Read CHAPTER XXIV - THE ALTERED SAILING LIST of Brandon of the Engineers , free online book, by Harold Bindloss, on

When dinner was over, Dick sat by himself in a quiet spot on the liner’s quarter-deck.  There was a tall, iron bulwark beside him, but close by this was replaced by netted rails, through which he caught the pale shimmer of the sea.  The warm land-breeze had freshened and ripples splashed against the vessel’s side, while every now and then a languid gurgle rose from about her waterline and the foam her plates threw off was filled with phosphorescent flame.  A string band was playing on the poop, and passengers and guests moved through the intricate figures of a Spanish dance on the broad deck below.  Their poses were graceful and their dress was picturesque, but Dick watched them listlessly.

He was not in a mood for dancing, for he had been working hard at the dam and his thoughts were disturbed.  Clare had refused him, and although he did not accept her decision as final, he could see no way of taking her out of her father’s hands, while he had made no progress towards unraveling the latter’s plots.  Kenwardine was not on board, but Dick had only seen Clare at some distance off across the table in the saloon.  Moreover, he thought she must have taken some trouble to avoid meeting him.

Then he remembered the speeches made by the visitors at dinner, and the steamship officers’ replies.  The former, colored by French and Spanish politeness and American wit, eulogized the power of the British navy and the courage of her merchant captains.  There was war, they said, but British commerce went on without a check; goods shipped beneath the red ensign would be delivered safe in spite of storm and strife; Britannia, with trident poised, guarded the seas.  For this the boldly-announced sailing list served as text, but Dick, who made allowances for exuberant Latin sentiment, noted the captain’s response with some surprise.

His speech was flamboyant, and did not harmonize with the character of the man, who had called at the port before in command of another ship.  He was gray-haired and generally reserved.  Dick had not expected him to indulge in cheap patriotism, but he called the British ensign the meteor flag, defied its enemies, and declared that no hostile fleets could prevent his employers carrying their engagements out.  Since the man was obviously sober, Dick supposed he was touting for business and wanted to assure the merchants that the sailings of the company’s steamers could be relied upon.  Still, this kind of thing was not good British form.

By and by Don Sebastian came down a ladder from the saloon deck with Clare behind him.  Dick felt tempted to retire but conquered the impulse and the Spaniard came up.

“I have some business with the purser, who is waiting for me, but cannot find my senora,” he explained, and Dick, knowing that local conventions forbade his leaving Clare alone, understood it as a request that he should take care of her until the other’s return.

“I should be glad to stay with Miss Kenwardine,” he answered with a bow, and when Don Sebastian went off opened a deck-chair and turned to the girl.

“You see how I was situated!” he said awkwardly.

Clare smiled as she sat down.  “Yes; you are not to blame.  Indeed, I do not see why you should apologize.”

“Well,” said Dick, “I hoped that I might meet you, though I feared you would sooner I did not.  When I saw you on the ladder, I felt I ought to steal away, but must confess that I was glad when I found it was too late.  Somehow, things seem to bring us into opposition.  They have done so from the beginning.”

“You’re unnecessarily frank,” Clare answered with a blush.  “Since you couldn’t steal away, wouldn’t it have been better not to hint that I was anxious to avoid you?  After all, I could have done so if I had really wanted.”

“I expect that’s true.  Of course what happened when we last met couldn’t trouble you as it troubled me.”

“Are you trying to be tactful now?” Clare asked, smiling.

“No; it’s my misfortune that I haven’t much tact.  If I had, I might be able to straighten matters out.”

“Don’t you understand that they can’t be straightened out?”

“I don’t,” Dick answered stubbornly.  “For all that, I won’t trouble you again until I find a way out of the tangle.”

Clare gave him a quick, disturbed look.  “It would be much better if you took it for granted that we must, to some extent, be enemies.”

“No.  I’m afraid your father and I are enemies, but that’s not the same.”

“It is; you can see that it must be,” Clare insisted; and then, as if anxious to change the subject, went on:  “He was too busy to bring me to-night so I came with Don Sebastian and his wife.  It is not very gay in Santa Brigida and one gets tired of being alone.”

Her voice fell a little as she concluded, and Dick, who understood something of her isolation from friends of her race, longed to take her in his arms and comfort her.  Indeed, had the quarter-deck been deserted he might have tried, for he felt that her refusal had sprung from wounded pride and a sense of duty.  There was something in her manner that hinted that it had not been easy to send him away.  Yet he saw she could be firm and thought it wise to follow her lead.

“Then your father has been occupied lately,” he remarked.

“Yes; he is often away.  He goes to Adexe and is generally busy in the evenings.  People come to see him and keep him talking in his room.  Our friends no longer spend the evening in the patio.”

Dick understood her.  She wanted to convince him that Kenwardine was a business man and only gambled when he had nothing else to do.  Indeed, her motive was rather pitifully obvious, and Dick knew that he had not been mistaken about her character.  Clare had, no doubt, once yielded to her father’s influence, but it was impossible that she took any part in his plots.  She was transparently honest; he knew this as he watched her color come and go.

“After all, I don’t think you liked many of the people who came,” he said.

“I liked Jake,” she answered and stopped with a blush, while Dick felt half ashamed, because he had deprived her of the one companion she could trust.

“Well,” he said, “it isn’t altogether my fault that Jake doesn’t come to see you.  We have had some accidents that delayed the work and he has not been able to leave the dam.”

He was silent for the next few minutes.  Since Clare was eager to defend Kenwardine, she might be led to tell something about his doings from which a useful hint could be gathered, and Dick greatly wished to know who visited his house on business.  Still, it was impossible that he should make the girl betray her father.  The fight was between him and Kenwardine, and Clare must be kept outside it.  With this resolve, he began to talk about the dancing, and soon afterward Jake came up and asked Clare for the next waltz.  She smiled and gave Dick a challenging glance.

“Certainly,” he said with a bow, and then turned to Jake.  “As Miss Kenwardine has been put in my charge, you must bring her back.”

Jake grinned as he promised and remarked as they went away:  “Makes a good duena, doesn’t he?  You can trust Dick to guard anything he’s told to take care of.  In fact, if I’d a sister I wanted to leave in safe hands ­” He paused and laughed.  “But that’s the trouble.  It was my sister who told him to take care of me.”

Dick did not hear Clare’s reply, but watched her dance until Don Sebastian’s wife came up.  After that he went away, and presently strolled along the highest deck.  This was narrower than the others, but was extended as far as the side of the ship by beams on which the boats were stowed.  There were no rails, for passengers were not allowed up there; but Dick, who was preoccupied and moody, wanted to be alone.  The moon had now risen above the mountains and the sea glittered between the shore and the ship.  Looking down, he saw a row of boats rise and fall with the languid swell near her tall side, and the flash of the surf that washed the end of the mole.  Then, taking out a cigarette, he strolled towards the captain’s room, which stood behind the bridge, and stopped near it in the shadow of a big lifeboat.

The room was lighted, and the door and windows were half open because the night was hot.  Carelessly glancing in, Dick saw Don Sebastian sitting at the table with the captain and engineer.  This somewhat surprised him, for the purser transacted the ship’s business and, so far as he knew, none of the other guests had been taken to the captain’s room.  He felt puzzled about Don Sebastian, whom he had met once or twice.  The fellow had an air of authority and the smaller officials treated him with respect.

Something in the men’s attitude indicated that they were talking confidentially, and Dick thought he had better go away without attracting their attention; but just then the captain turned in his chair and looked out.  Dick decided to wait until he looked round again, and next moment Don Sebastian asked:  “Have you plenty coal?”

“I think so,” the engineer replied.  “The after-bunkers are full, but I’d have taken a few extra barge-loads here only I didn’t want any of the shore péons to see how much I’d already got.”

Dick did not understand this, because coal was somewhat cheaper and the facilities for shipping it were better at the boat’s next port of call, to which it was only a two-days’ run.  Then the captain, who turned to Don Sebastian, remarked: 

“Making the sailing list prominent was a happy thought, and it was lucky your friends backed us up well by their speeches.  You saw how I took advantage of the lead they gave me, but I hope we haven’t overdone the thing.”

“No,” said Don Sebastian thoughtfully; “I imagine nobody suspects anything yet.”

“Perhaps you had better clear the ship soon, sir,” said the engineer.  “Steam’s nearly up and it takes some coal ­”

The room door slipped off its hook and swung wide open as the vessel rolled, and Dick, who could not withdraw unnoticed, decided to light his cigarette in order that the others might see that they were not alone.  As he struck the match the captain got up.

“Who’s that?” he asked.

“One of the foreign passengers, I expect; the mates can’t keep them off this deck,” the engineer replied.  “I don’t suppose the fellow knows English, but shall I send him down?”

“I think not.  It might look as if we were afraid of being overheard.”

Dick held the match to his cigarette for a moment or two before he threw it away, and as he walked past noted that Don Sebastian had come out on deck.  Indeed, he thought the man had seen his face and was satisfied, because he turned back into the room.  Dick went down a ladder to the deck below, where he stopped and thought over what he had heard.  It was plain that some precautions had been taken against the risk of capture, but he could not understand why Don Sebastian had been told about them.

By and by he thought he would speak to the purser, whom he knew, and went down the alleyway that led to his office.  The door was hooked back, but the passage was narrow and a fat Spanish lady blocked the entrance.  She was talking to the purser and Dick saw that he must wait until she had finished.  A man stood a few yards behind her, unscrewing a flute, and as a folded paper that looked like music stuck out of his pocket he appeared to belong to the band.

“But it is Tuesday you arrive at Palomas!” the lady exclaimed.

“About then,” the purser answered in awkward Castilian.  “We may be a little late.”

“But how much late?”

“I cannot tell.  Perhaps a day or two.”

“At dinner the captain said ­”

“Just so.  But he was speaking generally without knowing all the arrangements.”

Dick could not see into the office, but heard the purser open a drawer and shuffle some papers, as if he wanted to get rid of his questioner.

“It is necessary that I know when we arrive,” the lady resumed.  “If it is not Tuesday, I must send a telegram.”

The purser shut the drawer noisily, but just then a bell rang overhead and the whistle blew to warn the visitors that they must go ashore.

“Then you must be quick,” said the purser.  “Write your message here and give it to me.  You need not be disturbed.  We will land you at Palomas.”

The lady entered the office, but Dick thought her telegram would not be sent, and a moment later the captain’s plan dawned on him.  The ship would call at the ports named, but not in the order stated, and this was why she needed so much coal.  She would probably steam first to the port farthest off and then work backward, and the sailing list was meant to put the raider off the track.  The latter’s commander, warned by spies who would send him the list, would think he knew where to find the vessel at any particular date, when, however, she would be somewhere else.  Then Dick wondered why the musician was hanging about, and went up to him.

“The sobrecargo’s busy,” he said in English.  “You’ll be taken to sea unless you get up on deck.”

“I no wanta el sobrecargo,” the man replied in a thick, stupid voice.  “The music is thirsty; I wanta drink.”

The second-class bar was farther down the alleyway, and Dick, indicating it, turned back and made his way to the poop as fast as he could, for he did not think the man was as drunk as he looked.  He found the musicians collecting their stands, and went up to the bandmaster.

“There’s one of your men below who has been drinking too much cana,” he said.  “You had better look after him.”

“But they are all here,” the bandmaster answered, glancing round the poop.

“The man had a flute.”

“But we have no flute-player.”

“Then he must have been a passenger,” said Dick, who hurried to the gangway.

After hailing his fireman to bring the launch alongside, he threw a quick glance about.  The shore boatmen were pushing their craft abreast of the ladder and shouting as they got in each other’s way, but one boat had already left the ship and was pulling fast towards the harbor.  There seemed to be only one man on board besides her crew, and Dick had no doubt that he was the flute-player.  He must be followed, since it was important to find out whom he met and if, as Dick suspected, he meant to send off a telegram.  But the liner’s captain must be warned, and Dick turned hastily around.  The windlass was rattling and the bridge, on which he could see the captain’s burly figure, was some distance off, while the passage between the gangway and deckhouse was blocked by the departing guests.

The anchor would probably be up before he could push his way through the crowd, and if he was not carried off to sea, he would certainly lose sight of the spy.  Writing a line or two on the leaf of his pocket-book, he tore it out and held it near a Creole steward boy.

“Take that to the sobrecargo at once,” he cried, and seeing the boy stoop to pick up the note, which fell to the deck, ran down the ladder.

He had, however, to wait a minute while the fireman brought the launch alongside between the other boats, and when they pushed off Don Sebastian, scrambling across one of the craft, jumped on board.  He smiled when Dick looked at him with annoyed surprise.

“I think my business is yours, but there is no time for explanations,” he said.  “Tell your man to go full speed.”

The launch quivered and leaped ahead with the foam curling at her bows, and Dick did not look round when he heard an expostulating shout.  Jake and Bethune must get ashore as they could; his errand was too important to stop for them, particularly as he could no longer see the boat in front.  She had crossed the glittering belt of moonlight and vanished into the shadow near the mole.  Her occupant had had some minutes’ start and had probably landed, but it might be possible to find out where he had gone.

“Screw the valve wide open,” Dick told the fireman.

The rattle of the engine quickened a little, the launch lifted her bows, and her stern sank into the hollow of a following wave.  When she steamed up the harbor a boat lay near some steps, and as the launch slackened speed Dick asked her crew which way their passenger had gone.

“Up the mole, senor,” one answered breathlessly.

“It is all you will learn from them,” Don Sebastian remarked.  “I think we will try the telegrafía first.”

There was no time for questions and Dick jumped out as the launch ran alongside the steps.  Don Sebastian stopped him when he reached the top.

“In Santa Brigida, nobody runs unless there is an earthquake or a revolution.  We do not want people to follow us.”

Dick saw the force of this and started for the telegraph office, walking as fast as possible.  When he looked round, his companion had vanished, but he rejoined him on the steps of the building.  They went in together and found nobody except a languid clerk leaning on a table.  Don Sebastian turned to Dick and said in English, “It will be better if you leave this matter to me.”

Dick noted that the clerk suddenly became alert when he saw his companion, but he waited at a few yards’ distance and Don Sebastian said:  “A man came in not long since with a telegram.  He was short and very dark and probably signed the form Vinoles.”

“He did, senor,” said the clerk.

“Very well.  I want to see the message before it is sent.”

“It has gone, senor, three or four minutes ago.”

Don Sebastian made a gesture of resignation, spreading out his hands.  “Then bring me the form.”

Dick thought it significant that the clerk at once obeyed, but Don Sebastian, who stood still for a moment, turned to him.

“It is as I thought,” he said in English, and ordered the clerk:  “Take us into the manager’s room.”

The other did so, and after shutting the door withdrew.  Don Sebastian threw the form on the table.

“It seems we are too late,” he said.