Part 3 out of 6
jacket, a diamond ring, and another big diamond in his scarf. His skin
was a curious yellowish brown and his eyes were very black; he rather
looked like a Spanish Creole than an Englishman. He had nothing of his
brother's quiet manner. Although he was getting old, he walked with a
jaunty step; he had a humorous twinkle, and his laugh was careless. In
fact, he had an exotic, romantic look that harmonized with Kit's notions
of the pirates who once haunted the Gulf of Mexico. When Kit afterwards
learned why Adam's friends called him the "buccaneer," he saw that his
first impression was not extravagant.
Now he remembered that when they sat behind the imitation Moorish arches
on the hotel veranda Adam studied him and laughed.
"You're certainly Peter's son," he remarked. "I can imagine I'd just left
him at the end of the Ashness lonning thirty years since. Except that
he's got older, I reckon he hasn't changed, and for that matter, Peter
was never young. Well, you are surely like him, but if you stop in this
country we'll put a move on you."
"If I'm like my father, I am satisfied," Kit rejoined.
Adam's black eyes twinkled. "Now I see a difference; there's red blood in
you. But don't take me wrong. Peter's a white man, straight as a
plumb-line, one of the best; he's a year the younger of us, but when the
old man died he brought me up. There are two kinds of Askews and I belong
to the other lot. I don't know why they called you after roystering Kit."
It was obvious that Adam knew the family history, for Christopher Askew
was a turbulent Jacobite who lost the most part of his estate when he
joined Prince Charlie's starving Highlanders in the rearguard fight at
Clifton Moor. Afterwards the sober quietness at Ashness had now and then
been disturbed by an Askew who inherited the first Kit's reckless
Three years had gone since Kit met Adam, and he had learned much. To
begin with, Adam sent him to an American business school, and made him
study Castilian and French. Then he sent him to Mexico and countries
farther south, where he studied human nature of strangely varied kinds.
He met and traded with men of many colors: French and Spanish Creoles,
negroes, Indians, and half-breeds with some of the blood of all. He knew
the American gulf ports and their cosmopolitan hotels and gambling
saloons, but Adam noted with half-amused approval that while he was not
at all a prig he developed Peter's character and not Kit the Jacobite's.
Now they were going south across the Caribbean on a business venture.
By and by Adam came slowly along the bridge-deck. The three years had
marked a change in him and Kit thought he did not look well. Adam
suffered now and then from malarial ague, caught in the mangrove swamps.
He was thin, his yellow face was haggard, and his shoulders were bent.
Sitting down close by, he lighted a cigar and turned to Kit.
"We ought to raise the coast before it's dark and I reckon Mayne will
get his bearings," he remarked. "The lagoon's a blamed awkward place to
enter and I'd have waited until to-morrow only that Don Hernando is
"It will save us a day if we can get in, since you want to land the B. F.
cargo in the dark," Kit said thoughtfully. "We pay high wages and the
_Rio Negro_ is an expensive boat to run."
"That's so," Adam agreed with a smile. "You talk like a Cumberland
flock-master. Counting every cent you spend is a safe plan, but I don't
know that this trip will pan out much of a business proposition."
"Do you feel better for your sleep?" Kit asked.
"Some, though I've got a headache and a pain in my back. Guess they'll
shake off when I get to work."
"I was surprised when you said you meant to sail with us."
"So I imagined," Adam rejoined dryly. "You wondered why I didn't, as
usual, trust you to deliver the goods? Well, there's rather more to
this job than that, and I meant to put you wise before we landed. You
have heard me called a pirate, but I don't reckon on taking home much
Kit mused while Adam beckoned a mulatto steward, who brought him a glass
and some ice. His uncle's character was complex. Sometimes he was hard
and exacted all that was his; sometimes he was rashly generous.
Ostensibly, he was a merchant, shipping tools and machines, particularly
supplies for sugar mills, to the countries round the Caribbean, and
taking payment in native produce. Kit, however, knew the cases landed
from the _Rio Negro_ did not always hold the goods the labels stated, and
that Adam's money sometimes helped to float an unpopular government over
a crisis and sometimes to turn another out. It was a risky business,
carried on with people who had a talent for dark revolutionary intrigue.
"Since Don Hernando Alvarez is president of the republic, I don't quite
see why we need smuggle in his machine-guns," Kit remarked.
"On the surface, the reason isn't very obvious. Alvarez is president now,
but mayn't be very long. It depends on whether he or his rival, Galdar,
gets his blow in first. I reckon the chances are against Alvarez if
Galdar puts up a fight, but the latter's not ready yet and Alvarez means
to arm his troops before the fellow knows. I imagine about half the
citizens are plotters and spies."
"Alvarez has been honest so far. I suppose if he wins he'll pay?"
"That's so," said Adam dryly. "If he goes down, we get nothing. Although
I don't know much about his ancestors and suspect that one was an Indian,
Alvarez is white, but the other fellow's a blamed poor sample of the
half-breed nigger. Well, when Alvarez found things were going wrong, he
sent for me."
"Ah," said Kit in a thoughtful voice, "I begin to understand."
He did understand, although he would not have done so when he met his
uncle first. He had known Adam play the part of a merciless creditor, and
thought few men could beat him at a bargain, but he kept his bargain when
it was made, and now and then risked his money on lost causes. It looked
as if he had inherited something from Christopher the Jacobite.
"You have known Alvarez long, haven't you?" Kit resumed.
"When I met him first, he was a customs officer with some perquisites and
a salary that paid for liquor and tobacco. Vanhuyten and I ran the old
_Mercedes_ then, and Van made a mistake that put us at the fellow's
mercy. There was a good case for confiscating the schooner, which would
have given Alvarez a lift while we went broke. In fact, the night of the
crisis, I dropped Van's pistol overboard; he'd got malaria badly and was
feeling desperate. Well, all we had given Alvarez didn't cover that kind
of a job, but he'd promised to stand our friend and kept his word like a
gentleman. Guess it needed some nerve and judgment to work things the way
he did, and when we stole out to sea at daybreak past the port guard, I
knew there was one man in the rotten country I could trust with my life.
Now he's in a tight place, he knows he can trust me."
Adam got up and crossing the deck leaned against the rails. In the
distance, where the glitter faded, there was a long gray smear that
seemed to float like a smoke-trail above the water. Higher up, a vague
blue line ran across the dazzling sky. The first was a fringe of mangrove
forest; the other lofty mountains. A minute or two later, the fat,
brown-faced captain came down from his bridge.
"Looks like the Punta; we've hit her first time," he remarked. "In about
an hour I ought to get my marks. When d'you want her taken in?"
"Soon as it's dark," Adam replied. "You'll have to trust your lead and
compass. Can't have you whistling for a pilot, and I'd sooner you put out
"It's your risk and not the first time I've broken rules. I guess I can
keep her off the ground. We'll get busy presently and heave the hatches
off. The B.F. cases are right on top."
Adam nodded, and beckoned Kit when the captain went away. "You haven't
been in the Santa Marta lagoon yet. Stand by and watch the soundings and
compass while Mayne takes her across the shoals. You may find it useful
to know the channel."
Kit understood. Malaria and other fevers are common on low-lying belts of
the Caribbean coast and skippers and mates fall sick. Moreover, the _Rio
Negro_ did not always load at the regular ports. Sometimes she crept into
mangrove-fringed lagoons, and sometimes stopped at lonely beaches and
sent loaded boats ashore when her captain saw the gleam of signal lights.
When it was getting dark, Kit and Adam went to the bridge and the former
noted that his uncle breathed rather hard and seized the rails firmly as
he climbed the ladder. The red glow of sunset had faded behind the high
land and a gray haze spread across the swampy shore, but the water shone
with pale reflections. On one side, a long, dingy smear floated across
the sky. It did not move and Kit thought it had come from the funnel of a
steamer whose engineer had afterwards cleaned his fires. Captain Mayne
studied the fleecy trail with his glasses.
"I don't know if that's a coffee-boat going north; I can't make out her
hull against the land," he said. "Sometimes there's a _guarda-costa_
hanging round the point."
"Better take no chances," Adam replied, glancing at the _Rio Negro's_
funnel, from which a faint plume of vapor floated.
Mayne signed to the quartermaster in the pilot house and the bows swung
round. Half an hour afterwards, he rang his telegraph and the clang of
engines died away while the throb of the propeller stopped. In what
seemed an unnatural silence, a few barefooted deck-hands began to move
about, and one stood on the forecastle, where his dark figure cut against
the shining sea. The rest went aft with a line the other held, and when
Mayne raised his hand there was a splash as the deep-sea lead plunged. A
man aft called the depth while he gathered up the line, and Mayne
beckoned another, who climbed to a little platform outside the bridge and
fastened a strap round his waist.
"We're on the Santa Marta shelf, but I'm four miles off the course I
set," Mayne remarked. "I want to work out the angle from the first
bearing I got."
Kit went with him into the chart-room, for he knew something about
navigation. They had taught him the principles of land-surveying at the
agricultural college, and this had made his studies easier. When he
came back the moon was getting bright, but the haze had thickened on
the low ground and the heights behind had faded to a vague, formless
blur. The trail of smoke had vanished, there was no wind, and the
smooth swell broke against the bows with a monotonous dull roar as the
_Rio Negro_ went on. She was alone on the heaving water and steaming
slowly, but the noise of her progress carried far. By and by a light
twinkled ahead, leaped up into a steady glow that lasted for some
minutes, and then went out.
"That's a relief," remarked Adam, who had struck a match and studied his
watch. "The ground's clear and Don Hernando has somebody he can trust
waiting at the lagoon. You can let her go ahead, Captain."
Mayne rang his telegraph and Kit went into the pilot house. The dim light
of the binnacle lamp touched the compass, but everything else was dark
and the windows were down. Kit could see the quartermaster's dark form
behind the wheel, and the silver shining of the sea. There was a splash
as the man on the platform released the whirling hand-lead. When he
called the depth Mayne gave an order and the quartermaster pulled round
the wheel. The swell was not so smooth now. It ran in steep undulations
and in one place to starboard a broad, foaming patch appeared between the
rollers. Kit knew the water was shoaling fast as the _Rio Negro_ steamed
across the inclined shelf. It was risky work to take her in, because the
fire had vanished and there were no marks to steer for. Mayne must trust
his compass and his rough calculations.
"Tide's running flood," he said to Adam. "She'd have steered handier if
we'd gone in against the ebb; but there's a better chance of coming off
if she touches ground."
"You don't want to touch ground and stop there with the B.F. goods on
board," Adam replied.
After this, there was silence except when Mayne gave an order. White
upheavals broke the passing swell on both sides of the ship. She rolled
with violent jerks and at regular intervals the bows swung up. When they
sank, a dark mass with a ragged top cut off the view from the
pilot-house, and Kit knew it was a mangrove forest. He could see no break
in the wall of trees that grew out of the water, but they were not far
off when there was a heavy jar, and the Rio Negro stopped. The floor of
the pilot-house slanted and Kit and the quartermaster fell against the
wheel. Then there was a roar as a white-topped roller came up astern and
broke about the vessel's rail in boiling foam. She lifted, struck again,
and went on with an awkward lurch.
"Port; hard over!" Mayne shouted hoarsely, and Kit helped the
quartermaster to pull round the wheel.
The order disturbed him, since it looked as if Mayne was off his course.
The swell broke angrily ahead, but in one place, some distance to one
side, the wall of forest looked less solid than the rest. A roar came out
of the mist and Kit knew it was the beat of surf on a hidden beach. This
told him where he was, because a sandy key protected the mouth of the
lagoon; but he doubted if Mayne could get round the point. The tide was
carrying the vessel on and there was broken water all about.
She went on, with engines thumping steadily; the hollow in the forest
opened up until it became a gap and Kit could not see trees behind it.
Mayne gave another sharp order, and Kit and the quartermaster pulled at
the wheel. The dark bows swung, the speed quickened, and the rolling
stopped. The throb of the screw and thump of engines echoed across misty
woods and there was a curious gurgling noise that Kit thought was made by
the tide rippling among the mangrove roots. The air got damp and steamy
and a sour smell filled the pilot-house. Kit knew the odors of rotting
leaves, spices, and warm mud.
In the meantime, he was kept occupied at the wheel for Mayne changed his
course as the trees rolled past, until the telegraph rang and the engines
stopped. Then there was silence until he heard the splash of the anchor
and the roar of running chain. As the _Rio Negro_ slowly swung round, the
winches rattled and her boats were hoisted out. Kit got into one with
Adam and landed on a muddy beach. Dark figures came down to meet them,
horses were waiting at the edge of the forest, and a few minutes later
they mounted and plunged into the gloom.
Dazzling sunshine flooded the belt of sand where the shadows of dusty
palmettos quivered beyond the Moorish arch; the old presidio smelt like a
brick-kiln and the heat outside was nearly intolerable. In the middle of
the dirty patio a fountain splashed in a broken marble basin, and it was
dim, and by contrast cool, under the arcade where Kit sat among the
crumbling pillars. The presidio was a relic of Spanish dominion and its
founders had built it well, copying, with such materials as they could
get, stately models the Moors had left in the distant Peninsula. A part
had fallen and blocks of sun-baked mud lay about in piles, but the long,
white front, with its battlemented top and narrow, barred windows stood
firm. In spite of the ruinous patio, the presidio was the finest building
in the town.
The others, so far as Kit could see, were squares of mud, for the most
part whitewashed, although some were colored pink and cream. The glare
they reflected was dazzling, but a row of limp palmettos ran between them
and the space in front of the presidio, and here and there Kit noted
rounded masses of vivid green. Except for the splash of the fountain, all
was very quiet, and although the shadows had lengthened it looked as if
the half-breed citizens were still enjoying their afternoon sleep. Now
and then a barefooted sentry noiselessly passed the arch. He wore a dirty
white uniform and ragged palm-leaf hat, but carried a good modern rifle,
and Kit knew where the latter had come from. The country was rich with
coffee, rubber, sugar, and dyewoods. Its inhabitants, however, for the
most part, preferred political intrigue to cultivation; its government
was corrupt, and prosperity had vanished with the Spaniards' firm rule.
A table carrying some very small glasses and coffee-cups stood in the
arcade. Don Hernando Alvarez occupied the other side, and Kit imagined it
was not by accident he sat with his back to a whitewashed pillar, since
he was in the shadow and as he wore white clothes could not be seen a
short distance off. Don Hernando's hair was coarse and his skin dark. His
face was well molded, although the cheek-bones were prominent; his black
eyes were keen and his thin lips firm. He wore a plain red sash, with no
other touch of color except a bit of riband on his breast. It was obvious
that he was not a Peninsular, as pure-blooded Spaniards call themselves,
but he looked like a man who must be reckoned on. Just then his dark face
"You have come in good time," he said to Adam Askew, in Castilian. "I
think the curtain will soon go up for the last act of the drama, but the
plot is obscure and I do not know the end."
"I imagine the action will be rapid," Adam replied. "Unless you have
changed much, you are cut out for your part."
"Ah," said Alvarez, "one gets cautious as one gets old. One loses the
young man's quick, sure touch."
"That is so, to some extent," Adam agreed, and indicated Kit. "It
explains why I have a partner; my brother's son. Still, perhaps one sees
farther when one is old."
Alvarez bowed to Kit. "You have a good model, senor; a man who seldom
hesitates and whose word goes. A rare thing in this country; I do not
know about yours." Then he turned to Adam with a hint of anxiety. "How
far do you see now?"
"I see what I have to do and that is enough. The consequences come
Alvarez's face cleared. "You were always a gambler, but you run some risk
if you bet on me." He was silent for a moment and then resumed: "In a
sense, I envy you; you have a partner you can trust, but I stand alone.
My son was found in the plaza with a knife in his back, and the man who
killed him goes unpunished."
"Galdar was somewhere behind that deed, although I do not see his object
yet," Adam remarked.
"The people liked Maccario and his removal cleared the ground. My enemy
is cunning and, I think, did not mean to force a conflict until my
friends had gone. Now there are not many left and the time has come.
Morales died of poison, Diaz of snake-bite, and Vinoles was shot by a
curious accident. So far, I have escaped; perhaps because I was lucky,
and perhaps because it was not certain the people would choose Galdar if
I followed my friends."
"I have wondered why you hold on. For a president of this country, you
have had a good run. I think I would have left after a few prosperous
years and located at Havana, for example."
Alvarez smiled. "There was a time when we had money in the treasury and I
might have gone; but it was too late afterwards. Part of the revenue
stopped in Galdar's hands--that was one way of embarrassing me--and I was
forced to use the rest to undermine his plots. Now I am drawing on my
small private estate."
"But why didn't you go while there was something left? You are not
extravagant and do not need much."
Kit thought Adam's remark was justified. Alvarez lived with Indian
frugality and looked ascetic; besides he had been long in power and had
no doubt had opportunities for enriching himself at his country's
expense. Kit liked Alvarez, but did not think him much honester than
other Spanish-American rulers he had met.
"It was partly for my daughter's sake I remained," Alvarez replied. "She
is at a Spanish convent and I would not leave her poor. Then I had my
son's death to avenge." He paused and added with a deprecatory smile:
"Moreover I have thought I can rule this country better than my rival."
"That's a sure thing," Adam agreed, in English. "Well, you had better
tell me how you think matters are going. If I'm to help you properly I
want to know."
Alvarez looked about. All was very quiet; there was nobody in the patio,
and it was some distance to the nearest window in the wall that faced the
pillars. For all that, he lowered his voice and answered in hesitating
English with an American accent.
"It is hard to tell; a gamble in which one takes steep chances! Perhaps
half the people with an object are for Galdar, and half for me. Those who
have none will wait and back the man they think will win. So far, I have
the soldiers, but their pay is behind and they are badly armed and
drilled. They will stand by me if I can give them machine-guns and pay
off arrears. But this must be done soon, without Galdar knowing. The next
president will be the man who strikes before the other is ready."
"What will the thing cost altogether?" Adam asked.
He looked thoughtful when Alvarez told him, and then nodded. "All right.
You'll get some of the guns to-morrow and another lot is on the way. Go
ahead; I'll help you put the business over."
Alvarez filled the little glasses with a liquor that had a strong spicy
smell and when his guests lifted them touched theirs with his.
"It is what I had hoped, my friend. If I live, you will not lose."
He drank and then held his glass slackly poised while he mused. Kit, who
was nearest the arch, turned and glanced out. He saw the reflected light
quiver across the trampled sand and the dusty green of the limp
palmettos. Then, below the latter, there was a pale-yellow flash and the
president's glass fell with a tinkle. A pistol-shot rang out and Kit,
swinging round, saw that a flake of plaster had dropped on the table.
There was some dust on Alvarez' brown face and on his clothes, but he
Next moment Adam leaned on the table, steadying a heavy automatic pistol,
and three quick flashes streamed from the perking barrel. Three small
puffs of dust leaped up about the roots of a palmetto and as the empty
cartridges rattled on the floor Kit thought an indistinct figure stole
through the shadow of the fan-shaped leaves. He was not certain, because
the light was dazzling and thin smoke drifted about his head.
He threw his chair back and plunging through the arch ran across the sand
and stopped at the top of a narrow street. Men and women of different
shades of color came out of the doors and began to talk excitedly, but
there was nobody who looked like a fugitive. Kit went back after he got
his breath and met two or three untidy, barefooted soldiers who ran past.
When he entered the arch Adam was coolly reloading his pistol while the
president dusted his clothes.
"It is nothing--they have tried again," the latter remarked. "Still, it
looks as if Galdar felt himself stronger than I thought. Now, with your
permission, I will go and give some orders." He smiled as he added:
"There will be some prisoners by and by, men my guards do not like, but
the fellow who fired the shot will not be caught."
"What about the sentry?" Adam asked.
Alvarez shrugged. "It is hot, and perhaps he was half asleep. I think the
man is faithful, and just now I am the soldier's friend."
He went off and Adam filled his glass and looked at Kit. "I feel I'm
getting old and want another drink. I got the bead on the fellow's dark
head and missed him by a yard. Well, I guess you can't expect to have
steady fingers when you've got malarial ague. It's a dramatic kind of
Kit lighted a maize-leaf cigarette and mused. He had been startled, but
his nerve was good and he knew something about the dark-skinned, reckless
people of the South. They were robbed by their rulers, who spent the most
part of the revenue to keep themselves in power; and sometimes, when the
vote was useless, assassination seemed the only remedy. But it was on his
uncle's promise Kit's thoughts dwelt. Although Adam was rich, the sum
Alvarez needed was large. The latter was honest, in a sense, and Kit
thought would not rob his friend, but he might be unable to make
repayment. In fact, he had warned Adam that there was a risk and the
bullet that struck the pillar was a significant hint. The venture looked
rash, but Adam had stated that it was not a business proposition. He and
the president were friends and this counted for much. The old Buccaneer
had a sentimental vein.
Then Kit's thoughts strayed and he wondered what Peter was doing in the
north country dale. Kit had prospered since he joined Adam and the latter
had hinted that he might be rich, but he was tired of intrigue and
excitement and the glare of the South. He wanted the bracing winds, and
the soft lights that chased the flying shadows across the English hills.
He smiled as he reflected that he was like the Herdwicks that never
forgot their native heaf; but while he longed for the red moors and
straight-cut valleys he felt a stronger call. He was young and had seen
the daughters of the South; Louisiana Creoles with a touch of old French
grace; dark-haired Habaneras with languid eyes, whose movements were a
delight to watch; octoroons ready to welcome a lover who was altogether
white, and half-breed Indian girls. All had charm and some had shown him
favors that meant much, but their charm had left Kit cold.
He thought about Grace Osborn, steady-eyed and marked by English calm.
She was frank and sometimes impulsive, but even then one got a hint of
proud reserve. There was no touch of southern coquetry about Grace, she
was not the girl to attract a lover and let him go, but if he came and
proved his worth, she would go forward with him steadfastly through the
storms of life. Kit sighed and pulled himself up. Grace was not for him
and he must not be a romantic fool. He looked round and saw that Adam was
quietly studying him.
"What are you thinking about, partner?" he asked and Kit knew the epithet
meant much. Adam had not called him partner at first.
"I was thinking about Ashness," he replied.
"Ah," said Adam softly, "I often think about it too; the old house among
the ash trees, and the Herdwicks feeding on the long slope behind. The
red heath on the fell-top and the beck bubbling in the ghyll.
Everything's clean and cool in the quiet dale, and the folk are calm and
Slow." He paused and resumed with a curious smile: "Once I reckoned I'd
go back when I got rich and make things hum, but when I had the money I
saw that plan wouldn't work. Those quiet folk would have beaten me with
their unchanging ways, and Ashness is too good to spoil. For all that, I
allowed I'd see it again before I died, but now I don't know."
His smile faded and he gave Kit a keen glance. "Why did you pull out? It
wasn't for my money. You haven't told me yet."
"No," said Kit, with some embarrassment. "I hardly think it's much of a
story, but if you like I'll tell you now."
After a few moments he stopped awkwardly, and Adam raised his hand.
"Go on. I want to get the girl properly fixed."
Kit was not skilled at sketching character, but he drew Grace's portrait
well and when he stopped Adam made a sign of sympathy.
"You have helped me place her. Don't know I'd have trusted another man's
judgment when he talked about his sweetheart, but you're not a fool.
Well, it seems to me the girl's worth getting."
"Miss Osborn is not my sweetheart. It is possible I shall never see
"But you can't forget her?"
"No," said Kit quietly; "I can't forget."
Adam was silent for some moments and then looked up.
"You're like Peter, slow and staunch, but that's one reason you're my
partner. Well, I know Osborn's kind; folk we have no use for in the
United States. White trash, we call them; men with no abilities, whose
foolish pride makes them think it's mean to work. Reckon they've first
claim on the soft jobs and don't belong to the world of fighting men. But
I guess they listen when money talks."
Kit said nothing, although he thought Adam's concluding remark
significant, and the old man went on:
"Don Hernando helped me on my feet when Vanhuyten and I first came along
this coast, with about a thousand dollars and a worn-out schooner. He's
been my friend ever since and now he's hard up against it I've got to see
him out. Guess it's going to cost me high, but when the job's put over
there ought to be some money left and I don't know that you need forget
the girl if she hasn't forgotten you. Well, perhaps I've said enough, and
now I'll go and see where Don Hernando is."
Adam got up and as he crossed the patio Kit noted that his shoulders were
bent and his movement slack. Adam had changed much since their first
meeting at the Florida hotel. He had some very obvious faults, but Kit
knew what he owed him and felt disturbed.
THE GOLD ONZA
Kit paused as he wound the long silk sash round his waist, and looked
out of the window of his room at the presidio. Square blocks of houses,
colored white and yellow, ran down the hill. Here and there a palm rose
from an opening, and the dusty green of the alameda broke the monotony
of the flat roofs and straight, blank walls that gave the town an
Kit noted the strength of the presidio's situation. The old building
stood high, its battlemented roof commanded the narrow streets, and there
was a broad open space all round. He thought a few machine-guns would
make it impregnable, since a revolutionary mob was not likely to be
provided with artillery.
Kit tucked the end of the sash under the neatly-arranged folds. Some time
is required to put on a Spanish _faja_ and at first Kit had thought the
trouble unnecessary, but had found it is prudent to protect the middle of
the body in a hot climate. When he was satisfied, he turned and looked
about the room. There were no curtains or carpets, and two very crude
religious pictures were fixed to the wall. Although the air was not yet
hot, it was not fresh and a smell of spices, decay, and burnt oil came in
through the window that opened on the patio.
A sunbeam touched a small earthen jar, holding a bunch of feather
flowers. The jar was harshly colored, but the outline was bold and
graceful, and Kit knew no pottery like that had been made in the country
since the Spaniards came. He had bought it with the flowers for a few
dollars, and remembered that the shopkeeper had included its contents
when he offered it to him. "_Todo loque hay,_" he said in uncouth
Kit, turning over the jar carelessly, took out the flowers and as he did
so something inside rattled and a large coin fell into his hand. The coin
was old and heavy; indeed, he thought it weighed about an ounce. Taking
it to the window, he rubbed its dull face and when the metal began to
shine sat down with a thoughtful look. Unless he was mistaken, the coin
was gold and did weigh an ounce.
When he finished dressing he went to the little dark shop. The shopkeeper
was making coffee with a handful of charcoal on the doorstep, for the
sake of the draught, and took off his hat politely as Kit came up.
"I found a piece of money in the jar I bought from you," Kit said in
"Then your worship is lucky," the other remarked.
"But the money was not mine."
The shopkeeper shrugged. "What matter? It is yours now. Was the coin
"It was worth finding."
"Well," said the shopkeeper, "I do not know where the money came from,
and it may have been there a very long time. The jar is old and I
bought it from an Indian some years since." He paused and gave Kit a
keen glance. "You will remember that I offered you the jar with all
there was inside."
"You did; it held some feather flowers. Still, as you did know about
"Then you want to give it back, if the owner can be found!"
"Certainly," said Kit.
The shopkeeper bowed. "I will make enquiries. If you should need anything
I sell, senor, perhaps you will remember that I am an honest man."
Kit went away, feeling puzzled and somewhat surprised. It looked as if
the fellow was honest, but Kit thought he had studied him and there was
something curious about his manner. Besides, a remark he made implied
that he knew the coin was old.
When he ate his eleven o'clock breakfast with Adam and the President in
the arcade, he took out the coin and told them about the shopkeeper's
refusal to take it back.
"A Spanish onza," Adam remarked. "Worth nearly five pounds in English
money, but a collector might give you more if it's as old as it looks.
One used to see onzas in Cuba, and native merchants in Central America,
who hadn't much use for banks, liked to get them. Now, however, they're
"In this country, all gold coins are scarce," Alvarez said dryly. "I
agree with the shopkeeper that Don Cristoval is fortunate, and expect he
feels that my people are honester than he thought."
"I was puzzled--" said Kit and stopped, for he saw the president's smile
and began to understand.
"You are shrewd, senor; but that was to be expected from my old friend's
nephew. To begin with, the man who keeps the shop is not a supporter of
"Ah," said Kit, "I think I see!"
Alvarez bowed. "One can trust your intelligence, and you can keep the
coin. It looks as if my antagonists were curious about your
character--the honor of a man who would take money that does not belong
to him is open to doubt. The experiment was cheap."
Kit said nothing and the president filled a little glass with scented
liquor. "I know my friends, Don Cristoval, and your uncle has stood much
He touched Kit's glass with his. "Well, I am lucky, because I may need
He got up and when he went down the long arcade Adam looked at Kit
with a smile.
"When I was your age I wouldn't have taken the onza back. I'd have kept
the money and my faith with the president; in fact, in those days, I kept
anything I could get. Now the other fellow knows what you're like, I
reckon he'll find the owner of the coin."
Adam went off after the president, and Kit pondered. A few days later, he
sat one evening at a small table outside the cafe Bolivar. The cafe was
badly lighted, hot, and full of flies. There was no door or window, and a
few wooden pillars divided the low room from the pavement, which was
strewn with cigarette ends and cardboard matches. In front, small palms,
and eucalyptus lined the dusty alameda, where groups of citizens walked
up and down. Inside the cafe somebody sang a Spanish song and played a
guitar. It was not cool on the pavement, although a faint breeze made the
palms rustle. The air was heavy and a smell of aniseed and new rum hung
about the spot.
Presently a man who had been playing dominos got up and came to Kit's
table. He was a white man, with pale blue eyes and yellow hair, and
although rather fat he carried himself well. Kit had met Olsen before,
and he nodded when he sat down.
"Nothing doing at the casino and the place was very hot," he said.
"Besides, I don't quite trust the man who runs the bank. Taking them all
round, these folks are clever crooks."
Kit agreed languidly and noted the order Olsen gave the half-breed
landlord. The fellow did not look as if he indulged much, but Kit thought
a large glass of the strong liquor was not often asked for. As a rule,
the Americans he had met on the Caribbean coast were abstemious, while
the half-breeds and Spaniards were satisfied with small _copitas_ of
fiery spirits distilled from the sugar cane. The English, German, and
Scandinavian adventurers consumed them freely, and perhaps the Germans
drank the most.
"How do you like it here?" Olsen resumed when he put down his glass.
"It's a country that soon palls. Are you staying long?"
"I can't tell," said Kit, who decided not to state that he knew the
country. "You see, I'm not in command."
"No," said Olsen. "I suppose you're a relation of the Buccaneer?"
"A poor relation. He gave me a lift when I needed it."
Olsen laughed. "Well, I guess he makes you hustle. A pretty lively old
pirate, if all one hears is true! I reckon they don't call him the
Buccaneer for nothing, but it's hinted that he's beginning to lose his
grip. I see your copita's empty. Will you take another drink?"
"No, thanks; I've had enough," said Kit, who distrusted Olsen. He thought
the fellow's careless remarks covered some curiosity and had tried to
leave him in doubt. Olsen probably imagined he was Adam's clerk.
"You're cautious, but one soon gets reckless here," Olsen resumed. "We
are all adventurers, out for what we can get, and the chances against our
making good are pretty steep. My notion is to have the best time I can,
pick up as much money as possible, and quit before fever, intrigue, or a
revolution knocks me out."
"It's an exciting life," Kit agreed. "Money doesn't seem plentiful."
"You have got to hustle and back the right man. Since you're stopping at
the presidio, it's obvious that Askew's on the president's side. Well, I
suppose everybody knows my employers have put their money on Galdar."
"Then, I imagine you run some risk."
"Sure," said Olsen, smiling. "Alvarez doesn't like me, and if I wasn't an
American citizen, I'd feel scared. Showed his secretary my naturalization
papers when I put up my shingle. Took them out as soon as I reached the
United States from Norway."
Kit pondered. Olsen spoke English and Castilian Well, but his accent was
not American, nor, Kit thought, Scandinavian. There were a number of
Germans in the country, engaged in extensive but rather dark commercial
schemes, whom the United States consuls watched with jealous eyes. Kit
knew that no one could transact much business without to some extent
meddling with native politics, but while the other adventurers were
satisfied with the money they could get, it looked as if the Germans
wanted something else. It was perhaps significant that Olsen had, so to
speak, insisted that he was a naturalized American and came from Norway.
"Askew's judgment is generally pretty good, but he's getting old," Olsen
remarked. "I don't see why he's backing the president; my notion is,
Galdar's surely going to win." He paused and looked at Kit thoughtfully.
"In fact, if I was holding a clerk's job on the other side, I'd consider
if it wouldn't pay me to change."
Kit imagined this was a cautious feeler, made to find out if he could be
bought, but he smiled.
"If Galdar does win, he won't have much to give his friends."
"He certainly won't have much money," Olsen agreed. "It's going to cost
him all he can raise to turn Alvarez out, but he'll have something to
give at the country's expense; sugar and coffee concessions, and perhaps
monopolies. If I can get my share, it will pay my employers well and I
allow they're generous."
He stopped, as if he thought he had said enough, and after ordering
another drink looked up with a grin. Two girls in light dresses had
passed the cafe once or twice with a male companion and a fat old woman
who wore black clothes. Kit had not noticed them particularly, because
other groups were moving about, but he now remarked that the man had
gone and the _duena_ was a yard or two in front. One of the girls looked
round and he thought her glance searched the cafe and then stopped at
"The senorita's a looker," said Olsen. "I wonder which of us she fancies.
She's been round this way before."
"I'm not remarkably handsome and there are other people in the cafe,"
Kit replied. "Anyhow, I don't want to get a jealous senorita's knife
in my back."
"You're a blamed cautious fellow," Olsen rejoined in a meaning tone.
"However, you'll find me at the casino evenings if you feel you'd like a
talk, and now I'll get along."
He went off and Kit smoked another cigarette. He thought Olsen had, so to
speak, been sounding him; the fellow had certainly given him some hints.
Kit imagined he had taken a prudent line by keeping the other in the dark
about his partnership with Adam and their plans.
When he had smoked his cigarette he crossed the street to the alameda and
went up a broad walk beneath the trees. The sky had cleared, the moon was
high, and in front of the openings pools of silver light lay upon the
ground. By and by Kit saw the group he had noticed a few yards ahead.
They were moving slowly and although he walked no faster he soon came up
with them. The girl who had looked into the cafe was nearest and the
moonlight touched her face as she turned her head.
Kit gave her a half curious glance and felt some surprise, for he could
see her better now and thought her a pure-blooded Spaniard. The
_Peninsulares_ were aristocrats, the girl had a touch of dignity, and her
dress was rich. It was strange if a girl like that was willing to defy
conventions and risk an intrigue with a stranger. Yet he imagined he had
seen her smile, and she carried a little bunch of purple flowers in the
hand nearest him. He looked again and saw that she was beautiful and
moved with the grace that generally marks the _Peninsulares_ when they
are young. The path was broad and he could keep level with the group
without exciting curiosity, but he thought it curious that the fat old
woman, who ought to have guarded the others, was in front.
He resolved to go past, and just before he did so the girl gave him a
glance that he thought was half amused and half provocative. Then she
turned her head and next moment he saw a flower near his feet. He noted a
faint smell of heliotrope and knew she had dropped the flower for him.
This meant something, although it would not have much significance unless
he picked up the heliotrope. He did not, and walking past with a quicker
step, heard a soft laugh.
When he reached the presidio he sat down on the balcony that overlooked
the patio outside his room. There was nobody about and he began to muse.
It was rash to take things for granted, but he thought he had been made
the subject of three experiments. Somebody had put a gold onza in the
Indian jar; Olsen had tried to find out if he was ambitious; and the girl
in the alameda meant to learn if he could be moved by beauty. Well, they
ought to know something about him now, but they were not very clever or
they would have extended their experiments over a longer time. It looked
as if they thought him something of a fool, and this was, perhaps, an
Kit smiled as he remembered that when Janet Bell tried to flirt with him
he had been rather humiliated and felt himself a prig. He was older now
and had not been much embarrassed in the alameda, although he nearly
picked up the flower. His curiosity was excited and he wanted to find out
the girl's object. Indeed, it was hard to see why he had left the flower
alone, but he had a vague feeling that it was unfair to use a charming
girl in a dark intrigue. Since he had known Grace Osborn, he had given
women a higher place. For her sake, he would not try to gain an advantage
against his and the president's antagonist by embarking on an adventure
with the Spanish girl.
Then he began to wonder whether he would see Grace again, but presently
got up with an impatient shrug. Grace, in all probability, had forgotten
their friendship and married Thorn. Anyhow, she was not for him and it
was futile to indulge a barren sentiment.
THE PRESIDENT'S BALL
Breakfast was over and Alvarez, sitting at a table in the arcade, smiled
as he indicated the transformed patio. The broken pavement had been
swept, the fountain scrubbed until the marble showed white veins, and the
old brass rails of the balconies gleamed with yellow reflections where
the sunshine fell. Small palms and flowering plants in tubs stood among
the pillars, flags hung from crumbling cornices, and barefooted peons
were fastening up colored lamps.
"When the people are discontented they must be amused," the president
remarked. "In Rome, they gave them circuses and I had thought of a
bull-fight. There is a Spanish quadrilla in Cuba but I found it would
cost too much to bring the company across. Besides, I do not know if
strong excitement would be good for the citizens."
"A ball is safer," Adam agreed. "While they have the function to talk
about they'll forget to plot."
"For a week, perhaps! Well, it ought to be some help, if your agents
"They're hustlers and know they've got to get busy. I expect the _Rio
Negro_ back in fourteen days, and then it will be your business to rush
her cargo up. Mule transport's slow on your swamp tracks, and it's
perhaps unfortunate you didn't give my friends the concession for the
light railroad. You might have found it useful now."
Alvarez shrugged. "A railroad can be cut, and locomotives break down at
awkward times when their drivers are bribed. Then, I have granted so many
concessions that there is not much that foreigners think worth getting
left in the country. One must keep something to bargain with."
"Governing a people like yours is an expensive job. However, since they
make it expensive, they oughtn't to grumble if you tax them high."
"They do not always pay the taxes," Alvarez rejoined with a twinkle. "If
they run me out, they will probably disown their debts, and then there
will be trouble with the foreigners. Still, that is not very important,
because I shall be gone and the Americans will not let the others'
consuls use much pressure. The speculators understand the risks."
"That's so," said Adam and added meaningly: "Some of the speculators are
Alvarez put his finely-shaped hand on Adam's arm. "My friend, if it is
possible, you will be paid. If not, it will be because I am dead."
"I know," said Adam. "I'm not scared to take chances and when they go
against me I don't grumble. Anyhow, time is important and if you work
this ball properly it ought to give us another week. You'll get the money
for your soldiers shortly afterwards and Mayne will land your guns."
The president's dark face softened and he smiled.
"I know whom I can trust," he said and went away.
"If it's possible for a half-breed to be an honest man, Don Hernando
meets the bill," Adam remarked. "Anyhow, he's a better president than
these folks deserve, and they'll be blamed fools if they turn him down."
He was silent for a few moments and then resumed: "I gave you a share in
my business, Kit, and now, if you are willing, I'll buy you out."
"But I'm quite satisfied; I'd much sooner stick to our agreement," Kit
said with surprise.
"Well, I guess you're rash. Your share isn't large but it would go some
way to buy an English farm. Raising Herdwick sheep is a pretty tame
occupation, but I reckon it's safer than backing Alvarez."
Kit thought hard and imagined he saw Adam's object. "Of course," he said,
"if you want to get rid of me--"
"I don't know that I'm keen. You're some help, but you came out to
forget the girl in England, and not to stay. Well, if you mean to go,
now's your time."
"The trouble is I haven't forgotten her," Kit answered quietly.
Adam's eyes twinkled. "If you go home, you may get her, and I allow she's
probably worth the effort, but you're not going to side-track me like
that. If you quit now, I can buy you out and you'll have something to
help you make another start; afterwards I mayn't be able. You needn't
hesitate about taking the money; I guess you've earned it."
"I suspected where you were leading. Still you see, I'd sooner stay. For
one thing, I hate leaving an awkward job half finished. You're beginning
to feel the job is bigger than you thought it was when you undertook it?"
"It certainly is," Adam agreed. "However, since you insist, I'll talk
plain. Alvarez has no claim on you, although he has a claim on me, and I
pay my debts. The last to fall due is going to strain my finances, but it
must be paid, a hundred cents for every dollar. All the same, the
liability is not yours. There's no reason why you shouldn't pull out
while you're safe."
Kit shook his head. "I see a reason. I don't know if it's sound, but
after all one's self-respect is worth something."
"Oh, well!" said Adam, "we won't quarrel. You're very like Peter and he's
the staunchest man I know."
He got up and when he went off, Kit, feeling somewhat moved, lighted a
cigarette and smoked thoughtfully. It looked as if Adam did not think the
president would win, but for all that meant to stand by him. Although not
fastidious about his business methods, Adam had his code and was not
afraid, when friendship demanded it, to fight for a lost cause. Moreover,
Kit meant to fight with him. Then he got up and smiled. Adam meant well,
but he was clumsy; if he had wanted to save Kit from sharing his risk, he
might have made a better plan.
When evening came Kit entered the arcade and sat down in a quiet spot to
look about. The moon was nearly full and flooded half the patio with
silver light; the rest was in shadow and rows of colored lamps twinkled
in the gloom. A band played behind the pillars, the rattle of castanets
breaking in on the tinkle of the guitars when the beat was sharply
marked. The music was seductive, unlike any Kit had heard in England, and
he thought it tinged by the melancholy the Moors had brought, long since,
from the East to Spain.
At one end of the patio, groups of young men and women moved through the
changing figures of an old Spanish dance. Their poses were strangely
graceful, and some had a touch of stateliness. This vanished when the
music changed and the well-balanced figures, raising bent arms, danced
with riotous abandon. In a minute or two the melancholy note was struck
again and the movements were marked by dignified reserve. Kit got a hint
of Southern passion and, by contrast, of the austerity that often goes
with Indian blood.
In the meantime, he noted the play of moving color, for the women wore
white and pink and yellow. Some had flowers in their dark hair and some
covered their heads with a lace mantilla. The men's clothes were varied,
for a number wore shabby uniforms, and others white linen with red silk
sashes, while a few had chosen the plain black, and wide sombrero, of the
At the other end of the patio, portly senoras with powdered faces sat
among the pillars, and grave, dark-skinned citizens moved about the
pavement in talking groups. A heavily-built man with a very swarthy color
and thick lips went to and fro among them, bowing and smiling, and Kit
knew this was Galdar, the president's rival. Kit did not like the fellow
and thought his negro strain was marked. He looked sensual, cruel, and
cunning. For the most part, the president stood outside the crowd,
although now and then a group formed about him. He was tall and thin, his
face was inscrutable, and Kit thought he looked lonely and austere.
By and by an officer Kit had met told him he must dance and took him
along the arcade. The officer stopped where two girls sat under a string
of lamps, with a man in black clothes and a fat old woman behind. At
first, Kit could not see them well, but when they got up he started as he
recognized the girl who had dropped the flower. Then he tried to hide his
embarrassment as he was presented to Senorita Francisca Sarmiento. She
was handsomer than he had thought and as she made him a stately curtsey
her eyes twinkled.
Kit imagined the other girl studied him carefully and wondered whether
she knew about the flower. It was, however, his duty to ask the senorita
to dance, and after a few moments they crossed the pavement. Kit had some
misgivings, because the dance was involved and one used a number of
different steps, but the girl guided him through its intricacies and when
he took her back signed him to sit down. He obeyed, for Francisca
Sarmiento had an imperious air. Other young men came up when the music
began again, but passed on, and Kit imagined the girl had made them
understand they were to do so since one or two frowned at him.
"Well," she said, looking at him across her fan, "how do you like
"It has many attractions," Kit replied.
"But some drawbacks?"
"The drawbacks are not very obvious now."
"Ah," she said, giving him a mocking glance, "for an Englishman, you are
polite, but it looks as if you were as cautious as I thought."
"I'm flattered that you thought about me at all." Kit rejoined.
She laughed and played with her fan. "Oh, well; we are curious about
strangers, particularly when they are friends of the president's. One
wonders why they come."
"I imagine most of us come to get money."
"In this country, one gets nothing unless one runs some risk, and you are
cautious," Francisca remarked.
Kit noted her insistence on this trait of his. He thought her remarks had
a meaning that did not appear on the surface.
"I wonder what grounds you have for thinking so," he said.
"Are they not obvious?" she answered. "Not long since you hesitated to
pick up a sprig of heliotrope."
"I durst not think the compliment was meant for me."
Francisca glanced at him with quiet amusement. "You are modest, senor; it
looks as if you had a number of virtues. For one thing, I imagine you are
honest, and honesty is not very common here." She paused and resumed in a
meaning tone: "It is a drawback, if one wants to get rich."
"I don't know that my character is worth your study," Kit replied
"You are of some importance, senor. Although I have admitted that you are
modest, it is strange you do not know."
"Why should I know?" Kit asked.
Francisca studied him over her ebony fan, which hid half her face and
emphasized the curious glow of her black eyes. "I do not think you are as
dull as you pretend. Have you not been experimented on recently?"
"I think I have," said Kit. "After all, a gold onza is not a great
temptation. I found another--a spray of heliotrope--harder to resist."
"But you did resist!" she replied in a quiet voice.
"Yes," said Kit, fixing his eyes on her face. "I am an adventurer like
the rest, but it is rather a shabby thing to try to gain an advantage in
a battle with a woman. Besides, as I'm not clever, I might have failed."
With a languid movement of her head Francisca looked round and Kit
imagined she saw the others were too far off to hear. Then she made him a
half mocking bow.
"We need not quarrel, senor, and I will give you a hint. Since you are
incorruptible, this town is not the place for you. Strangers from the
North sometimes get fever. And I would not like you to suffer because you
are honest, and have chosen the losing side."
"Ah," said Kit, "you think our side will lose?"
Francisca moved her fan, as if to indicate Galdar, who stood in the
moonlight near the fountain. He was smiling urbanely and a number of men
and women had gathered about him. Kit knew they were people of
importance. At the end of the patio, the president stood alone in the
"You see!" she said. "Well, I am engaged for the next dance. You have my
leave to go."
Kit left her and sat down in a quiet spot. On the whole, he thought the
president's antagonists had been foolish when they tried to use the girl;
she was, so to speak, too good, and perhaps too proud, for the part they
expected her to play. This, however, was not important; he imagined she
had meant well when she gave him a hint, although the hint was not worth
much, because Kit thought Adam saw how things were going. Then he
reflected with some amusement that he need not bother much about
deceiving the enemy, since Galdar's friends would not suspect that
Buccaneer Askew had knowingly chosen the losing side.
Presently Kit joined Adam, who sat near a lamp. His face was damp and
"Let's go and get a drink," he said. "I'm thirsty; got a dose of
intermittent fever again."
Some tables behind the pillars were laid out with wine and fruit, and
Adam beckoned a mulatto waiter.
"_Tinto and siphon_. Bring some ice."
"There is no _siphon_, senor. We have sherry, vermouth, and some very
"You have plenty _siphon_" Adam declared. "Go and look."
The waiter went away and Adam frowned. "I can't stand for their scented
liquors; I want a long, cool drink."
After a few minutes, the waiter came back with a large glass, in
which a lump of ice floated in red wine and mineral water. Adam,
sending him away, remarked: "That's a stupid fellow. I wanted to mix
the stuff myself."
He drank thirstily and put down the glass.
"Tastes bitter; too much resin in the wine, or perhaps it's imagination."
He lifted the glass but stopped and threw the rest of the liquor on the
pavement. "Reckon I've had enough. About the meanest drink I've struck.
Give me a cigar. The taste stops in my mouth."
Kit gave him a cigar, but after a few minutes he threw it away.
"I don't feel much better and think I'll go to my room. You might come
along; the stairs are steep."
He got up awkwardly and leaned upon the table, breathing rather hard
while big drops of sweat started from his forehead. "This confounded
ague grips me tight. Don't know when I've felt so shaky. Better give me
They started, and keeping in the shadow, reached the outside stairs
without exciting much curiosity, but Kit felt disturbed. Adam went up
slowly, stopping now and then, and stumbled across the balcony at the
top. Bright moonlight shone into the bare room, where a small lamp
burned, and Kit saw that Adam's face was wet.
"Leave me alone," he said. "You can come back by and by and see how I'm
Kit did not want to go, but gave way when Adam insisted. He met the
president soon afterwards.
"Where is Don Adam?" the latter asked.
Kit told him and added that his uncle had seemed to get worse after
drinking some wine.
"Ah," said Alvarez thoughtfully. "Fresh lime-juice is better when one is
feverish. Did he drink anything else?"
"No," said Kit. "The waiter wanted to bring some anisado, but he insisted
on the wine."
Alvarez took him to the table where the refreshments were served and
clapped his hands. A waiter came up, but Kit said, "That is not the boy."
"Where are your companions?" the president asked.
"One is washing the glasses, senor. I do not know where the other
Alvarez opened a door and Kit saw a man putting small _copitas_
into a pail.
"It was another fellow who brought the wine," he said, and Alvarez
beckoned the waiter.
"Call the mayor-domo."
A man dressed in plain black clothes came in, and Alvarez asked: "How
many of these fellows did you send to serve the wine?"
"Two, senor. It was enough."
"Three came. It will be your business to find the third," said the
president sternly and turned to Kit. "What was the fellow like?"
Kit described the waiter and Alvarez said to the mayor-domo, "You will be
held accountable if the man has got away. Send Doctor Martin to the
bottom of the stairs."
The mayor-domo went away and Alvarez knitted his brows.
"Galdar's friends are bold, but I had not expected this. However, Don
Adam's drinking wine may have balked them and Martin is a good doctor."
Kit asked no questions, for he could trust the president and thought
there was no time to lose. They crossed the patio and found a man waiting
in the shadow at the bottom of the steps. Alvarez said a word or two and
they went up. When they entered the room Adam glanced up from the bed.
"I see you have brought the doctor," he said with an effort.
"In this country, one takes precautions," Alvarez replied. "You look ill,
"I'd have looked worse if I'd drunk anisado," Adam remarked. "Anyhow, you
had better light out and let Senor Martin get to work."
The doctor, who felt Adam's pulse, made a sign of agreement, and then
writing on a leaf of his pocketbook gave it to the president.
"Will you send that to my house? I need the things at once."
Alvarez moved away and Adam looked at Kit with a forced smile. "You
needn't be anxious, partner. I didn't drink all the wine; reckon they
haven't got me yet."
Then they went out and left Adam with the doctor.
For a time, Kit wandered about the arcade, talking now and then to people
he knew. The doctor had forbidden him to return to Adam's room and the
president said it was important the guests should not know that anything
unusual had happened. Although Kit watched the stairs anxiously, nobody
came down, but he saw the mayor-domo going quietly about and servants
came and went on mysterious errands. When he looked out he found the
sentries had been doubled on the terrace and one stopped when, for a few
moments, Kit left the arch, but the soldier knew him and marched on.
While it was obvious that the waiter was being looked for, Kit thought
the search had begun too late.
At length, Alvarez sent for him, and although his heart beat as he
followed the messenger he felt some relief when he saw the president.
"I have good news," the latter said. "The doctor is no longer anxious and
you may see your uncle in the morning. It looks as if Don Adam's caution
"You mean when he refused the anisado?"
Alvarez nodded. "It is a strong-smelling liquor and one drinks a small
quantity, taking water afterwards, if one wants. Don Adam knows the
country, and after all my enemies have not much imagination. To offer him
anisado was a rather obvious trick."
"I'm thankful they failed," Kit said sternly, and clenched his fist with
sudden passion. "If they had not--"
"One understands, Don Cristoval; I have felt like that when the plotters
did not fail," Alvarez answered with grim sympathy. He was silent for a
moment or two and Kit imagined he was thinking about his murdered son.
Then he resumed: "Well, we shall have a reckoning and it will be bad for
the dogs when I send in my bill. But that must wait, and I would like you
to dance. I see Senorita Sarmiento is not engaged and she dances well."
"I doubt if Dona Francisca would care to dance with me again."
"Ah," said Alvarez, "one should not be too modest! Francisca is a
politician, but she is a woman. Perhaps you found she is not on my side?"
"I imagined she was not."
Alvarez shrugged. "Well, I do not fight with women, although they are
sometimes dangerous. Try again, my friend. Just now we are all playing at
Kit obeyed and found Francisca gracious. She danced with him and
afterwards allowed him to sit by her. By and by she remarked: "I have not
seen Senor Askew for some time."
"He was not very well," said Kit.
Francisca studied his face. "I hope his illness is not serious. I thought
I saw Doctor Martin."
"Fever. My uncle gets it now and then."
"I think I warned you against our fevers," Francisca replied meaningly.
"There are two or three kinds, but all are not dangerous."
"Some are?" Kit suggested.
"Yes; to foreigners. We others take precautions and are acclimatized."
"Well," said Kit in a thoughtful voice, "I have not had fever yet, but I
suppose an unacclimatized adventurer runs some risk."
Francisca played with her fan and Kit imagined she was pondering.
"A risk that leads to nothing is not worth while," she remarked. "I think
it would be prudent if you left the country while you are well."
"I should be sorry if I thought you wanted me to go," said Kit.
"That is cheap, senor. I gave you good advice."
"Oh, well," said Kit, "I really think you did. There are matters about
which we do not agree; but I believe you are too kind to let a rather
ignorant antagonist get hurt."
Franciscans eyes twinkled as she rejoined: "I like the compliment better
than the other. But I am engaged for the next dance and as you are
intelligent there is not much more to be said."
Kit went away, thinking rather hard. The girl had some part in the
intrigue against the president, and it would obviously be an advantage to
her friends if he could be persuaded to leave the country now Adam was
ill. Admitting this, he thought her warning sincere. On the whole, he
liked Francisca Sarmiento and believed she did not want him to be hurt.
If Adam did not get much better and he had to look after things, he would
certainly run some risk of a cunning attack by the president's enemies.
When the guests began to leave, Kit went to his room and after some
hours of broken sleep was told that Adam wanted him. He found Alvarez in
the room and Adam lying, with a flushed face and wet forehead, in a big
cane chair. When Kit came in Adam gave him a friendly smile and turned
"If I'd taken that drink at a wineshop, I'd have deserved all I got," he
said. "I allowed I was safe at the presidio."
"It is a stain on my hospitality for which somebody shall pay."
"That's all right," said Adam; "you're not accountable. Looks as if the
other fellow was too smart for both of us; but I had a feeling I'd better
stick to _tinto_ and _siphon_. You can generally taste anything
suspicious in that mixture and I've been doped before. But, as I'm an
American citizen and American influence is powerful, I didn't expect
they'd be bold enough to get after me."
Alvarez smiled. "Our climate is unhealthy, but if you had died and
suspicion was excited, your countrymen would have made the
president responsible. That would have been another embarrassment
and I have enough."
"Galdar's friends are a cunning lot," Adam replied. "Well, I think your
doctor has fixed me up for a time. What about your plans?"
"I had some talk with my supporters last night and we agreed to strike
when the _Rio Negro's_ cargo arrives. We need the guns and money to pay
my troops, and when we get them we will arrest the leading conspirators.
This will start the revolution, but it will fail if my blow is struck
before Galdar is ready."
"Yes," said Adam. "We can trust Mayne; he knows he's got to hustle. I've
fixed it for him to get the Spanish money at Havana and that will mean
losing a day or two, but the old _Rio Negro_ can hit up a pretty good
pace and Mayne won't spare his coal. I reckon we'll hear from him soon."
Adam stopped and Kit, seeing that it cost him an effort to talk, took
the president away. They met the doctor on the stairs and Kit waited at
the bottom until he came down. Senor Martin was a fat, dark-skinned,
"Your uncle is an obstinate man and will not take a hint," he remarked.
"I had some trouble to save him and he may not escape next time."
"Then you imagine there will be another time?"
Senor Martin shrugged expressively, "I am a doctor not a politician, but
in this country much depends upon the risk of being found out. Senor
Askew is old and not strong. One must pay for leading a strenuous life
and he has had malaria for some years. He ought to remain in the North.
It is your business to persuade him, but do not disturb him yet."
"I will try," Kit said doubtfully. "You think it needful?"
"If he does not go soon, he will not go at all," the doctor replied in a
He went away and some time afterwards Kit returned to his uncle's room.
The shutters were pushed back from the balcony window and the strong
light, reflected by the white wall, showed the thinness of Adam's figure
and the deep lines on his face. His skin was a curious yellow color and
his eyes were dull.
"You haven't been well for some time and the stuff you got last night has
shaken you rather badly," Kit remarked with a touch of embarrassment. "I
think you ought to go back with Mayne."
"You imagine you can manage things better without me?" Adam rejoined.
"No," said Kit, coloring. "It's a big and awkward job, but perhaps I can
manage. I feel you ought to go."
"It looks as if the doctor had put you on my track. He's been arguing
with me. What did he say?"
Kit hesitated and Adam smiled. "I can guess, partner, and perhaps he was
right. Well, I'm getting old and have a notion I won't live long, anyway.
Don't see that it matters much if I go or stay, and I've a reason for
staying you don't know yet. Besides, I hate to be beaten and mean to put
over my last job." He paused and gave Kit a steady look. "There's one
drawback; putting it over may cost you something."
"That doesn't count," Kit said quietly. "What you have is yours; I expect
you earned it hard."
"I certainly did," Adam agreed. "I earned part of what I've got by jobs
that cost me more than my health. I'd wipe out some of my early deals, if
I could. Well, I don't know if playing a straight game on a losing hand
will cancel past mistakes, but I feel I've got to play it out. My wad and
yours are in the pool."
"It's not my wad," Kit objected. "You have treated me generously."
"Oh, well!" said Adam. "Perhaps I'll ask you to remember that by and by.
In the meantime, I've no use for arguing and am going to stop. We'll say
no more about it, but if I'm too sick to handle things, you'll take
control. You know my plans, and that's enough; I don't need your promises
that you won't let me down. Now you can get out. I'm going to sleep."
Kit went away, feeling moved, but anxious. His uncle trusted him and he
had got strangely fond of the Buccaneer. Adam had his faults and his
career had been marked by incidents that were hard to justify, but he was
staunch to his friends. Kit did not know how far Alvarez deserved his
staunch support, and suspected that Adam was, to some extent, moved by
pride. He meant to make good before he let things go. Kit resolved that
when the old man's hands lost the grip he would take firm hold.
Next day Adam was obviously worse and when two or three more had passed
the doctor looked anxious. Then, one hot evening, the president brought
Kit a letter addressed to his uncle.
"Don Adam is asleep and must not be disturbed," he said. "Perhaps you had
better read this. It may be about the _Rio Negro_."
Kit opened the envelope and frowned. The letter was from Mayne, who
stated that he had met bad weather soon after leaving port and the racing
of the engines in a heavy sea had caused some damage. He had, however,
reached Havana, where he had received the Spanish money, and did not know
what to do. Some time would be required to repair the damage, but it
would be risky to resume the voyage with disabled engines. Kit gave the
letter to the president, whose dark face flushed, and for a few moments
he stormed with Spanish fury.
"This dog of a sailor has been bought!" he cried, clenching his hands
as he walked about the floor. "If the money does not arrive soon, it
will be too late; my soldiers will not take our notes. Galdar has paid
him to ruin me."
Kit, knowing the emotional character of the half-breeds, let him rage.
Alvarez did not often lose his self-control and he had some grounds for
feeling disturbed. When he stopped, Kit said quietly, "The captain is
honest, but if he loses his ship with the guns and money on board, it
will not help us much. If my uncle is better in the morning, I will see
what he thinks; if not, I will decide about the orders to send."
When Alvarez left him he went into the town and after walking about the
alameda sat down at a table in front of the cafe and ordered some wine.
This was safer than the black coffee and scented cordials the citizens
drank, but he tasted it carefully and gave himself up to anxious thought
without draining his glass. The insurance on the _Rio Negro_ did not
cover all the risks Mayne would run if he left port with disabled
engines, and the coast was dangerous. The loss of the ship would be a
blow, but if Mayne did not leave Havana soon the freight might arrive
after the president's fall. Kit, feeling his responsibility, shrank from
the momentous choice, and while he pondered Olsen came up and occupied a
"Drinking _tinto_!" he remarked. "Well, I guess that's prudent. But how's
the Buccaneer? He's been looking shaky and I heard he was ill."
Kit wondered how much Olsen knew. He said Adam's fever came and went and
he would, no doubt, be better soon. Olsen smiled and shook his head.
"There's no use in giving me that stuff; I know the climate! Askew's
going under fast and will never be fit again. I reckon the old man
knows he's got to let up, if you don't. What are you going to do when
he pulls out?"
"It will need some thought," Kit answered cautiously, since he had
grounds for believing the other imagined he was Adam's clerk.
Olsen ordered some vermouth, and then remarked in a meaning tone: "I
don't have to be careful about my drinks. There's an advantage in taking
the popular side."
"Are you sure yours is the popular side?"
"Wait and see," Olsen rejoined, "though that plan's expensive, because
it may be too late when you find out. My employers don't often back
the wrong man and I trust their judgment now. If you'll listen, I'll
Kit signed him to go on and Olsen resumed: "The Buccaneer will drop out
soon and you'll be left to do the best you can for yourself. Well, I
don't suppose you'll get another chance like this; we'll pay you ten
thousand dollars if you can keep the _Rio Negro_ back for a week."
"That doesn't indicate that you're sure of winning," Kit remarked dryly.
"Besides, I wouldn't trust Galdar to put up the money."
"I don't ask you to trust Galdar; my people will find the money. In a
sense, it doesn't matter to us who is president, except that we want the
concessions Galdar promised, and they're worth an extra two thousand
pounds. We'll give you American bills for the sum if your steamer lands
her cargo too late to be of use."
Kit thought hard. It looked as if Olsen knew the _Rio Negro_ had broken
down. If so, he was obviously well informed and his employers were
persuaded that the probability of the president's downfall was strong
enough to justify the bribe. Two thousand pounds would go some way to
making Ashness a model farm, while it was plain that Adam might lose the
money he had hinted he meant to leave Kit. Kit, however, did not feel
tempted, although he wanted to find out something about Olsen's plans.
"You seem to take my agreement for granted," he remarked. "You must see
that I could embarrass you by telling Alvarez."
Olsen laughed. "You could put him wise; but you couldn't embarrass us.
The president knows whom he's up against. The trouble is he isn't strong
enough to get after us."
"Well, suppose I refuse?"
"You'll be a blame fool. That's all there is to it."
Kit doubted. He knew what had happened to Adam, and, in spite of Olsen's
statement, imagined Galdar's friends would not let him warn the
"Anyhow, you must give me until the morning. I want to think about it,"
he said, in order to test his suspicions.
"We can't wait; the thing must be put over now. There's no use in trying
to raise my offer. You know our limit."
"Oh, well!" said Kit, "I'm afraid I'll have to let it go. There are
difficulties, and if you can't wait--"
Olsen looked at him with surprise, and Kit saw he had not expected his
offer to be refused. The fellow had a cynical distrust of human nature
that had persuaded him Kit could not resist the temptation; his shallow
cleverness sometimes misled him and had done so when he took it for
granted that Kit was Adam's clerk.
"You don't mean you're going to turn my offer down?" Olsen said sharply.
"You force me. I can't decide just yet."
Olsen hesitated, knitting his brows. "Oh!" he exclaimed, "that's
ridiculous! The thing will cost you nothing, and I'll come up a thousand
dollars. You ought to see you must accept."
"I don't see," Kit replied as carelessly as he could, and got up. "Since
you can't wait, I understand the matter's off."
He went away, and glancing back as he crossed the street, saw that
Olsen's pose was curiously fixed and he seemed to be gazing straight in
front. Some of the customers now left the cafe and Kit lost sight of him.
The moon was high and clear, but the black shadows of the trees fell upon
the walk through the alameda and there were not many people about. Kit
would sooner not have crossed the alameda, although this was his nearest
way, but thought he had better do so. Olsen might be watching, and Kit
did not want the fellow to imagine he was afraid, since it would indicate
that he knew the importance of his refusal. Yet he was afraid, and it
cost him something of an effort to plunge into the gloom.
THE PRESIDENT'S WATCHERS
When Kit was half way across the alameda he stopped and looked about.
Dark trees rose against the sky; he could smell the eucalyptus and their
thin shadows covered the ground with a quivering, open pattern. There was
a pool of moonlight, and farther on the solid, fan-shaped reflections of
palms. Nobody was near him, although he heard voices across the alameda,
and he stood for a few moments, thinking, while his heart beat.
Since he had refused Olsen's offer, caution was advisable, because Kit
felt sure the fellow had expected him to agree, and it was obvious that
he knew enough to make him dangerous. He distrusted Olsen, who was not a
native American, and probably not a Norwegian, as he pretended. There was
a mystery about his employers, but Kit suspected that they were Germans,
and as a rule the latters' commercial intrigues were marked by an
unscrupulous cunning of which few of their rivals seemed capable. This
was admitting much, since the foreign adventurers did not claim high
On the surface, it was obviously prudent to take the shortest line to the
presidio, but Kit reflected that Olsen would expect him to do so. It
might be better to put him off the track by going another way and Kit was
anxious to know if he had left the cafe. Stepping back into the shadow,
he made for another path and a few minutes afterwards returned to the
street. He glanced at the cafe as he walked past and saw that Olsen was
not there. He thought this ominous, since it indicated that the fellow
had gone to consult his revolutionary friends and Kit imagined they would
try to prevent his reaching the presidio. He seldom carried a pistol,
which was difficult to hide when one wore thin white clothes. On the
whole, he had found a suspicious bulge in one's pocket rather apt to
provoke than to save one from attack; but he was sorry he had not a
Kit went back across the alameda, hoping he had put Olsen's friends off
the track. If so, he would be safe until he got near the presidio, when
he must be cautious. He passed two or three groups of people, and now and
then heard steps behind, but the steps were followed by voices that
relieved his anxiety. For all that, he was glad to leave the alameda and
turn up a street.
The street was narrow, hot, and dirty. There was a smell of decaying
rubbish and the rancid oil used in cooking. One side was in shadow, and
almost unbroken walls rose from the rough pavement. For the most part,
the outside windows were narrow slits, since the houses got light from
the central patio. Here and there an oil-lamp marked a corner, but that
was all, and Kit kept in the moonlight and looked about keenly when he
passed a shadowy door. Perspiration trickled down his face and he felt an
unpleasant nervous tension. Yet nobody came near him and when he
cautiously glanced round nobody was lurking in the gloom. He began to
think he had cheated Olsen, but admitted that it was too soon to slacken
At one corner, he saw two figures in shabby white uniform, and hesitated.
In Spanish-American countries, the government generally maintains a force
of carefully picked men, entrusted with powers that are seldom given to
ordinary police. They patrol in couples, carry arms, and are sometimes
called _guardias civiles_ and sometimes _rurales_. Kit knew he could
trust the men, but doubted if they could leave their post; besides he did
not want Olsen to know he thought it needful to ask for protection. Now
he came to think of it, he had seen the _rurales_ outside the cafe and at
another corner. Perhaps this was why he had been left alone.
He went on, rather reluctantly, and by and by reached the broad square in
front of the presidio. The old building was clear in the moonlight; Kit
could see a sentry on the terrace and a faint glow in the slit in the
wall that marked Adam's room. It was hardly two-hundred yards off and he
would be safe before he reached the arch, but a grove of small palms and
shrubs ran between him and the square. There were rails behind the trees
and the nearest opening was some distance off. A high blank wall threw a
dark shadow that stretched across the road by the rails and met the gloom
of the trees.
Kit looked about, without stopping or turning his head much. There was
nobody in sight, but he somehow felt that he was not alone. It was a
disturbing, and apparently an illogical, feeling that he must not
indulge, and pulling himself together he went on, with his fist clenched.
He was not far from the gate, and although he listened hard could only
hear his own steps and voices in a neighboring street. Yet his nerves
tingled and his muscles got tense. In front, a thick, dark mass that
looked like a clump of euphorbia or cactus stood beside the path, and
just beyond it a bright beam of moonlight shone between the drooping
branches of the palms.
He thought the spot the beam touched was dangerous. As he crossed it his
figure would be strongly illuminated and he would have his back to the
dark bush. He wanted to move aside and go round the bush, but this might
give somebody time to spring out and get between him and the gate. The
gate was close by and he was strangely anxious to reach it. For all that,
he was not going to indulge his imagination.
He plunged into the gloom, without deviating from his path, and conquered
a nervous impulse that urged him to run. When he had nearly passed the
bush he thought he heard a movement and a thick stalk of the cactus
shook. Half instinctively, Kit leaped forward and felt something soft
brush against his shoulder. As he swung round, in the moonlight, with his
mouth set and his hand drawn back to strike, he saw a blanket on the
ground. There was nothing else and he breathed hard as he searched the
gloom. The blanket had not been there before.
Next moment, a dark figure sprang from the shadow and a knife flashed in
the moonlight; then he heard a heavy report and a puff of smoke blew
past his head. The figure swerved and, staggering awkwardly, fell with a
heavy thud. It did not move afterwards, and while Kit gazed at it dully
a man in white uniform ran past and stooped beside the fellow on the
ground. Kit vacantly noted that a little smoke curled from the muzzle of
"One cartridge is enough," he said coolly. "Your worship did not
escape by much."
Another _rural_ came out of the bushes and when they turned over the body
Kit saw a dark face and a long, thin knife clenched in a brown hand. He
understood now that the blanket had been meant to entangle his arm or
head; half-breed peons often carry a rolled-up blanket of good quality on
"It is Gil Ortega," the _rural_ remarked. "A good shot that will save us
some trouble, comrade!"
"How did you come here when you were wanted?" Kit asked as calmly
as he could.
The _rural_ smiled. "By the president's order, senor. We were watching
"But it looks as if you had got in front of me."
"It is so, senor. We thought it best to follow this fellow. He lost you
when you turned back."
Kit nodded, for he remembered that he had instinctively avoided one or
two dark lanes that would have given him a shorter line than the streets.
Ortega and the _rurales_ had taken the shorter way. He thought it curious
the report had not drawn a crowd, but although he heard voices nobody
came near and he imagined the citizens were used to pistol shots. Giving
the _rurales_ some money, he crossed the square to the presidio and going
to his room lighted a cigarette. He thought a smoke might be soothing,
for he had got a jar.
After a time, he went to look for Alvarez and found him sitting in front
of a table in the patio. A soldier stood not far off, but the president
was alone and the light of a shaded lamp fell upon a bundle of letters
and documents. Alvarez worked hard and had inherited a rather austere
simplicity from his Indian ancestors. Kit thought his plain white clothes
and quiet calm gave him dignity.
"It looks as if my enemies meant to lose no time," he said, in English,
when Kit told him about his adventure.
"It's their third try in a few weeks," Kit agreed. "Don't you find the
uncertainty about where they'll strike next rather wearing?"
Alvarez shrugged. "One gets used to these affairs; a custom of the
country, and there is something to be said for it. If the plot succeeds,
it is an easy way of turning out a president and changing the government.
Perhaps it is better to kill a man or two than fight round barricades and
burn the town."
"In the North, we find it possible to change our government by vote."
"You are cold-blooded people and don't understand the passions of the
South," Alvarez rejoined with cynical humor. "We have tried your plan,
but one must be rich to buy the votes. Besides, if one is beaten at the
polls, there remains the last appeal to the knife. But you will let this
go. We have something else to talk about."
"That is so," said Kit. "To begin with, I must thank you for sending your
_rurales_ to look after me."
"It is nothing," Alvarez replied in a deprecatory tone. "You are my guest
and we try to take care of foreigners, because if they meet with
accidents their consuls ask embarrassing questions. Besides, watching
them serves two objects."
"Then, I expect you know I met Olsen at the cafe?" Kit suggested dryly.
Alvarez smiled. "Yes; I know. But I was not suspicious."
"After all, one doesn't generally conspire in a public place. In fact, I
don't understand why Olsen met me there."
"He may have meant to compromise you; to put doubts in my mind."
"It's possible, now I think of it," Kit assented. "I hope he didn't
"I know my friends, Don Cristoval. But what did the fellow want? I do not
"Your spies are pretty smart, but I expect our colloquial English puzzled
them," Kit remarked, smiling. "However, I was going to tell you--"
He narrated what Olsen had said and Alvarez looked thoughtful.
"Galdar must be nearly ready; he has been quicker than I imagined. What
are you going to do about the steamer?"
"I'll wait until tomorrow. If my uncle is well enough, he must decide."
"But if he is no better?" Alvarez asked.
Kit gave him a level glance. "Then I will send Mayne orders to run all
risks and start, whether his engines are repaired or not."
"Ah," said Alvarez with a bow, "Olsen was foolish when he tried to bribe
you! I suppose this is your answer! Well, it is lucky that a fast
schooner sails to a port from which a telegram can be sent. When your
orders are ready I will see that they go."
Next morning Kit found Adam lying half awake after a night of delirium.
The old man's eyes were heavy, his brain was dull, and the doctor, who
came in, made Kit a sign not to disturb him. Kit went out and spent some
time writing a message to Mayne. It was necessary that the captain should
know what he must do, but Kit was anxious to give no hint about the
importance of speed that others would understand. He meant to guard
against his orders being read by spies in Olsen's pay.
When he had sealed the envelope and addressed it as the president had
told him, he went down to the patio and found a peon talking to a guard.
"This man is the mate of the Catalina and wants to see you," said
the guard, and when he went off Kit turned to the other, who looked
like a sailor.
"My wife lives in the town and I have been at home for a day or two,"
said the man. "I am going back to the schooner now and was told you had a
letter for the patron."
Kit put his hand in his pocket. Although he had expected the mayor-domo
would come for the message, there was not much formality at the presidio,
and the fellow was obviously a sailor. Yet Kit hesitated and as he stood
with his hand on the envelope thought the other's eyelids flickered. The
flicker was almost too slight to notice, but it hinted at nervousness and
Kit dropped the message back.
"Very well," he said. "Wait a few minutes."
He went along the arcade and stopping near the end looked back. The
sailor had sat down on a bench and was lighting a cigarette. This looked
as if he did not mind waiting, and Kit wondered whether it was worth
while to disturb the president, who was occupied. He went on, however,
and Alvarez signed him to sit down when he entered his room. After a
minute or two, he put down the document he was reading to his secretary.
"Well," he said, "have you written your message for Captain Mayne?"
"It is here. The _Catalina's_ mate is waiting."
Alvarez turned to the secretary. "My order was that the _patron_
"That is so, senor. I sent him word."
"The man told me his wife lived in the town and he was starting back,"
"The _patron_ has a house here," Alvarez replied. "We will see the man.
But first send an order to the guard to let nobody go out."
He waited for a minute after the secretary went off and then beckoned
Kit, who followed him downstairs and into the arcade. When they reached
it Kit stopped and Alvarez turned to him with a meaning smile. There was
nobody on the bench.
"It looks as if my order was sent too late," Alvarez remarked. "You had
better tell me exactly what happened?"
Kit complied and Alvarez sent for the guard and asked: "How did you know
the sailor was the _Catalina's_ mate?"
"He told me he was, senor. Afterwards, when Don Cristoval did not come
back, he said it was not important and he would not wait."
Alvarez dismissed the man and shrugged as he turned to Kit. "The plotters
are clever, but they made a mistake. The fellow was too modest; he ought
to have said he was the _patron_. Well, we must try to find him, although
I expect we are late. Now give me the message for Captain Mayne. It looks
as if our antagonists knew its importance."
Kit gave him the envelope and went back to Adam's room.
ADAM RESUMES CONTROL
Although the shutters on the balcony window were open, no draught entered
the small, bare room and the heat that soaked through the thick walls was
nearly intolerable. There was not a sound in the presidio and a drowsy
quietness brooded over the dazzling town. It was two o'clock in the
afternoon, and the citizens were resting in their darkened houses until
the sun got low and work and intrigue began again. Adam and Kit, however,
had been talking for some time when the former, leaning back in a big
cane chair, frowned at his nephew. His thin face was wet with sweat, but
he shivered and his hands shook.
"You can quit arguing; I've got to go," he said. "I don't get much
better, anyhow, and can't stand for lying off when there's a big job
to be done."
"I believe I could see the job through," Kit answered quietly.
Adam's dull eyes sparkled. "You might; I guess you're anxious to try your
powers, but so long as I can get about I'm in command."
"It's doubtful if you can get about," Kit insisted.
"I'm going to try. You'll have a quiet mule ready when it's getting dark,
and I'll ride out of town; then, if the saddle shakes me, I'll go in a
hammock. You can cut out your objections. The thing's fixed."
"Very well," said Kit. "We had better make for Corrientes, since the
point commands the port and the lagoon. Mayne will stop for an hour or
two, looking for a signal, when he picks up his marks."
"We'll start for the port and take the other track afterwards. There's no
use in telling the opposition where we're going. I imagine they don't
know if the _Rio Negro_ has sailed or not."
"For that matter, we don't know," Kit remarked.
"Oh, shucks!" Adam exclaimed. "Mayne understands what we're up against
and he'd pull out when he got your telegram. If he can't use his damaged
engine, he'll disconnect and bring her along with the other." He stopped
Kit with a frown. "If you're going to tell me the _Rio Negro_ can't steam
across on one cylinder, you can cut it out. I've taught the men I put in
charge that when a job's needful it has got to be done."
He paused and when Kit said nothing, went on quietly: "Well, I reckon
Galdar's crowd will expect the boat to make for the port. It's easier to
land cargo there and there's a better road. With good luck, we'll have
the goods delivered before they know she's gone to the lagoon. Now you
can go along and get busy."
Kit went away in a thoughtful mood. He agreed with Adam that secrecy and
speed were essential, because if the rebels got a hint of their plans
they might strike before Alvarez could ensure the loyalty of his troops
by distributing their back pay. Much depended upon which party got in the
first blow. In fact, if the guns and money reached the town before the
rebels knew they were landed, Kit thought the president's chance of
winning was good. All the same, he imagined that Adam, whom the doctor
had forbidden to get up, would run a dangerous risk.
At dusk a few barefooted soldiers paraded on the terrace, with two mules
and three or four peons. Since it was impossible to evade the
watchfulness of Galdar's spies, Adam had resolved to set off openly and
not to give them a hint that his journey had an important object by
trying to hide it. He mounted awkwardly, with an obvious effort, and when
he was in the saddle set his lips for a moment or two. Then he turned to
Alvarez and smiled.
"I'm not a back-number yet, but it's lucky the opposition don't know how
hard it was for me to get up."
Alvarez made a sign of understanding. "You must dismount as soon as
possible. You are very staunch, my friend."
"I've got to make good. If everything is fixed, we'll pull out."
"_Adios, senores_," said Alvarez, taking off his hat. "Much
depends on you."
Somebody gave an order, there was a rattle of thrown-up rifles, a patter
of naked feet, and the party moved away. Kit, turning after a few
moments, looked back. He saw the long, straight building, pierced here
and there by lights, rise against the orange sky, and the president's
tall figure, conspicuous in white clothes, in front of the arch. His
attendants had vanished, he stood motionless, as if brooding, and Kit
thought he looked pathetic and lonely. He afterwards remembered his
glance at the old presidio.
They rode down a hot street. The moon had not risen and the place was
dark except for the feeble gleam of an oil-lamp at a corner. The clatter
of the mules' feet on the uneven stones echoed along the walls, and here
and there indistinct figures looked out from shadowy doors. For the most
part, the watchers let them pass in silence, and although Kit imagined
news of their departure would travel fast, he was glad they passed none
of the lighted cafes and open squares. It would be hard to see who was
riding the mules, and while Galdar's spies would probably find out this
would need time and time was important.
After leaving the streets, they followed the road to the port for some
distance, and then turned into a track that wound along a dark hillside
among clumps of trees. When they entered it, Adam stopped his mule and
got down awkwardly.
"I've had about as much as I can stand for," he remarked, breathing hard.
"Looks as if we had got a start, but I reckon the other lot will try to
track us to the port when the moon gets up."
Then with a sigh of relief he lay down in a hammock the peons had got
ready, and when two of the latter took up the poles they went on again.
On the second night after leaving the presidio, Kit sat on the coaming of
a small steam launch that lurched across the long undulations rolling in
from the Caribbean. It had been blowing fresh, and although the wind had
dropped the swell ran high. When the launch swung up, a vague, hazy smear
rather suggested than indicated land astern; the sea ahead was dark, but
in one place a faint reflection on the sky told that the moon would soon
rise. Although the beach was some distance off, a dull monotonous rumble,
pierced now and then by the clank of the launch's engines, hinted at
breaking surf. The furnace door was open and the red light touched Adam's
face as he sat, supported by a cushion, in a corner of the cockpit. He
looked very haggard and Kit thought him the worse for his journey.
"The light's in my eyes, but there was nothing on the skyline a minute or
two ago," Kit remarked. "It will be awkward if Mayne doesn't get across.
You seem persuaded he'll come."
"I know he'd start. We can't tell what may have happened afterwards and
there was more wind than I liked. He'll be here on time, if he's been
able to keep the old boat off the ground."
"Time is getting short. I expect the rebels have found out we're not at
the port and Galdar will have the road watched when the news gets to the
town. It might pay him to risk forcing a conflict if he could seize the