She did not know anyone was near her, and when I moved and my spurs clanked on the stones, she started, and turned her eyes slowly toward the shadow in which I sat.
During dinner they must have told her which one of us was to fight the duel, for when she recognized me she moved sharply away. I did not wish her to think I would intrude on her against her will, so I rose and walked toward the door, but before I had reached it she again turned and approached me.
"You are Captain Macklin?" she said.
I was so excited at the thought that she was about to speak to me, and so happy to hear her voice, that for an instant I could only whip off my hat and gaze at her stupidly.
"Captain Macklin," she repeated. "This afternoon I tried to stop the duel you are to fight with my brother, and I am told that I made a very serious blunder. I should like to try and correct it. When I spoke of my brother's skill, I mean his skill with the pistol, I knew you were ignorant of it and I thought if you did know of it you would see the utter folly, the wickedness of this duel. But instead I am told that I only made it difficult for you not to meet him. I cannot in the least see that that follows. I wish to make it clear to you that it does not."
She paused, and I, as though I had been speaking, drew a long breath. Had she been reading from a book her tone could not have been more impersonal. I might have been one of a class of school-boys to whom she was expounding a problem. At the Point I have heard officers' wives use the same tone to the enlisted men. Its effect on them was to drive them into a surly silence.
But Miss Fiske did not seem conscious of her tone.
"After I had spoken," she went on evenly, "they told me of your reputation in this country, that you are known to be quite fearless. They told me of your ordering your own men to shoot you, and of how you took a cannon with your hands. Well, I cannot see—since your reputation for bravery is so well established—that you need to prove it further, certainly not by engaging in a silly duel. You cannot add to it by fighting my brother, and if you should injure him, you would bring cruel distress to—to others."
"I assure you—-" I began.
"Pardon me," she said, raising her hand, but still speaking in the same even tone. "Let me explain myself fully. Your own friends said in my hearing," she went on, "that they did not desire a fight. It is then my remark only which apparently makes it inevitable."
She drew herself up and her tone grew even more distant and disdainful.
"Now, it is not possible," she exclaimed, "that you and your friends are going to take advantage of my mistake, and make it the excuse for this meeting. Suppose any harm should come to my brother." For the first time her voice carried a touch of feeling. "It would be my fault. I would always have myself to blame. And I want to ask you not to fight him. I want to ask you to withdraw from this altogether."
I was completely confused. Never before had a young lady of a class which I had so seldom met, spoken to me even in the words of everyday civility, and now this one, who was the most wonderful and beautiful woman I had ever seen, was asking me to grant an impossible favor, was speaking of my reputation for bravery as though it were a fact which everyone accepted, and was begging me not to make her suffer. What added to my perplexity was that she asked me to act only as I desired to act, but she asked it in such a manner that every nerve in me rebelled.
I could not understand how she could ask so great a favor of one she held in such evident contempt. It seemed to me that she should not have addressed me at all, or if she did ask me to stultify my honor and spare the life of her precious brother she should not have done so in the same tone with which she would have asked a tradesman for his bill. The fact that I knew, since I meant to fire in the air, that the duel was a farce, made it still more difficult for me to speak.
But I managed to say that what she asked was impossible.
"I do not know," I stammered, "that I ought to talk about it to you at all. But you don't understand that your brother did not only insult me. He insulted my regiment, and my general. It was that I resented, and that is why I am fighting."
"Then you refuse?" she said.
"I have no choice," I replied; "he has left me no choice."
She drew back, but still stood looking at me coldly. The dislike in her eyes wounded me inexpressively.
Before she spoke I had longed only for the chance to assure her of my regard, and had she appealed to me generously, in a manner suited to one so noble-looking, I was in a state of mind to swim rivers and climb mountains to serve her. I still would have fought the duel, but sooner than harm her brother I would have put my hand in the fire. Now, since she had spoken, I was filled only with pity and disappointment. It seemed so wrong that one so finely bred and wonderfully fair should feel so little consideration. No matter how greatly she had been prejudiced against me she had no cause to ignore my rights in the matter. To speak to me as though I had no honor of my own, no worthy motive, to treat me like a common brawler who, because his vanity was wounded, was trying to force an unoffending stranger to a fight.
My vanity was wounded, but I felt more sorry for her than for myself, and when she spoke again I listened eagerly, hoping she would say something which would soften what had gone before. But she did not make it easier for either of us.
"If I persuade my brother to apologize for what he said of your regiment," she continued, "will you accept his apology?" Her tone was one partly of interrogation, partly of command. "I do not think he is likely to do so," she added, "but if you will let that suffice, I shall see him at once, and ask him."
"You need not do that!" I replied, quickly. "As I have said, it is not my affair. It concerns my—a great many people. I am sorry, but the meeting must take place."
For the first time Miss Fiske smiled, but it was the same smile of amusement with which she had regarded us when she first saw us in the plaza.
"I quite understand," she said, still smiling. "You need not assure me that it concerns a great many people." She turned away as though the interview was at an end, and then halted. She had stepped into the circle of the moonlight so that her beauty shone full upon me.
"I know that it concerns a great many people," she cried. "I know that it is all a part of the plot against my father!"
I gave a gasp of consternation which she misconstrued, for she continued, bitterly.
"Oh, I know everything," she said. "Mr. Graham has told me all that you mean to do. I was foolish to appeal to any one of you. You have set out to fight my father, and your friends will use any means to win. But I should have thought," she cried, her voice rising and ringing like an alarm, "that they would have stopped at assassinating his son."
I stepped back from her as though she had struck at me.
"Miss Fiske," I cried. What she had charged was so monstrous, so absurd that I could answer nothing in defence. My brain refused to believe that she had said it. I could not conceive that any creature so utterly lovely could be so unseeing, so bitter, and so unfair.
Her charge was ridiculous, but my disappointment in her was so keen that the tears came to my eyes.
I put my hat back on my head, saluted her and passed her quickly.
"Captain Macklin," she cried. "What is it? What have I said?" She stretched out her hand toward me, but I did not stop.
"Captain Macklin!" she called after me in such a voice that I was forced to halt and turn.
"What are you going to do?" she demanded. "Oh, yes, I see," she exclaimed. "I see how it sounded to you. And you?" she cried. Her voice was trembling with concern. "Because I said that, you mean to punish me for it—through my brother? You mean to make him suffer. You will kill him!" Her voice rose to an accent of terror. "But I only said it because he is my brother, my own brother. Cannot you understand what that means to me? Cannot you understand why I said it?"
We stood facing each other, I, staring at her miserably, and she breathing quickly, and holding her hand to her side as though she had been running a long distance.
"No," I said in a low voice. It was very hard for me to speak at all. "No, I cannot understand."
I pulled off my hat again, and stood before her crushing it in my hands.
"Why didn't you trust me?" I said, bitterly. "How could you doubt what I would do? I trusted you. From the moment you came riding toward me, I thanked God for the sight of such a woman. For making anything so beautiful."
I stopped, for I saw I had again offended. At the words she drew back quickly, and her eyes shone with indignation. She looked at me as though I had tried to touch her with my hand. But I spoke on without heeding her. I repeated the words with which I had offended.
"Yes," I said, "I thanked God for anything so noble and so beautiful. To me, you could do no wrong. But you! You judged me before you even knew my name. You said I was a cad who went about armed to fight unarmed men. To you I was a coward who could be frightened off by a tale of bulls-eyes, and broken pipe-stems at a Paris fair. What do I care for your brother's tricks. Let him see my score cards at West Point. He'll find them framed on the walls. I was first a coward and a cad, and now I am a bully and a hired assassin. From the first, you and your brother have laughed at me and mine while all I asked of you was to be what you seemed to be, what I was happy to think you were. I wanted to believe in you. Why did you show me that you can be selfish and unfeeling? It is you who do not understand. You understand so little," I cried, "that I pity you from the bottom of my heart. I give you my word, I pity you."
"Stop," she commanded. I drew back and bowed, and we stood confronting each other in silence.
"And they call you a brave man," she said at last, speaking slowly and steadily, as though she were picking each word. "It is like a brave man to insult a woman, because she wants to save her brother's life."
When I raised my face it was burning, as though she had thrown vitriol.
"If I have insulted you, Miss Fiske," I said, "if I have ever insulted any woman, I hope to God that to-morrow morning your brother will kill me."
When I turned and looked back at her from the door, she was leaning against one of the pillars with her face bent in her hands, and weeping bitterly.
I rode to the barracks and spent several hours in writing a long letter to Beatrice. I felt a great need to draw near to her. I was confused and sore and unhappy, and although nothing of this, nor of the duel appeared in my letter, I was comforted to think that I was writing it to her. It was good to remember that there was such a woman in the world, and when I compared her with the girl from whom I had just parted, I laughed out loud.
And yet I knew that had I put the case to Beatrice, she would have discovered something to present in favor of Miss Fiske.
"She was pleading for her brother, and she did not understand," Beatrice would have said. But in my own heart I could find no excuse. Her family had brought me nothing but evil. Because her father would not pay his debts, I had been twice wounded and many times had risked death; the son had struck me with a whip in the public streets, and the sister had called me everything that is contemptible, from a cad to a hired cut-throat. So, I was done with the house of Fiske. My hand was against it. I owed it nothing.
But with all my indignation against them, for which there was reason enough, I knew in my heart that I had looked up to them, and stood in awe of them, for reasons that made me the cad they called me. Ever since my arrival in Honduras I had been carried away by the talk of the Fiske millions, and later by the beauty of the girl, and by the boy's insolent air, of what I accepted as good breeding. I had been impressed with his five years in Paris, by the cut of his riding- clothes even, by the fact that he owned a yacht. I had looked up to them, because they belonged to a class who formed society, as I knew society through the Sunday papers. And now these superior beings had rewarded my snobbishness by acting toward me in a way that was contrary to every ideal I held of what was right and decent. For such as these, I had felt ashamed of my old comrades. It was humiliating, but it was true; and as I admitted this to myself, my cheeks burned in the darkness, and I buried my face in the pillow. For some time I lay awake debating fiercely in my mind as to whether, when I faced young Fiske, I should shoot the pistol out of his hand, or fire into the ground. And it was not until I had decided that the latter act would better show our contempt for him and his insult, that I fell asleep.
Von Ritter and Miller woke me at four o'clock. They were painfully correct and formal. Miller had even borrowed something of the Baron's manner, which sat upon him as awkwardly as would a wig and patches. I laughed at them both, but, for the time being, they had lost their sense of humor; and we drank our coffee in a constrained and sleepy silence.
At the graveyard we found that Fiske, his two seconds, Graham and Lowell, the young Middy, and a local surgeon had already arrived. We exchanged bows and salutes gloomily and the seconds gathered together, and began to talk in hoarse whispers. It was still very dark. The moon hung empty and pallid above the cold outline of the hills, and although the roosters were crowing cheerfully, the sun had not yet risen. In the hollows the mists lay like lakes, and every stone and rock was wet and shining as though it had been washed in readiness for the coming day. The gravestones shone upon us like freshly scrubbed doorsteps. It was a most dismal spot, and I was so cold that I was afraid I would shiver, and Fiske might think I was nervous. So I moved briskly about among the graves, reading the inscriptions on the tombstones. Under the circumstances the occupation, to a less healthy mind, would have been depressing. My adversary, so it seemed to me, carried himself with a little too much unconcern. It struck me that he overdid it. He laughed with the local surgeon, and pointed out the moon and the lakes of mist as though we had driven out to observe the view. I could not think of anything to do which would show that I was unconcerned too, so I got back into the carriage and stretched my feet out to the seat opposite, and continued to smoke my cigar.
Incidentally, by speaking to Lowell, I hurt Von Ritter's feelings. It seems that as one of the other man's seconds I should have been more haughty with him. But when he passed me, pacing out the ground, he saluted stiffly, and as I saluted back, I called out: "I suppose you know you'll catch it if they find out about this at Washington?" And he answered, with a grin: "Yes, I know, but I couldn't get out of it."
"Neither could I," I replied, cheerfully, and in so loud a tone that everyone heard me. Von Ritter was terribly annoyed.
At last all was arranged and we took our places. We were to use pistols. They were double-barrelled affairs, with very fine hair- triggers. Graham was to give the word by asking if we were ready, andwas then to count "One, two, three."
After the word "one" we could fire when we pleased. When each of us had emptied both barrels, our honor was supposed to be satisfied.
Young Fiske wore a blue yachting suit with the collar turned up, and no white showing except his face, and that in the gray light of the dawn was a sickly white, like the belly of a fish. After he had walked to his mark he never took his eyes from me. They seemed to be probing around under my uniform for the vulnerable spot. I had never before had anyone look at me, who seemed to so frankly dislike me.
Curiously enough, I kept thinking of the story of the man who boasted he was so good a shot that he could break the stem of a wine-glass, and how someone said: "Yes, but the wine-glass isn't holding a pistol." Then, while I was smiling at the application I had made of this story to my scowling adversary, there came up a picture, not of home and of Beatrice, nor of my past sins, but of the fellow's sister as I last saw her in the moonlight, leaning against the pillar of the balcony with her head bowed in her hands. And at once it all seemed contemptible and cruel. No quarrel in the world, so it appeared to me then, was worth while if it were going to make a woman suffer. And for an instant I was so indignant with Fiske for having dragged me into this one, to feed his silly vanity, that for a moment I felt like walking over and giving him a sound thrashing. But at the instant I heard Graham demand, "Are you ready?" and I saw Fiske fasten his eyes on mine, and nod his head. The moment had come.
"One," Graham counted, and at the word Fiske threw up his gun and fired, and the ball whistled past my ear. My pistol was still hanging at my side, so I merely pulled the trigger, and the ball went into the ground. But instantly I saw my mistake. Shame and consternation were written on the faces of my two seconds, and to the face of Fiske there came a contemptuous smile. I at once understood my error. I read what was in the mind of each. They dared to think I had pulled the trigger through nervousness, that I had fired before I was ready, that I was frightened and afraid. I am sure I never was so angry in my life, and I would have cried out to them, if a movement on the part of Fiske had not sobered me. Still smiling, he lifted his pistol slightly and aimed for, so it seemed to me, some seconds, and then fired.
I felt the bullet cut the lining of my tunic and burn the flesh over my ribs, and the warm blood tickling my side, but I was determined he should not know he had hit me, and not even my lips moved.
Then a change, so sudden and so remarkable, came over the face of young Fiske, that its very agony fascinated me. At first it was incomprehensible, and then I understood. He had fired his last shot, he thought he had missed, and he was waiting for me, at my leisure, to kill him with my second bullet.
I raised the pistol, and it was as though you could hear the silence. Every waking thing about us seemed to suddenly grow still. I brought the barrel slowly to a level with his knee, raised it to his heart, passed it over his head, and, aiming in the air, fired at the moon, and then tossed the gun away. The waking world seemed to breathe again, and from every side there came a chorus of quick exclamations; but without turning to note who made them, nor what they signified, I walked back to the carriage, and picked up my cigar. It was still burning.
Von Ritter ran to the side of the carriage.
"You must wait," he protested. "Mr. Fiske wishes to shake hands with you. It is not finished yet."
"Yes, it is finished," I replied, savagely. "I have humored you two long enough. A pest on both your houses. I'm going back to breakfast."
Poor Von Ritter drew away, deeply hurt and scandalized, but my offence was nothing to the shock he received when young Lowell ran to the carriage and caught up my hand. He looked at me with a smile that would have softened a Spanish duenna.
"See here!" he cried. "Whether you like it or not, you've got to shake hands with me. I want to tell you that was one of the finest things I ever saw." He squeezed my fingers until the bones crunched together. "I've heard a lot about you, and now I believe all I've heard. To stand up there," he ran on, breathlessly, "knowing you didn't mean to fire, and knowing he was a dead shot, and make a canvas target of yourself—that was bully. You were an ass to do it, but it was great. You going back to breakfast?" he demanded, suddenly, with the same winning, eager smile. "So am I. I speak to go with you."
Before I could reply he had vaulted into the carriage, and was shouting at the driver.
"Cochero, to the Barracks. Full speed ahead. Vamoose. Give way. Allez vite!"
"But my seconds," I protested.
"They can walk," he said.
Already the horses were at a gallop, and as we swung around the wall of the graveyard and were hidden from the sight of the others, Lowell sprang into the seat beside me. With the quick fingers of the sailor, he cast off my sword-belt and tore open my blouse.
"I wanted to get you away," he muttered, "before he found out he had hit you."
"I'm not hit," I protested.
"Just as you like," he said. "Still, it looks rather damp to the left here."
But, as I knew, the bullet had only grazed me, and the laugh of relief Lowell gave when he raised his head, and said, "Why, it's only a scratch," meant as much to me as though he had rendered me some great service. For it seemed to prove a genuine, friendly concern, and no one, except Laguerre, had shown that for me since I had left home. I had taken a fancy to Lowell from the moment he had saluted me like a brother officer in the Plaza, and I had wished he would like me. I liked him better than any other young man I had ever met. I had never had a man for a friend, but before we had finished breakfast I believe we were better friends than many boys who had lived next door to each other from the day they were babies.
As a rule, I do not hit it off with men, so I felt that his liking me was a great piece of good fortune, and a great honor. He was only three years older than myself, but he knew much more about everything than I did, and his views of things were as fine and honorable as they were amusing.
Since then we have grown to be very close friends indeed, and we have ventured together into many queer corners, but I have never ceased to admire him, and I have always found him the same—unconscious of himself and sufficient to himself. I mean that if he were presented to an Empress he would not be impressed, nor if he chatted with a bar- maid would he be familiar. He would just look at each of them with his grave blue eyes and think only of what she was saying, and not at all of what sort of an impression he was making, or what she thought of him. Aiken helped me a lot by making me try not to be like Aiken; Lowell helped me by making me wish to be like Lowell.
We had a very merry breakfast, and the fact that it was seven in the morning did not in the least interfere with our drinking each other's health in a quart of champagne. Nearly all of our officers came in while we were at breakfast to learn if I were still alive, and Lowell gave them most marvellous accounts of the affair, sometimes representing me as an idiot and sometimes as an heroic martyr.
They all asked him if he thought Fiske had sufficient influence at Washington to cause the Government to give him the use of the Raleigh against us, but he would only laugh and shake his head.
Later, to Laguerre, he talked earnestly on the same subject, and much to the point.
The news of the duel had reached the palace at eight o'clock, and the president at once started for the barracks.
We knew he was coming when we heard the people in the cafes shouting "Viva," as they always did when he appeared in public, and, though I was badly frightened as to what he would say to me, I ran to the door and turned out the guard to receive him.
He had put on one of the foreign uniforms he was entitled to wear—he did not seem to fancy the one I had designed—and as he rode across the Plaza I thought I had never seen a finer soldier. Lowell said he looked like a field marshal of the Second Empire. I was glad Lowell had come to the door with me, as he could now see for himself that my general was one for whom a man might be proud to fight a dozen duels.
The president gave his reins to an orderly and mounted the steps, touching his chapeau to the salute of guard and the shouting citizens, but his eyes were fixed sternly on me. I saw that he was deeply moved, and I wished fervently, now that it was too late, that I had told him of the street fight at the time, and not allowed him to hear of it from others. I feared the worst. I was prepared for any reproof, any punishment, even the loss of my commission, and I braced myself for his condemnation.
But when he reached the top step where I stood at salute, although I was inwardly quaking, he halted and his lips suddenly twisted, and the tears rushed to his eyes.
He tried to speak, but made only a choking, inarticulate sound, and then, with a quick gesture, before all the soldiers and all the people, he caught me in his arms.
"My boy," he whispered, "my boy! For you were lost," he murmured, "and have returned to me."
I heard Lowell running away, and the door of the guard-room banging behind him, I heard the cheers of the people who, it seems, already knew of the duel and understood the tableau on the barrack steps, but the thought that Laguerre cared for me even as a son made me deaf to everything, and my heart choked with happiness.
It passed in a moment, and in manner he was once more my superior officer, but the door he had opened was never again wholly shut to me.
In the guard-room I presented Lowell to the president, and I was proud to see the respect with which Lowell addressed him. At the first glance they seemed to understand each other, and they talked together as simply as would friends of long acquaintance.
After they had spoken of many things, Laguerre said: "Would it be fair for me to ask you, Mr. Lowell, what instructions the United States has given your commanding officer in regard to our government?"
To this Lowell answered: "All I know, sir, is that when we arrived at Amapala, Captain Miller telegraphed the late president, Doctor Alvarez, that we were here to protect American interests. But you probably know," he added, "as everyone else does, that we came here because the Isthmian Line demanded protection."
"Yes, so I supposed," Laguerre replied. "But I understand Mr. Graham has said that when Mr. Fiske gives the word Captain Miller will land your marines and drive us out of the country."
Lowell shrugged his shoulders and frowned.
"Mr. Graham—" he began, "is Mr. Graham." He added: "Captain Miller is not taking orders from civilians, and he depends on his own sources for information. I am here because he sent me to 'Go, look, see,' and report. I have been wiring him ever since you started from the coast, and since you became president. Your censor has very kindly allowed me to use our cipher."
I laughed, and said: "We court investigation."
"Pardon me, sir," Lowell answered, earnestly, addressing himself to Laguerre, "but I should think you would. Why," he exclaimed, "every merchant in the city has told me he considers his interests have never been so secure as since you became president. It is only the Isthmian Line that wants the protection of our ship. The foreign merchants are not afraid. I hate it!" he cried, "I hate to think that a billionaire, with a pull at Washington, can turn our Jackies into Janissaries. Protect American interests!" he exclaimed, indignantly, "protect American sharpers! The Isthmian Line has no more right to the protection of our Navy than have the debtors in Ludlow Street Jail."
Laguerre sat for a long time without replying, and then rose and bowed to Lowell with great courtesy.
"I must be returning," he said. "I thank you, sir, for your good opinion. At my earliest convenience I shall pay my respects to your commanding officer. At ten o'clock," he continued turning to me, "I am to have my talk with Mr. Fiske. I have not the least doubt but that he will see the justice of our claim against his company, and before evening I am sure I shall be able to announce throughout the republic that I have his guaranty for the money. Mr. Fiske is an able, upright business man, as well as a gentleman, and he will not see this country robbed."
He shook hands with us and we escorted him to his horse.
I always like to remember him as I saw him then, in that gorgeous uniform, riding away under the great palms of the Plaza, with the tropical sunshine touching his white hair, and flashing upon the sabres of the body-guard, and the people running from every side of the square to cheer him.
Two hours later, when I had finished my "paper" work and was setting forth on my daily round, Miller came galloping up to the barracks and flung himself out of the saddle. He nodded to Lowell, and pulled me roughly to one side.
"The talk with Fiske," he whispered, "ended in the deuce of a row. Fiske behaved like a mule. He told Laguerre that the original charter of the company had been tampered with, and that the one Laguerre submitted to him was a fake copy. And he ended by asking Laguerre to name his price to leave them alone."
"Well, what do you suppose," Miller returned, scornfully. "The General just looked at him, and then picked up a pen, and began to write, and said to the orderly, 'Show him out.'
"'What's that?' Fiske said. And Laguerre answered: 'Merely a figure of speech; what I really meant was "Put him out," or "throw him out!" You are an offensive and foolish old man. I, the President of this country, received you and conferred with you as one gentleman with another, and you tried to insult me. You are either extremely ignorant, or extremely dishonest, and I shall treat with you no longer. Instead, I shall at once seize every piece of property belonging to your company, and hold it until you pay your debts. Now you go, and congratulate yourself that when you tried to insult me, you did so when you were under my roof, at my invitation.' Then Laguerre wired the commandantes at all the seaports to seize the warehouses and officers of the Isthmian Line, and even its ships, and to occupy the buildings with troops. He means business," Miller cried, jubilantly. "This time it's a fight to a finish."
Lowell had already sent for his horse, and altogether we started at a gallop for the palace. At the office of the Isthmian Line we were halted by a crowd so great that it blocked the street. The doors of the building were barred, and two sentries were standing guard in front of it. A proclamation on the wall announced that, by order of the President, the entire plant of the Isthmian Line had been confiscated, and that unless within two weeks the company paid its debts to the government, the government would sell the property of the company until it had obtained the money due it.
At the entrance to the palace the sergeant in charge of the native guard, who was one of our men, told us that two ships of the Isthmian Line had been caught in port; one at Cortez on her way to Aspinwall, and one at Truxillo, bound north. The passengers had been landed, and were to remain on shore as guests of the government until they could be transferred to another line.
Lowell's face as he heard this was very grave, and he shook his head.
"A perfectly just reprisal, if you ask me," he said, "but what one lonely ensign tells you in confidence, and what Fiske will tell the State Department at Washington, is a very different matter. It's a good thing," he exclaimed, with a laugh, "that the Raleigh's on the wrong side of the Isthmus. If we were in the Caribbean, they might order us to make you give back those ships. As it is, we can't get marines here from the Pacific under three days. So I'd better start them at once," he added, suddenly. "Good-by, I must wire the Captain."
"Don't let the United States Navy do anything reckless," I said. "I'm not so sure you could take those ships, and I'm not so sure your marines can get here in three days, either, or that they ever could get here."
Lowell gave a shout of derision.
"What," he cried, "you'd fight against your country's flag?"
I told him he must not forget that at West Point they had decided I was not good enough to fight for my country's flag.
"We've three ships of our own now," I added, with a grin. "How would you like to be Rear Admiral of the naval forces of Honduras?"
Lowell caught up his reins in mock terror.
"What!" he cried. "You'd dare to bribe an American officer? And with such a fat bribe, too?" he exclaimed. "A Rear-Admiral at my age! That's dangerously near my price. I'm afraid to listen to you. Good- by." He waved his hand and started down the street. "Good-by, Satan," he called back to me, and I laughed, and he rode away.
That was the end of the laughter, of the jests, of the play-acting.
After that it was grim, grim, bitter and miserable. We dogs had had our day. We soldiers of either fortune had tasted our cup of triumph, and though it was only a taste, it had flown to our brains like heavy wine, and the headaches and the heartaches followed fast. For some it was more than a heartache; to them it brought the deep, drugged sleep of Nirvana.
The storm broke at the moment I turned from Lowell on the steps of the palace, and it did not cease, for even one brief breathing space, until we were cast forth, and scattered, and beaten.
As Lowell left me, General Laguerre, with Aiken at his side, came hurrying down the hall of the palace. The President was walking with his head bowed, listening to Aiken, who was whispering and gesticulating vehemently. I had never seen him so greatly excited. When he caught sight of me he ran forward.
"Here he is," he cried. "Have you heard from Heinze?" he demanded. "Has he asked you to send him a native regiment to Pecachua?"
"Yes," I answered, "he wanted natives to dig trenches. I sent five hundred at eight this morning."
Aiken clenched his fingers. It was like the quick, desperate clutch of a drowning man.
"I'm right," he cried. He turned upon Laguerre. "Macklin has sent them. By this time our men are prisoners."
Laguerre glanced sharply at the native guard drawn up at attention on either side of us. "Hush," he said. He ran past us down the steps, and halting when he reached the street, turned and looked up at the great bulk of El Pecachua that rose in the fierce sunlight, calm and inscrutable, against the white, glaring masses of the clouds.
"What is it?" I whispered.
"Heinze!" Aiken answered, savagely. "Heinze has sold them Pecachua."
I cried out, but again Laguerre commanded silence. "You do not know that," he said; but his voice trembled, and his face was drawn in lines of deep concern.
"I warned you!" Aiken cried, roughly. "I warned you yesterday; I told you to send Macklin to Pecachua."
He turned on me and held me by the sleeve, but like Laguerre he still continued to look fearfully toward the mountain.
"They came to me last night, Graham came to me," he whispered. "He offered me ten thousand dollars gold, and I did not take it." In his wonder at his own integrity, in spite of the excitement which shook him, Aiken's face for an instant lit with a weak, gratified smile. "I pretended to consider it," he went on, "and sent another of my men to Pecachua. He came back an hour ago. He tells me Graham offered Heinze twenty thousand dollars to buy off himself and the other officers and the men. But Heinze was afraid of the others, and so he planned to ask Laguerre for a native regiment, to pretend that he wanted them to work on the trenches. And then, when our men were lying about, suspecting nothing, the natives should fall on them and tie them, or shoot them, and then turn the guns on the city. And he has sent for the niggars!" Aiken cried. "And there's not one of them that wouldn't sell you out. They're there now!" he cried, shaking his hand at the mountain. "I warned you! I warned you!"
Incredible as it seemed, difficult as it was to believe such baseness, I felt convinced that Aiken spoke the truth. The thought sickened me, but I stepped over to Laguerre and saluted.
"I can assemble the men in half an hour," I said. "We can reach the base of the rock an hour later."
"But if it should not be true," Laguerre protested. "The insult to Heinze—"
"Heinze!" Aiken shouted, and broke into a volley of curses. But the oaths died in his throat. We heard a whirr of galloping hoofs; a man's voice shrieking to his horse; the sounds of many people running, and one of my scouts swept into the street, and raced toward us. He fell off at our feet, and the pony rolled upon its head, its flanks heaving horribly and the blood spurting from its nostrils.
"Garcia and Alvarez!" the man panted. "They're making for the city. They tried to fool us. They left their tents up, and fires burning, and started at night, but I smelt 'em the moment they struck the trail. We fellows have been on their flanks since sun-up, picking 'em off at long range, but we can't hold them. They'll be here in two hours."
"Now, will you believe me?" Aiken shouted. "That's their plot. They're working together. They mean to trap us on every side. Ah!" he cried. "Look!"
I knew the thing at which he wished me to look. His voice and my dread told me at what his arm was pointing.
I raised my eyes fearfully to El Pecachua. From its green crest a puff of smoke was swelling into a white cloud, the cloud was split with a flash of flame, and the dull echo of the report drifted toward us on the hot, motionless air. At the same instant our flag on the crest of Pecachua, the flag with the five-pointed, blood-red star, came twitching down; and a shell screeched and broke above us.
Now that he knew the worst, the doubt and concern on the face of General Laguerre fell from it like a mask.
"We have no guns that will reach the mountain, have we?" he asked. He spoke as calmly as though we were changing guard.
"No, not one," I answered. "All our heavy pieces are on Pecachua."
"Then we must take it by assault," he said. "We will first drive Garcia back, and then we will storm the hill, or starve them out. Assemble all the men at the palace at once. Trust to no one but yourself. Ride to every outpost and order them here. Send Von Ritter and the gatlings to meet Alvarez. This man will act as his guide."
He turned to the scout. "You will find my horse in the court-yard of the palace," he said to him. "Take it, and accompany Captain Macklin. Tell Von Ritter," he continued, turning to me, "not to expose his men, but to harass the enemy, and hold him until I come." His tone was easy, confident, and assured. Even as I listened to his command I marvelled at the rapidity with which his mind worked, how he rose to an unexpected situation, and met unforeseen difficulties.
"That is all," he said. "I will expect the men here in half an hour."
He turned from me calmly. As he re-entered the palace between the lines of the guard he saluted as punctiliously as though he were on his way to luncheon.
But no one else shared in his calmness. The bursting shells had driven the people from their houses, and they were screaming through the streets, as though an earthquake had shaken the city. Even the palace was in an uproar.
The scout, as he entered it, shouting for the President's horse, had told the story to our men, and they came running to the great doors, fastening their accoutrements as they ran. Outside, even as Laguerre had been speaking, the people had gathered in a great circle, whispering and gesticulating, pointing at us, at the dying horse, at the shells that swung above us, at the flag of Alvarez which floated from Pecachua. When I spurred my horse forward, with the scout at my side, there was a sullen silence. The smiles, the raised hats, the cheers were missing, and I had but turned my back on them when a voice shouted, "Viva Alvarez!"
I swung in my saddle, and pulled out my sword. I thought it was only the bravado of some impudent fellow who needed a lesson.
But it was a signal, for as I turned I saw the native guard spring like one man upon our sergeant and drive their bayonets into his throat. He went down with a dozen of the dwarf-like negroes stabbing and kicking at him, and the mob ran shrieking upon the door of the palace.
On the instant I forgot everything except Laguerre. I had only one thought, to get to him, to place myself at his side.
I pushed my horse among the people, beating at the little beasts with my sword. But the voice I knew best of all called my name from just above my head, and I looked up and saw Laguerre with Aiken and Webster on the iron balcony of the palace.
Laguerre's face was white and set.
"Captain Macklin!" he cried. "What does this mean? Obey your orders. You have my orders. Obey my orders."
"I can't," I cried. "This is an attack upon you! They will kill you!"
At the moment I spoke our men fired a scattering volley at the mob, and swung to the great gates. The mob answered their volley with a dozen pistol-shots, and threw itself forward. Still looking up, I saw Laguerre clasp his hands to his throat, and fall back upon Webster's shoulder, but he again instantly stood upright and motioned me fiercely with his arm. "Go," he cried. "Bring the gatlings here, and all the men. If you delay we lose the palace. Obey my orders," he again commanded, with a second fierce gesture.
The movement was all but fatal. The wound in his throat tore apart, his head fell forward and his eyes closed. I saw the blood spreading and dyeing the gold braid. But he straightened himself and leaned forward. His eyes opened, and, holding himself erect with one hand on the railing of the balcony, he stretched the other over me, as though in benediction.
"Go, Royal!" he cried, "and—God bless you!"
I bent my head and drove my spurs into my horse. I did not know where he was carrying me. My eyes were shut with tears, and with the horror of what I had witnessed. I was reckless, mad, for the first time in my life, filled with hate against my fellow-men. I rode a hundred yards before I heard the scout at my side shouting, "To the right, Captain, to the right."
At the word I pulled on my rein, and we turned into the Plaza.
The scout was McGraw, the Kansas cowboy, who had halted Aiken and myself the day we first met with the filibusters. He was shooting from the saddle as steadily as other men would shoot with a rest, and each time he fired, he laughed. The laugh brought me back to the desperate need of our mission. I tricked myself into believing that Laguerre was not seriously wounded. I persuaded myself that by bringing him aid quickly I was rendering him as good service as I might have given had I remained at his side. I shut out the picture of him, faint and bleeding, and opened my eyes to the work before us.
We were like the lost dogs on a race-course that run between lines of hooting men. On every side we were assailed with cries. Even the voices of women mocked at us. Men sprang at my bridle, and my horse rode them down. They shot at us from the doors of the cafes, from either curbstone. As we passed the barracks even the men of my own native regiment raised their rifles and fired.
The nearest gun was at the end of the Calle Bogran, and we raced down it, each with his revolver cocked, and held in front of him.
But before we reached the outpost I saw the men who formed it, pushing their way toward us, bunched about their gatling with their clubbed rifles warding off the blows of a mob that struck at them from every side. They were ignorant of what had transpired; they did not know who was, or who was not their official enemy, and they were unwilling to fire upon the people, who a moment before, before the flag of Alvarez had risen on Pecachua, had been their friends and comrades. These friends now beset them like a pack of wolves. They hung upon their flanks and stabbed at them from the front and rear. The air was filled with broken tiles from the roofs, and with flying paving-stones.
When the men saw us they raised a broken cheer.
"Open that gun on them!" I shouted. "Clear the street, and push your gun to the palace. Laguerre is there. Kill every man in this street if you have to, but get to the palace."
The officer in charge fought his way to my side. He was covered with sweat and blood. He made a path for himself with his bare arms.
"What in hell does this mean, Macklin?" he shouted. "Who are we fighting?"
"You are fighting every native you see," I ordered. "Let loose up this street. Get to the palace!"
I rode on to the rear of the gun, and as McGraw and I raced on toward the next post, we heard it stabbing the air with short, vicious blows.
At the same instant the heavens shook with a clap of thunder, the sky turned black, and with the sudden fierceness of the tropics, heavy drops of rain began to beat upon us, and to splash in the dust like hail.
A moment later and the storm burst upon the city. The streets were swept with great sheets of water, torrents flowed from the housetop, the skies darkened to ink, or were ripped asunder by vivid flashes, and the thunder rolled unceasingly. We were half drowned, as though we were dragged through a pond, and our ponies bowed and staggered before the double onslaught of wind and water. We bent our bodies to theirs, and lashed them forward.
The outpost to which we were now riding was stationed at the edge of the city where the Calle Morizan joins the trail to San Lorenzo on the Pacific coast. As we approached it I saw a number of mounted men, surrounding a closed carriage. They were evidently travellers starting forth on the three days' ride to San Lorenzo, to cross to Amapala, where the Pacific Mail takes on her passengers. They had been halted by our sentries. As I came nearer I recognized, through the mist of rain, Joseph Fiske, young Fiske, and a group of the Isthmian men. The storm, or the bursting shells, had stampeded their pack-train, and a dozen frantic Mozos were rounding up the mules and adding their shrieks and the sound of their falling whips to the tumult of the storm.
I galloped past them to where our main guard were lashing the canvas- cover to their gun, and ordered them to unstrap it, and fight their way to the palace.
As I turned again the sentry called: "Am I to let these people go? They have no passes."
I halted, and Joseph Fiske raised his heavy eyelids, and blinked at me like a huge crocodile. I put a restraint upon myself and moved toward him with a confident smile. I could not bear to have him depart, thinking he went in triumph. I looked the group over carefully and said: "Certainly, let them pass," and Fiske and some of the Isthmian men, who appeared ashamed, nodded at me sheepishly.
But one of them, who was hidden by the carriage, called out: "You'd better come, too; your ship of state is getting water-logged."
I made no sign that I heard him, but McGraw instantly answered, "Yes, it looks so. The rats are leaving it!"
At that the man called back tauntingly the old Spanish proverb: "He who takes Pecachua, sleeps in the palace." McGraw did not understand Spanish, and looked at me appealingly, and I retorted, "We've altered that, sir. The man who sleeps in the palace will take Pecachua tonight."
And McGraw added: "Yes, and he won't take it with thirty pieces of silver, either."
I started away, beckoning to McGraw, but, as we moved, Mr. Fiske pushed his pony forward.
"Can you give me a pass, sir?" he asked. He shouted the words, for the roaring of the storm drowned all ordinary sounds. "In case I meet with more of your men, can you give me a written pass?"
I knew that the only men of ours still outside of the city were a few scouts, but I could not let Fiske suspect that, so I whipped out my notebook and wrote:
"To commanders of all military posts: Pass bearer, Joseph Fiske, his family, servants, and baggage-train.
"Vice-President of Honduras"
I tore out the page and gave it him, and he read it carefully and bowed.
"Does this include my friends?" he asked, nodding toward the Isthmian men.
"You can pass them off as your servants," I answered, and he smiled grimly.
The men had formed around the gun, and it was being pushed toward me, but as I turned to meet it I was again halted, this time by young Fiske, who rode his horse in front of mine, and held out his hand.
"You must shake hands with me!" he cried, "I acted like a cad." He bent forward, raising his other arm to shield his face from the storm. "I say, I acted like a cad," he shouted, "and I ask your pardon."
I took his hand and nodded. At the same moment as we held each other's hands the window of the carriage was pushed down and his sister leaned out and beckoned to me. Her face, beaten by the rain, and with her hair blown across it, was filled with distress.
"I want to thank you," she cried. "Thank you," she repeated, "for my brother. I thank you. I wanted you to know."
She stretched out her hand and I took it, and released it instantly, and as she withdrew her face from the window of the carriage, I dug my spurs into my pony and galloped on with the gun.
What followed is all confused.
I remember that we reached the third and last post just after the men had abandoned it, but that we overtook them, and with them fought our way through the streets. But through what streets, or how long it took us to reach the palace I do not know. No one thing is very clear to me. Even the day after, I remembered it only as a bad dream, in which I saw innumerable, dark-skinned faces pressing upon me with open mouths, and white eyeballs; lit by gleams of lightning and flashes of powder. I remember going down under my pony and thinking how cool and pleasant it was in the wet mud, and of being thrown back on him again as though I were a pack-saddle, and I remember wiping the rain out of my eyes with a wet sleeve, and finding the sleeve warm with blood. And then there was a pitchy blackness through which I kept striking at faces that sprang out of the storm, faces that when they were beaten down were replaced by other faces; drunken, savage, exulting. I remember the ceaseless booming of the thunder that shook the houseslike an earthquake, the futile popping of revolvers, the whining shells overhead, the cries and groans, the Spanish oaths, and the heavy breathing of my men about me, and always just in front of us, the breathless whir of the gatling.
After that the next I remember I was inside the palace, and breaking holes in the wall with an axe. Some of my men took the axe from me, and said: "He's crazy, clean crazy," and Van Ritter and Miller fought with me, and held me down upon a cot. From the cot I watched the others making more holes in the wall, through which they shoved their rifles and then there was a great cheer outside, and a man came running in crying, "Alvarez and Heinze are at the corner with the twelve-pounders!" Then our men cursed like fiends, and swept out of the room, and as no one remained to hold me down, I stumbled after them into the big reception-hall, and came upon Laguerre, lying rigid and still upon a red-silk sofa. I thought he was dead, and screamed, and at that they seized me again and hustled me back to the cot, telling me that he was not dead, but that at any moment he might die, and that if I did not rest, I would die also.
When I came to, it was early morning, and through the holes in the plaster wall I could see the stars fading before the dawn. The gatlings were gone and the men were gone, and I was wondering if they had deserted me, when Von Ritter came back and asked if I were strong enough to ride, and I stood up feeling dizzy and very weak. But my head was clear and I could understand what he said to me. Of the whole of the Foreign Legion only thirty were left. Miller was killed, Russell was killed and old man Webster was killed. They told me how they had caught him when he made a dash to the barracks for ammunition, and how, from the roof, our men had seen them place him against the iron railings of the University Gardens. There he died, as his hero, William Walker, had died, on the soil of the country he had tried to save from itself, with his arms behind him, and his blindfolded eyes turned upon a firing-squad.
McGraw had been killed as he rode beside me, holding me in the saddle. That hurt me worse than all. They told me a blow from behind had knocked me over, and though, of that, I could remember nothing, I could still feel McGraw's arm pressing my ribs, and hear his great foolish laugh in my ears.
They helped me out into the court-yard, where the men stood in a hollow square, with Laguerre on a litter in the centre, and with the four gatlings at each corner. The wound was in his throat, so he could not speak, but when they led me down into the Patio he raised his eyes and smiled. I tried to smile back, but his face was so white and drawn that I had to turn away, that he might not see me crying.
There was much besides to make one weep. We were running away. We were abandoning the country to which some of us had come to better their fortunes, to which others had come that they might set the people free. We were being driven out of it by the very men for whom we had risked our lives. Some among us, the reckless, the mercenary, the adventurers, had played like gamblers for a stake, and had lost. Others, as they thought, had planned wisely for the people's good, had asked nothing in return but that they might teach them to rule themselves. But they, too, had lost, and because they had lost, they were to pay the penalty.
Within the week the natives had turned from us to the painted idols of their jungle, and the new gods toward whom they had wavered were to be sacrificed on the altars of the old. They were waiting only until the sun rose to fall upon our little garrison and set us up against the barrack wall, as a peace offering to their former masters. Only one chance remained to us. If, while it were still night, we could escape from the city to the hills, we might be able to fight our way to the Pacific side, and there claim the protection of our war-ship.
It was a forlorn hope, but we trusted to the gatlings to clear a road for us, and there was no other way.
So just before the dawn, silently and stealthily the President and the Cabinet, and all that was left of the Government and Army of General Laguerre, stole out of his palace through a hole in the courtyard- wall.
We were only a shadowy blot in the darkness, but the instant we reached the open street they saw us and gave cry.
From behind the barriers they had raised to shut off our escape, from the house-tops, and from the darkened windows, they opened fire with rifle and artillery. But our men had seen the dead faces of their leaders and comrades, and they were frantic, desperate. They charged like madmen. Nothing could hold them. Our wedge swept steadily forward, and the guns sputtered from the front and rear and sides, flashing and illuminating the night like a war-ship in action.
They drove our enemies from behind the barricades, and cleaned the street beyond it to the bridge, and then swept the bridge itself. We could hear the splashes when the men who held it leaped out of range of the whirling bullets into the stream below.
In a quarter of an hour we were running swiftly through the sleeping suburbs, with only one of our guns barking an occasional warning at the ghostly figures in our rear.
We made desperate progress during the dark hours of the morning, but when daylight came we were afraid to remain longer on the trail, and turned off into the forest. And then, as the sun grew stronger, our endurance reached its limit, and when they called a halt our fellows dropped where they stood, and slept like dead men. But they could not sleep for long. We all knew that our only chance lay in reaching San Lorenzo, on the Pacific Ocean. Once there, we were confident that the war-ship would protect us, and her surgeons save our wounded. By the trail and unmolested, we could have reached it in three days, but in the jungle we were forced to cut our way painfully and slowly, and at times we did not know whether we were moving toward the ocean or had turned back upon the capital.
I do not believe that slaves hunted through a swamp by blood-hounds have ever suffered more keenly than did the survivors of the Foreign Legion. Of our thirty men, only five were unwounded. Even those who carried Laguerre wore blood-stained bandages. All were starving, and after the second day of hiding in swamps and fording mountain-streams, half of our little band was sick with fever. We lived on what we found in the woods, or stole from the clearing, on plants, and roots, and fruit. We were no longer a military body. We had ceased to be either officers or privates. We were now only so many wretched fellow-beings, dependent upon each other, like sailors cast adrift upon some desert island, and each worked for the good of all, and the ties which bound us together were stronger than those of authority and discipline. Men scarcely able to drag themselves on, begged for the privilege of helping to carry Laguerre, and he in turn besought and commanded that we leave him by the trail, and hasten to the safety of the coast. In one of his conscious moments he protested: "I cannot live, and I am only hindering your escape. It is not right, nor human, that one man should risk the lives of all the rest. For God's sake, obey my orders and put me down."
Hour after hour, by night as well as by day, we struggled forward, staggering, stumbling, some raving with fever, others with set faces, biting their yellow lips to choke back the pain.
Three times when we endeavored to gain ground by venturing on the level trail, the mounted scouts of Alvarez overtook us, or attacked us from ambush, and when we beat them off, they rode ahead and warned the villages that we were coming; so, that, when we reached them, we were driven forth like lepers. Even the village dogs snapped and bit at the gaunt figures, trembling for lack of food, and loss of sleep and blood.
But on the sixth day, just at sunset, as we had dragged ourselves to the top of a wooded hill we saw below us, beyond a league of unbroken jungle, a great, shining sheet of water, like a cloud on the horizon, and someone cried: "The Pacific!" and we all stumbled forward, and some dropped on their knees, and some wept, and some swung their hats and tried to cheer.
And then one of them, I never knew which, started singing, "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow," and we stood up, the last of the Legion, shaken with fever, starving, wounded, and hunted by our fellow-men, and gave praise to God, as we had never praised Him before.
That night the fever took hold of me, and in my tossings and turnings I burst open the sword-wound at the back of my head. I remember someone exclaiming "He's bled to death!" and a torch held to my eyes, and then darkness, and the sense that I was being carried and bumped about on men's shoulders.
The next thing I knew I was lying in a hammock, a lot of naked, brown children were playing in the dirt beside me, the sun was shining, great palms were bending in the wind above me, and the strong, sweet air of the salt sea was blowing in my face.
I lay for a long time trying to guess where I was, and how I had come there. But I found no explanation for it, so I gave up guessing, and gazed contentedly at the bending palms until one of the children found my eyes upon him, and gave a scream, and they all pattered off like frightened partridges.
That brought a native woman from behind me, smiling, and murmuring prayers in Spanish. She handed me a gourd filled with water.
I asked where I was, and she said, "San Lorenzo."
I could have jumped out of the hammock at that, but when I tried to do so I found I could hardly raise my body. But I had gained the coast. I knew I would find strength enough to leave it.
"Where are my friends?" I asked. "Where are the Gringoes?"
But she raised her hands, and threw them wide apart.
"They have gone," she said, "three, four days from now, they sailed away in the white ship. There was a great fighting," she said, raising her eyes and shaking her head, "and they carried you here, and told me to hide you. You have been very ill, and you are still very ill." She gave a little exclamation and disappeared, and returned at once with a piece of folded paper. "For you," she said.
On the outside of the paper was written in Spanish: "This paper will be found on the body of Royal Macklin. Let the priest bury him and send word to the Military Academy, West Point, U. S. A., asking that his family be informed of his place of burial. They will reward you well."
Inside, in English, was the following letter in Aiken's handwriting:
"DEAR OLD MAN—We had to drop you here, as we were too sick to carry you any farther. They jumped us at San Lorenzo, and when we found we couldn't get to Amapala from here, we decided to scatter, and let each man take care of himself. Von Ritter and I, and two of the boys, are taking Laguerre with us. He is still alive, but very bad. We hope to pick up a fishing-boat outside of town, and make for the Raleigh. We tried to carry you, too, but it wasn't possible. We had to desert one of you, so we stuck by the old man. We hid your revolver and money- belt under the seventh palm, on the beach to the right of this shack. If I'd known you had twenty double eagles on you all this time, I'd have cracked your skull myself. The crack you've got is healing, and if you pull through the fever you'll be all right. If you do, give this woman twenty pesos I borrowed from her. Get her to hire a boat, and men, and row it to Amapala. This island is only fifteen miles out, and the Pacific Mail boat touches there Thursdays and Sundays. If you leave here the night before, you can make it. Whatever you do, don't go into the village here or land at Amapala. If they catch you on shore they will surely shoot you. So board the steamer in the offing. Hoping you will live to read this, and that we may meet again under more agreeable circumstances, I am,
"P.S. I have your gilt sword, and I'm going to turn it over to the officers of the Raleigh, to take back to your folks. Good luck to you, old man."
After reading this letter, which I have preserved carefully as a characteristic souvenir of Aiken, I had but two anxieties. The first was to learn if Laguerre and the others had reached the Raleigh, and the second was how could I escape to the steamer—the first question was at once answered by the woman. She told me it was known in San Lorenzo that the late "Presidente Generale," with three Gringoes, had reached the American war-ship and had been received on board. The Commandante of Amapala had demanded their surrender to him, but the captain of the ship had declared that as political refugees, they were entitled to the protection they claimed, and when three days later he had been ordered to return to San Francisco, he had taken them with him.
When I heard that, I gave a cheer all by myself, and I felt so much better for the news that I at once began to plot for my own departure. The day was Wednesday, the day before the steamer left Amapala, and I determined to start for the island the following evening. When I told the woman this, she protested I was much too weak to move, but the risk that my hiding-place might be discovered before another steamer- day arrived was much too great, and I insisted on making a try for the first one.
The woman accordingly procured a fishing-boat and a crew of three men, and I dug up my money-belt, and my revolver, and thanked her and paid her, for Aiken and for myself, as well as one can pay a person for saving one's life. The next night, as soon as the sun set, I seated myself in the stern of the boat, and we pushed out from the shore of Honduras, and were soon rising and falling on the broad swell of the Pacific.
My crew were simple fishermen, unconcerned with politics, and as I had no fear of harm from them, I curled up on a mat at their feet and instantly fell asleep.
When I again awoke the sun was well up, and when I raised my head the boatman pointed to a fringe of palms that hung above the water, and which he told me rose from the Island of Amapala. Two hours later we made out the wharves and the custom-house of the port itself, and, lying well toward us in the harbor, a big steamer with the smoke issuing from her stacks, and the American flag hanging at the stern. I was still weak and shaky, and I must confess that I choked a bit at the sight of the flag, and at the thought that, in spite of all, I was going safely back to life, and Beatrice and Aunt Mary. The name I made out on the stern of the steamer was Barracouta, and I considered it the prettiest name I had ever known, and the steamer the handsomest ship that ever sailed the sea. I loved her from her keel to her topmast. I loved her every line and curve, her every rope and bolt. But specially did I love the flag at her stern and the blue Peter at the fore. They meant home. They meant peace, friends, and my own countrymen.
I gave the boatmen a double eagle, and we all shook hands with great glee, and then with new strength and unassisted I pulled myself up the companion-ladder, and stood upon the deck.
When I reached it I wanted to embrace the first man I saw. I somehow expected that he would want to embrace me, too, and say how glad he was I had escaped. But he happened to be the ship's purser, and, instead of embracing me, he told me coldly that steerage passengers are not allowed aft. But I did not mind, I knew that I was a disreputable object, but I also knew that I had gold in my money-belt, and that clothes could be bought from the slop-chest.
So I said in great good-humor, that I wanted a first-class cabin, the immediate use of the bathroom, and the services of the ship's barber.
My head was bound in a dirty bandage. My uniform, which I still wore as I had nothing else, was in rags from the briers, and the mud of the swamps and the sweat of the fever had caked it with dirt. I had an eight days' beard, and my bare feet were in native sandals. So my feelings were not greatly hurt because the purser was not as genuinely glad to see me as I was to see him.
"A first-class passage costs forty dollars gold—in advance," he said.
"That's all right," I answered, and I laughed from sheer, foolish happiness, "I'll take six."
We had been standing at the head of the companion-ladder, and as the purser moved rather reluctantly toward his cabin, a group of men came down the deck toward us.
One of them was a fat, red-faced American, the others wore the uniform of Alvarez. When they saw me they gave little squeals of excitement, and fell upon the fat man gesticulating violently, and pointing angrily at me.
The purser halted, and if it were possible, regarded me with even greater unfriendliness. As for myself, the sight of the brown, impish faces, and the familiar uniforms filled me with disgust. I had thought I was done with brawling and fighting, of being hated and hunted. I had had my fill of it. I wanted to be let alone, I wanted to feel that everybody about me was a friend. I was not in the least alarmed, for now that I was under the Stars and Stripes, I knew that I was immune from capture, but the mere possibility of a row was intolerable.
One of the Honduranians wore the uniform of a colonel, and was, as I guessed, the Commandante of the port. He spoke to the fat man in English, but in the same breath turned to one of his lieutenants, and gave an order in Spanish.
The lieutenant started in my direction, and then hesitated and beckoned to some one behind me.
I heard a patter of bare feet on the deck, and a dozen soldiers ran past me, and surrounded us. I noticed that they and their officers belonged to the Eleventh Infantry. It was the regiment I had driven out of the barracks at Santa Barbara.
The fat American in his shirt-sleeves was listening to what the Commandante was saying, and apparently with great dissatisfaction. As he listened he scowled at me, chewing savagely on an unlit cigar, and rocking himself to and fro on his heels and toes. His thumbs were stuck in his suspenders, so that it looked as though, with great indecision he was pulling himself forward and back.
I turned to the purser and said, as carelessly as I could: "Well, what are we waiting for?"
But he only shook his head.
With a gesture of impatience the fat man turned suddenly from the Commandante and came toward me.
He spoke abruptly and with the tone of a man holding authority.
"Have you got your police-permit to leave Amapala?" he demanded.
"No," I answered.
"Well, why haven't you?" he snapped.
"I didn't know I had to have one," I said. "Why do you ask?" I added. "Are you the captain of this ship?"
"I think I am," he suddenly roared, as though I had questioned his word. "Anyway, I've got enough say on her to put you ashore if you don't answer my questions."
I shut my lips together and looked away from him. His tone stirred what little blood there was still left in me to rebellion; but when I saw the shore with its swamps and ragged palms, I felt how perilously near it was, and Panama became suddenly a distant mirage. I was as helpless as a sailor clinging to a plank. I felt I was in no position to take offence, so I bit my lips and tried to smile.
The Captain shook his head at me, as though I were a prisoner in the dock.
"Do you mean to say," he shouted, "that our agent sold you a ticket without you showing a police-permit?"
"I haven't got a ticket," I said. "I was just going to buy one now."
The Commandante thrust himself between us.
"Ah, what did I tell you?" he cried. "You see? He is escaping. This is the man. He answers all the descriptions. He was dressed just so; green coat, red trousers, very torn and dirty—head in bandage. This is the description. Is it not so?" he demanded of his lieutenants. They nodded vigorously.
"Why—a-yes, that is the man," the Commandante cried in triumph. "Last night he stabbed Jose Mendez in the Libertad Billiard Hall. He has wanted to murder him. If Jose, he die, this man he is murderer. He cannot go. He must come to land with me."
He gave an order in Spanish, and the soldiers closed in around us.
I saw that I was in great peril, in danger more real than any I had faced in open fight since I had entered Honduras. For the men who had met me then had fought with fair weapons. These men were trying to take away my life with a trick, with cunning lies and false witnesses.
They knew the Captain might not surrender a passenger who was only a political offender, but that he could not harbor a criminal. And at the first glance at my uniform, and when he knew nothing more of me than that I wore it, the Commandante had trumped up this charge of crime, and had fitted to my appearance the imaginary description of an imaginary murderer. And I knew that he did this that he might send me, bound hand and foot, as a gift to Alvarez, or that he might, for his own vengeance, shoot me against a wall.
I knew how little I would receive of either justice or mercy. I had heard of Dr. Rojas killed between decks on a steamer of this same line; of Bonilla taken from the Ariadne and murdered on this very wharf at this very port of Amapala; of General Pulido strangled in the launch of the Commandante of Corinto and thrown overboard, while still in the sight of his fellow-passengers on the Southern Cross.
It was a degraded, horrible, inglorious end—to be caught by the heels after the real battle was lost; to die of fever in a cell; to be stabbed with bayonets on the wharf, and thrown to the carrion harbor- sharks.
I swung around upon the Captain, and fought for my life as desperately as though I had a rope around my neck.
"That man is a liar," I cried. "I was not in Amapala last night. I came from San Lorenzo—this morning. The boat is alongside now; you can ask the men who brought me. I'm no murderer. That man knows I'm no murderer. He wants me because I belonged to the opposition government. It's because I wear this uniform he wants me. I'm no criminal. He has no more right to touch me here, than he would if I were on Broadway."
The Commandante seized the Captain's arm.
"As Commandante of this port," he screamed, "I tell you if you do not surrender the murderer to me, your ship shall not sail. I will take back your clearance-papers."
The Captain turned on me, shaking his red fists, and tossing his head like a bull. "You see that!" he cried. "You see what you get me into, coming on board my ship without a permit! That's what I get at every banana-patch along this coast, a lot of damned beach-combers and stowaways stealing on board, and the Commandante chasing 'em all over my ship and holding up my papers. You go ashore!" he ordered. He swept his arm toward the gangway. "You go to Kessler, our consul. If you haven't done nothing wrong, he'll take care of you. You haven't got a ticket, and you haven't got a permit, and you're no passenger of mine! Over you go; do you hear me? Quick now, over you go."
I could not believe that I heard the man aright. He seemed to be talking a language I did not know.
"Do you mean to tell me," I cried, speaking very slowly, for I was incredulous, and I was so weak besides that it was difficult for me to find the words, "that you refuse to protect me from these half-breeds, that you are going to turn me over to them—to be shot! And you call yourself an American?" I cried, "and this an American ship!"
As I turned from him I found that the passengers had come forward and now surrounded us; big, tall men in cool, clean linen, and beautiful women, shading their eyes with their fans, and little children crowding in between them and clinging to their skirts. To my famished eyes they looked like angels out of Paradise. They were my own people, and they brought back to me how I loved the life these men were plotting to take from me. The sight of them drove me into a sort of frenzy.
"Are you going to take that man's word against mine?" I cried at the Captain. "Are you going to let him murder me in sight of that flag? You know he'll do it. You know what they did to Rojas on one of your own ships. Do you want another man butchered in sight of your passengers?"
The Commandante crowded in front of the ship's captain.
"That man is my prisoner," he cried. "He is going to jail, to be tried by law. He shall see his consul every day. And so, if you try to leave this harbor with him, I will sink your ship from the fort!"
The Captain turned with an oath and looked up to the second officer, who was leaning over the rail of the bridge above us.
"Up anchor," the Captain shouted. "Get her under weigh! There is your answer," he cried, turning upon me. "I'm not going to have this ship held up any longer, and I'm not going to risk the lives of these ladies and gentlemen by any bombardment, either. You're only going to jail. I'll report the matter to our consul at Corinto, and he'll tell our minister."
"Corinto!" I replied. "I'll be dead before you've passed that lighthouse."
The Captain roared with anger.
"Can't you hear what he says," he shouted. "He says he'll fire on my ship. They've fired on our ships before! I'm not here to protect every damned scalawag that tries to stowaway on my ship. I'm here to protect the owners, and I mean to do it. Now you get down that ladder, before we throw you down."
I knew his words were final. From the bow I heard the creak of the anchor-chains as they were drawn on board, and from the engine-room the tinkle of bells.
The ship was abandoning me. My last appeal had failed. My condition was desperate.
"Protect your owners, and yourself, damn you!" I cried. "You're no American. You're no white man. No American would let a conch-nigger run his ship. To hell with your protection!"
All the misery of the last two months, the bitterness of my dismissal from the Point, the ignominy of our defeat and flight, rose in me and drove me on. "And I don't want the protection of that flag either," I cried. "I wasn't good enough to serve it once, and I don't need it now."
It should be remembered that when I spoke these words I thought my death was inevitable and immediate, that it had been brought upon me by one of my own countrymen, while others of my countrymen stood indifferently by, and I hope that for what I said in that moment of fever and despair I may be forgiven.
"I can protect myself!" I cried.
Before anyone could move I whipped out my gun and held it over the Commandante's heart, and at the same instant without turning my eyes from his face I waved my other hand at the passengers. "Take those children away," I shouted.
"Don't move!" I yelled in Spanish at the soldiers. "If one of you raises his musket I'll kill him." I pressed the cocked revolver against the Commandante's chest. "Now, then, take me ashore," I called to his men. "You know me, I'm Captain Macklin. Captain Macklin, of the Foreign Legion, and you know that six of you will die before you get me. Come on," I taunted. "Which six is it to be?"
Out of the corners of my eyes I could see the bayonets lifting cautiously and forming a ring of points about me, and the sight, and my own words lashed me into a frenzy of bravado.
"Oh, you don't remember me, don't you?" I cried. "You ought to remember the Foreign Legion! We drove you out of Santa Barbara and Tabla Ve and Comyagua, and I'm your Vice-President! Take off your hats to your Vice-President! To Captain Macklin, Vice-President of Honduras!"
I sprang back against the cabin and swung the gun in swift half- circles. The men shrank from it as though I had lashed them with a whip. "Come on," I cried, "which six is it to be? Come on, you cowards, why don't you take me!"
The only answer came from a voice that was suddenly uplifted at my side. I recognized it as the voice of the ship's captain.
"Put down that gun!" he shouted.
But I only swung it the further until it covered him also. The man stood in terror of his ship's owners, he had a seaman's dread of international law, but he certainly was not afraid of a gun. He regarded it no more than a pointed finger, and leaned eagerly toward me. To my amazement I saw that his face was beaming with excitement and delight.
"Are you Captain Macklin?" he cried.
I was so amazed that for a moment I could only gape at him while I still covered him with the revolver.
"Yes," I answered.
"Then why in hell didn't you say so!" he roared, and with a bellow like a bull he threw himself upon the Commandante. He seized him by his epaulettes and pushed him backward. With the strength of a bull he butted and shoved him across the deck.
"Off my ship you!" he roared. "Every one of you; you're a gang of murdering cutthroats."
The deck-hands and the ship-stewards, who had gathered at the gangway to assist in throwing me down it, sprang to the Captain's aid.
"Over with him, boys," he roared. "Clear the ship of them. Throw them overboard." The crew fell upon the astonished soldiers, and drove them to the side. Their curses and shrieks filled the air, the women retreated screaming, and I was left alone, leaning limply against the cabin with my revolver hanging from my fingers.
It began and ended in an instant, and as the ship moved forward and the last red-breeched soldier disappeared headforemost down the companion-ladder, the Captain rushed back to me and clutched me by both shoulders. Had it not been for the genial grin on his fat face, I would have thought that he meant to hurl me after the others.
"Now then, Captain Macklin," he cried, "you come with me. You come to my cabin, and that's where you stay as long as you are on my ship. You're no passenger, you're my guest, and there's nothing on board too good for you."
"But I don't—understand," I protested faintly. "What does it mean?"
"What does it mean?" he shouted. "It means you're the right sort for me! I haven't heard of nothing but your goings-on for the last three trips. Vice-President of Honduras!" he exclaimed, shaking me as though I were a carpet. "A kid like you! You come to my cabin and tell me the whole yarn from start to finish. I'd rather carry you than old man Huntington himself!"
The passengers had returned, and stood listening to his exclamations, in a wondering circle. The stewards and deck-hands, panting with their late exertions, were grinning at me with unmistakable interest.
"Bring Captain Macklin's breakfast to my cabin, you," he shouted to them. "And, Mr. Owen," he continued, addressing the Purser, with great impressiveness, "this is Captain Macklin, himself. He's going with us as my guest."
With a wink, he cautiously removed my revolver from my fingers, and slapped me jovially on the shoulder. "Son!" he exclaimed, "I wouldn't have missed the sight of you holding your gun on that gang for a cargo of bullion. I suspicioned it was you, the moment you did it. That will be something for me to tell them in 'Frisco, that will. Now, you come along," he added, suddenly, with parental solicitude, "and take a cup of coffee, and a dose of quinine, or you'll be ailing."
He pushed a way for me through the crowd of passengers, who fell back in two long lines. As we moved between them, I heard a woman's voice ask, in a loud whisper:
"Who did you say?"
A man's voice answered, "Why, Captain Macklin," and then protested, in a rising accent, "Now, for Heaven's sake, Jennie, don't tell me you don't know who he is?"
That was my first taste of fame. It was a short-lived, limited sort of fame, but at that time it stretched throughout all Central America. I doubt if it is sufficiently robust to live in the cold latitudes of the North. It is just an exotic of the tropics. I am sure it will never weather Cape Hatteras. But although I won't amount to much in Dobbs Ferry, down here in Central America I am pretty well known, and during these last two months that I have been lying, very near to death, in the Canal Company's hospital, my poor little fame stuck by me, and turned strangers into kind and generous friends.
DOBBS FERRY, September, 1882
September passed before I was a convalescent, and it was the first of October when the Port of Sydney passed Sandy Hook, and I stood at the bow, trembling with cold and happiness, and saw the autumn leaves on the hills of Staten Island and the thousands of columns of circling, white smoke rising over the three cities. I had not let Beatrice and Aunt Mary know that I was in a hospital, but had told them that I was making my way home slowly, which was true enough, and that they need not expect to hear from me until I had arrived in New York City. So, there was no one at the dock to meet me.
But, as we came up the harbor, I waved at the people on the passing ferry-boats, and they, shivering, no doubt, at the sight of our canvas awnings and the stewards' white jackets, waved back, and gave me my first welcome home.
It was worth all the disappointments, and the weeks in hospital, to stick my head in the ticket-window of the Grand Central Station, and hear myself say, "Dobbs Ferry, please." I remember the fascination with which I watched the man (he was talking over his shoulder to another man at the time) punch the precious ticket, and toss it to me. I suppose in his life he has many times sold tickets to Dobbs Ferry, but he never sold them as often as I had rehearsed asking him for that one.
I had wired them not to meet me at the station, but to be waiting at the house, and when I came up the old walk, with the box-hedges on either side, they were at the door, and Aunt Mary ran to meet me, and hugged and scolded me, and cried on my shoulder, and Beatrice smiled at me, just as though she were very proud of me, and I kissed her once. After ten minutes, it did not seem as though I had ever been away from home. And, when I looked at Beatrice, and I could not keep my eyes from her, I was filled with wonder that I had ever had the courage to go from where she was. We were very happy.
I am afraid that for the next two weeks I traded upon their affection scandalously. But it was their own fault. It was their wish that I should constantly pose in the dual roles of the returned prodigal and Othello, and, as I told them, if I were an obnoxious prig ever after, they alone were responsible.
I had the ravenous hunger of the fever-convalescent, and I had an audience that would have turned General Grant into a braggart. So, every day wonderful dishes of Aunt Mary's contriving were set before me, and Beatrice would not open a book so long as there was one adventure I had left untold.
And this, as I soon learned, was the more flattering, as she had already heard most of them at second-hand.
I can remember my bewilderment that first evening as I was relating the story of the duel, and she corrected me.
"Weren't you much nearer?" she asked. "You fired at twenty paces."
"So we did," I cried, "but how could you know that?"
"Mr. Lowell told us," she said.
"Lowell!" I shouted. "Has Lowell been here?"
"Yes, he brought us your sword," Beatrice answered. "Didn't you see where we placed it?" and she rose rather quickly, and stood with her face toward the fireplace, where, sure enough, my sword was hanging above the mantel.
"Oh yes," said Aunt Mary, "Mr. Lowell has been very kind. He has come out often to ask for news of you. He is at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. We like him so much," she added.
"Like him!" I echoed. "I should think you would! Isn't that bully," I cried, "to think of his being so near me, and that he's a friend of yours already. We must have him out to-morrow. Isn't he fine, Beatrice?"
She had taken down the sword, and was standing holding it out to me.
"Yes, he is," she said, "and he is very fond of you, too, Royal. I don't believe you've got a better friend."
Attractive as the prodigal son may seem at first, he soon becomes a nuisance. Even Othello when he began to tell over his stories for the second time must have been something of a bore. And when Aunt Mary gave me roast beef for dinner two nights in succession, and after dinner Beatrice picked up "Lorna Doone" and retired to a corner, I knew that I had had my day.
The next morning at breakfast, in a tone of gentle reproach, I announced that I was going out into the cold world, as represented by New York City, to look for a job. I had no idea of doing anything of the sort. I only threw out the suggestion tentatively, and I was exceedingly disgusted when they caught up my plan with such enthusiasm and alacrity, that I was forced to go on with it. I could not see why it was necessary for me to work. I had two thousand dollars a year my grandfather had left me, and my idea of seeking for a job, was to look for it leisurely, and with caution. But the family seemed to think that, before the winter set in, I should take any chance that offered, and, as they expressed it, settle down.
None of us had any very definite ideas as to what I ought to do, or even that there was anything I could do. Lowell, who is so much with us now, that I treat him like one of the family, argued that to business men my strongest recommendation would be my knowledge of languages. He said I ought to try for a clerkship in some firm where I could handle the foreign correspondence. His even suggesting such work annoyed me extremely. I told him that, on the contrary, my strongest card was my experience in active campaigning, backed by my thorough military education, and my ability to command men. He said unfeelingly, that you must first catch your men, and that in down-town business circles a military education counted for no more than a college-course in football.
"You good people don't seem to understand," I explained (we were holding a family council on my case at the time); "I have no desire to move in down-town business circles. I hate business circles."
"Well, you must live, Royal," Aunt Mary said. "You have not enough money to be a gentleman of leisure."
"Royal wouldn't be content without some kind of work," said Beatrice.
"No, he can't persuade us he's not ambitious!" Lowell added. "You mean to make something of yourself, you know you do, and you can't begin too early."
Since Lowell has been promoted to the ward-room, he talks just like a grandfather.
"Young man," I said, "I've seen the day when you were an ensign, and I was a Minister of War, and you had to click your heels if you came within thirty feet of my distinguished person. Of course, I'm ambitious, and the best proof of it is, that I don't want to sit in a bird-cage all my life, counting other people's money."