Part 4 out of 6
convoy, and I'll feel happier when the guns and money are off our hands.
It will be the president's business to look after them then."
"That's so," Adam agreed. "Our part of the job's to land the goods and
it's unlucky the tides are small. There won't be much water on the
shoals and although we'll have an extra few inches tomorrow, I don't
want Mayne to wait."
Kit pondered, for he had taken some soundings when coming out. They
were probably not correct, because the launch had rolled among the
white combers that swept the shoals while he used the lead, but the
average depth was about the steamer's draught in her usual trim. Mayne,
however, ought to know what depth to expect, and Kit hoped he had
loaded the vessel to correspond. By and by the mulatto fireman shut the
furnace door, the puzzling light was cut off, and Kit searched the
horizon. For some minutes, he saw nothing; and then a trail of red fire
soared into the sky.
"He's brought her across," said Adam. "Get our rocket off."
The rocket swept up in a wide curve and burst into crimson lights. After
this there was darkness for a time until an indistinct black object
appeared against the brightening sky. Then the launch sank back into the
trough, where the gloom was only broken by the glimmer of the
phosphorescence that spangled the water. When she swung up on the top of
the next swell the steamer was plainer and Kit blew the whistle as he
changed their course.
When the moon rose slowly out of the sea he stopped the clanking engine
and the launch reeled up and down, some fifty yards off the steamer. The
_Rio Negro _carried no lights, but the phosphorescence shone upon her wet
plates as she rolled them out of the water. Her side rose high and black,
and then sank until her rail was nearly level with the spangled foam.
Indistinct figures scrambled about her deck, and when Kit sheered the
launch in, her ladder went down with a rattle. A half-breed on board the
launch caught it with his boat hook, and Adam stood at the bow, waiting
for a chance to jump upon the narrow platform that lurched up above him
and then plunged into the sea. Kit felt anxious. He did not think Adam
was equal to the effort and dreaded the consequences of the shock if he
missed and fell.
"Stand by!" he shouted to the seaman on the ladder when the _Rio Negro_
steadied after a violent roll; and then touched Adam. "Now; before she
Adam, jumping awkwardly, seized the seaman's hand, and Kit, leaning out,
pushed him on to the platform as it began to sink. Then he jumped and
coming down in a foot or two of water helped Adam to the deck. Mayne met
them at the gangway and took them to his room, where Adam sat down and
gasped. When Mayne poured out some liquor he clutched the glass with a
shaking hand. After he drained it he was silent for a moment or two; and
then asked in a strained voice: "Have you brought the goods?"
"Got them all. We hadn't a nice trip. Don't know how Finlay kept her
going and I thought I'd lost her on Tortillas reef; but we can talk about
Adam made a sign of satisfaction and leaned back feebly. "It's some
relief to know the goods are here."
"Finlay can drive her seven knots and has plenty steam," Mayne said to
Kit. "I'm bothered about the water; there won't be too much."
Kit asked the vessel's draught and looked thoughtful when he heard
what it was.
"I can't guarantee my soundings, but imagine she won't float across and
an ugly sea is running on the bar."
"She'll certainly hit the bottom and the chances are she hits it hard,"
Mayne remarked when Kit told him the depth he had got. "I expect, too,
the mist will drift off from the mangroves with the land-breeze and hide
our marks." He paused and glanced at Adam, who leaned back in a corner
with his eyes half shut.
"But I reckon we have got to take her in?"
"Yes," said Adam dully. "Leave me alone; you can fix things with Kit."
Mayne beckoned Kit and they went to the bridge. The moon had risen and
threw a belt of silver light across the sea, but it was a half moon and
would not help them much. Ahead, in the distance, gray haze obscured the
water, and the dull roar that came out of the mist had become distinct.
Mayne rang his telegraph to reduce the speed.
"So far as I can reckon, it won't be high-water for most two hours, and
on this coast you can't calculate just how much the tide will rise.
There's going to be trouble if we find it shoaler than we expect and I
had plenty trouble coming along. Finlay could hardly drive her four knots
in last night's breeze and the current put us on Tortillas reef. She
stopped there twenty minutes, jambed down on her bilge while the sea came
Kit noted two boats that had obviously been damaged while the steamer
hammered on the reef, and the white crust of salt on the funnel; but
Mayne resumed: "Say, the old man looks shaky; never seen him like that.
You want to get him home."
"He won't go. However, he's rather worse tonight. I think he was anxious
about your turning up in time to catch the tide. The journey tried him
and now a reaction has begun."
"Well, I allow there's not much use in arguing if he means to stay; but
he needn't have bothered about my getting across. When the orders came, I
knew I had to bring her or pile her up. What Askew says goes."
They were silent for a time while the _Rio Negro_, with engines throbbing
slowly, crept towards the coast. The land breeze brought off a steamy
heat and a sour smell. The long undulations were wrinkled by small waves,
and a thin low haze that obscured the moon spread across the water. Kit,
looking up now and then, could see the mastheads swing across the sky.
There was, however, nothing to be seen ahead but a gray line that moved
back as the steamer went on.
"It's sure a blamed bad night for our job," Mayne remarked as he gazed
towards the hidden land. "I'm glad I told your dagos to burn a flare when
they hit the channel."
Kit said nothing. The launch had vanished, and there was no guiding light
in the mist. The turmoil of the surf had got louder and rang through the
dark like the roar of a heavy train. Presently Mayne ordered a sounding
to be taken and looked at Kit when the leadsman called the depth.
"A foot less than we reckoned, and there won't be much rise. I don't like
it, Mr. Askew, and if my employer was not your uncle, I'd heave the old
Kit nodded sympathetically. He felt he hated the smothering haze that
rolled in front and hid the dangers, but they must go on and trust to
luck. He knew Adam's plans and no arguments would shake his resolve. Half
an hour later a twinkle broke out some distance ahead and Mayne rang his
"I'm thankful for that, anyhow," he remarked. "We'll let her go, but I
have my doubts about what will happen next."
The throb of engines quickened, the gurgle of water got louder at the
bows, and the _Rio Negro_, lurching sharply, went shorewards with tide
and swell. The twinkle vanished and reappeared, to starboard now, and
chains rattled as the quartermaster pulled round the wheel. Then the
light faded and they were left without a guide in the puzzling haze. Ten
minutes afterwards there was a heavy shock, and a rush of foam swept the
rail as the steamer listed down. She lifted and struck again with a jar
that tried Kit's nerve. A hoarse shout came from the forecastle and men
ran about the slanted deck as a frothing sea rolled on board. Mayne,
clutching his telegraph, beckoned Kit.
"Bring Mr. Askew up. He's got to tell me what I am to do."
Kit met Adam clumsily climbing the ladder and when he helped him to
the bridge Mayne remarked: "She's on the tongue shoal. Don't know if I
can back her off and steam out to deep water, but, if you consent, I
want to try."
"I won't consent," said Adam. "We're going in! What's that light to
"The launch; she's in the channel. I doubt if there's water enough for
us, if we can get there."
"Then, shove her across the sand or let her go to bits."
Mayne rang the telegraph and touched his cap. "Very well! She's your
ship, and we have some sound boats left."
For the next ten minutes Kit clung to the bridge. He wanted to help Adam
into the pilot-house, but the old man waved him off. Clouds of spray
swept the vessel and made it hard to see her rail where the white combers
leaped. Now and then one broke on board and poured in a foaming torrent
across the slanted deck; she trembled horribly as she struck the sand. It
looked as if she were driving sideways across the shoal, but the flare on
the launch had gone out and Kit doubted if Mayne knew where he was.
Sometimes the tall, black forecastle swung in a quarter-circle;
sometimes the stern went round. For the most part, however, she lay with
her side to the rollers and it was plain that the struggle could not
last long. If they did not get off in a few minutes, rivets would smash
and butts open, and one must take one's chances in the boats. Two were
damaged, but others might be launched, and Kit was relieved to note that
two or three deck-hands moved about as if engaged in clearing the
davit-tackles. He sympathized with the men, although he did not think
Mayne had given them orders.
In the meantime, Adam clung to the rails, swaying when the bridge
slanted, but looking unmoved, and Kit knew that so long as the _Rio
Negro's_ engines turned he would go on. It was not for nothing men called
him the Buccaneer, and now that he was staking his life and fortune on a
hazardous chance there was something daunting about his grim resolve.
A sea rolled up astern and buried the poop. Kit felt the steamer lift
and turn, as if on a pivot at the middle of her length. The after-deck
was full of water, but the bows were high and going round, and he was
conscious of a curious shiver that ran through the straining hull as she
shook herself free from the sand. She crawled forward, stopped, and
moved again with a staggering lurch. The next sea swept her on, but she
did not strike, and after a few moments Kit knew she had crossed the top
of the shoal.
Her whistle shrieked above the turmoil of the sea, a light blinked in
the spray, and she lurched on before the tumbling combers. By and by the
water got smooth and an indistinct dark mass grew out of the mist.
Mayne, who was pacing up and down his bridge, stopped near Kit with a
"This is the kind of navigation they break skippers for! If those are the
mangroves on False Point, I may take her in; if they're not, we'll make a
hole in the forest."
Kit looked about, but could not see the launch. The dark mass was a thick
belt of trees, but he did not know, and did not think Mayne knew, where
they were, and the easy motion indicated that the tide was carrying the
steamer on. Much to his relief, the indistinct wall of forest seemed to
bend back, away from the sea. It looked as if they were entering the
lagoon; and then he heard the telegraph and the rattle of rudder chains.
The screw shook the vessel as it spun hard-astern, and the bows began to
swing. It was, however, too late; the forecastle would not clear the
mangroves, and Kit knew the water was deep among their roots. Shouting to
Adam, he seized the rails and waited for the shock. It came, for there
was a crash, and a noise of branches breaking. The steamer rolled,
recoiled, and forged on into the forest.
Some minutes later, Mayne stopped his engines and there was a curious
quietness as he came up to Adam.
"We are fast in the mud, sir. Although she'll take a list when the tide
falls, we may be able to work cargo. I'll lay out an anchor in the
morning and try to heave her off, but I calculate it will be full moon
before she floats."
THE MANGROVE SWAMP
Early next morning, Kit went on deck. Although it was hot, everything
dripped with damp, and sour-smelling mist drifted past the ship. Her
masts and funnels slanted and Kit could hardly keep his footing on the
inclined deck. When he looked over the rail, the rows of wet plates ran
up like a wall above broken mangrove roots and pools of slime. Smashed
trunks and branches were piled against the bows and dingy foliage
overhung the vessel's lower side.
Kit walked aft. The screw was uncovered, and shallow, muddy water, dotted
by floating scum, surrounded the stern, which projected into the lagoon.
In one place, however, a mud-bank touched the bilge, and three or four
men, standing on planks, cautiously tried its firmness. They were wet and
splashed, and one who ventured a few yards from the plank sank to his
waist. The others pulled him out and then they climbed a rope ladder. Kit
thought the experiment proved that nothing useful could be done until the
tide flowed round the ship.
Another gang was moving a kedge-anchor across the deck, while a few more
coiled heavy ropes beside the winch. Mayne obviously meant to try to
heave the vessel off, but Kit thought he would not succeed until the moon
was full. In the meantime, cargo could only be landed when there was
water enough to float boats up to the ship, and Kit glanced across the
lagoon. There were no mangroves on the other side, although thick timber
grew close down to a belt of sand. Below this was mud, across which he
imagined heavy goods could not be carried. The heat and steamy damp made
him languid, and he went to Adam's room. Adam had got up and sat,
half-dressed, on the lower berth with a glass on the floor close by. His
hands shook and there was no color in his lips.
"It's rather early for a strong cocktail, but I felt I needed bracing,"
he said. "What do you think about our chance of getting her off?"
"I imagine it's impossible for another week and don't see how we'll get
the cargo out."
"Don't you?" said Adam grimly. "It has got to be done. If Mayne finds the
job too big, I'll put it through myself."
"You ought to leave before the malaria knocks you down," Kit rejoined.
"If I had the power, I'd make you go."
Adam smiled. "You mean well, boy, but you don't understand, and if you
plot with Mayne to bluff me, I'll surely break you both. Now go and see
if the president's men have arrived. Then you can tell Mayne to rig his
derricks and take the hatches off."
Kit went out and after a time three or four figures appeared among the
trees across the lagoon. They came down to the mud, but when Kit shouted,
asking if they could launch a canoe, one shrugged and they turned back.
"I reckon the old man means us to get busy with the cargo," Mayne
"Yes," said Kit. "I understand he's ready to undertake the job if we find
it too much for us."
"He's a hustler, sure! So far as I can see, the thing can't be done, but
if Askew wants it done, I guess we've got to try. We'll carry out the
kedge and make fast a warp or two when the tide flows. He'll expect it,
though I don't reckon much on our chance of floating her."
By degrees the muddy water crawled up the plates and the _Rio Negro_ rose
upright; the haze melted and it got fiercely hot when the sun shone. A
canoe, manned by half-breed peons, crossed the lagoon, and with heavy
labor the kedge-anchor was hoisted out and hung between two boats.
Half-naked men toiled at the oars until the lashings were cut and the
boats rocked as the anchor sank. Then their crews, dragging large stiff
warps, forced their way among the mangrove roots and made the ropes fast
where they could. They came back exhausted, dripping with water and
daubed by slime, and Mayne went to the bridge.
The sun pierced the narrow awning and there was not a breath of wind. The
lagoon shone with dazzling brightness and the iron deck threw up an
intolerable heat. Kit felt the perspiration soak his thin clothes, and
big drops of moisture trickled down Adam's yellow face as he sat with
half-shut eyes, in a canvas chair. By and by he took out his watch, and
Kit noted that he moved it once or twice before he could see the time.
"Hadn't you better get busy?" he asked Mayne.
The telegraph clanged, the engines panted, and the _Rio Negro_ began to
shake as the screw revolved. There was no movement but the racking throb,
until Mayne raised his hand and winch and windlass rattled. Puffs of
steam blew about, the cable rose from the water with a jar, and the warps
ran slowly across the winch-drums, foul with greasy scum.
"Hold on to it!" Mayne shouted. "Get in the last inch!"
His voice was drowned by the rattle of chain and hiss of steam, but the
uproar began to die away and the sharp clatter of small engines changed
to spasmodic jars. Then somebody shouted, there was a crash, and the end
of a broken warp, flying back, tore up the dazzling water. The windlass
stopped, and a few moments later a clump of mangroves swayed. Kit heard
green wood crack, as a rope that had stretched and strained began to
move. Then Mayne raised his hand.
"Let go; stop her! You're pulling up the trees."
There was a sudden quietness except for the insistent throb of the screw,
and Mayne turned to Adam.
"If the cable holds, I can smash the windlass, but I can't heave her
"Very well. You quit and get the cargo out. Better hustle while
Mayne went down the ladder and when he unlocked the iron door of the
after wheel-house a gang of men brought out a row of small-boxes. A
mulatto from the beach, who wore neat white clothes and an expensive hat,
counted the boxes and then gave Adam a receipt.
"Don Hernando will be glad to get these goods and we will start at once,"
he said. "Although I have a guard, it will be safe to reach the town
before the president's enemies know."
"That would be prudent, senor," Adam agreed, and turned to Kit when the
mulatto went away.
"I have done my part and it's Alvarez's business to see the chests get
through. Well, we have both taken some chances since he was a
Customs-clerk and I a _contrabandista_ running the old _Mercedes_, but I
reckon this is my rashest plunge. Anyhow, if I get my money back or not,
I've put up the goods. Now you can tell Mayne to break out the guns."
Mayne gave orders, derrick-booms swung from the stumpy masts, pulleys
rattled, and heavy cases rose from the holds. The boats, however, could
not get abreast of the forward hatch and the cases had to be moved across
slippery iron plates to the after derrick that hoisted them overboard. It
was exhausting work, and the heat was intolerable. The white crew threw
off their soaked clothes and toiled half-naked in the sun that burned
their skin, but Adam left the awning and went about in the glare.
At first, the mates grumbled with indignant surprise. Their employer was
breaking rules; working the cargo was their business and nobody else must
meddle. Besides, they had not met a shipowner able to superintend the
job. One who ventured a protest, however, stopped in awkward
embarrassment when Adam gave him a look, and the others soon admitted
that few captains knew more about derricks and slings. Nevertheless, Kit
was anxious as he watched his uncle. He knew Adam would pay for this and
wondered how long he could keep it up.
At noon, the peons refused another load and when Adam addressed them in
virulent Castilian, coolly pulled the boats away from the ship. When they
had rowed a short distance they stopped and one got up.
"More is not possible, senor," he said. "To work in this sun is not
for flesh and blood. After we have slept for an hour or two, we will
Adam felt for his pistol, but hesitated, with his hand at his silk belt,
and Kit thought he looked very like a Buccaneer.
"It might pay to plug that fellow, and I'd have risked it when I came
here in the _Mercedes_. Still, I guess Don Hernando has enough trouble."
Mayne, standing behind him, grinned. "I reckon that fixes the thing.
Don't know I'm sorry the dagos have lit out; my crowd are used up and
ready to mutiny."
For two hours the tired crew rested while the water sank and the steamer
resumed her awkward list. Then the boats came back and the men crawled
languidly about the slanted deck, until Adam went among them with bitter
words. The sea breeze was blowing outside, but no wind could enter the
gap in the trees, and foul exhalations from warm mud and slime poisoned
the stagnant air. Kit's head ached, his eyes hurt, and his joints were
sore; he felt strangely limp and it cost him an effort to get about.
All the while the winches hammered and pulleys screamed as the cases came
up and the empty slings went down. The heat got suffocating and the slant
of masts and deck made matters worse, because the men must hold the
derricks back with guys while the heavy goods cleared the coamings of the
hatch. Much judgment was needed to drop them safely in the boats. Men
gasped and choked, quarreled with each other, and growled at the mates,
but somehow held on while the tide ebbed and the sun sank nearer the
mangroves' tops. It dipped when the breathless peons pushed the last boat
away from the _Rio Negro's_ side, and the noisy machines stopped.
Darkness spread swiftly across the lagoon and a white fog, hot and damp
as steam, rose from the forest and hung about the ship. Everything was
very quiet, for the men were too limp to talk, but a murmur came out of
the distance where the long swell beat upon the shoals. Kit and Mayne sat
in the chart-room, with a jug of iced liquor on the table in front.
Sometimes they spoke a few words and sometimes smoked in silence, while
Adam lay on the settee, saying nothing. At length, he got up and a
steward helped him to his room. Somehow the others felt it a relief that
he had gone.
"I can hustle, but your uncle makes me tired," Mayne remarked. "If you
get what I mean, it's like watching a dead man chase the boys about; you
feel it's unnatural to see him on his feet. Well, one has to pay for
fooling with a climate like this, and I'm afraid the bill he'll get will
break him. Can't you make him quit?"
"I can't; I've tried."
"The curious thing is he knows the cost," Mayne resumed. "Knows what's
coming to him unless he goes."
"Yes," said Kit in a thoughtful voice, "I believe he does know and
doesn't mind. This makes it rough on me. I'm powerless to send him off
and I'm fond of the old man."
Mayne made a sign of agreement. "He's a pretty tough proposition and was
worse when he was young; but I've risked my life to serve him. The
Buccaneer holds his friends."
Kit said nothing. He was anxious and depressed and soon went off to bed.
When work began next morning, Adam was on deck and superintended the
landing of the cargo in spite of Kit's protest. Kit thought the day was
hotter than the last, and after an hour or two's disturbed sleep in his
stifling room, found it hard to drag himself about. When the exhausted
peons stopped at noon, he lay under the awning and kept close to Adam
when they resumed. He did not like his uncle's fixed frown and thought it
was caused by the effort he made to keep at work. If not, it was a hint
of pain he stubbornly tried to overcome. Besides, his step was dragging
and his movements were awkward.
About the middle of the afternoon, Adam stood near the noisy winch while
a case was hoisted. The winch-man looked up when the heavy load, hanging
from the derrick, swung across the slanted deck.
"Hold her while they steady the boom!" Adam shouted and seized the rope
that slipped round the drum.
The winch-driver was watching the others who struggled with the guy, and
perhaps forgot it was not a strong man who had come to his help. For a
moment or two, Adam kept his grip, and then his hands opened and he
staggered back. Somebody shouted, a pulley rattled, and the case, running
down, crashed against the steamer's rail. Kit ran forward, but reached
the spot a moment too late, for Adam lay unconscious on the iron deck.
They picked him up and carried him to the bridge, where it was a little
cooler than his room, but for some time he did not open his eyes. Then he
looked about dully and seeing Kit gave him a feeble smile.
"You're in charge now, partner; keep the boys hustling," he said.
"There's the coffee to load up when you have put the guns ashore. Looks
as if I had got to leave the job to you."
He turned his head, drew a hard breath, as if it had hurt him to speak,
and said nothing more. The work, however, went on until it got dark, and
when the mist rose from the mangroves and a heavy dew began to fall they
carried Adam to his room. He slept for part of the night while Kit
watched, but now and then tossed about with delirious mutterings. When
morning came he did not wake and Kit, looking at his pinched, wet face,
went on deck with a heavy heart. He had sent for the Spanish doctor, but
thought it did not matter much if Senor Martin came or not. In another
day or two he would be alone.
ADAM'S LAST REQUEST
It was nearly full moon, the night was calm, and the flowing tide rippled
among the mangrove roots. Clammy vapor drifted about the ship and big
drops fell from the rigging and splashed upon the deck. A plume of smoke
went nearly straight up from the funnel, and now and then the clang of
furnace-slice and shovel rose from the stokehold, for Mayne hoped to
float the vessel next tide. For the most part, however, the men were
asleep and it was very quiet in the room under the poop. A lamp tilted at
a sharp angle gave a feeble light that touched Adam's face. Kit sat on a
locker opposite, looking anxious and worn.
"You loaded up some of the coffee," Adam remarked in a strained voice.
"Half of it, I think; the rest's on the beach," said Kit. "It's doubtful
if we'll get the next lot, since Senor Martin understands the fighting
"The lot you have shipped will be something to score against the account;
it's prime coffee and ought to sell well. I'd like you to get the
rubber, but Alvarez can't wait long for the goods Mackellar has ready for
the boat. Another voyage and you can pull out for the old country. I'd
reckoned on going with you, but that's done with."
Kit said nothing. The doctor had come and gone, for he was needed
elsewhere and could not help the sick man. One could indulge him and make
things comfortable for a few days but that was all, he said, and Kit saw
that Adam knew. By and by the latter resumed:
"I've been thinking about Peter and Ashness. I'd have liked to see the
old place and the fells again, and when I was half asleep I thought I
heard the beck splash among the thorns and the pee-wits crying. Well, you
are going back, and you'll marry that girl. Though it will cost you
something to see Alvarez through, you ought to be rich enough."
"You mustn't talk too much," said Kit. "Senor Martin told you to rest."
Adam smiled. "It doesn't matter now if I rest or not. My brain's clearer
and I'll talk while I can. I never told you much about my early life, but
I'm going to do so, because there's something I want to ask."
"Then, you have only to ask it," Kit replied.
"I know," said Adam, feebly. "You're staunch. Well, you have seen the
despatch-box in the office, marked _Hattie G._, though I lost the old
boat long before you came out. She was a coal-eater and didn't pay to
run, but I kept her going until she hit the reef. My first steamboat--I
got her when she was going cheap; but she was bought with my wife's
money, and called after her.
"I met Hattie in Florida about the year you were born. She was
Vanhuyten's cousin and the finest thing that ever wore a woman's shape.
Northern grit and Southern fire, for she sprang from New England and good
Virginia stock; I've seen no woman with her superb confidence. Well, I
was a _contrabandista_ with some ugly tales against my name, but I fell
in love with Hattie and married her in a month."
Adam was silent for a few minutes, and while Kit mused, shovels clinked
in the stokehold and the vessel began to lift. The tilted lamp
straightened and its light rested on Adam's wasted form. His silk
pyjamas rather emphasized than hid his gauntness; he looked strangely
worn and weak, but Kit could picture the strong passion of his
love-making. There was something fierce and primitive about the old
Buccaneer, and it was not hard to see how he had, so to speak, swept the
romantic girl off her feet by the fiery spirit that had burned him out.
Yet he had never talked about other women, and though he knew the South,
Kit thought he had cared for none.
"I left her in a few weeks," Adam went on. "Alvarez was putting up for
president and my savings were at stake. Hattie went home to Virginia
while I helped Alvarez on the coast. He was hard up against it, though
he's been president three times since. Well, when things looked blackest,
I was knocked out in Salinas swamps, by fever and a bullet that touched
my lungs. They took me to the old Indian mission--we were cut off from
the ship--and Father Herman put the _rurales_ off my track. I've sent him
wine and candles, he's at the mission yet; it stands between thick forest
and swamps like this, and the padre's the only white man who has lived
there long. Get down the chart and I'll show you the landing place."
Kit did so, feeling that he ought to indulge a sick man's caprice, and
Adam, after giving him clear directions, was quiet for some minutes. Then
he began again, with an effort:
"Vanhuyten told Hattie, and I found out afterwards, that she had had
trouble at home. Her folks had never trusted me and wanted to keep her
back, but she had rich friends who sent her out, like an American
princess, on a big steam yacht. She got to the mission when I was at my
worst, and finding I could not be moved, sent the yacht away. It was some
days before I knew she had come. There was no doctor to be got. Alvarez
could not send help, and the government soldiers were hunting for his
friends, but Father Herman knew something about medicine and Hattie
helped him better than a trained nurse. I can see her now, going about
the mud-walled room in her clean, white dress, without a hint of
weariness in her gentle eyes. That was when she thought I was watching,
but sometimes at night her head bent and her figure drooped.
"It was blisteringly hot and when the sun went down the poisonous steam
from the swamps drifted round the spot. Sometimes I begged her not to
stay, and sometimes I raged, but Hattie could not be moved and my weak
anger broke before her smiles. She was strong and would not get fever,
she said; she had come to nurse me, and, if I insisted, would go home
when I was well."
Adam stopped and asked for a drink, and afterwards Kit hoped he had gone
to sleep, but he presently roused himself again.
"I have got to finish, partner, because there's a reason you should hear
it all. By and by Father Herman had to nurse us both, and when I got
better Hattie died. We buried her by torchlight in the dusty mission
yard--she was a Catholic--you'll see the marble cross. I've been lonely
ever since, and that's partly why I sent for you; Peter came next to
Hattie and you are Peter's son. Now I'm ready to pull out and somehow I
think Hattie will find me when I'm wandering in the dark. Love like hers
is strong. But I want you to listen when you have given me another
Kit held the glass to Adam's cracked lips. He drank and lay still,
breathing hard, and Kit heard the ripple of the tide. The _Rio Negro_ was
getting upright and as the lamp turned in its socket the light moved
across the wall. After a time, Adam resumed in a clearer voice:
"All I have is yours; Mackellar will prove the will, but you'll see
Alvarez out, as I meant to do. Another thing; Mayne will get the old boat
off tomorrow, and when he's loaded up I want you to take me out and land
me on the creek I marked behind Salinas Point. He can fly the flag
half-mast; I'll have started on the lone trail then. You'll hire some
half-breed boys at the _pueblo_ in the swamp, and take me to the mission
and lay me beside my wife. Hattie was a Catholic and you can tell Father
Herman that what she believed was good enough for me. Afterwards, you'll
send him now and then the box of candles he will tell you about. They're
to burn in the little chapel before Our Lady of Sorrows, where Hattie
used to pray I might get well. You'll do this for me?"
"I will," Kit answered with forced quietness. "Then I've finished," said
Adam. "I'm going to sleep now and mayn't talk much again."
He turned his head from the light and presently Kit, hearing him breathe
quietly, went out on deck.
At high-water next day, the _Rio Negro_ floated off the mud and when she
swung to her anchor Kit went into Adam's room. Adam was very weak, but
"Get the coffee on board; I'm afraid you won't have time for the next lot
and the rubber," he said. "Tell Finlay to bank his fires. You'll want
steam to take me out."
Kit understood, and nodded because he could not speak, and Adam, giving
him a quiet smile, went to sleep again.
Some hours later, Mayne joined Kit, who had gone on deck for a few
"That's the last of the _hacienda Luisa_ coffee," he said, indicating a
boat alongside. "The peons tell me the next lot's coming down, but if we
ship it, we'll miss the tide."
"You can close the hatches. The coffee must wait."
"It's high-grade stuff and brings top price. I sure don't like to leave
it to spoil."
"We must risk that," Kit said quietly.
"There's another thing; Pedro, the clerk, reckons they're fighting near
Salinas and the president's not popular in that neighborhood. Looks as if
you might have some trouble to take the old man to the mission."
"It's possible," said Kit. "I'm going to try. Have everything ready for
us to get off to-night."
Mayne lifted his hand to his cap. "Very well, sir. We'll start as soon as
there's water enough."
He went away, but Kit knew what he meant. The captain had done his duty
by indicating obstacles, but he approved his new master's resolve and
owned his authority. Kit was persuaded he would have Mayne's loyal help
and went back to Adam's room. When it was getting dark, Adam moved his
head as the engines began to throb and the propeller churned noisily in
the shallow water. It stopped after a few turns and steam blew off.
"Finlay's giving her a trial spin," Adam remarked, in a very faint voice.
"I see you've got things fixed and I'm ready to start." He stopped and
shut his eyes for a minute or two, and Kit did not know if he was
conscious or not. Then he resumed in a strained whisper: "All's ready;
ring for full-speed. I'm going to meet my wife."
He drew a hard breath, sighed, and did not speak again. An hour
afterwards, Mayne met Kit coming out of the room, and glancing at his
face took off his cap.
"I guess it hits you hard and I'll miss him, too," he said. "I'll not get
another master like the Buccaneer."
He went off to give some orders and Kit sat down, feeling very desolate.
When the tide had risen and flowed past, oily smooth, under the full
moon, the windlass began to rattle and the cable clanged. The anchor came
up and when the engines shook the ship Mayne pulled the whistle-line and
a long blast rolled across the woods. Next moment a rocket soared and
burst in a shower of colored lights.
"Vanhuyten and Askew's signal! The head of the house is making his last
trip," the captain remarked.
The echoes sank, the colored lights burned out, and the measured beat of
engines jarred upon the silence as the _Rio Negro_ went to sea. For a
time the land breeze blew the steam of the swamps after her, and masts
and funnels reeled through a muggy haze as she lurched across the
surf-swept shoals. She floated high and light, her muddy side rising like
a wall as she steadied between the rolls that dipped her channels in the
foam. Outside, the swell was regular and the roll long and rhythmical;
the haze thinned, the air got sweet and cool, and the hearts of the crew
got lighter as she steamed out to open sea. For all that, men lowered
their voices and trod quietly when they passed the poop cabin where her
dead owner lay.
At sunrise, Mayne hoisted the house-flag, and the Stars and Stripes
drooped languidly half way up the ensign staff, until the glassy calm
broke and the sea breeze straightened the blue and silver folds. By and
by he changed the course and mountains rose ahead, although a bank of
cloud hid the plain and mangrove forest at their feet. In the afternoon,
he searched the haze with his glasses, and getting a bearing stopped the
engines near Salinas Point at dusk.
"If the weather's good, I'll wait three days," he said. "Then, if you
send no word, I'll pull out for Havana and get the engines properly
fixed. Better take this bag of Spanish money; minted silver goes and you
may find the dagos shy of the president's notes."
Kit took the money, a boat was swung out, and four sailors carried the
plain, flag-wrapped coffin down the ladder. They were rough men, but Kit
imagined he could trust them. Another crew picked up the oars, greasy
caps were lifted, the _Rio Negro's_ whistle screamed a last salute, and
the boat stole away. Mayne steamed off to anchor on good holding ground,
and Kit sat at the tiller, with his eyes fixed on the misty coast.
It was dark when he heard breakers and saw the glimmer of surf. There
were shoals all round him, but he had been told about a bay where a creek
flowed through a sheltered channel. He did not know if he could find the
channel, and if not the boat might be wrecked, but something must be left
to luck and they pulled on before the curling swell. She struck, and
stopped until a comber rolled up astern. It broke and half buried her in
rushing foam, but she lifted, lurched ahead, and did not strike again.
The men were nearly knee-deep as they baled the water out and one was
afterwards idle because his oar had gone. In spite of this, they made the
creek and drifted quietly into the gloom of the mangroves with the
After a time, the water got shallow and they pushed her across the mud
while leaves and rotting branches floated up the creek. No light pierced
the forest, and the feeble beam of Kit's lantern scarcely touched the
shadowy trunks that moved past until they came to an opening. Kit thought
this was the spot he had been told about and turned the boat. She would
not float to the bank and he and his four men got out and lifted the
coffin. They sank in treacherous mud, but reached a belt of sand riddled
by land-crab's holes. All was very quiet except for the ripple of the
tide and the noise made by the scuttling crabs. The sand, however, was
dry and warm and they sat down to wait for morning when the boat went
THE ROAD TO THE MISSION
The sun was high when Kit and his tired men reached the village. He was
wet with sweat and the moisture that had dripped upon him from the leaves
in the early morning, and the men gasped when they put down their load.
Two wore greasy engine-room overalls, and two ragged suits of duck; their
soft hats were stained and battered and they looked like ruffians.
Although Mayne paid good wages, respectable seamen avoided the _Rio
Negro_ and her crew were, as a rule, accustomed to fight with knives and
sandbags on disorderly water-fronts. Now they carried pistols, hidden as
far as possible, but ready for use.
Small, square mud houses occupied the hole in the forest. Where the
plaster had not fallen off, their white fronts were dazzling, but they
were dirty and ruinous and the narrow street was strewn with decaying
rubbish. Although the _pueblo_ had once prospered under Spanish rule, it
was now inhabited by languid half-breeds of strangely mixed blood,
engaged in smuggling and revolutionary plots. They stood about the
doorways, barefooted and ragged, watching Kit with furtive black eyes.
"I want porters and a guide to the mission," he told the _patron_, who
lounged against a wall smoking a cigar.
"It is a long way, senor, and the road is bad. Besides, one cannot travel
when the sun is high."
"The road is, no doubt, safer then than in the dark."
"That is true," agreed the other with a philosophic shrug. "The country
"I must start at once," Kit said firmly. "I am willing to pay for
The _patron_ spoke to the others in a harsh dialect, but none of the
loafing figures moved.
"They say the risk is great," he remarked. "There has been fighting and
the president's soldiers are in the woods."
"The president's soldiers will not meddle with us," Kit answered,
For a moment the half-breed's eyes were keen, but his dark face resumed
its inscrutable look.
"Then the senor is a friend of the president's?"
"If we meet his soldiers, they will let me pass."
"The soldiers are not the worst. There are the _rurales_; men without
shame, who shoot and ask no questions. However, we will see if I can find
porters, if the senor will wait until the afternoon."
Kit distrusted the fellow and thought he had an object for putting off
the start. He had been warned that the _Meztisos_ sympathized with the
rebels, and imagined that his party's safety depended on its speed. But
he did not want to look impatient, and, imitating the other's
carelessness, sat down and lighted a cigarette while he pondered. To
begin with, he suspected that the _patron_ would prevent his meeting any
of the president's soldiers who might be about, and it would be prudent
to finish his business and get back to the ship before Galdar knew he was
in the woods. His men claimed to be American citizens and Mayne knew
where he had gone, but the latter's statements might be doubted if the
party disappeared. It was known that Askew was engaged in a risky trade
and the captain's story would look more romantic than plausible.
Kit saw he must depend upon his own resources and presently noted that a
man was leaving the village. The fellow kept behind the group in the
street as far as he could and moved quickly. There was something stealthy
about his movements and when he looked back, as if to see if Kit were
watching, the latter got up.
"Stop that man," he said.
"But he is going to his work, senor," the _patron_ objected.
"In this country, one does not work while the sun is high," said Kit,
who rather ostentatiously pulled out his pistol. "Call him back!"
The _patron_ shouted and the man returned, but Kit kept his pistol
in his hand.
"Nobody must leave the _pueblo_ until I start," he said. "I want porters
and am willing to pay."
"Very well," the patron agreed, shrugging. "Perhaps I can find a few men,
but they will want the money before they go."
For a time, Kit bargained. The sailors were tired, and few white men are
capable of much exertion in the tropic swamps. He must have help, and
doubting if the _Meztisos_ could be trusted, thought it best to offer a
sum that would excite their greed, but stipulated that half would not be
paid until they returned. When the _patron_ was satisfied Kit turned to
"You'll have to hustle, boys," he said. "The sooner we make the mission,
the sooner we'll get back, and I reckon nobody wants to stop in these
swamps. There's something beside your wages coming to you."
"That's all right, boss," one replied. "The old man drove hard, but he
paid well and he was white. You can go ahead; we'll put the job over."
The peons took up the stretcher-poles lashed to the coffin, a relief
party went behind and they set off. Nobody spoke and the _Meztisos'_ bare
feet fell silently on the hot sand, although Kit heard the dragging tramp
of the sailors' muddy boots. In the open space round the village, the sun
burned their skin and they pushed on as fast as possible for the twilight
of the woods.
Here and there a bright gleam pierced the gloom, but for the most part
deep shadow filled the gaps between the trunks. Creepers laced the great
cottonwoods, tangled vines crawled about their tall, buttressed roots,
and hung in festoons from the giant branches. Some of the trees were
rotten and orchids covered their decay with fantastic bloom. The forest
smelt like a hothouse, but the smell had an unwholesome sourness. Growth
ran riot; green things shot up, choked each other, and sank in fermenting
Kit did not know if it was a relief to escape from the glare of the
clearing or not. The sun no longer burned him, but he could hardly
breathe the humid air, and effort was almost impossible.
All the same, he pushed on, floundering in muddy pools and sinking in
belts of mire. The road had been made long since, by slave labor, when
the Spaniards ruled, and had fallen into ruin, like the country, when
their yoke was broken. Kit could trace the ancient causeway across the
swamps and wondered when another strong race would put their stamp on the
land. The descendants of the conquerors had sunk into apathetic sloth;
the blood of the dark-skinned peoples that ran in their veins had
quenched the old Castilian fire.
When the light was fading, the porters declared the swamps in front were
dangerous and put down their load, and after some trouble the white men
lighted a fire. A heavy dew began to drip from the leaves and the blaze
was comforting in the gloom that swiftly settled down. Kit had brought a
piece of tarpaulin and spread it between the roots of a cottonwood. He
did not mean to go to sleep, but his head ached and he was worn out by
physical effort and anxious watching. By and by his eyes got heavy and he
sank down in a corner of the great roots.
The fire had burned low when he looked up and a bright beam that touched
a neighboring trunk indicated that the moon was high. All was very quiet
but for the splash of the falling dew; the glade was a little brighter,
and rousing himself with an effort, he glanced about. He saw the white
men's figures, stretched in ungainly attitudes on a piece of old canvas.
They were all there, but he could not see the _Meztisos_. Getting up, he
walked into the gloom and then stopped with something of a shock. There
was nobody about.
For a few moments, Kit thought hard. To begin with, he had been rash to
pay half the porters' wages before they started. The money was a large
sum for them and they had stolen away; perhaps because they were
satisfied and afraid of meeting the president's soldiers, or perhaps to
betray the party to the rebels for another reward. If the latter
supposition were correct, Kit thought he ran some risk. Galdar's friends
knew he could not be bribed and that Adam was ill, although it was hardly
possible they knew he was dead. They would see that Kit had now control
and since his help was valuable to the president might try to kill him.
His best plan was to push on.
He wakened the sailors, who grumbled, but picked up the coffin when he
tersely explained the situation. Wet bushes brushed against them,
soaking their thin clothes, trailers caught their heads, and the road
got wetter and rougher until they came to a creek. Kit could not tell
how deep it was; the forest was very dark and only a faint reflection
marked the water.
"We must get across, boys," he said, and the others agreed. They were
hard men, but the dark and silence weighed them down and excited vague
superstitious fears. It was a gruesome business in which they were
engaged and they did not like their load.
They plunged in and one called out hoarsely when he stumbled and the
lurching coffin struck his head. Another gasped, as if he were choking,
while he struggled to balance the poles. The current rippled round
their legs; it was hard to pull their feet out of the mud, and when
there was a splash in the dark they stopped, dripping with sweat that
was not altogether caused by effort. One swore at the others in a
"Shove on, you slobs!" he said. "The old man's getting heavier while
you stop. I want to dump him and be done with the job. Guess I've
Splashing and stumbling, they went forward and when they struggled up the
bank Kit wiped his wet face. For a moment or two he had thought the men
would drop their load and as it jolted, vague and black, on their
shoulders, the creaking of the poles had jarred his nerves. He was going
to keep his promise, but he sympathized with the man who had had enough.
After they left the creek, the road got very bad and in places vanished
in belts of swamp. They sank in mud and stagnant water and no light
pierced the daunting gloom, but it was not hard to keep the proper line,
because one could not enter the jungle without a cutlass to clear a path.
At length, when the men were exhausted, the trees got thinner and the
moonlight shining through touched the front of a ruined building. The
rest was indistinct, but the building was large and had evidently
belonged to a sugar or coffee planter. The sailors stopped and Kit
studied a gap in the wall.
The gap did not look inviting and there were, no doubt, snakes and
poisonous spiders inside, but he could go no farther and the broken walls
offered some protection. Perhaps Kit was moved by an atavistic fear of
the dark forest, and he owned that he was influenced by the civilized
man's longing for the shelter of a house. They went in, and after putting
down the coffin in a room where vines crawled about the ruined wall, the
sailors entered the next. One frankly stated that they wanted to get away
from the coffin; Kit could stop and watch it if he liked, but it bothered
them to have the thing about.
Kit let them go, and sitting down in a corner among the rubbish lighted a
cigar. A moonbeam rested on the opposite wall and the room was not dark.
Some light came in through holes, although there was impenetrable gloom
beyond the door by which the men had gone. He could see the wet leaves of
the vines, and the black coffin, covered by the flag. But he was not
afraid of it; the man who lay there had been his friend and claimed the
fulfilment of his promise.
At the same time, it was soothing to hear the sailors' voices, until they
got faint and stopped. Afterwards the silence was burdensome, although a
small creature began to rustle in the wall. Kit did not know if it was a
snake or a spider, and was too tired to feel disturbed. By and by his
cigar fell from his mouth. He picked it up, but it fell again and his
The moonbeam had moved some distance when he opened his eyes and
straightened his body with a jerk. The room was nearly dark, and when he
thought about it afterwards, he imagined he was only half awake, for his
heart beat and he was conscious of an enervating fear. A dark object,
indistinct but like a man, stood beside the coffin.
With something of an effort, Kit recovered his self-control as the figure
turned and came towards him. It moved with a curious stealthy gait,
making no noise, and this was enough for Kit. He had no grounds for
distrusting the sailors, and they wore heavy boots. Trying not to change
his position, he felt for his automatic pistol. The butt caught a fold of
his sash and he was forced to bend his elbow in order to get it out. It
looked as if he would be too late, and he slipped as the movement
dislodged the rubbish on which he sat. Then, as he shrank with an
instinctive quiver from the prick of the knife, the figure swerved and
Kit threw up the pistol and pulled the trigger. There was a flash that
dazzled his eyes and a little smoke curled up, but when he leaned forward
his antagonist had gone. He heard no movement when he sprang to his feet
and almost imagined he had been dreaming, until the sailors shouted and
their boots rattled on the broken floor. They ran in and when Kit told
them what had happened went to the hole in the wall.
The moonlight touched the front of the building and part of the road was
bright, but the shadow of the forest had crept across the rest. All was
very quiet; there was no sound in the gloom. Then a flake of plaster fell
close behind Kit's head and a sharp report rolled across the trees. One
of the men shot at a venture and two of his companions ran savagely along
the road, until Kit called them back.
"Come in," he said when they returned. "You're a plain mark in the
moonlight and can't see the other fellow among the trees."
"Looks as if it was you he wanted," one replied. "Well, I guess we have
no use for being left without a boss, and since we don't like our
camping ground, you have got to come with us. We'll draw cuts for who's
Kit went with them. He felt shaken, for the man who had brought down the
plaster was obviously a good shot. He imagined it was another who had
intended to stab him; in fact, a number of his enemies might be lurking
about. He was not, as a rule, vindictive, but the stealthy attack had
induced a dangerous mood and he was sorry he had missed the man. It was
hard to see why he had done so, but he had, perhaps, been half asleep.
Now, however, he resolved to watch until day broke.
KIT KEEPS HIS PROMISE
It was getting light when the man on watch called Kit, who went to the
gap in the wall. Thin mist drifted about the trees and trailed across the
road. There was some open ground in front of the building, but behind
this the forest loomed in a blurred, shadowy mass.
"I reckon I saw something move where the fog's on the road," the
Kit saw nothing. His eyes were keen, for he had searched the hillsides
for sheep, but it looked as if they were not as keen as the sailor's, and
standing in the shadow he watched the indicated spot. After a minute or
two, a figure came out of the fog and signaled with a lifted hand.
"More of them around!" said the sailor grimly. "There's trouble coming to
them if they mean to corral us. Jake's at the side window, and he had to
get out of Mobile because he was too handy with his gun. Not often had to
pull mine, but I can shoot some."
"Quit talking!" Kit rejoined, and his mouth set firm when the
He thought the rebels meant to surround the building. If so, they were
probably numerous, and the rifle shot some hours before justified the
supposition. They had first tried to kill him quietly and, finding this
impossible, had resolved to seize the party. Well, there was good cover
behind the broken walls, his men were a reckless lot, and he meant to
fight. He wished the others would begin, for standing, highly-strung, in
the dew was nervous work.
The light had got clearer when he noted a movement in a festoon of
trailing vines. The wet leaves shook as if somebody were cautiously
pulling them back, and Kit stiffened his muscles. It was a comfort to
feel his hand was steady, and although he had not used a pistol much he
was a good shot with a gun. He thought he could send a bullet through the
moving leaves, but wanted his lurking enemy to begin the fight.
A face appeared at an opening and an arm pushed through. The man was
coming out and Kit felt his nerves tingle. Then, as the fellow's
body followed his arm, the sailor said quietly, "Don't move, boss.
I'll fix him."
Next moment, Kit swung round, for the man who stepped out into the road
wore a white uniform. The sailor leaned against the wall to steady his
aim, and his tense pose and rigid hand indicated that he was pressing
"Hold on!" Kit shouted. "Don't shoot!"
The sailor lowered his pistol and Kit, springing out of the shadow,
waved his hat.
"Come forward. We are friends."
The _rural_ turned and called to somebody, and then joining Kit glanced
at the sailor's pistol with a dry smile.
"It looks as if I had run some risk. You did not mean to be surprised."
"No," said Kit; "one takes precautions. I came very near being surprised
"So the _Galdareros_ are about? We suspected something like this."
"I suppose it was why you meant to search the _hacienda_. But did
you see us?"
The _rural_ indicated a plume of smoke that curled up from behind the
"We saw _that_. When one takes precautions it is prudent to see they are
Kit nodded. There was no use in getting angry; his men were rash and
careless, but, to some extent, this was why he had chosen them. They had,
no doubt, lighted the fire to cook breakfast.
"Where is your companion?" he asked.
"There are three of us; you will see the others in a few moments. They
watch the road farther on. It is usual for us to patrol in twos, but of
late some have not returned. A revolution is a bad time for _rurales;_
one pays old reckonings then."
Kit smiled. "I imagine it would have been bad for any _Galdarero_ who had
tried to steal away down the road. But I expect you know me?"
"We have orders about you, senor; you see a servant of yours," the
_rural_ answered with a bow. "But it might be better if you told us
After giving him a cigarette, Kit sent the sailor to tell the others and
when the _rurales_ came up offered them a share of the breakfast his men
had cooked. While they ate he told them what had brought him there and
where he was going.
"So the American is dead? I have seen him at the presidio," one remarked.
"Well, senor, it would be prudent to finish your business at Salinas
to-night. After that, I do not know. There has been fighting and some of
the president's soldiers have been killed in the swamps."
"I must finish the business," Kit replied. "It does not matter what
The _rural_ nodded. "The American talked like that. Quick and short,
but what he said went. However, we will go to Salinas with you when you
Kit got up and gave his men an order. "I am ready now."
They set off soon afterwards and reached the mission as the light was
fading. Two small, mud buildings and a little church stood among some
ruins in an opening, and a frail old man met the party at the gate. He
took off his hat when the sailors put down the coffin, and then listened
to Kit's quiet narrative.
"This poor place is yours; it was a prosperous mission long since," he
said. "In this country, men no longer build, but plot and destroy--it is
easier than the other. Now we will put the coffin in the church and then
I will give you food."
Father Herman drew back an old leather curtain and the smell of incense
met Kit as he stood at the door while the sailors went forward with their
load. The church was nearly dark, but Kit saw it had some beauty and
there were objects that hinted at more prosperous days. At the other end,
a ruby lamp glimmered and a wax candle burned with a clear flame before a
statue of the Virgin. Kit knew whence the candle came and that Hattie
Askew had knelt on the stones, beneath it, praying that her husband might
get well. Then he looked at Father Herman, with a doubt in his mind.
The other met his glance and smiled. "The greatest of these is charity,"
he said in Latin, and resumed in fine Castilian: "He was our benefactor,
a man who kept his word, and with such a wife I think our faith was his.
It is a gracious sentiment that they should not be parted."
"In a sense," Kit said quietly, "I think they have not been parted yet.
At the last he said, with confidence, he was going to meet his wife."
"Who knows?" said Father Herman. "There is much that is dark; but one
felt that his spirit reached out after hers. Well, I knew he would come
back; I have long expected him."
He went forward and lighted more candles when the sailors put down the
coffin, and the noise their boots made jarred Kit's nerves as they came
back. The light spread, touching the bare walls and tawdry decorations
about the shrines. It was a poor little church, falling into ruin, and
the beauty its pious builders had given it was vanishing. Yet something
redeemed it from being commonplace, and Kit felt a strange emotional
stirring as his eyes rested on the dim ruby lamp and the rude black
coffin. He thought the light of love could not be quenched and knew the
tender romance that had burned in the heart of the old Buccaneer. It was
with something of an effort he turned away, and followed Father Herman
across the corral.
Two hours later, red torches flared in the dark as they laid Adam in his
grave, and Kit, worn by anxiety and physical strain, listened dully to
the solemn Latin office. Then, when the old priest's voice died away, he
went back to the mission, where he fell asleep and slept twelve hours.
In the morning, he sat beneath a broken arch that had once formed part of
a cloister. Outside the patch of shadow, the sun beat upon dazzling sand,
and a few vivid green palm-fronds hung over a ruined wall. Beyond this
the forest rose, dark and forbidding, against the glaring sky. Although
the rest had refreshed Kit, he felt as if he had got older in the last
few days and now the strain had slackened he was lonely. So far, he had
obeyed orders and when doubtful looked to Adam for a lead, but Adam had
gone and left him control. All that belonged to his youth had vanished;
he was a man, with a man's responsibilities, and a man's problems to
solve. Presently Father Herman came up and sat down opposite. Although he
looked feeble, his glance was clear and kind.
"This house is yours, senor, and I am your servant," he said. "Yet I
cannot hope that you will remain long and the times are disturbed. If I
"Since the rebels know I am here, it would not be safe to stay, but I
cannot reach Salinas Point before the steamer sails," Kit replied. "I
must get to Havana as soon as possible."
Father Herman thought for a few minutes and then resumed: "A small
schooner is loading at a beach not far off and I know the _patron_. He
would take you to Arenas, where the president has supporters and you
might get a ship. I think he sails to-night, but I will send a message."
Kit thanked him and went on: "You were my uncle's friend, and now I have
taken his place, you are mine. As you let him send you things the mission
needed, perhaps you will not refuse me."
"I had not hoped for this," Father Herman answered with a grateful look.
"The generous gifts meant much to us, for we are very poor."
"Friendship has privileges. Besides, it was my uncle's wish, and will be
something I can do for his sake."
Father Herman's worn face got very soft and he gave Kit an approving
glance. "You are his kinsman, senor; one cannot doubt that. Like him, you
are staunch and do not forget, but in some ways you are different. I will
take your gifts and pray that yours may be a less stormy life."
"Thank you," Kit said gently and went off to look after his men.
In the afternoon he left the mission, and a week later reached Havana,
where he found a cablegram waiting. He got a shock when he opened it, and
stood for a time with the message crumpled in his hand, for it told him
that Peter Askew was dying at Ashness. Then he sat down on the long,
arcaded veranda of the hotel, with a poignant sense of loss, for the last
blow was heavier than the first. It would be too late when he got home;
Andrew, his English relative, would not have sent the message had there
been any hope.
After a time, Kit began to pull himself together. He felt dull and half
stunned, but saw that he must brace up. Although one duty was denied him,
another was left. He could not bid his father good-by, but he could keep
his promise to Adam, and there was much to be done. Getting up with a
resolute movement, he went to the telegraph office.
Although Peter had not hinted that he was ill, Kit felt he ought to have
gone home before, and now blamed Alvarez for keeping him. He knew this
was not logical, but he hated the country, with its turmoils and plots.
It was not worth helping, and in very truth he did not know if by
supporting the president he were helping it or not. After all, however,
this was not important; Alvarez needed a last supply of munitions that
Adam had agreed to send. Kit doubted if they would be paid for, but the
doubt did not count for much. Adam knew the risk when he agreed and his
engagements bound his nephew. The goods must be delivered and then Kit
would let the business go. When he reached the office he wrote a
cablegram to Andrew at Ashness and another to Mayne, who had left Havana
before Kit arrived.
THE LAST CARGO
Dusk was falling and Kit urged his tired mule up the winding road. His
skin was grimed with dust, for he had ridden hard in scorching heat, and
was anxious and impatient to get on. The _Rio Negro_ was in the lagoon
and some cargo had been landed, but Kit stopped the work when nobody came
to take the goods. It looked as if the message he had sent through a
secret channel had not reached the president, and this was ominous.
He had heard rumors of fighting when he was in Cuba and the United
States, but the newspapers gave him little information and he had driven
the _Rio Negro_ across at full speed in order to finish the contract
before the revolution spread, which was all he wanted. Adam's staunch
loyalty had cost him his life, but the president had no claim on Kit.
Besides, his stopping in the country had kept him away from Ashness when
he was needed there. He smiled as he admitted that he was hardly logical,
since he was stubbornly pushing on when almost exhausted in order that
Alvarez might get the goods he required; but after all, this was for
As he rode up the hill the sky got brighter and a flickering illumination
was reflected on the clouds that hung about the mountains. It looked as
if the town were lighted up and Kit wondered whether this was to
celebrate a victory. He struck the mule, but the tired animal came near
throwing him when it stumbled and he let it choose its pace. The jolt had
shaken him and he was very tired.
For a time he skirted a belt of trees, and when he came out on the open
hillside the illumination was ominously bright. Now he was getting
nearer, the clouds looked different from the mist that rolled down the
mountains in the evening; they were dark and trailed away from the range.
Still, he could go no faster and he waited with growing anxiety until he
reached a narrow tableland. It commanded a wider view and he raised
himself in the stirrups as he saw that the light was the reflection of a
He sank back and pulling up the mule let the bridle fall on its drooping
neck. It looked as if a number of houses were burning in the town, which
indicated that there had been a fight. The trouble was he did not know
who had won and this was important. If the president were badly beaten,
he would not need the supplies at the lagoon, although they might be
useful to the rebels. Kit imagined it would be prudent to turn back, but
he must find out what had happened and sent the mule forward.
Half an hour afterwards he rode into the town. The small square houses
were dark and there was nobody in the narrow street, but he heard a
confused uproar farther on. Although the glare in the sky was fainter, it
leaped up now and then and a cloud of smoke floated across the roofs. A
red glow shone down the next street and he saw the pavement was torn up.
Broken furniture lay among piles of stones, the walls were chipped, and
when Kit got down he had some trouble to lead the mule across the ruined
barricade. Although he saw nobody yet, the shouts that came from the
neighborhood of the presidio were ominous.
Kit remounted and rode slowly up to the edge of the sandy square where
the palms grew along the rails. The square was occupied by an excited
crowd, but the presidio had gone. A great pile of smoking rubbish and a
wall, broken by wide cracks, marked where it had stood. Flames played
about the ruin and Kit turned his mule. He thought the crowd was waiting
to search for plunder, and did not expect to find anybody calm enough to
answer his questions. Besides, he needed food and drink and might learn
what had happened at the cafe.
The small tables stretched across the street and were all occupied, but
when Kit had tied the mule to the alameda railings opposite he found a
chair and ordered an omelette and wine. The waiter looked at him with
some surprise and Kit wondered whether it was prudent for him to stay.
"You have been burning the presidio," he remarked.
"We have got rid of a tyrant," the waiter replied.
"You may get another worse," said Kit, as coolly as he could. "What
happened to the president?"
Somebody shouted "_Mozo_" and when the waiter went away Kit rested his
arms on the table. He was very tired, and it was obvious that he had come
too late. Since the president was overthrown, he had lost a large sum of
money and wasted the efforts he had made to carry out Adam's engagements.
He must get back to the lagoon as soon as possible, but he needed food
and wanted to find out if Alvarez had escaped. There was, however, some
risk in asking questions, because the cafe seemed to be occupied by
Presently the men at the next table got up and their place was taken by
another group, among which Kit noted Francisca Sarmiento and her
relations. He thought they looked surprised, but they saluted him
politely, and soon afterwards the girl, who was nearest, looked round.
"You have courage, senor," she remarked in a meaning tone.
"I do not know if courage is needed," Kit replied, forcing a smile. "It
looks as if I could no longer meddle with politics."
"Then, since you could not help Alvarez, why did you come?"
"I imagined I could help him, until I saw the presidio was burnt," Kit
replied. "In fact, I haven't found out what has happened yet."
The girl studied him with some curiosity, but Kit felt that he had
nothing to fear from her.
"If one did not know that you were incorruptible, one could understand
your rashness," she said, in a mocking tone. "I suppose your steamer is
in the lagoon?"
Kit looked round. The cafe was crowded, but the people were talking
excitedly, and nobody seemed to notice him and the girl. The noise would
prevent their talk being heard.
"There is no use in denying it, because Galdar's spies have, no doubt,
seen her. I would be glad if you can tell me what has become of the
Francisca gave him a keen glance. "You do not know Alvarez is dead?"
"Ah!" said Kit. "I did not know. Was he killed?"
"He died soon after the fighting began. The doctors say it was apoplexy;
he had been hurrying about in the burning sun."
"I wonder--He was a strong man and used to the sun."
Francisca smiled. "One does not ask questions at a time like this. It is
prudent to believe what one is told. When the soldiers lost their leader
they ran away."
Kit was silent for a few minutes. He had had a faint hope that the
president might rally his supporters and begin the fight again, but the
hope was gone. He knew all he wanted, and must leave the town as soon as
he had had some food.
"Alvarez was a friend of mine, and the news you have given me is
something of a shock," he said. "I think the country will feel its loss,
but that is not my business, and since there is nothing to keep me here,
I shall be glad to get away."
"It would be prudent to go soon," Francisca remarked in a low voice.
"I do not see why. I am no longer important enough for your friends to
meddle with me."
"You are very modest, senor, if you are not rather dull. You have goods
that would be useful to the new president, who has a rival he did not
expect. Don Felix Munez has turned traitor, and there are people who
support him in the coast province."
"Another president!" Kit exclaimed with a soft laugh, and then bowed to
the girl. "I think you mean well. You have given me a useful hint and you
have my thanks. I will be rash and tell you that Galdar shall not have
the goods I brought."
Franciscans eyes got soft and a touch of color crept into her olive skin.
"One does not often meet a man who puts honor before money. _Adios,
senor!_ I wish you well."
Then she turned to her companions, who presently left the table and soon
afterwards Kit's omelette was brought. While he ate, Olsen came in and
sitting down opposite, lighted a cigarette.
"You'll allow that the Buccaneer backed the wrong man," he said. "I
warned you and reckon your obstinacy has cost you something."
"That is so," Kit agreed. "One must run risks in a business like this,
but I don't expect you to sympathize."
Olsen smiled. "I don't pretend I'm not satisfied, but I can show you how
to get some of your money back. I've learned much about you and Askew
since we had our last talk, and am willing to buy part of the _Rio
"You seem to know she has arrived?"
"Oh, yes; I knew some hours since. I've been looking out for you."
"To whom do you mean to sell the goods?" Kit asked.
"Does that matter?"
"Yes; it's rather important."
"The important thing is you'll get paid," Olsen rejoined.
Kit frowned. He imagined he could demand a high price, and now Alvarez
was dead, there was perhaps no reason for refusing to bargain; but he did
not mean to let Galdar have the goods. He thought Adam would not have
done so, and he held the new president, to some extent, accountable for
Adam's last illness.
"The cargo is not for sale," he said.
"Oh, shucks!" Olsen exclaimed. "I reckon you want to put up the price."
"No," said Kit, rather grimly, "I don't want to sell."
"Don't be a fool. The man you backed is dead. You carried out your
contract, and it doesn't matter to him now who gets the truck."
"That's true," Kit replied. "But I won't help his rival."
Olsen looked hard at him and saw he was resolute. "Oh, well! If you're
determined, there's no use in arguing! You're something of a curiosity; I
haven't met a man like you before."
He went away and Kit ordered more wine, for he was thirsty after his long
ride and had borne some strain. He had to wait for the wine, but had
expected this since the cafe was crowded, and in the meantime he got up
and looked across the street. Nobody had meddled with the mule, which
stood quietly by the railings with drooping head. Kit wondered where he
could get it some food and if he could hire a fresh animal.
Then a waiter brought the wine and when he had drunk some and lighted a
cigarette Kit, listening to the talk of the men at the next table, got a
hint that threw some light on Olsen's offer. Alvarez had used the vaults
under the presidio for a munition store, and when he was dead the
mayor-domo had blown up the building as the rebels forced their way in.
Now there was a new president in the field, it was obvious why Galdar
wanted fresh supplies. This, however, was not important, and Kit drained
his glass and then tried to rouse himself. He must look after the mule
and if it was not fit for the journey get another animal.
He felt strangely reluctant to move; the fatigue he had for a time shaken
off returned with puzzling suddenness and threatened to overpower him.
His head was very heavy, he could hardly hear the people talk, and every
now and then his eyes shut. He could not keep them open, but after a few
minutes he straightened his bent shoulders with a resolute jerk and
clenched his fist. It was not fatigue that was mastering him; the wine
was drugged. He had not noted a suspicious taste, but he was thirsty and
the omelette was strongly flavored with garlic and red pepper.
Holding himself stiffly upright, he tried to think. Olsen had, no
doubt, ordered the wine to be drugged, and his object was plain. He
meant to prevent Kit reaching the lagoon until he had removed the cargo
on the beach and tried to persuade Mayne to land the rest. Well, the
plot would fail, and with an effort Kit got up and crossed the street.
He suspected that he was watched, but nobody tried to stop him and he
mounted the mule.
The animal moved off at a better pace than he had hoped and he tried to
brace himself. His head ached and his brain was very dull, but somehow he
stuck to the saddle, and although he could hardly guide the mule the
animal avoided the people in its way. After a time, the street became
empty, the noise behind was fainter, and the houses were dark. Nobody
seemed to follow him and Kit began to hope he might be able to leave the
town. He did not know what he would do then, and hardly imagined he could
keep up the effort much longer. Perhaps, when he got away from the houses
he could tie up the mule in a quiet place and rest.
When he rode down a rough track into open country he rocked in the saddle
and would have fallen but for the high peak and big stirrups. The
hillside was blurred; distorted objects that he thought were rocks and
cactus lurched about in the elusive moonlight, and the sweat ran down his
face as he fought against the drug. He knew it would conquer him, but he
was going on as long as possible.
At length the mule stepped into a hole, Kit's foot came out of the
stirrup and he fell. For a moment or two, the mule dragged him along;
then he got his other foot loose and for a time knew nothing more.
The moonlight was fading when he opened his eyes and saw that he was
lying beside a clump of cactus. Indistinct objects moved along the road
not far off and he heard the click of hoofs on stones. A mule train was
passing and was, no doubt, going to the lagoon. He could not get up and
was glad he was in dark shadow. The muleteers had probably been told to
look out for him and a blow from a heavy stone would prevent his
interfering with the rebels' plans. The indistinct figures, however, went
on and Kit relapsed into unconsciousness.
It was daylight when he wakened and saw a man bending over him. Kit was
cold and wet with dew; his head ached horribly and he did not try to get
up. His pistol was underneath him and if the fellow meant to kill him he
could not resist.
"What do you want?" he asked.
The man said he had seen him lying there and imagined he was ill. Then
he held out his hand and asked if Kit could get up. Kit was surprised
when he found himself on his feet, although he swayed as he tried to
keep his balance.
"I suppose you are a liberator?" he said dully.
The other clenched his dark fist. "No, senor! Those dogs, the
_Galdareros_, are no friends of mine! But you were for the president; it
was known in the town."
Kit admitted it. The fellow's scornful denial was comforting and after
some talk, walking with a painful effort, he went with him down the hill
to a small mud house. A few minutes after he got there he went to sleep,
but in the meantime the man had promised to help him to reach the lagoon.
He kept his promise, and before it was light next morning Kit dismounted
on the sandy beach. There was no moon and mist drifted about the trees,
but the water shone faintly and the tide was nearly full. The steamer
loomed in the gloom and when Kit shouted there was a rattle of pulley
blocks and a splash of oars. Ten minutes afterwards Mayne met him at the
gangway and gave him his hand.
"It's some relief to see you back," he said. "Finlay has his fires banked
and can get steam to take us out in an hour or two."
Kit went with him to his room and sat down limply. He was covered with
dust and wet with dew; his face was haggard and his eyes were dull.
"I'll tell you about my adventures later," he said. "What about
"Some dagos came along with a mule train and loaded up part of the truck
on the beach. They had an order that looked as if it had been signed by
you, and as they were a pretty tough crowd and had their knives loose, I
let them take the goods. When I studied the order I wasn't sure about the
hand and brought off all they had left. By and by another gang came
along, but I refused to send a boat until I'd seen you."
"You were prudent," Kit remarked. "The order was forged. Let me see the
He studied the book Mayne gave him and then pondered. Olsen had, no
doubt, forged the order and Kit imagined he would have some trouble to
get payment for the goods. The manufacturers might be persuaded to take
back the rest of the cargo at something less than its proper price, but
Kit thought the value of the munitions supplied to Alvarez would be lost.
The new president would certainly try to disown the debt. Kit, however,
had known that Adam's staunchness might cost him much, and something
might, perhaps, be saved. He had had enough of the country, and as soon
as he could straighten out the tangle in which the revolution had
involved Adam's business he was going back to Ashness.
"Heave your anchor when you're ready," he said to Mayne. "We'll call at
Havana and then steam for New Orleans."
At high-water he stood on the bridge, watching the mangroves fade into
the mist. Ahead, the sun was rising out of a smooth sea, the air was
fresh, and Kit's heart was lighter. He had done with plots and intrigue
and was going back to Ashness and the quiet hills. At the same time, he
felt a tender melancholy as he thought about the little church at Salinas
and the marble cross in the sandy yard. Then he lifted his head and the
melancholy vanished as he looked across the sparkling water. The clang of
engines rose and fell with a measured beat and there was a noisy
splashing at the bows. Bright streaks of foam eddied about the _Rio
Negro's_ side, and a long smoke cloud trailed astern as she steamed to
PART III--KIT'S RETURN
Kit was comfortably tired when he sat down by the beck at the head of the
dale. He had been at Ashness for a week, and finding much to be done had
occupied himself with characteristic energy. It was a relief to feel that
the heat of the tropics had not relaxed his muscles as much as he had
thought, and that the languidness he had sometimes fought against was
vanishing before the bracing winds that swept his native hills. The ache
in his arms had come from using the draining spade and his knees were
stiff after a long walk through the heather to examine the Herdwick
sheep. His vigor was coming back and he was conscious of a keen but
tranquil satisfaction with the quiet dale.
Filling his pipe lazily, he looked about. The sun was near the summit of
the fells and the long slopes were turning gray in the shadow. The yellow
light touched the other side of the valley, and the narrow bottom,
through which shining water ran, was a belt of cool dark-green. A faint
bleating of sheep came down the hill, and the beck splashed softly among
Kit found the quiet soothing. He had had enough excitement and adventure,
and had half-consciously recognized that the life he had led in the
tropics was not for him. On the whole, he thought he had made good. One
did one's best at the work one found, but intrigue was not his proper
job. For all that, he did not mean to philosophize and had something to
When he sold the _Rio Negro_ and paid his debts he found a larger
surplus than he had hoped. Moreover, his agents had not yet enforced all
business claims and might be able to send him a fresh sum. The money he
brought home would not have made him a rich man in America, but it would
go a long way in the dale, and the soil and flocks at Ashness could be
improved by modern methods and carefully spent capital. Kit had begun at
once and found his task engrossing, but when the day's work was over he
felt a gentle melancholy and a sense of loneliness. Adam and Peter had
gone and he had loved them both; he knew he would not meet their like
again. Yet he had not lost them altogether. They had, so to speak, blazed
the trail for him, and he must try to follow, fronting obstacles with
their fearless calm.
Then he took his pipe from his mouth and his heart beat as a figure came
round a bend of the road. The girl was some distance off and he could
not see her face, but he knew her and braced himself. He had known the
meeting must come and much depended on her attitude. Grace was no longer
a romantic girl, and though he had not forgotten her, she might have
been persuaded that she had nothing to do with him. Now she must choose
her line, and he sat still, half prepared for her to pass him with a
bow. While he waited, his dog got up and ran along the road. Old Bob
knew Grace, and it looked as if she had spoken to, and perhaps petted,
him while his master was away.
She stopped, and Kit felt ashamed when he got up, for she gave him her
hand with a friendly look and he saw she had not changed as much as he
had thought. The proud calm he approved was perhaps more marked, but he
imagined the generous rashness he had liked as well still lurked beneath
the surface. He had met attractive girls in the tropics who knew they
were beautiful and added by art to their physical charm. Grace, however,
used hers unconsciously; he thought she was too proud to care if she had
such charm or not.
"I am glad to see you back," she said and stroked the dog that
leaped upon her. "Bob and I are friends. He knew me when I came
round the corner."
"So did I," Kit rejoined quietly.
He thought he noted a touch of color in her face, but she smiled.
"You did not get up. Perhaps you were not sure, like Bob?"
"I think I was sure. But I have been away some time and it was not my
part to force you to acknowledge me."
"If I didn't want to?" Grace suggested. "Well, I do not forget my
friends, and now, if you are satisfied, we can let that go." She
paused and resumed when he went on with her: "The dalesfolk have
missed you, particularly since your father died. It must have been a
shock--I felt it, too, because I saw him now and then. We were friends
in spite of all."
Kit was grateful for her frank sympathy, and felt he could talk to her
about his father.
"He did not tell me this, but he liked you."
"He was just," Grace replied. "People knew, and trusted him. He had none
of the rancor that often leads us wrong. When he was firm he did not get
angry. That kind of attitude is hard, but it makes things easier. But you
were in America with his brother, were you not?"
"I was in the United States, and afterwards in some of the countries on
"Ah," said Grace with curiosity, "that must have been interesting! One
understands that is a beautiful and romantic coast, with its memories of
the great Elizabethan sailors and the pirates."
"It is romantic, and dangerous in parts. You can land at some of the
towns from modern mail-boats and find smart shops and cafes; others have
fallen into ruin and lie, half-hidden by the forest, beside
malaria-haunted lagoons. You steal in through the mist at the top of a
high tide, much as the old pirates did, and when you land, find hints of
a vanished civilization and the Spaniards' broken power. But you seem to
know something about the coast."
Grace smiled. "You look surprised! There is a library at Tarnside,
although it is not often used, and we have books about the voyages of the
buccaneers. One book is rather fascinating. But what were you doing in
"Sometimes we loaded dyewoods and rubber; sometimes we lent money to
ambitious politicians in return for unlawful trading privileges, and now
and then engaged in business that was something like that of the old
"After that, you must find the dale very tame," Grace remarked, and
quietly studied Kit.
She had liked his honesty and resolution before he went abroad, but he
had gained something she had not noted then. Although he wore rough
working clothes and had obviously been digging, he had an elusive touch
of distinction, and there was a hint of command in his quiet look. He had
seen the world, confronted dangers, and used power, and this had put a
stamp on him.
"It is hard to imagine you a pirate," she remarked with a twinkle. "You
don't look the part, and, no doubt, like other occupations, it requires
Kit laughed. "One does the best one can! I rather think taking trouble
and a determination to make good are as useful as specialized training."
"Perhaps that's true. It's curious, in a way, but I expect a good farmer,
for example, might make a successful buccaneer. One understands, though,
that the last pirate was hanged a hundred years since."
"There are a few left, although their methods have changed with the
times. Some day I would like to tell you about my uncle. He was, so to
speak, a survival, and I think you would appreciate him. But how have
things been going in the dale?"
Grace's twinkle vanished, her look became serious, and Kit thought he
noted signs of strain. After all, she had changed since he left Ashness.
It was not that she looked older, although she was now a rather stately
woman and not an impulsive girl; he felt that she had known care.
"On the whole," she said, "things have not gone very well. We have had
wet summers and heavy snow in spring. The flocks are poor and rents have
come down. Bell has gone; he quarreled with Hayes about some new
machinery for the mill. All is much the same at Tarnside, though my
father is not so active. Gerald left Woolwich--perhaps you knew--and is
in a London bank."
Kit hid his surprise. Gerald was not the stuff of which good bank clerks
are made, although Osborn's influence with the local manager had, no
doubt, got him the post. Kit imagined the lad had been forced to leave
Woolwich, but money must be scarce at Tarnside, since he had gone into
business. This threw some light on the hint of weariness he had noted
about Grace. If fresh economy was needful, she and Mrs. Osborn must
carry the load.
"Hayes is still your agent. I met him yesterday and he gave me a sour
nod," Kit remarked.
"Yes," said Grace, and added quietly: "I sometimes wish he were not!"
"Well, I never liked the man. All the same, he's a very good agent, from
the landlord's point of view, and your father's interests ought to be
safe with him."
"I suppose so," Grace agreed, but her look was doubtful, and they
reached the Ashness lonning a few minutes later. When Kit stopped she
gave him her hand. "I hear you are going to make a number of
improvements, and wish you good luck!"
Kit went up the lonning and sitting down in the porch lighted his pipe.
Grace had not forgotten; she had given him his real welcome home and he
thrilled as he thought about her quiet friendliness. Perhaps the meeting
was awkward for her, but she had struck the right note, with the
dignified simplicity he had expected. It said something for her pluck
that she had met him as if the interview at Ashness, when Osborn had
driven him away, had never taken place. All this was comforting, but Kit
was vaguely disturbed on her account.
He had noted a hint of anxiety and she had implied that things were not
going well for the Osborns. He meant to marry Grace; his longing for her
was keener than he had felt it yet, but it was not altogether selfish.
She must be removed from surroundings in which she could not thrive.
Tarnside, with its rash extravagance, pretense, and stern private
economy, was not the place for her. But he felt he must be patient and
cautious; there were numerous obstacles in his way.
In the meantime, Grace met Thorn farther along the road and tried to hide
her annoyance as he advanced. Perhaps it was the contrast between him and
Kit, whose thin, brown face had a half-ascetic look, for Alan was fat and
getting coarse. Grace had noted this before, but not so plainly as she
did now. His manners were urbane and he belonged to her circle; to some
extent, his code was hers and she had his prejudices and tastes. All the
same, she did not like him; for one thing, he was a type her father
approved, a man of local importance and strictly local ideas, and Osborn
had forced her into rebellion. Alan managed the otter hounds well and
knew much about farming, but he was satisfied with this. Although he
belonged to a smart London club, Grace imagined he only went there
because he thought he ought. Yet he was cunning and patient, and knowing
why he bore with Osborn, she was sometimes afraid.
"Was that Askew?" he inquired when he turned and went on with her.
Grace said it was and he gave her a careless look.
"I heard he had come back. Might have been better if he had stayed away.
A fellow like that is rather disturbing."
"I don't think he could do much harm, when you and Hayes are on your
guard," Grace rejoined.
"That is so," Thorn agreed and she could not tell if he knew she had
meant to be ironical. "Anyhow, I don't suppose he wants to do much harm;
I was thinking about his example."
"Is it a dangerous example to improve one's land? I thought you advocated
"So I do. I don't mean that, although I don't know if Askew's farming is
scientific or not. One can't judge yet. His independence and habit of
taking his own line might be dangerous."
"Mr. Askew's independence is justified. Ashness is his."
"Yes," said Thorn thoughtfully, "that's the trouble. If he was a farming
tenant, things would be easier."
Grace laughed. "You are delightfully naive! I'm afraid you'll have to
leave Mr. Askew alone, but I don't expect he'll do anything alarming. I
think you know he is a friend of mine."
"I knew he was, before he went abroad. If you have renewed the
friendship, it means you're satisfied about him and perhaps we needn't be
disturbed. Your judgment is generally sound."
"Thank you," said Grace. "I have relations who would not agree! But why
do you dislike people who take their own line?"
"It would be awkward if one's tenants did so; but perhaps my feeling
springs from envy. The rest of us can't do what we want. You can't,
Grace gave him a keen glance, and then laughed. "On the whole, that is
true. We have a number of rules at Tarnside, but one now and then gets
some satisfaction from breaking them."
"Rebellion doesn't pay," Thorn rejoined with a touch of dry humor. "You
are young and adventurous, but you'll find it prudent, so to speak, to
accept your environment and submit. Some people call submission duty,
but that's really cant; they mean it saves them trouble. Anyhow, you
cannot make your own code; when you're born at a place like Tarnside,
it's made for you."
"Ah!" said Grace, "I wonder--Well, you know I am sometimes rash."
Then she was careful to talk about something else, for she thought Alan
had not philosophized without an object and it was not difficult to see
where his hints led. When they reached the lodge, she firmly sent him
away, although he looked as if he wanted to come to the house.
A DANGEROUS TALENT
Dinner was nearly over at Tarnside. The meal was served with some
ceremony, although the bill of fare was frugal except when game could be
shot and, as a rule, nobody but Osborn talked much. Now he had satisfied
his appetite he looked about the spacious room. The handsome, molded
ceiling was dark from neglect and the cornice was stained by damp. The
light of the setting sun streamed in through the long casement window
which commanded the shining tarn and the woods that melted into shadow at
the mouth of the dale. It was a noble view, but it did not hold Osborn's
eyes, for the quivering sunbeams searched out the faded spots on the
curtains and the worn patches on the rugs on the polished floor.
"We need a number of new things and I don't know how they're to be
got," he remarked, and when Mrs. Osborn said nothing knitted his brows.
He had put away some money for renovations, but it had gone. One could
not keep money at Tarnside; it vanished and left nothing to show how it
had been spent.
"I understand young Askew is back at Ashness," he resumed, looking
hard at Grace.
"Yes," said Grace. "I met him not long since."
Osborn frowned. He knew she had met Kit, but did not know if he liked her
candor. The girl was independent, but he thought she now understood the
responsibilities of her rank.
"The fellow is obviously prosperous, since he's spending a large sum on
draining. I saw a big stack of pipes and a number of men at work. My
opinion is it's a ridiculous waste of money."
"Perhaps there are worse extravagances," Grace rejoined. "I expect he has
some hope of getting his money back by growing better crops. Ours goes
and never returns."
Mrs. Osborn gave her a warning glance. Osborn hated contradiction and
Grace and he often jarred, but the girl smiled.
"Father and I are not going to quarrel about Mr. Askew's farming; it is
not worth while," she said and studied Osborn with half-penitent
The strong light touched his face, forcing up the deep lines and
wrinkles, and she thought he was getting older fast. His eyes were dull
and his shoulders were slightly bent. She knew about some of his troubles
and suspected others, but the stamp of indulgence that had got plainer in
the last year or two disturbed her.
"The Askews seem fated to give me trouble," he went on. "Now the fellow
has begun to drain, his neighbors will expect me to do so. In fact, Black
and Pattinson bothered Hayes about some plans for buying pipes when they
paid their rent. Besides, the contrast hurts; I don't see why a fellow
like Askew should be able to waste money on rash experiments when we have
not enough. However, this leads to another matter; Gerald comes back
tomorrow, and will no doubt, grumble about his poverty. If he does, you
must give him nothing. He has his pay and I make him an allowance. I
won't have his extravagance encouraged."
Grace smiled as Mrs. Osborn got up with a disturbed look. "Mother cannot
have much to give and I have nothing at all. I'm afraid Gerald's talent
for begging will be used in vain."
She went out with Mrs. Osborn and when they had gone Osborn, crossing
the floor to the sideboard, filled his glass to the top. This was his
regular habit and its futility escaped him, although he knew his wife and
daughter knew. He felt he did enough if he exercised some self-denial
when they were about.
In the meantime, Mrs. Osborn sat down on the terrace and looked across
the untidy lawn.
"We need a new pony mower; Jenkins cannot keep the grass in order with
the small machine. He was very obstinate about the bedding plants he
wanted to buy and the borders look thin, but I felt I must be firm," she
said and added drearily: "I wonder when we shall be forced to get a
sporting tenant and live in a smaller house."
"Father would not leave Tarnside. I suppose you don't know how things are
"I know they are not going well and suspect they get worse; but he will
not tell me. One could help if one did know."
"I'm afraid I have disappointed father and given you anxieties you need
not have had," Grace replied with some bitterness. "After all, however,
the fault is hardly mine. I wanted to make my own career, but was not
allowed; to work at a useful occupation, would somehow have humiliated
our ridiculous pride, and there was, of course, only one hope left for
you." She paused, and colored as she resumed: "Well, although I am not
sorry, it looks as if that hope had gone."
"It would have been a relief if you had made a good marriage," Mrs.
Osborn admitted. "Still, since you met nobody you like--"
"The men I might perhaps have liked were poor. Father would, no doubt,
think it my natural perversity, or our bad luck; but I don't believe in