She was perfectly candid. She did feel braver there on the bridge. For Dan was the one dominant personality aboard the yacht. In her eyes he typified bravery, skill, strength—safety, in a word, for all. It was as though out of the wrack of despair and the overriding elements had arisen the spirit of a man and all that at best he stands for, to reclaim the lost honors of the darker hours. And so she clung to him with her eyes and felt she could smile at danger; her soul went out to him and enveloped him with gratitude and tenderness. And she neither knew nor cared whether in these emotions was the uprearing of woman's submerged, primal nature, giving all to the sheer power of the stronger sex, or whether it was the result of a burden of dread suddenly lifted from her heart—it made no difference which. She was living the moment—here and now—clear, serene, justified, and ennobled.
And standing thus she watched him as he snapped the yacht slantwise from the grip of succeeding sea hollows and guided her over the gray hills, panting and straining, with much of pudgy deliberation, but surely.
"We will make it easily," said Dan, "if nothing happens."
"Good," cried Mr. Rowland, and, taking his daughter by the arm, he added, "come below, Virginia, and give them the good news. Your friend Oddington has forgotten his cigarettes for a full twenty-four hours, and the Dale girls are candidates for a sanitarium." There was a chuckle of relief in his voice.
Dan turned to watch the girl as she followed her father from the bridge. He was certain he had never seen anything so inspiring as Virginia Howland standing braced square to the wind, her trim blue skirt winding and unwinding; her cap in her hand; the wind tossing her heavy hair in myriads of glowing pennons, which beat on the blush-surged cheeks, alternately hiding and disclosing the sparkle of the deep gray eyes or the flash of perfect teeth from between parted lips.
It was a picture upon which he permitted himself to ponder but an instant, however, for the wind was shifting again from the northeast, growling ominously, and the yacht, humping along at a ridiculous speed of six knots, made the situation less satisfactory than it had been. He spoke to Terry over his shoulder.
"As you see," he said, "we're running into some new sort of hell," and he glanced impatiently at the potential riot ahead. "Have these men keep the course and look out for things, will you? I'm going down to the engine-room for a few minutes."
"Very well, sir," said the young officer.
Dan found old Jim Arthur, the chief, swearing softly as he moved about his engines with a long-spouted oil can.
"It is beginning to breeze again," said Dan. "I'm the new Captain and I came down to tell you I don't think much of your machinery, and to ask if the shaft will hold out."
"The shaft'll hold," said the engineer. Then he paused and looked at Dan in supreme disgust. "Engines!" he snorted. "I've been holdin' 'em together with my fingers since we left San Domingo. Cap'n, they'd been fine for a Swiss cuckoo clock. Why, they're only held together by gilt paint and polish. See how old Howland's had 'em painted—like a bedizened old maid! I do believe he's got 'em perfumed. Well, they may hold—"
Dan, who had been glancing about the engine-room, interrupted the engineer's pessimistic outburst.
"What are your force pumps going for?" he asked.
"Well, it ain't fur to water no flowers," said Arthur, beckoning Dan to the shaft tunnel, where a foot and a half of frothy water was rolling to and fro, slushing against the stuffing box, laving the engine-room bulkhead.
Leaking! Dan's first impulse was to drop his hands then and there and let the yacht sink or do what she would for all he cared. He had fought out his fight with a better craft than this and had lost her. He did not yield to this; in truth, before he could think of yielding there came a second impulse—to relieve his mind of several hundred accumulated metaphors, to which inclination he surrendered unconditionally, while Arthur, in the face of the verbal torrent, gazed at the source in humble admiration.
"How—how much is she taking in?" the young man finally gasped.
"About thirty strokes a minute. I'd 'a' whistled up the tube about it before, only I thought you had enough to fill your mind."
"How does it strike you?" asked Dan.
"It's gained only six inches in the past hour. I will say that much. But if you ask me my honest opinion, I'd say this rotten old pleasure hull is a-gettin' ready to open up and spread out like a—like a—balloon with the epizooetic."
"All right, when she begins, come on up with your men without asking leave. Report every half-hour. I'll be on the bridge, of course. If I can pick up a steamship I'll call her and desert ship; if not—well, we're somewhere outside the Winter Quarter light-ship. I'll need about five hours of the speed we're making to pick up the light vessel and beach the yacht in the lee of Assateague; maybe not quite five hours, I can't say exactly."
"I think we can keep ahead of the water we're makin' that long," replied Arthur, cheerfully.
As Dan regained the bridge, the bad news he had received below was slightly compensated for by the fact that the storm seemed to be taking a new kink, swirling away to sea. The gray combers, however, were still disagreeably to be reckoned with. The second officer had by this time pulled himself together, and as he reported to Dan, the young Captain was happy to feel that he had at least a lieutenant who could be counted on. Now if Mulhatton were only with him—but "Mul" was below, flat on his back, suffering technically from submersion, and so were the other men of the Fledgling who had been pulled aboard the yacht.
At ten o'clock Arthur reported that the water had gained another six inches.
As Dan snapped back the tube a burst of laughter from the saloon reached his ears. Seasickness, fear, everything evil had been forgotten in the spirit of confidence and assurance of ultimate safety which Dan's skill and personality had infused throughout the wallowing craft. He shrugged his shoulders, staring vacantly into the angry sea.
At length his eyes turned to the distress signals he had ordered hoisted; and suddenly the gulf between his lot in life and theirs, which the merriment suggested, disappeared, and his emotions thereby aroused,—emotions not untinged with self-pity, changed to deepest sympathy for those light-hearted ones who might soon be plunged into that gloom which heralds death. Grim, silent, he turned to his work, determined that so far as in him lay no shadow of death should invest a single one of those persons who must find so much in life to make it worth while. Another hour passed while the yacht stumbled her clumsy course to safety. Arthur reported another half-foot; in all three feet six inches of water swishing against the engine-room bulkhead.
"It will keep seepin' through," he said, "and wop! Suddenly the whole bulkhead'll go."
"Don't get caught," replied Dan. "Give us three more hours, chief. Oh, I say, there's not a drop getting into the fire room yet? Thank God for that!"
He faced about quickly and looked into the eyes of Virginia Howland. She was pale, but her face was brave. "I had just come out on deck," she said, "because somehow I was getting nervous—I wanted to be—to be near the Captain." She smiled. "I heard you talking through the speaking-tube; I didn't mean to listen—pardon me; I couldn't help it. We're in danger, then, are we? Don't hesitate to answer truthfully, Captain Merrithew."
"Why," replied Dan, "we—steady there, Mr. Terry; you men at the wheel attend to your business. Excuse me," turning to the girl, "danger—why, we've been in danger all the time; else I wouldn't be up here."
"You are evading," said the girl, slowly. "But perhaps you are right. I can say I trust you, Captain—we all do. I want to tell you again how we all appreciate your—what you have done—putting the yacht straight and—"
"I am doing it for myself as much as for you. More, perhaps; who knows?"
The girl gazed intently at his square-cut, bronzed face. Then she looked straight into his steel-gray eyes, peering hard ahead from under the flat peak of a cap he had picked up on the bridge.
"Yes," she said, as though speaking to herself, "I think I know." Then she started with an involuntary gesture.
"Haven't I seen you somewhere before, Captain Merrithew? Yes, yes, I have. Where could it have been? Do you recall?"
"Yes," was the simple reply. "I recall. It was about two years ago, at Norfolk, when you were at the coal docks on this yacht."
Virginia flushed eagerly and was about to say something, when some flashing thought, perhaps a realizing sense of their relative positions, closed her lips. "I remember very clearly now." She spoke quietly, then she closed her eyes for a second; when she opened them they were stern and hard.
"Captain Merrithew," she said, as though to hasten from the subject, "I know we are in danger. Your silence has said as much. Yet the yacht seems to be going finely—"
Dan made no reply.
"Do you think I am a coward? Is that the reason you are silent?"
Dan made no attempt to conceal his annoyance.
"Well, Miss Howland, if you are not a coward, if you can keep what you know to yourself, listen: We're taking in a little water. It's a race between the yacht and the leak; the yacht ought to win out. Now you know as much as I do."
"I am not frightened; my curiosity is natural. Is there a chance that the yacht may not get where you are taking her?"
"To the Assateague beach—no, I don't think there is—if all goes well."
"If all goes well! Then there is a chance—a chance we may—"
"Oh, we'll be all right." Dan was temperamentally straightforward and honest, and his assertions were uttered with a tentative inflection which fell far from carrying conviction to the aroused senses of the girl.
She stepped closer to Dan.
"May I say something? We are in danger. I have been thinking of things since you came aboard—since I have been sitting in the saloon with the men who are different—"
Dan could see that the girl, always evidently one of dominant emotions, was overwrought, and something told him she had no business to express the thoughts which filled her mind, that she would be sorry later that she had spoken. He had interrupted her by a gesture. Now his voice came cool and even.
"Miss Howland, don't. I've got to take care of this yacht."
A quick sense of just what he meant shot through the girl's mind. She raised her eyes and looked at him straight. They were blazing, not altogether with anger. She trembled; she flushed and moved uncertainly. Then, without a word, she turned and left him.
"A half-foot more water in the last half-hour," reported Arthur.
As Dan turned to Terry, that officer silently pointed to the northward, where a tall column of black smoke seemed to rise from the waters. A steamship! Yes, but was it coming toward them? Was it going away? Or would it pass them far out to sea? For fifteen minutes he watched it through his binoculars, and then he glanced down to the deck and called to a sailor to send Mr. Howland to the bridge.
"Mr. Howland," said Dan, as the owner approached him, "I suppose Miss Howland has told you our fix."
"Yes, but she has told no one else."
"Bully for her!" exclaimed Dan.
"She said you were hopeful."
"More so now than ever before, I was making for the beach, but now—there's a steamship coming down on us. I wasn't sure at first, I am now. That smoke out there is heading dead for us. I am going to slow the boat down to steerage way and wait for her to come up. It's better than trying to make for Assateague; it's better to wait."
"Will the bulkhead hold?"
Mr. Howland asked his question in the even monotone which had characterized all his questions.
"I think so; if it doesn't, we'll get everybody off in the rafts and the launch; the sea is going down by the minute."
Mr. Howland glanced down at the deck where the crew of Scandinavians, inspired by the cool, cheerful commands of their new Captain, were working nonchalantly in preparing for eventualities. From amidships came the clatter of men trying to repair the launch, the one boat which had not been carried away in the night's storm. Others were clearing the life rafts so they could be launched without delay. He glanced at Dan with admiring eyes.
"I want to compliment you, Captain Merrithew," he said. "You have your crew well in hand."
"Thank you," replied Dan, "if you will keep your party in hand there'll be no danger at all. I don't care what happens, with the sea falling."
Another half-hour. The steamship, a stout coaster, had now climbed over the horizon. Mr. Howland, through the glasses, had picked out her red-and-black funnel and recognized her as one of his own boats. But it had plainly come to a race between the steamship and the straining bulkhead. No need now to tell any one of the situation. The Veiled Ladye was plainly settling astern. The engine-room bulkhead was quivering, ready to break. Arthur and his men had piled up from the engine-room, the engines still pulsing with no one to watch them. The sailors were splendid, going about their work quietly, calmly. They had carried the injured mate, groaning with his broken leg, to the deck. Mrs. Van Vleck, Mr. Rowland's sister, the chaperone, sat with her niece's arms about her, passing in and out of successive attacks of hysteria. A sailor had knocked one of the young men of the party down to quiet an incipient exhibition of panic. Ralph Oddington and Reginald Wotherspoon stood at the rail, trying with nerveless fingers to roll cigarettes. Two of the girls were weeping in each other's arms. The water bubbled under the turn of the yacht's counters. Two of the sailors were discharging blank shells from the rifle astern in hopes of calling attention to the plight of the craft. The deck was a conglomerate, nervous confusion of smart yachting costumes, uniforms, and greasy overalls.
Dan, noting the flutter, leaned back from the wheel.
"Don't get excited down there," he roared. "If the bulkhead holds, we're all right. If it doesn't, there'll be plenty of time for all. Do you understand? We can float for a week on the ocean the way it is now."
"It won't hold long, Mr. Howland," he added to the man at his side, "but it will hold until that steamship reaches us. She's seen us and is coming like hell."
A few minutes later a joyous shout sounded from the men on the bridge, a cry vibrant with electricity, which thrilled through the yacht and finally trembled on all tongues. For the steamship had sized the situation and was fairly leaping toward them. Great clouds of smoke were belching from her funnel. They could see sparks mingling with the thunderclouds of sepia, and the Veiled Ladye hobbled woundily to meet her. On came the freighter; her hull was plainly discerned now, picking the waves from under her bluff bows and throwing them impatiently to either side.
Cries of joy and appeals for the succoring vessel to hurry sounded from the yacht's decks.
As the vessel drew nearer. Miss Howland ran to the bridge and took her father by the arm.
"Father!" she cried. "You must come now. Isn't there anything in your cabin you want to save?" With a muttered "By George!" Mr. Howland dived below and the girl faced Dan.
Oddington's voice thrilling in joyous, cadence sounded from beneath the bridge.
"Virginia, Virginia, where are you? Oh, up there! Come down quickly! Don't you see we are coming alongside? And Merrithew, old chap—Virginia, will you come! You are to be put aboard after your aunt. Hurry!" There was a half-note of proprietorship in his voice.
As the girl turned to leave, Dan gave the wheel to Terry and ran to the deck with a speaking-trumpet in his hand. As he passed Oddington, who had assisted Miss Howland from the bridge, he spoke to him quietly.
"The man with the broken leg leaves this ship first."
Below there was a dull crash and clouds of steam burst through the ventilators and the engine-room gratings. The bulkhead had succumbed, but no one cared now. The steamship was turning in about a hundred yards away. Dan directed his trumpet to the bridge.
"Scrape close alongside," he yelled. "Open one of your cargo ports and we'll board you through it."
The freighter's Captain had already anticipated this suggestion, and as the vessel slid alongside, Dan ranged the sailors along the deck.
In perfect order the mate with the broken leg was slid into the port as though he were merely being passed into another room. Then went the women, then the men of the party, and after them the sailors. Dan and Mr. Howland alone were left now. As the elder man prepared to enter the port he looked at Dan a moment and smiled.
"Some day I hope to cancel this debt."
They were simple words, but potentially they meant much to Dan. He was to find they involved the realization of dreams, ambitions he had long held; another rung on the ladder which eventually—— But there was no time to think of the future now. Turning from the porthole he ran along the deck, calling to make sure that every one was off. When he returned, Miss Howland and several others were leaning over the rail above.
"For heaven's sake, Captain Merrithew, will you please come off that yacht!" The girl's voice rang imperiously.
With a last look at the bridge upon which he had passed the recent thrilling hours, he leaped aboard the freighter, and when ten minutes later the white Veiled Ladye threw up her bow with a great clanking sigh and slid swiftly from view, Dan Merrithew was fast asleep in the Captain's cabin.
DAN IS COMMANDED TO A PARTY
A week later, Dan, in accordance with an engagement made with Mr. Howland when parting with him at the railroad station at Norfolk, whither the rescuing vessel had taken the shipwrecked party, called at the office of the Coastwise and West Indian Shipping Company in the Bowling Green Building and asked to see the president.
It was a large office, filled with clerks and all of them busy. The young man who received the caller's request looked at him sharply and shook his head.
"Mr. Rowland's engaged now," he said, "at a company meeting. If you'll call in an hour or two I'll find out if he will see you."
Dan drew from his pocket a card with a pencilled memorandum and glanced at it.
"He made an appointment with me for eleven o'clock to-day. So I guess I'll have to ask you to take in my card."
The clerk shrugged his shoulders and walked away. When he returned a few minutes later all signs of mistrust had vanished. Opening the gate with a sort of flourish he said:
"Mr. Howland says for you to come right in."
As Dan entered the president's office, Mr. Howland arose from a long, polished oaken table littered with papers, at which several men were seated, and advanced to meet him.
"Captain Merrithew," he said, "I am glad to see you again. And now," he added, the formalities of introducing Dan to the various officers of the company being completed, "I have gone into the matter of the men lost when the Fledgling sank and have sent a check for five thousand dollars to the wife of your engineer, Crampton, who I understand carried some life insurance, and a check for three thousand dollars to Welch's mother." His voice was crisp and business-like, but his manner intimated clearly the sympathy and gratitude which had dictated his gifts.
"Yes, sir, they are adequate," replied Dan, feelingly.
"I have sent checks to your mate, Mulhatton, who, I am informed, is still in the employ of the Phoenix Company, as well as that fellow Noonan and the steward; which brings us to you."
"Mr. Howland," said Dan, flushing, "I'm simply not—"
"Just a moment, if you please," interrupted Mr. Howland; "I assume you are qualified to navigate the ocean?"
"Yes," replied Dan, trembling slightly; "I've the best of broad ocean papers and seven harbor endorsements."
"That ought to be enough," smiled the vice-president, Mr. Horton, who seemed perfectly in touch with the trend of the situation.
"Yes," resumed Mr. Howland, "what I am getting at is this, Captain Merrithew. The Coastwise Transportation Company is looking for men like you. We want you with us, in short. As you probably know, we have a fleet consisting of steamers of various sizes, but all pretty much the same type; that is to say, seaworthy, comfortable, and well engined. We cannot place you in command of one of our newest vessels, of course. But there is the Tampico, the commander of which, Captain Harrison, we are to retire for age. She is a good boat, running to San Blanco, and she is fitted for passengers; so you will find opportunity to develop your social proclivities, if you have any to develop."
As Mr. Howland was talking the color had slowly departed from Dan's face, and now, as the president ceased speaking and regarded the young man, he spoke haltingly, with dry lips.
"Do I understand you to mean that you are going to make me Captain of the Tampico?"
"You are to understand that we have," corrected Mr. Howland.
"Mr. Howland, gentlemen," said Dan, "I—I can't say anything except—thank you—I—" He hesitated, confusedly.
"There's nothing for you to say," interpolated the president, "except that you'll go down to the ship, which is loading at Pier 36, East River, and assume command. Captain Harrison will remain aboard for two or three trips to break you in to the trade." There was that in his voice which intimated the end of the interview, and Dan with a bow was turning to leave, when Mr. Howland uttered an exclamation.
"Oh, by the way," he said, "here is a note my daughter asked me to give you. It will explain itself, I think; and since you are now serving under the house flag of this company, I can say only that obedience to orders contained therein is imperative. We all obey orders from that source," and with a chuckle Mr. Rowland turned to his confreres and was speedily immersed in other important affairs of the company.
Dan did not open the envelope in the office. First of all he wanted fresh air. The quick, calm, business-like manner in which his promotion had taken place; the noiseless, well-ordered, automatic opening of another door leading to the future of his ambitions, so utterly at variance with preconceived ideas in this regard, had all but unnerved him. He had always held it as assured that some day he should walk his own bridge. But until a half-hour ago, this day seemed still to lie far ahead, a day to be attained, well, he could not say exactly how—but at least with a sort of metaphorical roaring of guns and waving of flags, and great spiritual exaltation.
But now—a few short sentences, a handshake, and presto! Captain Merrithew, of the Coastwise line steamship Tampico, by your leave. The wonder of it all dazed him; yet withal he knew he had never before been so stirred to the very depths of his being. He was not yet in a position to estimate his good fortune in comprehensive terms. As a matter of fact, he did not try. One thought alone kept flaming through his brain—his age. Twenty-six, twenty-six; the numerals flew through his mind as though the years of his life were the most important elements in the situation.
By the time he reached the Battery sea-wall, he had somewhat adjusted his mental attitude, and, gazing with a degree of calmness over the waters of the bay toward the hills of Staten Island, he recalled the note from Miss Howland.
All along it had lain a pleasant substratum in his mind, and now as he tore open the envelope and read the contents, a peculiar, grim smile lighted his eyes for a second.
"DEAR CAPTAIN MERRITHEW:—Next Thursday we are going to have a reunion of the castaways at our house. It will be for dinner, and we have all agreed it will not be complete without the man who made this gathering possible.
"I am not going to let you make any excuse, for my dinner-party will have an empty space without you. It will be very informal. Father for several years has refused to wear evening dress at dinner, so none of the other men will. Now remember, I shall expect you on Thursday evening, at seven; you need not bother sending an acceptance.
"Very sincerely yours,
"VIRGINIA WALTON ROWLAND."
Virginia met her aunt at the foot of the stairs, and, slipping an arm about her waist, laughed nervously.
"Well, my dear, to-night we entertain the tug-boat hero. It's horrid to feel so, but do you know I wish I had suggested to father that we have the dinner on one of his vessels. Do you remember last Fall, what fun it was? I have the impression, don't you know, that things would be less strained than here. He would find the atmosphere more adaptable."
"He? Oh, the tugman," laughed her aunt. "I shouldn't worry if I were you."
"I'm not worrying about that," protested the girl; "but oh, I don't know—I hate to have the success of a dinner in the air, especially when you have a sort of reputation in that way, don't you know."
"Nonsense," replied the older woman, glancing admiringly at the tall, lithe girl in her white evening gown as she moved through the drawing-room to the dining-room, where the butler was adding the final deft fillips to a centrepiece of roses, in which a candy yacht was sinking.
"You see," said the girl, pointing to a dinner card bearing Merrithew's name, "I am going to place him between you and me. Will you—won't you arrange things so he'll take you in. No; never mind! I'll arrange that—you're always such a dear about such things, and you won't mind, will you?"
"Certainly not," smiled her aunt, "I shall ask him to tow me in."
They both laughed. Their understanding was perfect. Ever since the older woman had entered her brother's house, years before, to care for a motherless child, the bond of sympathy between the two had been of the strongest, and throughout she had remained the best friend and counsellor, if only because she was the wisest.
When Dan entered the Howlands' drawing-room all the guests had arrived. He accomplished this difficult feat, which is considered an art in fashionable schools, with easy grace and unconsciousness and received Virginia's welcome courteously.
He wore a well-fitting blue suit of conventional cut and neither his hands nor his feet seemed to bother him a bit. And yet among the men of the company he stood out in sharp contrast. Miss Howland marked this particularly when Oddington presented himself with an air of good-humored camaraderie,—he, the successful young lawyer, with a growing reputation as a man about town and the glamour which surrounds the most popular all-around man at his university still about him; a man who did well everything he tried to do, and able to give the impression that the things he could not do were not worth the attempt; whose every action, every word, every expression was marked with the undefinable stamp of the metropolis, and the various lessons it teaches. Merrithew, on the other hand, standing tall and broad-shouldered, looking about him as he talked, with quick, observant glances; a face weather-beaten, but not rough, a typical Anglo-Saxon fighting face, but kindly withal; certainly not truculent. Miss Howland had met young army and navy officers who had aroused in her similar impressions; she had, in fact, no difficulty in defining Merrithew's type. He was of the class which does strong things out of the beaten track; men who in the process of civilization have retained some of the wandering or combative or predatory instincts of earlier ages and have been set apart in the scheme of natural selection to fight battles, explore countries, kill wild beasts, navigate waters, to the end that a greater proportion of their fellow men may peaceably advance the interests of commerce, science, the arts, and, other affairs of a humdrum world.
Oddington took Miss Howland in. At the last moment her father had telephoned from the office he would be late and not to wait for him. This necessitated a hasty rearrangement of the dinner cards; and Mrs. Van Vleck was further disturbed by the butler, who was batting his eyes fiercely at the cringing second man, token that something had occurred, or more probably had been about to occur, to mar that service which was his pride.
Dan, therefore, who sat at her right, finding relief from the rapid-fire conversation which she had directed at him, obviously with intention to put him at his ease, found time to glance up and down the table. There were perhaps a dozen persons, and he recognized most of them as members of the Veiled Ladye's party. Reginald Wotherspoon, upon dry land once more, out of danger, sure of himself, was bantering one of the girls across the table, in the dry, masterful tone of one who fancies he understands women; and the rest were laughing at the confused indignation which marked her replies.
Dan recalled this girl. She had been especially cool aboard the yacht; and certain pictures of Wotherspoon flashing through his mind, an amused smile lighted his eyes for an instant. Miss Howland, who at the moment had turned from Oddington, caught the smile, and following his gaze, instinctively divined the cause. She was not annoyed. On the contrary, she was pleased, for it indicated to her that Dan was perfectly at ease, and she noted, moreover, that he was dealing with the various courses with a greater degree of savoir faire, so to speak, than she had thought probable. She dismissed forthwith all fears she had entertained regarding Wotherspoon's prediction that "among the features of the dinner would be a lifelike imitation of a towboat skipper swallowing his knife."
He followed Mrs. Van Vleck's leads in conversation, and once responded with crisp cleverness to a gay remark addressed to him by a girl across the table. But he seemed to take it for granted that Miss Howland would be occupied with Oddington; and in fact he had spoken to her but once, and then to thank her when she pushed a dish of almonds toward him.
The girl had noted a similar tendency of late on the part of other men, but had thought of it only in as far as it had impressed upon her the fact that she and Ralph had grown to understand each other rather well and were very good friends. She had arrived at that age where she had begun to feel that perhaps, after all, this might be what the world called love and that women who attributed to the word emotions deeper, more absorbing, more thrilling, were mere sentimentalists, who derived their plans and ideas from a world of dreams or from fiction both classical and popular; or else they were women of deeper feeling than she knew herself to be.
It was all a problem. She had reason to feel that a time was approaching when Oddington might reasonably expect a clearer, better-defined relation. Whether she would be willing to grant this was another matter. It was possible she might; it was possible she might not. She did not know. It was a situation which perplexed if it did not inspire her, which interested if it did not thrill.
And yet now Dan's tacit aloofness piqued her. She admitted she did not understand him at all. Here was a man, a tugboat captain, of course a product of the water front; primarily, no doubt, a dock-rat, and yet a man who had not tangled himself in the use of his forks, who spoke in even, well-modulated tones, and looked like a gentleman. Miss Howland was not snobbish in these thoughts. She had never been a snob; she was simply considering facts. And she did not want him to be aloof.
"Captain Merrithew," she said in a tone designed to draw him and the others into general conversation, "Ralph—Mr. Oddington, has been saying things again about my favorite cousin Percy Walton."
Ignoring the polite chorus of mild expostulation, Miss Howland turned to Dan, speaking with great vivacity.
"Percy, you know, was educated to win football games for Yale, and at the last moment went to Princeton. But he did not play there, because Uncle Horace, his father, in a fit of disgust, made him go to work." She glanced smilingly at Oddington. "Mr. Oddington and Mr. Wotherspoon say he was proselyted by Princeton. We've had more fights about it—"
"Well, he was proselyted," laughed Oddington, "stolen from us bodily."
"Wasn't it some time ago?" asked Dan.
"Why, that's just the point," said Mrs. Van Vleck. "It was at least five or six years ago. I am afraid Ralph and Reggie will never be able to realize they are not undergraduates."
"Oh, I don't know," he said. "At all events, it keeps us young. As for Walton, I'd be ashamed to own him for a cousin," winking at Dan. "Why, Merrithew, all his family had been Yale from great-grandfather down."
"There; you hear him, Captain Merrithew," cried Miss Howland; "don't you think that's a horrid way to talk?"
Dan smiled, tapping lightly on the table with his fingers.
"I don't believe he was stolen," he said slowly, as though not quite certain whether he ought to venture an opinion. "Whether he was or not, I don't believe he'd ever have made the Yale team or the Princeton eleven either."
Virginia started in her chair and glanced at him swiftly.
"Indeed!" she said, flushing. "You don't mean to say—what do you know about Percy Walton?"
"Now you're in for it, Merrithew," grinned Oddington. "What do you know about Walton?"
Dan picked up his dinner card and spun it between his thumb and forefinger for a few seconds, and then with a slight smile replied:
"Why, not a great deal. Next to nothing, personally." He paused a moment, and then glancing down at the table added, "I was captain of the eleven on which Walton played at Exeter."
* * * * * *
After the guests had gone, Virginia, her father, and Mrs. Van Vleck sat for a few minutes in a small apartment between the drawing and dining rooms. The girl's eyes were bright.
"Well, father, I actually believe you could have knocked me down with a feather to-night."
Mr. Howland drew his cigar-cutter from his pocket and slowly inserted the end of a perfecto.
"I suppose you refer to Merrithew."
"Certainly," said Mrs. Van Vleck; "why in the world didn't you tell us, Horace?"
"Yes, why didn't you?" The girl had arisen and approached her father's chair. "You might have known, father dear, that both Aunt Helen and I lay awake nights wondering whether he would bring a boat-hook or a sou'wester to the dinner, and do—oh, all sorts of outlandish things, making us the joke of the season. And to think—a football captain in Percy's class at prep school, quiet, easy-mannered—"
Mr. Howland snapped the end from his cigar and placed the cutter in his pocket.
"Are you quite through, Virginia?" he said.
"Quite," replied the girl, who thereupon disproved her assertion by beginning where she had left off. "And I do believe you knew all the time and were simply teasing us."
"That is not exactly true," smiled her father. "Of course I looked him up a bit before offering him the command of the Tampico. He comes from near New Bedford. You know my mother's family lived there."
The girl nodded. "Yes? Go on."
Mr. Howland lighted a match and held it burning for a while before applying it to his cigar.
"You know," he said, "there are no better people in the world than some of those New England seafaring families. The Merrithews, I believe, were very substantial. . . . So you see where your supposed wharf-rat acquired the manner which you marked in him, and his good English, and—and well, whatever else you marked."
"What is he going to do now?" asked Mrs. Van Vleck. "Oh, of course, the Tampico. Is he qualified to be a captain?"
"Why, naturally; I haven't the slightest doubt of it. But Harrison will stay with the ship for two or three more trips to break him in thoroughly. Both companies by whom he was employed while in tugboat work speak of him in the highest terms. It's all rather a departure. But I feel I owe it to Merrithew; and besides, I have an idea he is the sort of man we want. This West Indian trade is not all beer and skittles."
"It is very interesting," said Virginia, stifling a yawn. "I hope to see something more of him; he's a new sort and worth studying. And—oh, father, is there any chance that we'll have that house-party at our San Blanco estate next Spring? I mean—of course you've promised that. What I meant was, will we go on the Tampico? Now don't smile, father; you have said a dozen times you were through with steam yachts."
"I'm not smiling," said Mr. Howland. "It is quite possible we'll go down on the Tampico—unless Merrithew manages to sink her in the meantime."
"Bully," cried the girl. "Good-night. . . . I think," she said, speaking slowly over her shoulder—"I think we had a very successful partee." She paused and looked doubtfully at her father. "The only difficulty is that, now we know he is not hopelessly impossible in one way, we have to face the fact that he is all the more impossible in others."
"Yes," said her aunt, laughing, "as an interesting social freak we might have used him; but as an ordinary, well-behaved steamship captain—" Mrs. Van Vleck shrugged her shoulders expressively and raised her eyebrows.
"Well," said the girl, "he'll be eminently eligible for the Captain's table of the Tampico. Somehow I wish he had done something unusual to-night. I had developed all sorts of strange fancies concerning him."
Now, as a matter of fact, she did not wish that at all.
WITS VERSUS MACHINE GUNS
Dan brought to his new duties a well-grounded knowledge of the fundamentals of his calling, and his deficiencies, such as they were, were skilfully eliminated by his white-haired mentor, Captain Harrison. Among other things, this prince of ancient mariners, who had taken a great fancy to Dan, was at infinite pains to impress upon him the fact that in the duties of captain of a vessel calling regularly at the ports of small Latin republics many requirements aside from mere ability to navigate a ship are involved. Seductive arts, such as verbal or financial propitiation; knowledge when to give a dinner and when to threaten to invoke the "big stick"; when to hold to a position and when to recede from it;—all these attributes of diplomacy were acquired by Dan under Harrison's tutelage, so that when the old Captain finally retired to his well-earned rest on a Long Island farm, he "allowed" that young Merrithew had the stuff in him of which smart officers are made.
On his own account, Dan, by keeping his mouth shut and his eyes open, learned not a little of the methods which characterized the relations of his company with various Governments; and while not all that he learned could in the widest implication of the phrase he designated as morally—or, say, rather, ethically—elevating, it afforded an interesting side-light upon the business character of Horace Howland.
In this connection it is well to state that the ultra clamorous days in San Blanco had long ceased, and that the new Presidente, Rodriguez, who had arisen to his honors out of the midst of the travail of fire, powder, and a modicum of bloodshed, was conducting affairs of state much to the liking of the San Blanco Trading and Investment Company, of which company Mr. Howland was the brains and guiding spirit. Need it be suggested that this amounts to saying that Mr. Howland was the brains and guiding spirit of the San Blanco Republic as then constituted?
At all events, with peace smiling over troublous San Blanco, Mr. Howland sent word to Dan that early in April he, his daughter, Mrs. Van Vleck, and a party of ten, would sail on the Tampico for Belle View, the Howland estate, just outside of San Blanco City.
Dan was not altogether surprised at this message. The passenger accommodations of the Tampico were elaborate, and hints of Mr. Howland's intention had reached him in one way or another. But now with definite assurances in hand life took on added zest. He had not seen Miss Howland since the dinner; but it would have been futile for him to attempt to convince himself that she had not formed a more or less vague background for many of his thoughts and moods since that epochal event. Occasionally he saw her name in the newspapers, and one of them once printed a picture purporting to be her photograph. But it was not. Otherwise he might have been tempted to cut it out.
Now, with her presence aboard the Tampico assured, the steamship became involved with a new significance. He pictured her on the bridge with him. He selected her place at the table in the saloon, and dreamed of all the life and laughter and grace and beauty she would bring to it.
As for himself, he had the proud realization that in measuring his opportunities on the broadest possible gauge, he had lived up to them sincerely, and he knew the results to be good. On his own bridge he had faced the blind fog with the lives of passengers hanging upon his judgment; he had met the elements at their work, and out of the ordeal he had come with greater self-reliance, broader, kindlier, better. For the first time in his life he was looking beyond his dreams, although the work in hand was all-absorbing; there would be more for him to do. He felt it, he knew it, for such is youth.
One beautiful April morning, a company, wonderfully well selected according to the view-point of Virginia and her aunt, boarded the Tampico and merrily set sail. Not the least of that company was Howland himself, who, standing upon the bridge beside Dan, smiled as he thought of the dozen Hotchkiss guns and the two very grim eight-inch rifles resting in the darkness of the forward hold, and then spoke almost in parables.
"It is always well, Captain, to divine the trend of the wind before weather vanes give information to all who care to look for it."
"Yes?" replied Dan, not comprehending.
"Yes. Those playthings, strategically placed at the capital, will insure an era of Government integrity for some time to come; and that will be very good; for the kind of integrity existing there is much to my liking. Vasquez is restless; Sanches is uneasy; but there will be no radical action for some time to come. When it does—well, Captain, I have taken the liberty to store some pieces of ordnance below—they appear as household furniture in the manifest of cargo. I consider them qualified to maintain all sorts of Government integrity."
"No doubt," smiled Dan; "if you have any one down there to handle them."
"I have a very large office staff in Domingo City, unusually large. I did not hire the men for their penmanship, nor for their ability as clerks, either." Here Mr. Howland raised his eyebrows slightly, and Dan, taking his cue, raised his eyebrows too.
And so the Tampico sailed peacefully south-ward. The April sun softened the air, the sea was like glass, and by the time the steamship had picked up the Southern Cross, the little company had been tried in the balance of propinquity and found not wanting.
It was brilliant moonlight, and eight bells chimed sweetly over the silvery waters from the forecastle head, as Dan, with a cheery good evening, followed the first mate to the bridge. The second mate smiled genially, gave the course as south half east, and, with his dog-watch ended, went to bed. A gruff voice rolled along the deck.
"The watch is aft, sir!"
Dan's voice hurled astern before the echoes died.
"All right. Relieve the wheel—and the lookout!"
Virginia, addressing a merry group on the hurricane deck, just below and aft the bridge, paused in the middle of a sentence and listened to the sharp, crisp words. Then she smiled slightly and resumed her discourse.
Dan paced up and down with the mate, taking up the thread of the talk where it had been left the previous watch; but neither was in a talking mood, and they soon fell silent. Presently a girl's rich voice rose to the accompaniment of Oddington's banjo, an instrument but poorly adapted to the motif of the music, which was plaintive, yearning. The deep contralto notes brought full meed of meaning, although the words were German; low, deep, uncertain at first—the ponderings of love, of devotion, of doubt—then swelling loud and full and free at the end; love justified, undying, triumphant, overpowering.
"Koennt' fuehlen je das Glueck das ich wuerd nennen mein Haett' ich nur Dich allein! Haett' ich nur Dich, nur Dich allein!"
Then suddenly in wild rapture she broke from the German, repeating the refrain in English—
". . . The rapture that would be my own If I had you . . . if I had you . . . you."
Piercing sweet it ended, filled with tenderness. Just you, you, you, going on far across the moon-lit waters into infinity. Dan walked to the lee of the bridge and with hands on the dodger's ridge, leaned forward, peering bard and straight to the rim of the sea.
For every heart there is a song, and for every song a heart; for this earth is not so big that the dreams, the passion of some song-maker, humble or not, may not strike a responsive chord, at the other end of the world, it may be. And this for Dan; this simple love song with its swelling iterations. It awakened sleeping poetry in the heart of the young commander, awakened a tenderness long hidden under the rough exterior of a tumultuous life.
There was no mistaking the identity of the singer, no mistaking those deep, full notes, vibrant, rounded, and so melodious. To whom was she singing? Could a woman sing like that, sing as Miss Howland sang, to no one? Impersonally? Dan turned his face down at the group. The women were muffled in greatcoats, for the soft evening, which had tempted them to the deck, was growing chill, and he could see the dark forms of the men and the red lights of their cigars. Wotherspoon had just finished a comic song, and they were all laughing and applauding.
Somehow it all emphasized in Dan his aloofness. He heard Oddington address some jocular remark presumably to Miss Howland, for he caught her laughing reply. And the thought came, how eminently eligible Oddington was to sit at her side; how fitting that he should be there—wealthy, distinctly of her set, a good fellow at the university, and now a law partner in the practice which his hard-working father had prepared for him. For the first time, perhaps, in his life Dan felt himself humbled, and a great wave of bitterness flooded his mind. . . . And yet Miss Howland had been very kind to him. Ah, but that was not the point. He did not want persons to be kind; that suggested charity, or pity. No; he wanted exactly what he earned—what he could take with his bare hands and his bare soul. He wanted equality—or nothing; and if at the end of his struggle it had to be nothing, all right—but the end was not yet.
Toward nine o'clock the deck party began to break up. Some one had suggested bridge, and some opposed the suggestion. At the end of a laughing discussion Oddington and three others went to the smoking-room, while the rest dispersed in various directions. Dan, filled with his thoughts, was in the act of lighting his pipe, when the clicking of footfalls and the rustling of skirts sounded on the bridge steps. The next instant Virginia stood before him. The moonlight fell upon her, outlining the girl distinctly in her long, blue, double-breasted coat and the wealth of rippling dark hair flowing from under an English yachting cap. She was smiling.
"Do I intrude upon your sacred precincts?" she asked, "or am I welcome? I want to talk to you."
"You are welcome, Miss Howland," said Dan, knocking the fire from his pipe and stuffing the briar-wood into his pocket, at the same time glancing quickly toward the wheel where the mate and the quartermaster were busy over a slight alteration in course.
"I feared that incident at the table—Reggie Wotherspoon's behavior, I mean, might have upset you. Of course you know he meant nothing by it. We all understand how he hates to be beaten in an argument. Really he admires you—which is well for him, I can assure you."
Dan, deeply embarrassed, muttered something about understanding perfectly about Wotherspoon, and that he knew him to be a decent enough sort of chap.
"Do you know," went on the girl, "I myself was rather startled at first when you said that no man—that you could not tell whether you would flunk in time of danger. I was so glad when you made your reservation that in the past, at least, you had not shown the white feather. 'What the past has shown,'" she quoted, "'who can gainsay the future?' Oh, it was glorious," she exclaimed impulsively, "the night you stuck to our yacht until your own tug was battered to pieces! I suppose I have said that a hundred times; but it grows more thrilling every time I think of it."
She looked at him with open interest. His uniform became him well; the trim sack coat fitted his great, deep chest and almost abnormal shoulders snugly; and above were the square, smooth face, the steady gray eyes, and the red-gold hair; and the long, straight limbs supported a lithe, almost aggressive poise.
She started slightly forward.
"Have you ever thought how much we owe you? Oh, I have so often wished I could show you how much we appreciate all you did, in some way!"
"You must not think of it in that way."
"Why not, please?" Miss Howland was a straightforward girl who faced a situation squarely.
"Why, because the debt is all on my side. Your father has given me my first command; and you—you have been fine to me. I have had more than an ordinary sailor deserves."
"But you are not an ordinary sailor," said the girl quickly. "Father knows of your people—" She paused. "Oh, I beg your pardon," she cried.
"Listen," said Dan, quietly. "When I was younger, about to enter college, a careless, happy life ended. I began all over again then. I date everything from that beginning—from the time I went aboard a tug-boat—the Lord knows why—and tried to do something. What I have done, what I shall do, dating from that time, I stand on. Before that my battles were fought for me. After that the fight was my own. And I have never regretted one bit of it; nor am I ashamed of one single minute from the time I slung hawsers on the Hydrographer until I commanded the Fledgling. And I shall always rejoice, and my friends must rejoice, in that part of the fight, and never seek to hide a single incident. It's all behind now, but it was worth while. And a man must go on—"
"Yes, I know," replied the girl, softly. She turned her face from the silvery path on the water.
"And you are not going to stop fighting. Oh, you will not stop! You will go on and on. Men like you never stand still. I know it is the truth. What difference can your past life make to your friends? It is never what a man was or might have been that counts, or what he may be; it is what he is."
And then she turned and left him.
One evening as the dark came creeping over the purple waters, the Tampico cluttered up to the mouth of the harbor of San Blanco City. Captain Merrithew and Mr. Howland stood on the bridge, while Virginia and most of her guests were assembled at the rail, all eyes straining shoreward. A rattle of musketry tore through the evening air—a muzzle-loading cannon spoke grouchily; then all was still. A sailboat was drifting out to sea and the fishermen, being hailed, informed those on the steamship that revolutionists were pounding at the city walls and pounding hard, but thus far without avail. The uprising, as usual, they said, had its inception in the fastnesses of Monte-Cristi and, spreading through the country, had brought up with a bang against the walls of the city itself.
Mr. Howland was seriously perturbed.
"We must get in quickly and land our guns, Captain," he said. "It's too bad we have this party with us. However, you must not consider their comfort. If you land this cargo of ordnance, we can break the revolution easily and pleasantly."
He glanced at the Blancan navy—two gunboats, formerly pleasure yachts, and a "battleship," once a steam-lighter—which lay at strategic intervals across the harbor mouth and moved impatiently.
"The scoundrels!" he ejaculated. "Why don't they shell those insurgents? They could end this promptly if they wished to. I shall have something pleasant to say to them and to Senor Gaspard of the Marine when I see him. Still, perhaps they are waiting for me. President Rodriguez expects us."
Mollified at this thought, Mr. Howland straightened to a dignified and commanding posture. The honors accorded an arriving Howland vessel were the honors accorded a United States warship, and he scanned the fleet eagerly for the first sign of the invariable welcome. He turned to Dan.
"Better dive into your cabin, Captain, and get on your double-breasted regalia," he said. "There will be a round of diplomatic calls and felicitations generally—and of course they will ask for wine; for of all half-starved, thirsty natives, give me those of this bob-tailed republic."
The fighting had evidently stopped for the night, and Mr. Howland waved his hand at the flag-ship. He dearly loved all the punctilio of international etiquette and the deference that had ever been his portion in San Blanco.
And so this captain of industry smiled and hearkened for the first gun of the expected salute. But it did not come. There was silence somewhat grim and certainly sullen. He ground his teeth impatiently, angry disappointment growing as they drew near the fleet. "What is the matter with those rascals?" he growled, turning to Dan, who, resplendent in blue and gold, had just joined him on the bridge.
"They don't seem to be happy to see us," replied the Captain, shortly.
"Not happy!" exclaimed Mr. Howland, who began to feel that the situation approximated lese-majeste. "Not happy? Confound them! When we're bringing guns to support their mangy and tottering Government!"
"Well," replied the young commander, who scented trouble and thought of the party on board, "they don't seem to be, anyway."
A sharp hail rang out from the nearest gun-boat, the flag-ship.
"What vessel is that, and whither bound?"
Mr. Howland tore at his collar and stuttered in purple fury.
"Impudence! Impertinence! Lunacy! Here, Captain, tell them they know very well what ship this is—and—and—wait!" as Dan raised the megaphone to his lips. "Don't waste time talking to the villains. Tell them—tell them to go—well, you know what to tell them."
And Dan demonstrated that he did—so vigorously, so eloquently that the answer came in the shape of a blank shot across the Tampico's bows.
Dan looked gravely at the owner.
"The thing is pretty plain, Mr. Howland," he said; "the navy has evidently joined the insurrection. Why they have not bombarded the city I don't know; but you can be sure they are going to. We will have to stop," and without waiting for a reply he jerked the signal indicator, to cease headway. Mr. Howland was at no pains to conceal his chagrin.
"A mighty bad stumbling-block; a mighty bad stumbling-block if the navy has revolted, Captain Merrithew. If this Government falls, it means a great deal to me; means the loss of considerable money—and prestige. I must look to you to land those guns, Captain."
Dan did not reply, but gazed earnestly toward the city as though meditating a dash. But that was out of the question, considering those aboard. As the chug of the engines died out and the cough of the exhaust hit the glooming air and the clumsy black hull slid to a gurgling standstill, a gig was lowered from the El Toro, the flag-ship, and the officer, Admiral Congosto, was soon stumbling up the gangway of the freighter. Mr. Howland was inclined to have him thrown overboard at once, but the better counsel of the Captain prevailed.
"Very well," growled the ruffled owner, "have your fling."
Admiral Congosto was a pompous Spaniard, obese, with bristling brows and moustaches, who wrinkled his forehead and winked his eyes constantly.
"So," he said, with unctuous dignity, as Dan met him at the rail, "the Capitan?"
"Yes; the Capitan," and Dan bowed courteously.
"You are for San Blanco with supplies?—and—and—ah!" The Admiral completed his sentence with a significant shrug of the shoulder. Dan was equally cautious.
"We were putting in for water, for fresh water," he said. "Our condenser's filled with bread crumbs or something, and we can't make enough for our boilers, let alone drinking."
With an ample shrug of his shoulders, the Spaniard suggested that the Captain might obtain all the water he wished if he would go in, leaving his cargo outside. And then, as though weary of the subject, he turned to more congenial topics. He thirsted for good wine; that fact was early elucidated, after which he rambled along indefinitely, allowing Dan to gather that all the officers of the fleet were also thirsting for wine. At last he came straight to the point.
"A case—a dozen bottles—it would suffice—it would be appreciated—ah!"
Dan had an idea, and began to build upon it forthwith.
"Admiral," he said, "there is much of what you seek aboard. As you well know, Senor Howland never travels with empty lockers—there is much of a certain wine that sparkles—see?"
"I see, but I do not hear what I mean," replied the perplexed Admiral, indulging nevertheless in anticipatory internal gratulations.
"Why, hang it, man, champagne!" The Admiral's beady eyes danced. "Mr. Howland desires me to say that it is his wish that the friendly relations between his officers and those of the navy of San Blanco shall never wane. There will, in short, be a dinner in half an hour to the officers of the fleet."
"A dinnaire!" Congosto sprang forward and embraced his prospective host, and five minutes later was speeding to his ship, the bearer of glad news. For, behold, where he thought to meet an enemy, devious and tricky, he had encountered instead, a friend, generous, hospitable!
"I fail to see your play, quite, Captain Merrithew," grumbled Mr. Howland.
"Well," interpolated Virginia, "it was a very interesting play. Captain, I had no idea you could be so eloquent."
"Thank you," laughed Dan. "Mr. Howland," he added, "I shall make my play plain very shortly. All I ask now is that you have your party assemble at the rail when the officers arrive and receive them as though they were representatives of the British Navy. They will be conducted to the saloon. Let no one of the party follow them in. Please make that clear."
The guests came—in gigs, in launches, dinghies, and longboats—came with laughter, came with rejoicing, for they were to dine with the senor of the open hand, Senor Howland, who always opened wine as they would open tins of beef. The gods never repaired more blithely to a Bacchanalian revel on Parnassus. Two by two, in rigid order of rank they were escorted into the saloon, and the eloquent popping of corks was as music in their ears. The Admiral took his place at the head of the table; the rest disposed themselves suitably.
With a muttered excuse, Dan slipped out of a near-by door; the stewards disappeared; every one on the Tampico stole quietly away.
Admiral Congosto had no sooner raised his glass for the first toast than the two iron bulkhead doors slid together with a clang, followed by the rasp of bolts flying home. The Admiral of the fleet and his lords commanders were hopelessly imprisoned amid the luxury of saloon surroundings, as hopelessly imprisoned as though they had been shut into the darkness of the lower hold.
In the meantime, the Tampico, from hold to masthead, was blazing like a tall Sound steamboat. Dan gained the bridge and gazed at the illumination with a smile; for all this splendor of electrical display was for a purpose.
"You've locked them in, eh?" said Mr. Howland, abruptly. He had been pacing the bridge, the victim of many doubts.
"Yes," replied Dan; and there was a sharp inflection in the monosyllable which precluded further questioning. The owner had instructed his Captain to land the guns which were lying in the hold of the steamship, and the young Captain was intent on the matter in hand.
He pulled a certain crank, upon which the steam winches began to revolve with ghostly creakings, bringing the anchor up out of the mud. Then he signalled for full speed ahead. There was a creaking, a sound of roiling water, and then, still blazing with light, the steamship made out for the open sea.
They had gone but a quarter of a mile when those who were left on the fleet suddenly came to a realizing sense of the diabolical plot hatched under their very noses. A gun boomed, a six-pounder shell squealed past the bridge, but the Tampico slipped on her way seaward, while the funnels of the fleet belched clouds of smoke blacker than the velvet skies. From the saloon came muffled shouts and ineffectual poundings on the bulkhead doors.
"The walls are good and thick," said Dan, grimly. "I doubt they will be heard—unless some one of the craft gets within a hundred yards of us. They ought to have full steam up by this time. I might as well stop her right here; this is about right."
As the steamship swung heavily on the tide, the Captain shouted an order, which was taken up on deck and carried down a hatchway. The next instant the lights in the lower part of the hull went out. A few minutes later, another stratum of lights disappeared, and still later the deck lights. Then out went the port and starboard lamps. Then there was a ten-minute wait, while Mr. Howland, Virginia, and the rest of the party who had ventured on deck, thrilled and delighted with the situation, held their breath. Dan pulled another switch and the masthead lights went out. The Tampico was now a part of the night.
"Oh!" exclaimed Virginia, "I see. You have given them an imitation of a vessel disappearing hull down in the darkness. How clever!"
An exclamation from Mr. Howland broke the silence. "Oh!" he cried. "I see." And he placed his hand on Dan's shoulder.
The stillness was intense. The water swept softly past the hull; the extremities of the vessel were lost in a blur of black. Mr. Howland became impatient.
"What can be the matter with those fellows? Why don't they chase us and be done with it?"
Dan touched him on the shoulder. From the outer darkness floated a mysterious bourdon, which rapidly outgrew that definition and became a veritable commotion. One light twinkled, then another, and still another. Finally the swift pulsation of engines at high pressure rived the night.
"They are coming." The Captain turned to those who had gathered on the bridge, adding, "Now I want this place cleared, please. If this scheme falls through, we shall have our perch raked with machine guns. Go down on deck and either keep below, or to the side of the forward steel deck-house, which is away from the warships—and no noise. Not a sound! Understand?"
Virginia, Mrs. Van Vleck, Oddington, and two others of the party decided to take their position in the shelter of the deck-house, where they could see and yet be protected if the vessel were fired upon. All amusement had gone from the situation for Virginia. She knew that her father, who insisted upon remaining on the bridge, might at any moment be placed in jeopardy. And there was another emotion, which she sought not to deny—the Captain, what if he should fall? Ah, she did not want that—particularly now he was risking himself, not for honor, not for any interest of his own, but because he was her father's employee. Then, too, she wished to study, to know him better; yes, that was what she wanted, and she had been conscious of it all along, to see, to learn, to know more of him. She could distinguish his tall, straight figure against the darkness, moving swiftly.
She had forgotten about the pursuing warships and what might follow, until her aunt tugged at her sleeve.
"They are coming, Virginia," she said.
They were indeed, and angry craft they were, a spectacle to marvel at, viewed from the shrouded Tampico, lying black and motionless, with every light out, with tarpaulins over the engine-room hatches and gratings; with even the ventilator hoods blanketed.
"There they are!" The whisper shot through the Tampico like a draft of cold air. Virginia was quivering with excitement. She could see the leading boat as it passed not three hundred yards away, and the next, both spouting flames from their funnels, throwing up water, which fell in silvery, phosphorescent spray—racketing, clawing the restless sea, chugging, hissing with shouts of vengeance hurtling from their decks, First ploughed the flag-ship El Toro, next El Teuera, and last the "battleship" El Manuel, sitting almost on her stern, plugging along doggedly in a Herculean effort to be first in at the death of the presumptuous kidnappers.
It was alarming, too, and the young people, trembling behind their shelter, gave a great sigh of relief as the last avenger passed, and the head of the Tampico swung slowly around in the direction of the harbor. Virginia again turned her eyes to the bridge. The young Captain was standing like a statue, with his hands on the engine-room indicator, jumping the Tampico across the waves under full headway. He was looking back over his shoulder, and the girl, following his gaze, saw to her great trepidation that the flag-ship, El Toro, had ceased headway and was lying motionless, as if those aboard her had divined the trick and were pausing a moment for fresh bearings.
Suddenly came a crash of heavy glass; a girl screamed. One of the saloon dead-lights had crashed out, the thick glass rattling down the steel hull to the sea. There was another crash and a yellow glow flared into a bright blaze, illuminating the hull of the shrouded vessel.
"Now they've done it!" cried Oddington. "They have soaked a table-cloth with kerosene; it's all off now! So much for Captain Merrithew's scheme. I—" A voice rang from the bridge.
"Everybody down, quick!" The warning was none too soon, for a second later a rain of lead from the El Toro swept through the top of the funnel. Then with straining engines the gunboat made a swinging detour, with the intention, plain to every one, of heading off the freighter.
The firing was incessant now, and every one of the Howland party, as well as the crew, grovelled flat on the deck and heard lead whistling above. Virginia, glancing at the bridge in an agony of terror, saw the Captain crouching just a trifle, but still at his post. One man, a quarter-master, knelt at the wheel. But she missed her father, and a great dread filled her mind. It was but momentary, however, for Mr. Howland joined the party behind the deck-house.
"Oh father!" cried the girl, "I feared you were hurt. Why doesn't Captain Merrithew stop the boat and leave the bridge? Surely his life and those of his men there are of more value than your interests in Blanco!"
"I told him to stop, to throw ourselves upon the protection of our flag," and Mr. Howland laughed nervously. "But it was no use. I believe I reared a Frankenstein monster when I selected him as the man to land our guns. Frankly he as much as told me to mind my business. He's in a fighting mood now; his jaws are set like steel-traps—I know his kind. And do you know, Virginia, he will land us and the guns, too. You wait!"
The El Toro had stopped firing, and was bending all energies to heading off the freighter; it looked as though she would do it, too, for she had once been a private yacht and had evidently lost none of her speed. It was a mighty race. The Tampico was by no means a slouchy craft, and she ripped her way through the waters, clawing for the harbor mouth and San Blanco City like a thing possessed. Swinging on a tactical semi-circle, the trim little flag-ship flew like a white ghost, tearing the waters, curling them up on deck until they ran out of the scuppers. She unlimbered another gun and the leaden hail swept away the Tampico's port lifeboat, crumpling the stanchions and davits like thin wire.
"Their marksmanship is bad, as usual," said Mr. Howland, trembling nevertheless, in suppressed excitement.
But if their marksmanship was bad their speed was not. The El Toro was, in fact, shooting up rapidly; and as she began to circle in on the freighter it was plain to every one that her path would cross that of the fugitive. There seemed nothing to mar the success of the gun-boat in her efforts to prevent the steamship entering the harbor. Dan could judge of this better than any one else. And yet he kept on. His spirit dominated the entire vessel. Virginia, as she watched him, with all that anger that a loser must feel, knew that she was brave, too, felt that to be otherwise would be a sacrilege. Suddenly her eyes were riveted on the Captain; she saw him run to the megaphone rack and take up a cone. Then she saw him dash it to the deck and turn and speak a few words to the man still kneeling at the wheel. The man nodded and moved aside, and Dan took his place, erect, immovable.
As he did so, the pursuing gun-boat, not more than four hundred yards away, let fly another rain of lead, and a few minutes later she slowed down, swinging broadside across the course of the Tampico, firing a six-pounder shell over the bow of the advancing steamship.
"Too late, too late!" exclaimed Mr. Howland. "All this trouble and danger for nothing! Now we are caught! But some one will pay—"
His daughter seized his arm.
"Father! Oh, father! We are not stopping. Look!"
It was true. The Tampico was not stopping; she swept on as if endowed throughout all her length of great black hull with her master's burning energy and fierce resolve to succeed. A sharp cry came from the gun-boat, a cry sharply in contrast with its crew's former yells of triumph. There came another six-pounder shell, this time cutting cleanly through the Tampico's bow. But that was the last. On, on like an avenging sea-monster swept the Tampico, sullen, silent, with the potential energy of dynamite lurking in the force of her momentum. And straight, inexorable, Captain Merrithew stood on the bridge with his hands on the wheel spokes. No longer was he young in the eyes of Virginia Howland. No, he was old, old as the avenging ages and as cruel, as cold as the march of time. Straight he made for the pretty white side of the gun-boat, as some grim executioner might measure for the blow of the sword which was to sever the white neck of some captive maid, some Joan of Arc. And the girl caught his spirit and became cruel too. She laughed at the gun-boat, as she fired again; she laughed as the Tampico quivered and went to the heart of the quarry; she laughed as Dan, with another twist of the wheel, made more sure of his victim.
The screw of the gun-boat revolved desperately. She was backing; but it was too late. Another sound now! A heaving swell rose in between and threw the bow of the steamship slightly off. With an angry cry Dan jerked at the wheel. But the lost point could not be regained, and the Tampico, instead of hitting the gun-boat amidships and cutting her in two as intended, struck the quarter obliquely, slicing off a triangle of the hull and stern as a big knife cuts a cheese.
There was a terrible crash and grinding, shrill screams, with the sharp, taunting laughter of Dan ringing clear, as his vessel swept clear of the wreckage, flashing by the crowded small boats which had been lowered a few seconds before the crash came. Hardly knowing what she was doing, utterly beside herself, Virginia turned to her friends, her lips parted, her eyes flashing.
"There!" she cried, "did you ever see a man? I recommend you to look at Captain Merrithew—"
"Yes, Virginia, it was bully." Oddington's cool, thoroughbred manner chilled her ardor like a cold blast. "It was mighty fine. You are excited, girl." And the young man removed the cigarette which had been between his lips. Virginia regarded him steadily.
"You are right, Ralph," she said at length; "I was excited."
In the meantime, the Tampico was dashing into the harbor at full speed, her whistle blowing like mad, bringing all officialdom, including the Presidente, to the water front; for, as Mr. Howland had said, they were expected. Soldiers from the guard-boats swarmed aboard and took the rebel admiral and his fellow-officers ashore, and a few hours later well set-up mercenaries were dragging Mr. Howland's machine guns and eight-inch rifles from the quay to strategic points, where in the morning the insurrection would be broken as a strong man breaks a rattan cane.
Later, at the end of a sunrise collation, Presidente Rodriguez rose and, with one hand on his heart and the other clutching the stem of a wine glass, metaphorically presented the keys of San Blanco to the "Saviour of his country," and intimated not only a permanent suspension of tariff regulations in his favor, but a future statue of heroic size in the palace plaza. Whereat Mr. Howland turned swiftly to Dan at his side, and from behind his napkin momentarily altered an expression of beatific if humble gratitude, and winked almost grotesquely.
AN ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION
The next morning Dan stood at the rail of the Tampico, gazing out over the quay to the distant walls of the city, over which hung a heavy saffron pall. The faint pat-a-pat-pat-pat of machine guns and the roar of heavier ordnance was incessant. At first he had been disposed to go out and participate in the fighting.
But second thought had altered his inclination. He had come to know something of the business methods of Mr. Howland and men like him; and while he had no doubt that his employer considered them legitimate, and could, if he had to, submit many strong reasons for various measures which capital seems to find it necessary to employ in its relations with Latin-American Governments, yet he decided that the wholesale slaughter then in progress had far better be left to those who were employed for that purpose.
How did he know but the men who had been fighting to capture the city and were now being shot down like sheep were not the real patriots, anxious to govern their own country in their way and not in the interests of foreign corporations? As for Rodriguez, he knew enough of him to—
Virginia Howland, coming up from behind, touched him on the arm, while her father, who followed her, placed his hand on Dan's shoulder.
"Captain," said the girl, "I am disappointed. I wagered a box of candy with father that you were already out fighting."
Dan, unable to suppress the thoughts which had filled his mind, smiled grimly.
"I don't think I have any desire to turn butcher," he said, with just a tinge of bitterness.
The girl flushed and regarded Dan for a moment with a curious expression, and then glanced at her father.
"Is it really—that?" she said.
Mr. Howland smiled easily.
"Butchery? It seems to amount to about that. Poor beggars! But war is war," Mr. Howland tapped the rail with his finger by way of emphasis, "and those who attempt to overthrow governments generally do either one of two things: they succeed, or they pay the penalty of failure."
"In this case," said Dan, coolly, "they seem to be paying the penalty."
"Yes, thanks to you," replied Mr. Howland, "which is what I wish to speak to you about."
He paused, and as Dan made no reply he continued:
"You did a mighty fine piece of work for us in landing those guns—you have placed my company considerably in debt to you; but of that more later. At the present time I want to tell you that these infernal revolutionists have burned Belle View—which," turning to his daughter, "may alter your sympathies a trifle, Virginia—and therefore necessitates more or less of a change of programme—"
"Belle View burned!" interpolated Virginia. "Why, father, what—"
"As I was saying," resumed Mr. Howland, "we've got to shift things about. In the first place, if Belle View were not burned, I should hardly feel safe in having the crowd there with conditions as they are—and things are not especially pleasant in this city. However,—how long will it take to get away from here, Captain?"
"We must take on some coal, and Hendrickson has drawn the fires and is reaming in some new boiler-tubes. We could get away inside of forty-eight hours, I think."
"Good; let's do it, then. We'll call at San Domingo, Hayti, Jamaica, and other places to make up for spoiling your house-party, Virginia. In the meantime I have secured good quarters for our guests at the Hotel Garcia, where to-night I give the Government a dinner. I shall expect to see you there, Captain."
Dan would have preferred to stay away from that dinner. The thought of his practical connivance at the day's slaughter, so obviously suggested by Mr. Howland, grated on him, and the implied command in the invitation to the dinner bothered him too. The day was to be filled with duties about ship, and he wanted the evening to himself, to sit in his cabin with his pipe and his books and mull over these and other things.
Of course he might have known what would follow the landing of the guns from the Tampico. He did know, as a matter of fact, but orders are orders, and duty is duty; and when you are employed by a man you accept your salary and any other accruing benefits solely upon the understanding that you shall serve his interests to the best of your ability.
Yes, Dan could see that perfectly, and he could also see the bad taste that lay in intimating dissatisfaction with his employer's methods while wearing the uniform of Mr. Howland's company and receiving good pay therefor. And anyway, Mr. Howland had not asked him to cut Blancan warships in two and endanger the lives of the entire ship's company and guests. No, that was on his own head, his own hot head.
In the days of the present voyage he had felt a strong tendency to look beyond the bridge of the Tampico into the future. Of course he liked adventure, but of late he had begun to feel that perhaps he had had enough of the strenuous life to last him the remainder of his years. He certainly did not intend to grow gray on coastwise lines. Bluff, gnarled old Harrison, his predecessor on this vessel, had served as a striking object lesson. He could spin yarns of his adventures by the hour, but at best no one would call him anything but an interesting old character, a retired shell-back on half pay. Dan found no pleasure in looking forward to anything of the sort.
Since he had gained a command in the famous Coastwise and West Indian Shipping Company, he had begun to commend himself to persons who never before had played a part in his life, principally a cousin of his father's, a wealthy merchant of Boston, who had written him a long letter, received just before the Tampico sailed on her present voyage, expressing a desire to meet him.
"It is not possible," the letter read, "you will want to follow the sea all your life. There must be plenty of opportunities ashore for men of your evident executive ability and initiative. I want you to come to Boston at your first opportunity. I know I can give you good advice, and it may be I can prove of material assistance to you."
When he first read the letter, Dan smiled to himself, not failing to note the interest taken in him by relatives, now he seemed to be proving his ability, who, heretofore, had known little about him and cared less. But that is life, and he had a great deal rather be accepted for what he had done than because of mere ties of blood. Thus thinking, he came to attach greater significance to the letter. He would go on to Boston when the Tampico returned to the United States. In the meantime he was Captain of a Howland boat, and he would obey orders, he smiled grimly, and go to the dinner.
The dinner was a memorable one in San Blanco City. The revolution had been shattered. The Rodriguez Government was supreme. The Presidente's palace was a blaze of lights. Conspirators were being arrested and cast into prison. Vehicles of all sorts were bearing dinner guests to the Hotel Garcia and dashing away. There were foreign consuls in uniforms, and their wives; there was Rodriguez and his cabinet, and officers of the army in resplendent garb, and women who, when they threw their mantillas aside, revealed tawny necks and shoulders.
The Presidente, Mr. Howland, and high officers of the Government sat on a long dais at the head of the room; the other guests, including the Tampico's party, were at round tables with red-shaded lamps. It was a pleasing picture, and Dan, for the first few courses, was glad he had come. However, when he found that those with whom he was seated could not speak English, while he could understand little of Spanish, the evening began to wear. At length, with the long post-prandials at hand, he arose.
Flanking one side of the room, which was large, were windows reaching from the floor almost to the ceiling, which, when the weather was fair, were opened, giving access to a garden of small, twisted trees and tropical plants with small tables beneath, to which the pleasure-loving population came at night, to sip iced drinks and listen to the music of the orchestra as it flowed out of the dining-room.
Here Dan made his way and, stepping out of one of the windows, paused on the garden's edge. The cool air was grateful, and with a sigh of relief he drew a cigar from his pocket and lighted it slowly, From beneath the trees came little patters of conversation, and the red lights of cigarettes and the glint of white gowns enlivened the darkness.
As he stood there, Virginia Howland and Oddington came out of one of the windows. The girl was talking vivaciously, familiarly, and Oddington was laughing. She was in what she would have termed one of her "Oddington moods," when his personality appealed to her most, when the congenial bond seemed closest. To-night the lights, the music, the soft air rustling the lampshades, after all the long days on shipboard, exalted her. She looked at her companion with kindling eyes.
It seemed hardly the moment to run full upon the Captain of the Tampico, who had just thrown his cigar away with the intention of returning to the dining-hall.
Dan realized this instinctively. He smiled at the two in an abstracted manner, as though his mind were occupied with thoughts which he did not care to interrupt, and turned toward the window, when Virginia, who had greeted him simultaneously with a smile obviously designed to convey a similar impression, and, piqued to perversity by the fact that Dan had so readily interpreted her wishes, paused in the middle of a sentence and looked back over her shoulder.
"Captain," she said, "is it possible you prefer speeches in Spanish to our company?"
Dan paused. Oddington was smiling in an exceedingly perfunctory manner, and the young Captain was about to make some laughing acknowledgment when the girl, still looking at him, said:
"Mr. Oddington and I were just arguing about the night air of San Blanco. He says it is filled with malaria. Is it?"
Dan walked slowly toward them.
"Not any more than the day air," he replied, declining Oddington's proffered cigarette case and drawing his pipe and pouch from his pocket. "I should say that San Blancan air is filled with malaria at all times—and with other bad things."
"It is like most of these cities," he said; "things get pretty messy here, I imagine. I could not exactly commend its sanitary—"
A voice calling him from the window broke the sentence. It was Reggie Wotherspoon.
"Yes," said Oddington.
"That you, Ralph? Oh, I see you. Say, come in here like a good chap, will you? I've run across a sort of an anarchist circular about Rodriguez. I want you to come up with me while I put it up to him."
"All right," replied Oddington. "Will you go in, Virginia?"
"Thank you, I'll wait here for you. I've had enough of that dreary old dinner; at least until father speaks. And now," said the girl, smiling at Dan, "what have you to tell me that is thrilling?"
Dan looked at her as she stood framed against the light of the window, tall, straight, in the full glow of youth and health and animal spirits. One bare arm was stretched down, clutching the train of her dress. With the other hand she was idly lashing her gloves against her skirt. As she spoke she reached out a gleaming slipper, extremely small for a girl of her height, to push an overturned flower-pot away, and Dan caught the flash of the silk ankle and a foam of lace.
He felt he was viewing the girl in a new way. Hitherto he had regarded her as something almost intangible, an essence of elusive femininity, radiant, overpowering, and in nowise to be considered as a material embodiment of young womanhood.
But now, while the old spell was still potent, with the moods of the day still strong, he found new viewpoints struggling for mastery. Clearly the girl had shown a deep interest in him, and entirely on her own initiative. If it was to be in the future an interest born of friendship, why, it should be, he told himself, an engaging future for him. But he did not desire that her interest in him from now on should be offered as a sort of largess, or that he should be placed in the position of posing as an object of merely charitable attention from her. As these thoughts formulated themselves flashingly in his mind, he could not but marvel at the sudden transition in his attitude concerning her. But nevertheless, the transition had taken place, as well defined as though it had come of weeks of pondering—and unchangeable.
"I can't think of anything thrilling to talk about—unless I select you as a subject."
The girl glanced at him swiftly and then turned her face toward the harbor, where a few lights quivered on a velvet floor. She caught the new note perfectly and her bosom rose in a quick breath.
"I am sure we might select a more interesting topic. I detest personalities. Tell me how you have enjoyed your first dip into Blancan society."
"But that would be personal," smiled Dan.
The girl laughed.
"The women here to-night are a great deal less dowdy than one would imagine, don't you think?"
"I wonder if you realize your responsibility?" said Dan.
Virginia did not reply for a moment. She had not considered this outgrowing phase of her unreserved interest in the young Captain. So long as he had remained a sort of quiescent protege, there could be no possible harm in her attitude toward him. Evidently he did not intend so to remain. There was of course, therefore, nothing to do but reestablish their relations.
"I am afraid my responsibilities are too varied and serious for discussion with—with any one," she said at length.
"But where they concern me?"
The girl stepped back slightly, drawing her skirts about her as though recoiling, or, rather, withdrawing from the question. Yet despite her desire to end the conversation, she really was curious as to his drift; and, besides, he made the most romantic sort of picture as he stood at her side, clean cut, bareheaded, and as self-assured evidently as any man she had ever talked with. Her wish was to dismiss him with admonition, gently, if plainly to be understood. But this she could not do just then, and the realization of the fact irritated her.
"I suppose," she said slowly, "at least I have read that our responsibilities do not cease with one's friends, but extend, sometimes, even to—to acquaintances, or to persons, perhaps, whom one does not know. What have I done or not done that suggested in your mind ideas of my responsibility to you?"
Dan shook the fire from his pipe and smiled. "Why, you haven't done a thing or left a thing undone," he said. "I thought the humor of my suggestion would strike you as funny, make you laugh. But it didn't, so I'll be serious. You were decent to me on the Tampico and before; and to-night, I don't know, but the lights and the music and the night and all seemed to have gone into me, and I wanted to talk to a woman—to you—out here in the moonlight, not as we've talked before, but as a man and woman who feel pretty much the same way about many things might talk. This was what I had in mind when I spoke of responsibility. Not an alarming one, would you say?"
The girl gazing out into the darkness did not speak.
"I wanted you to look down at the harbor there and exclaim over the path the moon is cutting from the horizon to that queer little lighthouse on the point; and I wanted you to talk enthusiastic nonsense about the big, soft stars and the cigarette lights under the trees; and I—I just wanted to listen and, of course, agree with all you said."
Dan was smiling as he spoke; but the girl, whose eyes had fallen beneath his steady gaze, was aware that no jest underlay his light words. By no means could she construe what he had said into impertinence, but she did feel he was presuming upon the kindly attention she had paid him.
"Captain Merrithew," she said at length, "I have been thinking. I have been wondering whether I do not think you more inspiring on the bridge of the Tampico, cutting warships in two, or fighting a storm than—"
"Than talking with you in the moonlight?" interpolated Dan.
"About the moonlight," corrected the girl. . . . "If we are to be friends you must not devise responsibilities—unadvisably."
Dan made a slight gesture, as though to assure her she had made her meaning quite clear.
"If we are to be friends, Miss Howland, you must not devise restrictions unadvisably."
Dan was still smiling, and he was speaking easily. But no man had ever spoken to her in that way before. She flushed, and her eyes sparkled angrily as he ceased. Her glance did not disconcert him. He stood looking at her—not masterfully, but with the quiet dignity of conviction. It was plain that if their association were to continue, it must be at the price of something more than the scientific, aloof, touch-and-go interest which had hitherto characterized her attitude toward him.
She must be his friend in all that the term implies. Until to-night, had the alternative been proposed, she would have had no hesitation in deciding, if only because she had no viewpoint other than their relative positions in the past year.
But his words had opened a new perspective. She could see that he might be regarded in a different light, that he already so regarded her. The transformation bewildered her, and when the heated reply died behind her lips and she smiled quiveringly instead, she felt for the first time in her life the thrill which all women, however strong, have when they yield to the dominant personality of a man. She tried to fight back the overpowering, undefinable surge; she succeeded partially. All she could now ask was time to think to recover her equilibrium. She put out her hand involuntarily and touched Dan lightly on the arm.
"Let us not say anything more about it," she said. "Tell me—tell me something about San Blanco."
As she ceased speaking, she turned slowly toward the banquet hall. Dan, following her, complied with what he knew to be a purely perfunctory request, talking in an easy conversational tone.
"I have looked into the history of the country a good bit," said he. "It is quite interesting. They have had just twenty-three presidentes and four dictators, and there have been twelve assassinations. I believe candidates for the office are liable to arrest for attempted suicide—"
The girl paused at the window. She had not been listening. Her eyes, were fastened upon the figure of a man whose skulking form she had made out where the glow of the window almost opposite the speakers' table fell upon the garden. Now she saw him again. He had a gun in his hands and was beginning to kneel.
Breathless and rigid the girl slowly stretched out her hand and touched Dan on the shoulder; with the other she pointed silently at the crouching figure. The gun was now being raised to aim, probably at the Presidente, who was speaking, possibly at Mr. Howland. Dan apprehended the situation at once. In the flash of an eye he was making for the assassin like an antelope. Hearing the approaching footfalls, the man turned his head, and then, with a cry, Virginia saw him arise and shift his weapon toward Dan.
But he was too late. At least ten feet away Dan left his feet and launched himself into one of those old-time tackles which even in Exeter had attracted the eyes of the football authorities of three universities. Hard and straight he went, head to one side, jaws shut tight. Then he struck, one brawny shoulder snapping full into the man's midriff. You have to know how to fall when tackled by a good man. This San Blancan did not. He went down like a falling tower. The gun was discharged in the air with a resounding report and flew into the bushes. The man lay still, gasping. The dinner ended abruptly and in great confusion. Guests poured out of the windows, tables were overturned.