For the Freedom of the Seas/Chapter 16

CHAPTER XVI

THROUGH THE NIGHT

BUT, look here, Mart! How the dickens will you know where to go? I don't believe this is a real road we're on!"

"Give 'em their heads, old scout: that's the only way. Every nag knows how to get home. All we've got to do is hold on and——" Just then a wheel struck a rock and nearly threw them out. "And still hold on," ended Martin, with a laugh.

"They'll be after us in a shake," said Nelson pessimistically.

"A fat chance of finding us they'll have! Just as soon as we get on asphalt I'll touch 'em up. Feel a whip anywhere?"

"Asphalt! Where do you think you are? Fifth Avenue, New York?"

"Feels like it now and then," chuckled Mart. "Get ap, Bones! Say, wouldn't it be funny if it was dynamite we had in there behind?"

Nelson jumped. "Gee! Do you suppose it is?"

"Might be," was the cheerful reply. "How about that whip?"

"I don't find one."

"Never mind. It probably wouldn't do any good, anyway." For a minute or more they thumped and swayed over the road, if road it was, without further speech. Nelson tried to listen for sounds of pursuit, but the creaking of the wheels and the straining of the wagon prevented. Then Martin laughed softly beside him. "Say, won't they be surprised when they get back and don't find it?" he asked. "Can't you just picture them stumbling around in the dark? They'll think at first that they've missed the place. Then they'll conclude that the horses have moved off a bit. Oh, they'll have a jolly time of it!"

"They'll follow us, of course," said Nelson. "Don't you suppose they can hear this old thing rumbling and squeaking a mile away?"

"That's so! I hadn't thought of that I Well, we'll give them a run for their money, anyhow. Get ap, Roger! Get ap, Queen Bess! Say, what do they call horses in Ireland?"

"Pat and Mike, I guess." Nelson put an uneasy head around the side of the wagon, but, except that a sudden lurch brought his ear in violent contact with a piece of wood, nothing resulted. At that moment the horses turned to the right, the front wheels jarred down a little declivity and the wagon began to move faster.

"Ata boy!" approved Martin. "Some speed to these nags, what? Blessed if they aren't actually trotting! Or were," he added with less enthusiasm as the horses dropped to a walk again. "Get ap, consarn ye! Wish to goodness I had a whip! Or a stick of dynamite!"

"Open one of the cases in there," suggested Nelson dryly.

"It would he an awful joke on us if those same cases held canned tomatoes or some silly thing like that! Think of opening them and finding a lot of 'Sinn Fein Brand Early June Peas'!"

"They're rifles, I think," said Nelson. "The cases felt sort of long and narrow. As I make it out, those folks in the boat came from some schooner anchored out beyond there. The man with the lantern was the fellow who brought this wagon. Maybe there were two of him. What I can't see is what he expected to do with the stuff. He wouldn't dare take it into the town."

"Couldn't unless he swam it across the harbor."

"That's so. Or unless he drove all the way around to Midleton and went in by the road over the bridges. There's a way to the mainland there, you know."

"No, I didn't know it. I thought Queenstown was on an island."

"So it is, but I said bridges, didn't I?"

"Well, don't get huffy about it. I suppose this stuff was going to someone's house or barn or hay-mow tonight. Then, later, they'd take it up to Cork or Dublin or somewhere. Well, their plans are all shot to pieces, Nep."

"Unless they catch us in the next half-hour," replied Nelson gloomily. "Won't those nags go any faster?"

"I'll ask them. Can you accelerate your pace any, horsies? Get ap, you Sinn Feiners!"

Strangely enough that epithet had an effect and the horses broke into a lumbering trot. The road was fairly good now and Martin was careful to offer no suggestions to the nags. They kept the trot up for a quarter of a mile or so before relapsing again into their leisurely walk. By that time Nelson was breathing easier and it seemed to him that they might, after all, elude pursuit.

"How far is it around to Queenstown by this road you tell of?" asked Martin presently. Nelson tried to conjure up the map in the guide book he had bought the first day ashore but with poor success. He had to own at last that he hadn't any idea.

"Well, ten miles? Twenty? Fifty?"

"I suppose about twenty," he said doubtfully. Martin whistled softly and expressively, and peered at his watch.

"It's a little after nine-thirty," he mused. "At the rate we're going we ought to get there about five in the morning—if the horses don't die first!"

"Why go into Queenstown, then?" asked Nelson. "We're bound to find a village pretty soon. Anyhow, there's Midleton."

"How far's that?"

"About halfway, I guess."

"Well——" Martin was silent a minute.

Then: "I tell you what we'll do, Nep. We're in wrong anyhow for out-staying liberty, and we might as well be hung for sheep as for lambs. We'll find this Midleton place you tell about and be sure we're headed right. Then we'll stop and have a few hours' sleep and drive into Queenstown in the morning in triumph. What do you say?"

"Sounds crazy to me," objected Nelson. "All except the sleep part of it. That sounds mighty reasonable. But of course what'll happen is that we'll be arrested for carrying rifles around the country without a license, or whatever you have to have. I want some sleep, but I don't care to take it in jail!"

"We'll have to risk that," said Martin. "Besides, we're American sailors and if they arrest us we'll threaten to tell Mr. Wilson. Say, am I dippy, or is that a light ahead there?"

"Both, I guess. Anyway, it's a light." Nelson was beginning to regain his cheerfulness. "But we'd better not stop anywhere just yet, Mart. Those fellows might persuade folks that we'd stolen their team."

"The very idea! Do we look like fellows who would steal?"

"I can't see what we look like, but I have a strong suspicion that we do. Also murder. I know my trousers are torn on both knees, and they're my best ones, too, by the way, and I'm pretty certain that I'm wet and dirty and generally hoboish. I'd rather not have any traffic with a cop, Mart."

"Maybe you're right. Appearances are sometimes deceitful. Anyhow, I guess that's only a house, that light. Probably a farm. We aren't going very near it."

The light, a dim glimmer through some trees, was passed on the left and the wagon trundled on, Martin at intervals prevailing on his mettlesome steeds to attempt a gait slightly faster than a walk. The mist wasn't quite so thick inland here, but it continued to be extremely wet and they were both shivering. It was Nelson who proposed getting down and walking for awhile to get warm.

"Good idea," said Martin with approval. "Maybe lightening the load will encourage Shamrock and St. Peter there. It would be awful if they ran away, though."

"I'd be quite as well satisfied," sighed Nelson. "The whole thing is a silly business, anyway. I wish we'd minded our own affairs!"

"Who was it proposed spying on those poor, inoffensive Sinn Feiners first?" demanded Martin indignantly. "I'd have shouted to them and——"

"Got cracked on the head. Sure! I saved you from that, anyway, but it wasn't my idea to spend the night creaking around Ireland in a prairie schooner."

"Guess it looks more like a butcher's cart, Nep. I say, if we only could get something to eat! Why not? There must be food somewhere in this lovely but benighted land. When we strike a village I'll forage. Gee, I feel better already!"

The village didn't materialize, though, for more than an hour, by which time they were back on the seat again and Nelson was frankly asleep. It was a tiny hamlet, at that, and few lights showed. They drove creaking through it, barked at by two dogs, and halted on the further side. Then Martin got stiffly down and went back while Nelson held the lines and tried to keep himself awake. Martin returned empty-handed after ten minutes or so.

"A beautifully hospitable place," he said bitterly. "I tried five houses and at each one they threatened to have me arrested if I didn't go away. I didn't get a bite, but one of those dogs did—very nearly." He rubbed an ankle as he climbed back into his place. "Get ap, you handsome brutes! Here, you take the lines awhile, Nep, and let me have a nap. Wake me if we come to an all-night lunch!"

Martin yielded the reins and leaned against his side of the wagon and was soon snoring. Nelson, blinking to keep his eyes open, slouched sleepily in his seat with loose lines. Once he was startled by the sound of a vehicle coming from ahead in the gloom, the first they had met, and pulled the reins hurriedly to make room for it to pass. Perhaps the lines were crossed and he steered the horses toward the center of the road. At all events, there was a sound of colliding hubs followed by a fine collection of oaths delivered in a rich Irish brogue. Nelson was much too sleepy to offer apology or explanation and the unknown but eloquent traveler rattled on into the night, complimentary to the last.

Shortly after midnight they rumbled across a bridge and onto the cobbles of a fair-sized village. By now it was possible to see the horses' heads and a corresponding distance on all sides and Nelson awoke Martin from his slumber. The town seemed utterly dark and deserted until, presently, the street on which they traveled turned abruptly and a lantern above a doorway confronted them with the startling legend: "Police." Beyond it a few lights showed dimly in another building and from somewhere in the darkness further away a train was being shunted along a track. Martin viewed the police station doubtfully and went past. The next collection of lights came from the lower floor of a small hotel. It didn't look very hospitable, but nevertheless Martin stopped the horses—he experienced no difficulty—climbed down and disappeared from sight. Nelson heard a door open and close. He lolled on the seat and nodded in the faint radiance of the lighted windows. After an interminable time Martin returned.

"Nothing doing," he said gruffly, climbing back. "The old geezer wanted to fight me for waking him up. Nothing to eat until the kitchen opens at five-thirty in the morning. Didn't even invite me to wait."

"I don't care," groaned Nelson. "I've lost interest in food. But couldn't we get beds in there?"

"Maybe, but I wouldn't patronize his old den, anyway. We'll find a place along the road and turn in and go to sleep with the dynamite. Get ap, horses!"

The horses awoke, sighed loudly and settled against the harness again and the wagon rumbled on through the silent, darkened streets.