"All right. Don't hurt anyone if you can help it; but if you do, don't leave him to linger in agony. Now I'm off," I continued. "I suppose I'd better not come and see you again?"
"I'm afraid you mustn't, Jack. You've been here two hours already."
"I shall be in my rooms in the afternoon. If anything goes wrong, send your carriage down the street and have it stopped at the grocer's. I shall take that for a sign."
The signorina agreed, and we parted tenderly. My last words were:
"You'll send that message to Whittingham at once?"
"This moment," she said, as she waved me a kiss from the door of the room.
I WORK UPON HUMAN NATURE.
I was evidently in for another day as unpleasantly exciting as the one I had spent before the revolution, and I reflected sadly that if a man once goes in for things of that kind, it's none so easy to pull up. Luckily, however, I had several things to occupy me, and was not left to fret the day away in idleness. First I turned my steps to the harbor. As I went I examined my pockets and found a sum total of $950. This was my all, for of late I had deemed it wise to carry my fortune on my person. Well, this was enough for the present; the future must take care of itself. So I thought to myself as I went along with a light heart, my triumph in love easily outweighing all the troubles and dangers that beset me. Only land me safe out of Aureataland with the signorina by my side, and I asked nothing more of fortune! Let the dead bury their dead, and the bank look after its dollars!
Thus musing, I came to the boat-house where my launch lay. She was a tidy little boat, and had the advantage of being workable by one man without any difficulty. All I had to arrange was how to embark in her unperceived. I summoned the boatman in charge, and questioned him closely about the probable state of the weather. He confidently assured me it would be fine but dark.
"Very well," said I, "I shall go fishing; start overnight, and have a shy at them at sunrise."
The man was rather astonished at my unwonted energy, but of course made no objection.
"What time shall you start, sir?" he asked.
"I want her ready by two," said I.
"Do you want me to go with you, sir?"
I pretended to consider, and then told him, to his obvious relief, that I could dispense with his services.
"Leave her at the end of your jetty," I said, "ready for me. She'll be all safe there, won't she?"
"Oh, yes, sir. Nobody'll be about, except the sentries, and they won't touch her."
I privately hoped that not even the sentries would be about, but I didn't say so.
"Of course, sir, I shall lock the gate. You've got your key?"
"Yes, all right, and here you are—and much obliged for your trouble."
Highly astonished and grateful at receiving a large tip for no obvious reason (rather a mistake on my part), the man was profuse in promising to make every arrangement for my comfort. Even when I asked for a few cushions, he dissembled his scorn and agreed to put them in.
"And mind you don't sit up," I said as I left him.
"I'm not likely to sit up if I'm not obliged," he answered. "Hope you'll have good sport, sir."
From the harbor I made my way straight to the Golden House. The colonel was rather surprised to see me again so soon, but when I told him I came on business, he put his occupations on one side and listened to me.
I began with some anxiety, for if he suspected my good faith all would be lost. However, I was always a good hand at a lie, and the colonel was not the President.
"I've come about that money question," I said.
"Well, have you come to your senses?" he asked, with his habitual rudeness.
"I can't give you the money—" I went on.
"The devil you can't!" he broke in. "You sit there and tell me that? Do you know that if the soldiers don't have money in a few hours, they'll upset me? They're ready to do it any minute. By Jove! I don't know now, when I give an order, whether I shall be obeyed or get a bullet through my head."
"Pray be calm!" said I. "You didn't let me finish."
"Let you finish!" he cried. "You seem to think jabber does everything. The end of it all is, that either you give me the money or I take it—and if you interfere, look out!"
"That was just what I was going to propose, if you hadn't interrupted me," I said quietly, but with inward exultation, for I saw he was just in the state of mind to walk eagerly into the trap I was preparing for him.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
I explained to him that it was impossible for me to give up the money. My reputation was at stake; it was my duty to die in defense of that money—a duty which, I hastened to add, I entertained no intention of performing.
"But," I went on, "although I am bound not to surrender the money, I am not bound to anticipate a forcible seizure of it. In times of disturbance parties of ruffians often turn to plunder. Not even the most rigorous precautions can guard against it. Now, it would be very possible that even to-night a band of such maurauders might make an attack on the bank, and carry off all the money in the safe."
"Oh!" said the colonel, "that's the game, is it?"
"That," I replied, "is the game; and a very neat game too, if you'll play it properly."
"And what will they say in Europe, when they hear the Provisional Government is looting private property?"
"My dear colonel, you force me to much explanation. You will, of course, not appear in the matter."
"I should like to be there," he remarked. "If I weren't, the men mightn't catch the exact drift of the thing."
"You will be there, of course, but incognito. Look here, colonel, it's as plain as two peas. Give out that you're going to reconnoiter the coast and keep an eye on The Songstress. Draw off your companies from the Piazza on that pretense. Then take fifteen or twenty men you can trust—not more, for it's no use taking more than you can help, and resistance is out of the question. About two, when everything is quiet, surround the bank. Jones will open when you knock. Don't hurt him, but take him outside and keep him quiet. Go in and take the money. Here's the key of the safe. Then, if you like, set fire to the place."
"Bravo, my boy!" said the colonel. "There's stuff in you after all. Upon my word, I was afraid you were going to turn virtuous."
I laughed as wickedly as I could.
"And what are you going to get out of it?" he said. "I suppose that's coming next?"
As the reader knows, I wasn't going to get anything out of it, except myself and the signorina. But it wouldn't do to tell the colonel that; he would not believe in disinterested conduct. So I bargained with him for a douceur of thirty thousand dollars, which he promised so readily that I strongly doubted whether he ever meant to pay it.
"Do you think there's any danger of Whittingham making an attack while we're engaged in the job?"
The colonel was, in common parlance, getting rather warmer than I liked.
It was necessary to mislead him.
"I don't think so," I replied. "He can't possibly have organized much of a party here yet. There's some discontent, no doubt, but not enough for him to rely on."
"There's plenty of discontent," said the colonel.
"There won't be in a couple of hours."
"Why, because you're going down to the barracks to announce a fresh installment of pay to the troops to-morrow morning—a handsome installment."
"Yes," said he thoughtfully, "that ought to keep them quiet for one night. Fact is, they don't care twopence either for me or Whittingham; and if they think they'll get more out of me they'll stick to me."
Of course I assented. Indeed, it was true enough as long as the President was not on the spot; but I thought privately that the colonel did not allow enough for his rival's personal influence and prestige, if he once got face to face with the troops.
"Yes," the colonel went on, "I'll do that; and what's more, I'll put the people in good humor by sending down orders for free drink in the Piazza to-night."
"Delightfully old-fashioned and baronial," I remarked, "I think it's a good idea. Have a bonfire, and make it complete. I don't suppose Whittingham dreams of any attempt, but it will make the riot even more plausible."
"At any rate, they'll all be too drunk to make trouble," said he.
"Well, that's about all, isn't it?" said I. "I shall be off. I've got to write to my directors and ask instructions for the investment of the money."
"You'll live to be hanged, Martin," said the colonel, with evident admiration.
"Not by you, eh, colonel? Whatever might have happened if I'd been obstinate! Hope I shall survive to dance at your wedding, anyhow. Less than a week now!"
"Yes," said he, "it's Sunday (though, by Jove! I'd forgotten it), and next Saturday's the day!"
He really looked quite the happy bridegroom as he said this, and I left him to contemplate his bliss.
"I would bet ten to one that day never comes," I thought, as I walked away. "Even if I don't win, I'll back the President to be back before that."
The colonel's greed had triumphed over his wits, and he had fallen into my snare with greater readiness than I could have hoped. The question remained, What would the president do when he got the signorina's letter? It may conduce to a better understanding of the position if I tell what that letter was. She gave it me to read over, after we had compiled it together, and I still have my copy. It ran as follows:
"I can hardly hope you will trust me again, but if I betrayed you, you drove me to it. I have given them your money; it is in the bank now. M. refuses to give it up, and the C. means to take it to-night. He will have only a few men, the rest not near. He will be at the bank at two, with about twenty men. Take your own measures. All here favor you. He threatens me violence unless I marry him at once. He watches The Songstress, but if you can leave her at anchor and land in a boat there will be no suspicion. I swear this is true; do not punish me more by disbelieving me. I make no protest. But if you come back to me I will give you, in return for pardon, anything you ask!
"P.S.—-M. and the C. are on bad terms, and M. will not be active against you."
Upon the whole I thought this would bring him. I doubted whether he would believe very much in it, but it looked probable (indeed, it was word for word true, as far as it went), and held out a bait that he would find it hard to resist. Again, he was so fond of a bold stroke, and so devoid of fear, that it was very likely he could come and see if it were true. If, as we suspected, he already had a considerable body of adherents on shore, he could land and reconnoiter without very great danger of falling into the colonel's hands. Finally, even if he didn't come, we hoped the letter would be enough to divert his attention from any thought of fugitive boats and runaway lovers. I could have made the terms of it even more alluring, but the signorina, with that extraordinarily distorted morality distinctive of her sex, refused to swear to anything literally untrue in a letter which was itself from beginning to end a monumental falsehood; though not a student of ethics, she was keenly alive to the distinction between the expressio falsi and the suppressio veri. The only passage she doubted about was the last, "If you come back to me." "But then he won't come back to me if I'm not there!" she exclaimed triumphantly. What happened to him after he landed—whether he cooked the colonel's goose or the colonel cooked his—I really could not afford to consider. As a matter of personal preference, I should have liked the former, but I did not allow any such considerations to influence my conduct. My only hope was that the killing would take long enough to leave time for our unobtrusive exit. At the same time, as a matter of betting, I would have laid long odds against McGregor.
To my mind it is nearly as difficult to be consistently selfish as to be absolutely unselfish. I had, at this crisis, every inducement to concentrate all my efforts on myself, but I could not get Jones out of my head. It was certainly improbable that Jones would try to resist the marauding party; but neither the colonel nor his chosen band were likely to be scrupulous, and it was impossible not to see that Jones might get a bullet through his head; indeed, I fancied such a step would rather commend itself to the colonel, as giving a bona fide look to the affair. Jones had often been a cause of great inconvenience to me, but I didn't wish to have his death on my conscience, so I was very glad when I happened to meet him on my way back from the Golden House, and seized the opportunity of giving him a friendly hint.
I took him and set him down beside me on a bench in the Piazza.
I was in no way disturbed by the curious glances of three soldiers who were evidently charged to keep an eye on the bank and my dealings with it.
I began by pledging Jones to absolute secrecy, and then I intimated to him, in a roundabout way, that the colonel and I were both very apprehensive of an attack on the bank.
"The town," I said, "is in a most unsettled condition, and many dangerous characters are about. Under these circumstances I have felt compelled to leave the defense of our property in the hands of the Government. I have formally intimated to the authorities that we shall hold them responsible for any loss occasioned to us by public disorder. The colonel, in the name of the Government, has accepted that responsibility. I therefore desire to tell you, Mr. Jones, that, in the lamentable event of any attack on the bank, it will not be expected of you to expose your life by resistance. Such a sacrifice would be both uncalled for and useless; and I must instruct you that the Government insists that their measures shall not be put in danger of frustration by any rash conduct on our part. I am unable to be at the bank this evening; but in the event of any trouble you will oblige me by not attempting to meet force by force. You will yield, and we shall rely on our remedy against the Government in case of loss."
These instructions so fully agreed with the natural bent of Jones' mind that he readily acquiesced in them and expressed high appreciation of my foresight.
"Take care of yourself and Mrs. Jones, my dear fellow," I concluded; "that is all you have to do, and I shall be satisfied."
I parted from him affectionately, wondering if my path in life would ever cross the honest, stupid old fellow's again, and heartily hoping that his fortune would soon take him out of the rogue's nest in which he had been dwelling.
FAREWELL TO AUREATALAND.
The night came on, fair and still, clear and star-lit; but there was no moon and, outside the immediate neighborhood of the main streets, the darkness was enough to favor our hope of escaping notice without being so intense as to embarrass our footsteps. Everything, in fact, seemed to be on our side, and I was full of buoyant confidence as I drank a last solitary glass to the success of our enterprise, put my revolver in my pocket, and, on the stroke of midnight, stole from my lodgings. I looked up toward the bank and dimly descried three or four motionless figures, whom I took to be sentries guarding the treasure. The street itself was almost deserted, but from where I stood I could see the Piazza crowded with a throng of people whose shouts and songs told me that the colonel's hospitality was being fully appreciated. There was dancing going on to the strains of the military band, and every sign showed that our good citizens intended, in familiar phrase, to make a night of it.
I walked swiftly and silently down to the jetty. Yes, the boat was all right! I looked to her fires, and left her moored by one rope ready to be launched into the calm black sea in an instant. Then I strolled along by the harbor side. Here I met a couple of sentries. Innocently I entered into conversation with them, condoling on their hard fate in being kept on duty while pleasure was at the helm in the Piazza. Gently deprecating such excess of caution, I pointed out to them the stationary lights of The Songstress four or five miles out to sea, and with a respectful smile at the colonel's uneasiness, left the seed I had sown to grow in prepared soil. I dared do no more, and had to trust for the rest to their natural inclination to the neglect of duty.
When I got back to the bottom of Liberty Street, I ensconced myself in the shelter of a little group of trees which stood at one side of the roadway. Just across the road, which ran at right angles to the street, the wood began, and a quarter of an hour's walk through its shades would bring us to the jetty where the boat lay. My trees made a perfect screen, and here I stood awaiting events. For some time nothing was audible but an ever-increasing tumult of joviality from the Piazza. But after about twenty minutes I awoke to the fact that a constant dribble of men, singly or in pairs, had begun to flow past me from the Piazza, down Liberty Street, across the road behind me, and into the wood. Some were in uniform, others dressed in common clothes; one or two I recognized as members of Johnny Carr's missing band. The strong contrast between the prevailing revelry and the stealthy, cautious air of these passers-by would alone have suggested that they were bent on business; putting two and two together I had not the least doubt that they were the President's adherents making their way down to the water's edge to receive their chief. So he was coming; the letter had done its work! Some fifty or more must have come and gone before the stream ceased, and I reflected, with great satisfaction, that the colonel was likely to have his hands very full in the next hour or two.
Half an hour or so passed uneventfully; the bonfire still blazed; the songs and dancing were still in full swing. I was close upon the fearful hour of two, when, looking from my hiding-place, I saw a slight figure in black coming quickly and fearfully along the road.
I recognized the signorina at once, as I should recognize her any day among a thousand; and, as she paused nearly opposite where I was, I gently called her name and showed myself for a moment. She ran to me at once.
"Is it all right?" she asked breathlessly.
"We shall see in a moment," said I. "The attack is coming off; it will begin directly."
But the attack was not the next thing we saw. We had both retreated again to the friendly shadow whence we could see without being seen. Hardly had we settled ourselves than the signorina whispered to me, pointing across the road to the wood:
"What's that, Jack?"
I followed the line of her finger and made out a row of figures standing motionless and still on the very edge of the wood. It was too dark to distinguish individuals; but, even as we looked, the silent air wafted to our eager ears a low-voiced word of command:
"Mind, not a sound till I give the word."
"The President!" exclaimed the signorina, in a loud whisper.
"Hush, or he'll hear," said I, "and we're done."
Clearly nothing would happen from that quarter till it was called forth by events in the opposite direction. The signorina was strongly agitated; she clung to me closely, and I saw with alarm that the very proximity of the man she stood in such awe of was too much for her composure. When I had soothed, and I fear half-frightened, her into stillness, I again turned my eyes toward the Piazza. The fire had at last flickered out and the revels seemed on the wane. Suddenly a body of men appeared in close order, marching down the street toward the bank. We stood perhaps a hundred yards from that building, which was, in its turn, about two hundred from the Piazza. Steadily they came along; no sound reached us from the wood.
"This is getting interesting," I said. "There'll be trouble soon."
As near as I could see, the colonel's band, for such it was, no doubt, did not number more than five-and-twenty at the outside. Now they were at the bank. I could hardly see what happened, but there seemed to be a moment's pause; probably someone had knocked and they were waiting. A second later a loud shout rang through the street and I saw a group of figures crowding round the door and pushing a way into my poor bank.
"The gods preserve Jones!" I whispered. "I hope the old fool won't try to stop them."
As I spoke, I heard a short, sharp order from behind, "Now! Charge!"
As the word was given another body of fifty or more rushed by us full tilt, and at their head we saw the President, sword in hand, running like a young man and beckoning his men on. Up the street they swept. Involuntarily we waited a moment to watch them. Just as they came near the bank they sent up a shout:
"The President! the President! Death to traitors!"
Then there was a volley, and they closed round the building.
"Now for our turn, Christina," said I.
She grasped my arm tightly, and we sped across the road and into the wood. It seemed darker than when I came through before, or perhaps my eyes were dazzled by the glare of the street lamps. But still we got along pretty well, I helping my companion with all my power.
"Can we do it?" she gasped.
"Please God," said I; "a clear quarter of an hour will do it, and they ought to take that to finish off the colonel." For I had little doubt of the issue of that melee.
On we sped, and already we could see the twinkle of the waves through the thinning trees. Five hundred yards more, and there lay life and liberty and love!
Well, of course, I might have known. Everything had gone so smoothly up to now, that any student of the laws of chance could have foretold that fortune was only delaying the inevitable slap in the face. A plan that seemed wild and risky had proved in the result as effectual as the wisest scheme. By a natural principle of compensation, the simplest obstacle was to bring us to grief. "There's many a slip," says the proverb. Very likely! One was enough for our business. For just as we neared the edge of the wood, just as our eyes were gladdened by the full sight of the sea across the intervening patch of bare land, the signorina gave a cry of pain and, in spite of my arm, fell heavily to the ground. In a moment I was on my knees by her side. An old root growing out of the ground! That was all! And there lay my dear girl white and still.
"What is it, sweet?" I whispered.
"My ankle!" she murmured; "O Jack, it hurts so!" and with that she fainted.
Half an hour—thirty mortal (but seemingly immortal) minutes I knelt by her side ministering to her. I bound up the poor foot, gave her brandy from my flask. I fanned her face with my handkerchief. In a few minutes she came to, but only, poor child, to sob with her bitter pain. Move she could not, and would not. Again and again she entreated me to go and leave her. At last I persuaded her to try and bear the agony of being carried in my arms the rest of the way. I raised her as gently as I could, wrung to the heart by her gallantly stifled groan, and slowly and painfully I made my way, thus burdened, to the edge of the wood. There were no sentries in sight, and with a new spasm of hope I crossed the open land and neared the little wicket gate that led to the jetty. A sharp turn came just before we reached it, and, as I rounded this with the signorina lying yet in my arms, I saw a horse and a man standing by the gate. The horse was flecked with foam and had been ridden furiously. The man was calm and cool. Of course he was! It was the President!
My hands were full with my burden, and before I could do anything, I saw the muzzle of his revolver pointed full—At me? Oh, no! At the signorina!
"If you move a step I shoot her through the heart, Martin," he said, in the quietest voice imaginable.
The signorina looked up as she heard his voice.
"Put me down, Jack! It's no use," she said; "I knew how it would be."
I did not put her down, but I stood there helpless, rooted to the ground.
"What's the matter with her?" he said.
"Fell and sprained her ankle," I replied.
"Come, Martin," said he, "it's no go, and you know it. A near thing; but you've just lost."
"Are you going to stop us?" I said.
"Of course I am," said he.
"Let me put her down, and we'll have a fair fight."
He shook his head.
"All very well for young men," he said. "At my age, if a man holds trumps he keeps them."
"How long have you been here?"
"About two minutes. When I didn't see you at the bank I thought something was up, so I galloped on to her house. No one there! So I came on here. A good shot, eh?"
The fall had done it. But for that we should have been safe.
"Well?" he said.
In the bitterness of my heart I could hardly speak. But I was not going to play either the cur or the fool, so I said:
"Your trick, sir, and therefore your lead! I must do what you tell me."
"Honor bright, Martin?"
"Yes," said I; "I give you my word. Take the revolver if you like," and I nodded my head to the pocket where it lay.
"No," he said, "I trust you."
"I bar a rescue," said I.
"There will be no rescue," said he grimly.
"If the colonel comes—"
"The colonel won't come," he said. "Whose house is that?"
It was my boatman's.
"Bring her there. Poor child, she suffers!"
We knocked up the boatman, who thus did not get his night's rest after all. His astonishment may be imagined.
"Have you a bed?" said the President.
"Yes," he stammered, recognizing his interlocutor.
"Then carry her up, Martin; and you, send your wife to her."
I took her up, and laid her gently on the bed. The President followed me. Then we went downstairs again into the little parlor.
"Let us have a talk," he said; and he added to the man, "Give us some brandy, quick, and then go."
He was obeyed, and we were left alone with the dim light of a single candle.
The President sat down and began to smoke. He offered me a cigar and I took it, but he said nothing. I was surprised at his leisurely, abstracted air. Apparently he had nothing in the world to do but sit and keep me company.
"If your Excellency," said I, instinctively giving him his old title, "has business elsewhere you can leave me safely. I shall not break my word."
"I know that—I know that," he answered. "But I'd rather stay here; I want to have a talk."
"But aren't there some things to settle up in the town?"
"The doctor's doing all that," he said. "You see, there's no danger now. There's no one left to lead them against me."
"Then the colonel is—"
"Yes," he said gravely, "he is dead. I shot him."
"In the attack?"
"Not exactly; the fighting was over. A very short affair, Martin. They never had a chance; and as soon as two or three had fallen and the rest saw me, they threw up the sponge."
"And the colonel?"
"He fought well. He killed two of my fellows; then a lot of them flung themselves on him and disarmed him."
"And you killed him in cold blood?"
The President smiled slightly.
"Six men fell in that affair—five besides the colonel. Does it strike you that you, in fact, killed the five to enable you to run away with the girl you loved?"
It hadn't struck me in that light, but it was quite irrelevant.
"But for your scheme I should have come back without a blow," he continued; "but then I should have shot McGregor just the same."
"Because he led the revolt?"
"Because," said the President, "he has been a traitor from the beginning even to the end—because he tried to rob me of all I held dear in the world. If you like," he added, with a shrug, "because he stood between me and my will. So I went up to him and told him his hour was come, and I shot him through the head. He died like a man, Martin; I will say that."
I could not pretend to regret the dead man. Indeed, I had been near doing the same deed myself. But I shrank before this calm ruthlessness.
Another long pause followed. Then the President said:
"I am sorry for all this, Martin—sorry you and I came to blows."
"You played me false about the money," I said bitterly.
"Yes, yes," he answered gently; "I don't blame you. You were bound to me by no ties. Of course you saw my plan?"
"I supposed your Excellency meant to keep the money and throw me over."
"Not altogether," he said. "Of course I was bound to have the money. But it was the other thing, you know. As far as the money went I would have taken care you came to no harm."
"What was it, then?"
"I thought you understood all along," he said, with some surprise. "I saw you were my rival with Christina, and my game was to drive you out of the country by making the place too hot for you."
"She told me you didn't suspect about me and her till quite the end."
"Did she?" he answered, with a smile. "I must be getting clever to deceive two such wide-awake, young people. Of course I saw it all along. But you had more grit than I thought. I've never been so nearly done by any man as by you."
"But for luck you would have been," said I.
"Yes, but I count luck as one of my resources," he replied.
"Well, what are you going to do now?"
He took no notice, but went on.
"You played too high. It was all or nothing with you, just as it is with me. But for that we could have stood together. I'm sorry, Martin; I like you, you know."
For the life of me I had never been able to help liking him.
"But likings mustn't interfere with duty," he went on, smiling. "What claim have you at my hands?"
"Decent burial, I suppose," I answered.
He got up and paced the room for a moment or two. I waited with some anxiety, for life is worth something to a young man, even when things look blackest, and I never was a hero.
"I make you this offer," he said at last. "Your boat lies there, ready. Get into her and go, otherwise—"
"I see," said I. "And you will marry her?"
"Yes," he said.
"Against her will?"
He looked at me with something like pity.
"Who can tell what a woman's will will be in a week? In less than that she will marry me cheerfully. I hope you may grieve as short a time as she will."
In my inmost heart I knew it was true. I had staked everything, not for a woman's love, but for the whim of a girl! For a moment it was too hard for me, and I bowed my head on the table by me and hid my face.
Then he came and put his hand on mine, and said:
"Yes, Martin; young and old, we are all alike. They're not worth quarreling for. But Nature's too strong."
"May I see her before I go?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Yes," he said once more. "Go now—if she can see you."
I went up and cautiously opened the door. The signorina was lying on the bed, with a shawl over her. She seemed to be asleep. I bent over her and kissed her. She opened her eyes, and said, in a weary voice:
"Is it you, Jack?"
"Yes, my darling," said I. "I am going. I must go or die; and whether I go or die, I must be alone."
She was strangely quiet—even apathetic. As I knelt down by her she raised herself, and took my face between her hands and kissed me—not passionately, but tenderly.
"My poor Jack!" she said; "it was no use, dear. It is no use to fight against him."
Here was her strange subjection to that influence again.
"You love me?" I cried, in my pain.
"Yes," she said, "but I am very tired; and he will be good to me."
Without another word I went from her, with the bitter knowledge that my great grief found but a pale reflection in her heart.
"I am ready to go," I said to the President.
"Come, then," he replied. "Here, take these, you may want them," and he thrust a bundle of notes into my hand (some of my own from the bank I afterward discovered).
Arrived at the boat, I got in mechanically and made all preparations for the start.
Then the President took my hand.
"Good-by, Jack Martin, and good luck. Some day we may meet again. Just now there's no room for us both here. You bear no malice?"
"No, sir," said I. "A fair fight, and you've won."
As I was pushing off, he added:
"When you arrive, send me word."
I nodded silently.
"Good-by, and good luck," he said again.
I turned the boat's head put to sea, and went forth on my lonely way into the night.
A DIPLOMATIC ARRANGEMENT.
As far I am concerned, this story has now reached an end. With my departure from Aureataland, I re-entered the world of humdrum life, and since that memorable night in 1884, nothing has befallen me worthy of a polite reader's attention. I have endured the drudgery incident to earning a living; I have enjoyed the relaxations every wise man makes for himself. But I should be guilty of unpardonable egotism if I supposed that I myself was the only, or the most, interesting subject presented in the foregoing pages, and I feel I shall merely be doing my duty in briefly recording the facts in my possession concerning the other persons who have figured in this record and the country where its scene was laid.
I did not, of course, return to England on leaving Aureataland. I had no desire to explain in person to the directors all the facts with which they will now be in a position to acquaint themselves. I was conscious that, at the last at all events, I had rather subordinated their interests to my own necessities, and I knew well that my conduct I would not meet with the indulgent judgment that it perhaps requires. After all, men who have lost three hundred thousand dollars can hardly be expected to be impartial, and I saw no reason for submitting myself to a biased tribunal. I preferred to seek my fortune in a fresh country (and, I may add, under a fresh name), and I am happy to say that my prosperity in the land of my adoption has gone far to justify the President's favorable estimate of my financial abilities. My sudden disappearance excited some remark, and people were even found to insinuate that the dollars went the same way as I did. I have never troubled myself to contradict these scandalous rumors, being content to rely on the handsome vindication from this charge which the President published. In addressing the House of Assembly shortly after his resumption of power, he referred at length to the circumstances attendant on the late revolution, and remarked that although he was unable to acquit Mr. Martin of most unjustifiable intrigues with the rebels, yet he was in a position to assure them, as he had already assured those to whom Mr. Martin was primarily responsible, that that gentleman's hasty flight was dictated solely by a consciousness of political guilt, and that, in money matters, Mr. Martin's hands were as clean as his own. The reproach that had fallen on the fair fame of Aureataland in this matter was due not to that able but misguided young man, but to those unprincipled persons who, in the pursuit of their designs, had not hesitated to plunder and despoil friendly traders, established in the country under the sanction of public faith.
The reproach to which his Excellency eloquently referred consisted in the fact that not a cent of those three hundred thousand dollars which lay in the bank that night was ever seen again! The theory was that the colonel had made away with them, and the President took great pains to prove that under the law of nations the restored Government could not be held responsible for this occurrence. I know as little about the law of nations as the President himself, but I felt quite sure that whatever that exalted code might say (and it generally seems to justify the conduct of all parties alike), none of that money would ever find its way back to the directors' pockets. In this matter I must say his Excellency behaved to me with scrupulous consideration; not a word passed his lips about the second loan, about that unlucky cable, or any other dealings with the money. For all he said, my account of the matter, posted to the directors immediately after my departure, stood unimpeached. The directors, however, took a view opposed to his Excellency's, and relations became so strained that they were contemplating the withdrawal of their business from Whittingham altogether, when events occurred which modified their action. Before I lay down my pen I must give some account of these matters, and I cannot do so better than by inserting a letter which I had the honor to receive from his Excellency, some two years after I last saw him. I had obeyed his wish in communicating my address to him, but up to this time had received only a short but friendly note, acquainting me with the fact of his marriage to the signorina, and expressing good wishes for my welfare in my new sphere of action. The matters to which the President refers became to some extent public property soon afterward, but certain other terms of the arrangement are now given to the world for the first time. The letter ran as follows:
"My DEAR MARTIN: As an old inhabitant of Aureataland you will be interested in the news I have to tell you. I also take pleasure in hoping that in spite of bygone differences, your friendly feelings toward myself will make you glad to hear news of my fortunes.
"You are no doubt acquainted generally with the course of events here since you left us. As regards private friends, I have not indeed much to tell you. You will not be surprised to learn that Johnny Carr (who always speaks of you with the utmost regard) has done the most sensible thing he ever did in his life in making Donna Antonia his wife. She is a thoroughly good girl, although she seems to have a very foolish prejudice against Christina. I was able to assist the young people's plans by the gift of the late Colonel McGregor's estates, which under our law passed to the head of the state on that gentleman's execution for high treason. You will be amused to hear of another marriage in our circle. The doctor and Mme. Devarges have made a match of it, and society rejoices to think it has now heard the last of the late monsieur and his patriotic sufferings. Jones, I suppose you know, left us about a year ago. The poor old fellow never recovered from his fright on that night, to say nothing of the cold he caught in your draughty coal-cellar, where he took refuge. The bank relieved him in response to his urgent petitions, and they've sent us out a young Puritan, to whom it would be quite in vain to apply for a timely little loan.
"I wish I could give you as satisfactory an account of public affairs. You were more or less behind the scenes over here, so you know that to keep the machine going is by no means an easy task. I have kept it going, single-handed, for fifteen years, and though it's the custom to call me a mere adventurer (and I don't say that's wrong), upon my word I think I've given them a pretty decent Government. But I've had enough of it by now. The fact is, my dear Martin, I'm not so young as I was. In years I'm not much past middle age, but I've had the devil of a life of it, and I shouldn't be surprised if old Marcus Whittingham's lease was pretty nearly up. At any rate, my only chance, so Anderson tells me, is to get rest, and I'm going to give myself that chance. I had thought at first of trying to find a successor (as I have been denied an heir of my body), and I thought of you. But, while I was considering this, I received a confidential proposal from the Government of —— [here the President named the state of which Aureataland had formed part]. They were very anxious to get back their province; at the same time, they were not at all anxious to try conclusions with me again. In short, they offered, if Aureataland would come back, a guarantee of local autonomy and full freedom; they would take on themselves the burden of the debt, and last, but not least, they would offer the present President of the Republic a compensation of five hundred thousand dollars.
"I have not yet finally accepted the offer, but I am going to do so—obtaining, as a matter of form, the sanction of the Assembly. I have made them double their offer to me, but in the public documents the money is to stand at the original figure. This recognition of my services, together with my little savings (restored, my dear Martin, to the washstand), will make me pretty comfortable in my old age, and leave a competence for my widow. Aureataland has had a run alone; if there had been any grit in the people they would have made a nation of themselves. There isn't any, and I'm not going to slave myself for them any longer. No doubt they'll be very well treated, and to tell the truth, I don't much care if they aren't. After all, they're a mongrel lot.
"I know you'll be pleased to hear of this arrangement, as it gives your old masters a better chance of getting their money, for, between ourselves, they'd never have got it out of me. At the risk of shocking your feelings, I must confess that your revolution only postponed the day of repudiation.
"I hoped to have asked you some day to rejoin us here. As matters stand, I am more likely to come and find you; for, when released, Christina and I are going to bend our steps to the States. And we hope to come soon. There's a little difficulty outstanding about the terms on which the Golden House and my other property are to pass to the new Government; this I hope to compromise by abating half my claim in private, and giving it all up in public. Also, I have had to bargain for the recognition of Johnny Carr's rights to the colonel's goods. When all this is settled there will be nothing to keep me, and I shall leave here without much reluctance. The first man I shall come and see is you, and we'll have some frolics together, if my old carcass holds out. But the truth is, my boy, I'm not the man I was. I've put too much steam on all my life, and I must pull up now, or the boiler will burst.
"Christina sends her love. She is as anxious to see you as I am. But you must wait till I am dead to make love to her. Ever your sincere friend,
"MARCUS W. WHITTINGHAM."
As I write, I hear that the arrangement is to be carried out. So ends Aureataland's brief history as a nation; so ends the story of her national debt, more happily than I ever thought it would. I confess to a tender recollection of the sunny, cheerful, lazy, dishonest little place, where I spent four such eventful years. Perhaps I love it because my romance was played there, as I should love any place where I had seen the signorina. For I am not cured. I don't go about moaning—I enjoy life. But, in spite of my affection for the President, hardly a day passes that I don't curse that accursed tree-root.
And she? what does she feel?
I don't know. I don't think I ever did know. But I have had a note from her, and this is what she says:
"Fancy seeing old Jack again—poor forsaken Jack! Marcus is very kind (but very ill, poor fellow); but I shall like to see you, Jack. Do you remember what I was like? I'm still rather pretty. This is in confidence, Jack. Marcus thinks you'll run away from us, now we are coming to —— town [that's where I live]. But I don't think you will.
"Please meet me at the depot, Jack, 12.15 train. Marcus is coming by a later one, so I shall be desolate if you don't come. And bring that white rose with you. Unless you produce it, I won't speak to you.
Well, with another man's wife, this is rather embarrassing. But a business man can't leave the place where his business is because a foolish girl insists on coming there.
And as I am here, I may as well be civil and go to meet her. And, oh, well! as I happen to have the thing, I may as well take it with me. It can't do any harm.