Part 1 out of 3
A MAN OF MARK
AUTHOR OF "THE PRISONER OF ZENDA," "THE INDISCRETION OF THE DUCHESS,"
[Illustration: "_Stop!" I cried; "I shoot the first man who opens the
"A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds,"
I. THE MOVEMENT AND THE MAN
II. A FINANCIAL EXPEDIENT
III. AN EXCESS OF AUTHORITY
IV. OVERTURES FROM THE OPPOSITION
V. I APPRECIATE THE SITUATION
VI. MOURONS POUR LA PATRIE!
VII. THE MINE IS LAID
VIII. JOHNNY CARR IS WILLFUL
IX. A SUPPER PARTY
X. TWO SURPRISES
XI. DIVIDING THE SPOILS
XII. BETWEEN TWO FIRES
XIII. I WORK UPON HUMAN NATURE
XIV. FAREWELL TO AUREATALAND
XV. A DIPLOMATIC ARRANGEMENT
THE MOVEMENT AND THE MAN.
In the year 1884 the Republic of Aureataland was certainly not in a
flourishing condition. Although most happily situated (it lies on
the coast of South America, rather to the north--I mustn't be more
definite), and gifted with an extensive territory, nearly as big as
Yorkshire, it had yet failed to make that material progress which had
been hoped by its founders. It is true that the state was still in its
infancy, being an offshoot from another and larger realm, and having
obtained the boon of freedom and self-government only as recently as
1871, after a series of political convulsions of a violent character,
which may be studied with advantage in the well-known history of "The
Making of Aureataland," by a learned professor of the Jeremiah P.
Jecks University in the United States of America. This profound
historian is, beyond all question, accurate in attributing the chief
share in the national movement to the energy and ability of the
first President of Aureataland, his Excellency, President Marcus
W. Whittingham, a native of Virginia. Having enjoyed a personal
friendship (not, unhappily, extended to public affairs) with that
talented man, as will subsequently appear, I have great pleasure
in publicly indorsing the professor's eulogium. Not only did the
President bring Aureataland into being, but he molded her whole
constitution. "It was his genius" (as the professor observes with
propriety) "which was fired with the idea of creating a truly modern
state, instinct with the progressive spirit of the Anglo-Saxon race.
It was his genius which cast aside the worn-out traditions of European
dominion, and taught his fellow-citizens that they were, if not all by
birth, yet one and all by adoption, the sons of freedom." Any mistakes
in the execution of this fine conception must be set down to the fact
that the President's great powers were rather the happy gift of nature
than the result of culture. To this truth he was himself in no way
blind, and he was accustomed to attribute his want of a liberal
education to the social ruin brought upon his family by the American
Civil War, and to the dislocation thereby produced in his studies. As
the President was, when I had the honor of making his acquaintance
in the year 1880, fifty years old if he was a day, this explanation
hardly agrees with dates, unless it is to be supposed that the
President was still pursuing his education when the war began, being
then of the age of thirty-five, or thereabouts.
Starting under the auspices of such a gifted leader, and imbued with
so noble a zeal for progress, Aureataland was, at the beginning of her
history as a nation, the object of many fond and proud hopes. But in
spite of the blaze of glory in which her sun had risen (to be seen
duly reflected in the professor's work), her prosperity, as I have
said, was not maintained. The country was well suited for agriculture
and grazing, but the population--a very queer mixture of races--was
indolent, and more given to keeping holidays and festivals than
to honest labor. Most of them were unintelligent; those who were
intelligent made their living out of those who weren't, a method of
subsistence satisfactory to the individual, but adding little to the
aggregate of national wealth. Only two classes made fortunes of any
size, Government officials and bar-keepers, and even in their case the
wealth was not great, looked at by an English or American standard.
Production was slack, invention at a standstill, and taxation heavy. I
suppose the President's talents were more adapted to founding a
state in the shock and turmoil of war, than to the dull details of
administration; and although he was nominally assisted by a cabinet of
three ministers and an assembly comprising twenty-five members, it
was on his shoulders that the real work of government fell. On him,
therefore, the moral responsibility must also rest--a burden the
President bore with a cheerfulness and equanimity almost amounting to
I first set foot in Aureataland in March, 1880, when I was landed
on the beach by a boat from the steamer, at the capital town of
Whittingham. I was a young man, entering on my twenty-sixth year, and
full of pride at finding myself at so early an age sent out to fill
the responsible position of manager at our Aureataland branch. The
directors of the bank were then pursuing what may without unfairness
be called an adventurous policy, and, in response to the urgent
entreaties and glowing exhortations of the President, they had decided
on establishing a branch at Whittingham. I commanded a certain amount
of interest on the board, inasmuch as the chairman owed my father a
sum of money, too small to mention but too large to pay, and when, led
by the youthful itch for novelty, I applied for the post I succeeded
in obtaining my wish, at a salary of a hundred dollars a month. I
am sorry to say that in the course of a later business dealing the
balance of obligation shifted from the chairman to my father, an
unhappy event which deprived me of my hold on the company and
seriously influenced my conduct in later days. When I arrived in
Aureataland the bank had been open some six months, under the guidance
of Mr. Thomas Jones, a steady going old clerk, who was in future to
act as chief (and indeed only) cashier under my orders.
I found Whittingham a pleasant little city of about five thousand
inhabitants, picturesquely situated on a fine bay, at the spot where
the river Marcus debouched into the ocean. The town was largely
composed of Government buildings and hotels, but there was a street
of shops of no mean order, and a handsome square, called the "Piazza
1871," embellished with an equestrian statue of the President. Round
about this national monument were a large number of seats, and, hard
by, a _cafe_ and band stand. Here, I soon found, was the center of
life in the afternoons and evenings. Going along a fine avenue of
trees for half a mile or so, you came to the "Golden House," the
President's official residence, an imposing villa of white stone with
a gilt statue of Aureataland, a female figure sitting on a plowshare,
and holding a sword in the right hand, and a cornucopia in the left.
By her feet lay what was apparently a badly planed cannon ball; this,
I learned, was a nugget, and from its presence and the name of the
palace, I gathered that the president had once hoped to base the
prosperity of his young republic on the solid foundation of mineral
wealth. This hope had been long abandoned.
I have always hated hotels, so I lost no time in looking round for
lodgings suitable to my means, and was fortunate enough to obtain a
couple of rooms in the house occupied by a Catholic priest, Father
Jacques Bonchretien. He was a very good fellow, and, though we did
not become intimate, I could always rely on his courtesy and friendly
services. Here I lived in great comfort at an expense of fifty dollars
a month, and I soon found that my spare fifty made me a well-to-do man
in Whittingham. Accordingly I had the _entree_ of all the best houses,
including the Golden House, and a very pleasant little society we had;
occasional dances, frequent dinners, and plenty of lawn tennis and
billiards prevented me feeling the tedium I had somewhat feared, and
the young ladies of Whittingham did their best to solace my exile. As
for business, I found the bank doing a small business, but a tolerably
satisfactory one, and, if we made some bad debts, we got high interest
on the good ones, so that, one way or another, I managed to send home
pretty satisfactory reports, and time passed on quietly enough in
spite of certain manifestations of discontent among the population.
These disturbing phenomena were first brought prominently to my notice
at the time when I became involved in the fortunes of the Aureataland
national debt, and as all my story turns on this incident, it perhaps
is a fit subject for a new chapter.
A FINANCIAL EXPEDIENT.
When our branch was established at Whittingham there had been an
arrangement made between ourselves and the Government, by the terms of
which we were to have the Government business, and to occupy, in fact,
much that quasi-official position enjoyed by the Bank of England at
home. As a _quid pro quo_, the bank was to lend to the Republic the
sum of five hundred thousand dollars, at six per cent. The President
was at the time floating a loan of one million dollars for the purpose
of works at the harbor of Whittingham. This astute ruler had, it
seemed, hit on the plan of instituting public works on a large scale
as a corrective to popular discontent, hoping thereby not only to
develop trade, but also to give employment to many persons who,
if unoccupied, became centers of agitation. Such at least was the
official account of his policy; whether it was the true one I saw
reason to doubt later on. As regards this loan, my office was purely
ministerial. The arrangements were duly made, the proper guarantees
given, and in June, 1880, I had the pleasure of handing over to the
President the five hundred thousand dollars. I learned from him on
that occasion that, to his great gratification, the balance of the
loan had been taken up.
"We shall make a start at once, sir," said the President, in his usual
confident but quiet way. "In two years Whittingham harbor will walk
over the world. Don't be afraid about your interest. Your directors
never made a better investment."
I thanked his Excellency, accepted a cigar, and withdrew with a
peaceful mind. I had no responsibility in the matter, and cared
nothing whether the directors got their interest or not. I was,
however, somewhat curious to know who had taken up the rest of the
loan, a curiosity which was not destined to be satisfied for some
The works were begun and the interest was paid, but I cannot say that
the harbor progressed rapidly; in fact, I doubt if more than one
hundred thousand dollars ever found their way into the pockets of
contractors or workmen over the job. The President had some holes dug
and some walls built; having reached that point, about two years after
the interview above recorded he suddenly drew off the few laborers
still employed, and matters came to a dead stop.
It was shortly after this occurrence that I was honored with an
invitation to dine at the Golden House. It was in the month of July,
1882. Needless to say, I accepted the invitation, not only because it
was in the nature of a command, but also because the President gave
uncommonly good dinners, and, although a bachelor (in Aureataland, at
all events), had as well ordered a household as I have ever known.
My gratification was greatly increased when, on my arrival, I found
myself the only guest, and realized that the President considered my
society in itself enough for an evening's entertainment. It did cross
my mind that this might mean business, and I thought it none the worse
We dined in the famous veranda, the scene of so many brilliant
Whittingham functions. The dinner was beyond reproach, the wines
perfection. The President was a charming companion. Though not, as I
have hinted, a man of much education, he had had a wide experience of
life, and had picked up a manner at once quiet and cordial, which set
me completely at my ease. Moreover, he paid me the compliment,
always so sweet to youth, of treating me as a man of the world. With
condescending confidence he told me many tales of his earlier days;
and as he had been everywhere and done everything where and which
a man ought not to be and do, his conversation was naturally most
"I am not holding myself up as an example," he said, after one of his
most unusual anecdotes. "I can only hope that my public services will
be allowed to weigh in the balance against my private frailties."
He said this with some emotion.
"Even your Excellency," said I, "may be content to claim in that
respect the same indulgence as Caesar and Henri Quatre."
"Quite so," said the President. "I suppose they were not exactly--eh?"
"I believe not," I answered, admiring the President's readiness, for
he certainly had a very dim notion who either of them was.
Dinner was over and the table cleared before the President seemed
inclined for serious conversation. Then he called for cigars, and
pushing them toward me said:
"Take one, and fill your glass. Don't believe people who tell you not
to drink and smoke at the same time. Wine is better without smoke,
and smoke is better without wine, but the combination is better than
I obeyed his commands, and we sat smoking and sipping in silence for
some moments. Then the President said, suddenly:
"Mr. Martin, this country is in a perilous condition."
"Good God, your Excellency!" said I, "do you refer to the earthquake?"
(There had been a slight shock a few days before.)
"No, sir," he replied, "to the finances. The harbor works have
proved far more expensive than I anticipated. I hold in my hand the
engineer's certificate that nine hundred and three thousand dollars
have been actually expended on them, and they are not finished--not by
any means finished."
They certainly were not; they were hardly begun.
"Dear me," I ventured to say, "that seems a good deal of money,
considering what there is to show for it."
"You cannot doubt the certificate, Mr. Martin," said the President.
I did doubt the certificate, and should have liked to ask what fee the
engineer had received. But I hastily said it was, of course, beyond
"Yes," said he steadily, "quite beyond suspicion. You see, Mr. Martin,
in my position I am compelled to be liberal. The Government cannot
set other employers the example of grinding men down by low wages.
However, reasons apart, there is the fact. We cannot go on without
more money; and I may tell you, in confidence, that the political
situation makes it imperative we should go on. Not only is my personal
honor pledged, but the Opposition, Mr. Martin, led by the colonel, is
making itself obnoxious--yes, I may say very obnoxious."
"The colonel, sir," said I, with a freedom engendered of dining, "is a
"Well," said the President, with a tolerant smile, "the colonel,
unhappily for the country, is no true patriot. But he is powerful;
he is rich; he is, under myself alone, in command of the army. And,
moreover, I believe he stands well with the signorina. The situation,
in fact, is desperate. I must have money, Mr. Martin. Will your
directors make me a new loan?"
I knew very well the fate that would attend any such application.
The directors were already decidedly uneasy about their first loan;
shareholders had asked awkward questions, and the chairman had found
no small difficulty in showing that the investment was likely to prove
either safe or remunerative. Again, only a fortnight before, the
Government had made a formal application to me on the same subject. I
cabled the directors, and received a prompt reply in the single word
"Tootsums," which in our code meant, "Must absolutely and finally
decline to entertain any applications." I communicated the contents
of the cable to Senor Don Antonio de la Casabianca, the Minister
of Finance, who had, of course, communicated them in turn to the
I ventured to remind his Excellency of these facts. He heard me with
"I fear," I concluded, "therefore, that it is impossible for me to be
of any assistance to your Excellency."
He nodded, and gave a slight sigh. Then, with an air of closing the
subject, he said:
"I suppose the directors are past reason. Help yourself to a brandy
"Allow me to mix one for you, sir," I answered.
While I was preparing our beverages he remained silent. When I had sat
down again he said:
"You occupy a very responsible position here for so young a man, Mr.
Martin--not beyond your merits, I am sure."
"They leave you a pretty free hand, don't they?"
I replied that as far as routine business went I did much as seemed
good in my own eyes.
"Routine business? including investments, for instance?" he asked.
"Yes," said I; "investments in the ordinary course of
business--discounting bills and putting money out on loan and mortgage
over here. I place the money, and merely notify the people at home of
what I have done."
"A most proper confidence to repose in you," the President was good
enough say. "Confidence is the life of business; you must trust a man.
It would be absurd to make you send home the bills, and deeds, and
certificate, and what not. Of course they wouldn't do that."
Though this was a statement, somehow it also sounded like a question,
so I answered:
"As a rule they do me the compliment of taking my word. The fact is,
they are, as your Excellency says, obliged to trust somebody."
"Exactly as I thought. And you sometimes have large sums to place?"
At this point, notwithstanding my respect for the President, I began
to smell a rat.
"Oh, no, sir," I replied, "usually very small. Our business is not so
extensive as we could wish."
"Whatever," said the President, looking me straight in the face,
"whatever may be usual, at this moment you have a large sum--a very
respectable sum--of money in your safe at the bank, waiting for
"How the devil do you know that?" I cried.
"Mr. Martin! It is no doubt my fault; I am too prone to ignore
etiquette; but you forget yourself."
I hastened to apologize, although I was pretty certain the President
was contemplating a queer transaction, if not flat burglary.
"Ten thousand pardons, your Excellency, for my most unbecoming tone,
but may I ask how you became possessed of this information?"
"Jones told me," he said simply.
As it would not have been polite to express the surprise I felt at
Jones' simplicity in choosing such a _confidant_, I held my peace.
"Yes," continued the President, "owing to the recent sales of your
real property in this country (sales due, I fear, to a want of
confidence in my administration), you have at this moment a sum of
three hundred thousand dollars in the bank safe. Now (don't interrupt
me, please), the experience of a busy life teaches me that commercial
reputation and probity depend on results, not on methods. Your
directors have a prejudice against me and my Government. That
prejudice you, with your superior opportunities for judgment, cannot
share. You will serve your employers best by doing for them what they
haven't the sense and courage to do for themselves. I propose that
you should assume the responsibility of lending me this money. The
transaction will redound to the profit of the bank. It shall also," he
added slowly, "redound to your profit."
I began to see my way. But there were difficulties.
"What am I to tell the directors?" I asked.
"You will make the usual return of investments and debts outstanding,
mortgages, loans on approved security--but you know better than I do."
"False returns, your Excellency means?"
"They will no doubt be formally inaccurate," the President admitted.
"What if they ask for proofs?" said I.
"Sufficient unto the day," said the President.
"You have rather surprised me, sir," I said, "but I am most anxious
to oblige you, and to forward the welfare of Aureataland. There are,
however, two points which occur to me. First, how am I to be insured
against not getting my interest? That I must have."
"Quite so," he interrupted. "And the second point I can anticipate.
It is, what token of my gratitude for your timely assistance can I
prevail on you to accept?"
"Your Excellency's knowledge of human nature is surprising."
"Kindly give me your attention, Mr. Martin, and I will try to satisfy
both your very reasonable requirements. You have $300,000; those you
will hand over to me, receiving in return Government six per cent.
bonds for that amount, I will then hand back to you $65,000; 45,000
you will retain as security for your interest. In the event of any
failure on the part of Aureataland to meet her obligations honorably,
you will pay the interest on the whole 300,000 out of that sum. That
secures you for more than two years against absolute failure of
interest, which in reality you need not fear. Till the money is wanted
you will have the use of it. The remaining 20,000 I shall beg of you
to accept as your commission, or rather as a token of my esteem.
Two hundred thousand absolutely--45,000 as long as Aureataland pays
interest! You must admit I deal with you as one gentleman with
another, Mr. Martin. In the result, your directors get their interest,
I get my loan, you get your bonus. We are all benefited; no one is
hurt! All this is affected at the cost of a harmless stratagem."
I was full of admiration. The scheme was very neat, and, as far as the
President and myself were concerned, he had been no more than just in
pointing out its advantages. As for the directors, they would probably
get their interest; anyhow, they would get it for two years. There was
risk, of course; a demand for evidence of my alleged investments, or a
sudden order to realize a heavy sum at short notice, would bring the
house about my ears. But I did not anticipate this _contretemps_, and
at the worst I had my twenty thousand dollars and could make myself
scarce therewith. These calculations were quite correct at the moment,
but I upset them afterward by spending the dollars and by contracting
a tie which made flight from Aureataland a distasteful alternative.
"Well, Mr. Martin," said the President, "do you agree?"
I still hesitated. Was it a moral scruple? Probably not, unless,
indeed, prudence and morality are the same thing.
The President rose and put his hand on my shoulder.
"Better say yes. I might take it, you know, and cause you to
disappear--believe me, with reluctance, Mr. Martin. It is true I
shouldn't like this course. It would perhaps make my position
here untenable. But not having the money would certainly make it
I saw the force of this argument, and gulping down my brandy and soda,
"I can refuse your Excellency nothing."
"Then take your hat and come along to the bank," said he.
This was sharp work.
"Your Excellency does not mean to take the money now--to-night?" I
"Not to take, Mr. Martin--to receive it from you. We have made our
bargain. What is the objection to carrying it out promptly?"
"But I must have the bonds. They must be prepared, sir."
"They are here," he said, taking a bundle from the drawer of a
writing-table. "Three hundred thousand dollars, six per cent. stock,
signed by myself, and countersigned by Don Antonio. Take your hat and
I did as I was bid.
AN EXCESS OF AUTHORITY.
It was a beautiful moonlight night, and Whittingham was looking her
best as we made our way along the avenue leading to the Piazza 1871.
The President walked briskly, silent but serene; I followed, the
trouble in my mind reflected in a somewhat hang-dog air, and I was not
much comforted when the President broke the stillness of the night by
"You have set your foot on the first rung of the ladder that leads to
fame and wealth, Mr. Martin."
I was rather afraid I had set it on the first rung of the ladder that
leads to the gallows. But there the foot was; what the ladder turned
out to be was in the hands of the gods; so I threw off care, and as we
entered the Piazza I pointed to the statue and said:
"Behold my inspiring example, your Excellency."
"By Jove, yes!" he replied; "I make the most of my opportunities."
I knew he regarded me as one of his opportunities, and was making the
most of me. This is not a pleasant point of view to regard one's self
from, so I changed the subject, and said:
"Shall we call for Don Antonio?"
"Well, as he's Minister of Finance, I thought perhaps his presence
would make the matter more regular."
"If the presence of the President," said that official, "can't make
a matter regular, I don't know what can. Let him sleep on. Isn't his
signature on the bonds enough?"
What could I do? I made one more weak objection:
"What shall we tell Jones?"
"What shall _we_ tell Jones?" he echoed. "Really, Mr. Martin, you must
use your discretion as to what you tell your employees. You can hardly
expect me to tell Jones anything, beyond that it's a fine morning."
We had now reached the bank, which stood in Liberty Street, a turning
out of the Piazza. I took out my key, unlocked the door, and we
entered together. We passed into my inner sanctum, where the safe
"What's it in?" asked the President.
"United States bonds, and bills on New York and London," I replied.
"Good," said he. "Let me look."
I undid the safe, and took out the securities. He examined them
carefully, placing each after due scrutiny in a small handbag, in
which he had brought down the bonds I was to receive. I stood by,
holding a shaded candle. At this moment a voice cried from the door:
"If you move you're dead men!"
I started and looked up. The President looked up without starting.
There was dear old Jones, descended from his upper chamber, where he
and Mrs. Jones resided. He was clad only in his night-shirt, and was
leveling a formidable gun full at the august head of his Excellency.
"Ah, Mr. Jones," said the latter "it's a fine morning."
"Good Heavens, the President!" cried Jones; "and Mr. Martin! Why, what
on earth, gentlemen--"
The President gently waved one hand toward me, as if to say, "Mr.
Martin will explain," and went on placing his securities in the bag.
In face of this crisis my hesitation left me.
"I have received a cable from Europe, Jones," said I, "instructing me
to advance a sum of money to his Excellency; I am engaged in carrying
out these instructions."
"Cable?" said Jones. "Where is it?"
"In my pocket," said I, feeling for it. "No! Why I must have left it
at the Golden House."
The President came to my assistance.
"I saw it on the table just before we started. Though I presume Mr.
Jones has no _right_--"
"None at all," I said briskly.
"Yet, as a matter of concession, Mr. Martin will no doubt show it to
"Strictly as a matter of concession perhaps I will, though I am bound
to say that I am surprised at your manner, Mr. Jones."
Jones looked sadly puzzled.
"It's all irregular, sir," said he.
"Hardly more so than your costume!" said the President pleasantly.
Jones was a modest man, and being thus made aware of the havoc the
draught was playing with his airy covering, he hastily closed the
door, and said to me appealingly:
"It's all right, sir, I suppose?"
"Perfectly right," said I.
"But highly confidential," added the President. "And you will put me
under a personal obligation, Mr. Jones, and at the same time fulfill
your duty to your employers, if you preserve silence till the
transaction is officially announced. A man who serves me does not
Here he was making the most of another opportunity--Jones this time.
"Enough of this," I said. "I will go over the matter in the morning,
and meanwhile hadn't you better go back to--"
"Mrs. Jones," interjected his Excellency. "And mind, silence, Mr.
He walked up to Jones as he said this, and looked hard at him.
"Silent men prosper best, and live longest, Mr. Jones."
Jones looked into his steely eyes, and suddenly fell all of a tremble.
The President was satisfied. He abruptly pushed him out of the room,
and we heard his shambling steps going up the staircase.
His Excellency turned to me, and said with apparent annoyance:
"You leave a great deal to me, Mr. Martin."
He had certainly done more than tell Jones it was a fine morning. But
I was too much troubled to thank him; I was thinking of the cable. The
President divined my thoughts, and said:
"You must prepare that cable."
"Yes," I replied; "that would reassure him. But I haven't had much
practice in that sort of thing, and I don't quite know--"
The President scribbled a few words on a bit of paper, and said:
"Take that to the post office and they'll give you the proper form;
you can fill it up."
Certainly some things go easily if the head of the state is your
"And now, Mr. Martin, it grows late. I have my securities; you have
your bonds. We have won over Jones. All goes well. Aureataland is
saved. You have made your fortune, for there lie your sixty-five
thousand dollars. And, in fine, I am much obliged to you. I will not
trouble you to attend me on my return. Good-night, Mr. Martin."
He went out, and I threw myself down in my office chair, and sat
gazing at the bonds he had left me. I wondered whether he had merely
made a tool of me; whether I could trust him; whether I had done well
to sacrifice my honesty, relying on his promises. And yet there lay my
reward; and, as purely moral considerations did not trouble me, I soon
arose, put the Government bonds and the sixty-five thousand dollars
in securities in the safe, locked up everything, and went home to my
lodgings. As I went in it was broad daylight, for the clock had
gone five, and I met Father Jacques sallying forth. He had already
breakfasted, and was on his way to administer early consolation to the
flower-women in the Piazza. He stopped me with a grieved look, and
"Ah, my friend, these are untimely hours."
I saw I was laboring under an unjust suspicion--a most revolting
"I have only just come from the bank," I said. "I had to dine at the
Golden House and afterward returned to finish up a bit of work."
"Ah! that is well," he cried. "It is, then, the industrious and not
the idle apprentice I meet?" referring to a series of famous prints
with which my room was decorated, a gift from my father on my
I nodded and passed on, saying to myself: "Deuced industrious, indeed.
Not many men have done such a night's work as I have."
And that was how my fortunes became bound up with those of the
Aureataland national debt.
OVERTURES FROM THE OPPOSITION.
After the incidents above recorded, things went on quietly enough for
some months. I had a serious talk with Jones, reproaching him gravely
for his outrageous demeanor. He capitulated abjectly on being shown
the cable, which was procured in the manner kindly indicated by the
President. The latter had perhaps been in too great a hurry with his
heavy guns, for his hint of violence had rather stirred than allayed
Jones' apprehensions. If there were nothing to conceal, why should his
Excellency not stick at murder to hide it? However, I explained to him
the considerations of high policy, dictating inviolable secrecy,
and justifying a somewhat arbitrary way of dealing with a trusted
official; and the marked graciousness with which Jones was received
when he met the President at the ministry of finance on current
business went far to obliterate his unpleasant recollections. I
further bound him to my fortunes by obtaining for him a rise of salary
from the directors, "in consequence of the favorable report of his
conduct received from Mr. Martin."
Peaceful as matters seemed, I was not altogether at ease. To begin
with the new loan did not apparently at all improve the financial
position of Aureataland. Desolation still reigned on the scene of the
harbor works; there was the usual difficulty in paying salaries
and meeting current expenditure. The President did not invite my
confidence as to the disposal of his funds; indeed before long I was
alarmed to see a growing coldness in his manner, which I considered
at once ungrateful and menacing; and when the half-year came round he
firmly refused to disburse more than half the amount of interest due
on the second loan, thus forcing me to make an inroad on my reserve
of forty-five thousand dollars. He gave me many good reasons for this
course of conduct, dwelling chiefly on the necessary unproductiveness
of public works in their early stages, and confidently promising full
payment with arrears next time. Nevertheless, I began to see that I
must face the possibility of a continual drain on resources that I had
fondly hoped would be available for my own purposes for a considerable
time at least. Thus one thing and another contributed to open a breach
between his Excellency and myself, and, although I never ceased to
feel his charm as a private companion, my distrust of him as a ruler,
and, I may add, as a fellow-conspirator, steadily deepened.
Other influences were at this time--for we have now reached the
beginning of 1883--at work in the same direction. Rich in the
possession of my "bonus," I had plunged even more freely than before
into the gayeties of Whittingham, and where I was welcome before, I
was now a doubly honored guest. I had also taken to play on a somewhat
high scale, and it was my reputation as a daring gambler that procured
me the honor of an acquaintance with the signorina, the lady to whom
the President had referred during his interview with me; and my
acquaintance with the signorina was very rich in results.
This lady was, after the President, perhaps the best-known person in
Aureataland--best known, that is, by name and face and fame--for her
antecedents and circumstances were wrapped in impenetrable mystery.
When I arrived in the country the Signorina Christina Nugent had been
settled there about a year. She had appeared originally as a member of
an operatic company, which had paid a visit to our National Theater
from the United States. The company passed on its not very brilliant
way, but the signorina remained behind. It was said she had taken a
fancy to Whittingham, and, being independent of her profession, had
determined to make a sojourn there. At any rate, there she was;
whether she took a fancy to Whittingham, or whether someone in
Whittingham took a fancy to her, remained in doubt. She established
herself in a pretty villa closely adjoining the Golden House; it stood
opposite the presidential grounds, commanding a view of that stately
inclosure; and here she dwelt, under the care of a lady whom she
called "Aunt," known to the rest of the world as Mrs. Carrington. The
title "Signorina" was purely professional; for all I know the name
"Nugent" was equally a creature of choice; but, anyhow, the lady
herself never professed to be anything but English, and openly stated
that she retained her title simply because it was more musical than
that of "Miss." The old lady and the young one lived together in great
apparent amity, and certainly in the utmost material comfort; for they
probably got through more money than anyone in the town, and there
always seemed to be plenty more where that came from. Where it did
come from was, I need hardly say, a subject of keen curiosity in
social circles; and when I state that the signorina was now about
twenty-three years of age, and of remarkably prepossessing appearance,
it will be allowed that we in Whittingham were no worse than other
people if we entertained some uncharitable suspicions. The signorina,
however, did not make the work of detection at all easy. She became
almost at once a leading figure in society; her _salon_ was the
meeting-place of all parties and most sets; she received many gracious
attentions from the Golden House, but none on which slander could
definitely settle. She was also frequently the hostess of members of
the Opposition, and of no one more often than their leader,
Colonel George McGregor, a gentleman of Scotch extraction, but not
pronouncedly national characteristics, who had attained a high
position in the land of his adoption; for not only did he lead the
Opposition in politics, but he was also second in command of the army.
He entered the Chamber as one of the President's nominees (for the
latter had reserved to himself power to nominate five members), but at
the time of which I write the colonel had deserted his former chief,
and, secure in his popularity with the forces, defied the man by whose
help he had risen. Naturally, the President disliked him, a feeling I
cordially shared. But his Excellency's disapproval did not prevent the
signorina receiving McGregor with great cordiality, though here again
with no more _empressement_ than his position seemed to demand.
I have as much curiosity as my neighbors, and I was proportionately
gratified when the doors of "Mon Repos," as the signorina called her
residence, were opened to me. My curiosity, I must confess, was not
unmixed with other feelings; for I was a young man at heart, though
events had thrown sobering responsibilities upon me, and the sight of
the signorina in her daily drives was enough to inspire a thrill even
in the soul of a bank manager. She was certainly very beautiful--a
tall, fair girl, with straight features and laughing eyes. I shall
not attempt more description, because all such descriptions sound
commonplace, and the signorina was, even by the admission of her
enemies, at least very far from commonplace. It must suffice to say
that, like Father O'Flynn, she "had such a way with her" that all of
us men in Aureataland, old and young, rich and poor, were at her
feet, or ready to be there on the least encouragement. She was, to my
thinking, the very genius of health, beauty, and gayety; and she put
the crowning touch to her charms by very openly and frankly soliciting
and valuing the admiration she received. For, after all, it's only
exceptional men who are attracted by _difficile_ beauty; to most of
us a gracious reception of our timid advances is the most subtle
temptation of the devil.
It may be supposed, then, that I thought my money very well invested
when it procured me an invitation to "Mon Repos," where the lady of
the house was in the habit of allowing a genteel amount of gambling
among her male friends. She never played herself, but stood and looked
on with much interest. On occasion she would tempt fortune by the hand
of a chosen deputy, and nothing could be prettier or more artistic
than her behavior. She was just eager enough for a girl unused to the
excitement and fond of triumph, just indifferent enough to show that
her play was merely a pastime, and the gain of the money or its loss a
matter of no moment. Ah! signorina, you were a great artist.
At "Mon Repos" I soon became an habitual, and, I was fain to think, a
welcome, guest. Mrs. Carrington, who entertained a deep distrust of
the manners and excesses of Aureataland, was good enough to consider
me eminently respectable, while the signorina was graciousness itself.
I was even admitted to the select circle at the dinner party which, as
a rule, preceded her Wednesday evening reception, and I was a constant
figure round the little roulette board, which, of all forms of gaming,
was our hostess' favorite delectation. The colonel was, not to my
pleasure, an equally invariable guest, and the President himself would
often honor the party with his presence, an honor we found rather
expensive, for his luck at all games of skill or chance was
"I have always trusted Fortune," he would say, "and to me she is not
"Who would be fickle if your Excellency were pleased to trust her?"
the signorina would respond, with a glance of almost fond admiration.
This sort of thing did not please McGregor. He made no concealment
of the fact that he claimed the foremost place among the signorina's
admirers, utterly declining to make way even for the President. The
latter took his boorishness very quietly; and I could not avoid the
conclusion that the President held, or thought he held, the trumps.
I was, naturally, intensely jealous of both these great men, and,
although I had no cause to complain of my treatment, I could not
stifle some resentment at the idea that I was, after all, an outsider
and not allowed a part in the real drama that was going on. My
happiness was further damped by the fact that luck ran steadily
against me, and I saw my bonus dwindling very rapidly. I suppose I
may as well be frank, and confess that my bonus, to speak strictly,
vanished within six months after I first set foot in "Mon Repos,"
and I found it necessary to make that temporary use of the "interest
fund," which the President had indicated as open to me under the terms
of our bargain. However, my uneasiness on this score was lightened
when the next installment of interest was punctually paid, and, with
youthful confidence, I made little doubt that luck would turn before
Thus time passed on, and the beginning of 1884 found us all leading an
apparently merry and untroubled life. In public affairs the temper
was very different. The scarcity of money was intense, and serious
murmuring had arises when the President "squandered" his ready money
in buying interest, leaving his civil servants and soldiers unpaid.
This was the topic of much discussion in the press at the time, when I
went up one March evening to the signorina's. I had been detained
at the bank, and found the play in full swing when I came in. The
signorina was taking no part in it, but sat by herself on a low lounge
by the veranda window. I went up to her and made my bow.
"You spare us but little of your time, Mr. Martin," she said.
"Ah, but you have all my thoughts," I replied, for she was looking
"I don't care so much about your thoughts," she said. Then, after a
pause, she went on, "It's very hot here, come into the conservatory."
It almost looked as though she had been waiting for me, and I followed
in high delight into the long, narrow glass house running parallel to
the _salon_. High green plants hid us from the view of those inside,
and we only heard distinctly his Excellency's voice, saying with much
geniality to the colonel, "Well, you must be lucky in love, colonel,"
from which I concluded that the colonel was not in the vein at cards.
The signorina smiled slightly as she heard; then she plucked a white
rose, turned round, and stood facing me, slightly flushed as though
with some inner excitement.
"I am afraid those two gentlemen do not love one another," she said.
"Hardly," I assented.
"And you, do you love them--or either of them?"
"I love only one person in Aureataland," I replied, as ardently as I
The signorina bit her rose, glancing up at me with unfeigned amusement
and pleasure. I think I have mentioned that she didn't object to
"Is it possible you mean me?" she said, making me a little courtesy.
"I only think so because most of the Whittingham ladies would not
satisfy your fastidious taste."
"No lady in the world could satisfy me except one," I answered,
thinking she took it a little too lightly.
"Ah! so you say," she said. "And yet I don't suppose you would do
anything for me, Mr. Martin?"
"It would be my greatest happiness," I cried.
She said nothing, but stood there, biting the rose.
"Give it to me," I said; "it shall be my badge of service."
"You will serve me, then?" said she.
"For what reward?"
"Why, the rose!"
"I should like the owner too," I ventured to remark.
"The rose is prettier than the owner," she said; "and, at any rate,
one thing at a time, Mr. Martin! Do you pay your servants all their
wages in advance?"
My practice was so much the contrary that I really couldn't deny the
force of her reasoning. She held out the rose. I seized it and pressed
it close to my lips, thereby squashing it considerably.
"Dear me," said the signorina, "I wonder if I had given you the other
thing whether you would have treated it so roughly."
"I'll show you in a moment," said I.
"Thank you, no, not just now," she said, showing no alarm, for she
knew she was safe with me. Then she said abruptly:
"Are you a Constitutionalist or a Liberal, Mr. Martin?"
I must explain that, in the usual race for the former title, the
President's party had been first at the post, and the colonel's
gang (as I privately termed it) had to put up with the alternative
designation. Neither name bore any relation to facts.
"Are we going to talk politics?" said I reproachfully.
"Yes, a little; you see we got to an _impasse_ on the other topic.
"Which are you, signorina?" I asked.
I really wanted to know; so did a great many people.
She thought for a moment, and then said:
"I have a great regard for the President. He has been most kind to me.
He has shown me real affection."
"The devil he has!" I muttered.
"I beg your pardon?" said she.
"I only said, 'Of course he has.' The President has the usual
complement of eyes."
The signorina smiled again, but went on as if I hadn't spoken.
"On the other hand, I cannot disguise from myself that some of his
measures are not wise."
I said I had never been able to disguise it from myself.
"The colonel, of course, is of the same opinion," she continued.
"About the debt, for instance. I believe your bank is interested in
This was no secret, so I said:
"Oh, yes, to a considerable extent."
"And you?" she asked softly.
"Oh, I am not a capitalist! no money of mine has gone into the debt."
"No money of yours, no. But aren't you interested in it?" she
This was rather odd. Could she know anything?
She drew nearer to me, and, laying a hand lightly on my arm, said
"Do you love people, and yet not trust them, Mr. Martin?"
This was exactly my state of feeling toward the signorina, but I could
not say so. I was wondering how far I should be wise to trust her, and
that depended largely on how far his Excellency had seen fit to trust
her with my secrets. I finally said:
"Without disclosing other people's secrets, signorina, I may admit
that if anything went wrong with the debt my employers' opinion of my
discretion would be severely shaken."
"Of your _discretion_," she said, laughing. "Thank you, Mr. Martin.
And you would wish that not to happen?"
"I would take a good deal of pains to prevent its happening."
"Not less willingly if your interest and mine coincided?"
I was about to make a passionate reply when we heard the President's
"And where is our hostess? I should like to thank her before I go."
"Hush," whispered the signorina. "We must go back. You will be true to
me, Mr. Martin?"
"Call me Jack," said I idiotically.
"Then you will be true, O _Jack_?" she said, stifling a laugh.
"Till death," said I, hoping it would not be necessary.
She gave me her hand, which I kissed with fervor, and we returned to
the _salon_, to find all the players risen from the table and standing
about in groups, waiting to make their bows till the President had
gone through that ceremony. I was curious to hear if anything passed
between him and the signorina, but I was pounced upon by Donna
Antonia, the daughter of the minister of finance, who happened to be
present, notwithstanding the late hour, as a guest of the signorina's
for the night. She was a handsome young lady, a Spanish brunette of
the approved pattern, but with manners formed at a New York boarding
school, where she had undergone a training that had tempered, without
destroying, her native gentility. She had distinguished me very
favorably, and I was vain enough to suppose she honored me by some
jealousy of my _penchant_ for the signorina.
"I hope you have enjoyed yourself in the conservatory," she said
"We were talking business, Donna Antonia," I replied.
"Ah! business! I hear of nothing but business. There is papa gone down
to the country and burying himself alive to work out some great scheme
I pricked up my ears.
"Ah! what scheme is that?" I asked.
"Oh, I don't know! Something about that horrid debt. But I was told
not to say anything about it!"
The debt was becoming a bore. The whole air was full of it. I hastily
paid Donna Antonia a few incoherent compliments, and took my leave.
As I was putting on my coat Colonel McGregor joined me and, with more
friendliness than he usually showed me, accompanied me down the avenue
toward the _Piazza_. After some indifferent remarks he began:
"Martin, you and I have separate interests in some matters, but I
think we have the same in others."
I knew at once what he meant; it was that debt over again!
I remained silent, and he continued:
"About the debt, for instance. You are interested in the debt?"
"Somewhat," said I. "A banker generally is interested in a debt."
"I thought so," said the colonel. "A time may come when we can act
together. Meanwhile, keep your eye on the debt. Good-night!"
We parted at the door of his chambers in the Piazza, and I went on to
As I got into bed, rather puzzled and very uneasy, I damned the debt.
Then, remembering that the debt was, as it seemed, for some reason a
common interest to the signorina and myself, I apologized to it, and
I APPRECIATE THE SITUATION.
The flight of time brought no alleviation to the troubles of
Aureataland. If an individual hard up is a pathetic sight, a nation
hard up is an alarming spectacle; and Aureataland was very hard up.
I suppose somebody had some money. But the Government had none; in
consequence the Government employees had none, the officials had
none, the President had none, and finally, I had none. The bank had a
little--of other people's, of course--but I was quite prepared for
a "run" on us any day, and had cabled to the directors to implore a
remittance in cash, for our notes were at a discount humiliating to
contemplate. Political strife ran high. I dropped into the House of
Assembly one afternoon toward the end of May, and, looking down from
the gallery, saw the colonel in the full tide of wrathful declamation.
He was demanding of miserable Don Antonio when the army was to be
paid. The latter sat cowering under his scorn, and would, I verily
believe, have bolted out of the House had he not been nailed to his
seat by the cold eye of the President, who was looking on from his
box. The minister on rising had nothing to urge but vague promises of
speedy payment; but he utterly lacked the confident effrontery of his
chief, and nobody was deceived by his weak protestations. I left the
House in a considerable uproar, and strolled on to the house of a
friend of mine, one Mme. Devarges, the widow of a French gentleman
who had found his way to Whittingham from New Calendonia. Politeness
demanded the assumption that he had found his way to New Caledonia
owing to political troubles, but the usual cloud hung over the precise
date and circumstances of his patriotic sacrifice. Madame sometimes
considered it necessary to bore herself and others with denunciations
of the various tyrants or would-be tyrants of France; but, apart from
this pious offering on the shrine of her husband's reputation, she
was a bright and pleasant little woman. I found assembled round her
tea-table a merry party, including Donna Antonia, unmindful of her
father's agonies, and one Johnny Carr, who deserves mention as being
the only honest man in Aureataland. I speak, of course, of the place
as I found it. He was a young Englishman, what they call a "cadet," of
a good family, shipped off with a couple of thousand pounds to make
his fortune. Land was cheap among us, and Johnny had bought an estate
and settled down as a landowner. Recently he had blossomed forth as a
keen Constitutionalist and a devoted admirer of the President's, and
held a seat in the assembly in that interest. Johnny was not a clever
man nor a wise one, but he was merry, and, as I have thought it
necessary to mention, honest.
"Hallo, Johnny! Why not at the House?" said I to him. "You'll want
every vote to-night. Be off and help the ministry, and take Donna
Antonia with you. They're eating up the Minister of Finance."
"All right! I'm going as soon as I've had another muffin," said
Johnny. "But what's the row about?"
"Well, they want their money," I replied; "and Don Antonio won't give
it them. Hence bad feeling."
"Tell you what it is," said Johnny; "he hasn't got a--"
Here Donna Antonia struck in, rather suddenly, I thought.
"Do stop the gentleman talking politics, Mme. Devarges. They'll spoil
"Your word is law," I said; "but I should like to know what Don
Antonio hasn't got."
"Now do be quiet," she rejoined; "isn't it quite enough that he has
got--a charming daughter?"
"And a most valuable one," I replied, with a bow, for I saw that for
some reason or other Donna Antonia did not mean to let me pump Johnny
Carr, and I wanted to pump him.
"Don't say another word, Mr. Carr," she said, with a laugh. "You know
you don't know anything, do you?"
"Good Lord, no!" said Johnny.
Meanwhile Mme. Devarges was giving me a cup of tea. As she handed it
to me, she said in a low voice:
"If I were his friend I should take care Johnny didn't know anything,
"If I were his friend I should take care he told me what he knew, Mme.
Devarges," I replied.
"Perhaps that's what the colonel thinks," she said. "Johnny has just
been telling us how very attentive he has become. And the signorina
too, I hear."
"You don't mean that?" I exclaimed. "But, after all, pure kindness, no
"You have received many attentions from those quarters," she said. "No
doubt you are a good judge of the motives."
"Don't, now don't be disagreeable," said I. "I came here for peace."
"Poor young man! have you lost all your money? Is it possible that
you, like Don Antonio, haven't got a--"
"What is going to happen?" I asked, for Mme. Devarges often had
"I don't know," she said. "But if I owned national bonds, I should
"Pardon me, madame; you would offer to sell."
"Ah! I see my advice comes too late."
I did not see any need to enlighten her farther. So I passed on to
Donna Antonia, who had sat somewhat sulkily since her outburst. I sat
down by her and said:
"Surely I haven't offended you?"
"You know you wouldn't care if you had," she said, with a reproachful
but not unkind glance. "Now, if it were the signorina--"
I never object to bowing down in the temple of Rimmon, so I said:
"Hang the signorina!"
"If I thought you meant that," said Donna Antonia, "I might be able to
"Do I want help?" I asked.
"Yes," said she.
"Then suppose I do mean it?"
Donna Antonia refused to be frivolous. With a look of genuine distress
"You will not let your real friends save you, Mr. Martin. You know you
want help. Why don't you consider the state of your affairs?"
"In that, at least, my friends in Whittingham are very ready to help
me," I answered, with some annoyance.
"If you take it in that way," she replied sadly, "I can do nothing."
I was rather touched. Clearly she wished to be of some use to me, and
for a moment I thought I might do better to tear myself free from my
chains, and turn to the refuge opened to me. But I could not do
this; and, thinking it would be rather mean to take advantage of
her interest in me only to use it for my own purposes, I yielded to
conscience and said:
"Donna Antonia, I will be straightforward with you. You can only help
me if I accept your guidance? I can't do that. I am too deep in."
"Yes, you are deep in, and eager to be deeper," she said. "Well, so be
it. If that is so I cannot help you."
"Thank you for your kind attempt," said I. "I shall very likely be
sorry some day that I repulse it. I shall always be glad to remember
that you made it."
She looked at me a moment, and said:
"We have ruined you among us."
"Mind, body, and estate?"
She made no reply, and I saw my return to flippancy wounded her. So I
rose and took my leave. Johnny Carr went with me.
"Things look queer, eh, old man?" said he. "But the President will
pull through in spite of the colonel and his signorina."
"Johnny," said I, "you hurt my feelings; but, still, I will give you a
piece of advice."
"Drive on," said Johnny.
"Marry Donna Antonia," said I. "She's a good girl and a clever girl,
and won't let you get drunk or robbed."
"By Jove, that's not a bad idea!" said he. "Why don't you do it
"Because I'm like you, Johnny--an ass," I replied, and left him
wondering why, if he was an ass and I was an ass, one ass should marry
Donna Antonia, and not both or neither.
As I went along I bought the _Gazette_, the government organ, and read
"At a Cabinet Council this afternoon, presided over by his Excellency,
we understand that the arrangements connected with the national debt
formed the subject of discussion. The resolutions arrived at are at
present strictly confidential, but we have the best authority for
stating that the measures to be adopted will have the effect of
materially alleviating the present tension, and will afford unmixed
satisfaction to the immense majority of the citizens of Aureataland.
The President will once again be hailed as the saviour of his
"I wonder if the immense majority will include me," said I. "I think I
will go and see his Excellency."
Accordingly, the next morning I took my way to the Golden House, where
I learned that the President was at the Ministry of Finance. Arriving
there, I sent in my card, writing thereon a humble request for a
private interview. I was ushered into Don Antonio's room, where I
found the minister himself, the President, and Johnny Carr. As I
entered and the servant, on a sign from his Excellency, placed a chair
for me, the latter said rather stiffly:
"As I presume this is a business visit, Mr. Martin, it is more regular
that I should receive you in the presence of one of my constitutional
advisers. Mr. Carr is acting as my secretary, and you can speak freely
I was annoyed at failing in my attempt to see the President alone, but
not wishing to show it, I merely bowed and said:
"I venture to intrude on your Excellency, in consequence of a
letter from my directors. They inform me that, to use their words,
'disquieting rumors' are afloat on the exchanges in regard to the
Aureataland loan, and they direct me to submit to your Excellency the
expediency of giving some public notification relative to the payment
of the interest falling due next month. It appears from their
communication that it is apprehended that some difficulty may occur in
"Would not this application, if necessary at all, have been, more
properly made to the Ministry of Finance in the first instance?" said
the President. "These details hardly fall within my province."
"I can only follow my instructions, your Excellency," I replied.
"Have you any objection, Mr. Martin," said the President, "to allowing
myself and my advisers to see this letter?"
"I am empowered to submit it only to your Excellency's own eye."
"Oh, only to my eye," said he, with an amused expression. "That was
why the interview was to be private?"
"Exactly, sir," I replied. "I intend no disrespect to the Minister of
Finance or to your secretary, sir, but I am bound by my orders."
"You are an exemplary servant, Mr. Martin. But I don't think I need
trouble you about it further. Is it a cable?"
He smiled so wickedly at this question that I saw he had penetrated my
little fiction. However, I only said:
"A letter, sir."
"Well, gentlemen," said he to the others, "I think we may reassure Mr.
Martin. Tell your directors this, Mr. Martin: The Government does not
see any need of a public notification, and none will be made. I think
we agree, gentlemen, that to acknowledge the necessity of any such
action would be highly derogatory. But assure them that the President
has stated to you, Mr. Martin, personally, with the concurrence of
his advisers, that he anticipates no difficulties in your being in a
position to remit the full amount of interest to them on the proper
"I may assure them, sir, that the interest will be punctually paid?"
"Surely I expressed myself in a manner you could understand," said he,
with the slightest emphasis on the "you." "Aureataland will meet her
obligations. You will receive all your due, Mr. Martin. That is so,
Don Antonio acquiesced at once. Johnny Carr, I noticed, said nothing,
and fidgeted rather uneasily in his chair. I knew what the President
meant. He meant, "If we don't pay, pay it out of your reserve fund."
Alas, the reserve fund was considerably diminished; I had enough, and
just enough, left to pay the next installment if I paid none of my
own debts. I felt very vicious as I saw his Excellency taking keen
pleasure in the consciousness of my difficulties (for he had a shrewd
notion of how the land lay), but of course I could say nothing. So I
rose and bowed myself out, feeling I had gained nothing, except a very
clear conviction that I should not see the color of the President's
money on the next interest day. True, I could just pay myself. But
what would happen next time? And if he wouldn't pay, and I couldn't
pay, the game would be up. As to the original loan, it is true I had
no responsibility; but then, if no interest were paid, the fact that
I had applied the second loan, _my_ loan, in a different manner from
what I was authorized to do, and had represented myself to have done,
would be inevitably discovered. And my acceptance of the bonus, my
dealings with the reserve fund, my furnishing inaccurate returns of
investments, all this would, I knew, look rather queer to people who
didn't know the circumstances.
When I went back to the bank, revolving these things in my mind, I
found Jones employed in arranging the correspondence. It was part of
his duty to see to the preservation and filing of all letters arriving
from Europe, and, strange to say, he delighted in the task. It was
part of my duty to see he did his; so I sat down and began to turn
over the pile of letters and messages which he had put on my desk;
they dated back two years; this surprised me, and I said:
"Rather behindhand, aren't you. Jones?"
"Yes, sir, rather. Fact is, I've done 'em before, but as you've never
initialed 'em, I thought I ought to bring 'em to your notice."
"Quite right--very neglectful of me. I suppose they're all right?"
"Yes, sir, all right."
"Then I won't trouble to go through them."
"They're all there, sir, except, of course, the cable about the second
"Except what?" I said.
"The cable about the second loan," he repeated.
I was glad to be reminded of this, for of course I wished to remove
that document before the bundle finally took its place among the
archives. Indeed, I thought I had done so. But why had Jones removed
it? Surely Jones was not as skeptical as that?
"Ah, and where have you put that?"
"Why, sir, his Excellency took that."
"What?" I cried.
"Yes, sir. Didn't I mention it? Why, the day after you and the
President were here that night, his Excellency came down in the
afternoon, when you'd gone out to the Piazza, and said he wanted it.
He said, sir, that you'd said it was to go to the Ministry of Finance.
He was very affable, sir, and told me that it was necessary the
original should be submitted to the minister for his inspection; and
as he was passing by (he'd come in to cash a check on his private
account) he'd take it up himself. Hasn't he given it back to you, sir?
He said he would."
I had just strength enough to gasp out:
"Slipped his memory, no doubt. All right, Jones."
"May I go now, sir?" said Jones. "Mrs. Jones wanted me to go with her
"Yes, go," said I, and as he went out I added a destination different,
no doubt, from what the good lady had proposed. For I saw it all now.
That old villain (pardon my warmth) had stolen my forged cable, and,
if need arose, meant to produce it as his own justification. I had
been done, done brown--and Jones' idiocy had made the task easy. I
had no evidence but my word that the President knew the message was
fabricated. Up till now I had thought that if I stood convicted I
should have the honor of his Excellency's support in the dock. But
now! why now, I might prove myself a thief, but I couldn't prove him
one. I had convinced Jones, not for my good, but for his. I had forged
papers, not for my good, but for his. True, I had spent the money
"Damn it all!" I cried in the bitterness of my spirit, "he won about
three-quarters of that."
And his Excellency's words came back to my memory, "I make the most of
MOURONS POUR LA PATRIE!
The next week was a busy one for me. I spent it in scraping together
every bit of cash I could lay my hands on. If I could get together
enough to pay the interest on the three hundred thousand dollars
supposed to be invested in approved securities,--really disposed of in
a manner only known to his Excellency,--I should have six months to
look about me. Now, remaining out of my "bonus" was _nil_, out of my
"reserve fund" ten thousand dollars. This was enough. But alas! how
happened it that this sum was in my hands? Because I had borrowed
five thousand from the bank! If they wouldn't let their own manager
overdraw, whom would they? So I overdrew. But if this money wasn't
back before the monthly balancing, Jones would know! And I dared not
rely on being able to stop his mouth again. When I said Johnny Carr
was the only honest man in Aureataland I forgot Jones. To my grief and
annoyance Jones also was honest, and Jones would consider it his duty
to let the directors know of my overdraft. If once they knew, I was
lost, for an overdraft effected privately from the safe by the manager
is, I do not deny it, decidedly irregular. Unless I could add five
thousand dollars to my ten thousand before the end of the month I
should have to bolt!
This melancholy conclusion was reenforced and rendered demonstrable by
a letter which arrived, to crown my woes, from my respected father,
informing me that he had unhappily become indebted to our chairman in
the sum of two thousand pounds, the result of a deal between them,
that he had seen the chairman, that the chairman was urgent for
payment, that he used most violent language against our family in
general, ending by declaring his intention of stopping my salary to
pay the parental debt. "If he doesn't like it he may go, and small
loss." This was a most unjustifiable proceeding, but I was hardly in a
position to take up a high moral attitude toward the chairman, and in
the result I saw myself confronted with the certainty of beggary and
the probability of jail. But for this untoward reverse of fortune I
might have taken courage and made a clean breast of my misdoings,
relying on the chairman's obligations to my father to pull me through.
But now, where was I? I was, as Donna Antonia put it, very deep in
indeed. So overwhelmed was I by my position, and so occupied with my
frantic efforts to improve it, that I did not even find time to go and
see the signorina, much as I needed comfort; and, as the days went on,
I fell into such despair that I went nowhere, but sat dismally in my
own rooms, looking at my portmanteau, and wondering how soon I must
pack and fly, if not for life, at least for liberty.
At last the crash came. I was sitting in my office one morning,
engaged in the difficult task of trying to make ten into fifteen, when
I heard the clatter of hoofs.
A moment later the door was opened, and Jones ushered in Colonel
McGregor. I nodded to the colonel, who came in with his usual
leisurely step, sat himself down, and took off his gloves. I roused
myself to say:
"What can I do for you, colonel?"
He waited till the door closed behind Jones, and then said:
"I've got to the bottom of it at last, Martin."
This was true of myself also, but the colonel meant it in a different
"Bottom of what?" I asked, rather testily.
"That old scamp's villainy," said he, jerking his thumb toward the
Piazza and the statue of the Liberator. "He's very 'cute, but he's
made a mistake at last."
"Do come to the point, colonel. What's it all about?"
"Would you be surprised to hear," said the colonel, adopting a famous
mode of speech, "that the interest on the debt would not be paid on
"No, I shouldn't," said I resignedly.
"Would you be surprised to hear that no more interest would ever be
"The devil!" I cried, leaping up. "What do you mean, man?"
"The President," said he calmly, "will, on the 31st instant,
_repudiate the national debt_!"
I had nothing left to say. I fell back in my chair and gazed at the
colonel, who was now employed in lighting a cigarette. At the same
moment a sound of rapid wheels struck on my ears. Then I heard the
sweet, clear voice I knew so well saying:
"I'll just disturb him for a moment, Mr. Jones. I want him to tear
himself from work for a day, and come for a ride."
She opened my door, and came swiftly in. On seeing the colonel she
took in the position, and said to that gentleman:
"Have you told him?"
"I have just done so, signorina," he replied.
I had not energy enough to greet her; so she also sat down uninvited,
and took off her gloves--not lazily, like the colonel, but with an air
as though she would, if a man, take off her coat, to meet the crisis
At last I said, with conviction:
"He's a wonderful man! How did you find it out, colonel?"
"Had Johnny Carr to dine and made him drunk," said that worthy.
"You don't mean he trusted Johnny?"
"Odd, isn't it?" said the colonel. "With his experience, too. He might
have known Johnny was an ass. I suppose there was no one else."
"He knew," said the signorina, "anyone else in the place would betray
him; he knew Johnny wouldn't if he could help it. He underrated your
"Well," said I, "I can't help it, can I? My directors will lose. The
bondholders will lose. But how does it hurt me?"
The colonel and the signorina both smiled gently.
"You do it very well, Martin," said the former, "but it will save time
if I state that both Signorina Nugent and myself are possessed of
the details regarding the--" (The colonel paused, and stroked his
"The second loan," said the signorina.
I was less surprised at this, recollecting certain conversations.
"Ah! and how did you find that out?" I asked.
"She told me," said the colonel, indicating his fair neighbor.
"And may I ask how you found it out, signorina?"
"The President told me," said that lady.
"Did you make him drunk?"
"No, not drunk," was her reply, in a very demure voice, and with
We could guess how it had been done, but neither of us cared to pursue
the subject. After a pause, I said:
"Well, as you both know all about it, it's no good keeping up
pretenses. It's very kind of you to come and warn me."
"You dear, good Mr. Martin," said the signorina, "our motives are not
purely those of friendship."
"Why, how does it matter to you?"
"Simply this," said she: "the bank and its excellent manager own most
of the debt. The colonel and I own the rest. If it is repudiated, the
bank loses; yes, but the manager, and the colonel, and the Signorina
Nugent are lost!"
"I didn't know this," I said, rather bewildered.
"Yes," said the colonel, "when the first loan was raised I lent him
one hundred thousand dollars. We were thick then, and I did it in
return for my rank and my seat in the Chamber. Since then I've bought
up some more shares."
"You got them cheap, I suppose?" said I.
"Yes," he replied, "I averaged them at about seventy-five cents the
"And what do you hold now, nominally?"
"Three hundred thousand dollars," said he shortly.
"I understand your interest in the matter. But you, signorina?"
The signorina appeared a little embarrassed. But at last she broke
"I don't care if I do tell you. When I agreed to stay here, he [we
knew whom she meant] gave me one hundred thousand dollars. And I had
fifty thousand, or thereabouts, of my own that I had--"
"Saved out of your salary as a prima donna," put in the colonel.
"What does it matter?" said she, flushing; "I had it. Well, then, what
did he do? He persuaded me to put it all--the whole one hundred and
fifty thousand--into his horrid debt. Oh! wasn't it mean, Mr. Martin?"
The President had certainly combined business and pleasure in this
"Disgraceful!" I remarked.
"And if that goes, I am penniless--penniless. And there's poor aunt.
What will she do?"
"Never mind your aunt," said the colonel, rather rudely. "Well," he
went on, "you see we're in the same boat with you, Martin."
"Yes; and we shall soon be in the same deep water," said I.
"Not at all!" said the colonel.
"Not at all!" echoed the signorina.
"Why, what on earth are you going to do?"
"Financial probity is the backbone of a country," said the colonel.
"Are we to stand by and see Aureataland enter on the shameful path of
"Never!" cried the signorina, leaping up with sparkling eyes. "Never!"
She looked enchanting. But business is business; and I said again:
"What are you going to do?"
"We are going, with your help, Martin, to prevent this national
disgrace. We are going--" he lowered his voice, uselessly, for the
signorina struck in, in a high, merry tone, waving her gloves over
head and dancing a little _pas seul_ on the floor before me, with
these remarkable words:
"Hurrah for the Revolution! Hip! hip! hurrah!"
She looked like a Goddess of Freedom in her high spirits and a Paris
bonnet. I lost my mental balance. Leaping up, I grasped her round the
waist, and we twirled madly about the office, the signorina breaking
forth into the "Marseillaise."
"For God's sake, be quiet!" said McGregor, in a hoarse whisper, making
a clutch at me as I sped past him. "If they hear you! Stop, I tell
The signorina stopped.
"Do you mean me, Colonel McGregor?" she asked.
"Yes," he said, "and that fool Martin, too."
"Even in times of revolution, colonel," said I, "nothing is lost by
politeness. But in substance you are right. Let us be sober."
We sat down again, panting, the signorina between her gasps still
faintly humming the psalm of liberty.
"Kindly unfold your plan, colonel," I resumed. "I am aware that out
here you think little of revolutions, but to a newcomer they appear to
be matters requiring some management. You see we are only three."
"I have the army with me," said he grandly.
"In the outer office?" asked I, indulging in a sneer at the dimensions
of the Aureataland forces.
"Look here, Martin," he said, scowling, "if you're coming in with us,
keep your jokes to yourself."
"Don't quarrel, gentlemen," said the signorina. "It's waste of time.
Tell him the plan, colonel, while I'm getting cool."
I saw the wisdom of this advice, so I said:
"Your pardon, colonel. But won't this repudiation be popular with the
army? If he lets the debt slide, he can pay them."
"Exactly," said he. "Hence we must get at them before that aspect
of the case strikes them. They are literally starving, and for ten
dollars a man they would make Satan himself President. Have you got
any money, Martin?"
"Yes," said I, "a little."
"Ten thousand," I replied; "I was keeping it for the interest."
"Ah! you won't want it now."
"Indeed I shall--for the second loan, you know."
"Look here, Martin; give me that ten thousand for the troops. Stand in
with us, and the day I become President I'll give you back your three
hundred thousand. Just look where you stand now. I don't want to be
rude, but isn't it a case of--"
"Some emergency," said I thoughtfully. "Yes, it is. But where do you
suppose you're going to get three hundred thousand dollars, to say
nothing of your own shares?"
He drew his chair closer to mine, and, leaning forward, said:
"He's never spent the money. He's got it somewhere; much the greater
part, at least."
"Did Carr tell you that?"
"He didn't know for certain; but he told me enough to make it almost
certain. Besides," he added, glancing at the signorina, "we have other
reasons for suspecting it. Give me the ten thousand. You shall have
your loan back, and, if you like, you shall be Minister of Finance. We
practically know the money's there; don't we, signorina?"
She nodded assent.
"If we fail?" said I.
He drew a neat little revolver from his pocket, placed it for a moment
against his ear, and repocketed it.
"Most lucidly explained, colonel," said I. "Will you give me half an
hour to think it over?"
"Yes," he said. "You'll excuse me if I stay in the outer office. Of
course I trust you, Martin, but in this sort of thing--"
"All right, I see," said I. "And you, signorina?"
"I'll wait too," she said.
They both rose and went out, and I heard them in conversation with
Jones. I sat still, thinking hard. But scarcely a moment had passed,
when I heard the door behind me open. It was the signorina. She came
in, stood behind my chair, and, leaning over, put her arms round my
I looked up, and saw her face full of mischief.
"What about the rose, Jack?" she asked.
I remembered. Bewildered with delight, and believing I had won her, I
"Your soldier till death, signorina."
"Bother death!" said she saucily. "Nobody's going to die. We shall
win, and then--"
"And then," said I eagerly, "you'll marry me, sweet?"
She quietly stooped down and kissed my lips. Then, stroking my hair,
"You're a nice boy, but you're not a good boy, Jack."
"Christina, you won't marry him?"
"McGregor," said I.
"Jack," said she, whispering now, "I hate him!"
"So do I," I answered promptly. "And if it's to win you, I'll upset a
"Then you'll do it for me? I like to think you'll do it for me, and
not for the money."
As the signorina was undoubtedly "doing it" for her money, this was a
"I don't mind the money coming in--" I began.
"Mercenary wretch!" she cried. "I didn't kiss you, did I?"
"No," I replied. "You said you would in a minute, when I consented."
"Very neat, Jack," she said. But she went and opened the door and
called to McGregor, "Mr. Martin sees no objection to the arrangement,
and he will come to dinner to-night, as you suggest, and talk over the
details. We're all going to make our fortunes, Mr. Jones," she went
on, without waiting for any acceptance of her implied invitation, "and
when we've made ours, we'll think about you and Mrs. Jones."
I heard Jones making some noise, incoherently suggestive of
gratification, for he was as bad as any of us about the signorina, and
then I was left to my reflections. These were less somber than the
reader would, perhaps, anticipate. True, I was putting my head into a
noose; and if the President's hands ever found their way to the end of
the rope, I fancied he would pull it pretty tight. But, again, I was
immensely in love, and equally in debt; and the scheme seemed to open
the best chance of satisfying my love, and the only chance of filling
my pocket. To a young man life without love isn't worth much; to a man
of any age, in my opinion, life without money isn't worth much; it
becomes worth still less when he is held to account for money he ought
to have. So I cheerfully entered upon my biggest gamble, holding the
stake of life well risked. My pleasure in the affair was only marred
by the enforced partnership of McGregor. There was no help for this,
but I knew he wasn't much fonder of me than I of him, and I found
myself gently meditating on the friction likely to arise between
the new President and his minister of finance, in case our plans
succeeded. Still the signorina hated him, and by all signs she loved
me. So I lay back in my chair, and recalled my charmer's presence by
whistling the hymn of liberty until it was time to go to lunch, an
observance not to be omitted even by conspirators.
THE MINE IS LAID.
The morning meeting had been devoted to principles and to the
awakening of enthusiasm; in the evening the conspirators condescended
upon details, and we held a prolonged and anxious conference at the
signorina's. Mrs. Carrington was commanded to have a headache after
dinner, and retired with it to bed; and from ten till one we sat and
conspired. The result of our deliberations was a very pretty plan, of
which the main outlines were as follows:
This was Tuesday. On Friday night the colonel, with twenty determined
ruffians (or resolute patriots) previously bound to him, body and
soul, by a donation of no less than fifty dollars a man, was to
surprise the Golden House, seize the person of the President and
all cash and securities on the premises; no killing, if it could be
avoided, but on the other hand no shilly-shally. McGregor wanted to
put the President out of the way at once, as a precautionary measure,
but I strongly opposed this proposal, and, finding the signorina was
absolutely inflexible on the same side, he yielded. I had a strong
desire to be present at this midnight surprise, but another duty
called for my presence. There was a gala supper at the barracks
that evening, to commemorate some incident or other in the national
history, and I was to be present and to reply to the toast of "The
Commerce of Aureataland." My task was, _at all hazards_, to keep this
party going till the colonel's job was done, when he would appear at
the soldiers' quarters, bribe in hand, and demand their allegiance.
Our knowledge of the character of the troops made us regard the result
as a certainty, if once the President was a prisoner and the dollars
before their eyes. The colonel and the troops were to surround the
officers' messroom, and offer them life and largesse, or death and
destruction. Here again we anticipated their choice with composure.
The army was then to be paraded in the Piazza, the town overawed or
converted, and, behold, the Revolution was accomplished! The success
of this design entirely depended on its existence remaining a dead
secret from the one man we feared, and on that one man being found
alone and unguarded at twelve o'clock on Friday night. If he
discovered the plot, we were lost. If he took it into his head to
attend the supper, our difficulties would be greatly increased. At
this point we turned to the signorina, and I said briefly:
"This appears to be where you come in, signorina. Permit me to
invite you to dine with his Excellency on Friday evening, at eight
"You mean," she said slowly, "that I am to keep him at home, and, but
for myself, alone, on Friday?"
"Yes," said I. "Is there any difficulty?"
"I do not think there is great difficulty," she said, "but I don't
like it; it looks so treacherous."
Of course it did. I didn't like her doing it myself, but how else was
the President to be secured?
"Rather late to think of that, isn't it?" asked McGregor, with a
sneer. "A revolution won't run on high moral wheels."
"Think how he jockeyed you about the money," said I, assuming the part
of the tempter.
"By the way," said McGregor, "it's understood the signorina enters
into possession of the President's country villa, isn't it?"
Now, my poor signorina had a longing for that choice little retreat;
and between resentment for her lost money and a desire for the
pretty house on the one hand, and, on the other, her dislike of
the Delilah-like part she was to play, she was sore beset. Left to
herself, I believe she would have yielded to her better feelings,
and spoiled the plot. As it was, the colonel and I, alarmed at this
recrudescence of conscience, managed to stifle its promptings, and
bent her to our wicked will.
"After all, he deserves it," she said, "and I'll do it!"
It is always sad to see anybody suffering from a loss of self-respect,
so I tried to restore the signorina's confidence in her own motives,
by references to Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, Charlotte Corday,
and such other relentless heroines as occurred to me. McGregor looked
upon this striving after self-justification with undisguised contempt.
"It's only making a fool of him again," he said; "you've done it
before, you know!"
"I'll do it, if you'll swear not to--to hurt him," she said.
"I've promised already," he replied sullenly. "I won't touch him,
unless he brings it on himself. If he tries to kill me, I suppose I
needn't bare my breast to the blow?"
"No, no," I interposed; "I have a regard for his Excellency, but