“There is no fear of their trying that,” the chief said, pointing to the rifles. “They would soon be stopped if they tried it on. However, they are not likely to make any such mad attempt. They are, after all, only young boys, and their spirit has speedily evaporated.”
However, as a measure of precaution, he ordered that the man who was acting as sentry over the boys should always keep his rifle in hand.
The meal over, the muleteer produced from his pocket some writing-paper and a pencil. The chief then wrote on a piece of paper the figures 5000, followed by the word “dollars.” Then he said to the boys, “Capitan,” giving them a pencil and a sheet of note-paper. He pointed to the figures he had written down, then to the sun, marked with his hand its course twice through the sky, and then drew it significantly across his throat.
“Well,” Hawtry said, “that’s clear enough. We are to write to the captain to say that unless 5000 dollars are paid in two days we are to have our throats cut. Well, I may as well write,—
“Dear Captain Stuart,—We are in an awful mess. We took some mules in the Spanish lines for a ride yesterday, and the fellow who owned them steered us into the middle of a lot of brigands. They were too strong for us to show fight, and here we are. As far as we can make out, they say that, unless 5000 dollars are paid in two days, we are to have our throats cut. We don’t expect that you will get this note, as by this time the ‘Falcon’ was to have sailed. In that case we suppose it will be all up with us. We intend to try to slip our anchors, and make a bolt for it. We are awfully sorry that we have got into this scrape.”
To this epistle the boys both signed their names, and as the muleteer had not provided himself with envelopes, the letter was roughly folded and directed,—
“Captain Stuart, H.M.S. ‘Falcon.’”
Another letter, embodying the same in the form of a demand, was then written, after much consultation, by the brigands, with postscript stating that if the bearer were in any way molested, the prisoners would at once be put to death. The youngest of the party, a peasant of some twenty years old, was then selected, and to him the letters were given, with full instructions as to his conduct.
During the next two days, the boys maintained their appearance of extreme despondency. They lay on the ground with their faces buried in their arms, and at times strolled listlessly about. They could see that this conduct had lulled to rest any suspicion of their captors that they might attempt an escape. The sentry no longer kept in their immediate vicinity, and although he retained his gun in his hand, did so as a mere form. The others went about their business, several of them absenting themselves for hours together; and at one time but three men, including the guard, remained at the encampment.
The boys kept every faculty on the alert, and were ready to seize the first opportunity, however slight, which might offer itself. They agreed, that however much their guard might be reduced, it would be unsafe to make the attempt in the daytime, as they were wholly ignorant of the way down to the sea, and the shouts of their pursuers would be sure to attract the attention of any of the party who might have gone in that direction.