Soon, a damp heat, rising from below, warned the boy that they were approaching the ground, and, a second or two later, the Englishman said quietly:
"We are going to hit the trees. Cover your face and head with your arms. You won't be hurt, but there is no sense in having one's eyes scratched out."
In fact, the trees were very near. Stuart cast one look down, and then, following the advice given, covered his face. A quarter of a minute later, his legs and the lower half of his body plunged into twigs and foliage. The parachute, released from a part of the weight which had held it steady, careened, was caught by a sidewise gust of wind, and, bellying out like a sail, it dragged the two aerial travelers through the topmost branches in short, vicious jerks which made Stuart feel as though he were being pulled apart. This lasted but a minute or two, however, when the parachute itself, torn, and caught in the branches, came to anchor.
"I fancy we had better climb down," remarked Cecil, cheerfully, and, at the same time, Stuart realized that the belt, which had grappled him tight to the Englishman's harness, had been loosened.
The boy drew a long breath, for his lungs had been tightly compressed during the downward journey, and, instinctively, reached out for a branch sufficiently strong to support him.
The Englishman, a man of quicker action, had already swung clear and was descending the tree with a lithe agility that seemed quite out of keeping with his quiet and self-possessed manner. The boy, despite his youth, came down more clumsily. On reaching ground, he found his companion sedately polishing his tan boots with a tiny bit of rag he had taken from a box not much bigger than a twenty-five cent piece. Stuart's clothes were torn in half-a-dozen places, Cecil's tweeds were absolutely unharmed.
The Englishman caught the boy's thought and answered it.
"Explorers' Cloth," he said. "I have it made specially for me; you can hardly cut it with a knife."
Inwardly the boy felt that he ought to be able to carry on the conversation in the same light vein, but his nerves were badly shaken. His companion glanced at him.
"A bit done up, eh?" He took a metal container from his pocket, in shape like a short lead pencil, and poured out two tiny pellets into his palm.
"If you are not afraid of poison," he remarked amicably, "swallow these. They will pick you up at once."
The thought of poison had flashed into Stuart's mind. After all, the Englishman was just as much one of the conspirators as Manuel or Leborge, and might be just as anxious for the death of an eavesdropper. At the same time, the boy realized that he was absolutely in the Englishman's power, and that if Cecil wanted to get rid of him, there, in that thick forest, he had ample opportunity. To refuse the pellets might be even more dangerous than to accept them. Besides, there was a certain atmosphere of directness in Cecil, conspirator though the boy knew him to be, which forbade belief in so low-grade a manner of action as the use of poison.
He held out his hand for the pellets and swallowed them without a word.
A slight inclination of the head showed the donor's acceptance of the fact that he was trusted.
"Now, my lad," he said. "I think you ought to tell me something about yourself, and what you were doing in the Citadel. You asked me to save you from Manuel, and I have done so. Perhaps I have been hasty. But, in honor bound, you must tell me what you know and what you heard."
Through Stuart's veins, the blood was beginning to course full and free. The pellets which Cecil had given him—whatever they were—removed his fatigue as though it had been a cloak. They loosened the boy's tongue, also, and freely he told the Englishman all his affairs save for his cause in pursuing Manuel, which he regarded as a personal matter. He mentioned the only words he had overheard, while watching in the ruined Citadel and explained that the taunting of Leborge by Manuel, during the conference, had been only a ruse to provoke trouble, the Cuban hoping that the boy would shoot.
"And what general impression did you get from the meeting?" Cecil queried.
The boy hesitated, fearing to enrage his questioner.
"Well," he blurted out, "if I must say it, I think that you're plotting a revolution in this country, putting Leborge up as president, letting Manuel run the country, driving the United States clean out of it, and giving you the chance to take all sorts of commercial concessions for yourself."
The Englishman nodded his head.
"For a guess," he declared, "your idea is not half bad. Evidently, you have plenty of imagination. The only trouble with your summing up of the situation, my boy, is that it is wrong in every particular. If you did not learn any more than that from the conference, your information is quite harmless. I suppose I can count on your never mentioning this meeting?"
Stuart thought for a moment.
"No," he said, "I can't promise that."
The Englishman lifted his eyebrows slightly.
Stuart found it difficult to say why. He had a feeling that to swear silence would, in a sense, make him a party to the conspiracy, whatever it might be.
"I—I've got it in for Manuel," he said lamely, though conscious, as he said it, that the reply would not satisfy.
Cecil looked at him through narrowed eyelids.
"I suppose you know that I would have no scruples in shooting you if you betrayed us," he remarked.
Stuart looked up.
"I don't know it," he answered. "Manuel or Leborge might do it, but I think you'd have a lot of scruples in shooting an unarmed boy."
"Surely you can't expect me to save your life merely to run my own neck in a noose?"
"That's as good as admitting that what you're doing might run your neck into a noose," commented Stuart shrewdly, if a little imprudently.
"All right. But you must play fair. I have helped you. In honor, you can't turn that help against me."
It was a definite deadlock. The boy realized that, while the Englishman was not likely to put a bullet through his head, as either Manuel or Leborge would have done, he was none the less likely to arrange affairs so that there would be no chance for talk. Haitian prisons were deathtraps. Also Cecil's declaration that an abuse of kindness would be dishonorable had a great deal of weight with the boy. His father had taught him the fine quality of straight dealing.
"Look here, sir," he said, after a pause. "You said that I hadn't got the right idea as to what you three were doing."
"Then I can't betray it, that's sure! I'll promise, if you like, that, if I do ever find out the whole truth about this plot, and if it's something which, as an American, I oughtn't to let go by, I won't make any move in it until I know you've been warned in plenty of time. If it isn't, I'll say nothing. There's no reason why I should get Leborge or you in trouble. It's Manuel I'm after."
"If you'll promise that," said Cecil, "I fancy I can afford to let you go. I don't want you with me, anyway, for that Cuban dog would be sure that you had betrayed him to me, and he would suppose that I was going to betray him in turn. I'll land you in Cuba, and if you take my advice, you'll keep away from Haiti. It isn't healthy—for you."
Having thus settled Stuart's fate to his own satisfaction, Cecil climbed a little distance up the tree, caught the ropes of the parachute, and with much hauling, assisted by Stuart, he pulled the wreckage down and thrust it under a bush.
"The weather and the ants will make short work of that," he commented. "There won't be much of it left but the ribs in a week. And now, lad, we'll strike for the coast."
Though there seemed to Stuart no way of telling where they were, Cecil took a definite course through the jungle. They scrambled over and through the twisted tangle of undergrowth, creepers and lianas, and, in less than an hour, reached a small foot-path, bearing north-westward.
"I don't know this path," the Englishman remarked frankly, "but it's going in the direction I want, any way." A little later, he commented, "I fancy this leads to a village," and struck out into the jungle for a detour. On the further side of the village, he remarked, "I know where I am, now," and, thereafter, made no further comment upon the route. He talked very interestingly, however, about the insects, flowers and trees by the way, and, when dark came on, taught Stuart more about the stars than he had learned in all his years of schooling.
They walked steadily without a halt for food, even, from the late afternoon when the parachute had hit the trees, until about an hour after sunrise the next morning, when the faint trail that they had lately been following, suddenly came to an end on the bank of a narrow river, hardly more than a creek.
Putting a tiny flat instrument between his teeth, Cecil blew a shriek so shrill that it hurt Stuart's ears. It was repeated from a distance, almost immediately. Five minutes later the boy heard the "chug-chug" of a motor boat, and a small craft of racing pattern glided up to the bank.
"Got a passenger, Andy," he said to the sole occupant of the boat.
"Food for fishes?" came the grim query, in reply.
"Not yet; not this time, anyway. No, we'll just put him ashore at Cuba and see if he knows how to mind his own business."
The motor boat engineer grumbled under his breath. He was evidently not a man for half-measures. The blood of the old buccaneers ran in his veins. It was evident, though, that Cecil was master.
The two men aboard, Andy turned the head of the motor boat down the river and out to sea, shooting past the short water-front of the little village of Plaine du Nord at a bewildering speed. The Creoles had barely time to realize that there was something on the water before it was gone out of sight.
Despite its speed—which was in the neighborhood of thirty-two knots—the motor boat was built for sea use, and it ran along the coast of the Haitian north peninsula, past Le Borgne and St. Louis de Nord, like a scared dolphin. Arriving near Port-de-Paix, it hugged the shore of the famous lair of the buccaneers, Isle de Tortugas, and thence struck for the open sea.
"Tortugas!" commented Cecil, pointing to the rocky shores of the islet.
"That's where all the pirates came from, wasn't it?" queried Stuart, eager to break the silence of the journey.
"Pirates? No. The pirate haunts were more to the north. It was the stronghold of the buccaneers."
"I always thought pirates and buccaneers were the same thing," put in the boy.
"Far from it. Originally the buccaneers were hunters, and their name comes from boucan, a word meaning dried flesh. They hunted wild cattle and wild pigs on that island over there."
"It was called Hispaniola, then. The Spanish owned it, but had only a few settlements on the coast. The population was largely Carib, a savage race given to cannibalism. There seems little reason to doubt that even if the buccaneers did not actually smoke and cure human flesh, as the Caribs did, they traded in it and ate it themselves."
"Were the buccaneers Spaniards?" queried Stuart.
"No. French to begin with, and afterwards, many English joined them. That was just where the whole bloody business began. France protected the buccaneers, sent them aid and ammunition; even their famous guns—known as 'buccaneering pieces' and four and a half feet long—were all made in France. There was a steady demand for smoked meat and hides, and France was only too ready to get these from a Spanish colony without payment of any dues thereon.
"At the beginning of the seventeenth century the buccaneers—at that time only hunters—settled in small groups on the island of Hispaniola. Such a policy was dangerous. Time after time parties of Spanish soldiery raided the settlements, killing most of the hunters and putting the prisoners to the torture. In desperation, the buccaneers decided to abandon Hispaniola. They united their forces and sailed to the island of St. Kitts, nominally in the hands of Spain, but then inhabited only by Caribs.
"The French government at once extended its protection to St. Kitts, thus practically seizing it from Spain and claimed it as a possession. Great Britain agreed to support France in this illegal seizure and thus the little colony of St. Kitts was held safe under both French and English governments, which actually supported the hunting ventures of the buccaneers, and winked at the piratic raids which generally formed a part of the buccaneering expeditions.
"But it was not to be expected that the Spanish would keep still under the continual pillage of these plundering hunters. The Dons undertook to destroy the small vessels in which the buccaneers sailed and, before three years had passed, fully one-half of the buccaneers sailing from St. Kitts had been savagely slaughtered. These outrages prompted reprisals from the English and the French and thus the privateers came into the field."
"What's a privateer?" queried Stuart.
"I was just about to tell you," answered Cecil. "A privateer on the Caribbean and the Spanish Main, in those days, was a man who had sufficient money or sufficient reputation to secure a ship and a crew with which to wage war against the enemies of his country. As his own government had given nothing but permission to his venture, it gained nothing but glory from it. The privateer had the right to all the booty and plunder he could secure by capturing an enemy's ship, or raiding an enemy's settlement. The plunder was divided among the crew. Thus, a lucky voyage, in which, for example, a Spanish treasure-ship was captured, would make every member of the crew rich. Some of these privateers, after one or so prosperous voyages, settled down and became wealthy planters. The great Sir Francis Drake, on several of his voyages, went as a privateer."
"And I suppose the governments gained, by having a fleet of vessels doing their fighting, for which they needn't pay," commented the boy.
"Exactly. In a way, this was fair enough. The privateer took his chance, and, whether he won or lost, he was, at least, fighting for his country. But there were other men, unable to secure ships, and who could not obtain letters-of-marque from their governments, to whom loot and plunder seemed an easy way of gaining riches. Some of these were men from the crews of privateers that had disbanded, some were buccaneers. They claimed the same rights as privateers but differed in this—that they would attack any ship or settlement and plunder it at will. At first they confined themselves to small Spanish settlements only, but, later, their desires increased, and neutral ships and inoffensive villages were attacked.
"In order to put a stop to the raids of the buccaneering hunters, the Spaniards planned an organized destruction of all the wild cattle on Hispaniola, hoping thus to drive the ravagers away. It was a false move. The result of it was to turn the buccaneers into sea-rovers on an independent basis, ready for plunder and murder anywhere and everywhere. At this period they were called Filibusters, but, a little later, the word 'buccaneer' came to be used for the whole group of privateers, filibusters and hunters.
"The fury of both sides increased. So numerous and powerful did these sea-rovers become that all trade was cut off. Neutral vessels, even if in fleets, were endangered. With the cutting off of trade by sea, there was no longer any plunder for the rovers and from this cause came about the famous land expeditions, such as the sack of Maracaibo by Lolonnois the Cruel, and the historic capture of Panama by Morgan. Large cities were taken and held to ransom. Organized raids were made, accompanied by murder and rapine. The gallantry of privateering was degenerating into the bloody brutality of piracy.
"In 1632, a small group of French buccaneer hunters had left St. Kitts and, seeking a base nearer to Hispaniola, had attacked the little island of Tortugas, on which the Spanish had left a garrison of only twenty-five men. Every one of the Spaniards were killed. The buccaneers took possession, found the harbor to be excellent, and the soil of the island exceedingly fertile. As a buccaneer base, it was ideal. Filibusters saw the value of a base so close to Spanish holdings, realized the impregnability of the harbor and flocked thither. Privateers put in and brought their prizes. Tortugas began to prosper. In 1638 the Spaniards, taking advantage of a time when several large expeditions of buccaneers were absent, raided the place in force and shot, hanged, or tortured to death, every man, woman and child they captured. Only a few of the inhabitants escaped by hiding among the rocks. But the Spanish did not dare to leave a garrison.
"The buccaneers got together and under Willis, an Englishman, reoccupied the island. Although Willis was English, the greater part of the buccaneers with him were French and they gladly accepted a suggestion from the governor-general at St. Kitts to send a governor to Tortugas. In 1641 Governor Poincy succeeded in securing possession of the Isle of Tortugas for the Crown of France. Thus, having a shadow of protection thrown around it, and being afforded the widest latitude of conduct by its governor—who fully realized that it was nothing but a nest of pirates—Tortugas flamed into a mad prosperity.
"That little desert island yonder became the wildest and most abandoned place that the world probably has ever seen. Sea-rovers, slave-runners, filibusters, pirates, red-handed ruffians of every variety on land or sea made it their port of call. Everything could be bought there; everything sold. There was a market for all booty and every article—even captured white people for slaves—was exposed for sale. An adventurer could engage a crew of cut-throats at half-an-hour's notice. A plot to murder a thousand people in cold blood would be but street talk. Every crime which could be imagined by a depraved and gore-heated brain was of daily occurrence. It was a sink of iniquity.
"After France had taken possession of Tortugas, it came about quite naturally that the French buccaneers found themselves better treated in that port than the English filibusters or the Dutch Sea-Rovers. Almost immediately, therefore, the English drew away, and established their buccaneer base in other islands, notably Jamaica, of which island the notorious adventurer and pirate, Sir Henry Morgan, became governor.
"The steady rise of Dutch power, bringing about the Dutch War of 1665, brought about a serious menace against the English power, increased when, in 1666, France joined hands with Holland. Peace was signed in 1667. In the next thirty years, four local West Indian wars broke out, the grouping of the powers differing. All parties also sought to control the trade across the Isthmus of Panama, and there was great rivalry in the slave trade. During this period, privateers and buccaneers ceased to attack Spanish settlements only, and raided settlements belonging to any other country than their own. During the various short intervals of peace between these wars, the several treaties had become more and more stringent against the buccaneers. When, therefore, in 1697, the Treaty of Ryswick brought peace between England, France, Holland and Spain, it ended the period of the buccaneer."
"I don't quite see why," put in Stuart, a little puzzled.
"For this reason. The buccaneers had not only existed in spite of international law, they had even possessed a peculiar status as a favored and protected group. The treaty put an end to that protection. Sea-fighting thereafter was to be confined to the navies of the powers, and the true privateers and sea-rovers roved the seas no more."
"But how about the pirates—'Blackbeard' Teach, Capt. Kidd, 'Bloody' Roberts and all the rest?" queried Stuart.
"They were utterly different in type and habits from the buccaneers," explained Cecil. "After the Treaty of Ryswick, piracy became an international crime. A harbor belonging to one of the powers could no longer give anchorage to a pirate craft. Markets could no longer openly deal in loot and plunder.
"Those freebooters who had learned to live by pillage, and who thus had become outlaws of the sea, were compelled to find some uninhabited island for a refuge. They made their new headquarters at the Island of New Providence, one of the Bahamas. With buccaneering ended, and piracy in process of suppression by all the naval powers, the reason for Tortugas' importance was gone. It dwindled and sank until now it is a mere rocky islet with a few acres under cultivation, and that is all. I know it well. Much treasure is said to be buried there, but no one has ever found it. Don't waste your time looking for it, boy. You will keep away from this part of the world if you know what is good for you!"
With which menace, the Englishman fell silent, and Stuart felt it wiser to refrain from disturbing him. Even over a copiously filled lunch basket, the three in the boat munched, without a word exchanged.
At dusk they ran into a small cove at the easternmost end of the northern coast of Cuba, not far from Baracoa, the oldest city in Cuba and its first capital, where Columbus, Narvaez, Cortes and others of the great characters of history, played their first parts in the New World.
Under the shadow of Anvil Mountain, the motor boat ran up to a little wharf, almost completely hidden in greenery, and there Cecil and the boy landed. Stuart did not fail to observe that the motor boat engineer needed no directions as to the place of landing. Evidently this cove was familiar.
On going ashore, without a word of explanation to the boy, Cecil led the way to a small hut, not far from the beach. When, in response to a knock, the door opened, he said, in Spanish:
"Ignacio, this American boy is going to Havana. You will see that he does not get lost on the way!"
"Si, Senor," was the only reply, the fisherman—for so he appeared—evincing no surprise at the sudden appearance of Cecil at his door, nor at his abrupt command. This absence of surprise or question was the strongest possible proof of the extent of the Englishman's power, and Stuart found himself wondering to what extent this conspirator's web extended over the West Indies.
A phrase or two, when they were walking together through the jungle, after the parachute descent, had shown Stuart that the Englishman was especially well acquainted with the flora and fauna of Jamaica. He must possess powerful friends in Haiti, or he could never have reached the Citadel, to arrive at which point both Manuel and Leborge had been compelled to employ tortuous methods, even to disguise. The motor boat awaiting him in the Haitian jungle showed an uncanny knowledge of that locality. He had mentioned that he knew the Isle of Tortugas. He was evidently known on the Cuban coast. This plot, whatever it might be, was assuredly of far-reaching importance, if one of the plotters found it necessary to weave a web that embraced all the nearby islands.
"I'm glad I didn't promise not to tell about it," muttered the boy, as he watched Cecil stride away without even a word of farewell, "for I miss my guess if there isn't something brewing to make trouble for the United States."
A CUBAN REBEL
Stuart stood with the supposed fisherman at the door of the hut until the throbbing of the motor boat's engine had died away in the distance. Then, American fashion, he turned to the brown-skinned occupant with an air of authority.
"Who is this man Cecil?" he asked. The phrase began boldly, but as he caught the other's glance, the last couple of words dragged.
Brown-skinned this fisherman might be, but the dark eyes were keen and appraising. Stuart, who was no fool, realized that his new host—or, was it captor?—was more than he seemed. At the same time, the boy remembered that he was in rags and that his own skin was stained brown. Yet the fisherman answered his question courteously.
"Does not the young Senor know him? Senor Cecil is an Englishman, and wealthy."
"But what does he do?" persisted Stuart.
The other shrugged his shoulders.
"Can anyone tell what wealthy Englishmen do?" he queried. "They are all a little mad."
The boy held his tongue. This evasive reply was evidence enough that he would not secure any information by questioning. Also, Stuart realized that anyone whom the Englishman trusted was not likely to be loose-mouthed.
"Senor Cecil said you were an American," the fisherman continued, "he meant by that——"
"Probably he meant that he knew I'd like to get this brown off my skin," declared Stuart, realizing that his disguise was unavailing now. "Have you any soap-weed root?"
The Cuban bent his head and motioned the boy to enter the hut. It was small and clean, but did not have the atmosphere of use. Stuart guessed that probably it was only employed as a blind and wondered how his host had come to know of the arrival of the motor boat. Then, remembering that the sound of the motor boat's engine had been heard for several moments, as it departed from the cove, he thought that perhaps the noise of the "chug-chug" would be a sufficient signal of its coming, for, surely, no other motor boats would have any reason for entering so hidden a place.
"If the young Senor will add a few drops from this bottle to the water," commented his host, "the stain will come out quicker."
Stuart stared at the man. The suggestion added to the strangeness of the situation. The presence of chemicals in a fisherman's hut tallied with the boy's general idea that this man must hold a post of some importance in the plot. But he made no comment.
While he was scrubbing himself thoroughly, so that his skin might show white once more, the fisherman prepared a simple but hearty meal. His ablutions over, Stuart sat down to the table with great readiness, for, though he had joined Cecil in a cold snack on the motor boat, the boy had passed through thirty-six hours of the most trying excitement, since his departure from Millot the morning of the day before. The food was good and plentiful, and when Stuart had stowed away all he could hold, drowsiness came over him, and his head began to nod.
"When do we go to bed?" he asked with a yawn.
The fisherman motioned to a string-bed in the corner.
"Whenever the young Senor wishes," was the reply.
"Did you not hear Senor Cecil say that I was to be sure you did not get lost?" He smiled. "You might have dreams, Senor, and walk in your sleep. When Senor Cecil says 'Watch!' one stays awake."
At the same time, with a deft movement, he pinioned Stuart's arms, and searched him thoroughly, taking away his revolver and pocket knife. No roughness was shown, but the searching was done in a businesslike manner, and Stuart offered no resistance. As a matter of fact, he was too sleepy, and even the bravest hero might be cowed if he were fairly dropping for weariness. Stuart obediently sought the string-bed, and, a few seconds later, was fast asleep.
It was daylight when he awoke. Breakfast was on the table and the boy did as much justice to the breakfast as he had to the supper. With rest, his spirits and energy had returned, but he was practically helpless without his revolver. Besides, on this desolate bit of beach on the eastern end of Cuba, even if he could escape from his captor, he would be marooned. Such money as the boy possessed was secreted in Cap Haitien, most of his friends lived in Western Cuba. If this fisherman were indeed to aid him to get to Havana, nothing would suit him better. All through the meal he puzzled over the fisherman's rough mode of life, and yet his perfect Spanish and courtly manners.
"If the young Senor will accompany me to the stable?" suggested his host, when the meal was over, the mild words being backed by an undertone of considerable authority. Stuart would have liked to protest, for he was feeling chipper and lively, but, just as he was about to speak, he remembered Andy's remark, on board the motor boat, about "food for fishes." Probably Cecil's allies were ready for any kind of bloodshed, and the boy judged that he would be wise to avoid trouble. He followed without a word.
The stables were of good size and well kept, out of all proportion to the hut, confirming Stuart's suspicion that a house of some pretensions was hidden in the forest nearby. A fairly good horse was hitched to a stoutly-built light cart and the journey began. The driver took a rarely traveled trail, but, at one point, an opening in the trees showed a snug little town nestling by a landlocked harbor of unusual beauty.
"What place is that?" queried Stuart, though not expecting a response.
To his surprise, the driver answered promptly.
"That, Senor," he said, "is Baracoa, the oldest town in Cuba, and the only one that tourists seldom visit."
Whereupon, breaking a long silence, Vellano—for so he had given his name to Stuart—proceeded to tell the early history of Eastern Cuba with a wealth of imagery and a sense of romance that held the boy spellbound. He told of the peaceful Arawaks, the aboriginal inhabitants of the Greater Antilles, agriculturists and eaters of the cassava plant, growers and weavers of cotton, even workers of gold. He told of the invasion of the meat-eating and cannibal Caribs from the Lesser Antilles, of the wars between the Arawaks and Caribs, and of the hostility between the two races when Columbus first landed on the island. He told of the enslavement of the peaceful Arawaks by the Spaniards, and of the savage massacres by Caribs upon the earliest Spanish settlements.
From that point Vellano broke into a song of praise of the gallantry of the early Spanish adventurers and conquerors, the conquistadores of the West Indies, who carried the two banners of "Christianity" and "Civilization" to the islands of the Caribbean Sea. He lamented the going of the Spaniards, took occasion to fling reproach at France for her maladministration and loss of Haiti, and, as Stuart was careful to observe, he praised England and Holland as colonizing countries as heartily as he condemned the United States for her ignorance of colonization problems.
This fitted in exactly with Stuart's opinion of the plot of which Cecil was the head. Here, in Vellano, was an underling—or another conspirator, as it might be—favorable to England, resentful of the United States, and probably in a spirit of revolt against existing conditions in his own country. The boy decided to test this out by bringing up the subject a little later in the journey.
Presently the road turned to the westward, following the valley of the Toa River. Duala, Bernardo and Morales were passed, the road climbing all the time, the mountain ranges of Santa de Moa and Santa Verde rising sentinel-like on either side. The trail was obviously one for the saddle rather than for a cart, but Stuart rightly guessed that Vellano was afraid that his captive might escape if he had a separate mount.
They stayed that night at a small, but well-kept house, hidden in the forests. The owner seemed to be a simple guarijo or cultivator, but was very hospitable. Yet, when Stuart, tossing restlessly in the night, chanced to open his eyes, he saw the guarijo sitting near his bed, smoking cigarettes, and evidently wide awake and watching. It was clear that he was keeping guard while Vellano slept. Certainly, the Englishman had no need to complain that his orders were unheeded!
Taking up the way, next morning, the road became little more than a trail, through forests as dense as the Haitian jungle. The guarijo walked ahead of them with his machete, clearing away the undergrowth sufficiently for the horse and cart to get through. From time to time, Velanno took his place with the machete and the guarijo sat beside the boy. Never for a moment was Stuart left alone.
It was a wild drive. The trail threaded its way between great Ceiba trees, looming weird and gigantic with their buttressed trunks, all knotted and entwined with hanging lianas and curiously hung with air plants dropping from the branches. Gay-colored birds flashed in the patches of sunlight that filtered through the trees. The Cuban boa-constrictor or Maja, big and cowardly, wound its great length away, and the air was full of the rich—and not always pleasant—insect life characteristic of the Cuban eastern forests.
Approaching San Juan de la Caridad, the trail widened. Machete work being no longer necessary, the guarijo was enabled to return, which he did with scarcely more than an "adios" to Vellano.
The trail now skirted the edges of deep ravines and hung dizzily on the borders of precipices of which the sharply and deeply cut Maestra Mountains are so full. The forest was a little more open. Thanks to the information given him by Cecil during their walk through the Haitian jungle, after the parachute descent, Stuart recognized mahogany, lignum vitae, granadilla, sweet cedar, logwood, sandalwood, red sanders and scores of other hardwood trees of the highest commercial value, standing untouched. Passing an unusually fine clump of Cuban mahogany, Stuart turned to his companion with the exclamation:
"There must be millions of dollars' worth of rare woods, here!"
"Cuba is very rich," came the prompt reply, coupled with the grim comment, "but Cubans very poor."
"They are poor," agreed Stuart, "and in this part of the island they seem a lot poorer than in the Pinar plains, where I lived before. Why? Here, nine out of every ten of the guarijos we've seen, live like hogs in a sty. Most of the huts we've passed aren't fit for human beings to live in. Why is it?"
Stuart had expected, and, as it turned out, rightly, that this opening would give Vellano the opportunity to express himself on Cuban conditions as he saw them. Stuart was eager for this, for he wanted to find out where his companion stood, and hoped to find out whether he was ripe for revolt. But he was surprised at the bitterness and vehemence of the protest.
"Ah! The Rats that gnaw at the people!" Vellano cried. "The Rats that hold political jobs and grow fat! The government Rats who care for nothing except to make and collect taxes to keep the people poor! The job-holders of this political party, or that political party, or the other political party! What are they? Rats, all! Tax-Rats!
"Why do the guarijos live like hogs in a sty? The Rats ordain it. It is the taxes, all on account of the taxes. Consider! All this land you see, all undeveloped land, belonging, it may be, to only a few wealthy people, pays no tax, no tax at all. But if a man wishes to make a living, settles on the ground and begins to cultivate it, that day, yes, that hour, the owner will demand a high rent. And why will he ask this rent? Because, Young Senor, as soon as land is cultivated, the government puts a high tax on it. The Rats punish the farmers for improving the country.
"What happens? I can tell you what happens in this province of Oriente. In the province of Camaguey, too. The small farmer finds a piece of good land. He settles on it—what you Americans call 'squatting'—and, if he is wise, he says nothing to the owner. Perhaps he will not be found out for a year or two, perhaps more, but, when he is found, he must pay a big rent and the owner a big tax. Perhaps the guarijo cannot pay. Then he must go away.
"Generally he goes. In some other corner, hidden away, he finds another piece of land. He squats on that, too, hoping that the tax-Rats may not find him. He does not cultivate much land, for he may be driven off next day. He does not build a decent house, for he may have to abandon it before the week's end.
"Suppose he does really wish to rent land, build a house and have a small plantation, and is willing to pay the rent, however high it be. Why then, Young Senor, he will learn that it will be many years before he finds out whether the man to whom he is paying the rent is really the owner of the land. And if he wishes to buy, it is worse than a lottery. In this part of the island no surveys have been made—except a circular survey with no edges marked—and land titles are all confused. Then the lawyer-Rats thrive."
"It's not like that near Havana," put in Stuart.
"Havana is not Cuba. Only three kinds of people live in Havana: the Rats, the tourists, and the people who live off the Rats and the tourists. They spend, and Cuba suffers.
"For the land tax, Senor, is not all! Nearly all the money that the government spends—that the Rats waste—comes from the tax on imports. No grain is grown in Cuba, and there is no clothing industry. All our food and all our clothes are imported, and it is the guarijo who, at the last, must pay that tax. Young Senor, did you know that, per head of population, the poor Cuban is taxed for the necessities of life imported into this island three and a half times as much as the rich American is taxed for the goods entering the United States?
"Even that is not all. Here, in Cuba, we grow sugar, tobacco, pineapples, and citrus fruit, like oranges, grapefruit and lemons. Does America, which made us a republic, help us? No, Young Senor, it hurts us, hinders us, cripples us. In Hawaii, in Porto Rico, in the southern part of the United States, live our sugar, tobacco and fruit competitors. Their products enter American markets without tax. Ours are taxed. What happens? Cuba, one of the most fertile islands of the West Indies is poor. The Cuban cultivator, who is willing to be a hard worker, gives up the fight in disgust and either tries in some way to get the dollars from the Americans who come here, or else he helps to ruin his country by getting a political job."
Stuart, listening carefully to this criticism, noticed in Vellano's voice a note of hatred whenever he used the word "American." Connecting this with his own suspicion that Cecil was head of a conspiracy against the United States and that this supposed fisherman was evidently the Englishman's tool, he asked, casually:
"Then you don't think that the United States did a good thing in freeing Cuba from Spain?" he hazarded.
To the boy's surprise, his companion burst out approvingly.
"Yes, yes, a magnificent thing! But they did not know it, and they did not know why! The Americans thought they were championing an oppressed people struggling for justice. Nothing of the sort. They took the side of one party struggling for jobs against another party struggling for jobs. But the result was magnificent. Under the last American Military Governor, Leonard Wood, Cuba advanced more in two years than she had in two centuries. When the Americans went away, though, it was worse than if they had never come. Cubans did not make Cuba a republic, Americans made Cuba a republic and then abandoned us. Of course, confusion followed. And in the revolution of 1906 and other revolutions, the Americans meddled, and yet did nothing. It is idle to deny that American influence is strong here! But what does it amount to? We are neither really free, nor really possessed."
"But what do you want?" queried Stuart. "I don't seem to understand. You don't want to be a possession of Spain, you don't want to be an American colony, and you don't want to be a republic. What do you want?"
"Do I know?" came the vehement reply. "Does anyone in Cuba know? Does anyone, anywhere, know? Remember, Young Senor, the Cuban guarijo does not feel himself to be a citizen of Cuba, as an American farmer feels himself a citizen of the United States. He has been brought up under Spanish rule, and is, himself, Spanish in feeling.
"What does he know about a republic? Unless he can get a political job for himself, unless he sees the chance to be a Rat, he cares nothing about politics, but he will fight, at any time, under any cause, for any leader who will promise him a bigger price for his sugar, his tobacco or his fruit. The World War helped him, for sugar was worth gold. But now—if the Cuban wishes to say anything to America, he must do it through the Sugar Trust, the Tobacco Trust or the Fruit Trust.
"What!" Vellano flamed out, "The United States will not answer us when we pray, nor listen when we speak? Then we will make her hear!"
Upon which, suddenly realizing that in this direct threat he might have said too much, Vellano dropped the subject. Nothing that Stuart could suggest would tempt him to say anything more.
The boy had been brought up in Cuba, and, though he had never been in this eastern part of the island, he knew that a great deal of what his companion had said was true. At the same time, he realized that Vellano had not done justice to the modern improvements in Cuba, to the extension of the railroads, the building of highways, the improvement of port facilities, the establishment of sugar refineries, the spread of foreign agricultural colonies, the improved sanitation and water supply and the development of the island under foreign capital. It was as foolish, Stuart realized, for Vellano to judge all Cuba from the wild forest-land of Oriente as it is for the casual tourist to judge the whole of Cuba from the casinos of Havana.
Cuba is not small. Averaging the width of the State of New Jersey, it stretches as far as the distance from New York to Indianapolis. Its eastern and western ends are entirely different. Originally they were two islands, now joined by a low plain caused by the rising of the sea-bottom.
Climate, soil and the character of the people vary extremely in the several provinces. High mountains alternate with low plains, dense tropical forests are bordered by wastes and desert palm-barrens. Eighty per cent of the population are Cubans—which mean Spanish and negro half-breeds with a touch of Indian blood, and of all shades of color—fifteen per cent Spanish and less than two per cent American.
Foreign colonies are numerous, though small. They are to be found in all the provinces, and exhibit these same extremes. About one-half have sunk to a desolation of misery and ruin, one-half have risen to success. As Stuart once remembered his father having said:
"I will never advise an American, with small capital, to come to Cuba. If he will devote the same amount of work to a piece of land in the United States that he will have to give to the land here, he will be more prosperous, for what he may lose in the lesser fertility of the land, he will gain by the nearness of the market. There are scores of derelicts in this island who would have led happy and useful lives in the United States."
Crossing the hills—by a trail which threatened to shake the cart to pieces at every jolt—the two travelers reached Palenquito, and thence descended by a comparatively good road to Vesa Grande and on to Rio Seco. A mile or so out of the town, Stuart saw the gleaming lines of the railway and realized that this was to be the end of the long drive.
"I have no money for a trip to Havana!" he remarked.
"That is a pity," answered Vellano gravely, who, since he had searched the boy's pockets, knew that only a few dollars were to be found therein, "but Senor Cecil said you were to go to Havana. Therefore, you will go."
There seemed no reply to this, but Stuart noted that, at the station, the supposed fisherman produced money enough for two tickets.
"Are you coming, too?" queried Stuart, in surprise.
"Senor Cecil said that I was to see that you did not get lost on the way," came the quiet answer.
Certainly, Stuart thought, the Englishman's word was a word of power.
From Rio Seco, the train passed at first through heavy tropical forests, such as those in the depths of which Vellano and Stuart had just driven, but these were thinned near the railroad by lumbering operations. The main line was joined a little distance west of Guantanamo. Thence they traveled over the high plateau land of Central Oriente and Camaguey, on which many foreign colonies have settled, the train only occasionally touching the woeful palm barrens which stretch down from the northern coast.
Vellano, who seemed singularly well informed, kept up a running fire of comment all the way, most of his utterances being colored by a resentment of existing conditions—for which he blamed the United States—and containing a vague hint of some great change to come.
At Ciego de Avila, where a stay of a couple of hours was made, Stuart's companion pointed out the famous trocha or military barrier which had been erected by the Spaniards as a protection against the movements of Cuban insurgents, and which ran straight across the whole island.
This barrier was a clearing, half-a-mile wide; a narrow-gauge railway ran along its entire length, as did also a high barbed-wire fence. Every two-thirds of a mile, small stone forts had been built. Each of these was twenty feet square, with a corrugated iron tower above, equipped with a powerful searchlight. The forts themselves were pierced with loopholes for rifle fire and the only entrance was by a door twelve feet above ground, impossible of entrance after the ladder had been drawn up from within. The forts were connected by a telephone line. They have all fallen into ruins and are half swallowed up by the jungle, while the half mile clearing is being turned into small sugar plantations.
Beyond Ciego, the train passed again through a zone of tropical forest lands and then dropped into the level plains of Santa Clara, the center of the sugar industry of Cuba. From there it bore northward toward Matanzas, through a belt of bristling pineapple fields.
One station before arriving at Havana, Stuart's companion, who showed signs of fatigue—which were not surprising since he had wakened at every stop that the train had made during the night to see that the boy did not get off—prepared to alight.
"You're not going on to Havana?" queried Stuart.
"I shall step off the train here after it has started," replied Vellano. "There will be no opportunity for you to do the same until the train stops at the capital. Senor Cecil said only that I was to see that you did not get lost on the way. He said nothing about what you should do in Havana. Possibly he has plans of his own."
The train began to move.
"Adios, Young Senor," quoth the supposed fisherman, and dropped off the train.
During the long train trip, and especially when lying awake in his berth, Stuart had plenty of time to recall the events of the four days since he first met Manuel on the streets of Cap Haitien and had offered himself as a guide to the Citadel of the Black Emperor. Much had passed since then, and this period of inaction gave the boy time to view the events in their proper perspective.
The more he thought of them, the more serious they appeared and the more Stuart became convinced that the plot was directed against United States authority in Haiti. Perhaps, also, it would attack American commercial interests in Cuba. As the train approached Havana, Stuart worked himself up into a fever of anxiety, and, the instant the train stopped, he dashed out of the carriage and into the streets feeling that he, and he alone, could save the United States from an international tragedy.
A NOSE FOR NEWS
Through the maze of the older streets of Havana, with their two-story houses plastered and colored in gay tints, Stuart rushed, regardlessly. He knew Havana, but, even if he had not known it, the boy's whole soul was set on getting the ear of the United States Consul. It was not until he was almost at the door of the consulate that his promise to Cecil recurred to him as a reminder that he must be watchful how he spoke.
At the door of the consulate, however, he found difficulty of admission. This was to be expected. His appearance was unprepossessing. He was still attired in the ragged clothes tied up with string, and the aged boots he had got Leon to procure for him, to complete his disguise as a Haitian boy. Moreover, while the soap-weed wash at the fisherman's hut had whitened his skin, his face and hands still retained a smoky pallor which would take some time to wear off.
In order to gain admission at all, Stuart was compelled to give some hint as to his reasons for wishing to see the consul, and, as he did not wish to divulge anything of importance to the clerk, his explanation sounded as extravagant as it was vague. His father's name would have helped him, but Stuart did not feel justified in using it. For all he knew, his father might have reasons for not wishing to be known as conducting any such investigations. This compulsion of reserve confused the lad, and it was not surprising that the clerk went into the vice-consul's office with the remark:
"There's a ragged boy out here, who passes for white, with some wild-eyed story he says he has to tell you."
"I suppose I've got to see him," said the harassed official. "Send him in!"
This introduction naturally prejudiced the vice-consul against his visitor, and Stuart's appearance did not call for confidence. Moreover, the boy's manner was against him. He was excited and resentful over his brusque treatment by the clerk. Boy-like, he exaggerated his own importance. He was bursting with his subject.
In his embarrassed eagerness to capture the vice-consul's attention and to offset the unhappy first impression of his appearance, Stuart blurted out an incoherent story about secret meetings, and buried treasure and conspiracy, and plots in Haiti, all mixed together. His patriotic utterances, though absolutely sincere, rang with a note of insincerity to an official to whom the letters "U. S." were not the "open sesame" of liberty, but endless repetitions of his daily routine.
"What wild-cat yarn is this!" came the interrupting remark.
Stuart stopped, hesitated and looked bewildered. It had not occurred to him that the consular official would not be as excited as himself. He spluttered exclamations.
"There's a Haitian, and a Cuban, and an Englishman in a conspiracy against the United States! And they meet in a haunted citadel! And one said I was to kill the other! And I got away in a parachute. And they're going to do something, revolution, I believe, and——"
Undoubtedly, if the vice-consul had been willing to listen, and patient enough to calm the boy's excitement and unravel the story, its value would have been apparent. But his skeptical manner only threw Stuart more off his balance. The vice-consul was, by temperament, a man of routine, an efficient official but lacking in imagination. Besides, it was almost the end of office hours, and the day had been hot and sultry. He was only half-willing to listen.
"Tell your story, straight, from the beginning," he snapped.
Stuart tried to collect himself a little.
"It was the night of the Full Moon," he began, dramatically. "There was a voodoo dance, and the tom-tom began to beat, and——"
This was too much!
"You've been seeing too many movies, or reading dime-novel trash," the official flung back. "Besides, this isn't the place to come to. Go and tell your troubles to the consul at Port-au-Prince."
He rang to have the boy shown out.
The next visitor to the vice-consul, who had been cooling his heels in the outer office while Stuart was vainly endeavoring to tell his story, was the Special Correspondent of a New York paper. It was his habit to drop in from time to time to see the vice-consul and to get the latest official news to be cabled to his paper.
"I wish you'd been here half-an-hour ago, Dinville, and saved me from having to listen to a blood-and-thunder yarn about pirates and plots and revolutions and the deuce knows what!" the official exclaimed petulantly.
"From that kid who just went out?" queried the newspaper man casually, nosing a story, but not wanting to seem too eager.
"Yes, the little idiot! You'd think, from the way he talked, that the West Indies was just about ready to blow up!"
His bile thus temporarily relieved, the official turned to the matter in hand, and proceeded to give out such items of happenings at the consulate as would be of interest to the general public.
The newspaper man made his stay as brief as he decently could. He wanted to trace that boy. Finding out from the clerk that the boy had come in from the east by train, and, having noted for himself that the lad was in rags, the Special Correspondent—an old-time New York reporter—felt sure that the holder of the story must be hungry and that he did not have much money. Accordingly, he searched the nearest two or three cheap restaurants, and, sure enough, found Stuart in the third one he entered.
Ordering a cup of coffee and some pastry, the reporter seated himself at Stuart's table and deftly got into conversation with him. Inventing, for the moment, a piece of news which would turn the topic to Haiti, Dinville succeeding in making the boy tell him, as though by accident, that he had recently been in Haiti.
"So!" exclaimed the reporter. "Well, you seem to be a pretty keen observer. What did you think of things in Haiti when you left?"
Stuart was flattered—as what boy would not have been—by this suggestion that his political opinions were of importance, and he gave himself all the airs of a grown-up, as he voiced his ideas. Many of them were of real value, for, unconsciously, Stuart was quoting from the material he had found in his father's papers, when he had rescued them from Hippolyte.
Dinville led him on, cautiously, tickling his vanity the while, and, before the meal was over, Stuart felt that he had found a friend. He accepted an invitation to go up to the news office, so that his recently made acquaintance might take some notes of his ideas.
The news-gatherer had not been a reporter for nothing, and, before ten minutes had passed Stuart suddenly realized that he was on the verge of telling the entire story, even to those things which he knew must be held back. Cecil's warning recurred to him, and he pulled up short.
"I guess I hadn't better say any more," he declared, suddenly, and wondered how much he had betrayed himself into telling.
Persuasion and further flattery failed, and the newspaper man saw that he must change his tactics.
"You were willing enough to talk to the vice-consul," he suggested.
"Yes, but I wasn't going to tell him everything, either," the boy retorted.
"You're not afraid to?"
Stuart's square chin protruded in its aggressive fashion.
"Afraid!" he declared contemptuously. Then he paused, and continued, more slowly, "Well, in a way, maybe I am afraid. I don't know all I've got hold of. Why—it might sure enough bring on War!"
Once on his guard, Stuart was as unyielding as granite. He feared he had said too much already. The reporter, shrewdly, suggested that some of Stuart's political ideas might be saleable newspaper material, handed him a pencil and some copy-paper.
The boy, again flattered by this subtle suggestion that he was a natural-born writer, covered sheet after sheet of the paper. Dinville read it, corrected a few minor mistakes here and there, counted the words, and taking some money from his pocket, counted out a couple of bills and pushed them over to the boy.
"What's this for?" asked Stuart.
"For the story!" answered the reporter in well-simulated surprise. "Regular space rates, six dollars a column. I'm not allowed to give more, if that's what you mean."
"Oh, no!" was the surprised reply. "I just meant—I was ready to do that for nothing."
"What for?" replied his new friend. "Why shouldn't you be paid for it, just as well as anyone else? Come in tomorrow, maybe we can dope out some other story together."
A little more urging satisfied the rest of Stuart's scruples and he walked out from the office into the streets of Havana tingling with pleasure to his very toes. This was the first money he had ever earned and it fired him with enthusiasm to become a writer.
As soon as he had left, the reporter looked over the sheets of copy-paper, covered with writing in a boyish hand.
"Not so bad," he mused. "The kid may be able to write some day," and—dropped the sheets into the waste-paper basket.
Why had he paid for them, then? Dinville knew what he was about.
He reached for a sheet of copy-paper and wrote the following dispatch—
WHALE - OF - BIG - STORY. - INFORMANT - A - KID. - WORTH - SENDING - KID - NEW - YORK - PAPER'S - EXPENSE - IF - AUTHORIZED. - DINVILLE.
He filed it in the cable office without delay.
Before midnight he got a reply.
IF - KID - HAS - THE - GOODS - SEND - NEW - YORK - AT - ONCE.
"Here," said Dinville aloud, as he read the cablegram, "is where Little Willie was a wise guy in buying that kid's story. He'll land in here tomorrow like a bear going to a honey-tree."
His diagnosis was correct to the letter. Early the next morning Stuart came bursting in, full of importance. He had spruced up a little, though the four dollars he had got from Dinville the night before was not sufficient for new clothes.
"Say," he said, the minute he entered the office, "Mr. Dinville, I've got a corker!"
"So?" queried the reporter, lighting a cigar and putting his feet on the desk in comfortable attitude for listening. "Fire away!"
With avid enthusiasm, Stuart plunged into a wild and woolly yarn which would have been looked upon with suspicion by the editor of a blood-and-thunder twenty-five-cent series.
The reporter cut him off abruptly.
"Kid," he said dryly, "the newspaper game is on the level. I don't say that you don't have to give a twist to a story, every once in a while, so that it'll be interesting, but it's got to be news.
"Get this into your skull if you're ever going to be a newspaper man: Every story you write has got to have happened, actually happened, to somebody, somewhere, at some place, at a certain time, for some reason. If it hasn't, it isn't a newspaper story. What's more, it must be either unusual or important, or it hasn't any value. Again, it must have happened recently, or it isn't news. And there's another rule. One big story is worth more than a lot of small ones.
"Now, look here. You've got a big story, a real news story, up your sleeve. It happened to you. It occurred at an unusual place. It has only just happened. It's of big importance. And the why seems to be a mystery. If you were a A Number One newspaper man, it would be your job to get on the trail of that story and run it down."
And then the reporter conceived the idea of playing on Stuart's sense of patriotism.
"That way," he went on, "it happens that there's no class of people that does more for its country than the newspaper men. They show up the crooks, and they can point out praise when public praise is due. They expose the grafters and help to elect the right man to office. They root out public evils and push reform measures through. They're Democracy, in type."
The words fanned the fire of Stuart's enthusiasm for a newspaper career.
"Yes," he said, excitedly, "yes, I can see that!"
"Take this story of yours—this plot that you speak about and are afraid to tell. You think it's planned against the United States'?"
"I'm sure it is!"
"Well, how are you going to run it down? How are you going to get all the facts in the case? Who can you trust to help you in this? Where are you going to get all the money that it will take? Why, Kid, if these conspirators you talk of have anything big up their sleeve, they could buy people right and left to put you off the track and you'd never get anywhere! On your own showing, they've just plumped you down here in Havana, where there's nothing doing."
"They sure have," admitted Stuart ruefully.
"Of course they have. Now, if you had one of the big American newspapers backing you up, one that you could put confidence in, it would be just as if you had the United States back of you, and you'd be part and parcel of that big power which is the trumpet-voice of Democracy from the Atlantic to the Pacific—the Press!"
The boy's eyes began to glisten with eagerness. Every word was striking home.
"But how could I do that?"
"You don't have to. It's already done!"
Stuart stared at his friend, in bewilderment.
"See here," he said, and he threw the cablegram on the table. "That paper is willing to pay any price for a big story, if it can be proved authentic. Proved, mind you, documents and all the rest of it. I cabled them to know if they wanted to see you, and, if they found what you had was the real goods, whether they would stake you. They cabled back, right away, that you were to go up there."
"But I haven't money enough to go to New York!" protested Stuart.
"Who said anything about money? That's up to the paper. Your expenses both ways, and your expenses while you're in N'York, will all be paid."
"Are you sure?"
"Seeing that I'll pay your trip up there myself, and charge it up on my own expense account, of course I'm sure. There's a boat going tomorrow."
"But you couldn't get a berth for tomorrow," protested Stuart, though he was weakening. He had never been to New York, and the idea of a voyage there, with his fare and all his expenses paid, tempted him. Besides, as the reporter had suggested, it would be almost impossible for him to continue the quest of Manuel, Leborge and Cecil alone. More than that, the boy felt that, if he could get a big metropolitan paper to back him, he would be in a position to find and rescue his father.
"Can't get a berth? Watch me!" said the reporter, who was anxious to impress upon the lad the importance of the press. And, sure enough, he came back an hour later, with a berth arranged for Stuart in the morrow's steamer. He also advanced money enough to the boy for a complete outfit of clothes. An afternoon spent in a Turkish bath restored to the erstwhile disguised lad his formerly white skin.
One sea-voyage is very much like another. Stuart made several acquaintances on board, one of them a Jamaican, and from his traveling companion, Stuart learned indirectly that Great Britain's plan of welding her West India possessions into a single colony was still a live issue. The boy, himself, remembering how easily he had been pumped by Dinville, was careful not to say a word about the purpose of his trip.
Thanks to Dinville's exact instructions, Stuart found the newspaper office without difficulty. The minute he stepped out of the elevator and on the floor, a driving expectancy possessed him. The disorderliness, the sense of tension, the combination of patient waiting and driving speed, the distant and yet perceptible smell of type metal and printers' ink, in short, the atmosphere of a newspaper, struck him with a sense of desire.
Although Stuart's instructions were to see the Managing Editor, the young fellow who came out to see what he wanted, brought him up to the City Editor's desk. The latter looked up quickly.
"Are you the boy Dinville cabled about?"
"Yes, sir," the boy answered. Here, though the City Editor was ten times more commanding a personality than the vice-consul, the boy felt more at ease.
"Ever do any reporting?"
"What's this story? Just the main facts!"
"Are you Mr. ——" the boy mentioned the name of the Managing Editor.
"I'll act for him," said the City Editor promptly.
Stuart's square chin went out.
"I came up to see him personally," he answered.
The City Editor knew men.
"That's the way to get an interview, my son," he said. "All right, I'll take you in to the Chief. If things don't go your way, come and see me before you go. I might try you on space, just to see how you shape. Dinville generally knows what he's talking about."
Stuart thanked him, and very gratefully, for he realized that the curt manner was merely that of an excessively busy man with a thousand things on his mind. A moment later, he found himself in the shut-in office of the Managing Editor.
"You are a youngster," he said with a cordial smile, emphasizing the verb, and shaking hands with the boy. "Well, that's the time to begin. Now, Lad, I've time enough to hear all that you've got to say that is important, and I haven't a second to listen to any frills. Tell everything that you think you have a right to tell and begin at the beginning."
During the voyage from Havana, Stuart had rehearsed this scene. He did not want to make the same mistake that he had made with the vice-consul, and he told his story as clearly as he could, bearing in mind the "Who," "What," "Why," "When" and "Where" of Dinville's advice.
The Managing Editor nodded approvingly.
"I think," he said reflectively, "you may develop the news sense. Of course, you've told a good deal of stuff which is quite immaterial, and, likely enough, some of the good bits you've left out. That's to be expected. It takes a great many years of training to make a first-class reporter.
"Now, let me see if I can guess a little nearer to the truth of this plot than you did.
"You say that the only three phrases you can be sure that you heard were 'Mole St. Nicholas,' 'naval base' and 'Panama.' That isn't much. Yet I think it is fairly clear, at that. The Mole St. Nicholas is a harbor in the north of Haiti which would make a wonderful naval base—in fact, there has already been some underground talk about it—and such a naval base would be mighty close to the Panama Canal. Suppose we start with the theory that this is what your conspirator chaps have in mind.
"Now, my boy, we have to find out some explanation for the meeting in so remote a place as the Citadel. Those three men wouldn't have gone to all that trouble and risked all that chance of being discovered and exposed unless there were some astonishingly important reasons. What can these be? Well, if we are right in thinking that a naval base is what these fellows are after, it is sure that they would need a hinterland of country behind it. The Mole St. Nicholas, as I remember, is at the end of a peninsula formed by a range of mountains, the key to which is La Ferriere. So, to make themselves safe, they would need to control both at the same time. Hence the necessity of knowing exactly the defensive position of the Citadel. How does that sound to you?"
"I'd never thought of it, sir," said Stuart, "but the way you put it, just must be right. I was an idiot not to think of it myself."
"Age and experience count for something, Youngster," said the Managing Editor, smiling. "Don't start off by thinking that you ought to know as much as trained men."
Stuart flushed at the rebuke, for he saw that it was just.
"Now," continued the Editor, pursuing his train of thought, "we have to consider the personalities of the conspirators. You'll find, Stuart, if you go into newspaper work, that one of the first things to do in any big story, is to estimate, as closely as you can, the character of the men or women who are acting in it. Newspaper work doesn't deal with cold facts, like science, but with humanity, and humans act in queer ways, sometimes. A good reporter has got to be a bit of a detective and a good deal of a psychologist. He's got to have an idea how the cat is going to jump, in order to catch him on the jump.
"Now, so far, we know that the conspirators are at least three in number. There may be more, but we know of three. One is a Haitian negro politician. One is a Cuban, who, from your description, seems to be a large-scale crook. One is an Englishman, and, in your judgment, he is of a different type from the other two. Yet the fact that he seems to possess an agent on the eastern shore of Cuba—which, don't forget, faces the Mole St. Nicholas—seems to suggest that he's deep in the plot."
He puffed his pipe for a moment or two, and then continued,
"Now, there are two powerful forces working underground in the West Indies. One is the Spanish and negro combination, which desires to shake off all the British, French and Dutch possessions, and to create a Creole Empire of the Islands. The other is an English plan, to weld all the British islands in the West Indies into a single Confederation and to buy as many of the smaller isles from France and Holland as may seem possible. Both are hostile to the extension of American power in the Gulf of Mexico. Possibly, some European power is back of this plot. A foreign naval base in the Mole St. Nicholas would be a menace to us, and one on which Washington would not look very kindly.
"So you see, Youngster, if such a thing as this were possible, it would be a big story, and one that ought to be followed up very closely."
"That's what Dinville seemed to think, sir," interposed the boy, "and I told him I didn't have the money."
"Nor have you the experience," added the Editor, dryly. "Money isn't any good, if you don't know how to use it."
He pondered for a moment.
"I can't buy the information from you," he said, "because, so far, the story isn't in shape to use, and I don't know when I will be able to use it. Yet I do want to have an option on the first scoop on the story. You know what a scoop is?"
"A 'scoop' or a 'beat' means that one paper gets hold of a big story before any other paper has it. It is like a journalistic triumph, if you like, and a paper which gets 'scoops,' by that very fact, shows itself more wide awake than its competitors.
"Now, see here, Stuart. Suppose I agree to pay you a thousand dollars for the exclusive rights to all that you find out about the story, at what time it is ready for publication, and that I agree to put that thousand dollars to your account for you to draw on for expenses. How about that?"
Stuart was taken aback. He fairly stuttered,
The Editor smiled at the boy's excited delight.
"Oh, yes, sir!"
There was no mistaking the enthusiasm of the response.
"Very good. Then, in addition to that, I'll pass the word that you're to be put on the list for correspondence stuff. I'm not playing any favorites, you understand! Whatever you send in will be used or thrown out, according to its merits. And you'll be paid at the regular space rates, six dollars a column. All I promise is that you shall have a look in."
"But that's—that's great!"
"It's just a chance to show what you can do. If there's any stuff in you at all, here is an opportunity for you to become a high-grade newspaper man."
"Then I'm really on the staff!" cried the boy, "I'm really and truly a journalist?"
The Managing Editor nodded.
"Yes, if you like the word," he said, "make good, and you'll be really and truly a journalist."
THE POISON TREES
For a couple of days, Stuart wandered about New York, partly sight-seeing and partly on assignments in company with some of the reporters of the paper. The City Editor wanted to determine whether the boy had any natural aptitude for newspaper work. So Stuart chased around one day with the man on the "police court run," another day he did "hotels" and scored by securing an interview with a noted visitor for whom the regular reporter had not time to wait. The boy was too young, of course, to be sent on any assignments by himself, but one of the older men took a fancy to the lad and took him along a couple of times, when on a big story.
Just a week later, on coming in to the office, Stuart was told that the Managing Editor wanted to see him. As this was the summons for which he had been waiting, Stuart obeyed with alacrity. The Managing Editor did not motion him to a a chair, as before, so the boy stood.
"First of all, Garfield——" and the boy noticed the use of the surname—"I want to tell you that your father is safe. We've been keeping the wires hot to Port-au-Prince and have found out that some one resembling the description you gave me of your father commandeered a sailing skiff at a small place near Jacamel and set off westward. Two days afterward, he landed at Guantanamo and registered at a hotel as 'James Garfield.' He stayed there two days and then took the train for Havana. So you don't need to worry over that, any more."
"Thank you, sir," answered the boy, relieved, "I'm mighty glad to know."
"Now," continued the Editor, "let us return to this question for which we brought you here. According to your story, you heard the conspirators say that their plans would be ready for fulfillment next spring."
"Yes, sir," the boy agreed, "Leborge said that."
"Good. Then there is no immediate need of pressing the case too closely. It will be better to let the plans mature a little. A mere plot doesn't mean much. News value comes in action. When something actually happens, then, knowing what lies behind it, the story becomes big.
"What we really want to find out is whether this plot—as it seems to be—is just a matter between two or three men, or if it is widely spread over all the islands of the West Indies. You're too young, as yet, for anything like regular newspaper work, but the fact that you're not much more than a youngster might be turned to advantage. No one would suspect that you were in quest of political information.
"So I'm going to suggest that you make a fairly complete tour of the islands, this fall and early winter, just as if you were idling around, apparently, but, at the same time, keeping your ears and your eyes open. In order to give color to your roamings, you can write us some articles on 'Social Life and the Color Line in the West Indies' as you happen to see it. First-hand impressions are always valuable, and, perhaps, the fact that you see them through a boy's eyes may give them a certain novelty and freshness. Of course, the articles will probably have to be rewritten in the office. By keeping a copy of the stuff you send, and comparing it with the way the articles appear in the paper, you'll get a fair training.
"We'll probably handle these in the Sunday Edition, and I'm going to turn you over to the Sunday Editor, to whom you'll report, in future."
He nodded pleasantly to the boy in token of dismissal.
"I wish you luck on your trip," he said, "and see that you send us in the right kind of stuff!"
Stuart thanked him heartily for his kindness, and went out, sorry that he was not going to deal with the Chief himself.
The Sunday Editor's office was a welter of confusion. As Stuart was to find out, in the years to come when he should really be a newspaper man, the Sunday Editor's job is a hard one. It is much sought, since it is day work rather than night work, but it is a wearing task. The Sunday Editor must have all the qualities of a magazine man and a newspaper man at the same time. He must also have the creative faculty.
In such departments of a modern newspaper as the City, Telegraph, Sporting, Financial, etc., the work of the reporters and editors is to chronicle and present the actual news. If nothing of vital interest has happened during the day, that is not their fault. Their work is done when the news is as well covered and as graphically told as possible.
There are no such limits in the Sunday Editor's office. He must create interest, provoke sensation, and build the various extra sections of the Sunday issue into a paper of such vital importance that every different kind of reader will find something to hold his attention. He has all the world to choose from, but he has also all the world to please. The work, too, must be done at high pressure, for the columns of a Sunday issue to be filled are scores in number, and the Sunday staff of any paper—even the biggest—is but small.
Fergus, the Sunday Editor, was a rollicking Irishman, with red hair and a tongue hung in the middle. He talked, as his ancestors fought, all in a hurry. He was a whirlwind for praise, but a tornado for blame. His organizing capacity was marvelous, and his men liked and respected him, for they knew well that he could write rings around any one of them, in a pinch. He began as the boy entered the door,
"Ye're Stuart Garfield, eh? Ye don't look more'n about a half-pint of a man. Does the Chief think I'm startin' a kindergarten? Not that I give a hang whether ye're two or eighty-two so long as ye can write. Ye'll go first to Barbados. Steamer sails tomorrow at eight in the morning. Here's your berth. Here's a note to the cashier. Letter of instructions following. Wait at the Crown Hotel, Bridgetown, till you get it. Don't write if ye haven't anything to say. Get a story across by every mail-boat. If ye send me rot, I'll skin ye. Good luck!"
And he turned to glance over his shoulder at a copy-boy who had come in with a handful of slips, proofs and the thousand matters of the editor's daily grind.
Stuart waited two or three minutes, expecting Fergus to continue, but the Sunday Editor seemed to have forgotten his existence.
"Well, then, good-by, Mr. Fergus," said the boy, hesitatingly.
"Oh, eh? Are ye there still? Sure. Good-by, boy, good-by an' good luck to ye!"
And plunged back into his work.
There seemed nothing else for Stuart to do but to go out of the office. In the hall outside, he paused and wondered. He held in his hand the two slips of paper that Fergus had given him, and he stared down at these with bewilderment. Fergus' volley of speech, had taken him clean off his balance.
There was no doubt about the reality of these two slips of paper. One was the ticket for his berth and the other had the figures "$250" scrawled across a printed form made out to the Cashier, and it was signed "Rick Fergus."
In his uncertainty what he ought to do, Stuart went into the City Room and hunted up his friend the reporter. To him he put the causes of his confusion. The old newspaper man smiled.
"That's Rick Fergus, all over," he said. "Good thing you didn't ask him any questions! He'd have taken your head off at one bite. He's right, after all. If a reporter's any good at all, he knows himself what to do. A New York paper isn't fooling around with amateurs, generally. But, under the circumstances, I think Rick might have told you something. Let's see. How about your passport?"
"I've got one," said Stuart, "I had to have one, coming up from Cuba."
"If you're going to Barbados, you'll have to have it viseed by the British Consul."
"But that will take a week, maybe, and I've got to sail tomorrow!"
"Is that all your trouble?"
He stepped to the telephone.
"Consulate? Yes? New York Planet speaking. One of our men's got to chase down to Barbados on a story. Sending him round this afternoon. Will you be so good as to vise him through? Ever so much obliged; thanks!"
He put up the receiver and turned to the boy.
"Easy as easy, you see," he said. "The name of a big paper like this one will take you anywhere, if you use it right. Now, let's see. You'll want to go and see the Cashier. Come on down, I'll introduce you."
A word or two at the Cashier's window, and the bills for $250 were shoved across to Stuart, who pocketed them nervously. He had never seen so much money before.
"Next," said the reporter, "you'd better get hold of some copy-paper, a bunch of letter-heads and envelopes. Also some Expense Account blanks. Stop in at one of these small printing shops and have some cards printed with your name and that of the paper—here, like mine!" And he pulled out a card from his card case and gave it to the boy for a model.
Stuart was doing his best to keep up with this rapid change in his fortunes, but, despite himself, his eyes looked a bit wild. His friend the reporter saw it, and tapped him on the back.
"You haven't got any time to lose," he said. "Oh, yes, there's another thing, too. Can you handle a typewriter?"
"No," answered the boy, "at least, I never tried."
"Then you take my tip and spend some of that $250 on a portable machine and learn to handle it, on the way down to Barbados. You'll have to send all your stuff typewritten, you know. Imagine Fergus getting a screed from a staff man in longhand!"
The reporter chuckled at the thought.
"Why, I believe the old red-head would take a trip down to the West Indies just to have a chance of saying what he thought. Or, if he couldn't go, he'd blow up, and we'd be out a mighty good Sunday Editor. No, son, you've got to learn to tickle a typewriter!"
They had not been wasting time during this talk, for the reporter had taken out of his own desk the paper, letter-heads, expense account blanks and the rest and handed them over to the boy, explaining that he could easily replenish his own supply.
"Now," he suggested, "make tracks for the consulate. Stop at a printer's on your way and order some cards. Then chase back and buy yourself a portable typewriter. And, if I were you, I'd start learning it, right tonight. Then, hey! Off for the West Indies again, eh?"
"But don't I go and say good-by to the City Editor, or the Managing Editor, or anyone?"
"What for? You've got your berth, you've got your money, you're going to get your passport, and you've got your assignment. Nothing more for you to do, Son, except to get down there and deliver the goods."
He led the way out of the office and to the elevator. On reaching the street, he turned to the boy.
"There's one thing," he said, "that may help you, seeing that you're new to the work. When you get down to Barbados, drop into the office of the biggest paper there. Chum up with the boys. They'll see that you're a youngster, and they'll help you all they can. You'll find newspaper men pretty clannish, the world over. Well, good-bye, Garfield, I won't be likely to see you again before you go. I've got that Traction Swindle to cover and there's going to be a night hearing."
The boy shook hands with real emotion.
"You've been mighty good to me," he said, "it's made all the difference to my stay in New York."
"Oh! That's all right!" came the hearty reply. "Well—good luck!"
He turned down the busy street and, in a moment, was lost in the crowd.
For a moment Stuart felt a twinge of loneliness, but the afternoon was short, and he had a great deal to do. It was only by hurrying that he was able to get done all the various things that had been suggested. Despite his rush, however, the boy took time to send a cable to his father, telling of his own safety, for he had no means of knowing whether or not his father might be worrying over him also. He worked until midnight learning the principles of the typewriter and, in a poky sort of way, trying to hammer out the guide sentences given him in the Instruction Book. Next day found him again at sea.
In contrast with the riotous vegetation of the jungles of Haiti and the tropical forests of Eastern Cuba, Stuart found the country around Bridgetown, the sole harbor of Barbados, surprisingly unattractive. The city itself was active and bustling, but dirty, dusty and mean. On the other hand, the suburbs, with villas occupied by the white residents, were remarkable for their marvelous gardens.
On the outskirts of the town, and all over the island, in rows or straggling clumps which seemed to have been dropped down anywhere, Stuart saw the closely clustered huts of the negroes. These were tiny huts of pewter-gray wood, raised from the ground on a few rough stones and covered by a roof of dark shingles. They were as simple as the houses a child draws on his slate—things of two rooms, with two windows and one door. The windows had sun shutters in place of glass and there were no chimneys, for the negro housewives do their cooking out of doors in the cool of the evening. The boy noticed that, by dark, all these windows and doors were closed tightly, for the Barbadian negro sleeps in an air-tight room. He does this, ostensibly, to keep out ten-inch-long centipedes, and bats, but, in reality, to keep out "jumbies" and ghosts, of which he is much more afraid.
The greater part of the island seemed, to the boy, utterly unlike any place he had seen in the tropics. Around Bridgetown, and over two-thirds of the island of Barbados, there is hardly a tree. The ground rises in slow undulations, marked, like a checker-board, with sugar-cane fields. No place could seem more lacking in opportunity for adventures, yet Stuart was to learn to the contrary before long.
Acting upon the advice given him by his friend the reporter, in New York, just before leaving, Stuart seized the first opportunity to make himself known to the newspaper men of Bridgetown. He was warmly received, even welcomed, and was amazed at the ready hospitality shown him. Moreover, when he stated that he was there to do some article on "Social Life and the Color Question" for the New York Planet, he found that he had struck a subject on which anyone and everyone he met was willing to talk—as the Managing Editor no doubt had anticipated when he suggested the series to the boy.
In one respect—as almost everyone he interviewed pointed out—Barbados differs from every other of the West India Islands. It is densely populated, so densely, indeed, that there is not a piece of land suitable for cultivation which is not employed. The great ambition of the Barbadian is to own land. The spirit of loyalty to the island is incredibly strong.
This dense population and intensive cultivation has made the struggle for existence keen in Barbados. A job is a prize. This has made the Barbadian negro a race apart, hardworking and frugal. Until the building of the Panama Canal, few negroes left their island home. With the help of his newspaper friends, Stuart was able to send to his paper a fairly well-written article on the Barbadian negro. The boy was wise enough to take advice from his new friends how best to write the screed.