property, and suffer
imprisonment or fine.  No evidence would probably be of any immediate
avail if matters were brought to extremities; but it would be useful to
have such evidence to lay before the British consul.

"You left a man at the cabin to call you if any message comes through?"
said the Chief.

"Assuredly, señor; I think always of my duty."

"That’s right.  Just keep within easy reach.  Here’s a cigar."

Machado strolled up and down, smoking energetically.  Will shot a glance
at him.  The man was a good telegraphist, and he had nothing against
him; but he was not quite pleased to know that he had been so affable
with José.

Mr. Jackson sat down at the door of the tent, and began to discuss with
Will the entries the latter had made in his note-book.

"I think we look pretty easy," he said.  "Still waters run deep.... Ah!
here they are."



CHAPTER IV--SIMPLE SUBTRACTION


The cavalcade came at a walk into the compound.  They were a very
nondescript troop: men of all ages, tall and short, stout and thin,
variously clad, but all wearing high riding-boots and a green feather in
their sombreros.  There were more of them than Will had supposed,
numbering nearly fifty.  The greater part of the troop halted when they
came to the tree, but two rode forward, the first a thick-set man with
bushy black eyebrows and heavy moustache.  He pulled up within a few
feet of Mr. Jackson, and making a military salute, said--

"Good-evening, señor."

Mr. Jackson got up and returned the salutation.  Will stood at his side,
and the telegraphist remained a little in the rear.

"I introduce myself, señor, as Captain Felipe Espejo, of the army of
General Carabaño, liberator of Venezuela, and in his name I have the
honour or requesting that you will of your great courtesy furnish my
troop with refreshments."

"Do me the favour to enter my tent, Señor Capitan," said Mr. Jackson
pleasantly.  "No doubt you are weary after your ride."

The Captain hesitated for a moment, darting a glance around.  Then he
dismounted, and leaving his horse with his orderly, followed Mr. Jackson
into the tent.  Will entered after him, and Machado stood in the
entrance.

"Be seated, señor," said Mr. Jackson, offering him a cigar.  "I am of
course aware of the excellent custom of your country, which never
refuses refreshment to the traveller, and speaking for myself and my
staff, it would give us the greatest pleasure to entertain you and your
men.  But you will see, I am sure, that I am placed in a somewhat
awkward position."

"Explain yourself, señor."

"I think I am right in believing that the noble liberator has not yet
assumed the reins of government?  In that case any voluntary service to
you on my part, even though dictated solely by courtesy, is likely to be
sadly misconstrued by the present Government, is it not?  I am
responsible for the interests of the Company employing me to build this
railway, and I must take care that no action of mine shall prejudice
them.  You will agree, then, señor, that I cannot undertake to provide
refreshment for so large a party as yours unless formal demand is made,
which, backed by the armed force at your distinguished disposal, would
undoubtedly exonerate my Company from all responsibility."

"You express yourself admirably, señor," said the visitor with a smile.
"May I compliment you on your command of our language?  As to a formal
demand, I oblige you with the greatest pleasure.  I demand now,
formally, that you supply my troop with food."

"That is sufficient, Señor Capitan," said Mr. Jackson, returning the
smile.  "Pentelow," he added in English, "go and see to this.  Don’t be
long....  I was about to have my own evening meal," he went on in
Spanish, "and if the caballero would honour me by sharing the repast, I
shall be delighted, though I fear it may not be so excellent in quality
as the caballero is accustomed to."

The Captain cordially accepted the invitation.  He felt that things were
going extremely well.  Mr. Jackson summoned his servant, and ordered him
to lay for four.  Machado was edging away, but Mr. Jackson called him
into the tent.

"You will join us this evening," he said.  "Señor Machado, telegraphist
on my staff."

The two Venezuelans exchanged salutations, the Captain somewhat
superciliously.  The meal was soon ready; Will returned; and the four
sat down at the table, Mr. Jackson opening a bottle of
champagne--villainous stuff, which he kept by him expressly for native
guests, who relished it as though it had been the finest vintage from
Rheims or Vevay.

The Captain was an excellent table companion, and a man of quite
charming manners.  He did full justice to the food and drink.  When the
meal was over, and, provided with a good cigar, he lay back in a lounge
chair, he said--

"Truly, señor, it gives me the greatest annoyance to have to requite
your excellent hospitality by making a further request--or, to adopt the
term you prefer, a formal demand.  My noble superior, General Carabaño,
unfortunately lacks two things requisite to complete his success in the
glorious task of liberating his beloved country from the yoke of a
tyrant.  These two things, señor, are men and money.  General Carabaño
has laid upon me the duty--never more irksome than in the present
circumstances--of inviting, or, again accepting your term, of demanding,
a small loan from your Company in both kinds, namely, money and men.
The money shall be returned when the new Government is thoroughly
established--I need not say, with accrued interest.  The men also, when
that glorious day arrives, will be again at the disposal of the Company,
to which, in view of the goodwill displayed by its distinguished
representative, a concession shall in due time be made, on terms
afterwards to be decided, for the furtherance of its business."

The tone in which the Captain made this long speech was as pleasant and
courteous as though he were announcing the conferment of a favour.  Mr.
Jackson was only surprised that the real purpose of his visit had not
been disclosed before.

"I regret extremely, señor," he said, "that in my position I cannot take
upon myself to make a loan of money.  In doing so I should be acting
entirely beyond my powers.  But I will of course forward the request to
my directors."

"Pardon me, señor," said the Captain suavely, "that is of course absurd.
General Carabaño cannot delay the completion of his great work while
time is wasted in such formalities.  He must have men and money at once.
I have no doubt that you have a considerable balance in your hands,
beyond the immediate wages of your labourers.  You will therefore be
good enough to order the whole of your workers to be drawn up, so that I
may select recruits, and at the same time count out a sum of five
thousand pesos."

"With great respect, señor, I have to say that is my duty to protect
whatever funds may be my charge, and also the peons who have been
engaged by my Company under the laws of the State."

At this Captain Espejo’s politeness fell from him like a cloak.  He
sprang up, threw his half-smoked cigar through the doorway of the tent,
and cried--

"Enough of this folly!  I offer you an amicable arrangement.  You
decline it.  Then I take what I want by force."

"And may I ask how the caballero proposes to take what he wants by
force?" said Mr. Jackson quietly.

All four men were now on their feet.  Machado was restless with
excitement.  Will stood rigid, looking with admiration at his chief,
whom he had never credited with such _sang froid_ as he now displayed.
When Mr. Jackson asked his question the Captain stared at him as though
he had not heard him aright; then, motioning with his hand towards the
men lounging beneath the tree, he said, with a laugh--

"Two score of my men, señor, could shepherd a thousand peons."

"Possibly, señor, but your number is really twenty."

The Captain stared again.  What was this mad Englishman talking about?

"You are pleased to jest, señor," he said impatiently.  "My troop
numbers exactly forty-two."

"The matter is too serious for jesting, señor.  I repeat, that for the
purpose of enforcing your demand your troop is effectively less than a
score.  Be so good as to accompany me for a few yards and I will explain
myself."

The Captain eyed his host suspiciously.  Was it possible that he was to
be led into some trap?  But the Englishman looked perfectly inoffensive.
He was unarmed; his thumbs were thrust into his arm-pits, presumably a
habit of Englishmen.  And there were the forty men, within pistol shot:
there was really no reason why he should not humour the eccentric.

The Chief strolled along, towards the rear of the embankment.  He led
the Captain up the plank along which barrows were wheeled up the slope.
Coming to the top, he pointed to the row of figures lying prone just
below the crest, each man holding a rifle.

"You see there, señor, fourteen first-rate shots.  At the least sign of
hostility on the part of your troop, these men will fire.  Each rifle
covers a man.  You will confirm my remark that, for the purpose of
enforcing your demands, you have less than a score of men.  At the first
volley fourteen will be _hors de combat_; the second will account for as
many more before they have recovered from their surprise; at the third
you will have none left."

The Captain was speechless with fury.  He looked at the men motionless
on the embankment, at his unconscious troopers laughing and jesting
below.  He turned about and saw Will, smiling, at his elbow.  The Chief
stood in the same easy attitude of unconcern.  With a muttered oath
Captain Espejo turned on his heel, and strode down the embankment.
Half-way down he wheeled about, and sputtered--

"You, Señor Inglese, have not seen the last of me.  General Carabaño
shall hear of this impertinence--this unparalleled atrocity; and he will
exact a heavy retribution, I promise you."

He completed the descent, summoned his orderly and threw himself into
the saddle, and then, riding up to his men, curtly ordered them to mount
and follow him.  The troop rode away in the direction whence they had
come.

"I’m most terribly stiff," cried O’Connor, springing up.  "I’m sorry
you’ve done it, Chief; I should have liked a scrap with the beggars; but
you’re a wonderful man."

The Chief smiled.

"First catch your hare, then cook him," he said.



CHAPTER V--A SCRAP OF PAPER


Watching the horsemen as they rode away, Will suddenly remembered the
prisoner whom he had seen running beside one of them.  The man was now
gone.  Perhaps he had slipped away; perhaps the horseman at whose
stirrup he had been tied had not accompanied the rest to the camp.  He
spoke of it to the Chief.  The latter suggestion deepened the look of
gravity on Mr. Jackson’s face.

"I hope to goodness there are no more of them," he said.  "We had better
send a native to shadow them."

"I’ll do that, Chief," said O’Connor, "with Ruggles.  I wouldn’t trust a
native."

"Very well.  Don’t go too far.  It’ll be dark soon."

When O’Connor had set off with Ruggles on horseback, Mr. Jackson asked
Will to go with him to his tent to talk things over.

"This is serious," he said.  "I’m afraid we’ve only postponed the evil
day.  Whether this revolution succeeds or not we shall hear more of the
rebels.  The Government can’t help us."

"Still, we couldn’t be much worse off than if you had given in to the
fellow.  They’d have collared all our cash; and all our peons would have
mutinied--all they didn’t impress, that is."

"True.  It would have meant a complete smash here.  The peons would have
made off to the woods, carrying their machetes with them, you may be
sure, and they’re worth two dollars apiece.  We should never have seen
them again: it would have brought our work to a standstill; and as the
funds of the Company are rather low I shouldn’t wonder if it had been
crippled beyond hope of recovery.  The business has suffered enough
already.  The worst of it is that we’ve still got that to look forward
to."

"What can we do?" asked Will.

"Nothing, except stick on.  I’ll not budge till I’m compelled for all
the Carabaños and Espejos in Venezuela.  We’ll go about our work as
usual and keep our eyes open.  Our contract with the Government requires
us to carry Government troops, but I’ll refuse point-blank to carry any
other armed force, and neither Government nor rebels will get any money
out of me willingly."

They were still talking when O’Connor and Ruggles returned.

"We saw them cross the river about two miles up," said O’Connor, coming
into the tent, "and they were joined by three more of the same kidney.
It didn’t seem worth while going any farther.  But we haven’t come back
empty-handed."

"What have you got?" asked the Chief.

"Nothing very valuable: a poor wretch of an Indian.  Ruggles is bringing
him along.  We found him hiding in the trees, and thought he might be a
spy of theirs; but he turned out to be a runaway servant of the
Captain’s.  He told Ruggles some story which I couldn’t make out--here
he is."

Ruggles entered, bringing with him a wretched-looking object.  Will
recognized him instantly as the man he had saved from the jaguar in the
early morning.  The Indian’s face brightened as he saw his rescuer.  He
fell on his knees before him and begged for food.  When he had eaten,
with the ferocity of a starving man, what was given him, he said in
answer to Will’s questions that he had run away from Captain Espejo, who
treated him cruelly.  After the adventure with the jaguar he had
recrossed the river, and unluckily stumbled upon the very man he had
most wished to avoid.  The Captain had thrashed him and tied him to the
stirrup of one of his men; but taking advantage of a dense clump of
forest through which they passed, he had wrenched his hands free and
fled into the bush.  Three of the party had dismounted and tried to
track him, but he was more at home in the woodland than they, and had
been able to elude them.  These were the three men who, after their vain
search, had rejoined the main party returning from their equally
unsuccessful expedition.

"Well, he’s another mouth to feed," said the Chief, "but I suppose we
had better keep him and find something for him to do.  What’s your
name?"

"Azito, señor," said the man humbly.

The Chief called up his servant, and ordered him to arrange a
sleeping-place for the Indian.  Then he dismissed him, and the four
Englishmen, by the light of a lamp hanging from the roof of the tent,
sat discussing the affair of the day and the steps to be taken on the
morrow.

"I think we had better put the camp in a state of defence," said
O’Connor.  "If we don’t protect ourselves, nobody will."

"That won’t be much good," said the Chief, "we shall be shifting camp
soon, and it’ll be more than life’s worth to attempt to fortify
ourselves every time.  Nothing short of a wall all round would be any
good, and it would be tremendous work to build that: there’s such a lot
of us."

"As to shifting camp, we might put that off for a while--until next
pay-day at any rate; though it will mean a tramp for the men at night
after work is done.  If you’ll leave the defences to me I’ll see what
can be done."

"But the camp might be raided while we are miles away at railhead," said
Will.

"We can put outposts out to give us notice of any armed party
approaching; that might give us time to get back."

"You ought to have been a soldier, O’Connor.  Cobbler, stick to your
last, eh?"

O’Connor smiled.

"Leave it to me, Chief," he said.  "I would just relish a brush with
those ruffians."

"It’s rather curious they came just after pay-day," said Will.

"Oh!  I dare say they know what our arrangements are," replied Mr.
Jackson.  "It’s no secret that we get our pay once a fortnight from
Bolivar.  We may expect a visit from them next pay-day, if not before. I
only hope they won’t bother us as they did the French company some years
ago: they broke ’em, with the assistance of floods and earthquakes.  Ah
well! every cloud has a silver lining."

Next day O’Connor devoted himself to the fortification of the camp,
employing a hundred men--a fourth of the whole company of peons--on the
work.  To lessen the labour, he took the embankment as one wall, and
palisaded the top for about a hundred yards.  Then he made a rough
circular wall around the camp enclosure, using rails and sleepers and a
number of trucks, defending the whole circuit with a chevaux-de-frise
made of branches lopped from the neighbouring woods.  Mr. Jackson
doubted whether the terms of their concession from the Government
admitted the use of timber for this purpose, but O’Connor made the very
pertinent answer that permission to build a railway was of little value
unless it included the right to defend the line and those employed on
it; upon which the Chief said no more.

These defensive works occupied several days.  Before they were completed
a muleteer came from the mines to report that Captain Espejo had visited
them and demanded money from the manager.  Luckily the fortnight’s pay
had not arrived, and his cash-box was almost empty; but the Captain had
seized all the money that was left, and also impressed a score of the
miners, who had been marched away, presumably to the head-quarters of
General Carabaño.

During these days news was brought in by several of the haciendados of
the neighbourhood, from whom the Chief obtained supplies of food, that
General Carabaño had captured two or three small towns to the eastward,
and recruited a considerable number of men, who were for the most part
poorly armed, and still worse equipped.  The workers on the railway were
delighted at the discomfiture of Captain Espejo; none of them had any
wish to share the unenviable lot of men impressed in the revolutionary
cause.  At present they had hard work, but good pay; as hirelings of
General Carabaño they would lead the life of dogs, liable to be whipped
or slashed or even shot if they chanced to offend their officers, and to
get no pay at all.

On the day after Captain Espejo’s visit Mr. Jackson wrote to the
Provincial Jefe at Ciudad Bolivar, with whom he was on good terms,
relating what had happened, and asking for the protection of Government
troops.  He sent the letter by mounted messenger to the junction about
fifty miles off, whence it was conveyed by rail.  In two days he
received a reply, in which the Jefe sympathized with his position, but
said that he had just been obliged to dispatch the greater part of the
force under his command to Caracas, which was threatened by a rising in
Valencia.  He could not further deplete his garrison without endangering
Bolivar.  His letter concluded with a strong warning to Mr. Jackson
against affording any assistance to the rebels.

"We’re between the devil and the deep sea," said the Chief, discussing
the letter with his staff.  "The Government can’t help us, and leaves us
at the mercy of the rebels; and yet it will punish us if we help them,
which they may force us to do.  What a country!"

"Why didn’t you stay at home, Chief?" asked O’Connor.

"Because I didn’t want to run the risk of clerking at thirty bob a
week," replied Mr. Jackson.  "That’s the fate of many good men in the
old country, worse luck."

Azito, the Indian, had attached himself to Will, constituting himself an
additional servant, much to the disgust and jealousy of the negro José.
The two quarrelled so frequently that Will thought it advisable to
separate them.  Accordingly he got Mr. Jackson to make use of Azito as a
scout.  He gave him a pony and sent him to learn what he could of the
revolutionaries: where General Carabaño had fixed his head-quarters, how
many men he had with him, and what his intentions were.  The Indian was
at first very reluctant to venture within reach of his late master; but
on Will promising that he should be well paid and provided for, the man
consented, rather from blind devotion to his rescuer than from any other
motive.

Returning after two days’ absence, he reported that General Carabaño was
quartered in a hill-village about twenty-five miles north-east of
railhead.  His force, as estimated by the Indians of the neighbourhood,
consisted of some five hundred men.  It was rumoured that the General,
when he considered himself strong enough, intended to attack Ciudad
Bolivar, on the Orinoco about forty-five miles farther to the
north-east.  His numbers were being continually increased, but he was
obviously in great need of money, and had already begun to make forced
requisitions on the haciendados and the Indians.  Mr. Jackson devoutly
hoped that money would not be forthcoming.  A leader of strong
personality could easily and at any time gather a large army of
desperadoes in Venezuela if he had the money to pay them.

The day after Azito’s return the camp suffered from one of the
periodical disasters which it was impossible to foresee or to guard
against.  A violent tornado swept over the district, uprooting immense
trees, whirling the tents away, and scattering their contents in all
directions.  It was all over in a few minutes, but the mischief done
would take days to repair.  Will was walking over the ground, seeking to
recover his possessions among the litter, when he happened to find a
sheet of the Company’s official paper on which he saw that a rough plan
was drawn.  He picked it up, thinking it might be one of the Chief’s
papers; but on further examination he was surprised to find that it was
a sketch of the encampment, or rather of that part of it occupied by the
engineering staff.  The position of each tent was marked, and
distinguished by a letter of the alphabet.  Will thought the paper must
belong to O’Connor, and took it to him.  At the moment O’Connor had his
arms full of pyjamas and underwear which he had just collected from the
havoc of the storm.  His inseparable pipe was in his mouth.

"Is this yours?" asked Will, showing him the paper.

"Never saw it before," mumbled O’Connor.  "What is it?"

"A plan of part of the camp."

"What would I want with a plan of the camp?  Perhaps the Chief has been
amusing himself.  Try him."

But the Chief denied all knowledge of the paper.

"I’ve got something better to do than draw unnecessary plans.  What’s
the good of it?"

"Nothing, except as information to an enemy."

"Ah! that’s an idea now.  ’A chiel amang us takin’ notes,’ eh?  A wolf
within the fold.  I’ll skin him if I catch him.  Do you suspect any
one?"

"Sangrado’s got a shifty eye."

"Which of ’em hasn’t!" said the Chief grimly.  "I don’t trust any of
these Venezuelans beyond eyeshot.  Well, he’s had his trouble for
nothing.  There’s no camp left, and we’ll take care to arrange things
differently now.  Get a gang to move the safe, there’s a good fellow:
hanged if it isn’t about the only thing left standing."

The safe was conveyed on trolleys to another part of the enclosure, and
the Chief’s tent was reerected around it.  During the next few days he
watched the native foremen narrowly, but saw nothing to lead him to
suspect any one of them to be the traitor.  They appeared indeed to be
in good spirits over the news which had just come in through Antonio de
Mello, who visited the camp one day and reported that the Government had
made some progress in stamping out the revolt in Valencia.  Free from
danger in that quarter, it might be expected that the Government troops
would soon be at liberty to deal with the outbreak in Guayana; and if
General Carabaño had not succeeded in capturing Bolivar before there was
a movement against him, his chance of ultimate success was very small.
De Mello confirmed Azito’s information as to the General’s lack of
money, which was the strongest weapon the Government possessed.

Sangrado, the foreman whom Will had mentioned, declared that the rebuff
Captain Espejo had suffered would prove to be the ruin of the
revolution.  It had not merely deprived the General of the sinews of war
on which he had no doubt confidently reckoned, but had so much damaged
his prestige that he would find great difficulty in obtaining recruits.

"A courier will come one day, señor," said the man, "with the thanks of
the Government.  You will be a great man in Venezuela."

"We won’t hallo until we are out of the wood," replied the Chief.  "You
don’t want a revolution, then, Sangrado?"

"Certainly not, señor, nor any of us.  We know which side our bread is
buttered."

"Honesty is the best policy," remarked the Chief to the Englishmen of
his staff afterwards.  "I think the men are all right as long as they
get their pay.  But I’m not so sure they’d stick to us if a higher
bidder came along."

The disorder in the camp was repaired: the work went steadily on: and as
the line advanced, and the distance between railhead and the camp
increased, Mr. Jackson began to think of shifting to another site, and
questioned whether it would be worth while to spend time in fortifying
it.  He decided to remain in his present quarters until after next
pay-day.  The money would arrive by train from Bolivar, together with a
large quantity of stores, the wages of the peons being paid partly in
kind.

On the morning of the day when the train was expected, Machado handed
the Chief a telegraphic message to the effect that the agent of the
Company in Bolivar had sent six extra trucks with rails just landed from
a steamer that had arrived from Antwerp, the contract for rails being in
the hands of a Belgian firm.

"They’re a few weeks before they are due," said the Chief, "but that’s a
fault on the right side.  When will the train arrive?"

"About two, señor."

"That means four, I suppose.  No doubt we shall get a wire from the
junction as usual."

Just after twelve o’clock Machado reported that the train had left the
junction, and might be expected in about three hours.  The arrival of
the fortnightly train was always a matter of interest in the camp.  It
had become the custom for the peons to strike work and crowd about
railhead on these occasions.  Mr. Jackson and several of his staff were
always present to take formal receipt of the consignment of goods and
money, the latter being escorted from the lock-up van to the safe in the
Chief’s tent.

About four o’clock Mr. Jackson took up his position with the three
Englishmen beside the line.  Several of the peons stood at hand, ready
to transfer the cash to a trolley.  The rest of the labourers
congregated noisily close by.  The appearance of the engine among the
trees far away was hailed with a loud shout.  In a few minutes the
train, longer than usual, drew up; Mr. Jackson stepped forward to the
lock-up van, with his duplicate keys of the two huge padlocks on the
door.  The six trucks behind, covered with canvas, would not be unloaded
until the money had been bestowed in the safe.

[Illustration: A SCRIMMAGE AT RAILHEAD]

He had just thrown the door open, and ordered the peons to lift out the
bags of money, when there was a sudden outcry.  Looking round, he was
amazed to see a swarm of armed men rushing upon him, the nearest no more
than two yards away.  Before he or any other of the staff could lift a
hand to defend himself, he was hurled to the ground, O’Connor and
Ruggles lying beside him.  Will, who happened to be a little nearer to
the engine, made an attempt to bolt, and succeeded in springing down the
embankment, only to find himself in the midst of a score of the
assailants.  He dodged two or three of them, with the agility of an old
Rugby player, but was then tripped up and fell headlong, being
immediately pounced on and held.  The first man he saw when he collected
himself was Machado the telegraphist, who had seized one of his arms and
looked at him with a smile of malicious triumph.

"You are the traitor, then," thought Will.  "I might have known it,
after your sniffing round after my hydroplane."

In a few minutes all the European members of the staff lay trussed up on
the slope of the embankment, Captain Espejo himself superintending the
operation.  The money had been seized.  The native foremen, accepting
their fate with the Spaniard’s usual nonchalance, stood idly by, puffing
at their cigarros.  Many of the peons had taken to their heels and fled
into the woods.  But the majority had been too much cowed even to run,
especially when several shots were fired among the fugitives as a
warning.  Captain Espejo summoned them to stand, declaring that they
were now in the service of his excellency General Carabaño, the new
President, and that any man who resisted would be instantly shot.  Then,
seeing that the four Englishmen were securely bound, he made his way to
the Chief’s tent among a group of his officers, ordering his men, who
numbered nearly a hundred, to find quarters for themselves and take what
they required from the stores in the train.



CHAPTER VI--THE HOLE IN THE WALL


It would not be becoming to record the exact words used by O’Connor as
he lay, within a few feet of Will, on the slope of the embankment. They
were very expressive, and very warm, so warm indeed that Mr. Jackson
just beyond him suggested that he should "draw it mild." Ruggles, a
little farther away, did not utter a word, and for some moments Will
simply listened sympathetically to O’Connor, who undoubtedly expressed
the feelings of them all.

"It was Machado, after all," said Will at length.

This provoked another explosion from O’Connor, who said a great deal as
to what he would do to Machado when he got him.

"Yes, the scoundrel!" said Mr. Jackson.  "He and his telegraph have done
it.  I’ll take care another time to have an English telegraphist."

Machado had in fact telegraphed in the Chief’s name to Bolivar, asking
that six empty trucks should be coupled to the usual train.  He had
further instructed that the train should stop at a place about twenty
miles from railhead to load up sleepers, which were cut from the forest
for use on the railway.  When the train pulled up at the appointed spot
there was no load of sleepers, but a company of armed rebels, who sprang
into the empty trucks, and covered themselves with canvas, Captain
Espejo having ordered the driver, a Spaniard, to take them on to
railhead, threatening him with instant death if he attempted to give
warning.

"I wonder what they will do with us," said Mr. Jackson.

"I hope they’ll take us away from this pretty soon," said Will. "There’s
a fly on my nose, and I can’t shake it off."

"My throat is like an oven," growled O’Connor.

"One glass of beer!" sighed Ruggles: "just one: there’s no harm in one."

Their plight was indeed desperately unpleasant.  They were laid on the
sunny side of the embankment.  The afternoon sun beat full upon them,
and before long they were subject to the pressing attentions of
innumerable insects, which, their arms being bound, they were unable to
drive away.  They got some relief by turning over on their faces, but as
time went on the heat, the insects, and their thirst made them
thoroughly wretched.  More than once O’Connor yelled for some one to
bring him a drink; but no attention was paid to him, and it seemed as if
Captain Espejo, for all his charming manners, was bent on slowly
grilling them to death.

Just before sunset, however, a bugle sounded.  Sitting up, the prisoners
witnessed the arrival of General Carabaño himself.  He rode in amid a
group of twenty officers, who formed a sort of guard of honour.  Captain
Espejo had paraded his men to welcome the General, whom they received
with a volley of sounding vivas.  Behind rode a long line of cavalry in
all sorts of costumes, many of them having a led horse, no doubt the
steeds of Captain Espejo’s party.  Behind these came a long procession
of animals and men, the latter the most motley collection of ruffians
Will had ever seen.  Some were mounted on mules, some on donkeys; some
had saddles, some rode bare-backed.  There were bridles of leather, of
rope, of bejuco, a climbing plant that grows plentifully in the forests.
Some had no bridles at all, but clung to the donkey’s mane, guiding it
by a slap on the right or left ear, or a thump on the flank.

When Will thought he had seen the last of them enter, he was amazed to
find that they were followed by a regiment of Caribbee infantry, who had
already earned from the Government troops the name of Carabaño’s
bloodhounds.  Their only clothing was a narrow strip about the waist and
the feathers in their hair.  Each had a lance, and a bow and quiver
slung over the back.

"A dashed fine-looking lot," said O’Connor, admiring these muscular
redskins.  "You could make something of those fellows."

"The General looks a Tartar," said Will.

"There’s a good deal of the negro in his composition, I’ll swear,"
remarked Mr. Jackson.  "That’s a bad look-out for us; there’s no more
insufferable brute than your negro in authority."

General Carabaño in truth looked an unpleasant man to deal with.  He was
very big and tall, with a large fat face, a wide nose and thick lips,
and woolly hair.  He sat his horse in the middle of the compound by the
tree until his men had all marched in.  Then, after a few words with
Captain Espejo, he rode towards the prisoners.  Halting opposite them,
he told his orderlies to stand them on their feet, and then, assuming a
haughty demeanour, he demanded to know what they meant by rebelling
against his Government.  None of them replied.  Enraged at their
silence, he declared that he would shoot them.  On this, however,
Captain Espejo deferentially suggested that the penalty might be at
least deferred.

"They are Englishmen, Excellency," he said, "and if you treat them as
they undoubtedly deserve there will be trouble with their Government,
which may seriously embarrass the consolidation of your administration."

"Caramba!" cried the General: "their Government is thousands of miles
away."

"True, Excellency; but it is above all things essential that the lives
of foreigners should be spared if you wish your Government to be
recognized."

"Well, we will think of it.  Set a guard over them to-night, Señor
Capitan, and take care that none of them escapes.  Where is that loyal
friend of the State, Señor Machado?"

The prisoners’ feet were unbound, and they were led away to one of the
tents, so that they did not hear the conversation between the General
and Machado.  The upshot of this was that the telegraphist flashed a
message to Bolivar in Mr. Jackson’s name, saying that the engine had
broken down, and asking for another train to be dispatched with bridging
materials and other things which he found himself in need of. The
General’s aim was to get possession of as much rolling stock as possible
for the transport of his troops to Bolivar when the time arrived.  The
city was a hundred and thirty miles distant by rail, though less than
half that distance across country, and the junction was fifty miles from
railhead, so that with care and the assistance of Machado it would be
easy to prevent news of what had happened from reaching the Jefe.  The
camp was situated in a part of the country remote from highways, and the
mounted men whom the General had placed at various points would prevent
any messengers from getting through in either direction.

The prisoners were given a meal; then they were bound again and left in
the tent, a strong guard being posted outside.  They spent a most
uncomfortable night.  After Captain Espejo’s remonstrance they did not
suppose the General would shoot them; but uncertainty as to their fate
and distress at the ruin of the Company’s business worried them, and
they were sleepless during the greater part of the night, discussing
their situation in low tones.

Next day they were not allowed to leave the tent.  They saw nothing of
the General, who was in fact busy following up his operations of the
previous evening.  He got Machado to telegraph to head-quarters for more
money.  The reason given was that a wash-out--one of the sudden floods
to which the country is subject--had destroyed a large quantity of
stores, which must be replaced on the spot by purchases from the
neighbouring haciendados.  He impressed into his service such of the
peons and foremen as he thought worthy of it, and drove the rest from
the camp, no doubt feeling confident that by the time any of them could
make their way over difficult country to Bolivar that town would have
fallen into his hands.

The supplies and money requisitioned arrived late on the following day.
The General had now two locomotives and thirty wagons, including those
that were permanently at railhead for construction purposes.  The
personnel of the two trains were kept under guard, to prevent them from
making off with the engines.

Meanwhile the General, finding the rough camp at railhead little to his
taste, had shifted his quarters to Antonio de Mello’s residence about
five miles below.  The news of the coup had been conveyed to De Mello
instantly by some of the Indians who had fled from the camp, and he had
hurriedly quitted the place for another estate of his many miles to the
south, where his mother and sister were living.  The hacienda was left
in charge of the servants.  De Mello knew that he could make no
resistance to the appropriation of his house by the revolutionary
leader; the utmost he could do was to remove his horses.  It was not
very patriotic conduct; but patriotism is not a common virtue in that
land of revolution.

The General took up his quarters in the hacienda with some of his staff,
including Captain Espejo, their horses being placed in the new stables.
The sight of the old stables suggested to Espejo that the prisoners
might be conveyed thither, so that they should be constantly under the
General’s eye.  Accordingly they were marched in under escort of
cavalry, O’Connor fuming at the indignity, which gave the others a
little amusement.  Will even cracked a joke when each was given a
loose-box, remarking that it was the first time he had been in a box,
the dress circle having been hitherto the height of his attainment.

Unknown to the prisoners, a telegraph cabin had been hurriedly rigged up
for Machado at the railway line within a short distance of the house.
The General had found the man so useful that he deemed it convenient to
have him close at hand.  It seemed advisable also that his troops should
be more closely in touch with him than they could be in the old camp, so
he ordered the tents to be struck, and all the stores and other things
that would be useful to be transferred to a new camp about half-a-mile
in the rear of the hacienda.

Will’s box was in the centre, and through the open door he could see two
sentries marching to and fro.  Another sentry was posted at the door of
the hacienda.  He could see also the comings and goings of the General
and his staff.  They often walked up and down on the terrace in front of
the house.  The door of the stables was usually open during the
day-time, but it was closed at night, and a sentry came on guard within.
General Carabaño had given orders that the prisoners were to be
prevented from communicating with one another.  At first they
disregarded the command, but when Captain Espejo threatened to gag them
if they persisted they thought it best to remain silent, irksome though
the restriction was.  One of the annoyances of their situation was the
impertinent curiosity of the officers and such of the men as came on
various errands to the hacienda.  The former sometimes lolled at the
door, smoking their long cigarros, and jesting among themselves at the
four prisoners, who sat in enforced silence in the mangers.  When the
officers were not present, their servants copied them, and drove
O’Connor almost frantic with their insulting remarks.  The other three,
not so sensitive as the fiery Irishman, accepted their lot more
philosophically.

Meanwhile General Carabaño’s force was increasing.  News of his exploit
had been carried through the neighbourhood, and since nothing succeeds
like success, it had had the effect of bringing to his flag many who
hoped to share in his expected triumph.  There was at present plenty of
provisions in the camp, and with the serviceable Machado at his elbow,
the General could always telegraph for further supplies.  Will hoped
that De Mello would have informed the authorities at Caracas of what had
occurred, and that a Government force would be dispatched to deal with
the General; but De Mello had gone in the opposite direction. Moreover,
the Government had its hands full in the north, and there was no chance
of present assistance from that quarter.

On the second day of the imprisonment, Will, looking through the
doorway, caught sight of a black figure lurking among some bushes on the
farther side of the lake, not far from the house.  It seemed very much
like his negro boy José, and to assure himself on the point, he walked
as far as the sentry would allow him towards the door.  As he came into
the light the negro apparently recognized him and impulsively started
forward: then, fearing discovery, slipped back again into the bushes.

"I wonder what he is after," thought Will.

At that moment he saw Machado leave the house, and walk slowly round the
margin of the lake as if going for an aimless stroll.  All at once he
sprang forward, and before the negro could get away, Machado pounced on
him and hauled him to the house.  They disappeared through the doorway,
and though Will kept a pretty careful watch on it for the rest of the
day, he did not see the boy come out again.

That night it occurred to him that, though speaking was forbidden, he
might yet communicate with the Chief, whose box was next to his own.
They both knew the Morse code, though neither had any expert knowledge
of telegraphy, and Will experimented by tapping gently on the partition,
spelling out the words, "Are you awake?"  For some time he received no
reply, and thought that the Chief must either be asleep or did not
understand that the taps had any meaning.  By and by, however, when the
question was repeated for the fourth time, Will was delighted to hear
answering taps, which he made out to be, "All right: I twig: be
careful."

The conversation that ensued was a very laborious one.  The prisoners
were afraid of attracting the attention of the sentry, and sometimes
tapped so gently that neither could understand the other.  At the best,
spelling a message by means of dots and dashes is a lengthy process. But
by and by the snores of Ruggles and the incessant croaking of the
bullfrogs that infested the canal and lake covered the slight sounds on
the partition, and the prisoners conversed more freely.  What they said
to each other in this way is as follows--

"Machado has caught my boy José and lugged him into house."

"Ware hydroplane."

"I shall be sick if they find it."

"They’ll make the boy tell."

"Wish I could get away."

"Wishing won’t do it."

"No."

"Door locked, sentry inside and out: no go."

"Wish I could, though."

"Impossible."

"Nothing’s impossible."

"Rubbish!"

"If I can!"

"You can’t."

"I might get to Bolivar."

"No good if you could."

"They’d send help."

"They wouldn’t.  Country disturbed: would have sent escort with train if
could."

"Can’t we do anything?"

"No: go to sleep."

"Can’t sleep."

"No such word as can’t."

"I can escape then."

"Rubbish."

"Rotten business."

"Go to sleep."

But Will remained awake for some hours, beating his brains for some
means of breaking prison.  With a brick wall behind him, a sentry at the
door inside, another outside, he had to confess at length that the idea
seemed hopeless, and gave it up in despair.

Next night again, after a fruitless conversation with the Chief, he lay
awake still pondering the problem.  All at once he thought he heard a
slight scratching on the wall behind him.  Before he could assure
himself that he was not mistaken the sound ceased.  He waited anxiously.
Yes: without doubt some person or animal was scratching on the bricks,
and judging by the sound the wall must be very thin.  He tapped gently
with his finger-nail on the brickwork.  The scratching ceased for a
considerable time; then began again.  Once more he tapped, wondering
whether a friend outside was trying to communicate with him: once more
the sound stopped; it seemed as though the scratcher had given a hint
that he should discontinue tapping.  He lay listening.  By and by the
scratching recommenced, and went on continuously.  Will fell asleep with
the sound in his ears, and when he was waked by the sentry opening the
door, he almost believed he had heard it in a dream.

The prisoners were taken out for an airing each day, being carefully
kept apart.  Will looked around eagerly as he walked along by the side
of the sentry, to see if there was any clue to the proceedings of the
night.  Passing along the side of the stables, he glanced at the back
wall, but there was nothing to indicate the presence of any one.
Tropical weeds grew in profusion behind the stables, nothing having been
done to clear the ground since they had been disused.  All day he kept
his eye on the front of the house.  There was the usual coming and going
of the inmates, but never a sign that any one of them was a friend.

Shortly after nightfall, the scratching began.  It was so quietly done
that there was no danger of the sentry hearing it through the croaking
of the frogs.  Will could no longer doubt that some one was trying to
get through the wall.  He tapped on the partition.

"Do you hear scratching?"

"No.  Mosquitoes or ants?"

"Some one trying to make hole in wall."

"Rubbish."

"Fact."

"Must be a fool."

Will did not attempt further to convince this doubting Thomas, but
listened hopefully to the continuous scratching.  It went on for hours,
and by and by, as it seemed to be coming nearer, he thought of passing
his hand over the surface of the brickwork.  It touched, just below him,
the point of a sharp instrument, and he discovered that the whole of the
mortar above two bricks had been scraped away.  He wished that he could
have helped his unknown friend, but he had neither knife nor any other
implement.  The knowledge that some one was trying to release him kept
him awake all that night, and he perspired with anxiety lest when
morning came the work should be discovered.  But the sentry did not
approach the wall.  The day seemed to drag terribly, even though he
slept a good part of it.  Never in his life had he been so eager for
night to come.

Before the next dawn there was a gap in the wall almost large enough for
him to crawl through.  He bent down to it, and spoke in a whisper; but
the only answer was the thrusting back of the bricks into their place.
Hearing the Chief grunting in the next box, Will resolved to acquaint
him with the progress the unknown worker had made.

"There’s hole in wall nearly big enough to squeeze through."

"Honest Injun?"

"Yes.  One more night’s work will finish it."

"Who’s doing it?"

"Don’t know.  Shall I ask him to make one for you?"

The Chief did not immediately reply.

"Shall I?"

"I’ve been thinking.  No."

"Why not?"

"We’d want four.  Take a fortnight."

"Couldn’t we overpower sentry and all get away through this hole?"

"No: too risky.  Fellow outside would hear scuffle.  Certain to.  Sure
you can get out?"

"To-morrow or next day."

"Make for hydroplane.  Less risk for one.  Go to Bolivar and get help if
you can.  Most likely you can’t."

"Pity we can’t tell others.  They don’t understand code."

"They’ll know soon enough.  There’ll be a fine hullabaloo when the
sentry misses you.  Don’t go without saying good-bye."

In the middle of the next night Will found that the opening was large
enough to admit his body.  He tapped on the partition.  There was no
answer.  He tapped again: still no answer.  The Chief was asleep.
Fearing to let his chance slip, Will determined to go at once.  Slowly
and cautiously he wriggled through to the outside.  A dark form was
crouching among the weeds close to the opening.  It gave a low grunt as
Will appeared.  Azito rose from his kneeling posture and began to move
away, creeping like a shadow along the wall.  Will stole after him.



CHAPTER VII--CARABAÑO’S PLANS


Azito after a few steps turned aside from the stables, from the other
side of which came the heavy tramp of the sentry’s feet, and struck into
the undergrowth towards a small plantation about three hundred yards
from the house.  They bent low to avoid observation, but the night was
so dark that they must have been invisible at the distance of ten feet.
Not till they were safe among the trees did either speak a word; then
Will asked the Indian to stop.  They looked back towards the house.
Several of the rooms were lit up, and broad beams of light threw a
ghostly radiance on the gardens around.

"Thank you, Azito," said Will in low tones.

"I did it, señor, not José," replied the man.

"Ah! what do you know of José?"

"We wanted, both of us, señor, to make a hole in the wall, but we did
not know where the señor was in the stables.  José tried to find out,
but Señor Machado caught him."

"And where were you?"

"I was in the wood on the other side of the lake.  I saw all that
happened, señor."

"Where is José now?"

"I do not know, señor.  I did not see him come out of the house."

Will wished that his rescuer had been José rather than the Indian, for
the negro boy had been his servant for many months, and had often helped
him with the hydroplane.  To find the hydroplane and set off in it to
Bolivar was the immediate duty of the moment.  It would be no easy
matter to find his way to it in the dark, and he felt the lack of José’s
guidance; but since it seemed impossible to have José, he determined to
do his best with Azito.

They had not gone far, however, when Azito remarked that when hiding in
the wood he had heard José cry out, as if he were being whipped.

"Why didn’t you tell me before?" demanded Will, stopping short.

"It was so little to tell, señor," replied the man.

It was indeed a trifling matter to Azito.  The Indians were accustomed
to being struck, sometimes in punishment for faults, sometimes in wanton
mischief and delight in witnessing pain.  But it was no trifling matter
to Will, and remembering the Chief’s suggestion that Machado had
captured José in order to discover from him the whereabouts of the
hydroplane, Will resolved to retrace his steps, go to the house, and at
least try to find out what was happening to the boy.  When he told Azito
this, the Indian said the señor was not wise.

"It must be done," replied Will.

"I will go, señor."

"No, no; stay where you are.  You have done enough.  Lend me your knife,
and wait for me here."

He took the Indian’s long knife, and having no belt, had to carry it in
his hand.

"Which room did José’s cries come from?" he asked.

"A room in the front, señor."

This was awkward.  In order to get to the front of the house he must
either go past the stables or make a long circuit through the gardens.
Since there were lights in the side of the house visible to him, it was
very probable that the rooms in the front were also lit up.  This would
make it difficult to approach unseen, and he thought for a moment of
waiting until the lights were put out for the night; but he saw on
reflection that his chance of discovering the negro in the dark would be
very small.  He decided therefore to make for the back of the house, and
to let his future proceedings be guided by circumstances.

As he left the shelter of the plantation he saw to his right the lights
of the camp, from which came a continuous hum.  It was long past the
time for "lights-out" with any well-disciplined force; but discipline
was lax in the army of General Carabaño, liberator of Venezuela.  Will
moved along rapidly, keeping at a distance from the house until he had
assured himself as to the extent to which the back was illuminated.
There was a dim light in one room: the rest were in darkness.  Then he
struck directly towards the house, avoiding, as he drew nearer, the
triangle of ground illuminated by the light in the room, and so came to
the veranda.

The general construction of the house was familiar to him through having
been several times the guest of De Mello.  The rooms opened on to the
patio within, and several had doors of communication between them.  The
only door to the outside besides that of the main entrance led from the
servants’ quarters on the right-hand side looking towards the lake.  De
Mello’s own sanctum was the centre room on the left-hand side opposite
the stables.  To reach it from the back of the house one had either to
go along the patio until one came to the door, or to enter from the
bedroom adjoining.  It struck Will as probable that General Carabaño
would have appropriated the private den of the owner, as it was
certainly the most comfortable room in the house, and convenient in
having the bedroom next to it.  The important matter at the moment,
however, was not General Carabaño’s quarters, but José’s.

Will stood in the darkness under the veranda, considering what he had
better do.  He peeped into the lighted room: it was a small bed-chamber.
A candle-lamp was burning on a bracket.  The next room was in darkness,
but the French window was open, and from the patio beyond came the
muffled hum of voices.  Evidently some of the officers were taking their
ease there.  Listening to make sure that no one was approaching, Will
stepped into the room, stole to the door, and gently opened it an inch,
so that he could see into the patio.  It was cloudy with tobacco smoke.
Half-a-dozen officers sprawled in comfortable chairs, within easy reach
of small tables on which stood bottles and glasses.  But Will could not
see General Carabaño or Captain Espejo.

He felt himself at a check.  Certainly he could not venture into the
patio; the room in which he stood did not communicate with those on
either side of it.  He went out again: it occurred to him to try De
Mello’s dressing-room, which was on the left-side of the house, next to
the bedroom.  From the plantation he had seen that the bedroom itself
was lit up, but he did not remember whether there had been a light in
the dressing-room also.  Stealthily creeping round the wall, he came to
the window of the dressing-room, and found that it was itself in
darkness, though a light came through from the bedroom, the door being
slightly ajar.  He tried the catch of the French window: it was not
fastened, so that he could enter the room.  His heart almost failed him
at the thought of the risk of being discovered, but having come so far
he was not disposed to return without making an attempt to discover what
had happened to José.  He noiselessly opened the window and stepped in.

Now he heard muffled voices.  He peeped into the bedroom: it was empty.
A lamp stood on a table.  The door opening into De Mello’s sanctum was
partly open, and it was from this room that the voices proceeded. There
being no sound of movement, he stole across the room on tiptoe and
peeped into the room beyond.  A screen stood just within, completely
hiding the occupants.  He now distinguished General Carabaño’s fruity
voice, and it suddenly flashed upon him that he might discover something
even more important than José’s whereabouts. Slipping back into the
bedroom, he glanced quickly round to learn the position of the articles
of furniture in case he had to escape suddenly; then he turned out the
light and crept back to the door.  The General was still speaking.

"The only doubtful point, Espejo, is whether we can time our attack from
the railway so that it is simultaneous with Colonel Orellana’s from the
south-east.  The Jefe at Bolivar has no doubt received the message
recalling the reinforcements that have just reached him--that is to say,
if your friend at the central telegraph office is as clever as you were,
Señor Machado.  He has something to work for, and be sure neither you
nor he shall be forgotten when Caracas is in our hands."

"If any one can pull off your little plan, Excellency," said Machado’s
smooth voice, "it is my friend Pereira."

"Good.  Now this is the only doubtful spot."  Will heard the crackle of
paper: the General had apparently unfolded a map.  "Colonel Orellana
should be through the swamps south of Bolivar by mid-day to-morrow.  If
our good fortune holds he may get close to the city unobserved.  At any
rate, as he will be marching for the greater part of the night, his
movement will scarcely be discovered before the Government troops leave
on their return journey in the early morning.  At that time Colonel
Orellana should be about twenty-five kilometres from the city.  His
attack from the south-east will be commenced at noon, a good time to
catch them napping.  If we start before eight we can run through in four
hours provided the line is clear, and I think we can trust the signalman
at the junction: he has too much at stake to fail me.  The only doubtful
point, as I say, is here--Santa Marta.  All depends on our surprising
the man there.  How much of the line is visible from the station at
Santa Marta, Señor Machado?"

"About three kilometres, Excellency."

"A pity.  If anything arouses the suspicion of the man there he can send
a message to Bolivar in a few seconds and wreck the whole scheme. How is
it he also is not a friend of yours?"

"His mother’s cousin holds a good position in the administration,
Excellency."

"That place shall be yours when I form my administration."

"Is it certain, Excellency," asked Espejo, "that the bridge beyond Santa
Marta is mined?"

"I can trust my information on that point, and I am pretty sure that our
coup here has not leaked through, thanks to Señor Machado’s friend at
the junction and our other precautions.  There is one risk: that Señor
de Mello has given information.  It was a bad mistake of yours not to
secure him, Espejo, and I am annoyed with you.  But it cannot be helped.
The only thing wanted to complete the perfection of our arrangements is
to surprise the station at Santa Marta.  How is it, Señor Machado, that
you cannot find the hydroplane about which we have heard so much?  If we
had it, it would be quite easy to approach Santa Marta from the river;
they would think it was the mad Englishman on one of his jaunts.  If we
could only capture the signalman there, and you took his place, we could
quite rely on your ability to keep the people at Bolivar from becoming
suspicious.  I compliment you, señor, on your extreme ingenuity in
conducting the communications with Bolivar during the past few days.  It
required a man of genius to prevent the railway people from smelling a
rat."

"You do me too much honour, Excellency," said Machado, his gratification
manifest in his tone of voice.  "But I fear I can’t keep it up for
another day.  I have to make so many excuses and explanations; and from
the last two or three messages that have come through from Bolivar I
can’t help feeling that the people there are becoming uneasy."

"The more reason for striking at once.  Why can’t you find the
hydroplane?" asked the General with some impatience.

"I have done my best, Excellency.  I believe the negro knows where it
is, but he is a perfect mule, and neither starvation nor whipping has
any effect upon his stubbornness."

"Caramba! are there not other means of taming mules?  Fetch the boy.
We’ll see."

Will heard Machado rise from his chair and open the door leading to the
patio.  José was staunch, then.  Will set his teeth at the thought of
the ill-usage the boy had had to endure.  His clutch tightened on
Azito’s knife, and he scarcely heeded what passed between Carabaño and
his lieutenant during the few seconds of Machado’s absence.

"Here he is, Excellency."

"Ah! this is the mule.  Now, mule, answer my question: where is your
master’s boat?"

Will waited tensely: not a word came from the boy’s lips.  There was the
sound of a blow.

"Answer me," shouted the General, "or I will have you flogged.  Where is
the boat?"

"I cannot tell, señor," said the boy.

"Dog, do you call his Excellency ’señor’!" cried Espejo; and again there
came the sound of a blow.  "Where is the boat?"

"I have a thought?  Excellency," said Machado suddenly, as the boy was
silent.  "I will try the electric battery: that will make him speak."

"Caramba! you had better make him speak somehow, or I’ll flay him alive.
Are my plans to be ruined by a dog of a negro?  Take him away, and shock
it out of him."

Will quivered as he heard the boy cry out: one of the three had struck
him again.  But Machado was dragging José from the room: where was he
taking him?  Will did not know of the temporary cabin erected for the
telegraphist at the railway line a few hundred yards away: surely, he
thought, Machado did not intend to convey the boy at this time of night
to the old camp five miles distant.  Yet he had seen no wire connecting
the line with the house.  It flashed upon him that if Machado left the
house, and was not accompanied by any of the officers, an opportunity of
rescue might offer.  Quick as thought he slipped across the bedroom into
the dressing-room and out on to the veranda.  Running round to the back
of the house, he stood in a dark corner to watch.  Presently he saw
Machado issue forth with José from the door in the servants’ quarter.
The boy’s hands were tied.

Machado dragged him across the garden towards the railway line. Waiting
a few moments to make sure that no one was accompanying them, Will
followed quietly, losing them from sight as they passed through a
shrubbery.  He could not risk discovery by Machado yet, for a cry would
bring a crowd in pursuit.  Quickening his steps, he saw the two
proceeding towards a cabin just below the railway embankment.  A light
shone through a small square opening in the wall.  Machado lifted the
rough latch, pushed his victim into the cabin, entered after him, and
shut the door.  Will hurried to the unglazed window, and just as he
reached it heard Machado say--

"Has there been a signal?"

"No, señor," was the reply.

Peeping in cautiously, Will saw one of General Carabaño’s men, left
there, no doubt, to summon Machado if there should come a call on the
wires.

"Hold this brute," said Machado.

"What are you going to do, señor?" asked the man.

"Make a pig squeal.  Now, you mule, one more chance before I prick you
with a thousand pins.  Where is that boat?"

José was evidently terrified at the unknown torture before him.  He
looked wildly around for a chance of escape, and struggled in the hands
of his captor, who, however, held him fast.  Meanwhile Machado had
disconnected a couple of wires, and reached up to a shelf to take down a
bottle of acid for re-charging the battery.  Clearly he was for no half
measures now.

[Illustration: ASSAULT AND BATTERY]

"What’s that?" asked the man.

"Stuff to strengthen the battery," replied Machado.  "I’m going to put a
wire on each side of him, and add cells--there are plenty of them--until
he owns up."

"Will it kill him?"

"I shouldn’t wonder."

He laughed as he poured acid into the cell.  Meanwhile Will had been
worked up to a white heat of indignation.  Without stopping to measure
the risk, he slipped the knife into his pocket, sprang noiselessly to
the door, threw it open, and in two strides came within arm’s length of
Machado just as he was replacing the bottle.  A blow with the right, and
one with the left almost at the same instant, hurled the telegraphist to
the ground.  The man holding José was for the moment paralyzed with
astonishment.  Before he could recover himself, a heavy blow somewhere
about his middle sent him to join Machado.  Then Will, catching José by
the arm, dragged him through the door and to the rear of the cabin,
where with one stroke of Azito’s knife he severed the cords binding the
boy’s wrists.

He had scarcely done so when he heard one of the men run shouting from
the cabin.  But, as Will had expected, the man made straight towards the
house.  Hurrying along the foot of the embankment for a few yards, Will
struck to the right towards the plantation where he had left Azito, both
he and José bending low to get what cover was possible from the long
grass and occasional bushes.  Before they reached the plantation they
heard shouts from the house, which were soon answered from the camp some
distance to their left.  They ran as swiftly as possible, and Will gave
a low whistle as he approached the trees.  It was answered by Azito.
They waited but a few moments, to see whether any of the figures which
could be descried moving near the house were coming in their direction.
Then all three plunged into the depths of the plantation, José leading
in as straight a course as he could towards the recess where the
hydroplane was hidden.



CHAPTER VIII--A RACE AGAINST TIME


Dark though it was, José led the way with complete confidence.  But Will
noticed that in a few minutes he left the heart of the wood and returned
to the edge, where it bordered the plain.  General Carabaño’s camp was
now behind them.

"We might tread on a snake or stumble on a tiger, señor," said the boy.
"It is not safe to go through the wood at night."

These were perils which had scarcely occurred to Will, but he recognized
that the negro was right.  Progress along the edge of the wood, however,
was hardly easier than it had been in the wood itself, for long grass,
bushes, and briars obstructed them at every few steps. After covering
rather more than a mile, as Will guessed, it struck him that they would
get along faster if they mounted the railway embankment and walked along
the straight track.  It was unlikely that pursuit would be carried far
that night, since the direction of their flight could not be traced in
the darkness.  But there would be danger if the old camp was still
occupied, or if any guards had been posted along the railway.  He asked
his companions whether they had any information on these points.  Both
assured him that the camp was deserted, and that no sentinels were
posted on the railway, at any rate between their present position and
the junction.  Will remembered that the signalman at the junction was in
the pay of General Carabaño, so that the omission of what would
otherwise have been an essential precaution was explicable.

The coast being clear, the travellers struck to the left, and came in
ten minutes to the embankment.

"Creep up and look along the line," said Will to Azito.  "You can see
better in the dark than I."

The man returned after a few minutes and said that he saw the lights of
the new camp twinkling among the trees, but nothing else was in sight in
either direction.  The rim of the moon which was just showing above the
horizon would assist their march, but at the same time reveal their
moving forms to any one who might be in the neighbourhood.

"Where are all the peons from the old camp?" asked Will.

"All run away, señor," replied Azito.

"We ran away too, señor," added José, "but came back to find our
master."

"Have you had anything to eat lately, either of you?" asked Will, a
thought striking him.

José had eaten nothing all the previous day; Azito nothing but some
fruit he had picked in the garden of the house after nightfall.

"We must get some food to-morrow, or we shall be fit for nothing," said
Will, "though I don’t know where it is to come from."

They were now walking along the railway track, stepping from sleeper to
sleeper.  Every now and then they stopped to look behind, but though
they could see farther as the moon rose, nothing was visible along the
line.  As they marched along in silence, Will thought over the
conversation he had heard in the house.  An attack was to be made on
Bolivar at noon next day, from two quarters simultaneously.  Machado’s
confederate in the telegraph office had invented a telegram from Caracas
demanding the instant dispatch of reinforcements, so that the garrison
at Bolivar would be much reduced, and the Jefe would be at a
disadvantage.  If Will could only get the hydroplane and bring it safely
past the enemy, he would have time at least to warn the Jefe. The
distance by water was about a hundred and sixty miles, thirty miles more
than by rail; but General Carabaño did not intend to start before eight
o’clock, by which time, all being well, the hydroplane would be a
considerable distance on the way to Bolivar.  As soon as he got to Santa
Marta, a little station twenty miles beyond the junction, he could
telegraph a warning to the Jefe, the signalman being loyal. Everything
depended on his reaching Santa Marta undetected.

They came at length to the site of the old camp.  It was a picture of
desolation.  The tents had been removed to the new camp near the
hacienda.  A great quantity of débris was littered all over the
enclosure.  Tools, barrows, fragments of boxes that had been broken
open; the Chief’s safe, which, having been rifled, had been left
standing as too cumbersome for removal: these relics of the raid filled
Will with indignation.  He had returned the knife to Azito, and being
unarmed, he picked up a crowbar to serve as a weapon in case of
emergency, and told José to do the same.  Then, descending the
embankment, all three hurried towards the river.

Just before they reached it, Will suddenly remembered that the supply of
petrol on board was running short when he made his last trip.  This was
a very serious matter.  There was no chance of his carrying out his plan
without an adequate quantity of petrol.  There had been plenty in a
godown in the camp, it having been used for driving a small electric
engine as well as the hydroplane.  Had the cans been carried off with
the other stores to the new camp?  If so, the game was up.  But Will
hoped that the rebels had not thought them worth removing.  The petrol
would be of no use to an army in the field; they were not near a town
where it might be turned into money: the chief danger was that Machado,
who had clearly thought of making use of the hydroplane, would not have
neglected to furnish himself with the necessary fuel.  Will wished that
he had thought of reassuring himself on this all-important point before
leaving the camp; but being now so near the recess in which the
hydroplane was laid up, he decided to make sure first that the vessel
was still where he had left it.

Having come now into the wood, the natives were again afraid of
encountering danger in the shape of reptiles or wild beasts. Fortunately
Will had some matches in his pocket.  He got Azito and José to collect
some dry grass and twist it up into a couple of rough torches, and
setting light to one of these they hurried to the bank above the recess.
The wood was so thick and the enemy’s camp so far away that there was no
danger of the light being seen.  Kindling the second torch, Will dropped
the first into the water.  The glare caused a great commotion among the
inhabitants; he saw frogs hopping about in all directions, and eels
darting away towards the river.  At the further end of the recess, just
beyond the stern of the hydroplane, a cayman slipped off the bank into
the water and swam away.  A cursory inspection of the vessel assured
Will that it had not been tampered with.  Relieved on this score, he
determined to return at once to the old camp and make a search for the
petrol.

They lighted their way back through the wood, but extinguished the torch
before emerging into the open.  Then, aided by the rays of the rising
moon, they groped towards the godown, a temporary wooden hut, in which
the petrol with other stores had been kept.  Just in front of the door
was a petrol can, which Will proved by shaking it to be half empty.
Apparently the rebels had been examining the contents and left it as
worthless to them.  Within the hut stood two cans which had not been
touched.  All cause for anxiety was removed.

Will ordered the two men to carry the cans down to the hydroplane.  On
the Orinoco petrol was a commodity hard to come by, and though he would
rather not have loaded his light craft with more than was immediately
needed, he thought it advisable to take all that he had while there was
opportunity.  The cans were so heavy that only one could be carried at a
time.  When they came to the wood Will preceded the two men with a
torch, at a safe distance.  On his second return to the camp he sought
everywhere in the hope of finding food; but all the useful stores had
been removed, and he had to resign himself to the prospect of fasting
until he reached Santa Marta.

It was three o’clock in the morning before Will had overhauled and oiled
the machinery and got the hydroplane ready for starting.  He had five
hours before the train conveying General Carabaño and his troops would
leave, and since the hydroplane at full speed would travel faster than
the train, he would have had no anxiety about reaching Santa Marta first
if he could have gone at full speed all the way.  But the distance to
the junction was not only twenty miles farther by water than by rail:
for the first seven or eight miles he would have to go very slowly,
because it would be impossible to make pace in the darkness on the
narrow, shallow stream that ran past the hacienda. There would be the
danger of striking snags, and the further danger of the throbbing of the
engine being heard in the camp.  The second danger was so serious that
Will decided to trust to the current alone until he was safely past the
rebel army.  As soon as he should come into the broader stream, which
ran into the Orinoco near the railway junction, he might make full use
of his motor; but the rate of the current was probably not more than
three miles an hour, so that it might be full daylight before he emerged
into the tributary.  He would then be only about an hour and a half in
advance of the train, a rather narrow margin when the windings of the
stream were considered.

At last all was ready.  Will had given careful instructions to his
companions as to what they were to do.  José would remain with him in
the stern of the vessel; Azito was to stand as far forward as possible,
holding a pole in readiness to fend off obstructions.  While they were
going slowly he could take up his position at the extreme forepart of
the screen, but when it was necessary to make the vessel "plane"--that
is, rise out of the water and skim along the surface, which was its
special function--he would have to draw back, so that his weight should
not interfere with the planing.  José was to be ready to oil the engine
whenever his master gave the word.

They went on board.  Will poled the vessel out of the recess into the
little stream, turned her head towards the hacienda, and let her float
on the current.  For hundreds of yards at a time she moved in inky
darkness.  The trees on both banks, growing far over the narrow channel,
sometimes indeed meeting and forming a tunnel so low that Azito had to
stoop, shut out all light of moon and stars.  Now and then they came
into a bright patch where a gap in the foliage let the moonlight
through.  At such points Will more than once saw the snout of a cayman;
but there was no fear of molestation from any of the wild denizens of
the stream: the passage of so strange a monster would imbue them with a
wholesome terror.

As they floated slowly down, Will became possessed with a new anxiety.
Would Machado suspect that he had got out the hydroplane and be on the
watch for him where the canal entered the stream?  If that should prove
to be the case he might have to run the gauntlet of hundreds of rifles,
with the smallest chance of getting through alive.  Two considerations
gave him hope that he might be spared this ordeal.  In the first place,
Machado could not know that he had overheard the conversation with
General Carabaño, and might suppose that his first move would be an
attempt to release his friends.  In the second place the Venezuelans are
not early risers, and Machado would hardly expect to see the hydroplane
before daylight.  Of course, with a momentous expedition afoot, the
Spanish sluggishness might be temporarily overcome: Will could only hope
for the best.  If he should be discovered, he determined to set the
vessel going at full speed and take his chance.

There were already signs of dawn when the hydroplane came silently to
the opening of the canal.  The frogs had ceased to croak; but birds were
piping in the trees.  From the house, too, and the adjacent camp, came
sounds of bustle.  Preparations were evidently being made for the raid
on Bolivar.  Will looked round anxiously, half expecting to see, through
the haze, hundreds of rifles pointed at him from the bank.  But he
passed the canal in safety; no one challenged him; and he felt a
wonderful relief and hopefulness in the knowledge that the first of the
expected dangers had turned out to be a chimera.

Day broke when the vessel had reached a spot about a mile below the
hacienda.  It was possible now to increase the speed by punting, and
Will ordered Azito to employ his pole in this way.  After another mile
he ventured to set the motor going, at first at low speed, since he was
still anxious that the sound of the engine should not be carried to the
camp.  If the train had started now, it would have reached a point where
fifty men with rifles, posted on the bank of the stream, could have made
the passage impossible.  Will looked at his watch; he had still nearly
an hour to spare, unless General Carabaño had altered his plans.

In a few minutes he came into the stream which ran into the Orinoco
nearly fifty miles beyond.  Now with a sense of gladness and
exhilaration he set the motor at full speed, at the same time ordering
Azito to withdraw a few feet towards the stern.  In a few seconds the
forepart of the vessel lifted; it skimmed along the surface of the
stream; and the banks began to whizz past at twenty, thirty, and
presently forty miles an hour.  At first Azito was somewhat scared at
the pace, but after a few minutes he became possessed by the excitement
of it, and behaved as if he had been born on a hydroplane.  The task
Will set him was to keep a good look-out ahead, and give warning by a
gesture of either hand of any obstruction in the river, so that Will,
who from his position in the stern could not see so well, might steer
the vessel, and keep it going at a greater speed than would otherwise
have been possible.  Will felt that he was running very considerable
risks, but speed was of the highest importance.  If the train got ahead
of him all would be lost: so he cheerfully took chances which he might
have shrunk from at another time.

To steer the vessel demanded the utmost watchfulness from both Will and
Azito.  The river, though broad in parts, was narrow and tortuous at
others, and was here and there intersected by rocks and islands, and
snags in the shape of waterlogged trees.  It was these latter that gave
Will the most anxiety.  But Azito, who like most Indians was expert in
canoeing, and had keen eyesight and a perfect acquaintance with rivers,
kept a sharp look-out and proved to have great judgment in detecting
snags.  With a movement of the right hand or the left he indicated to
which side the hydroplane should be steered, and soon Will trusted his
guidance implicitly, putting the helm to port or starboard in response
to the slightest gesture.  Once or twice also, when the rocks were
numerous, Azito cried that it would be dangerous to go so fast, and Will
immediately slowed down, loth though he was to lose a minute.  The
engine worked magnificently.  The greatest danger to be feared was
overheating; but thanks to the ventilators and José’s constant attention
in oiling, Will found that even after a good spell at full speed there
was no sign of a breakdown.

For a long distance they were not in sight of the railway line, which
followed a more direct course than the river, and, even when it
approached it, was concealed by the thick vegetation on the banks.  But
they came at length to a more open stretch of country where the line ran
for miles at an average distance of less than a quarter-mile from the
stream.  Here Will, slowing down a little, looked anxiously down the
track.  There was no sign of the train, which, if it started at the time
arranged, was certainly due to pass within half-an-hour or less. Again
the river wound away from the line, making a bend which involved
probably an extra mile.  When they again came in view of the track, Will
could see along it for two or three miles; still there was no sign of
the train.

For the next ten miles railway and river ran almost parallel; then the
river passed under the bridge carrying the main railway line and joined
the Orinoco.  Here the branch line saved two or three miles.  When the
hydroplane came into the broad stream of the Orinoco Will kept as close
as possible to the right bank.  He was now able to steer a straighter
course than on the tributary, and had no need to slacken speed on
account of bends.  Although he believed that he must be still
considerably in advance of the train he kept up full speed for almost an
hour more, and then arrived at a point where he could see the little
station of Santa Marta nearly a mile away to his right.  A narrow canal,
just wide enough for the hydroplane, connected the station with the
river.  It was used for carrying goods to the railway, and had been
found very serviceable by Mr. Jackson in his work on the branch line,
some of his material having been brought up the river and landed there,
thus saving the heavy port dues that would have been demanded in Bolivar
itself.

Swinging round into the canal, Will saw that there was no barge either
coming or going on it.  If there had been, it would have been impossible
to run the hydroplane to the station.  In a few minutes he brought the
vessel to the side of the little wharf below the railway line, and
leaving it in charge of the two natives, hurried on by himself.



CHAPTER IX--THE ATTACK ON CIUDAD BOLIVAR


The station of Santa Marta was so small that its only permanent staff
was the station-master and a boy, the former being also signalman. Will
had seen him several times, and had once before visited the place in his
hydroplane, so that the man was not at all surprised when he entered his
room.

"Good-morning, señor," said Will, knowing that, however urgent his
mission was, the Spaniard would not pardon a neglect of the customary
civilities.

"Good-morning, señor," returned the man.  "I have easy work to-day. All
traffic is suspended.  It would give me great pleasure to be permitted
to enjoy a ride in your wonderful vessel."

"I am afraid your information is imperfect, señor.  General Carabaño has
seized railhead, and is coming before long with a train full of soldiers
to make an attack on Bolivar.  I have come to warn the Jefe. Will you
send a wire at once giving him information?"

"This is surprising, señor.  I had word from Bolivar that all traffic
was suspended, but no explanation.  When will General Carabaño arrive?"

"Really, señor, there is no time for particulars.  He is coming now; he
is on the way; he may be here at any minute; and he intends to seize the
station and flay you alive if you don’t join him."

This had the intended effect of overcoming the Spaniard’s habitual
sluggishness.  He quickly flashed a message to Bolivar, giving Will’s
name (ludicrously misspelt) as his informant.  In a few minutes he
received an answer, saying that the message was received, and bidding
him secure what cash and valuables he had and leave the station.
Meanwhile his wife, to whom he had explained the situation, got a few
things together, dressed her child, and hurried down to the hydroplane,
Will having offered to give them all a passage to the city.  It occurred
to him that the General would be delayed if the train could be switched
into a siding adjoining the station.  While the Spaniard was engaged at
the telegraph instrument, Will ran on to the line, rushed to the
hand-switch, pulled it over, and locked it.  Just as he was mounting the
platform again, he saw the smoke of the engine about two miles down the
line.

"There is no time to be lost, señor," he said, running into the
station-master’s room.  "The train will be here in four minutes or less.
There’ll be a smash if it runs into the siding at speed, but the
engine-driver may see that the lever points the wrong way, and that will
give us time to get to the river."

The two hurried out, and boarded the hydroplane, which José and the
Indian had turned round within the narrow limits of the canal so that
its head pointed towards the Orinoco.  Will felt that his little vessel
was much overloaded, especially as the forepart could not be used, or
planing would be impossible.  He set off down the canal, and was
half-way to the river before the train arrived.  The engine-driver had
slackened speed; evidently the General intended to stop and seize the
station, and probably also to question the station-master.  A shout from
the train warned Will that he had been seen, and he smiled to think of
Machado’s rage and mortification.  "He will wish he hadn’t said so much
to Carabaño," he thought.

The changing of the points escaped the engine-driver’s notice until he
was nearly on the siding.  He jammed on the brakes, but was unable to
avoid being switched off the main track; then he had to back out and
alter the points.  This took three or four minutes, so that by the time
the train had started again the hydroplane had turned into the Orinoco
and was almost level with it.  Will felt all the excitement and
enjoyment of a race, though he was not now specially concerned to get
far ahead of the train: the warning had been given.  The train followed
the more direct course, and the smoke of the engine was only
occasionally visible among the trees.  Will, overladen as the little
craft was, managed to keep abreast of the train, and so they ran on,
neck and neck, until they were within seven or eight miles of Bolivar.
Then Will heard a muffled explosion.  He guessed what it meant, and
found a mile farther on that he was right.  One of the arches of a long
culvert had been blown up.  There was a six or seven-mile march before
General Carabaño.

Will pushed on.  As he drew nearer to the city he heard the sound of
firing.  Apparently Colonel Orellana had already developed his attack on
the south-east.  "He wants to get in first, and turn liberator of the
Republic instead of Carabaño," thought Will.  In a few minutes he ran
the hydroplane alongside of the landing-stage, unchallenged: clearly no
attack had been expected on this quarter.  He left the vessel in charge
of the two natives and hastened along the Calle de Coco with the
station-master to seek the Jefe.  He had already been introduced to that
worthy official; indeed, he had thoroughly enjoyed himself at a ball
given by the Jefe during a short stay in the city with Mr. Jackson.

There was a great commotion in the streets.  Officers and orderlies were
galloping in all directions, troops hastening from one part of the city
to another, many of the men being civilians armed for the nonce.
Shopkeepers were barricading their windows; peons were throwing
barricades across the principal streets; here and there were the
inevitable loafers, lolling against the walls and smoking as if all was
peaceful and serene.  Will hurried along, towards the Alameda, and came
to the Town Hall, the portico of which was thronged.  He pushed his way
in, with the station-master, and sent up his name.  He waited for some
time; nobody came to fetch him; and in fact, the Jefe was so busily
engaged in arranging for the defence of the city that he had scarcely
heeded the functionary who informed him of Will’s presence.  It was
doubtful whether his name was properly pronounced.  Will was, however,
determined to see him.  He felt a certain compunction in leaving his
friends captive at the hacienda while he occupied himself with the
affairs of a State to which he owed nothing.  He reflected that if he
had lain low until the rebels had started, he might have found an
opportunity of releasing them--unless perchance General Carabaño had
brought them with him.  Certainly he owed it to them to make an
immediate application to the Jefe on their behalf.

At last he grew impatient, and asked a passing official whether he could
not go up to the Jefe.

"His Excellency is too much engaged to give audience, señor," was the
reply, and the man passed on without waiting for more.

Suddenly remembrance came to Will.

"Isn’t your aunt’s uncle engaged in the administration?" he asked the
station-master.

"My mother’s cousin, señor.  I was not aware that you knew it."

"Then please will you send a message to your mother’s cousin and see
whether he cannot bring us to the Jefe," said Will, stifling a
temptation to shake the man.

"But he is a high official, señor; he may be displeased."

"Good heavens!  Don’t you see it’s the chance of your life!  You are the
man who sent the warning telegram from Santa Marta.  Get your mother’s
cousin to take you to the Jefe: he may make you superintendent of the
line."

This vision of glory was sufficiently dazzling to overcome the
station-master’s reluctance to trouble his relative.  Mentioning the
official’s name, he was led along a corridor and ushered into his
presence.  A few words explained his errand; then the assistant
secretary said he would certainly introduce him to the Jefe as the man
whose timely warning had been so valuable.  Will accompanied them to the
room in which the Jefe sat, among a throng of officers.  The assistant
secretary presented his relative, magnifying his promptitude and zeal
for the State.  The Jefe embraced him: then, recognizing Will, gave him
a finger.

"The Republic thanks you, señor," he said to the station-master; "the
President will reward you.  Your warning gave us time to blow up the
culvert, and if I can hold the rebel Colonel Orellana at bay, I may be
able to vanquish General Carabaño himself.  By a malign stroke of fate,
scarcely an hour before I received your message, three hundred of my
best troops left by steamer for Caracas, sadly reducing my garrison."

"Did you not receive a telegram from Caracas ordering the dispatch of
these reinforcements, Excellency?" asked Will.

"That is true, señor," replied the Jefe, with a look of surprise.

"The order was fabricated, Excellency," said Will at once.  "It was part
of General Carabaño’s plan, managed with the connivance of one of your
telegraph staff.  His name is--let me think: Perugia--no, Pereira."

"Do you say so, señor?" cried the Jefe, springing up in agitation. "How
do you know it?"

"I overheard a conversation between General Carabaño and my Company’s
telegraphist, who has joined the rebels."

"Caramba! could anything be more unfortunate--or more atrocious! Captain
Guzman, be so good as to have this Pereira instantly arrested. Would
that I could recall the troops!  But by this time they are twelve miles
down-stream."

An idea struck Will.

"I have my hydroplane at the quay, Excellency," he said, "and if the
steamer left only an hour ago I can easily overtake it if you will give
me an order recalling the troops.  In less than three hours they will be
at your Excellency’s disposal."

The Jefe grasped both his hands and shook them warmly.

"I cannot sufficiently thank you, señor.  You will do the State a great
service.  If the troops return within that time they will be here almost
as soon as General Carabaño; it may be our salvation.  Do not delay, I
beg you."

"I must have a written order, Excellency."

"Assuredly.  Señor Crespo" (addressing the assistant secretary), "kindly
make out the order for my signature at once."

He turned to speak to his officers.  The station-master, finding himself
forgotten, stood looking very ill at ease.  In a few moments the order
was signed, and Will took his leave.  Hurrying through the streets, he
remembered that he was hungry and stopped at a shop to buy bread and
cheese.  But putting his hand into his pocket for the money, he
discovered that he was without a single peseta.

"I came away in a hurry," he said to the scowling shopkeeper.  "Look,
here is an order signed by the Jefe; my mission is urgent, I will pay
you when I get back, at the offices of the British Asphalt Company of
Guayana."

"Very well, señor," said the man, to whom the name of the Company was
well known: and Will hurried off, carrying enough food to provide
himself and his two companions with a substantial meal.

Five minutes afterwards he sprang on board the hydroplane, cast off, and
set her going at full speed.  The current was with him, and the vessel
whizzed along at forty knots, Azito standing with his pole a few feet
from the wind screen, holding in his left hand a hunch of bread from
which he took a bite occasionally.  Will employed his left hand in the
same way, steering with the right.

Caracas, he knew, was several hundreds of miles distant from Ciudad
Bolivar by water.  The steamer would run with the tide to the mouth of
the river, or strike out by one of its arms to the sea, and then follow
the coast-line.  Will knew that he could overtake it long before it
reached the mouth.  Indeed, in less than half-an-hour Azito reported
that he saw its smoke in the distance.  Five minutes afterwards it was
clearly visible as a spot on the river’s broad expanse, and in yet
another five minutes the hydroplane was alongside, Will shouting to the
crowded deck that he had a message of recall from the Jefe.  The steamer
slowed down and stopped: Will clambered on board and handed the order to
the officer in command.  The vessel was instantly put about; the engines
were forced to their utmost, and huge volumes of black smoke poured from
the funnels, the hydroplane being made fast with a rope and towed.

The steamer was now moving against the current, and it seemed to Will to
go at a snail’s pace in comparison with the hydroplane.  He became so
bored with the slow progress and the officer’s questions about his
vessel that he made up his mind to quit the steamer and hasten back in
advance, to inform the Jefe that the troops were on the way to his
relief.  He called to José to start the motor and drive the hydroplane
alongside, slipped over by means of a rope, and was soon careering ahead
of the steamer at three times its speed.

When he arrived within a few miles of the city he heard heavy firing,
and as he drew nearer he recognized that the attack was being pressed in
two quarters.  Evidently General Carabaño had made a very rapid march
from the broken culvert.  On reaching the quay, he left José and Azito
in charge of the hydroplane as before, and hurried along the deserted
streets to the Town Hall.  The Jefe was absent.  He had taken the
command against General Carabaño on the south-west, while Captain Guzman
was engaged with Colonel Orellana on the south-east.  Will hastened on
to find the Jefe.  He discovered him a short distance south of the town,
on rising ground, his front protected by the walls of two or three
gardens.

The Jefe was decidedly flurried.  He had only three or four hundred men
against a force which he estimated to number nearly eight hundred. Will
wondered how so many had been squeezed into the train.  They must have
been packed like sardines.  Three guns had been drawn to the spot and
unlimbered behind the walls; but the Jefe, when Will told him that the
steamer was coming down at full speed, explained with much vehemence
that when his artillerymen tried to fire the guns they found that the
powder was mixed with sand.  Will was not surprised.  Some official had
no doubt made a little fortune out of the contract.

General Carabaño’s attack had been twice rolled back, but he had now
divided his force into two portions.  One threatened the front of the
Jefe’s position, from the reverse slope of a hill about a quarter of a
mile distant; the other was working through a small wood to the west,
with the evident intention of taking the position in flank.  Indeed,
just after Will arrived, an enfilading fire broke out on the right, and
began to thin the ranks of the men holding the gardens, for the wood
through which the enemy was approaching was at a somewhat higher level,
so that the defenders lost the protection of the wall running at right
angles to their front.  The position was already no longer tenable, and
the Jefe, who had no great confidence in his men’s steadiness, began to
withdraw them by twenties behind barricades thrown up at the end of two
streets leading towards the middle of the city.  The retirement was
hailed with loud shouts by the enemy, who, emboldened by their success,
came pouring out of the wood, pressing the Government troops hard.  The
last of these to leave the gardens were closely followed by the main
body of the enemy under General Carabaño himself.  They came yelling
forward right up to the barricades.  Then, however, they were met by a
galling fire from the men already in position; and the General’s voice
could be heard ordering them to scatter and take refuge in the gardens
which had lately sheltered their opponents.

It was obvious that the barricades could not be taken by direct assault
without heavy loss, but the General was equal to the difficulty.  While
his men kept up a dropping fire from the garden, the flanking force,
under Captain Espejo, skirmishing along under cover of broken country,
gained a point some hundred yards beyond the barricades, and then,
swinging to their right, charged through a cross lane, a movement which
threatened the rear of the defenders and placed them between two fires.
The Jefe saw his peril in time, and withdrew his men hurriedly from the
barricade, occupying houses commanding the intersection of the streets
with the lane.

He had barely completed this operation when he saw his mistake.  He was
in a trap.  His force was no longer mobile.  The enemy, protected by the
barricades which he himself had raised, could prevent him from leaving
the houses, while he, though the buildings to some extent commanded the
barricades, was quite unable to bring to bear upon the enemy a fire
destructive enough to drive them away.  General Carabaño’s intentions
were soon clear.  He ordered up Captain Espejo, and left him to hold the
Jefe in check, while preparing himself to detach the rest of his men and
press on by a flank march towards the centre of the city, which was
practically undefended.  This division of his force, which would have
been hazardous in face of superior numbers, was perfectly safe in the
unfortunate situation in which the Jefe was placed.

During these exciting moments Will had remained with the Jefe.  That
poor harassed man was in great distress of mind at having allowed
himself thus to be cut off.

"How long will the steamer be?" he asked Will anxiously, standing at a
window.

"It can’t be far off, Excellency," replied Will.  "Shall I go and hurry
up the reinforcements?"

"It is a generous offer, señor, but impossible to carry out.  You would
certainly be shot."

"I am not so sure, Excellency.  Captain Espejo’s men are all beyond the
barricades: the General is now some distance away; if you pour in a hot
fire on the barricades when I slip out I think I might escape."

"You are a stranger, señor.  You have no reason to imperil your life in
our unhappy cause."

"But the very existence of my Company depends on your crushing General
Carabaño, Excellency.  I am willing to take the risk."

"I can say no more, señor.  Give me a signal when you reach the door and
I will do my best for you."

Will instantly ran down the stairs.  He stood at the door for a moment
to make sure that the street to the right was clear; then, shouting to
the Jefe, he sprinted away.  Instantly there was a rattle of musketry
from the windows above.  Will ran a few yards up the street, one or two
bullets whizzing perilously close, then darted into an alley on his
right and made at full speed towards the river.

The city seemed to be deserted.  All the civilians had barricaded
themselves in their houses.  When Will reached the quay, he saw the
smoke of the steamer about a mile away.  Springing into the hydroplane,
he started it down-stream, and on meeting the vessel, swung round and
explained in a few hurried sentences to the officer in command what was
happening.  The officer, who appeared to be a capable soldier, was alive
to the situation.  If General Carabaño swooped down on the rear of
Captain Guzman’s force, engaged in an unequal struggle with Colonel
Orellana in the south-east of the city, he might easily crush the
defence in that quarter.  He could then join hands with Captain Espejo
and sweep the city from end to end.  It was obviously the first duty of
the reinforcements to save the garrison on the southeast from being
crushed, and there was no time to be lost.

Accordingly the steamer went on until it reached the quay.  The troops
were landed, hastily formed up, and led up the steep hill streets
towards the danger point, from which the sound of continuous firing, now
much louder than when Will came through the city, showed that Captain
Guzman was being hard pressed.

The reinforcements had barely begun the advance when a loud outburst of
firing was heard, apparently not more than a few hundred yards away.
There could be no doubt that General Carabaño had crossed the city and
was now falling on the rear of the garrison.  Will had had no military
training or experience, but he realized how critical the situation was.
If Captain Guzman’s defence was broken, it was doubtful whether, even
with the aid of the reinforcements, the city could be saved.  The
officer, Colonel Blanco, ordered his men to double and to refrain from
shouting.

"Go back, señor," he cried to Will: "you will be in danger."

"Not a bit of it," replied Will, in the grip of intense excitement.

He ran along beside the Colonel, wishing that he had had the forethought
to borrow a rifle before he left the Jefe.  He did not pause to consider
that he was properly a non-combatant; he was in fact too much excited to
think of his own position at all.

The head of the little column soon came in view of a large plaza, so
full of smoke that it was impossible to see whether the men firing were
friends or foes.  But in a few moments Will caught sight of a number of
Indians, wearing green feathers, swarming out of one of the streets
opening on the plaza.

"They are General Carabaño’s bloodhounds," cried Will.

"Charge!" shouted the Colonel.

With a great shout the men sprang impetuously forward.  Behind the
Indians Will saw General Carabaño’s towering form.  He was evidently
taken by surprise at the sudden appearance of a force from an unexpected
quarter; but he called to his men to swing round, and with wild cries,
in no order, Indians and Venezuelans charged straight for the head of
the column.  There was no time to fire.  The two bodies came together
with a shock, and then began a desperate hand to hand fight in which
bayonets, clubbed rifles, lances, machetes, swords, revolvers, all
played a part.

Will began to wish he had not been so impetuous.  He was in the thick of
it now, pressed upon so closely that it was impossible to escape from
the mellay.  For some minutes he dodged this way and that, with no other
thought than to avoid the enemy’s weapons.  He was in some measure
protected by the very denseness of the struggling mass, which was jammed
so tight that there was little room for wielding arms of any kind.  But
presently, as the swaying throng thinned a little, a furious llanero
lunged at him with his bayonet.  It shaved his shoulder almost by a
hair’s-breadth, only missing his chest because the man stumbled over one
of Blanco’s soldiers who had just fallen.  Will’s blood was up.  Before
the llanero recovered his footing, Will let drive at him with his right
fist, at the same time gripping his rifle by the barrel with the left.
A vigorous wrench forced it from the man’s hand.  Will had just time to
change it to his right hand when two yelling Indians sprang at him with
machetes.  He parried the stroke of one, catching it on the barrel, and
dropped on his knee, in the nick of time to evade a sweeping blow from
the weapon of the other, which shaved the top clean off his sun-helmet.

"Bravo!" shouted Colonel Blanco, felling the first man with his
revolver.  Then Will, springing up as the second Indian stumbled past
him, brought the stock of the rifle down on the man’s head, and he fell
like a log.

By this time the rest of Colonel Blanco’s column had forced its way into
the plaza and closed round the surging mass of men.  Their rifles were
loaded; they fired one volley into the rear ranks of the enemy, careful
not to hit their friends; then they too clubbed their rifles and joined
doughtily in the fray.  They were fresh; General Carabaño’s men were
weary with their forced march and the ensuing struggle.  The General’s
loud voice could be heard above the din, shouting to his men to reform
their ranks.  But he might as well have harangued a flock of sheep.  Nor
was there more order in Colonel Blanco’s force.  There was not so much
method in the fighting as in a Rugby scrimmage.

Numbers began to tell.  There were signs of wavering among the enemy.
Colonel Blanco seized the moment to shout to his men to press home the
charge.  Some of the Indians were seen making across the plaza, almost
sweeping the General off his feet.  He slashed at them as they passed,
commanding them to stand; but his men were falling back; Colonel Blanco
had succeeded in forming a line; and the General, recognizing that the
game was up, ordered the retreat.  Will was amazed to see how fast so
big a man could run.  Colonel Blanco set off at the head of his men in
pursuit, but the enemy scattered, running like hares into the various
streets on the south side of the plaza.  Several were overtaken and cut
down, but the remainder made good their escape and fled from the city
into the open country.

There were still sounds of firing to the southeast, and Colonel Blanco
swung his column round to go to the relief of Captain Guzman.  He
reached him at a moment when his men, exhausted with their long
struggle, were giving way before the superior numbers of Colonel
Orellana.  The sudden appearance of the reinforcements turned the tide.
Seeing Government troops instead of those of General Carabaño, which he
had expected, Colonel Orellana recognized that their plan had in some
way miscarried, and drew off his men in good order.  Colonel Blanco
deemed it inadvisable to pursue until he had assured himself of the
relinquishment of the attack on the Jefe.  Hurrying back across the
city, he found that Captain Espejo had learnt of his chief’s
discomfiture, and was already in full flight.  The raid had failed
utterly; and Colonel Blanco, joining hands with the Jefe, declared that
the revolution was snuffed out.



CHAPTER X--SCOUTING


The guest of honour at the Jefe’s banquet that evening was not the
station-master of Santa Marta, who, it is to be feared, was left out in
the cold, but William Pentelow.  His health was drunk (in very bad
wine), and he had to listen, as comfortably as he could, to some very
high-flown speeches, in which he was hailed as the true Liberator of
Venezuela.  Will, who was a modest fellow, took all this for what it was
worth, which, he was inclined to think, was very little.

The truth is that he was not in the mood for junketing.  Before the
banquet the Jefe had granted him a private audience, and he related full
particulars of what had happened at railhead.  He ended by asking the
Jefe to use his influence and authority to procure the liberation of Mr.
Jackson and his subordinates.  The Jefe was very sympathetic, but
confessed frankly that he saw no present means of helping the
Englishmen.

"It is most distressing, señor," he said, "but you see my unfortunate
position.  I am not strong enough to follow up the defeated rebels.  I
cannot leave the city totally unguarded, and my whole force is inferior
in numbers to those of General Carabaño and Colonel Orellana.  I can
expect no help from Caracas at present, and, as you are doubtless aware,
there are no garrisons in the smaller towns touched by the railway.
Besides, I have no doubt that General Carabaño has entrained his men,
and returned to the place from which he started, and since the culvert
is broken, it is impossible to follow him up by train.  As soon as the
revolt in Valencia is suppressed, the President will certainly take
strong measures against General Carabaño, who until then must, I fear,
be left unmolested.  A mere remonstrance with him on the treatment of
your colleagues, unbacked by force, would be futile.  I will certainly
telegraph to Caracas, giving the particulars I have learnt from you, and
asking for instructions; but I do not expect that anything practical
will come of it immediately.  At present I can only hold this city for
the Government.  If I may counsel you, I say, remain here for the
present.  I do not anticipate that your friends will suffer personal
harm; General Carabano will certainly have a wholesome respect for the
far-reaching arm of your great country.  I shall not fail to represent
your distinguished services in the highest quarters, and without doubt
the President will know how to recognize them adequately.  In the
meantime I shall be honoured by your presence at the banquet I am giving
to-night in celebration of our victory."

This was very cold comfort; but Will was not unreasonable, and on
reflection he acknowledged that the Jefe could not very well take any
active steps on behalf of his friends.  He decided at any rate to wait
until an answer had been received from Caracas, which might be expected
during the following day.

Scouts who had been sent out to watch the retreating columns reported
that the retirement was definitive.  Colonel Orellana had marched
southward round the swamps, while General Carabaño had entrained his men
beyond the culvert and started down the line, presumably to return to
his camp at De Mello’s hacienda.

Next morning the Jefe decided to send a portion of his troops by steamer
to the junction, to capture the station staff, who had clearly espoused
the rebels’ cause.  When Colonel Blanco returned in the evening, he
reported that he had found the station deserted.  Since the destruction
of the culvert six miles west of Bolivar had rendered the line useless
at present for Government troops, the Colonel had thought it wise to
prevent General Carabaño from attempting another dash on the city.
Accordingly he had torn up a hundred yards of the track on this side of
the junction.  This left the rebels in possession of the branch line,
which would, however, be of little use to them.  The Colonel had not
broken the telegraph wires.  The traitor Pereira in Bolivar had been
flung into jail, so that there was no danger of further mischief
concerted between him and his friend Machado.

Meanwhile Will had spent an unhappy day.  Some of the younger officers
seemed disposed to continue indefinitely the revellings of the previous
night, and he had great difficulty in excusing himself from
participation in them without appearing discourteous.  He took the
opportunity of paying a visit to the offices of the Company.  The agent,
an Englishman, was greatly distressed at what had occurred, and cabled
information to the head offices in London, leaving it to the directors
to make representations to the Foreign Office.  He advanced a quarter’s
salary to Will, who bought a revolver and a supply of petrol, together
with a considerable quantity of food which he stored in the hydroplane.

An hour before Colonel Blanco’s return from the junction, the Jefe sent
for Will.

"I have disagreeable news for you, señor," he said.  "This afternoon I
received a telegram from General Carabaño saying that your superior,
having taken arms against the Liberator, is now held to ransom.  He
threatens that unless he receives within three days 60,000 pesos for
Señor Jackson and 12,000 for each of his subordinates they will be
shot."

Will gasped.  He knew without telling that to raise so large a sum as
£7,000 would be impossible.

"I telegraphed this demand to Caracas, having already informed the
President of what you told me yesterday," continued the Jefe.  "I have
his reply here.  He says that he deeply regrets the outrage to which
your friends have been subjected, but the permanent interests of your
Company will be better served by strengthening my position here than by
attempting a rescue with a totally inadequate force.  He adds that the
payment of a ransom is out of the question.  It would merely strengthen
General Carabaño’s position, and his demand must be resisted on public
grounds ay in the highest degree dangerous."

"Surely he will not allow three inoffensive Englishmen to be shot,"
exclaimed Will, indignantly.

"It is deplorable," replied the Jefe, "but what can be done?  General
Carabaño will hesitate before taking so extreme a step, which would
utterly ruin any chance he may have of usurping authority, even if he
could overcome us by force of arms."

"I am not so sure of that," said Will bitterly.  "From what I have seen
and heard of the General I believe him to be utterly unscrupulous and
capable of any atrocity, to satisfy his spite if for no other reason,
for you remember, Excellency, that it was my Chief’s firmness that
prevented him from vastly increasing his resources."

"Señor Jackson indeed merits the thanks of the Republic, señor, and I am
greatly concerned at his unfortunate position.  But, as you see, I am
helpless, and I can only hope that General Carabaño will be restrained
by considerations of prudence from committing what would undoubtedly be
a most heinous crime."

Will saw that, had he been in the Governor’s place, he could hardly have
done otherwise.  But though official action was impossible, he felt that
he could not himself remain securely in Bolivar while his friends were
in dire peril.  He was at a loss to think of any effectual means of
helping them, but he could at least return to the hacienda on the
chance, small though it must be, of intervening in their behalf. It
flashed upon him--and the thought was a ray of hope--that the General
had possibly been bluffing, and that the Englishmen were no longer his
prisoners.  He could not have left a large guard over them; they might
have escaped.  At any rate, Will decided that he must return at once and
see for himself how matters stood.

Twenty minutes after his interview with the Jefe he was again on board
the hydroplane with José and Azito.  A few miles up the river he met
Colonel Blanco’s steamer returning, and learnt what had been done at the
junction.  Then he set off again, hoping to reach the neighbourhood of
the hacienda soon after dark.  But reflecting that his supply of petrol
was limited, and he would have no chance of replenishing it, he
contented himself with an average speed of some twenty knots, and it was
dark before he reached the junction.  Just at this time it happened that
something went wrong with the engine, and since he did not care to risk
an absolute breakdown, and could not discover the defect in the
darkness, he felt it necessary to lie up until morning.  Accordingly he
ran the vessel into a small secluded creek, well sheltered by trees, and
made his way with José and the Indian to the deserted station, where
they ate a meal and fixed their quarters for the night, each taking a
turn to watch.

As soon as it was light they returned to the hydroplane.  To repair the
defect was the work of half-an-hour.  They were eating their breakfast
on board the vessel when Azito declared that he heard a train
approaching.  The creek was so well screened by the foliage that there
was no fear of their being seen from the railway line; but it was
possible to observe through the leaves what happened when the train drew
level.  It consisted of three trucks filled with men, and Will felt sure
he saw the burly form of Captain Espejo standing beside the
engine-driver on his cab.  He wondered whether they had got wind of the
coming of the hydroplane, and had come to intercept it.  This seemed
very unlikely, for the news would not have reached them by telegraph now
that Pereira had been removed and the staff at the junction had
decamped.  True, the hydroplane had been seen as it passed river-side
villages, and it had met and overtaken several craft on the way--barges,
skiffs, and Indian canoes.  But it had outstripped all vessels going in
the same direction, and it must have been impossible for any of their
occupants to have given information to the rebels.  A more reasonable
explanation was that they had heard of the visit of Colonel Blanco, and
Captain Espejo had come to discover what had happened at the junction,
and whether any movement was being made from Bolivar.  General Carabaño
was probably unaware of the exact strength of the reinforcements to
which he owed his defeat, and would naturally be somewhat nervous lest
he should be followed up.

The train came to a standstill where the line had been torn up. Captain
Espejo descended from the engine and some of his men from the trucks,
and they walked along the track and into the station.  Will had already
decided that it would be inadvisable to continue his journey until the
approach of evening.  He chafed at the delay, but there would be too
great a risk of being seen, or of the throbbing of the engine being
heard, to venture further in the daylight, especially as the line was
being used.  After the train had returned, therefore--the engine running
backwards, the siding at the station having been destroyed--he settled
himself in the boat to make up for the broken sleep of the night.

When he awoke, he thought over what was before him.  It was impossible
to prepare a definite plan of operations.  His first object must be to
discover whether the three Englishmen were still in the camp, and still
imprisoned in the stables.  This seemed to him unlikely.  His own escape
would probably have led to a change of quarters, unless indeed the
General had adopted the precaution of patrolling all sides of the
stables to prevent a repetition of Will’s exploit.  He thought with
compunction of the additional rigours the prisoners might have had to
suffer through him.  What he should do when he had discovered their
whereabouts must be left to circumstances.  He would only have a little
more than one clear day to effect their release before the period named
by General Carabaño expired, and he fretted a good deal as he thought of
the possibility that all his efforts might fail.

After a tedious and anxious day, he ventured to set off a little before
dusk.  It was dark when he came into the stream running past the
hacienda.  Finding that the wind was blowing strongly from the direction
of the hacienda, he continued to use the engine for a time, not, of
course, planing, but contenting himself with a bare two or three knots.
When this was no longer safe, he stopped the engine and with Azito’s
assistance began to pole the vessel up-stream.  It was slow and
fatiguing work.  But there was no help for it.  The hydroplane was too
valuable an accessory to be left where it might be discovered. The first
necessity was to lay it up in security.  Then they might go ashore
feeling confident that, however protracted their absence might be, the
vessel would be safe and always available.

As it passed within sight of the hacienda and the camp Will saw lights,
and suspected from their position that the camp had been shifted.  He
would have liked to land and steal up to the stables; Azito offered to
do so: but Will, after a little hesitation, stuck to his resolution to
risk nothing until the hydroplane was in safety.  It was fully four
hours before he reached the hollow in the bank.  Once or twice in the
darkness the vessel ran aground, and the fear of lurking caymans made
them careful how they moved to get her off.  When, shortly after one
o’clock, she was at last moored in the recess, Will was tired out.  He
was five miles from the hacienda: by the time he could reach it there
would only be two or three hours of darkness before day broke.  It would
be difficult enough to make any discovery at all in the darkness: how
much more difficult when time was limited!  In spite of the further
delay involved, Will thought it wise to rest for the remainder of the
night, and to start fresh next morning on whatever course then offered
itself.

Will had never before spent a night in the hydroplane.  Owing perhaps to
his fatigue and his anxieties he felt a little reluctant to do so now,
for though the water in the recess was very shallow, there was a
possibility that a cayman might wander in from the stream, a prospect
not to be thought of without shuddering.  Azito and the negro refused
point-blank to sleep in the vessel.  The wood had its perils, but they
preferred to rest in a tree.  To guard against any danger for himself
Will hit on the plan of tying a string across the entrance of the recess
about a foot above the surface of the water.  An empty petrol can was
attached to one end of this, and so carefully balanced that the least
touch on the string would cause it to fall against the bank.  The sound
would, he hoped, not only give him warning, but scare away any unwelcome
visitor.  However, the night passed without disturbance, and Will, when
he awoke, was ready for anything the day might bring forth.

It was the third day, the last, of the time allowed by General Carabaño
for the ransom of his prisoners.  Anything that could be done for them
must be done at once.

"You and I will go to the hacienda," said Will to the Indian, "and see
if we can find out where the señores are."

"I go alone, señor," replied Azito.  "I can move as quietly as a snake.
No one will hear me.  Was it not I that made the hole in the wall?  Let
the señor stay here until I bring him word."

Anxious and impatient though he was, Will had to confess to himself that
Azito’s suggestion was reasonable.  The Indian was accustomed to the
woods: he might evade observation by a hundred artifices of which Will
was ignorant.  In any case one would go more safely than two.

"Very well," said Will.  "Be as quick as you can."

The Indian slipped noiselessly away.  Will spent the first part of the
morning in cleaning the engine.  When this was done he moved restlessly
about among the trees, worried because he could do nothing, nor even
form any plans until he had more information.  He watched the
bright-coloured birds flitting among the foliage, caught a tree frog,
and examined it with a naturalist’s curiosity, followed a cayman as it
hunted for food along the bank; but all this palled upon him after a
time, and as hour after hour passed, and Azito did not return, he became
more and more uneasy.  What had happened to the man?  Had he fallen into
the clutches of his old master?  At the best he would be unmercifully
thrashed; and if by any chance Captain Espejo had learnt of his
association with the Englishmen, as he might do from one of the railway
peons who had been impressed, Will trembled for the poor Indian’s fate.

As the sun rose higher, it became oppressively hot in the moist
atmosphere of the wood.  At noon Will and José ate a simple dinner; then
the former lay down in the hydroplane to snatch a nap.  But the air of
the recess was so stuffy, and insects bit him so ferociously, that at
last he could endure his inactivity no longer.  José had been several
times to the edge of the wood to watch for Azito’s return. When he came
back after one of these excursions, and reported that there was still no
sign of him, Will sprang up.

"I am going after him, José," he said.  "You stay here and watch the
boat.  Do not leave it until I come."

He climbed up the bank and set off through the wood.  If he went
straight through it, he would emerge almost within bowshot of the
hacienda.  It occurred to him that he would run less risk if he came
down on the camp from the opposite side rather than from the river
front.  Accordingly he struck off to the right, and presently reached
the margin of the wood near the deserted railway camp.  Looking around
to make sure that no one was in sight, he ran across the open space,
still littered with the débris of the camp, and crawled over the
embankment.  A few hundred yards on the other side of this was a long
stretch of forest.  He entered this, and then turning to the left,
hurried on as fast as he could through the clinging tangled undergrowth.
Here and there the trees thinned and he bent low so that his form should
not show above the vegetation.  Sometimes too he came to an expanse of
bare rising ground, and had to go a long way round to avoid it.  But the
embankment always served as a screen, and about three o’clock he arrived
at a point where he could hear the distant sounds of the camp and knew
that he was coming within reach of danger.

Leaving the wood, he climbed the embankment, and lay down at the top to
view the camp.  He saw that, as he had guessed when passing it on the
stream, it had been removed, and was now established nearly half-a-mile
away in the grounds of the hacienda, which the tents practically
encircled.  He surmised that his escape from the stables had made
General Carabaño anxious about his own safety.  If a man could get out,
a man could get in, and the General had many enemies.  Difficult as
access had been before, it was now immeasurably more difficult, and Will
felt with a sinking heart that his friends’ plight was even more serious
than he had believed.

He was still lying on the embankment, wondering what had become of
Azito, and how he was to do anything for the prisoners, when he suddenly
became aware that he was not alone.  He had heard no sound except the
distant hum from the camp.  Turning quickly and whipping out his
revolver, but still having the prudence not to rise to his feet, he was
confronted by Azito himself, who had crawled up to his side.  He was
conscious now that his heart was thumping wildly against his ribs.

"I am here, señor," whispered the Indian, unnecessarily.

The two quickly slid down the embankment and entered the wood.

"I had given you up," said Will breathlessly.  "What have you done?"

The Indian’s story was a very simple and natural one, and Will saw that
his anxiety had been quite baseless.  Azito had approached to within a
quarter-mile of the hacienda, and then found himself checked.  The camp
was astir; sentries were placed at several points of its circuit; it was
impossible to get in undetected.  There was no alternative but to wait.
Will could imagine Azito sitting with the stolid patience of the Indian,
clasping his knees, indifferent to the passage of time.  His opportunity
came at noon, when, after the midday meal, everybody but the sentries
retired for a siesta, and even they were drowsy.  Slipping round the
camp, he wormed his way through the undergrowth to the back of the
stables.  The hole in the wall had not been filled up.  There was no
sound from within.  Wriggling through the hole, he found that the
stables were deserted.  The door was open.  All was quiet before the
hacienda.  He peeped round to the right.  No sentry was posted at the
new stables.  Evidently the prisoners had not been transferred to them.
It was impossible to search for them through the camp. Stealthily he
made his way back as he had come, and going a long way round, crossed
the embankment and drew near to the camp again, to view it from the
other side.  There was nothing to indicate the whereabouts of the
prisoners.

"Did you see any one you knew?" asked Will.

"Señor Machado, señor.  I saw him go in and out of the house.  Once he
came out with General Carabaño."

"Are there any special guards set in the camp itself?"

"None, señor, except the sentry at the door.  He was asleep against the
wall when I looked out from the stables."

The absence of special guards in the camp or at the house seemed to
indicate that the prisoners had been removed elsewhere.  A horrible fear
that they had already been shot seized upon Will.  For a moment he
shuddered in a cold sweat of doubt and dread.  But then he remembered
that the period of grace had not yet expired.  Furthermore, the
prisoners would be more valuable alive than dead.  While they still
lived there was a chance of their being ransomed.  General Carabano
would surely, as the Jefe had suggested, hesitate to involve himself in
serious complications with the British Government.  A revolutionary
leader can hardly play the remorseless tyrant until success has placed
him beyond criticism.

But if the prisoners, then, were still alive, as seemed probable, where
were they?  So far as Will knew, there was no place in the immediate
neighbourhood to which they could have been taken.  He was at a loss how
to make any discovery on this matter without revealing his presence to
the enemy.  The camp was astir.  To enter it now was impossible.  It
seemed that the only thing to do was to return to the recess, and remain
there until night, trying meanwhile to think out some course of action.

Before he left, however, he determined to climb the embankment once more
for a final look round.  Choosing for his ascent a spot a little nearer
to the camp, on gaining the top he caught sight of the small wooden
cabin which had been erected for the telegraphic apparatus. Before, it
was concealed from him by a row of bushes.  For a moment he wondered
whether the prisoners had been locked up there, but the notion was
negatived immediately by the absence of a sentry.  And then he laughed
inwardly at the idea of the prisoners being within reach of Machado.
The telegraphist would hardly feel safe to perform his duties, if they
were still required of him, with O’Connor near at hand, even though he
was bound.

There was nothing to be gained by remaining longer, so Will, very
despondent, made his way back with Azito through the wood to the recess
in the bank.  José reported that nothing had happened during their
absence.  They all had a meal; then Will went up the bank and strolled
along where the vegetation did not impede walking, gloomily pondering
his apparent helplessness.

Suddenly he heard a slight warning sound from Azito.  He stepped hastily
back among the trees, and looked up-stream, the direction in which the
Indian was pointing.  Coming round a bend some distance away was an
object that looked like a cage or a basket.  There was a man in it,
standing in the middle, steering the strange vessel with a short pole as
it drifted down the stream.  Azito declared that he was a white man.
Will gazed at him searchingly; then almost shouted for joy.  The
newcomer was Joe Ruggles.



CHAPTER XI--A LEAP IN THE DARK


When Ruggles came within a few yards of the spot where the two watchers
stood, Will softly hailed him.  He looked round in alarm, and made as
though to beat a summary retreat.  Then, lifting his eyes and seeing
Will among the trees, he steered towards the bank, saying--

"It’s you, is it?  I say, do you happen to have a glass of beer?"

"No, I haven’t."

"Perhaps it’s as well, but I am powerful dry."

"I say, I am awfully glad to see you.  Hold on!  I’ll come down and show
you the entrance to my garage.  Are the others safe too?"

"Not that I know of.  I wish they were.  Where have you been
skylarking?"

"Skylarking!  Good heavens!  I’ve been worried out of my life.  I’ll
tell you all about it, but first tell me where the others are, and how
you came here."

The raft was drawn into the recess, and Ruggles was soon seated beside
Will in the hydroplane, eating bread and cheese, and sighing for his one
glass of beer and a pipe to follow.

"Not but what it’s as well to do without ’em," he said.  "If I began
life over again I’d avoid beer and tobacco; at least, I would if I
could.  Well, the morning after you went there was a rare shindy, as you
may imagine, when they found your manger empty.  They hauled us out and
questioned us, and General Carabaño looked as if he could have made a
meal of us.  O’Connor and I were as much surprised as he was, and wild
with the Chief for not telling us.  However, the General got nothing out
of us, and within an hour we were put on horses and marched up-country
with a strong escort of those ruffians.  Our hands were tied behind us,
and our horses were led, the escort being mounted too.

"I made out from what some of ’em said that their General was going to
make a dash on Bolivar, and didn’t think we’d be safe at the hacienda.
He wanted all his men for the raid, you see, and intended to leave only
a few peons to look after the camp and the horses.  He couldn’t trust
them, of course, and I reckon we’d have got away pretty soon if he had
left us there.  I didn’t hear where they were taking us, and when I
asked the fellow who led my horse, he only grinned at me like an ape."

"O’Connor was mad, no doubt," said Will.

"You’d have thought so, wouldn’t you?  But he wasn’t, a bit; or didn’t
show it.  He tried to crack jokes with his man, and it was amusing,
though not as he intended, for, as you know, his Spanish wouldn’t cover
a half-sheet of note-paper.  But all the time I could see he was looking
round for a chance of escape.  However, I managed it, and so far as I
know, he didn’t.  In my case it was sheer luck.  Most of the escort were
llaneros, fine fellows, too, as near gentlemen as any Venezuelan can be.
But the fellow who tied me up was a bumpkin, who made a bungle of the
job.  I held my wrists so that by giving them a twist afterwards I could
loosen the knots: you know the trick."

"Rather!  I should have thought O’Connor would have known it too."

"He may or may not.  Anyway, we came to a part where the path had a
sheer cliff on the one side and a precipice on the other; a sort of
steep dell, you know, overgrown with trees and shrubs.  The path was so
narrow that we had to go in single file, and, as luck would have it, I
came last, except one man riding free behind me.  Just as we came to the
precipice I kind of saw there might be half a chance, so as my bumpkin
drew ahead of me--he’d lengthened the leading-rein--I managed to give
his horse accidentally a kick in the flank that rather upset his temper.
The fellow was in a fright; it looked a nasty drop to the left.  Being
busy with his horse he dropped the leading-rein.  I wrenched my hands
free, brought my horse round on his hind legs--for an instant his
forelegs were fairly dangling over the precipice--and then drove him
straight for the man behind, wedging in between him and the cliff.

"The path was narrow, as I said.  There wasn’t room for two, and as I’d
got the inside, the other fellow simply had to go over the precipice. He
went.  There was plenty of green stuff to break his fall, and I don’t
wish him any particular harm.  You may guess I didn’t wait to give him
my kind regards, but made off like the wind.  The Chief gave me a cheer.
Before I turned the corner that would hide me from the rest,
half-a-dozen shots were flying after me, and one of them struck my
horse.  But he kept on.  I got safe to the end of the ledge, and then
dived into the forest, where they might have hunted for a month of
Sundays without finding me.

"I dismounted as soon as I was pretty safe, and led the horse, but the
poor beast was done, and dropped after a few miles.  I didn’t feel very
happy.  You know what these forests are.  Let alone the chance of losing
yourself, there are too many jaguars and pumas and snakes to make
travelling on foot very pleasant.  All I’d got to defend myself with
was--what do you think?"

"What was it?"

"A two-bladed pen-knife, one blade broken, that had slipped into the
lining of my pocket and wasn’t discovered when they searched us before
tying us up.  It wouldn’t have scared a toad.  However, I’ve roughed it
all over the world too long to grizzle over what can’t be helped.  My
game clearly was to make for the Orinoco.  All roads lead to Rome, they
say: it’s certain that all streams in these parts lead to the Orinoco.
It struck me I’d be safest on water, so I made up my mind to stop at the
first stream I came to and build myself a raft.  Floating down with the
current I couldn’t fail to strike the Orinoco sooner or later."

"A queer thing, this raft of yours."

"It served my turn.  You see, I was in a quandary.  When I came to a
stream it was swarming with caymans, and, what’s worse, watersnakes.  I
dursn’t make a raft in their company, and yet I must make it on the
brink of the stream, for I couldn’t have carried down one big enough to
float me.  There was plenty of material, of course--dead branches, and
bejuco for fastening them together.  After a power of thought I hit on
the notion of rigging up a sort of cage in which I could make the raft
without the risk of having reptiles closer than I liked.  I did that on
the bank out of range of the caymans--they’re not partial to journeys on
land.  I pushed the cage--it was light enough--down to the edge of the
stream, and brought down my materials, and put the raft together inside
the cage, where I was safe.  It was a longish job.  I had to push it out
into the stream bit by bit as I finished it, and was always in a stew
when I left it in case the current carried it away before I was ready.
However, the current was sluggish at the bank, so I was spared that
calamity."

"But how have you lived?  It’s four days since you went away."

"I’ve lived in this country long enough to know what forest plants are
good for food.  Not that they’re very staying, nor to be compared with
bread and cheese.  I slept in trees, and here I am, thank God! though I
hadn’t a notion I had got into this particular stream."

"How far away were you when you escaped?" asked Will.

"Thirty or forty miles at a guess.  We marched all the first day and
bivouacked for the night at a deserted estancia.  I made a bolt for it
about ten next morning, struck the stream in the afternoon, and got
together the material for the raft before nightfall.  I finished it next
day, but had to spend another night in a tree, and the stream winds
about so much that it has taken me all day to get here."

"I’m glad you’ve come, but it’s a bad look-out for the others.  General
Carabaño has threatened to shoot you all to-morrow if he doesn’t receive
£7,000."

"The villain!  He won’t get it.  I don’t know what you think, but we’re
not worth all that.  How do you know?"

Will then related all that had happened to him since he left the
stables.  When Ruggles heard of General Carabaño’s defeat he looked very
grave.

"He’ll be in a beastly temper," he said.  "You and the Chief have dished
him between you.  He’s not the man to have any mercy on folks who have
stood in his way, and if he hears that I’ve escaped he’ll be madder than
ever.  I don’t fancy they’ll let him know, though."

"But he’ll find out when he sends the order to shoot you, if he doesn’t
go himself.  Time’s up to-night.  If he means what he says it’ll be all
up to-morrow, unless we can do something.  Do you think we could go up
in the hydroplane to the place where you struck the stream and then
track them across country?"

"I doubt whether we could do it.  You see, I wandered about in the
forest, and it might take us a week to find the precipice, even with
your Indian."

"Did you follow a road when you went off?"

"Not so much as a bridle-path."

"Could we lie in wait for the General’s messenger to-morrow?"

"We might do that.  I know the main direction from the camp.  But where
should be we if the General goes himself?  He’s pretty sure to, and of
course he would take an escort.  We couldn’t tackle a crowd."

"I’ve got a revolver."

"One revolver wouldn’t be much good.  You might bring down the General
and another, but then you’d be set on and done for.  No: that’s no good,
and I can’t see for the life of me that we can do anything."

"But we must, Ruggles.  Isn’t there some way of finding out where the
Chief is?"

"You can go and ask the General, and then he’d raise his terms to
£12,000."

Will was silent.  It seemed, as Ruggles said, that the case was
hopeless.  For some time he sat thinking, thinking hard.  Suddenly he
got up.

"Ruggles, I’m going to the hacienda."

"Nonsense!  I didn’t mean it," said the man.

"I shall go.  I got into the house before; I’ll do it again."

"But what if you do?"

"I might hear Carabaño talking."

"And you might not.  It was a pure fluke before: luck won’t play into
your hands again."

"Wait a bit.  There’s Machado.  Ten to one he’ll be at his cabin
sometime to-night waiting for an answer.  The General demanded a reply
by midnight.  If we could only catch Machado we could wring out of him
where the Chief is, and I wouldn’t stick at a trifle in dealing with the
wretch.  He’s the worst of the lot, playing the traitor in our camp, and
torturing José.  He deserves to be paid back in his own coin. I’ll do
it, Ruggles.  It’s a mercy you are here.  I’ll take Azito; you bring the
hydroplane down with José, and wait at the end of the canal in case we
have to dash for it.  Once on board the hydroplane we might defy them
and chance snags."

"It’s dangerous, but if you’re set on it I’m not the man to stay you.
I’ve been in tight corners myself, and I’d stretch a good many points
for the Chief and O’Connor.  But for any sake be careful.  If they are
to be shot we can’t alter it, and what’s the good of three being
murdered instead of two?"

"All right.  I won’t run my head into a noose if I can help it.  I’ll
start just before dark.  You’ll take care how you go down, won’t you? It
would be a disaster if you were wrecked."

"Trust me, Mr. Pentelow.  I hope you’ll have as easy a job as I shall."

In half-an-hour Will set off with Azito.  They went, as they had gone in
the morning, across the old camp to the farther side of the railway
line, but instead of plunging into the forest, ventured to steal along
at the foot of the embankment.  It was pitch dark by the time they
arrived opposite the new camp.  Crawling up the embankment, they lay on
the top to take a good look around before going farther.  There were
fires in the camp, but these were beginning to die down: apparently the
men had already cooked their evening meal.  They could see the dark
forms of the sentries as they passed between the tents.  The house was
lit up.

They crept along the embankment until they came to the spot below which,
about twenty yards from the line, stood the telegraph cabin. Will told
Azito to go forward until he could see the side in which the window was.
In a few minutes the Indian returned and reported that there was no
light in the cabin.  Will supposed that he had come too early: the
message was not expected before midnight.  Yet it was strange that a man
had not been left at the cabin to give Machado notice if any
communication was made.  It was strange, indeed, that Machado himself,
considering the importance of the expected message, had not thought it
worth while, or been ordered by the General, to remain constantly on
duty.  Will was so much surprised that he determined to creep down to
the cabin and see for himself.  Perhaps Machado might be taking a nap in
the dark.  If he were not there, Will thought it possible to remain in
hiding between the cabin and the line, seize Machado when he arrived,
and wring out of him the information he desired.

Bidding Azito remain on guard and warn him if he saw any sign of danger,
Will descended the embankment on hands and heels and stole forward to
the cabin.  He listened at the wall.  There was no sound from within.
The door faced the hacienda.  Will peeped round the corner.  The nearest
tents were at least a hundred yards distant, and the fires were so low
that they seemed to make the darkness only the more intense where their
light did not directly fall.  He crept round to the door, noiselessly
lifted the latch, and, listening with his heart in his mouth, stepped
in.  It was pitch dark.  There was not a sound.  Grasping his revolver,
he moved forward on tip-toe.  He remembered clearly the position of the
table and chair, and groped towards them, putting out his feet
stealthily so that he should not knock against them and make a noise.
The table and chair were not where they had been.  He touched the wall,
and moved along inch by inch.  To his amazement, the cabin was bare.
Table, chair, telegraph instrument--all had been removed.

What could be the meaning of this?  Moving now without such extreme
care, Will passed out again and looked up to see if the wire still ran
into the cabin.  He could just distinguish it against the starlit sky.
He crept back towards the embankment, following the wire to the place
where it left the telegraph line; and then he saw that another wire had
been connected, and ran across the gardens.  Evidently after what had
happened at the cabin, General Carabaño had taken the precaution of
removing the instrument.  Will peered into the darkness to see if the
wire entered a tent or another cabin, but after a few yards he lost
sight of it.  Returning to the spot where he had left Azito, he asked
him if he, with his sharper sight, could follow the course of the wire.
The Indian stood looking for a few seconds: then he said that he saw a
pole about thirty yards from the house.  It had not been there before.
He went a few yards farther along the embankment, and declared that the
wire stretched from the pole to the house, where it ran through one of
the windows in a room at the side just behind the servants’ quarters.
The window was half-closed, and within the room was a light.  Will could
no longer doubt that this was the place where Machado was awaiting the
message from Bolivar.

Difficult as Will had known his task to be, it now seemed impossible. On
the former occasion of his nocturnal visit to the house the camp was
half-a-mile distant.  Now the tents formed the arc of a circle about it,
the nearest of them being not more than a dozen yards away.  Only
through the camp could the house be approached.  Sounds of laughter and
conversation could be distinctly heard: it was clear that the men were
as yet very lively.  Even had they turned in for the night there were
still the sentries to elude.  But when Will thought of Machado sitting
at his instrument in that little room, almost within stone’s throw of
him, he could not bring himself to give up all hope of helping his
friends.  Five minutes with Machado, unless he had entirely mistaken his
man, would be enough to wring out of him the information he so earnestly
desired.  Failing that information, he felt that the Chief and Jerry
O’Connor were doomed.  Was there not, even now, a chance?

He resolved to wait.  Nothing could be attempted while the camp was
still awake.  Perhaps when the men had gone into their tents for the
night an opportunity for slipping past the sentries might offer.  So he
lay down on the embankment, with Azito beside him, to keep vigil.

Waiting is always tedious, and Will’s impatience was such that he found
the enforced delay almost unendurable.  It was too dark for him to see
his watch, and he durst not strike a light.  The fires sank lower and
lower, but it seemed hours before there was any sensible diminution of
the sounds in the camp.  It was, in fact, nearly half-past ten before
silence reigned and Will thought it possible to leave his post. Bidding
Azito in a whisper to follow him, he crawled down the embankment with
great caution, so as not to disturb a single stone or clod of earth, and
stole as softly as a cat to the part of the encampment nearest to the
house.

When within a few yards of the tents, he lay on the ground to watch his
opportunity.  He could just see the dark form of the sentry passing to
and fro beyond the line of tents.  The man’s beat appeared to extend for
about fifty yards, and at the end of it farthest from the house he
stopped to talk to the sentry next him.  Will heard the low hum of their
voices.  All was quiet within the house.  To get into it he must pass
the lighted window of Machado’s room.  The sentries were bound to see
him.  What could he do?

He lay for some minutes in sheer perplexity.  The sentry passed more
than once.  Suddenly he made up his mind to a desperate venture.  The
room next to Machado’s was in darkness.  It was, he knew, a cloak-room.
There was a door between them.  He would enter the enclosure boldly
between the nearest tent and the house, when the sentries were next
engaged in chatting.  They would never dream that an unauthorized person
had dared to come into the very jaws of the lion.  There were many
Indians among General Carabaño’s men, so that the sight of Azito would
not necessarily alarm the sentries.  He would walk with Azito openly
along the back of the house, get beneath the veranda, where it was even
darker than in the camp enclosure, and by hook or by crook find an
entrance.

He explained his plan softly to Azito.  The Indian was timorous, but
after a few moments’ thought he agreed to accompany his master.  They
crawled to the right until they came just behind the last tent of the
line, and waited until they heard the low hum of the sentries’ voices.
Then they stepped round the tent, and walked slowly towards the house.
Will’s heart was thumping violently, but he walked steadily on until he
reached the steps leading up to the veranda.  He saw with joy as he
passed the lighted window that a thin curtain hung across it.  The
sentries gave no sign.  He mounted the steps, Azito close behind, and
stood by the window of the room next to Machado’s.  He waited for a
moment, then gently tried the latch of the French window.  It was not
secured.  He opened the door, and they stepped noiselessly in.



CHAPTER XII--THE KIDNAPPERS


The door between the two rooms was closed.  That into the patio was
ajar.  Will stole across the room and peeped into the patio.  A small
lamp was burning at the farther end, near the front door.  A man sat
dozing on a chair outside De Mello’s room, which was no doubt occupied
by Carabaño.  Another lay fast asleep on the floor at the patio door of
Machado’s room.  But for these the patio was empty.  To enter it seemed
too risky; Will stepped back into the cloak-room and listened at the
door of communication.  There was no sound.  He waited, pressing his ear
against the door.  Now he heard slight snores: somebody was in the
farther room, asleep.  He gently tried the handle.  The door was not
locked.  Grasping his revolver, Azito having his machete, he quickly
opened the door and went in.  Machado was asleep on a long cane chair.
The telegraphic instrument stood on a table at his left hand.  Will
softly closed the door behind him, and motioned to Azito to stand at the
door opening into the patio.  A clock on a shelf told the hour: it was
five minutes past eleven.

Machado was fast asleep and did not stir.  Was it possible to wake him
without causing him to cry out or make some sound that would alarm the
men in the patio?  Will went to the foot of the cane chair, and pointing
his revolver full at Machado’s head, he gently touched him. The man
moved uneasily.  Will touched him again.  He drew up his legs slightly.
Another touch, and his eyes opened.  For a moment Will thought that the
shock would itself force a cry from him, but at a warning hiss his jaw
dropped, and a look of terror distorted his face as he saw the shining
barrel of the revolver within two feet of his eyes.  With a gesture of
warning Will allowed him a few seconds to collect himself: then in tones
so low that they could scarcely have been heard outside he said--

"You are awake?"

Machado’s swarthy face had gone grey with fear.  He did not reply.

"It depends on yourself whether you awake again.  Do as I bid you and
your life is safe.  At the least sign of treachery I shoot you like a
dog.  You understand?"

Machado’s lips moved, but no sound came from them.

"I have some questions to ask," Will continued rapidly, but in the same
quiet tone.  "If your answers are contrary to what I know to be fact you
are a dead man.  Where is Señor Jackson?"

"At Las Piedras," said the man in a whisper.

Will started.  This was the name of General Carabaño’s hacienda nearly
fifty miles away.

"What is to be done with him and Señor O’Connor?"

"They are held at ransom."

"And if ransom is refused?"

"Then they will be shot."

"How do you know?"

"The General says so."

"Will he keep his word?"

"Yes."

"How do you know?"

"He has sworn it."

"When is it to be?"

"To-morrow."

"Why are you here?"

"I am waiting."

"What for?"

"A message."

"From where?"

"Ciudad Bolivar."

"What message?"

"A reply."

"What?"

"To the General’s."

"What was his message?"

"If the ransom is not promised by midnight the prisoners will be shot
to-morrow."

"Has he had no message before?"

"Yes."

"What was it?"

"The President refused to pay a ransom."

"The General repeated his demand?"

"Yes."

"Does he expect consent?"

"No; it is a last attempt."

"You are speaking the truth?"

"Yes."

There was no doubt of it.  The man’s terror was so evident that he would
scarcely have had the wits to invent a falsehood.  Nor could he know
what information Will already had.  His answers indeed gave Will nothing
of which he was not already aware, except the whereabouts of the
prisoners.

Will stood for a moment thinking, still pointing his revolver at the
abject Spaniard.  A desperate scheme had suggested itself.  He had
already risked much: was it not possible to risk still more?  His task
with Machado had been unexpectedly easy: might not a greater task prove
feasible?  It was clear that unless the ransom was agreed to by the time
stated, the fate of the prisoners was sealed.  It was clear also from
what the Jefe at Bolivar had told him that there was not the slightest
likelihood of the Government yielding on this point.  He knew roughly
the direction of General Carabaño’s hacienda, but recognized how little
chance there was of doing anything to help his friends.  He could not
reach them during the night: the journey was long and dangerous.  There
remained, as it seemed, one chance: that of intercepting the General’s
messenger in the morning.  He asked another question.

"If the reply from Ciudad Bolivar is unsatisfactory, the General will
send a messenger to Las Piedras?"

"He will go himself."

The answer disposed of Will’s last hope.  The only means of saving the
prisoners was to deal with the General himself.  It was a desperate game
to play in the midst of a hostile camp, but his first move, with
Machado, had been successful, and the man was so cowed and
terror-stricken that he might prove a serviceable instrument in the
larger scheme.  Time was running short; it was a quarter past eleven.
Will made up his mind to risk all.

"Dismiss the man at your door," he said.  "Tell him that you need him no
longer.  You will take the message to the General yourself.  Attempt no
treachery.  I will keep my word."

He motioned to Azito, of whose presence Machado seemed to become aware
for the first time, to stand behind a clothes-press near the camp-bed.

"Open the door only a few inches," he continued.  "Now!"

He stepped behind the door, allowing room for it to open about twelve
inches.  He could not be seen by the man in the patio, but was able to
cover Machado with his revolver.  The telegraphist lay for a few moments
as though hesitating.

"Quick!" said Will in a fierce whisper.

Machado rose unsteadily and, walking to the door, opened it.  In a low
voice he called to the sleeping man.  There was no reply or movement.

"Kick him!" whispered Will.

Machado touched the man with his foot.  He started up.  Machado gave him
the instruction Will had dictated, and he went off at once, glad enough,
no doubt, to find a more comfortable bed.  When he was gone, Will closed
the door.

"Now, the password," he said.

"_Bolivar_," replied Machado.

But Will marked a slight hesitation before the answer was given.

"Are you sure?" he said fiercely.  "A mistake will cost you dear."

"A slip, señor," said Machado, quailing.  "Bolivar was last night’s
password: to-night’s is Libertad."

"Make no more slips.  Now go to your table."

On the table, close to the instrument, lay a number of telegram forms
plundered from the railway, and a pencil.  Pointing to these, Will
said--

"Write what I say.  ’Release prisoners: will send----’  Stop there, and
add, ’Message interrupted.’"

Machado wrote the words.  His fingers trembled so violently that the
strokes were like those of an old man.  Then Will, telling Azito to
stand over Machado with his knife and to kill him if he moved, he turned
the handle at the side of the instrument that switched off the current,
and worked the operating handle for half-a-minute.  The clicks could be
distinctly heard in the patio, but the current being switched off, no
effect was produced at the other end of the wire.

Giving the telegraph form to Machado, he said--

"Where does the General sleep?"

"In a room on the other side of the patio, near the door."

"The man outside the door is an orderly?"

"Yes, señor."

"You will take this slip and hand it to the orderly.  Say you must hurry
back, and return here."

Will thought he detected a gleam of relief and hope in the man’s eyes.
But if Machado fancied he saw a chance of escape, he was disappointed by
the next words.

"I shall stand near this door, with my revolver.  It has six chambers.
Beware how you hurry or stumble.  If you delay one instant longer than
is required to repeat what I have said----"

He looked significantly into Machado’s eyes.  The man opened the door
and went along the patio.  Once he half turned, as if to see whether he
was watched, but thought better of it and went on: it was nervous work,
walking with a revolver pointed at his back.  He reached the door,
handed the slip to the orderly, said a few words, and returned at once.
Will saw the orderly knock at the General’s door, and just as Machado
came into the room, the General called to the man to enter.

Will closed the door.  There was no time to be lost if the effect of the
message was what he hoped it would be.  The clock said twenty minutes to
twelve.

"Sit in your chair," he said to Machado, "and occupy yourself with your
instrument.  Make believe that you are sending a message and awaiting
the answer."

Machado sat as directed, with his back to the door.  Then Will took
Azito’s knife and cut down the cord that drew the jalousies across the
window.

"Tie his legs to the chair," he said to the Indian, adding to Machado:
"You will suffer no harm if you do not resist.  Work the instrument."

Will was now in a fever of uncertainty and apprehension.  Would the fish
rise to the bait?  He knew the cupidity of the Liberator.  If he was the
man Will believed him to be, he would not wait to receive the completed
message in writing, but would come across the patio to be at hand when
the instrument spelled out the words promising the addition of 60,000
pesos to his chest.  There was one thing to fear: that he would not come
alone.  He might waken his lieutenants on the way; then the game would
be up.  But Will reflected that a refusal had already come from Bolivar.
Probably neither General Carabaño nor any of his officers expected a
favourable reply, otherwise they would not all have gone to bed.
Machado had been left on the chance of the Government relenting, and he
had done his duty, the General would think.

For a few moments there was no sign.  Will began to fear that the trap
would not work.  He said a few words to Azito, who tore a long strip
from the bottom of the curtain and rolled it up.  The instrument clicked
on, Machado never turning his head, but looking out of the corners of
his eyes.  At last there was a footfall along the patio. Will slipped
behind the door.  Immediately afterwards it was burst open.

"Well, what do they say?"

General Carabaño took two strides into the room.  Noiselessly closing
the door with his foot, Will sprang to the Liberator, threw his arms in
a strangling embrace about his neck, and pulled him backwards to the
floor.  The General struggled and spluttered, half-choked.  He was a
powerful man, and in a wrestling match on even terms Will would have
come off badly.  But while the General was striving to regain his
footing Azito glided from his place of concealment, forced a gag between
his teeth and helped Will to bear him to the floor.  Then, while Will
held him firmly, the Indian deftly bound his arms and feet with the
remainder of the cord.  By the time this was done the General was black
in the face with his frantic efforts to rise and to cry out. Meanwhile
Machado, who had stopped the clicking when he heard the General enter,
had watched with a look of horror all that went on.  He dared not raise
his voice, knowing full well that before he could release himself one or
other of these desperate visitors would be free to deal with him.

The Liberator of Venezuela was now in bonds.  There had been so little
sound that the orderly at the farther end of the patio could have heard
nothing.  The other officers in the house were asleep.  If only Fortune
would smile a little longer, Will felt that the game would be absolutely
in his hands.

Bidding Azito keep guard over the General, prostrate on the floor, Will
went to the chair and released Machado.

"Stand up, señor," he said.  "I have to ask a little more of you, and so
long as you do exactly as I tell you, you will come to no harm from me."

"I had no hand in this, Excellency," the unhappy man blurted out,
addressing the General.

"Silence!" said Will.  "I will make that clear.  You shall be released
presently beyond the reach of General Carabaño or any of his officers.
You shall not suffer for double treachery.  Stand still!"

He quickly tied Machado’s ankles together with a short piece of cord, so
that he could walk but not run.

"Now listen very carefully.  We are going to pass out of the camp.  We
shall probably come to the front of the house.  The sentry will
challenge you.  You will give the password, and your name.  He will ask
you what we are carrying.  You will say: ’His Excellency sends a spy to
feed the caymans.’  Say it now."

"But--but--" stammered the man, "you will not----"

"No, I shall not harm his Excellency.  Repeat what I said."

"’His Excellency sends a spy to feed the caymans,’" said Machado.

"That is right.  The sentry may ask questions.  You must answer him: say
what you please, but do not play me false.  The sentry may wish to see
the spy.  You must keep him off.  If you cannot do so, so much the worse
for you.  You cannot run, you are unarmed--I will make sure of that; and
if you attempt to give the alarm be sure that you, at any rate, will not
escape.  You understand?  Your safety depends on ours. And it will be
well to remember, too, that if we fail, nobody will believe all this was
done without your connivance.  Is it clear?"

"Yes, señor," murmured the man.

Will searched his pockets for arms.  He had none.  But he shot a
momentary glance towards a long cape hanging from a peg on the wall.
Will saw the glance, and feeling the garment, discovered a revolver.
This he put in his pocket.  Then, opening the door into the adjoining
cloak-room, he ordered Machado to take the General’s head and Azito the
legs.  The General writhed and heaved, until Will slipped under his
knees a short board that held his legs stiff.  The two men lifted him.
When they stood in the doorway Will turned out the light.  Then he bade
them carry their bulky burden into the next room.

From the window Will saw that the camp was in utter darkness.  No lights
from the back of the house shone upon the ground.  He opened both leaves
of the window and passed on to the veranda.  The others followed him
slowly as he made his way to the right-hand corner.  There he stopped
and peeped round.  The stables were opposite this face of the house, and
a light shone upon them from the General’s bedroom.  It would be unsafe
to pass that way.  They must descend from the veranda, cross a few yards
of ground, and come to the rear of the stables. Between these and the
last of the line of tents, on this side, there was a gap of perhaps
fifteen yards.  Will listened for the footfall of a sentry.  All was
silent save slight sounds from the stables: probably the man was asleep.
Bidding the others follow him he went down the steps and walked on.  It
was very dark: their forms could scarcely have been seen if the sentry
had been alert.

They came to the back of the stables, and, striking to the right,
reached the end of the wall.  Here they halted for a moment, while Will
glanced around.  A light through the open door of the house was
reflected on the surface of the lake.  To his joy he saw that De Mello’s
little sailing yacht lay at the jetty.  He had feared it might have been
removed.  Creeping along by the front wall of the stables he came to a
spot whence he could see the door.  A sentry was sitting on the ground,
leaning against the wall, his head bent forward as in slumber.  It might
be possible to get to the jetty without waking him. Will returned to the
men, and whispering "Remember!" to Machado, he led the way towards the
terrace whence a few steps led down to the jetty.

They were half-way there when, just as they came within the illuminated
space, the sentry in a sleepy voice cried, "Who goes there?"

"A friend!" answered Machado at once.

"The word?"

"Libertad!"

The General began to struggle, and Will pressed the cold muzzle of the
revolver to his brow.

"Who is it?" said the sentry.

"Stop, and answer him," whispered Will.

"Miguel Machado: you know me," said Machado.

"Ah, Señor Machado, it is you.  What have you got there?"

"His Excellency sends a spy to feed the caymans."

"A spy!" cried the man, more wakefully.  "Who is it?"

"A wretched Indian, once in the service of the Englishman."

"Is that all?  I hoped it was the Englishman who escaped.  I was coming
to have a look at him, but if it is an Indian it is not worth while.  I
shall hear him squeal.  Is there any news from Bolivar, Señor Machado?"

"None."

"Then the Englishmen will be shot to-morrow," said the man.  "A good
riddance.  Come and have a chat on your way back."

During this conversation Will had stood behind Machado so that his face
could not be seen.  The lamp in the hall was a small one, and the light
revealed little.  They moved on again, came to the steps, and descending
these reached the end of the jetty.  The General had been passive since
he felt the cold steel against his brow; but now, feeling that his last
chance had come, he gave a sudden jerk with his legs which threw Azito
down.  Instantly Will was upon him, but he was a very powerful man, and,
bound though he was, he wriggled and heaved his body with such violence
that it was difficult to hold him.  In the struggle he managed by some
means to get rid of the gag, and shouted at the top of his voice--

"Help! help!  I am General Carabaño."

His voice was of peculiar timbre, and even the slowest-witted sentry
could not have failed to recognize it.  A moment after he had cried out,
the sentry fired off his rifle and shouted into the hall of the house.
At once Will and Azito caught the General by the feet and began to drag
him as fast as possible along the jetty, Machado still holding his head.
They were below the level of the terrace, so that none of them was at
present in danger of being shot.  The General was still shouting; the
sentry, having given the alarm, was reloading as he ran towards the
terrace.

The fugitives had now reached the yacht.  Will released his hold of the
General, and drew in the painter.  While he was doing this, the sentry
reached the head of the steps and fired.  But the darkness and his
flurry combined to spoil his aim.  Realizing that he had missed, he
sprang down the steps, and ran along the jetty, clubbing his rifle.
Machado saw him coming, and shrank away; but Azito, dropping the
General’s feet, waited in a crouching posture, and, parrying the blow
with his machete, drove at the man with his head and butted him into the
water.

The General, left thus momentarily unguarded, struggled vehemently to
break or shake off his bonds.  His wriggling brought him to the edge of
the narrow jetty, and when Will, having loosed the painter, turned to
secure his prisoner, he saw him roll over into the lake on the opposite
side.  Instantly he flung himself at full length on the jetty, peering
into the water for the prize he was determined not to lose.  The lake
was shallow.  In a few moments the General rose spluttering from his
immersion, and yelled again for help.  Will grabbed him by his wholly
hair: Azito plunged into the water, and together they hauled him on to
the jetty and threw him into the yacht.  Machado had already jumped into
it.  Will and the Indian followed.  The latter seized a paddle, Will
pushed off, and the little vessel began to move down the lake towards
the canal.



CHAPTER XIII--A SNAG


The kidnappers were not a moment too soon.  The sentry, dazed and
half-drowned, struggled from the muddy bottom of the lake just as the
yacht put off.  Scrambling on to the jetty, he filled the air with his
cries.  While Azito paddled the boat towards the canal, Will looked back
towards the house.  Figures were pouring out, some in their night
attire, others pulling on their coats as they ran.  The air rang with
their shouts.  They all made for the jetty.  One or two fired aimlessly;
the little vessel must now be invisible to them in the darkness, and
until they inquired of the sentry they would not know what had happened.
There were no other boats at the jetty, so that pursuit by water was
impossible, but Will wondered anxiously whether he could reach the
stream at the end of the canal before the men could gain it by running
along the banks.  If they posted themselves on the banks of the narrow
canal, he would be at their mercy.

The boat was small.  It would carry no more than two comfortably.
Overloaded as it now was--the General alone was no light weight--it
could not make anything like the speed of a man running.  But it was
taking the diameter of the lake; the pursuers would have to run round
the circumference: and Will remembered that when they reached the canal
they would find their course checked by the vegetation, the banks having
been allowed to return to their primitive wildness.  This would give the
boat a little time.

It entered the canal from the lake.  The shouts of the men drew nearer.
They came from both sides.  General Carabaño cried out continually. The
gag was lost, and Will had nothing at hand with which to silence him.
Azito plied his paddle desperately, and Machado, as anxious now as Will
himself to escape, seized a second paddle and helped to propel the boat.

Had Ruggles brought the hydroplane to the end of the canal?  What would
happen if he was not there?  The pursuers were probably numbered by
hundreds, and even if they fired at random across the stream, so many
could hardly fail to hit one or other of the occupants of the boat. Will
peered anxiously into the darkness.  If Ruggles had come, surely he must
have heard the noise.  Then why had he made no sign?  Had the hydroplane
broken down?  All at once from down the canal came the throb of the
engine.  Will looked over the bow of the boat.  He could just see, on
the faintly shimmering surface of the water, a dark shape approaching.

"Ruggles!" he shouted.

"Ahoy!" came the reply.  "Look out, Mr. Pentelow, I’m stern foremost."

"Good man!  Catch the painter when I throw it.  Don’t come any farther."

Azito was paddling more slowly now, fearful of dashing into the
hydroplane in the darkness.  The shouts of the pursuers sounded nearer
than ever: Will heard the men crashing through the undergrowth,
regardless of snakes, as of all the dangers that beset the unwary by
night in tropical jungle.  The boat came to a stop within a yard of the
hydroplane.  Will flung the painter on board: Ruggles seized it and
instantly started the motor.  At the same moment a shot rang out from
the right; another on the left; then there was a fusilade, and Will
heard the bullets splashing into the water and singing through the air.
The pace of the vessel was quickening; but Ruggles could not drive the
hydroplane at speed, for though he was able to steer safely between the
banks of the canal, it was so short, and the stream beyond so narrow,
that there was a danger of running the vessel against the farther bank
if he went too fast.  But the speed was great enough to shake off the
pursuers, and in another minute the hydroplane swept round the corner of
the canal, her head turned in the direction of the tributary of the
Orinoco.

"Go on slowly," cried Will to Ruggles.  "They won’t dare to pursue us
now.  We are safe till the morning."

"Will you come aboard?" asked Ruggles.

"Not at present.  I have got a prisoner."

"Machado?"

"He has been my right-hand man."  He was speaking in English, so that
Machado did not understand him.

"You don’t say so!  Who’s your prisoner, then?"

"His Excellency the Liberator of Venezuela, General Carabaño."

"By gosh! this beats cock-fighting.  How on earth did you do it?"

"I’ll tell you all by and by.  It’s the greatest piece of luck.  We’ll
hold him as hostage for the Chief and O’Connor."

"Did you find out where they are?"

"At the General’s own hacienda, Las Piedras, fifty miles up-country."

"In any danger?"

"Not now.  He was going to shoot them to-morrow--to-day, I should say.
But nobody will touch them while we have the General in our hands. We’ve
smashed this revolution, Ruggles."

"Don’t hallo till we’re out of the wood, as the Chief would say. They’ll
come after us in the morning."

"We’ll be out of their reach.  We can go faster as soon as we reach the
tributary--but not too fast, for goodness’ sake: we don’t want to strike
a snag.  At ten miles an hour we shall be at the junction by the time
it’s light, and then we shall have a straight run to Bolivar."

"But suppose they run to the junction by train and get there before us?"

"I hadn’t thought of that.  What a fool I am!  That would be the end of
us.  We shall have to go pretty fast after all.  Not yet; this stream’s
dangerous.  It’s lucky we haven’t far to go before we get to the
tributary."

"Look out!" cried Ruggles.  "I’ve just got a whack in the eye from a
branch."

His warning came too late.  The yacht stopped with a jerk as its mast
came into contact with an overhanging mass of foliage.  The light pole
snapped and fell into the bottom; at the same time the painter broke.

"It doesn’t matter, luckily," said Will.  "We can drift down-stream.
When it begins to get light we’ll all board the hydroplane, though it
will be a tight fit.  Have you got a match?"

"Not one.  Why?"

"I wanted to see the time.  We ought to get into the tributary by about
half-past one.  There’s plenty of time."

General Carabaño had been very quiet since the boat left the jetty. But
while Will talked to Ruggles, he had been speaking in a low tone to
Machado.

"You shall rue this, Señor Machado," he said fiercely.

"Excellency, I am not to blame."

"You expect me to believe that?  Could these villains have committed
this outrage upon me without your help?"

"They stole into the house, Excellency----"

"What were you about?"

"I was at my instrument, according to your instructions, Excellency.
They came in when I was taking the telegram to you."

"That is a lie," said Azito, with a grunt.

"What do you say, dog?" demanded the General.

"I say nothing," replied the Indian.  "This man lies: that is all I
say."

"You will tell me the truth, Señor Machado.  You played the traitor to
the Englishmen; if you have also played the traitor to me I vow you
shall pay for it."

Machado hesitated.  On the one hand the General was a prisoner, on his
way to Ciudad Bolivar, where unsuccessful revolutionist leaders usually
had short shrift.  So far as appearances went, he had nothing to fear.
On the other hand, prisoners sometimes escaped; it had occurred to him,
as it had to Ruggles, that a train might be sent in pursuit: it might
reach the junction first.  General Carabaño at large would be a foe
whose revenge it would be wise to shun.

"I will tell you the whole truth, Excellency," he said.  "I was asleep
in my chair: a click would have awakened me.  These villains stole upon
me, threatened me with death, and forced me to invent the telegram to
decoy you from your room."

"It was false?" cried the General.

"Every word of it, Excellency."

The General gave a gasp of relief.  One of his bitterest reflections had
been that he had lost 60,000 pesos.  Then his anger blazed against
Machado.

"You are a cur as well as a traitor, I see," he said.  "A man of any
courage would have defied these wretches.  If I had my hands free I
would whip you like a dog."

"It is easy to talk like that," said Machado, stung by the General’s
contemptuous tone.  "Would you have done otherwise with a pistol at your
head?  At least our lives are safe, and I may yet do you a service."

"How?"

"Captain Espejo will certainly send a train in pursuit, Excellency. Even
now I doubt not the engine is getting up steam.  The hydroplane cannot
go fast in the dark.  The train will be first at the junction. We shall
be rescued."

"That will be Captain Espejo’s service, not yours."

"But we shall be taken on board the hydroplane, Excellency.  The painter
is broken; they cannot tow us, or if they can, they will not wish so to
check their speed.  Suppose I am able to damage the engine, Excellency?"
he whispered, so that Azito could not hear him.  "Then their chance of
outstripping the train is gone."

"Could you do it?"

"I could try, Excellency.  Such engines are very delicate; a trifle puts
them out of order; and we shall have several hours."

"Do it, Señor Machado," whispered the General eagerly; "and when I make
myself President you shall be--yes, you shall be my postmaster-general.
Say no more: the Englishman has stopped talking."

Hydroplane and yacht drifted down on the slow current through the
darkness.  Now and then one or the other would run aground, which caused
delay, but no danger, the speed being so low.  None of the party knew
what hour of the night it was when they came into the tributary, the
scene of Will’s first meeting with Azito.  It was, in fact, nearly two
o’clock--time to transfer the prisoner to the hydroplane and increase
the speed.  Ruggles threw out the little anchor, to allow the yacht to
draw alongside.

"There are six of us.  We can never all squeeze into the hydroplane," he
said, when Will was only a foot or two away.  "General Carabaño will
take room for two."

"I’m afraid you’re right," replied Will.  "We shall have to make a
hawser out of the halyards, and tow as before.  It will put more work on
the engine, but I think it can stand it, and if we can get to the
narrows safely we shall be all right."

"Won’t it take longer to plane?"

"It won’t be safe to plane at all, but that won’t matter.  The current
is with us."

"Have you got enough petrol?"

"Yes, I bought some in Bolivar.  I came up very slowly, so as not to use
too much, and there should be enough to carry us to Bolivar, or at least
to the broken culvert, especially as we needn’t go fast when we are past
the junction."

"That’s all right, then.  My notion is that I had better board the yacht
and look after the General.  You will want Azito to pole, and you had
better have Machado with you.  I wish I had a pistol: it might come
handy."

"I’ve got a spare one: took it from Machado’s room.  Here you are. Your
plan’s all right.  We must take care that the hawser is firmly fixed."

"All right.  I’ll keep my eye on the General.  He shan’t slip his bonds,
and won’t want to: he could only escape by swimming, and I guess he’s
too scared of caymans to try that."

The transfers were soon affected.  Machado exchanged a meaning glance
with the General as he left him.  The General for the first time made a
formal protest.

"I warn you," he said to Ruggles as that worthy stepped to his side.
"You have committed an unpardonable atrocity in laying violent hands on
the Liberator of Venezuela.  I demand that you set me ashore at the
earliest possible moment, otherwise you will have a heavy reckoning to
pay when I establish my authority."

"Don’t you worry, General," said Ruggles consolingly.  "You wanted to
get into Bolivar, I understand.  Well, we’ll take you there, free of
charge.  Couldn’t be a fairer offer."

The General muttered an oath and relapsed into silence.

The hawser having been made fast, Will started the motor and set the
hydroplane going at a speed of about ten miles an hour.  To go faster
while it was still dark was unwise: he hoped also unnecessary.  Azito
stood forward with his pole: José was at the engine with his oil-can;
Machado, to his disappointment, was given a seat beside Will at the
steering-wheel.  In that position he was unable to interfere with the
machinery.  But he still hoped that an opportunity might offer before
the night was over.

It was more than fifty miles by river to the junction.  Will had
pondered his task as the yacht drifted down the smaller stream, and
recognized the dangers.  First, there was the navigation of the river in
the darkness; but the danger of this might be avoided with Azito’s care,
and by maintaining only a moderate speed.  The second danger was that
Captain Espejo might run a train to the narrowest part of the river some
forty miles away, where the bank was fairly clear of vegetation and the
railway line was near the stream.  That spot would be reached about
dawn.  If the enemy got there first and lined the bank, they could
riddle the hydroplane with bullets, and a single well-planted shot would
cripple the engine, to say nothing of the risks to which the occupants
of the vessel would be exposed.  The third danger was that Captain
Espejo might run the train beyond the narrows to the junction.  At this
part of its course the river made a wide bend, while the railway ran
fairly straight; so that if the hydroplane got safely past the narrows
there was still a possibility of the train outstripping it before the
junction was reached.  But the train, consisting as it must do of heavy
goods wagons, could not approach without noise, which would give warning
of the necessity of increasing speed.  Nor did Will suppose that the
Captain would venture to drive the train at full speed in pitch darkness
over a new track, in which there were many awkward curves before it
reached the straight run to the junction.  On the whole, Will felt
fairly easy in mind, and since the safety of the hydroplane was
all-important, he contented himself with the moderate speed of ten
knots.

The voyage had been in progress little more than an hour when Azito
suddenly turned round, and said--

"I hear a train, señor."

Will instantly stopped the engine.  While it throbbed he could hear
nothing else.  The hydroplane drifted silently on the current.  From the
far distance, on the right bank, came the characteristic rumble of a
heavy train--a sound impossible to mistake.  Ruggles heard it at the
same moment.

"We must cut and run for it now," he said, "and no mistake."

"Yes, and we must have the General aboard.  It will be a near thing at
the best.  We must make room for him somehow."

As he said this he backed the vessel to allow the yacht to come
alongside.  Then he gave the wheel to José, turning to help Ruggles to
lift the General on board.  Machado thought his chance was come.  He
took up the light anchor, as though to throw it over and hold the vessel
while the transfer was made.  He really intended to dash it into the
machinery.  But just as he was on the point of hurling it, Azito sprang
at him and brought his pole down with tremendous force on his forearm.
He dropped the anchor with a howl of pain.  At the same moment the
General was hauled over the side and laid just in front of the engine.
Ruggles cast off the hawser and stowed himself near José; Will returned
to his seat; and opening the throttle little by little he set the
hydroplane going, at ten, fifteen, and finally twenty knots. The extra
weight she carried depressed her in the water, and more power than usual
was necessary before she would plane.

Will had heard Machado’s cry, but was too intent upon his task to pay
any heed to it.  He knew full well the frightful risks he was running in
pressing the engine so hard in the darkness, but there was no
alternative.  He must reach the junction before the train.  Alarmed at
the speed, Ruggles suggested that it would be better to lie up until the
morning, but Will would not hear of it.

"We couldn’t get past them.  It’s neck or nothing," he said shortly.

The vessel whizzed along.  The rumble of the train seemed to draw no
nearer.  Azito stood forward, but the pace was so great that in the
darkness it was tremendously difficult to give the course.  Suddenly
there was a jolt and a jar.  Azito shot forward on to the wind-screen;
those who were seated were jostled violently against one another, and
Will narrowly escaped a collision with the steering-wheel.  After the
momentary jerk the hydroplane rushed on, but only for a few seconds.
Then the engine stopped dead, and the vessel was once more drifting at
three knots down the stream.



CHAPTER XIV--REPAIRS


"What’s happened?" asked Ruggles anxiously.

"We struck a snag: goodness knows what damage is done.  We shall have to
run into the bank and wait till morning.  Can’t see to do anything in
the dark.  Was there ever such beastly bad luck!"

"Well, you couldn’t expect everything to go smoothly.  You haven’t had
much to complain of so far."

"That’s true; but just at this moment, when everything depended on our
keeping ahead of the train!  Listen to it.  We must be close on the
narrows, to judge by the row it’s making."

"It’s lucky we hadn’t got any farther, then."

By this time Will had steered the vessel to the left bank, running under
the overhanging branches of a large tree.  Before it came to rest, Azito
beat the bank with his pole to scare away any alligator that might lurk
there.

"Water’s coming in," said Will.  "But I’m afraid that’s not the worst.
We can stop a leak, but we are done if there’s anything seriously wrong
with the engine.  We haven’t even got the yacht now."

"Better lift the craft on to the bank, so that she doesn’t become
absolutely waterlogged," Ruggles suggested.

Everybody got out, Azito removing the small stock of food left in the
vessel, and Ruggles and José lifting the General between them.

"Shall we untie his cords?" said Will.  "He must be pretty stiff and
uncomfortable."

"It depends what you mean to do.  Will you still have a try at getting
him to Bolivar?"

"Without a doubt.  There’s the Chief to consider."

"Then you mustn’t loose him.  It won’t be safe.  By the way, what was
that howl I heard as we hauled him into the boat?"

"I don’t know."

"Señor, it was this man," said the Indian, pointing to Machado.  "He was
going to hurt the engine."

"It’s a lie!" cried Machado, in abject fear.

"Tell us what he did, Azito," said Will.

The Indian explained that Machado and the General had conversed in low
tones while on the yacht, arousing his suspicion.  He told how he had
prevented the man from carrying out his intention when the Señor’s back
was turned.  Will caught Machado’s arm, and he winced.

"Tie him up," said Will.  "He shan’t have another chance."

Machado was bound and laid beside the General.  Food was distributed,
but sparingly; the supply brought from Bolivar would soon be exhausted.
Then they sat down to wait for daylight, not daring to sleep, in case
danger in the shape of beast or man should come.  They heard the train
rumbling along to their left, until by and by the sound died away.

The dawn stole upon them.  They all presented a sorry and woe-begone
appearance, none more than General Carabaño.  When captured he was
wearing a long flowered dressing-gown, the colours of which had "run"
through his immersion in the lake.  He had lost the well-fed and
arrogant look which he habitually wore.  He made no further protest, but
accepted in sullen silence the meagre portion of food allotted to him,
and meekly allowed his arms to be rebound when the brief meal was
finished.

Will and Ruggles lost no time in making an examination of the
hydroplane.  They found that a sharp branch of a submerged tree had
penetrated the bottom and pierced the petrol-tank, where it had snapped
off.  The pressure which usually fed the petrol up to the engine had
forced it out of the tank, and Will realized with despair that the
hydroplane was now of no more use to them than a raft.  All the petrol
that was left was about a gallon in one of the cans.

"We are clean done, Ruggles," he said.  "There’s not the ghost of a
chance of our getting to Bolivar."

"Except at three miles an hour," said Ruggles.

"With the river closely watched, as it will be, we can’t even drift
down.  Espejo will know we can’t have passed.  No one but a madman would
attempt to go at any pace in the dark, and then he’d come to grief.  I
was a fool not to take your advice."

"It’s no good crying over spilt milk, as the Chief would say.  I can
manage to patch up the hole, if that’s any good."

"Well, it would keep the thing afloat, but that won’t help us much.
Without petrol we’re stuck."

"Is there none left at the camp?"

"Not a cupful.  I brought away the last cans before I went down to
Bolivar."

"This is a real fix.  That Espejo fellow will begin to search the river
when he finds we don’t pass; he can easily get canoes from some of the
natives down the Orinoco.  He’s bound to find us if we’re still on the
river, and then with only two revolvers and a couple of knives between
us we shall be at his mercy.  Seems to me, as soon as I’ve patched up
the hole, we’d better pole up the river and go straight on instead of
turning up the stream towards the hacienda.  They might not look for us
there."

"There seems nothing else.  But it’ll take a week to get so far.  We’ve
got the current against us, and with our load we should do about one
mile an hour.  Besides, what’s to happen then?  They can search for us
and keep a watch on the river for any length of time, and our food won’t
last more than two days on the shortest commons, and precious stale it
will be, too."

"The only other plan would be to march along this left bank till we come
to a village, and then promise the natives a reward to guide us to
Bolivar."

"And let Espejo collar my hydroplane!  Not if I can help it.  Besides,
we’ve got to rescue the Chief."

"Well, you can think it over while I am stopping the leak."

There were a few simple tools on board, and Ruggles, not belying his
reputation as handy man, succeeded after an hour’s work in making what
he called a good temporary job of it.  Will watched him for a time;
then, seeing from the General’s look that he had taken the full measure
of the situation, and expected to be rescued by his lieutenant before
long, he said to himself fiercely that he would not be bested, and
walked away to think quietly how the disaster might be retrieved.

The want of petrol was the only difficulty.  When Ruggles had finished
his task the hydroplane would be quite capable of continuing the voyage
if fuel could be got.  He would, of course, not again attempt to proceed
by night; and by day Azito could be trusted to avoid snags. But petrol
he had none, nor could he get any; and without it he saw no possible way
of working the engine.  Was there a substitute?

Suddenly he remembered that the Indians were accustomed to use for their
torches a resinous liquid made from a kind of pine-tree that grew in
certain districts.  Would not such a wood-spirit be quite as good for
his purpose as petrol?  Full of the idea, he hastened back to consult
Ruggles.  Ruggles shook his head.

"I am up to most things in the machine line," he said, "but don’t know
more than a baby about distilling or chemistry and such.  Still, it’s a
fact, what you say.  The Indians do get a sort of benzine from the
trees, and benzine and petrol are first cousins, at any rate.  There’s
no harm in trying.  But do you know whether these trees grow
hereabouts?"

"No, I don’t," confessed Will, with misgiving.  "I’ll ask Azito."

The Indian’s reply was cheering.  There was a forest of the right kind
of trees some miles inland from the left bank of the river.  It could be
approached by a creek, not very far from the scene of his adventure with
the jaguar.  This was fortunate.  The spot was a good many miles from
their present position, and if Captain Espejo did undertake a systematic
search of the river, it would be long before he came to the upper
reaches.  Will decided to set off at once.  The petrol tank having been
repaired, he could make use of the last gallon of spirit contained in
the almost empty can.  It would suffice to carry the hydroplane at a low
speed perhaps a dozen miles up-stream; then they must trust to their
poles.  Will made sure that the sparking apparatus was in good order;
the whole party went aboard, with two prisoners now instead of one; and
while the morning was still young the hydroplane started for the upper
river.  At first Will hesitated to set the engine going, in case it was
heard by the enemy; but reflecting that they had almost certainly run on
to the junction several miles below, and would scarcely have begun to
search yet, he decided to get as far from them as he could.  There would
probably be greater danger if the throbbing were heard as they
approached the neighbourhood of the hacienda.

A few miles up Azito caught sight of the little yacht, which on being
cast off had drifted for some distance and then run into the bank, where
it had wedged itself among the lower boughs of a large tree. Will hailed
this as a fortunate discovery.  By dividing the party the labour of
ascending against the current would be considerably lessened. The boat
was hauled off and towed until the petrol gave out; then once more
General Carabaño was transferred to it, with Ruggles as punter and
guardian.  Keeping both vessels as near to the left bank as was safe, in
order to avoid the full force of the current, Ruggles in the yacht and
José and Azito by turns in the hydroplane steadily poled along.  It was
slow and tiresome work.  In two hours they covered a distance less than
the hydroplane in good trim would have accomplished in ten minutes.
Indeed, it was late in the afternoon when they came to the little
stream, running into the left bank, from which they could gain the creek
that Azito had mentioned.

They made their way slowly up this stream for some three miles, passing
many small creeks on both sides.  At last they reached that which would
bring them to the spirit-yielding trees.  Their progress now was even
slower than it had been.  The creek was shallow and very weedy.  More
than once the vessels were brought up by clinging masses of aquatic
vegetation.  Not till the short dusk was beginning did they reach the
neighbourhood of the wood.  Here they found a little sandy strip on
which they ran the vessels and disembarked, tired out.  After a meagre
supper they lay down on a stretch of green sward to pass the night, Will
arranging that they should take turns to watch against intrusion by wild
beasts.

Early next morning Azito led Will and Ruggles into the wood, and showed
them the trees to tap for the spirit.  Then he said that he would paddle
himself some miles further up the creek in the yacht, until he reached
an Indian village where he might obtain food.  The others set about
rigging up a benzine distillery.  This was naturally of the most
primitive description.  Will first made a clay crucible in which he
collected the liquid obtained from the trees; then, connecting this by
means of a metal pipe from the engine with a water-bottle he was
accustomed to take with him on the hydroplane, he lit a small fire,
borrowing a box of matches from Machado, and distilled over the vapour
from the crucible to the bottle.  It occurred to him to hasten the
condensation by placing the bottle in the flowing water of the stream,
propping it up with two stones.  As soon as he had collected a small
quantity of the spirit he tested it, and found that it had all the
volatile and inflammable qualities of petrol.

"I’d never have believed it," said Ruggles; "but it will take a month
before we get enough to carry us to Bolivar."

"So it will if we don’t make more crucibles.  There’s plenty of clay."

"But what about pipes and bottles?"

"There are plenty of reeds at the edge of the creek: they’ll do for
pipes.  As for bottles, we’ve got two petrol cans, and we shall have to
make some clay bottles.  The sooner the better."

They set to work at once with José to make, first, crucibles out of the
white clay which formed the subsoil, and as these were finished, they
took them into the forest and set them down at the trees they tapped.
While the liquid was collecting they gathered reeds from the border of
the stream, and fashioned clumsy clay bottles as receptacles of the
vapour.  By the afternoon they had a dozen pieces of apparatus at work,
and Will was in high spirits at the prospect of filling his tank with
the all-important fuel.  He found the moist heat of the forest very
trying, but willingly endured the discomfort and fatigue.

In the evening Azito returned, staggering under a basket loaded with
yuca, a root from which a capital bread could be made, and a goat-skin
filled with resinous liquid, purchased in the Indian village.  He
reported that he had seen, as he came by the edge of the forest, a sloth
clinging to the branch of a tree, and several tapirs grubbing for roots,
and wished Will to return with him and kill one of the animals for
supper; but Will did not care to risk a revolver shot, which might be
heard by the enemy if they were coming up the river, and so he decided
to make a meal of yuca bread alone.

Next day he set up more crucibles, and then, having at work as many as
could be conveniently tended, he adopted Ruggles’ advice and rested
during the hottest hours.  But he grew restless in inaction, and by and
by strolled into the forest, whose gloomy depths had a fascination for
him.  He marked signs of the great struggle for life going on all
around.  Innumerable creeping plants twined about the trees, striving to
force a way to the sunlight in which their gorgeous blossoms might
expand, and stifling the vitality out of the forest giants.  Beetles and
termites scurried hither and thither: birds flitted from bough to bough,
pecking at the ripe berries, and carrying away seeds which would
germinate in some other part, to be strangled ere they came to maturity,
or to grow into stranglers in their turn.  Among the other trees the
palms rose straight and lofty, their branchless trunks defying the
murderous creepers, their leafy crowns dominating as if in contempt the
lowlier competitors beneath.

Here he caught sight of a cavy nibbling a nut, there a peccary hunting
among the undergrowth for seeds.  Moving cautiously among the trees, he
had a glimpse of a labba peeping out of a hollow trunk, and disturbed a
deer which was lying amid the bushes, its colour harmonizing so well
with them that he had not distinguished it until it moved, though it was
within a few feet of him.  In the foliage overhead howling monkeys kept
up their resounding notes, and tree-frogs boomed and whistled
incessantly.  As evening drew on, the forest was filled with the
continuous hum of multitudinous insects; owls hooted, goatsuckers
flitted from bough to bough uttering their weird cry, and snakes
uncoiled themselves from the branches on which they had taken their
siesta.  Will would have liked to spend days in studying these creatures
of the forest.

Returning to the camp, he discussed with Ruggles what should be done
when the cans were filled.

"It will be two days more before we have enough spirit," he said.  "I
think we should start from here in the early afternoon, run down to the
narrows at half-speed, and try to rush them at dusk.  No more night
running for me.  We might strike a snag again, and we can’t risk it a
second time."

"Couldn’t we simply drift?" suggested Ruggles.

"Too risky--not from the river, but you may be sure that Espejo will
watch it day and night.  He will know we haven’t got past him."

"You had better send Azito out to scout, then, before we start."

"A good idea.  But I am sure we shall have to trust to our speed alone.
We can’t fight them with only two revolvers between us.  Our only chance
is to get to the narrows before we are seen, and then go at top speed.
A quarter of an hour would do it."

On the second night thereafter the petrol tank was full, and there was a
considerable quantity of spirit left over in one of the cans.  Will
ordered Azito to go out in the yacht as soon as it was light, and see if
he could discover the movements of the enemy.  While the Indian was
absent the others prepared for the adventurous voyage.  The two
prisoners, who had sullenly watched the making of the benzine, were laid
in the bottom of the hydroplane: Will and Ruggles thoroughly overhauled
and oiled the engine, and cleaned the planes and the propeller of the
weeds which had already begun to cling about them.

About nine o’clock Azito returned.  His report was that he had seen a
boat filled with armed men coming slowly up the stream, searching the
creeks on either side.  There were twelve men, all armed with rifles.

"We must get out before they come up here," said Will.  "Otherwise we
shall be like rats in a trap.  How far are they down, Azito?"

"About three twists, señor."

This was not very enlightening.  The Indian’s "twist" may be of any
length, according to circumstances.  But Azito went on to explain that
the enemy were not far below a creek that ran into the stream from the
opposite side, which, as nearly as Will could recollect, was about
half-a-mile from that up which the hydroplane had come.  He had little
doubt that if the enemy were proceeding systematically they would search
the opposite creek first.  Accordingly he ordered all on board. The
yacht was left.  Will promised it as a present to Azito when his work
was over, having no doubt that Mr. Jackson would purchase it of De
Mello.  Then they poled the hydroplane down the creek until they came
within a few yards of the point where it entered the stream.  There they
drew into the bank, where they could not be seen until the enemy came
right opposite the mouth.

Many tall trees grew at the edge of the stream.

"Climb up, Azito," said Will, "and tell us when the boat enters the
creek on the opposite side."

In a few minutes the Indian was snugly perched among the thick foliage
at the top of one of the loftiest trees.

"We’ll start as soon as we know they’re in the creek," said Will to
Ruggles.  "That may give us time to get several miles down before we’re
discovered."

Several minutes passed.  Then they saw Azito sliding down the tree with
the agility of a monkey.

"They have gone into it, señor."

"Very well.  Pole us out.  It’s neck or nothing, Ruggles.  Have you got
your revolver handy?"

"Trust me.  You’d better give me yours.  You can’t use it and steer too,
and I’m rather a dab with my left hand."

"Here you are, then," said Will, smiling as he handed the weapon to him.
"But I hope we shan’t come to close enough quarters for you to use it.
We’re off, and good luck to us."



CHAPTER XV--HYDROPLANE _VERSUS_ LOCOMOTIVE


Captain Espejo thought himself to be very hardly used.  He had expected
to be by this time Jefe of Guayana.  That was the office promised him by
General Carabaño in reward for his services in the "liberation" of
Venezuela.  The General had not kept his promise.  That was a clear
breach of faith.  Nay more, so far was he from acting up to his
self-assumed title of Liberator, that he himself needed liberating. That
was most annoying.  Really, he ought to have been more careful. His
capture was a malign stroke of Fate, but since Fate was inaccessible,
Captain Espejo vented his annoyance and disappointment on his
subordinates, which did not improve matters.

Success is the best credential of a revolutionist, and the General’s
want of success bid fair to ruin his cause.  There was no moral
enthusiasm to buoy up the spirits of his men.  Quite the contrary,
indeed: the triumph of General Carabaño would be the triumph of
corruption.  The bonds linking them to him were of the slightest, and
when with his disappearance their prospects of sharing the spoils of
victory vanished into thin air, they began to ask themselves whether it
was not time to disband.  Perhaps in a few years another Liberator might
arise who would not so easily be snuffed out.  That was how the
Venezuelans looked at the situation.  The Indians of the force had
already made up their minds that General Carabaño was a bladder, and
betaken themselves to their own place.

Captain Espejo was worried as well as annoyed.  Food was running short;
the exchequer was empty; the men had not received the pay promised them;
and the Captain was not at all happy at the prospect of having to deal
with a mutiny.  He had declared, to be sure, with great vehemence, that
the audacious kidnappers of the Liberator had not gone down-stream; he
had no doubt that the detestable machine which had proved such a
troublesome instrument in the hand of Fate had broken down, and the
Englishman was hiding somewhere in the neighbourhood. But machines could
be repaired, and when the repairs were made the Englishman would
probably make another attempt to carry off his captive.  If he could be
intercepted all might yet be well.  Captain Espejo used this argument to
some effect with his men, and they had agreed to wait a week, and to
keep a careful watch on the river meanwhile.  The locomotive was kept
constantly under steam, so that, immediately the discovery of the
fugitives was signalled, the train might start for the junction.  It
could surely outstrip an overladen hydroplane, and then the Englishman
might think himself lucky if he escaped a bullet through the head.  It
would give the Captain great pleasure to accompany the Liberator-General
to his hacienda of Las Piedras, and witness the shooting of that
impertinent engineer who had dared to flout him.

The Captain was ruminating thus when there fell upon his ear the report
of two rifles, fired in quick succession.  Springing up from the chair
which the General had lately filled, he ran into the camp, summoned a
hundred men from their _dolce far niente_, and with much excitement
ordered them to board the three wagons coupled to the engine.

"They are discovered!" he cried.  "We have them!"

He climbed into the cab beside the engine-driver.

"A thousand pesos," he shouted, "if you reach the junction before the
Englishman!"

The driver opened the throttle, the wheels spun round, and when they
held the rails the train started with a great rumbling and clanking
towards the junction.

                                  ————

The hydroplane had floated only a few yards down the stream when there
was a shout from the bank opposite.  Looking round, Will saw, at the
embouchure of the creek, a man wearing General Carabaño’s green feather
in his sombrero.  He held a rifle.  The enemy had clearly taken the
precaution to post a look-out, so that while their boat was searching
the creek, the hydroplane should not pass undiscovered.

One glance, then Will started the engine, and the hydroplane shot
forward.

"Not too fast," said Ruggles anxiously.

"All right.  Ten miles an hour till we see how she goes.  Keep your eyes
open, Azito."

The Indian grunted.  He stood as far forward as was convenient, holding
his pole, and fixing his eyes on the course.  He meant to earn the
little yacht that lay snugly beached in the creek behind.

The man on the bank shouted again.  In less than two minutes the
hydroplane was level with him.  He knelt on one knee, lifted his rifle,
and fired.

"Through the wind-screen," said Will, not turning his head.  "No harm
done.  I’ll make it fifteen."

The hydroplane swept round the first "twist" in the stream, and passed
from the sight of the look-out.  Another shot rang out, and
half-a-minute later two more.

"A waste of ammunition," said Will, smiling.

"Stop, señor!" cried Machado in terror, from his place in the bottom.
"We shall all be killed.  His Excellency will be shot."

"Hold your tongue," growled Ruggles, "or we’ll set you and his
Excellency up as targets."

From some spot down-stream came the crack of another rifle, and then a
second.  Half-a-minute later there seemed to be an echo from a point
still lower, and Azito declared that he heard two more shots even
farther away.

"They’re signals," said Ruggles.  "Confound ’em, why are they so
careful?"

"I daren’t go any faster yet," said Will.  "The stream’s too narrow. We
shall get to the tributary directly, and then I’ll make her go."

A few minutes brought them to the broader stream.  Then Will opened the
throttle further, increasing the speed to twenty miles an hour.  More
shots sounded faintly in several directions.  Ruggles turned his head
and glanced up-stream.

"There’s a canoe after us," he cried.  "Indians paddling like mad, and
half-a-dozen fellows with rifles."

"They can’t hurt us," said Will, and laughed as he heard the rattle of
an ineffective volley behind.

"It’ll be a near thing, though, if they’ve got other canoes waiting for
us down-stream.  Is she going all right?"

"Perfectly.  Twenty-five now, and planes beautifully.  They won’t hit us
unless they’ve had practice with partridges, and if they get in the way
they’ll come off no better than the jaguar I ran down."

The vessel was skimming along as lightly as a bird.  Ruggles gripped the
side; he had no experience of this kind of navigation.

"The canoe’s out of sight," he said, looking round.  "We’re level with
the hacienda now.  Two shots again.  They’ve put a chain of lookouts all
down the river."

"Thirty," replied Will, his eyes fixed on Azito, his hands firmly
gripping the steering-wheel.

"A canoe putting off from the bank, señor," cried Azito.  "Four men in
her."

"Right bank?"

"Yes, señor."

"We’ll go straight at her.  Revolver ready, Ruggles?"

"For goodness’ sake be careful!" gasped Ruggles.  "She may capsize us."

"Thirty-five," said Will.

On flew the hydroplane.

"Are we near the canoe, Azito?" asked Will.

"She goes back, señor: better get out of the way."

"Very sensible.  Duck, Ruggles: they may send a shot at us."

Next moment four bullets whizzed overhead.

"A thousand pesos if you stop!" cried the General, terrified alike by
the speed of the hydroplane and the risk of being shot by his own men.

"Not for a million," said Will.  "Are we near the narrows, Azito?"

"Not yet, señor."

"By Jove!" exclaimed Ruggles, "they’ve sent the train after us.  I can
see smoke through the trees."

"Forty," said Will.

He had now attained the maximum speed.  He had seldom ventured to keep
it up for more than a quarter of an hour at a stretch, but he was grimly
determined to beat the train.  No engine had yet run over the newly-laid
track at a greater speed than twenty-five miles an hour: surely the
driver would not risk a smash.  But Captain Espejo was at the man’s
elbow, continually urging him to go faster.  The heavy wagons rattled on
behind, the men swaying this way and that, shouting, peering through the
trees to the left to catch a glimpse of the hydroplane.

The sun beat down fiercely.  Hot though the air was, it blew cold upon
the occupants of the hydroplane as she whizzed along.  Will and Ruggles
were bathed in perspiration.  José was oiling the engine.

"How are we now?" asked Will.

"I can’t see for the trees.  Aren’t we near the narrows?"

He was answered by a volley from the bank.  He ducked instinctively.
Will did not budge; his whole mind was given to the hydroplane.  Would
the engine stand the strain?  He heard bullets slap into the
wind-screen, and trembled lest one should strike the engine or find its
way into the petrol tank.

"The train’s almost level with us," said Ruggles.  "Not more than a
hundred yards behind."

At this point the railway track emerged upon the river, coming to within
a quarter of a mile of it.  Here the bank was clear of trees.

"How many trucks?" asked Will.

"Three, full of men.  They’re levelling rifles at us."

"Won’t there be a smash when they come to the curve!"

"We’re gaining a little, but they’ll make up on us when we come to the
bend."

"We must go faster.  I can’t leave the wheel.  Ruggles, go to the
exhaust valve and double the pressure."

"Good heavens!  It won’t stand it."

"It must!  Hurry up, man."

Ruggles, as an expert mechanician, knew the risk involved.  By adjusting
the valve admitting pressure from the exhaust to the petrol tank it
could show double the pressure on the tank gauge.  By this means the
explosive mixture would be enriched and more power gained. But there
would be an immense risk of over-heating the cylinders.

"I don’t think----" he began.

"Quick! quick, man!" said Will.

Hesitating no longer, Ruggles did what was required of him.  The
hydroplane flew on.  In half-a-minute it had gained a furlong on the
train.  Fearing that their prey was escaping them, the men on the trucks
fired a volley, some resting their rifles on the sides, others even
venturing to mount, being held up on the jolting vehicles by their
comrades.  More bullets struck the windscreen; Will did not notice that
Azito’s right arm dropped by his side.  The Indian did not utter a
sound.

With every second the hydroplane increased its lead.  At last it came to
the bend, which made its course longer by over a mile than the straight
track of the railway.  This was the critical part of the race. Will knew
that, if the train maintained its speed, he could not expect to reach
the farther end of the curve before his pursuers.  It was impossible to
increase the pressure by an ounce.  His only hope was that the train
would not have time to pull up, so that the men could steady themselves
for firing, before he shot past.

As he rounded the bend into the straight again, he saw that the train
was leading by about two hundred yards.  It did not appear to be
slackening speed.  And here he recognized with a throb of delight that
there was a point in his favour that had not occurred to him.  For
nearly a mile the bank of the river was lined with a thin fringe of
trees.  This explained the fact that the train had not pulled up.  Even
if the men could alight in time, the trees must completely spoil their
chance of pouring in an effective volley.  The hydroplane was skimming
along at such an enormous speed that they could no more have taken good
aim at it through the trees than if they had been park palings.  In
half-a-minute the hydroplane was once more forging ahead.  A scattered
volley flashed from the trucks; Will paid no heed to it; he did not even
notice that a bullet had flown up from the wind-screen and struck his
cheek.  All that he knew was that the hydroplane was drawing away, and
that in another mile or so the train would arrive at a dangerous curve.

"They’re putting on more steam," cried Ruggles, "and coaling like the
very dickens."

"Shall we do it?  I can’t keep this up for more than another minute."

"In another minute they’ll come to the curve in the cutting," said
Ruggles, "and then nothing can save them if they don’t slacken."

A few seconds later a loud grinding shriek came from the right.

"They’ve clapped on the brakes," said Will.  "’Twas time.  Reduce the
pressure, Ruggles, or the whole concern will burst up.  There’s no hurry
now."

[Illustration: THE RACE TO THE SWIFT]

Ruggles screwed back the valve.  Will gradually closed the throttle
until the speed was reduced to twenty miles an hour.  The bridge was in
sight.  Just as they reached it there came a crash from the line.  Will
reduced the speed still further, and looked round.  The driver had put
on his brakes too late.  Rounding the curve, the engine had left the
rails and the wagons were overturned.

"Not much harm done," said Ruggles.  "Lucky she slowed down when she
did, or there’d have been a horrible mess."

"Thank goodness we’ve got through in time," said Will, mopping his
steaming brow.  "We can take it easy now, and get to Bolivar before it’s
dark."



CHAPTER XVI--THE END OF A REVOLUTION


The hydroplane was now on the broad bosom of the Orinoco, floating down
with the tide.  Will thought it time to stop for a meal.

"We’ll run into the bank, and Azito can cook us some yuca," he said.

"A glass of beer, just one, would satisfy me," said Ruggles.  "But,
bless us! you’ve got blood on your cheek."

"So I have!" cried Will, brushing his hand over it.  "Any one else
hurt?"

There was no answer, but looking round, he noticed that Azito’s right
arm hung limp at his side.  As soon as the vessel was beached, he
examined the wound.

"You’re a plucky fellow," he said.  "Do you know that your arm’s
broken?"

"It’s nothing, señor," replied the Indian simply.

"Isn’t it?  We’ll see what the surgeon says when we get to Bolivar.
Ruggles, you can do most things: can you make a bandage?"

"I’ve washed and dressed a week-old baby," said Ruggles, "and there’s a
bit of bandaging in that."

"Well, see what you can do for Azito.  José must bake our bread, and I
think we might release our prisoners now, don’t you?"

"You won’t let the General go, surely?" said Ruggles.

"Not I.  But we can untie him now.  He must be pretty uncomfortable."

The two prisoners were released from their bonds.  They looked very
woebegone.  Machado began to protest.

"You said no harm should come to me if I did your bidding, señor," he
said.  "This is how an Englishman keeps his word!"

"You haven’t much to complain of," said Will bluntly.  "Many a man would
have shot you for your treachery."

"But you will not take me to Ciudad Bolivar?" said the man, beginning to
whine.  "They will shoot me there."

"And you would deserve it.  But since it was by your help that I secured
the person of your General, I’ll see what I can do for you. Perhaps they
won’t trouble about you when they have the arch-rebel in their hands."

Then General Carabaño thought it time to say a word.

"You have no right to meddle in the affairs of Venezuela, señor," he
said.  "My cause is a good one: I have half the country at my back:
and----"

"We won’t go into that, General," interrupted Will.  "You ventured to
meddle with the servants of a Company protected by the laws of your
State.  You have got the worst of it, and that’s all there is to be
said."

"Not all, señor," said the General, changing his tone.  "You forget that
your friends are still in captivity, and be sure that if any harm befall
me, my adherents will exact retribution."

"I doubt whether you have any adherents now," replied Will.  "At any
rate you will go with us to Ciudad Bolivar."

"If you release me, señor, I will undertake that your friends shall
rejoin you in three days, and your Company shall be no further
molested."

"Sorry I can’t oblige you, General.  You can’t repay my Company for
their loss of business: you can’t repair the railway line that your
adherents have smashed up.  The less said the better, I think."

The General glared at him, but seeing that there was no hope of his
relenting he held his peace.

After a meal, Will started the hydroplane, and ran down the river at a
speed of about fifteen knots.

"What about the Chief and Jerry O’Connor?" said Ruggles, sitting at his
side.

"I’m rather bothered about them," replied Will, "though it wouldn’t do
to let the General think so.  They’re out of reach, and we can’t get at
them easily.  But I hope they won’t come to any harm.  It is quite clear
we can do nothing at present.  We can’t go across country while Espejo
and his crew are still at large.  Perhaps the Government will do
something for them in return for our capture of Carabaño: that’s my
hope."

Suddenly there was a loud splash.  Looking round, Will saw that the
General had flung himself overboard.  No doubt he expected to meet the
fate of rebels when he came into the President’s hands, and preferred to
seek his own death.  Will instantly stopped the engine and sprang into
the river.  For a few moments the General did not reappear, and Will
feared that he had gone to the bottom; but swimming along, he caught
sight of the woolly head emerging a few yards away, and three or four
swift strokes brought them together.  The General fought stubbornly
until Will in desperation called Ruggles to his assistance. Between them
they managed to haul their prisoner to the vessel, by which time he was
almost unconscious.  Again his hands and feet were bound, and Will set
the engine going at a higher speed.

It was near dusk when they came in sight of the white cathedral tower of
Ciudad Bolivar.  Soon after they entered the narrow part of the river.
There was the row of black rocks rising out of the water near the right
bank.  There was the Piedra del Medio--the large rock rearing itself in
the middle of the stream.  And there at last was the stone quay, not
deserted, as it had been at his last visit to the city, but now thronged
with idlers watching the progress of the strange vessel about which
their curiosity had long been unsatisfied.

Will steered the hydroplane alongside the quay, and sprang out. Ruggles
untied the bonds about the General’s feet, and together they lifted him
on to the quay.  The onlookers were at first silent in sheer amazement;
then the cry arose that the rebel General had been brought a prisoner to
the city.  Each taking an arm, Will and Ruggles marched the General
along the Calle de Coco.

"What about Machado?" said Ruggles a few seconds after they had started.

"We’ll let him go," answered Will.  "I fancy he has had a lesson. He’ll
keep out of the way of the authorities, and after what has happened
he’ll beware of the rebels.  Perhaps he’ll try to earn an honest
living."

Followed along the street by an ever-growing crowd, mocking and jeering
at the General, they came at length to the Town Hall.  The Jefe was
beyond measure amazed and delighted when he saw his prisoner.

"The President shall hear of this at once, señor," he said, shaking Will
warmly by the hand.  "It is you, señor, that are the Liberator of
Venezuela, and your name will be honoured in the annals of my country.
You must tell me at leisure how you succeeded in capturing this
notorious enemy of the State.  I will at once issue invitations for a
banquet."

"Pardon me, Excellency; as you perceive, I am not presentable."

The rough life of the past few days and his immersion had indeed given
him a disreputable appearance.

"That is a trifle, señor," said the Jefe.  "My own tailor shall provide
you with garments within an hour or two.  The whole city will be eager
to hear your story, and I cannot be denied."

Will accepted his fate philosophically.  The General was put into safe
quarters in the city jail: a telegram was immediately sent to the
President at Caracas, telling him the news and asking for instructions:
and then the Jefe himself took Will to his tailor’s, and gave orders
that he should be becomingly arrayed.  He would have done the same for
Ruggles; but that worthy, at the first mention of a banquet, had quietly
slipped away.  He told Will next day that he couldn’t trust himself at
such a festivity.

"You see, they wouldn’t have beer," he said, "and wine would bowl me
over in no time.  Besides, their champagne is filthy stuff."

There is no need to relate what happened at the Jefe’s hospitable table.
Will was the hero of the hour, and supremely uncomfortable.  It was very
late before the party broke up, and it is a regrettable fact that the
Jefe, when he took Will home as his guest for the night, talked a great
deal of nonsense.

"Ah!" said Ruggles, when Will hinted at this next day, "there’s nothing
keeps a man so safe as having two pounds a week and no more."

In the morning an order came from the President that General Carabaño
should be immediately sent to Caracas.  He gave at the same time a
cordial invitation to Señor Pentelow to visit him.  This Will promptly
and gratefully declined by telegraph.  He had had a conversation with
the Jefe.  It appeared that a few days before, scouts had reported that
Colonel Orellana’s force had broken up.  No doubt news of General
Carabaño’s abduction had reached them, and they recognized that the
revolution had fizzled out.  Being relieved of further anxiety on this
score, the Jefe readily acceded to Will’s request that he would send a
small force by steamer up the Orinoco, in order to effect the release of
the prisoners.  General Carabaño’s hacienda was about a hundred miles
from the junction, and remote from the railway.  It could best be
reached by ascending the tributary until it ceased to be navigable, a
few miles beyond De Mello’s hacienda, and then by riding across country.
The journey would be too hazardous for Will and Ruggles to attempt alone
while Captain Espejo still had any force at command; but a small party
under Colonel Blanco could no doubt easily dispose of them, and then the
way would be open.

Accordingly a steamer left Bolivar at ten o’clock, carrying Colonel
Blanco and fifty well-armed men, together with the two Englishmen and
their native helpers.  Will had not forgotten to have Azito’s arm
properly attended to by a surgeon, nor to buy a good supply of petrol.
The hydroplane was towed.  With some difficulty Will had persuaded the
doctor to accompany the expedition in order to assist the men who had
been injured when the train was thrown off the rails.  The doctor was
doubtful of getting his fees.

At the junction Colonel Blanco disembarked with Will and some of his
officers to view the scene of the smash.  Engine and trucks lay, of
course, where they had fallen, with broken rifles and other evidences of
the catastrophe.  Steaming along the river again, they came to a halt
where there was no longer sufficient draught for the vessel, and marched
over the few miles to the hacienda.  Here they found all the rooms
occupied by a score of injured men, attended only by Indians. They had
been brought in a few hours before, after a terrible night in the woods.
Captain Espejo was one of the most seriously injured, as was only to be
expected from his perilous position on the cab of the engine.  All the
men who were able to ride had decamped.  Colonel Blanco was much
interested in seeing the hole in the stable wall by which Will had
escaped, and the room where General Carabaño was captured.

Next morning Will and Ruggles set off on horseback with a dozen of the
Colonel’s men, under Azito’s guidance, for the General’s hacienda.  It
was a long and fatiguing journey, through woods, across streams, now on
bare rock, now in swamp whose squelching ground covered the horses’
fetlocks.  When they arrived at the precipice where Ruggles had escaped,
nothing would satisfy him but to halt and scratch his initials on the
cliff.

"Just like a tripper," said Will, laughing.

"Well, as your name is to be written in full in the State records, you
won’t grudge me my simple initials on the rock," replied Ruggles.  "And
I shouldn’t wonder if they last longer."

They had ridden but a few miles farther when Azito pointed to the right,
and declared that he had seen three horsemen coming towards them.
Nobody else could distinguish the figures.  Colonel Blanco decided to
halt in a clump of trees until the strangers came up.  Will thought they
might bring news of the prisoners, or that two of them might be the
prisoners themselves; but Azito said they were coming from the wrong
direction.

In twenty minutes the three riders came clearly into view.  Then Will
saw that one of them was Antonio de Mello.  The others were strangers to
him.  He went out to meet them.

"Hallo, old chap!" said De Mello.  "What are you doing here?"

"I’m going to pay a visit to General Carabaño’s hacienda."

De Mello laughed.

"What is this I hear about the Liberator?" he said.  "My Indians--I have
had spies at my place all along--told me that he was abducted in the
middle of the night.  Is it true?"

"Perfectly," said Will.  "Your place is just now a hospital."

"What!  Has there been a fight?" asked De Mello, grimacing.

"No: a smash on the line.  I suppose you are on your way there?"

"Yes.  With Carabaño gone I thought I might venture back to my own, and
two friends accompanied me to see fair play."  He introduced the
strangers.  "But why are you going to the General’s house?"

"To release a couple of friends of mine.  Didn’t your Indian tell you
what happened to us?"

"They told me a great deal that I didn’t believe.  What’s the truth of
the matter?"

"It’s a long story, and if you don’t mind I’ll keep it till I get back.
Colonel Blanco is waiting in the wood yonder, and we want to get to Las
Piedras before night."

"Colonel Blanco!  The revolution is broken, then?"

"Smashed."

"That’s good news.  I hope they haven’t damaged my stables."

"No, your stables are all right," said Will with a laugh, wondering at
his friend’s strange lack of patriotism.  "No Englishman," he thought,
"would think first of his stables."  Was he right?

Having been introduced to Colonel Blanco, De Mello rode on with his
friends towards his hacienda.  The others resumed their journey in the
opposite direction.

It was getting dark when they reached General Carabaño’s estate.  The
house was lit up.  Passing the window of the dining-room, and looking
in, they saw the Chief and O’Connor seated at table with half-a-dozen
Venezuelans.  They were talking cheerfully, and seemed to be in the best
of spirits.  Hearing the jingle of bridles, the whole party started up
and came to the window.  The Venezuelans looked alarmed.

"How are you, Chief?" Will called through the window.

"It’s the boy!" cried Mr. Jackson.  "It’s all right, O’Connor.  Come in,
Pentelow; you’ll find the door open.  Who’ve you got with you?"

"Colonel Blanco, of the State army."

He entered the house with Ruggles and the Colonel.

"You don’t look much like prisoners," said Will, laughing.

"Prisoners?  We’re gentlemen at large.  We’ve heard all about it.  A
messenger came up the day after the General disappeared, and we guessed
you were at the bottom of it.  These gentlemen here offered to escort us
to Bolivar, but it’s two hundred miles and a trying journey; and as
we’re living on the fat of the land and having a better time than we’ve
had for months, we decided to stay here until we got word of you."

"But I don’t understand," said Will.  "Aren’t these gentlemen
revolutionists?"

"No longer, my boy.  They threw over the General at once, and are now
the loyalest citizens of the Republic.  That’s revolution in Venezuela."

Colonel Blanco was chatting very amiably to the Venezuelans.  It was all
very amazing to Will, whose knowledge of the revolutions of history
included recollections of bitter enmity, murderous passions,
proscriptions, massacres.

He told the whole story, to which his friends listened with as much
amusement as surprise.  O’Connor sighed because he had not been with
Will in the race with the train, but the Chief looked grave when he
heard of the smash on the line.

"We’ll get no compensation," he said.  "However, all’s well that ends
well.  We shall no doubt get the line finished before the next
revolution."

Next day they all returned to railhead.  Already the scattered peons
were flocking back, and in the course of a week work was in full swing
again.

When De Mello heard all that had happened he was inclined to be envious
of Will.  It occurred to him apparently for the first time that he had
played a rather sorry part in deserting his hacienda, and leaving to
strangers the task of making head against the rebels.  In course of
time, perhaps, men of his class, who at present look on matters of State
with indifference, will learn to take an interest in them, and develop a
patriotism which will raise their country to its fitting rank among the
nations of the world.

A fortnight after his return to the camp, Mr. Jackson was informed by
his new telegraphist, an Englishman, that General Carabaño had not been
shot, the President having commuted his sentence to permanent exile.
Will received an autograph letter from the President thanking him for
the great services he had rendered to the Republic, and some weeks later
the secretary of the Company in London cabled to the effect that the
Board of Directors had unanimously resolved to grant him an honorarium
of a hundred pounds in consideration of his zeal for their interests.
His hydroplane became the talk of the country, and an enterprising
Yankee in Bolivar organized weekly trips by steamer to the scene of his
adventures for the benefit of curious sightseers, and incidentally for
his own.

Of all the actors in this little drama, Azito was perhaps the best
satisfied at its conclusion.  In De Mello’s yacht, purchased for him by
Mr. Jackson, he often sailed on the creeks and streams in the
neighbourhood.  His wants were simple and few, and he earned the little
that sufficed to supply them by occasional attendance upon the señor who
had saved him from the jaws of a jaguar, and whose hydroplane was only
second in his estimation to his own yacht.



                                THE END



          _Richard Clay & Sons, Limited, London, and Bungay._





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