Read CHAPTER XXIX - KENWARDINE TAKES A RISK of Brandon of the Engineers , free online book, by Harold Bindloss, on ReadCentral.com.

Shortly after the launch entered the lagoon, the Danish boat hove her anchor and steamed out to sea.  Dick, who had engaged a half-breed pilot to take the launch home, lounged in a canvas chair under the poop awning.  His eyes were half closed, for the white boats and deckhouses flashed dazzlingly in the strong light as the steamer lurched across the vivid swell of the Caribbean.  The cigarette he languidly held had gone out, and his pose was slack.

He was physically tired and his brain was dull, but he was conscious of lethargic satisfaction.  For a long time he had been torn between his love for Clare and his duty to his country.  His difficulties were further complicated by doubts of Kenwardine’s guilt, but recent events had cleared these up.  It was, on the whole, a relief to feel that he must now go forward and there need be no more hesitation and balancing of probabilities.  The time for that had gone and his course was plain.  He must confront Kenwardine with a concise statement of his share in the plot and force from him an undertaking that he would abandon his traitorous work.

This might be difficult, but Dick did not think he would fail.  Don Sebastian, who perhaps knew more than he did, was to meet him at a Cuban port, and the Spaniard could be trusted to handle the matter with skill.  There was no direct communication between Santa Brigida and Kingston, but steamers touched at the latter place when making a round of other ports, which would enable Dick and his ally to join Kenwardine’s boat at her last call.  If either of them had gone on board at Santa Brigida, Kenwardine would have left the ship at the next port.

Since he had sailed on an English steamer, bound for British territory, he would be subject to British law when they met, and they could, if needful, have him arrested.  Dick admitted that this ought to be done to begin with, but had not decided about it yet.  He would wait and be guided by events.  The British officials might doubt his story and decline to interfere, but Kenwardine could not count on that, because Don Sebastian was armed with credentials from the President of a friendly state.

Dick, however, dismissed the matter.  He was tired in mind and body, and did not mean to think of anything important until he met Kenwardine.  By and by his head grew heavy, and resting it on the back of his chair, he closed his eyes.  When Jake came up, followed by a steward carrying two tall glasses of frothing liquor, he saw that his comrade was fast asleep.

“You can put them down,” he told the steward.  “I’m thirsty enough to empty both, but you can bring some more along when my partner wakes.”

After this he took a black seaman, who was making some noise as he swept the poop, by the arm and firmly led him to the other side of the deck.  Then he drained the glasses with a sigh of satisfaction, and lighting a cigarette, sat down near Dick’s feet.  He did not mean to sleep, but when he got up with a jerk as the lunch bell rang he saw Dick smiling.

“Have I been sitting there all this time?” he asked.

“No,” said Dick.  “You were lying flat on deck when I woke up an hour ago.”  Then he indicated the two glasses, which had rolled into the scupper channel.  “I shouldn’t be surprised if those accounted for it.”

“Perhaps they did,” Jake owned, grinning.  “Anyhow, we’ll have some more, with a lump of ice in it, before we go down to lunch.”

The Danish boat met fine weather as she leisurely made her way across the Caribbean, and after an uneventful voyage, Dick and Jake landed at a port in Cuba.  The British steamer from Santa Brigida had not arrived, but the agent expected her in the evening, and they found Don Sebastian waiting them at a hotel he had named.  When it was getting dark they walked to the end of the harbor mole and sat down to watch for the vessel.

Rows of the lights began to twinkle, one behind the other, at the head of the bay, and music drifted across the water.  A bright glow marked the plaza, where a band was playing, but the harbor was dark except for the glimmer of anchor-lights on the oily swell.  The occasional rattle of a winch, jarring harshly on the music, told that the Danish boat was working cargo.  A faint, warm breeze blew off the land, and there was a flicker of green and blue phosphorescence as the sea washed about the end of the mole.

“I wonder how you’ll feel if Kenwardine doesn’t come,” Jake said presently, looking at Dick, who did not answer.

“He will come,” Don Sebastian rejoined with quiet confidence.

“Well, I guess he must know he’s doing a dangerous thing.”

“Senor Kenwardine does know, but he plays for high stakes and takes the risks of the game.  If it had not been necessary, he would not have ventured on British soil, but since he was forced to go, he thought the boldest plan the safest.  This is what one would expect, because the man is brave.  He could not tell how far my suspicions went and how much Senor Brandon knew, but saw that he was watched and if he tried to hide his movements he would betray himself.  It was wiser to act as if he had nothing to fear.”

“As he was forced to go, his business must be important,” Dick said thoughtfully.  “This means he must be dealt with before he lands at Kingston.  If we allowed him to meet his confederates there, the mischief would be done, and it might be too late afterwards to stop them carrying out their plans.”

Don Sebastian gave him a quiet smile.  “One might learn who his confederates are if he met them.  It looks as if you would sooner deal with our friend on board.”

“I would,” Dick said steadily.  “His plotting must be stopped, but I’m inclined to think I’d be content with that.”

“And you?” the Spaniard asked, turning to Jake.

“I don’t know that Kenwardine is in the worst of the plot.  He was a friend of mine and it’s your business to prove him guilty.  I mean to reserve my opinion until you make your charges good.”

“Very well,” said Don Sebastian.  “We’ll be guided by what happens when we see him.”

They let the matter drop, and half an hour later a white light and a green light crept out of the dark to seawards, and a faint throbbing grew into the measured beat of a steamer’s screw.  Then a low, shadowy hull, outlined by a glimmer of phosphorescence, came on towards the harbor mouth, and a rocket swept up in a fiery curve and burst, dropping colored lights.  A harsh rattle of running chain broke out, the screw splashed noisily for a few moments and stopped, and a launch came swiftly down the harbor.

“The port doctor!” said Dick.  “There’s some cargo ready, and she won’t sail for three or four hours.  We had better wait until near the last moment before we go on board.  If our man saw us, he’d take alarm and land.”

Don Sebastian agreed, and they went back to the hotel, and stayed there until word was sent that the last boat was ready to leave the mole.  They took their places with one or two more passengers, and as they drew near the steamer Dick looked carefully about.  Several shore boats were hanging on to the warp alongside and a cargo barge lay beside her quarter.  It was obvious that she would not sail immediately, and if Kenwardine saw them come on board, he would have no trouble in leaving the vessel.  If he landed, he would be in neutral territory, and their hold on him would be gone.  To make things worse, a big electric lamp had been hung over the gangway so as to light the ladder.

Dick could not see Kenwardine among the passengers on deck, and getting on board as quietly as possible, they went down the nearest companion stairs and along an alleyway to the purser’s office.  A number of rooms opened on to the passage, and Dick had an uncomfortable feeling that chance might bring him face to face with Kenwardine.  Nobody met them, however, and they found the purser disengaged.

“If you have a passenger list handy, you might let me see it,” Dick said as he took the tickets.

The purser gave him a list, and he noted Kenwardine’s name near the bottom.

“We may as well be comfortable, although we’re not going far,” he resumed.  “What berths have you left?”

“You can pick your place,” said the purser.  “We haven’t many passengers this trip, and there’s nobody on the starboard alleyway.  However, if you want a hot bath in the morning, you had better sleep to port.  They’ve broken a pipe on the other side.”

A bath is a luxury in the Caribbean, but white men who have lived any time in the tropics prefer it warm, and Dick saw why the passengers had chosen the port alleyway.  He decided to take the other, since Kenwardine would then be on the opposite side of the ship.

“We’ll have the starboard rooms,” he said.  “One can go without a bath for once, and you’ll no doubt reach Kingston to-morrow night.”

“I expect so,” agreed the purser.  “Still, we mayn’t be allowed to steam in until the next morning.  They’re taking rather troublesome precautions in the British ports since the commerce-raider got to work.”

Dick signed to the others and crossed the after well towards the poop in a curiously grim mood.  He hated the subterfuge he had practised, and there was something very repugnant in this stealthy tracking down of his man, but the chase was nearly over and he meant to finish it.  Defenseless merchant seamen could not be allowed to suffer for his squeamishness.

“Don Sebastian and I will wait in the second-class smoking-room until she starts,” he said to Jake.  “I want you to lounge about the poop deck and watch the gangway.  Let us know at once if you see Kenwardine and it looks as if he means to go ashore.”

He disappeared with his companion, and Jake went up a ladder and sat down on the poop, where he was some distance from the saloon passengers.  Kenwardine was less likely to be alarmed at seeing him, but he did not like his part.  The man had welcomed him to his house, and although he had lost some money there, Jake did not believe his host had meant to plunder him.  After all, Dick and Don Sebastian might be mistaken, and he felt mean as he watched the gangway.  A hint from him would enable Kenwardine to escape, and it was galling to feel that it must not be given.  Indeed, as time went on, Jake began to wish that Kenwardine would learn that they were on board and take alarm.  He was not sure he would warn Dick if the fellow tried to steal away.

In the meanwhile, the pumps on board a water-boat had stopped clanking and she was towed towards the harbor.  The steamer’s winches rattled as they hove up cargo from the barge, but Jake had seen that there was not much left and she would sail as soon as the last load was hoisted in.  Lighting a cigarette, he ran his eye along the saloon-deck.  A few passengers in white clothes walked up and down, and he studied their faces as they passed the lights, but Kenwardine was not among them.  A group leaned upon the rails in the shadow of a boat, and Jake felt angry because he could not see them well.  The suspense was getting keen, and he wished Kenwardine would steal down the ladder and jump into a boat before he could give the alarm.

There was, however, no suspicious movement on the saloon-deck, and Jake, walking to the rail, saw the péons putting the last of the barge’s cargo into the sling.  It came up with a rattle of chain, and the barge sheered off.  Somebody gave an order, and there was a bustle on deck.  In another few minutes Kenwardine’s last chance of escape would be gone, because a British ship is British territory, and her captain can enforce his country’s laws.

Jake threw away his cigarette and took out another when the whistle blew and the windlass began to clank.  Although the anchor was coming up, two boats hung on to the foot of the ladder, and he could not be expected to see what was going on while he lighted his cigarette.  Kenwardine was clever, and might have waited until the last moment before making his escape, with the object of leaving his pursuers on board, but if he did not go now it would be too late.  The clank of the windlass stopped, and Jake, dropping the match when the flame touched his fingers, looked up.  A group of dark figures were busy on the forecastle, and he saw the captain on the bridge.

“All clear forward, sir!” a hoarse voice cried, and somebody shouted:  “Cast off the boats!”

Then there was a rattle of blocks as the ladder was hoisted in, and the deck quivered as the engines began to throb.  Jake heard the screw slowly flounder round and the wash beneath the poop as the steamer moved out to sea, but there was nobody except their colored crews on board the boats that dropped astern.  Kenwardine had had his chance and lost it.  He had been too bold and now must confront his enemies.

Jake went down the ladder and found Dick waiting at the door of the second-class saloon.

“He’s on board,” he said.  “I’m sorry he is.  In fact, I’m not sure I’d have told you if he’d tried to light out at the last moment.”

Dick gave him a dry smile.  “I suspect that Don Sebastian didn’t trust you altogether.  He left me, and I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that he had found a place where he could watch the gangway without being seen.”

A few minutes later, the Spaniard crossed the after well.  “Now,” he said, “we must decide when we ought to have our interview with Senor Kenwardine, and I think we should put it off until just before we land.”

“Why?” Jake asked.  “It would be much pleasanter to get it over and have done with it.”

“I think not,” Don Sebastian answered quietly.  “We do not know how Senor Kenwardine will meet the situation.  He is a bold man, and it is possible that he will defy us.”

“How can he defy you when he knows you can hand him over to the British authorities?”

“That might be necessary; but I am not sure it is the British authorities he fears the most.”

“Then who is he afraid of?”

“His employers, I imagine,” Don Sebastian answered with a curious smile.  “It is understood that they trust nobody and are not very gentle to those who do not serve them well.  Senor Kenwardine knows enough about their plans to be dangerous, and it looks as if he might fail to carry their orders out.  If we give him too long a warning, he may escape us after all.”

“I don’t see how he could escape.  You have him corralled when he’s under the British flag.”

Don Sebastian shrugged as he indicated the steamer’s low iron rail and the glimmer of foam in the dark below.

“There is one way!  If he takes it, we shall learn no more than we know now.”

He left them, and Jake looked at Dick.  “It’s unthinkable!  I can’t stand for it!”

“No,” said Dick very quietly; “he mustn’t be pushed too far.  For all that, his friends can’t be allowed to go on sinking British ships.”