Off Santiago with Sampson (Illustrated)by James Otis
There was seemingly no inducement for a boy to linger in this vicinity, unless, indeed, it might have been the sign posted either side
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It was a small but by no means feeble-looking boy who stood in front of a driveway disclosed by the opening of huge gates which, until they had been swung inward, appeared to have been a portion of the high fence of boards.
There was seemingly no inducement for a boy to linger in this vicinity, unless, indeed, it might have been the sign posted either side the gate, on which was painted in letters rendered conspicuous because of the vivid colouring, the forbidding words, "Keep Out."
"I'll not keep out 'less I'm minded to, an' him as can hold me this side the fence needs to be spry on his feet," the small boy said, half to himself, and with a gesture of defiance which told he had not been accustomed to obeying commands that might be evaded.
Through the gateway nothing could be seen save enormous heaps of coal, some enclosed in pens formed of 12 planks as if to prevent them from mingling with the others, and between all a path or road of no more than sufficient width to permit the passage of a cart. In the distance, a rough building abruptly closed the view, and beyond it the puffing of steam and rattle of iron implements told of life and activity.
Outside the fence, it was as if this certain portion of the city had been temporarily deserted; but one could hear the rumble of wheels over the pavements on either hand, giving token that the coalyard was situated just beyond the line of city traffic.
The boy gazed into the uninviting-looking place as if fascinated, only glancing up now and then at the signs which mutely forbade his entrance, and, as if unconscious of his movements, stole slowly nearer and nearer the gateway until he stood directly on the line that separated the yard from the sidewalk.
"If I wanted to go in, it's more'n a couple of signs that could keep me out," he muttered, threateningly, and then, 13 with one backward glance to assure himself that no unfriendly policeman was watching from the distance, the boy darted forward, taking refuge behind the nearest heap of coal, lest an enemy should be lurking near at hand.
Save for the hum of labour everywhere around, he heard nothing. No guardian of the smutty premises appeared to forbid his entrance, and after waiting a full minute to make certain it was safe to advance yet farther, he left one place of partial concealment for the next in his proposed line of march.
So far as he could see, there was no other guardian of the yard save the two signs at the entrance, and the only purpose they served was to challenge him.
Grown bolder as the moments passed without bringing to light an enemy, the lad advanced more rapidly until he stood, partially concealed by one of the pens, where it was possible to have a full view of all that was being done in this place to which the public were not supposed to be admitted.
If the intruder had braved the unknown dangers of the yard simply in order to gratify his curiosity, then had he paid a higher price than the view warranted.
The building, which from the street appeared to mark the end of the enclosure, was a structure wherein puffing engines, grimy men, long lengths of moving chains, and enormous iron cars or boxes were sheltered from the sun or rain. In front of it a wooden wall extended down into the water,—a pier perhaps it might be called,—and 14 at this pier, held fast by hemp and iron cables, lay a gigantic steamer built of iron.
The intruder gave no heed to the busy men and machinery within the building. The vessel, so powerful, but lying there apparently helpless, enchained his attention until he had made mental note of every spar, or boat, or cable within his range of vision.
Then, suddenly, from somewhere amid the chains, and cars, and puffing steam, came the shrill blast of a whistle, and as if by magic all activity ceased.
The engines no longer breathed with a heavy clank; cars and chains came to a standstill, and men moved quietly away here or there as if having no more interest in the hurly-burly.
One of the weary labourers, his face begrimed with coal-dust until it was not possible to distinguish the colour of his skin, took from its near-by hiding-place a dinner-pail, and came directly toward where the small boy was overlooking the scene.
Within two yards of the lad the dusty man sat down, brushed the ends of his fingers on his trousers, rather from force of habit than with any idea of cleansing them, and without further delay began to eat his dinner.
The boy eyed him hungrily, looked around quickly to make certain that there were no others dangerously near, and stepped out from behind his screen of coal.
"You'd better keep an eye out for the watchman," the man said, speaking indistinctly because of the bread in his mouth, and the boy replied, defiantly: 15
- Lost Leaf Publications
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- Age Range:
- 9 - 12 Years
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