Dick merriwell abroad; o.., p.19
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       Dick Merriwell Abroad; Or, The Ban of the Terrible Ten, p.19
 

          
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  CHAPTER XIX.

  THE BURSTING OF THE DOOR.

  Plainly the door was being attacked by heavy instruments for the purposeof battering it down. Again Teresa clutched her brother and clung tohim.

  "Little sister, little sister," he said, "if you cling to me so, howshall I defend myself?"

  "I cannot lose you, Reggio!" she sobbed. "It is wicked! They shall notkill you!"

  He implored her to release him.

  "Let me go down and meet them," he said. "If they come here to do thedeed, then, in order to leave no living witnesses, they may destroy youand these good American friends who have promised to help you reachAntonio Melino."

  "Do you think the assassins have come to do the work?" asked Dick, hisblack eyes gleaming.

  "I think so."

  "Then give us weapons! Let's stand together! We can thin out thisdastardly gang somewhat before they can do the job!"

  "That's the talk, pard!" shouted Buckhart. "Whoop! If we were suppliedwith shooting irons, we'd sure come pretty near wiping the old Ten offthe map to-night. Give us something--anything! We'll make a hole in thebunch! You hear me warble?"

  "It is madness!" exclaimed the gondolier, as the blows continued toresound. "It means the death of all! Flee with Teresa! For her sake----"

  Brad had been looking around. The room was rather poorly furnished. Atone side sat a rude wooden table. This the Texan seized, turning itbottom up in a twinkling. Planting his foot upon it, the Texan grasped aleg of the table and gave it a mighty wrench, literally twisting it off.This leg he flourished over his head.

  "Here's my war club, pard!" he shouted. "I opine I can crack a head withthat."

  Dick followed Brad's example, and in a moment or two he had torn offanother leg of the table.

  Reggio looked on in wonderment. He could not understand why theseAmerican boys should sacrifice their lives for him. Never before in allhis life had he seen boys like these.

  Teresa clasped her hands and gazed at them also, her eyes kindling withunspeakable admiration.

  Crash! crash! crash! sounded the heavy blows.

  The door was falling.

  Suddenly Reggio awoke. His bloodstained knife appeared once more in hishand, and he flourished it above his head.

  "Let them come, then!" he cried. "If we all die, we'll do what we can todestroy the Ten who have a hundred poor Venetians beneath their feet!"

  "That's the talk!" said Dick, whose face was flushed and whose eyesgleamed, "To the stairs, Reggio! Let Teresa hold the light, that we maysee. There will be some broken heads before they do the job they haveblocked out."

  "Talk about Texas!" burst from Brad. "Why, Texas is a Sunday-schoolpicnic all the time compared with Venice! The wild and woolly West won'tseem half so wild and woolly to me if I ever get back to it."

  Teresa was brave. She caught up the candle, and said she was ready. Asthey hurried from the room to the stairs, the door fell with a sound ofsplintered wood.

  "Just in time!" exclaimed Dick, hearing many voices and the sound offeet at the foot of the stairs.

  They reached the head of the flight. Teresa was close at hand, and sheheld the candle as high as she could reach, in order that its lightmight shine down those stairs.

  At the bottom of the flight were a number of men--not less than six orseven. They paused as the light revealed them.

  Reggio Tortora gave a shout of astonishment.

  "They are not the Ten!" he declared. "The Ten are always in cloaks andhoods."

  "Then who are they?" questioned Dick.

  "Bravos, desperadoes of the city--men who rob and murder! They have beensent by the Ten, for----"

  He stopped, catching his breath. Among those men, and at the head ofthem, he saw a man whose clothing still hung dripping damp upon hislimbs. This man's jacket was gone, and about his shoulder were manybandages. His arm was bound in a bent position to his side.

  "Mullura!" gasped Reggie. "He still lives!"

  "You're right!" savagely retorted the leader of the bravos. "I stilllive, and I'll yet have Teresa for my own! You shall die the death of adog!"

  "This is a whole lot interesting!" observed Brad Buckhart.

  At this point Teresa produced a slender dagger, which she held aloft,crying down the stairs:

  "Ere you put your hands on me, Nicola Mullura, I'll plunge this into myheart! It is my dead body you may obtain--no more!"

  For a moment Mullura seemed taken aback. Then he forced a laugh,sneering:

  "Very finely spoken, but your courage will not take you that far,beautiful Teresa. You'll not be so foolish. I'll take you with me toAmerica, where I am a great man, and you shall be my wife. If yourbrother agrees to this, I will not lift my hand against him, even thoughhe so nearly destroyed me to-night. Come, my Reggio, what say you?"

  "Teresa, it is for you to answer," said the gondolier.

  "Then I will answer!" she exclaimed, her dark eyes flashing fire. "Notif he were king of all America would I consent!"

  "You have had your answer, Nicola Mullura!" cried Reggio, insatisfaction.

  "And it seemed good and hot," chuckled Buckhart.

  "Have it as you like!" snarled Mullura. "These men will soon overpoweryou. Your resistance will simply make them all the more furious."

  "Let them come on," said Tortora; "but see that you come at their front.My knife found your shoulder a while ago. Next time, if the saints arewith me, it shall find your black heart!"

  "They are going to rush in a moment, Brad!" breathed Dick. "They aregetting ready."

  "I'm ready, too," declared the undaunted Texan. "I'll guarantee thatI'll crack one head, at least, with this table leg!"

  Dick was right. Mullura spoke to his companions in low tones. Theygathered themselves, and with a yell, they came charging up the stairs.

  "Whoop!" roared Buckhart. "Wake up snakes and hump yourselves! Now therewill be doings!" The fighting Texan seemed in his element. His faceglowed with a sort of fine frenzy.

  Dick Merriwell's eyes shone like stars. He laughed as he saw the bravoscoming. It might be a fight to the death, but, with his blood boundingin his veins, he felt no thrill of dread. He was defending the innocent;his cause was just, and he gloried in the encounter.

  The desperadoes flourished their gleaming knives, seeming to hope tointimidate the defenders in that manner. In truth, they were asavage-appearing set.

  Reggio, too, was undaunted. The dauntless bravery of the boys wasinfectious.

  There was little time to wait. Seeming to look at one man, Dick swunghis club and smote another wretch over the head.

  The fellow went whirling end over end down the stairs.

  Buckhart dropped another in his tracks.

  Reggio tried to get at Nicola Mullura.

  "Come within reach of my arm, you dog!" he entreated. "America will loseone great man, who will return no more."

  But it was another of the ruffians who tried to get under the guard ofthe gondolier and drive his knife home.

  Reggio was too quick for the man. He struck and thrust his own bladethrough the fellow's forearm.

  With a shriek, the wretch dropped his own blade, clutched his woundedarm, which quickly began to drip blood, and fell back against the manbehind him.

  "Oh! if you were looking for two kids who couldn't fight any, you'rebeginning to understand your mistake," shouted Buckhart.

  Mullura urged them on. Still he continued to take pains to keep beyondthe stroke of Reggio. The gondolier taunted him with cowardice, andbegged him to come nearer. In his desire to get at his enemy once more,he forgot the peril of the others.

  Dick saw a bravo strike at Reggio, but Merriwell struck at the sametime. His club fell across the arm of the ruffian, which was broken.

  In that moment, however, Dick exposed himself, and one of the ruffians,who had been struck down on the stairs, crept up and clasped him aboutthe knees.

  The boy was pulled off his feet. He seized his assailant as he fell, andtogether they rolled
down the stairs. Of course Merriwell's club waslost, and he was compelled to fight the bravo hand to hand.

  The man tried to get his fingers on Dick's throat. Now, although a boy,young Merriwell was a trained athlete, and in the finest conditionpossible. If that ruffian fancied he was dealing with an ordinary boywho could be handled easily, he met the surprise of his life.

  For a time they twisted and turned there in the gloom at the foot of thestairs. The boy baffled the ruffian in his efforts, all the whileseeking to secure the advantage himself.

  While this was taking place Dick heard a cry of distress from Teresa,and at the same moment the candle and candlestick fell on the stairs,the light being extinguished.

  At this juncture Merriwell obtained a hold on the ruffian's arm, givingit a twisting wrench that robbed the fellow of strength and nearlyrendered him unconscious. In a twinkling the boy was the master.

  Just then some one came hastening down the stairs and nearly fell overthem. This person swore as he gathered himself up and rushed out on thesteps.

  Something led Dick to follow.

  The darkness between the buildings was not as deep as that within, andhe saw a man placing a huge bundle in a gondola that floated at the footof the steps.

  Something told Dick this bundle was Teresa. Unhesitatingly he leapedforward.

  The man turned in time to meet the attack of the courageous lad. Just asDick would have grappled with the fellow, he slipped. Before he couldrecover, he received a stunning blow that hurled him flat and helpless,although he was still conscious. He lay quite still, unable to lift ahand.

  The man produced a knife, seemingly determined to finish the boy withoutdelay. Although he realized his peril, young Merriwell could not lift afinger or make a move to save himself. As the desperado stepped towardhim, the lad gave himself up as done for.

  At that moment, unseen by the murderous thug, another dark form issuedfrom the doorway onto the steps.

  The man with the knife bent over Dick, lifting the weapon. A pantherishfigure shot forward, and a club fell with crushing force on the head ofthe wretch, who was stretched prone and senseless beside his intendedvictim.

  "This yere old table leg has sure done its duty tonight," said a voicethat thrilled Merriwell.

  With a supreme effort Dick softly called:

  "Brad!"

  "It is you, pard!" exclaimed the Texan, in delight. "I certain wasseeking for you some! What's the matter? Are you hurt?"

  "Give me a hand," urged Dick. "I was stunned. You saved my life,Buckhart. That fellow would have finished me only for you and your tableleg."

  In a moment Buckhart had Dick on his feet, supporting him with a strongarm.

  "You're not cut up, are you, partner?" anxiously inquired the loyalfellow. "I saw you go bumping down the stairs with one of the bunch, andI was a heap concerned for you. First opportunity I found I hiked tolook for you. I thought mebbe that galoot with the sticker might beafter you, and that's why I lost no time in cracking him on the kabeza."

  "I don't think I've been cut. Couldn't tell just what did happen in thefighting, but I believe I'll be all right in a few moments."

  "Then it's up to us to do something for Teresa. I sure would like toknow what has become of her. The gang up there are hunting high and lowfor her."

  "Why, one of them brought her down the stairs and placed her in thisgondola. I'm sure of it."

  "Great horn spoon! Then it's us to the gondola and away from here!"

  "But Reggio?"

  "We can't do anything for him."

  "Why not?"

  "They've finished him."

  "Killed him? Do you mean that?"

  "That's whatever. Teresa dropped the candle when she saw him knifed.Didn't you hear her scream?"

  "You're sure--you're sure Reggio was killed?"

  "Dead sure, pard."

  "Then let's get away in the gondola. If I was not mistaken in thinkingthis wretch placed Teresa in it, we can save her, at least."

  Dick was not mistaken, as they found when they sprang into the boat.Teresa lay unconscious amid the cushions.

  By this time Merriwell had recovered his strength in a measure, and hestarted to cast off the line that held the boat beside the steps.

  "The galoots are coming, pard!" hissed Brad, as he seized the oar.

  The bravos were coming. Just as Dick freed the line from the iron ring,several of them hastened out onto the steps.

  The Texan gave a great thrust with the oar, pushing the gondola away.

  The voice of Nicola Mullura shouted to them, commanding them to stop.

  "We're in a hurry," retorted Dick. "Our time is very valuable. We can'tstop just now."

  "Not even a little minute," said Brad, as he continued to use the oarwith as much skill as he could command.

  "Look out, Brad!" shouted Dick, warningly, at the same time droppingquickly.

  He had seen Mullura making a sweeping movement with his right arm.

  Dick dropped barely in time, for through the air whizzed a knife, castwith great precision, and with such force that it clanged against thewall of the opposite house, dropping back with a splash into the water.

  "A miss is as good as a mile," said Merriwell. "But look out foryourself, Brad. Another may follow."

  Another of the desperadoes did cast a knife at them, but his aim waspoor, and soon the gondola shot out from the narrow passage onto thebosom of a broader canal.

  They came near colliding with another boat that was moving swiftly andsilently along.

  "Look out, there!" cried Brad. "Clear the trail for us, or you may getyourself run down a whole lot."

  Behind the curtains of the other gondola there was a stir. The curtainsparted and a familiar face peered forth in the moonlight.

  "Hi, there--hey!" cried the excited voice of Professor Gunn. "Stop! stop!I have found you!"

  "Professor!" exclaimed Dick. "Where have you been?"

  "Seeking assistance. Looking for officers. Can't find them. Had no endof trouble. Bless my stars! I was afraid I'd never see you boys aliveagain. Goodness knows I'm thankful to behold you!"

  "But what made you leave us?"

  "I don't know. I didn't intend to do it. I was excited. I confess I wasexcited. Who wouldn't be under such circumstances? Two men--two mad menwere trying to cut each other into shreds right before my eyes. Islipped the line from the ring. Didn't know what I was doing. The tidecarried the boat away. I clutched the oar and tried to row back. Made amess of it, and lost the oar. In the midst of my excitement, after thetide had carried me out of that canal, a human head appeared beside theboat. Yes, sir--exactly so. A man was in the water. He was hurt, too.Swam with one arm. Other arm didn't seem to have much strength. Heappealed to me for assistance. Of course I rendered assistance."

  "Which certain was the worst thing you could have done," said Brad."That's how Mullura escaped, Dick."

  "The man must be a fine swimmer. In some manner he swam under waterafter falling into the canal until the darkness of the place hid himcompletely."

  "It was a bad thing--a very bad thing," agreed the professor. "The manwas a wretch, a scoundrel, a villain!"

  "Which sure are too soft names for him," growled Buckhart.

  The two gondolas were now side by side.

  "Quite true, quite true," agreed the excitable old man. "I found it out.But I couldn't refuse to help a man in distress, you know. I helped himon board. He managed to pick up the oar. Then, using his uninjured hand,he rowed. I urged him to take me back to find you. He cursed me. He toldme to keep still or he would cut my heart out. My goodness! I didn'twant him to do that! I kept still."

  "A most natural thing to do," said Dick.

  "I am glad you say so--very glad. Hum! ha! My position wasunpleasant--decidedly so. But I kept still. He handled the gondola. Hedid it cleverly. But he lost no time in dodging into another canal. Iremonstrated. I told him I did not like the place. It was too dark. Heinvited me to be quiet. I relapsed into silence. H
ere and there in thedarkness he went. At last he stopped. He ordered me to land. I wascompelled to do so. I didn't dare raise another remonstrance. He leftme. I was in a scrape. Ha! hum! It was a very bad scrape."

  Plainly the professor was very anxious to set himself right in the eyesof the boys.

  "After that?" questioned Dick.

  "When he left me he told me if I raised a rumpus he would come back andslice me. I couldn't get away, and I had no weapon to protect myself, soI was compelled to be quiet. I remained there until this gondola camepast. Then I applied to the gondolier. Since that time I have beensearching to find that canal where you were. That is all."

  In some respects the professor's explanation seemed unsatisfactory, but,of course, the boys accepted it. Dick explained what had happened afterthe disappearance of Zenas, using as few words as possible.

  "Dreadful! horrible!" cried the old man. "Can such things be in thesedays! But you rescued the girl?"

  "She is here," said Dick.

  At this point Teresa, recovering consciousness, began calling for herbrother.

  Dick tried to soothe her, but, overcome by the memory of what she hadbeheld ere dropping the candle and fainting, the girl ravedincoherently.

  Dick and Brad quickly decided to abandon the gondola they occupied andtake to the other. Merriwell picked Teresa up and stepped with her fromone boat to the other, the Texan following.

  "Now to our rooms," said Dick. "That is our only course. We must takecare of Teresa. We must protect her with our lives."

  "And you bet we will!" put in Brad.

  "But I fear it is certain to involve us still further with the assassinsknown as the Terrible Ten," sighed the professor. "Still, boys, you areright about Teresa. We must stand by her. We must do everything in ourpower for her. It is our duty as men and Americans."

  The gondolier was given directions, and he sent his craft gliding away.

  "What puzzles me," said Brad, "is that the rumpus made by that fightdidn't seem to stir up anybody much. That plenty of people heard it I amsure, but they didn't come hiking to see what it was all about."

  "Because in that particular quarter of the city it is not safe to be toocurious, I fancy," said Dick. "I believe that explained why no one whoheard the sounds of the encounter came to investigate. They all keptstill and prayed that they would not be involved."

  "I have a theory," put in Professor Gunn, "that the people of the citylive in great terror of this awful Ten. They do not even dare speak ofthe Ten, but all the while they fear it as much as the old-time Councilof Ten was feared. When they hear anything like that encounter, theyproceed to crawl into their holes and barricade themselves there untilthe storm blows over."

  "Well, it sure is high time something was done to put an end to such areign of terror," declared the Texan. "It's up to us to expose thedoings of the Ten. I don't see why somebody hasn't exposed them longbefore this."

  "It is doubtful if any foreigners, except ourselves, ever learned muchof anything about the Ten," said Dick. "That is one reason why there hadbeen no exposure."

  The gondolier did not seem to hear a word of their talk. Professor Gunnnow resolved to question him. The old man proceeded to ask him severalthings about the Terrible Ten, but the man at the oar shook his head andanswered that he knew nothing of such a body. He even became somewhatangry when Zenas persisted in his questions.

  "Signor," he said haughtily, "why should you believe that I speak afalsehood? I am a poor man, and I attend to my own business. I have notime to listen to foolish gossip. You say there is such a body. I wouldnot be impolite, signor, so I simply say that of it I know nothing atall. I must beg you to ask no further questions."

  Through all this Teresa had continued to mutter and moan about herbrother. They could do nothing to comfort her. Dick tried it, but hisItalian was poor, and he entreated the professor to say somethingsoothing to the girl.

  Gently the old man placed an arm about her shoulders.

  "My child," he said, "your brother was a brave, man, but he could notescape the decree of this terrible band. He knew he could not escape,and he entreated Richard, as a great favor, to take you to America anddeliver you to friends of your family who are there. This we shall do.Trust us."

  "I do trust you, signor," she sobbed; "but I cannot forget the terriblething I saw--my brother slain before my eyes! I can never forget that!"

  "No wonder, dear child. You should be thankful you escaped from thosemen."

  "Until I am far away from Venice I shall not feel that I have escaped.Nicola Mullura will do everything in his power to place his bloody handson me. I shall live in constant terror of him."

  "He shall never touch you!" cried Zenas. "Boys, she fears the wretch,Mullura, will get possession of her."

  "Teresa," said Dick, using as good Italian as he could command, "weswear to defend you with our lives. You may depend on us."

  "You are such brave boys--such wonderfully brave boys!" murmured thegirl.

  "I can't say it in dago talk," put in Brad; "but you bet your boots,Teresa, that what my pard has promised, we'll back up. You hear meshout!"

 
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