Now, my poor signorina had a longing for that choice little retreat; and between resentment for her lost money and a desire for the pretty house on the one hand, and, on the other, her dislike of the Delilah-like part she was to play, she was sore beset. Left to herself, I believe she would have yielded to her better feelings, and spoiled the plot. As it was, the colonel and I, alarmed at this recrudescence of conscience, managed to stifle its promptings, and bent her to our wicked will.
"After all, he deserves it," she said, "and I'll do it!"
It is always sad to see anybody suffering from a loss of self-respect, so I tried to restore the signorina's confidence in her own motives, by references to Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, Charlotte Corday, and such other relentless heroines as occurred to me. McGregor looked upon this striving after self-justification with undisguised contempt.
"It's only making a fool of him again," he said; "you've done it before, you know!"
"I'll do it, if you'll swear not to—to hurt him," she said.
"I've promised already," he replied sullenly. "I won't touch him, unless he brings it on himself. If he tries to kill me, I suppose I needn't bare my breast to the blow?"
"No, no," I interposed; "I have a regard for his Excellency, but we must not let our feelings betray us into weakness. He must be taken—alive and well, if possible—but in the last resort, dead or alive."
"Come, that's more like sense," said the colonel approvingly.
The signorina sighed, but opposed us no longer.
Returning to ways and means, we arranged for communication in case of need during the next three days without the necessity of meeting. My position, as the center of financial business in Whittingham, made this easy; the passage of bank messengers to and fro would excite little remark, and the messages could easily be so expressed as to reveal nothing to an uninstructed eye. It was further agreed that on the smallest hint of danger reaching any one of us, the word should at once be passed to the others, and we should rendezvous at the colonel's "ranch," which lay some seven miles from the town. Thence, in this lamentable case, escape would be more possible.
"And now," said the colonel, "if Martin will hand over the dollars, I think that's about all."
I had brought the ten thousand dollars with me. I produced them and put them on the table, keeping a loving hand on them.
"You fully understand my position, colonel?" I said. "This thing is no use to me unless I receive at least three hundred and twenty thousand dollars, to pay back principal, to meet interest, and to replace another small debt to the bank. If I do that, I shall be left with a net profit of five thousand dollars, not an extravagant reward. If I don't get that sum I shall be a defaulter, revolution or no revolution."
"I can't make money if it's not there," he said, but without his usual brusqueness of tone. "But to this we agree: You are to have first turn at anything we find, up to the sum you name. It's to be handed over solid to you. The signorina and I take the leavings. You don't claim to share them too, do you?"
"No," I said, "I'm content to be a preference shareholder. If the money's found at the Golden House, it's mine. If not, the new Government, whatever it may do as to the rest of the debt, will pay me that sum."
With that I pushed my money over to the colonel.
"I expect the new Government to be very considerate to the bondholders all round," said the colonel, as he pocketed it with a chuckle. "Anyhow, your terms are agreed; eh, signorina?"
"Agreed!" said she. "And I'm to have the country seat?"
"Agreed!" said I. "And the colonel's to be President and to have the Golden House and all that therein is."
"Agreed! agreed! agreed!" chanted the signorina; "and that's quite enough business, and it's very late for me to be entertaining gentlemen. One toast, and then good-night. Success to the Revolution! To be drunk in blood-red wine!"
As there was no red wine, except claret, and that lies cold on the stomach at three in the morning, we drank it in French brandy. I had risen to go, when a sudden thought struck me:
"By Jupiter! where's Johnny Carr? I say, colonel, how drunk was he last night? Do you think he remembers telling you about it?"
"Yes," said the colonel, "I expect he does by now. He didn't when I left him this morning."
"Will he confess to the President? If he does, it might make the old man keep an unpleasantly sharp eye on you. He knows you don't love him."
"Well, he hasn't seen the President yet. He was to stay at my house over to-day. He was uncommon seedy this morning, and I persuaded the doctor to give him a composing draught. Fact is, I wanted him quiet till I'd had time to think! You know I don't believe he would own up—the President would drop on him so; but he might, and it's better they shouldn't meet."
"There's somebody else he oughtn't to meet," said the signorina.
"Who's that?" I asked.
"Donna Antonia," she replied. "He's getting very fond of her, and depend upon it, if he's in trouble he'll go and tell her the first thing. Mr. Carr is very confidential to his friends."
We recognized the value of this suggestion. If Donna Antonia knew, the President would soon know.
"Quite right," said the colonel. "It won't do to have them rushing about letting out that we know all about it. He's all right up to now."
"Yes, but if he gets restive to-morrow morning?" said I. "And then you don't want him at the Golden House on Friday evening, and I don't want him at the barracks."
"No, he'd show fight, Carr would," said the colonel. "Look here, we're in for this thing, and I'm going through with it. I shall keep Carr at my house till it's all over."
"How?" asked the signorina.
"By love, if possible!" said the colonel, with a grin—"that is, by drink. Failing that, by force. It's essential that the old man shouldn't get wind of anything being up; and if Carr told him about last night he'd prick up his wicked old ears. No, Master Johnny is better quiet."
"Suppose he turns nasty," I suggested again.
"He may turn as nasty as he likes," said the colonel. "He don't leave my house unless he puts a bullet into me first. That's settled. Leave it to me. If he behaves nicely, he'll be all right. If not—"
"What shall you do to him?" asked the signorina.
I foresaw another outburst of conscience, and though I liked Johnny, I liked myself better. So I said:
"Oh, leave it to the colonel; he'll manage all right."
"Now I'm off," said the latter, "back to my friend Johnny. Good-night, signorina. Write to the President to-morrow. Good-night, Martin. Make that speech of yours pretty long. Au revoir till next Friday."
I prepared to go, for the colonel lingered till I came with him. Even then we so distrusted one another that neither would leave the other alone with the signorina.
We parted at the door, he going off up the road to get his horse and ride to his "ranch," I turning down toward the Piazza.
We left the signorina at the door, looking pale and weary, and for once bereft of her high spirits. Poor girl! She found conspiracy rather trying work.
I was a little troubled myself. I began to see more clearly that it doesn't do for a man of scruples to dabble in politics. I had a great regard for poor Johnny, and I felt no confidence in the colonel treating him with any consideration. In fact, I would not have insured Johnny's life for the next week at any conceivable premium. Again I thought it unlikely that, if we succeeded, the President would survive his downfall. I had to repeat to myself all the story of his treachery to me, lashing myself into a fury against him, before I could bring myself to think with resignation of the imminent extinction of that shining light. What a loss he would be to the world! So many delightful stories, so great a gift of manner, so immense a personal charm—all to disappear into the pit! And for what? To put into his place a ruffian without redeeming qualities. Was it worth while to put down Lucifer only to enthrone Beelzebub? I could only check this doleful strain of reflection by sternly recalling myself to the real question—the state of the fortunes of me, John Martin. And to me the revolution was necessary. I might get the money; at least I should gain time. And I might satisfy my love. I was animated by the honorable motive of saving my employers from loss and by the overwhelming motive of my own passion. If the continued existence of Johnny and the President was incompatible with these legitimate objects, so much the worse for Johnny and the President.
JOHNNY CARR IS WILLFUL.
The next three days were on the whole the most uncomfortable I have ever spent in my life. I got little sleep and no rest; I went about with a revolver handy all day, and jumped every time I heard a sound. I expended much change in buying every edition of all the papers; I listened with dread to the distant cries of news-venders, fearing, as the words gradually became distinguishable, to hear that our secret was a secret no longer. I was bound to show myself, and yet shrank from all gatherings of men. I transacted my business with an absent mind and a face of such superhuman innocence that, had anyone been watching me, he must at once have suspected something wrong. I was incapable of adding up a row of figures, and Jones became most solicitous about the state of my brain. In a word, my nerves were quite shattered, and I registered a vow never to upset a Government again as long I lived. In future, the established constitution would have to be good enough for me. I invoked impartial curses on the President, the colonel, the directors, and myself! and I verily believe that only the thought of the signorina prevented me making a moonlight flitting across the frontier with a whole skin at least, if with an empty pocket, and leaving the rival patriots of Aureataland to fight it out among themselves.
Happily, however, nothing occurred to justify my fears. The other side seemed to be sunk in dull security. The President went often to the Ministry of Finance, and was closeted for hours with Don Antonio; I suppose they were perfecting their nefarious scheme. There were no signs of excitement or activity at the barracks; the afternoon gatherings on the Piazza were occupied with nothing more serious than the prospects of lawn tennis and the grievous dearth of dances. The official announcements relative to the debt had had a quieting effect; and all classes seemed inclined to wait and see what the President's new plan was.
So passed Wednesday and Thursday. On neither day had I heard anything from my fellow-conspirators; our arrangements for writing had so far proved unnecessary—or unsuccessful. The latter possibility sent a shiver down my back, and my lively fancy pictured his Excellency's smile as he perused the treasonable documents. If I heard nothing on the morning of Friday, I was determined at all risks to see the colonel. With the dawn of that eventful day, however, I was relieved of this necessity. I was lying in bed about half-past nine (for I never add to the woes of life by early rising) when my servant brought in three letters.
"Sent on from the bank, sir," he said, "with Mr. Jones' compliments, and are you going there this morning?"
"My compliments to Mr. Jones, and he may expect me in five minutes," I replied.
The letters were all marked "Immediate"; one from the signorina, one from the colonel, one from the barracks. I opened the last first and read as follows:
"The officers of the Aureataland Army have the honor to remind Mr. John Martin that they hope to have the pleasure of his company at supper this evening at ten o'clock precisely. In the unavoidable absence of his Excellency, the President, owing to the pressing cares of state, and of the Hon. Colonel McGregor from indisposition, the toast of the Army of Aureataland will be proposed by Major Alphonse DeChair.
"P.S.—Cher Martin, speak long this night. The two great men do not come, and the evening wants to be filled out. Tout a vous,
"It shall be long, my dear boy, and we will fill out your evening for you," said I to myself, well pleased so far.
Then I opened the signorina's epistle.
"DEAR MR. MARTIN [it began]: Will you be so kind as to send me in the course of the day twenty dollars in small change? I want to give the school children a scramble. I inclose check. I am so sorry you could not dine with me to-night, but after all I am glad, because I should have had to put you off, for I am commanded rather sudden to dine at the Golden House. With kind regards, believe me, yours sincerely,
"Very good," said I. "I reckon the scramble will keep. And now for the colonel."
The colonel's letter ran thus:
"DEAR MARTIN: I inclose check for five hundred dollars. My man will call for the cash to-morrow morning. I give you notice because I want it all in silver for wages. [Rather a poverty of invention among us, I thought.] Carr and I are here together, both seedy. Poor Carr is on his back and likely to remain there for a day or two—bad attack of champagne. I'm better, and though I've cut the affair at barracks to-night, I fully expect to be up and about this afternoon.
"Oh! so Carr is on his back and likely to remain there, is he? Very likely, I expect; but I wonder what it means. I hope the colonel hasn't been very drastic. However, everything seems right; in fact, better than I hoped."
In this more cheerful frame of mind I arose, breakfasted at leisure, and set out for the bank about eleven.
Of course, the first person I met in the street was one of the last I wanted to meet, namely, Donna Antonia. She was on horseback, and her horse looked as if he'd done some work. At the sight of me she reined up, and I could not avoid stopping as I lifted my hat.
"Whence so early?" I asked.
"Early?" she said. "I don't call this early. I've been for a long ride; in fact, I've ridden over to Mr. Carr's place, with a message from papa; but he's not there. Do you know where he is, Mr. Martin?"
"Haven't an idea," said I.
"He hasn't been home for four nights," she continued, "and he hasn't been to the Ministry either. It's very odd that he should disappear like this, just when all the business is going on, too."
"What business, Donna Antonia?" I asked blandly.
She colored, recollecting, no doubt that the business was still a secret.
"Oh, well! you know they're always busy at the Ministry of Finance at this time. It's the time they pay everybody, isn't it?"
"It's the time they ought to pay everybody," I said.
"Well," she went on, without noticing my correction, "at any rate, papa and the President are both very much vexed with him; so I offered to make my ride in his direction."
"Where can he be?" I asked again.
"Well," she replied, "I believe he's at Colonel McGregor's, and after lunch I shall go over there. I know he dined there on Monday, and I dare say he stayed on."
"No," thought I, "you mustn't do that, it might be inconvenient." So I said:
"I know he's not there; I heard from McGregor this morning, and he says Carr left him on Tuesday. Why, how stupid I am! The colonel says Carr told him he was going off for a couple of days' sail in his yacht. I expect he's got contrary winds, and can't get back again."
"It's very bad of him to go," she said, "but no doubt that's it. Papa will be angry, but he'll be glad to know no harm has come to him."
"Happy to have relieved your mind," said I, and bade her farewell, thanking my stars for a lucky inspiration, and wondering whether Don Antonio would find no harm had come to poor Johnny. I had my doubts. I regretted having to tell Donna Antonia what I did not believe to be true, but these things are incidental to revolutions—a point of resemblance between them and commercial life.
When I arrived at the bank I dispatched brief answers to my budget of letters; each of the answers was to the same purport, namely, that I should be at the barracks at the appointed time. I need not trouble the reader with the various wrappings in which this essential piece of intelligence was involved. I then had a desperate encounter with Jones; business was slack, and Jones was fired with the unholy desire of seizing the opportunity thus offered to make an exhaustive inquiry into the state of our reserve. He could not understand my sudden punctiliousness as to times and seasons, and I was afraid I should have to tell him plainly that only over my lifeless body should he succeed in investing the contents of the safe. At last I effected a diversion by persuading him to give Mrs. Jones a jaunt into the country, and, thus left in peace, I spent my afternoon in making final preparations. I burned many letters; I wrote a touching farewell to my father, in which, under the guise of offering forgiveness, I took occasion to point out to him how greatly his imprudent conduct had contributed to increase the difficulties of his dutiful son. I was only restrained from making a will by the obvious imprudence of getting it witnessed. I spent a feverish hour in firing imaginary shots from my revolver, to ascertain whether the instrument was in working order. Finally I shut up the bank at five, went to the Piazza, partook of a light repast, and smoked cigars with mad speed till it was time to dress for the supper; and never was I more rejoiced than when the moment for action at last came. As I was dressing, lingering over each garment with a feeling that I might never put it on, or, for that matter, take it off again, I received a second note from the colonel. It was brought by a messenger, on a sweating horse, who galoped up to my door. I knew the messenger well by sight; he was the colonel's valet. My heart was in my mouth as I took the envelope from his hands (for I ran down myself). The fellow was evidently in our secret, for he grinned nervously at me as he handed it over, and said:
"I was to ride fast, and destroy the letter if anyone came near."
I nodded, and opened it. It said:
"C. escaped about six this evening. Believed to have gone to his house. He suspects. If you see him, shoot on sight."
I turned to the man.
"Had Mr. Carr a horse?" I asked.
"No, sir; left on foot."
"But there are horses at his house."
"No, sir, the colonel has borrowed them all."
"Why do you think he's gone there?"
"Couldn't come along the road to Whittingham, sir, it's patrolled."
There was still a chance. It was ten miles across the country from the colonel's to Johnny's and six miles on from Johnny's to Whittingham. The man divined my thoughts.
"He can't go fast, sir, he's wounded in the leg. If he goes home first, as he will, because he doesn't know his horses are gone, he can't get here before eleven at the earliest."
"How was he wounded?" I asked. "Tell me what the colonel did to him, and be short."
"Yes, sir. The colonel told us Mr. Carr was to be kept at the ranch over night; wasn't to leave it alive, sir, he said. Well, up to yesterday it was all right and pleasant. Mr. Carr wasn't very well, and the doses the colonel gave him didn't seem to make him any better—quite the contrary. But yesterday afternoon he got rampageous, would go, anyhow, ill or well! So he got up and dressed. We'd taken all his weapons from him, sir, and when he came down dressed, and asked for his horse, we told him he couldn't go. Well, he just said, 'Get out of the light, I tell you,' and began walking toward the hall door. I don't mind saying we were rather put about, sir. We didn't care to shoot him as he stood, and it's my belief we'd have let him pass; but just as he was going out, in comes the colonel. 'Hallo! what's this, Johnny?' says he. 'You've got some damned scheme on,' said Mr. Carr. 'I believe you've been drugging me. Out of the way, McGregor, or I'll brain you.' 'Where are you going?' says the colonel. 'To Whittingham, to the President's,' said he. 'Not to-day,' says the colonel. 'Come, be reasonable, Johnny. You'll be all right to-morrow.' 'Colonel McGregor,' says he, 'I'm unarmed, and you've got a revolver. You can shoot me if you like, but unless you do, I'm going out. You've been playing some dodge on me, and, by God! you shall pay for it.' With that he rushed straight at the colonel. The colonel, he stepped on one side and let him pass. Then he went after him to the door, waited till he was about fifteen yards off, then up with his revolver, as cool as you like, and shot him as clean as a sixpence in the right leg. Down came Mr. Carr; he lay there a minute or two cursing, and then he fainted. 'Pick him up, dress his wound, and put him to bed,' says the colonel. Well, sir, it was only a flesh wound, so we soon got him comfortable, and there he lay all night."
"How did he get away to-day?"
"We were all out, sir—went over to Mr. Carr's place to borrow his horses. The colonel took a message, sir. [Here the fellow grinned again.] I don't know what it was. Well, when we'd got the horses, we rode round outside the town, and came into the road between here and the colonel's. Ten horses we got, and we went there to give the ten men who were patrolling the road the fresh horses. We heard from them that no one had come along. When we got home, he'd been gone two hours!"
"How did he manage it?"
"A woman, sir," said my warrior, with supreme disgust. "Gave her a kiss and ten dollars to undo the front door, and then he was off! He daren't go to the stables to get a horse, so he was forced to limp away on his game leg. A plucky one he is, too," he concluded.
"Poor old Johnny!" said I. "You didn't go after him?"
"No time, sir. Couldn't tire the horses. Besides, when he'd once got home, he's got a dozen men there, and they'd have kept us all night. Well, sir, I must be off. Any answer for the colonel? He'll be outside the Golden House by eleven, sir, and Mr. Carr won't get in if he comes after that."
"Tell him to rely on me," I answered. But for all that I didn't mean to shoot Johnny on sight. So, much perturbed in spirit, I set off to the barracks, wondering when Johnny would get to Whittingham, and whether he would fall into the colonel's hands outside the Golden House. It struck me as unpleasantly probable that he might come and spoil the harmony of my evening; if he came there first, the conspiracy would probably lose my aid at an early moment! What would happen to me I didn't know. But, as I took off my coat in the lobby, I bent down as if to tie a shoestring, and had one more look at my revolver.
A SUPPER PARTY.
I shall never forget that supper as long as I live. Considered merely as a social gathering it would be memorable enough, for I never before or since sat at meat with ten such queer customers as my hosts of that evening. The officers of the Aureataland Army were a very mixed lot—two or three Spanish-Americans, three or four Brazilians, and the balance Americans of the type their countrymen are least proud of. If there was an honest man among them he sedulously concealed his title to distinction; I know there wasn't a sober one. The amount of liquor consumed was portentous; and I gloated with an unholy joy as I saw man after man rapidly making himself what diplomatists call a quantite negligeable. The conversation needed all the excuse the occasion could afford, and the wit would have appeared unduly coarse in a common pot-house. All this might have passed from my memory, or blended in a subdued harmony with my general impression of Aureataland; but the peculiar position in which I stood gave to my mind an unusual activity of perception. Among this band of careless, drunken revelers I sat vigilant, restless, and impatient; feigning to take a leading part in their dissolute hilarity, I was sober, collected, and alert to my very finger-tips. I anxiously watched their bearing and expression. I led them on to speak of the President, rejoicing when I elicited open murmurs and covert threats at his base ingratitude to the men on whose support his power rested. They had not been paid for six months, and were ripe for any mischief. I was more than once tempted to forestall the colonel and begin the revolution on my own account; only my inability to produce before their eyes any arguments of the sort they would listen to restrained me.
Eleven o'clock had come and gone. The senior captain had proposed the President's health. It was drunk in sullen silence; I was the only man who honored it by rising from his seat.
The major had proposed the army, and they had drunk deep to their noble selves. A young man of weak expression and quavering legs had proposed "The commerce of Aureataland," coupled with the name of Mr. John Martin, in laudatory but incoherent terms, and I was on my legs replying. Oh, that speech of mine! For discursiveness, for repetition, for sheer inanity, I suppose it has never been equaled. I droned steadily away, interrupted only by cries for fresh supplies of wine; as I went on the audience paid less and less attention. It was past twelve. The well of my eloquence was running drier and drier, and yet no sound outside! I wondered how long they would stand it and how long I could stand it. At 12.15 I began my peroration. Hardly had I done so, when one of the young men started in a gentle voice an utterly indescribable ditty. One by one they took it up, till the rising tide of voices drowned my fervent periods. Perforce I stopped. They were all on their feet now. Did they mean to break up? In despair at the idea I lifted up my voice, loud and distinct (the only distinct voice left in the room), in the most shameful verse of that shameful composition, and seizing my neighbor's hand began to move slowly round the table. The move was successful. Each man followed suit, and the whole party, kicking back their chairs, revolved with lurching steps round the debris of empty bottles and cigar ashes.
The room was thick with smoke, and redolent of fumes of wine. Mechanically I led the chorus, straining every nerve to hear a sound from outside. I was growing dizzy with the movement, and, overwrought with the strain on my nerves. I knew a few minutes more would be the limit of endurance, when at last I heard a loud shout and tumult of voices.
"What's that?" exclaimed the major, in thick tones, pausing as he spoke.
I dropped his hand, and, seizing my revolver, said:
"Some drunken row in barracks, major. Let 'em alone."
"I must go," he said. "Character—Aureataland—army—at stake."
"Set a thief to catch a thief, eh, major?" said I.
"What do you mean, sir?" he stuttered. "Let me go."
"If you move, I shoot, major," said I, bringing out my weapon.
I never saw greater astonishment on human countenance. He swore loudly, and then cried:
"Hi, stop him—he's mad—he's going to shoot!"
A shout of laughter rose from the crew around us, for they felt exquisite appreciation of my supposed joke.
"Right you are, Martin!" cried one. "Keep him quiet. We won't go home till morning."
The major turned to the window. It was a moonlight night, and as I looked with him I saw the courtyard full of soldiers. Who was in command? The answer to that meant much to me.
This sight somewhat sobered the major.
"A mutiny!" he cried. "The soldiers have risen!"
"Go to bed," said the junior ensign.
"Look out of window!" he cried.
They all staggered to the window. As the soldiers saw them, they raised a shout. I could not distinguish whether it was a greeting or a threat. They took it as the latter, and turned to the door.
"Stop!" I cried; "I shoot the first man who opens the door."
In wonder they turned on me. I stood facing them, revolver in hand. They waited huddled together for an instant, then made a rush at me; I fired, but missed. I had a vision of a poised decanter; a second later, the missile caught me in the chest and hurled me back against the wall. As I fell I dropped my weapon, and they were upon me. I thought it was all over; but as they surged round, in the madness of drink and anger, I, looking through their ranks, saw the door open and a crowd of men rush in. Who was at their head? Thank God! it was the colonel, and his voice rose high above the tumult:
"Order, gentlemen, order!" Then to his men he added:
"Each mark your man, and two of you bring Mr. Martin here."
I was saved. To explain how, I must tell you what had been happening at the Golden House, and how the night attack had fared.
It is a sad necessity that compels us to pry into the weaknesses of our fellow-creatures, and seek to turn them to our own profit. I am not philosopher enough to say whether this course of conduct derives any justification from its universality, but in the region of practice, I have never hesitated to place myself on a moral level with those with whom I had to deal. I may occasionally even have left the other party to make this needful adjustment, and I have never known him fail to do so. I felt, therefore, very little scruple in making use of the one weak spot discoverable in the defenses of our redoubtable opponent, his Excellency the President of Aureataland. No doubt the reader's eye has before now detected the joint in that great man's armor at which we directed our missile. As a lover, I grudged the employment of the signorina in this service; as a politician, I was proud of the device; as a human being, I recognized, what we are very ready to recognize, that it did not become me to refuse to work with such instruments as appeared to be put into my hands.
But whatever may be the verdict of moralists on our device, events proved its wisdom. The President had no cause to suspect a trap; therefore, like a sensible man, he chose to spend the evening with the signorina rather than with his gallant officers. With equally good taste, he elected to spend it tete-a-tete with her, when she gave him the opportunity. In our subsequent conversations, the signorina was not communicative as to how the early hours of the evening passed. She preferred to begin her narrative from the point when their solitude was interrupted. As I rely on her account and that of the colonel for this part of my story, I am compelled to make my start from the same moment. It appears that at a few minutes past eleven o'clock, when the President was peacefully smoking a cigar and listening to the conversation of his fair guest (whom he had galvanized into an affected liveliness by alarming remarks on her apparent preoccupation), there fell upon his ear the sound of a loud knocking at the door. Dinner had been served in a small room at the back of the house, and the President could not command a view of the knocker without going out on to the veranda, which ran all round the house, and walking round to the front. When the knock was heard, the signorina started up.
"Don't disturb yourself, pray," said his Excellency, politely. "I gave special instructions that I was visible to no one this evening. But I was wondering whether it could be Johnny Carr. I want to speak to him for a moment, and I'll just go round outside and see if it is."
As he spoke, a discreet tap was heard at the door.
"Yes?" said the President.
"Mr. Carr is at the door and particularly wants to see your Excellency. An urgent matter, he says."
"Tell him I'll come round and speak to him from the veranda," replied the President.
He turned to the window, and threw it open to step out.
Let me tell what followed in the signorina's words.
"Just then we heard a sound of a number of horses galloping up. The President stopped and said:
"'Hallo! what's up?'
"Then there was a shout and a volley of shots, and I heard the colonel's voice cry:
"'Down with your arms; down, I say, or you're dead men.'
"The President stepped quickly across the room to his escritoire, took up his revolver, went back to the window, passed through it, and without a word disappeared. I could not hear even the sound of his foot on the veranda.
"I heard one more shot—then a rush of men to the door, and the colonel burst in, with sword and revolver in his hands, and followed by ten or a dozen men.
"I ran to him, terrified, and cried:
"'Oh, is anyone hurt?'
"He took no notice, but asked hastily:
"'Where is he?'
"I pointed to the veranda, and gasped:
"'He went out there.' Then I turned to one of the men and said again:
"'Is anyone hurt?'
"'Only Mr. Carr,' he replied. 'The rest of 'em were a precious sight too careful of themselves.'
"'And is he killed?'
"'Don't think he's dead, miss,' he said; 'but he's hurt badly."
"As I turned again, I saw the President standing quite calmly in the window. When the colonel saw him he raised his revolver and said:
"'Do you yield, General Whittingham? We are twelve to one.'
"As he spoke, every man covered the President with his aim. The latter stood facing the twelve revolvers, his own weapon hanging loosely in his left hand. Then, smiling, he said a little bitterly:
"'Heroics are not in my line, McGregor. I suppose this is a popular rising—that is to say, you have bribed my men, murdered my best friend, and beguiled me with the lures of that—'
"I could not bear the words that hung on his lips, and with a sob I fell on a sofa and hid my face.
"'Well, we mustn't use hard names,' he went on, in a gentler tone. 'We are all as God made us. I give in,' and, throwing down his weapon, he asked, 'Have you quite killed Carr?'
"'I don't know,' said the colonel, implying plainly that he did not care either.
"'I suppose it was you that shot him?'
"The colonel nodded.
"The President yawned, and looked at his watch.
"'As I have no part in to-night's performance,' said he, 'I presume I am at liberty to go to bed?'
"The colonel said shortly:
"'Where's the bedroom?'
"'In there,' said the President, waving his hand to a door facing that by which the colonel had entered.
"'Permit me,' said the latter. He went in, no doubt to see if there were any other egress. Returning shortly he said:
"'My men must stay here, and you must leave the door open.'
"'I have no objection,' said the President. 'No doubt they will respect my modesty.'
"'Two of you stay in this room. Two of you keep watch in the veranda, one at this window, the other at the bedroom window. I shall put three more sentries outside. General Whittingham is not to leave this room. If you hear or see anything going on in there, go in and put him under restraint. Otherwise treat him with respect.'
"'I thank you for your civility,' said the President, 'also for the compliment implied in these precautions. Is it over this matter of the debt that your patriotism has drawn you into revolt?'
"'I see no use in discussing public affairs at this moment,' the colonel replied. 'And my presence is required elsewhere. I regret that I cannot relieve you of the presence of these men, but I do not feel I should be justified in accepting your parole.'
"The President did not seem to be angered at this insult.
"'I have not offered it,' he said simply. 'It is better you should take your own measures. Need I detain you, colonel?'
"The colonel did not answer him, but turned to me and said:
"'Signorina Nugent, we wait only for you, and time is precious.'
"'I will follow you in a moment,' I said, with my head still among the cushions.
"'No, come now,' he commanded.
"Looking up, I saw a smile on the President's face. As I rose reluctantly, he also got up from the chair into which he had flung himself, and stopped me with a gesture. I was terribly afraid that he was going to say something hard to me, but his voice only expressed a sort of amused pity.
"'The money, was it, signorina?' he said. 'Young people and beautiful people should not be mercenary. Poor child! you had better have stood by me.'
"I answered him nothing, but went out with the colonel, leaving him seated again in his chair, surveying with some apparent amusement the two threatening sentries who stood at the door. The colonel hurried me out of the house, saying:
"'We must ride to the barracks. If the news gets there before us, they may cut up rough. You go home. Your work is done.'
"So they mounted and rode away, leaving me in the road. There were no signs of any struggle, except the door hanging loose on its hinges, and a drop or two of blood on the steps where they had shot poor Johnny Carr. I went straight home, and what happened in the next few hours at the Golden House I don't know, and, knowing how I left the President, I cannot explain. I went home, and cried till I thought my heart would break."
Thus far the signorina. I must beg to call special attention to the closing lines of her narrative. But before I relate the very startling occurrence to which she refers, we must return to the barracks, where, it will be remembered, matters were in a rather critical condition. When the officers saw their messroom suddenly filled with armed men, and heard the alarming order issued by the colonel, their attention was effectually diverted from me. They crowded together on one side of the table, facing the colonel and his men on the other. Assisted by the two men sent to my aid, I seized the opportunity to push my way through them and range myself by the side of my leader. After a moment's pause the colonel began:
"The last thing we should desire, gentlemen," he said, "is to resort to force. But the time for explanation is short. The people of Aureataland have at last risen against the tyranny they have so long endured. General Whittingham has proved a traitor to the cause of freedom; he won his position in the name of liberty; he has used it to destroy liberty. The voice of the people has declared him to have forfeited his high office. The people have placed in my hand the sword of vengeance. Armed with this mighty sanction, I have appealed to the army. The army has proved true to its traditions—true to its character of the protector, not the oppressor, of the people. Gentlemen, will you who lead the army take your proper place?"
There was no reply to this moving appeal. He advanced closer to them, and went on:
"There is no middle way. You are patriots or traitors—friends of liberty or friends of tyranny. I stand here to offer you either a traitor's death, or, if you will, life, honor, and the satisfaction of all your just claims. Do you mistrust the people? I, as their representative, here offer you every just due the people owes you—debts which had long been paid but for the greed of that great traitor."
As he said this he took from his men some bags of money, and threw them on the table with a loud chink. Major DeChair glanced at the bags, and glanced at his comrades, and said:
"In the cause of liberty God forbid we should be behind. Down with the tyrant!"
And all the pack yelped in chorus!
"Then, gentlemen, to the head of your men," said the colonel, and going to the window, he cried to the throng:
"Men, your noble officers are with us."
A cheer answered him. I wiped my forehead, and said to myself, "That's well over."
I will not weary the reader with our further proceedings. Suffice it to say we marshaled our host and marched down to the Piazza. The news had spread by now, and in the dimly breaking morning light we saw the Square full of people—men, women, and children. As we marched in there was a cheer, not very hearty—a cheer propitiatory, for they did not know what we meant to do. The colonel made them a brief speech, promising peace, security, liberty, plenty, and all the goods of heaven. In a few stern words he cautioned them against "treachery," and announced that any rebellion against the Provisional Government would meet with swift punishment. Then he posted his army in companies, to keep watch till all was quiet. And at last he said:
"Now, Martin, come back to the Golden House, and let's put that fellow in a safe place."
"Yes," said I; "and have a look for the money." For really, in the excitement, it seemed as if there was a danger of the most important thing of all being forgotten.
The dawn was now far advanced, and as we left the Piazza, we could see the Golden House at the other end of the avenue. All looked quiet, and the sentries were gently pacing to and fro. Drawing nearer, we saw two or three of the President's servants busied about their ordinary tasks. One woman was already deleting Johnny Carr's life-blood with a mop and a pail of water; and a carpenter was at work repairing the front-door. Standing by it was the doctor's brougham.
"Come to see Carr, I suppose," said I.
Leaving our horses to the care of the men who were with us we entered the house. Just inside we met the doctor himself. He was a shrewd little fellow, named Anderson, generally popular and, though a personal friend of the President's, not openly identified with either political party.
"I have a request to make to you, sir," he said to McGregor, "about Mr. Carr."
"Well, is he dead?" said the colonel. "If he is, he's got only himself to thank for it."
The doctor wisely declined to discuss this question, and confined himself to stating that Johnny was not dead. On the contrary, he was going on nicely.
"But," he went on, "quiet is essential, and I want to take him to my house, out of the racket. No doubt it is pretty quiet here now, but—"
The colonel interrupted:
"Will he give his parole not to escape?"
"My dear sir," said the doctor, "the man couldn't move to save his life—and he's asleep now."
"You must wake him up to move him, I suppose," said the colonel. "But you may take him. Let me know when he's well enough to see me. Meanwhile I hold you responsible for his good behavior."
"Certainly," said the doctor. "I am content to be responsible for Mr. Carr."
"All right; take him and get out. Now for Whittingham!"
"Hadn't we better get the money first?" said I.
"Damn the money!" he replied. "But I tell you what—I must have a bit of food. I've tasted nothing for twelve hours."
One of the servants hearing him, said:
"Breakfast can be served in a moment, sir." And he ushered us into the large dining room, where we soon had an excellent meal.
When we had got through most of it, I broke the silence by asking:
"What are you going to do with him?"
"I should like to shoot him," said the colonel.
"On what charge?"
"Treachery," he replied.
"That would hardly do, would it?"
"Well, then, embezzlement of public funds."
We had a little talk about the President's destiny, and I tried to persuade the colonel to milder measures. In fact, I was determined to prevent such a murder if I could without ruin to myself.
"Well, we'll consider it when we've seen him," said the colonel, rising and lighting a cigarette. "By Jove! we've wasted an hour breakfasting—it's seven o'clock."
I followed him along the passage, and we entered the little room where we had left the President. The sentries were still there, each seated in an armchair. They were not asleep, but looked a little drowsy.
"All right?" said the colonel.
"Yes, Excellency," said one of them. "He is in there in bed."
He went into the inner room and began to undo the shutters, letting in the early sun.
We passed through the half-opened door and saw a peaceful figure lying in the bed, whence proceeded a gentle snore.
"Good nerve, hasn't he?" said the colonel.
"Yes; but what a queer night-cap!" I said, for the President's head was swathed in white linen.
The colonel strode quickly up to the bed.
"Done, by hell!" he cried. "It's Johnny Carr!"
It was true; there lay Johnny. His Excellency was nowhere to be seen.
The colonel shook Johnny roughly by the arm. The latter opened his eyes and said sleepily:
"Steady there. Kindly remember I'm a trifle fragile."
"What's this infernal plot? Where's Whittingham?"
"Ah, it's McGregor," said Johnny, with a bland smile, "and Martin. How are you, old fellow? Some beast's hit me on the head."
"Where's Whittingham?" reiterated the colonel, savagely shaking Johnny's arm.
"Gently!" said I; "after all, he's a sick man."
The colonel dropped the arm with a muttered oath, and Johnny said, sweetly:
"Quits, isn't it, colonel?"
The colonel turned from him, and said to his men sternly:
"Have you had any hand in this?"
They protested vehemently that they were as astonished as we were; and so they were, unless they acted consummately. They denied that anyone had entered the outer room or that any sound had proceeded from the inner. They swore they had kept vigilant watch, and must have seen an intruder. Both the men inside were the colonel's personal servants, and he believed their honesty; but what of their vigilance?
Carr heard him sternly questioning them, on which he said:
"Those chaps aren't to blame, colonel. I didn't come in that way. If you'll take a look behind the bed, you'll see another door. They brought me in there. I was rather queer and only half knew what was up."
We looked and saw a door where he said. Pushing the bed aside, we opened it, and found ourselves on the back staircase of the premises. Clearly the President had noiselessly opened this door and got out. But how had Carr got in without noise?
The sentry came up, and said:
"Every five minutes, sir, I looked and saw him on the bed. He lay for the first hour in his clothes. The next look, he was undressed. It struck me he'd been pretty quick and quiet about it, but I thought no more."
"Depend upon it, the dressed man was the President, the undressed man Carr! When was that?"
"About half-past two, sir; just after the doctor came."
"The doctor!" we cried.
"Yes, sir; Dr. Anderson."
"You never told me he had been here."
"He never went into the President's—into General Whittingham's room, sir; but he came in here for five minutes, to get some brandy, and stood talking with us for a time. Half an hour after he came in for some more."
We began to see how it was done. That wretched little doctor was in the plot. Somehow or other he had communicated with the President; probably he knew of the door. Then, I fancied, they must have worked something in this way. The doctor comes in to distract the sentries, while his Excellency moves the bed. Finding that they took a look every five minutes, he told the President. Then he went and got Johnny Carr ready. Returning, he takes the President's place on the bed, and in that character undergoes an inspection. The moment this is over, he leaps up and goes out. Between them they bring in Carr, put him into bed, and slip out through the narrow space of open door behind the bedstead. When all was done, the doctor had come back to see if any suspicion had been aroused.
"I have it now!" cried the colonel. "That infernal doctor's done us both. He couldn't get Whittingham out of the house without leave, so he's taken him as Carr! Swindled me into giving my leave. Ah, look out, if we meet, Mr. Doctor!"
We rushed out of the house and found this conjecture was true. The man who purported to be Carr had been carried out, enveloped in blankets, just as we sat down to breakfast; the doctor had put him into the carriage, followed himself, and driven rapidly away.
"Which way did they go?"
"Toward the harbor, sir," the sentry replied.
The harbor could be reached in twenty minutes' fast driving. Without a word the colonel sprang on his horse; I imitated him, and we galloped as hard as we could, everyone making way before our furious charge. Alas! we were too late. As we drew rein on the quay we saw, half a mile out to sea and sailing before a stiff breeze, Johnny Carr's little yacht, with the Aureataland flag floating defiantly at her masthead.
We gazed at it blankly, with never a word to say, and turned our horses' heads. Our attention was attracted by a small group of men standing round the storm-signal post. As we rode up, they hastily scattered, and we saw pinned to the post a sheet of note-paper. Thereupon was written in a well-known hand:
"I, Marcus W. Whittingham, President of the Republic of Aureataland, hereby offer a REWARD of FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS and a FREE PARDON to any person or persons assisting in the CAPTURE, ALIVE or DEAD, of GEORGE MCGREGOR (late Colonel in the Aureataland Army) and JOHN MARTIN, Bank Manager, and I do further proclaim the said George McGregor and John Martin to be traitors and rebels against the Republic, and do pronounce their lives forfeited. Which sentence let every loyal citizen observe at his peril.
"MARCUS W. WHITTINGHAM,
Truly, this was pleasant!
DIVIDING THE SPOILS.
The habit of reading having penetrated, as we are told, to all classes of the community, I am not without hope that some who peruse this chronicle will be able, from personal experience, to understand the feelings of a man when he first finds a reward offered for his apprehension. It is true that our police are not in the habit of imitating the President's naked brutality by expressly adding "Alive or Dead," but I am informed that the law, in case of need, leaves the alternative open to the servants of justice. I am not ashamed to confess that my spirits were rather dashed by his Excellency's Parthian shot, and I could see that the colonel himself was no less perturbed. The escape of Fleance seemed to Macbeth to render his whole position unsafe, and no one who knew General Whittingham will doubt that he was a more dangerous opponent than Fleance. We both felt, in fact, as soon as we saw the white sail of The Songstress bearing our enemy out of our reach, that the revolution could not yet be regarded as safely accomplished. But the uncertainty of our tenure of power did not paralyze our energies; on the contrary, we determined to make hay while the sun shone, and, if Aureataland was doomed to succumb once more to tyranny, I, for one, was very clear that her temporary emancipation might be turned to good account.
Accordingly, on arriving again at the Golden House, we lost no time in instituting a thorough inquiry into the state of the public finances. We ransacked the house from top to bottom and found nothing! Was it possible that the President had carried off with him all the treasure that had inspired our patriotic efforts? The thought was too horrible. The drawers of his escritoire and the safe that stood in his library revealed nothing to our eager eyes. A foraging party, dispatched to the Ministry of Finance (where, by the way, they did not find Don Antonio or his fair daughter), returned with the discouraging news that nothing was visible but ledgers and bills (not negotiable securities—the other sort). In deep dejection I threw myself into his Excellency's chair and lit one of his praiseworthy cigars with the doleful reflection that this pleasure seemed all I was likely to get out of the business. The colonel stood moodily with his back to the fireplace, looking at me as if I were responsible for the state of things.
At this point in came the signorina. We greeted her gloomily, and she was as startled as ourselves at the news of the President's escape; at the same time I thought I detected an undercurrent of relief, not unnatural if we recollect her personal relations with the deposed ruler. When, however, we went on to break to her the nakedness of the land, she stopped us at once.
"Oh, you stupid men! you haven't looked in the right place. I suppose you expected to find it laid out for you on the dining-room table. Come with me."
We followed her into the room where Carr lay. He was awake, and the signorina went and asked him how he was. Then she continued:
"We shall have to disturb you for a few minutes, Mr. Carr. You don't mind, do you?"
"Must I get out of bed?" asked Johnny.
"Certainly not while I'm here," said the signorina. "You've only got to shut your eyes and lie still; but we're going to make a little noise."
There was in the room, as perhaps might be expected, a washing-stand. This article was of the description one often sees; above the level of the stand itself there rose a wooden screen to the height of two feet and a half, covered with pretty tiles, the presumable object being to protect the wall paper. I never saw a more innocent-looking bit of furniture; it might have stood in a lady's dressing-room. The signorina went up to it and slid it gently on one side; it moved in a groove! Then she pressed a spot in the wall behind and a small piece of it rolled aside, disclosing a keyhole.
"He's taken the key, of course," she said. "We must break it open. Who's got a hammer?"
Tools were procured, and, working under the signorina's directions, after a good deal of trouble, we laid bare a neat little safe embedded in the wall. This safe was legibly inscribed on the outside "Burglar's Puzzle." We however, were not afraid of making a noise, and it only puzzled us for ten minutes.
When opened it revealed a Golconda! There lay in securities and cash no less than five hundred thousand dollars!
We smiled at one another.
"A sad revelation!" I remarked.
"Hoary old fox!" said the colonel.
No wonder the harbor works were unremunerative in their early stages. The President must have kept them at a very early stage.
"What are you people up to?" cried Carr.
"Rank burglary, my dear boy," I replied, and we retreated with our spoil.
"Now," said I to the colonel, "what are you going to do?"
"Why, what do you think, Mr. Martin?" interposed the signorina. "He's going to give you your money, and divide the rest with his sincere friend Christina Nugent."
"Well, I suppose so," said the colonel. "But it strikes me you're making a good thing of this, Martin."
"My dear colonel," said I, "a bargain is a bargain; and where would you have been without my money?"
The colonel made no reply, but handed me the money, which I liked much better. I took the three hundred and twenty thousand dollars and said:
"Now, I can face the world, an honest man."
The signorina laughed.
"I am glad," she said, "chiefly for poor old Jones' sake. It'll take a load off his mind."
The colonel proceeded to divide the remainder into two little heaps, of which he pushed one over to the signorina. She took it gayly, and said:
"Now I shall make curl papers of half my bonds, and I shall rely on the—what do you call it?—the Provisional Government to pay the rest. You remember about the house?"
"I'll see about that soon," said the colonel impatiently. "You two seem to think there's nothing to do but take the money. You forget we've got to make our position safe."
"Exactly. The colonel's government must be carried on," said I.
The signorina did not catch the allusion. She yawned, and said:
"Oh, then, I shall go. Rely on my loyalty, your Excellency."
She made him a courtesy and went to the door. As I opened it for her she whispered, "Horrid old bear! Come and see me, Jack," and so vanished, carrying off her dollars.
I returned and sat down opposite the colonel.
"I wonder how she knew about the washing-stand," I remarked.
"Because Whittingham was fool enough to tell her, I suppose," said the colonel testily, as if he disliked the subject.
Then we settled to business. This unambitious tale does not profess to be a complete history of Aureataland, and I will spare my readers the recital of our discussion. We decided at last that matters were still so critical, owing to the President's escape, that the ordinary forms of law and constitutional government must be temporarily suspended. The Chamber was not in session, which made this course easier. The colonel was to be proclaimed President and to assume supreme power under martial law for some weeks, while we looked about us. It was thought better that my name should not appear officially, but I agreed to take in hand, under his supervision, all matters relating to finance.
"We can't pay the interest on the real debt," he said.
"No," I replied; "you must issue a notice, setting forth that, owing to General Whittingham's malversations, payments must be temporarily suspended. Promise it will be all right later on."
"Very good," said he; "and now I shall go and look up those officers. I must keep them in good temper, and the men too. I shall give 'em another ten thousand."
"Generous hero!" said I, "and I shall go and restore this cash to my employers."
It was twelve o'clock when I left the Golden House and strolled quietly down to Liberty Street. The larger part of the soldiers had been drawn off, but a couple of companies still kept guard in the Piazza. The usual occupations of life were going on amid a confused stir of excitement, and I saw by the interest my appearance aroused that some part at least of my share in the night's doing had leaked out. The Gazette had published a special edition, in which it hailed the advent of freedom, and, while lauding McGregor to the skies, bestowed a warm commendation on the "noble Englishman who, with a native love of liberty, had taken on himself the burden of Aureataland in her hour of travail." The metaphor struck me as inappropriate, but the sentiment was most healthy; and when I finally beheld two officers of police sitting on the head of a drunken man for toasting the fallen regime, I could say to myself, as I turned into the bank, "Order reigns in Warsaw."
General assent had proclaimed a suspension of commerce on this auspicious day, and I found Jones sitting idle and ill at ease. I explained to him the state of affairs, showing how the President's dishonorable scheme had compelled me, in the interests of the bank, to take a more or less active part in the revolution. It was pathetic to hear him bewail the villainy of the man he had trusted, and when I produced the money he blessed me fervently, and at once proposed writing to the directors a full account of the matter.
"They are bound to vote you an honorarium, sir," he said.
"I don't know, Jones," I replied. "I am afraid there is a certain prejudice against me at headquarters. But in any case I have resolved to forego the personal advantage that might accrue to me from my conduct. President McGregor has made a strong representation to me that the schemes of General Whittingham, if publicly known, would, however unjustly, prejudice the credit of Aureataland, and he appealed to me not to give particulars to the world. In matters such as these, Jones, we cannot be guided solely by selfish considerations."
"God forbid, sir!" said Jones, much moved.
"I have, therefore, consented to restrict myself to a confidential communication to the directors; they must judge how far they will pass it on to the shareholders. To the world at large I shall say nothing of the second loan; and I know you will oblige me by treating this money as the product of realizations in the ordinary course of business. The recent disturbances will quite account for so large a sum being called in."
"I don't quite see how I can arrange that."
"Ah, you are overdone," said I. "Leave it all to me, Jones."
And this I persuaded him to do. In fact, he was so relieved at seeing the money back that he was easy to deal with; and if he suspected anything, he was overawed by my present exalted position. He appeared to forget what I could not, that the President, no doubt, still possessed that fatal cable!
After lunch I remembered my engagement with the signorina, and, putting on my hat, was bidding farewell to business, when Jones said:
"There's a note just come for you, sir. A little boy brought it while you were out at lunch."
He gave it me—a little dirty envelope, with an illiterate scrawl. I opened it carelessly, but as my eye fell on the President's hand, I started in amazement. The note was dated "Saturday—From on board The Songstress," and ran as follows:
"Dear Mr. Martin: I must confess to having underrated your courage and abilities. If you care to put them at my disposal now, I will accept them. In the other event, I must refer you to my public announcement. In any case it may be useful to you to know that McGregor designs to marry Signorina Nugent. I fear that on my return it will be hardly consistent with my public duties to spare your life (unless you accept my present offer), but I shall always look back to your acquaintance with pleasure. I have, if you will allow me to say so, seldom met a young man with such natural gifts for finance and politics. I shall anchor five miles out from Whittingham to-night (for I know you have no ships), and if you join me, well and good. If not, I shall consider your decision irrevocable.
"Believe me, dear Mr. Martin, faithfully yours,
"MARCUS W. WHITTINGHAM,
"President of the Republic of Aureataland."
It is a pleasant thing, as has been remarked, laudari a laudato viro, and the President's praise was grateful to me. But I did not see my way to fall in with his views. He said nothing about the money, but I knew well that its return would be a condition of any alliance between us. Again, I was sure that he also "designed to marry the signorina," and, if I must have a rival on the spot, I preferred McGregor in that capacity. Lastly, I thought that, after all, there is a decency in things, and I had better stick to my party. I did not, however, tell McGregor about the letter, merely sending him a line to say I had heard that The Songstress was hovering a few miles off, and he had better look out.
This done, I resumed my interrupted progress to the signorina's. When I was shown in, she greeted me kindly.
"I have had a letter from the President," I said.
"Yes," said she, "he told me he had written to you."
"Why, have you heard from him?"
"Yes, just a little note. He is rather cross with me."
"I can quite understand that. Would you like to see my letter?"
"Oh, yes," she replied carelessly.
She read it through and asked:
"Well, are you going over to him—going to forsake me?"
"How can you ask me? Won't you show me your letter, Christina?"
"No, John," she answered, mimicking my impassioned tones. "I may steal the President's savings, but I respect his confidence."
"You see what he says to me about McGregor."
"Yes," said the signorina. "It is not, you know, news to me. But, curious to relate, the colonel has just been here himself and told me the same thing. The colonel has not a nice way of making love, Jack—not so nice as yours nearly."
Thus encouraged, I went and sat down by her. I believe I took her hand.
"You don't love him?"
"Not at all," she replied.
I must beg to be excused recording the exact terms in which I placed my hand and heart at the signorina's disposal. I was extremely vehement and highly absurd, but she did not appear to be displeased.
"I like you very much, Jack," she said, "and it's very sweet of you to have made a revolution for me. It was for me, Jack?"
"Of course it was, my darling," I promptly replied.
"But you know, Jack, I don't see how we're much better off. Indeed, in a way it's worse. The President wouldn't let anybody else marry me, but he wasn't so peremptory as the colonel. The colonel declares he will marry me this day week!"
"We'll see about that," said I savagely.
"Another revolution, Jack?" asked the signorina.
"You needn't laugh at me," I said sulkily.
"Poor boy! What are we idyllic lovers to do?"
"I don't believe you're a bit in earnest."
"Yes, I am, Jack—now." Then she went on, with a sort of playful pity, "Look at my savage, jealous, broken-hearted Jack."
I caught her in my arms and kissed her, whispering hotly:
"You will be true to me, sweet?"
"Let me go," she said. Then, leaning over me as I flung myself back in a chair, "It's pleasant while it lasts; try not to be broken-hearted if it doesn't last."
"If you love me, why don't you come with me out of this sink of iniquity?"
"Run away with you?" she asked, with open amazement. "Do you think that we're the sort of people, for a romantic elopement? I am very earthy. And so are you, Jack, dear—nice earth, but earth, Jack."
There was a good deal of truth in this remark. We were not an ideal pair for love in a cottage.
"Yes," I said. "I've got no money."
"I've got a little money, but not much. I've been paying debts," she added proudly.
"I haven't been even doing that. And I'm not quite equal to purloining that three hundred thousand dollars."
"We must wait, Jack. But this I will promise. I'll never marry the colonel. If it comes to that or running away, we'll run away."
The signorina for once looked grave.
"You know him," she said. "Think what he made you do! and you're not a weak man, or I shouldn't be fond of you. Jack, you must keep him away from me."
She was quite agitated; and it was one more tribute to the President's powers that he should exert so strange an influence over such a nature. I was burning to ask her more about herself and the President, but I could not while she was distressed. And when I had comforted her, she resolutely declined to return to the subject.
"No, go away now," she said. "Think how we are to checkmate our two Presidents. And, Jack! whatever happens, I got you back the money. I've done you some good. So be kind to me. I'm not very much afraid of your heart breaking. In fact, Jack, we are neither of us good young people. No, no; be quiet and go away. You have plenty of useful things to occupy your time."
At last I accepted my dismissal and walked off, my happiness considerably damped by the awkward predicament in which we stood. Clearly McGregor meant business; and at this moment McGregor was all-powerful. If he kept the reins, I should lose my love. If the President came back, a worse fate still threatened. Supposing it were possible to carry off the signorina, which I doubted very much, where were we to go to! And would she come?
On the whole, I did not think she would come.
BETWEEN TWO FIRES.
In spite of my many anxieties, after this eventful day I enjoyed the first decent night's rest I had had for a week. The colonel refused, with an unnecessary ostentation of scorn, my patriotic offer to keep watch and ward over the city, and I turned in, tired out, at eleven o'clock, after a light dinner and a meditative pipe. I felt I had some reasons for self-congratulation; for considerable as my present difficulties were, yet I undoubtedly stood in a more hopeful position than I had before the revolution. I was now resolved to get my money safe out of the country, and I had hopes of being too much for McGregor in the other matter which shared my thoughts.
The return of day, however, brought new troubles. I was roused at an early hour by a visit from the colonel himself. He brought very disquieting tidings. In the course of the night every one of our proclamations had been torn down or defaced with ribald scribblings; posted over or alongside them, there now hung multitudinous enlarged copies of the President's offensive notice. How or by whom these seditious measures had been effected we were at a loss to tell, for the officers and troops were loud in declaring their vigilance. In the very center of the Piazza, on the base of the President's statue, was posted an enormous bill: "REMEMBER 1871! DEATH TO TRAITORS!"
"How could they do that unless the soldiers were in it?" asked the colonel gloomily. "I have sent those two companies back to barracks and had another lot out. But how do I know they'll be any better? I met DeChair just now and asked him what the temper of the troops was. The little brute grinned, and said, 'Ah, mon President, it would be better if the good soldiers had a leetle more money.'"
"That's about it," said I; "but then you haven't got much more money."
"What I've got I mean to stick to," said the colonel. "If this thing is going to burst up, I'm not going to be kicked out to starve. I tell you what it is, Martin, you must let me have some of that cash back again."
The effrontery of this request amazed me. I was just drawing on the second leg of my trousers (for it was impossible to be comfortable in bed with that great creature fuming about), and I stopped with one leg in mid-air and gazed at him.
"Well, what's the matter? Why are you to dance out with all the plunder?" he asked.
The man's want of ordinary morality was too revolting. Didn't he know very well that the money wasn't mine? Didn't he himself obtain my help on the express terms that I should have this money to repay the bank with? I finished putting on my garments, and then I replied:
"Not a farthing, colonel; not a damned farthing! By our agreement that cash was to be mine; but for that I wouldn't have touched your revolution with a pair of tongs."
He looked very savage, and muttered something under his breath.
"You're carrying things with a high hand," he said.
"I'm not going to steal to please you," said I.
"You weren't always so scrupulous," he sneered.
I took no notice of this insult, but repeated my determination.
"Look here, Martin," he said, "I'll give you twenty-four hours to think it over; and let me advise you to change your mind by then. I don't want to quarrel, but I'm going to have some of that money."
Clearly he had learned statecraft in his predecessor's school! "Twenty-four hours is something," thought I, and determined to try the cunning of the serpent.
"All right, colonel," I said, "I'll think it over. I don't pretend to like it; but, after all, I'm in with you and we must pull together. We'll see how things look to-morrow morning."
"There's another matter I wanted to speak to you about," he went on.
I was now dressed, so I invited him into the breakfast-room, gave him a cup of coffee (which, to my credit, I didn't poison), and began on my own eggs and toast.
"Fire away," said I briefly.
"I suppose you know I'm going to be married?" he remarked.
"No, I hadn't heard," I replied, feigning to be entirely occupied with a very nimble egg. "Rather a busy time for marrying, isn't it? Who is she?"
He gave a heavy laugh.
"You needn't pretend to be so very innocent; I expect you could give a pretty good guess."
"Mme. Devarges?" I asked blandly. "Suitable match; about your age—"
"I wish to the devil you wouldn't try to be funny!" he exclaimed. "You know as well as I do it's the signorina."
"Really?" I replied. "Well, well! I fancied you were a little touched in that quarter. And she has consented to make you happy?"
I was curious to see what he would say. I knew he was a bad liar, and, as a fact, I believe he told the truth on this occasion, for he answered:
"Says she never cared a straw for anyone else."
"Not even Whittingham?" I asked maliciously.
"Hates the old ruffian!" said the colonel. "I once thought she had a liking for you, Martin, but she laughed at the idea. I'm glad of it, for we should have fallen out."
I smiled in a somewhat sickly way, and took refuge in my cup. When I emerged, I asked:
"And when is it to be?"
"Yes," he said. "Fact is, between you and me, Martin, she's ready enough."
This was too disgusting. But whether the colonel was deceiving me, or the signorina had deceived him, I didn't know—a little bit of both, probably. I saw, however, what the colonel's game was plainly enough; he was, in his clumsy way, warning me off his preserves, for, of course, he knew my pretensions, and probably that they had met with some success, and I don't think I imposed on him very much. But I was anxious to avoid a rupture and gain time.
"I must call and congratulate the lady," I said.
The colonel couldn't very well object to that, but he didn't like it.
"Well, Christina told me she was very busy, but I dare say she'll see you for a few minutes."
"I dare say she will," I said dryly.
"I must be off now. I shall have to be about all day, trying to catch those infernal fellows who destroyed the bills."
"You won't be doing any business to-day, then?"
"What, about settling the Government?" he asked, grinning. "Not just yet. Wait till I've got the signorina and the money, and then we'll see about that. You think about the money, my boy!"
Much to my relief he then departed, and as he went out I swore that neither signorina nor money should he ever have. In the course of the next twenty-four hours I must find a way to prevent him.
"Rather early for a call," said I, "but I must see the signorina."
On my way up I met several people, and heard some interesting facts. In the first place, no trace had appeared of Don Antonio and his daughter; rumor declared that they had embarked on The Songstress with the President and his faithful doctor. Secondly, Johnny Carr was still in bed at the Golden House (this from Mme. Devarges, who had been to see him); but his men had disappeared, after solemnly taking the oath to the new Government. Item three: The colonel had been received with silence and black looks by the troops, and two officers had vanished into space, both Americans, and the only men of any good in a fight. Things were looking rather blue, and I began to think that I also should like to disappear, provided I could carry off my money and my mistress with me. My scruples about loyalty had been removed by the colonel's overbearing conduct, and I was ready for any step that promised me the fulfillment of my own designs. It was pretty evident that there would be no living with McGregor in his present frame of mind, and I was convinced that my best course would be to cut the whole thing, or, if that proved impossible, to see what bargain I could make with the President. Of course, all would go smoothly with him if I gave up the dollars and the lady; a like sacrifice would conciliate McGregor. But then, I didn't mean to make it.
"One or other I will have," said I, as I knocked at the door of "Mon Repos," "and both if possible."
The signorina was looking worried; indeed, I thought she had been crying.
"Did you meet my aunt on your way up?" she asked, the moment I was announced.
"No," said I.
"I've sent her away," she continued. "All this fuss frightens her, so I got the colonel's leave (for you know we mustn't move without permission now liberty has triumphed) for her to seek change of air."
"Where's she going to?" I said.
"Home," said the signorina.
I didn't know where "home" was, but I never ask what I am not meant to know.
"Are you left alone?"
"Yes. I know it's not correct. But you see, Jack, I had to choose between care for my money and care for my reputation. The latter is always safe in my own keeping; the former I wasn't so sure about."
"Oh, so you've given it to Mrs. Carrington?"
"Yes, all but five thousand dollars."
"Does the colonel know that?"
"Dear me, of course not! or he'd never have let her go."
"You're very wise," said I. "I only wish I could have sent my money with her."
"I'm afraid that would have made dear aunt rather bulky," said the signorina, tittering.
"Yes, such a lot of mine's in cash," I said regretfully. "But won't they find it on her?"
"Not if they're gentlemen," replied the signorina darkly.
Evidently I could not ask for further details; so, without more ado, I disclosed my own perilous condition and the colonel's boasts about herself.
"What a villain that man is!" she exclaimed. "Of course, I was civil to him, but I didn't say half that. You didn't believe I did, Jack?"
There's never any use in being unpleasant, so I said I had rejected the idea with scorn.
"But what's to be done? If I'm here to-morrow, he'll take the money, and, as likely as not, cut my throat if I try to stop him."
"Yes, and he'll marry me," chimed in the signorina. "Jack, we must have a counter-revolution."
"I don't see what good that'll do," I answered dolefully. "The President will take the money just the same, and I expect he'll marry you just the same."
"Of the two, I would rather have him. Now don't rage, Jack! I only said, 'of the two.' But you're quite right; it couldn't help us much to bring General Whittingham back."
"To say nothing of the strong probability of my perishing in the attempt."
"Let me think," said the signorina, knitting her brows.
"May I light a cigarette and help you?"
She nodded permission, and I awaited the result of her meditation.
She sat there, looking very thoughtful and troubled, but it seemed to me as if she were rather undergoing a conflict of feeling than thinking out a course of action. Once she glanced at me, then turned away with a restless movement and a sigh.
I finished my cigarette, and flinging it away, strolled up to the window to look out. I had stood there a little while, when I heard her call softly:
I turned and came to her, kneeling down by her side and taking her hands.
She gazed rather intently into my face with unusual gravity. Then she said:
"If you have to choose between me and the money, which will it be?"
I kissed her hand for answer.
"If the money is lost, won't it all come out? And then, won't they call you dishonest?"
"I suppose so," said I.
"You don't mind that?"
"Yes, I do. Nobody likes being called a thief—especially when there's a kind of truth about it. But I should mind losing you more."
"Are you really very fond of me, Jack? No, you needn't say so. I think you are. Now I'll tell you a secret. If you hadn't come here, I should have married General Whittingham long ago. I stayed here intending to do it (oh, yes, I'm not a nice girl, Jack), and he asked me very soon after you first arrived. I gave him my money, you know, then."
I was listening intently. It seemed as if some things were going to be cleared up.
"Well," she continued, "you know what happened. You fell in love with me—I tried to make you; and then I suppose I fell a little in love with you. At any rate I told the President I wouldn't marry him just then. Some time after, I wanted some money, and I asked him to give me back mine. He utterly refused; you know his quiet way. He said he would keep it for 'Mrs. Whittingham.' Oh, I could have killed him! But I didn't dare to break with him openly; besides, he's very hard to fight against. We had constant disputes; he would never give back the money, and I declared I wouldn't marry him unless I had it first, and not then unless I chose. He was very angry and swore I should marry him without a penny of it; and so it went on. But he never suspected you, Jack; not till quite the end. Then we found out about the debt, you know; and about the same time I saw he at last suspected something between you and me. And the very day before we came to the bank he drove me to desperation. He stood beside me in this room, and said, Christina, I am growing old. I shall wait no longer. I believe you're in love with that young Martin.' Then he apologized for his plain speaking, for he's always gentle in manner. And I defied him. And then, Jack, what do you think he did?"
I sprang up in a fury.
"What?" I cried.
"He laughed!" said the signorina, with tragic intensity. "I couldn't stand that, so I joined the colonel in upsetting him. Ah, he shouldn't have laughed at me!"
And indeed she looked at this moment a dangerous subject for such treatment.
"I knew what no one else knew, and I could influence him as no one else could, and I had my revenge. But now," she said, "it all ends in nothing."
And she broke down, sobbing.
Then, recovering herself, and motioning me to be still, she went on:
"You may think, after holding him at bay so long, I have little to fear from the colonel. But it's different. The President has no scruples; but he is a gentleman—as far as women are concerned. I mean—he wouldn't—"
"But McGregor?" I asked, in a hoarse whisper.
She drooped her head on my shoulder.
"I daren't stay here, Jack, with him," she whispered. "If you can't take me away, I must go to the President. I shall be at least safe with him!"
"Damn the ruffian!" I growled; not meaning the President, but his successor; "I'll shoot him!"
"No, no, Jack!" she cried. "You must be quiet and cautious. But I must go to-night—to-night, Jack, either with you or to the President."
"My darling, you shall come with me," said I.
"Oh, out of this somewhere."
"How are we to escape?"
"Now, you sit down, dear, and try to stop crying—you break my heart—and I'll think. It's my turn now."
I carried her to the sofa, and she lay still, but with her eyes fixed on me. I was full of rage against McGregor, but I couldn't afford the luxury of indulging it, so I gave my whole mind to finding a way out for us. At last I seemed to hit upon a plan.
The signorina saw the inspiration in my eye. She jumped up and came to me.
"Have you got it, Jack?" she said.
"I think so—if you will trust yourself to me, and don't mind an uncomfortable night."
"You know my little steam launch? It will be dark to-night. If we can get on board with a couple of hours' start we can show anybody a clean pair of heels. She travels a good pace, and it's only fifty miles to safety and foreign soil. I shall land there a beggar!"
"I don't mind that, Jack," she said. "I have my five thousand, and aunt will join us with the rest. But how are we to get on board? Besides, O Jack! the President watches the coast every night with The Songstress—and you know she's got steam—Mr. Carr just had auxiliary steam put in."
"No," I said, "I didn't know about that. Look here, Christina; excuse the question, but can you communicate with the President?"
"Yes," she said, after a second's hesitation.
This was what I suspected.
"And will he believe what you tell him?"
"I don't know. He might and he might not. He'll probably act as if he didn't."
I appreciated the justice of this forecast of General Whittingham's measures.
"Well, we must chance it," I said. "At any rate, better be caught by him than stay here. We were, perhaps, a little hasty with that revolution of ours."
"I never thought the colonel was so wicked," said the signorina.
We had no time to waste in abusing our enemy; the question was how to outwit him. I unfolded my plan to the signorina, not at all disguising from her the difficulties, and even dangers, attendant upon it. Whatever may have been her mind before and after, she was at this moment either so overcome with her fear of the colonel, or so carried away by her feeling for me, that she made nothing of difficulties and laughed at dangers, pointing out that though failure would be ignominious, it could not substantially aggravate our present position. Whereas, if we succeeded—
The thought of success raised a prospect of bliss in which we reveled for a few minutes; then, warned by the stroke of twelve, we returned to business.
"Are you going to take any of the money away with you?" she asked.
"No," said I, "I don't think so. It would considerably increase the risk if I were seen hanging about the bank; you know he's got spies all over the place. Besides, what good would it do? I couldn't stick to it, and I'm not inclined to run any more risks merely to save the bank's pocket. The bank hasn't treated me so well as all that. I propose to rely on your bounty till I've time to turn round."
"Now, shall I come for you?" I asked her when we had arranged the other details.
"I think not," she said. "I believe the colonel has one of my servants in his pay. I can slip out by myself, but I couldn't manage so well if you were with me. The sight of you would excite curiosity. I will meet you at the bottom of Liberty Street."
"At two o'clock in the morning exactly, please. Don't come through the Piazza, and Liberty Street. Come round by the drive. [This was a sort of boulevard encircling the town, where the aristocracy was wont to ride and drive.] Things ought to be pretty busy about the bank by then, and no one will notice you. You have a revolver?"