RICHARD HARDING DAVIS
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS NEW YORK 1912
COPYRIGHT, 1909, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
"What does anything matter, when I know—that the end is near!" Frontispiece
"O-i-i-ga, you Moso! Get a move on! Pronto! If you don't I'll do that myself" 20
"I hear the call of the White Mice," said Peter de Peyster 30
Under the blow, the masked man staggered drunkenly 70
Shifting the reins to his left hand, Roddy let the other fall upon his revolver 114
"Now I know why I came to Venezuela!" 144
On such a night, Leander swam the Hellespont 198
Her fingers traced the sign of the cross 294
THE WHITE MICE
Once upon a time a lion dropped his paw upon a mouse.
"Please let me live!" begged the mouse, "and some day I will do as much for you."
"That is so funny," roared the king of beasts, "that we will release you. We had no idea mice had a sense of humor."
And then, as you remember, the lion was caught in the net of the hunter, and struggled, and fought, and struck blindly, until his spirit and strength were broken, and he lay helpless and dying.
And the mouse, happening to pass that way, gnawed and nibbled at the net, and gave the lion his life.
The morals are: that an appreciation of humor is a precious thing; that God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform, and that you never can tell.
In regard to this fable it is urged that, according to the doctrine of chances, it is extremely unlikely that at the very moment the lion lay bound and helpless the very same mouse should pass by. But the explanation is very simple and bromidic.
It is this—that this is a small world.
People who are stay-at-home bodies come to believe the whole world is the village in which they live. People who are rolling-stones claim that if you travel far enough and long enough the whole world becomes as one village; that sooner or later you make friends with every one in it; that the only difference between the stay-at-homes and the gadabouts is that while the former answer local telephone calls, the others receive picture postal-cards. There is a story that seems to illustrate how small this world is. In fact, this is the story.
* * * * *
General Don Miguel Rojas, who as a young man was called the Lion of Valencia, and who later had honorably served Venezuela as Minister of Foreign Affairs, as Secretary of War, as Minister to the Court of St. James and to the Republic of France, having reached the age of sixty found himself in a dungeon-cell underneath the fortress in the harbor of Porto Cabello. He had been there two years. The dungeon was dark and very damp, and at high-tide the waters of the harbor oozed through the pores of the limestone walls. The air was the air of a receiving-vault, and held the odor of a fisherman's creel.
General Rojas sat huddled upon a canvas cot, with a blanket about his throat and a blanket about his knees, reading by the light of a candle the story of Don Quixote. Sometimes a drop of water fell upon the candle and it sputtered, and its light was nearly lost in the darkness. Sometimes so many drops gathered upon the white head of the Lion of Valencia that he sputtered, too, and coughed so violently that, in agony, he beat with feeble hands upon his breast. And his light, also, nearly escaped into the darkness.
* * * * *
On the other side of the world, four young Americans, with legs crossed and without their shoes, sat on the mats of the tea-house of the Hundred and One Steps. On their sun-tanned faces was the glare of Yokohama Bay, in their eyes the light of youth, of intelligent interest, of adventure. In the hand of each was a tiny cup of acrid tea. Three of them were under thirty, and each wore the suit of silk pongee that in eighteen hours C. Tom, or Little Ah Sing, the Chinese King, fits to any figure, and which in the Far East is the badge of the tourist tribe. Of the three, one was Rodman Forrester. His father, besides being pointed out as the parent of "Roddy" Forrester, the one-time celebrated Yale pitcher, was himself not unfavorably known to many governments as a constructor of sky-scrapers, breakwaters, bridges, wharves and light-houses, which latter he planted on slippery rocks along inaccessible coast-lines. Among his fellow Captains of Industry he was known as the Forrester Construction Company, or, for short, the "F. C. C." Under that alias Mr. Forrester was now trying to sell to the Japanese three light-houses, to illuminate the Inner Sea between Kobe and Shimoneseki. To hasten the sale he had shipped "Roddy" straight from the machine-shops to Yokohama.
Three years before, when Roddy left Yale, his father ordered him abroad to improve his mind by travel, and to inspect certain light-houses and breakwaters on both shores of the English Channel. While crossing from Dover to Calais on his way to Paris, Roddy made a very superficial survey of the light-houses and reported that, so far as he could see by daylight, they still were on the job. His father, who had his own breezy sense of humor, cancelled Roddy's letter of credit, cabled him home, and put him to work in the machine-shop. There the manager reported that, except that he had shown himself a good "mixer," and had organized picnics for the benefit societies, and a base-ball team, he had not earned his fifteen dollars a week.
When Roddy was called before him, his father said:
"It is wrong that your rare talents as a 'mixer' should be wasted in front of a turning-lathe. Callahan tells me you can talk your way through boiler-plate, so I am going to give you a chance to talk the Japs into giving us a contract. But, remember this, Roddy," his father continued sententiously, "the Japs are the Jews of the present. Be polite, but don't appear too anxious. If you do, they will beat you down in the price."
Perhaps this parting injunction explains why, from the time Roddy first burst upon the Land of the Rising Sun, he had devoted himself entirely to the Yokohama tea-houses and the base-ball grounds of the American Naval Hospital. He was trying, he said, not to appear too anxious. He hoped father would be pleased.
With Roddy to Japan, as a companion, friend and fellow-tourist, came Peter de Peyster, who hailed from the banks of the Hudson, and of what Roddy called "one of our ancient poltroon families." At Yale, although he had been two classes in advance of Roddy, the two had been roommates, and such firm friends that they contradicted each other without ceasing. Having quarrelled through two years of college life, they were on terms of such perfect understanding as to be inseparable.
The third youth was the "Orchid Hunter." His father manufactured the beer that, so Roddy said, had made his home town bilious. He was not really an orchid hunter, but on his journeyings around the globe he had become so ashamed of telling people he had no other business than to spend his father's money that he had decided to say he was collecting orchids.
"It shows imagination," he explained, "and I have spent enough money on orchids on Fifth Avenue to make good."
The fourth youth in the group wore the uniform and insignia of a Lieutenant of the United States Navy. His name was Perry, and, looking down from the toy balcony of the tea-house, clinging like a bird's-nest to the face of the rock, they could see his battle-ship on the berth. It was Perry who had convoyed them to O Kin San and her delectable tea-house, and it was Perry who was talking shop.
"But the most important member of the ship's company on a submarine," said the sailor-man, "doesn't draw any pay at all, and he has no rating. He is a mouse."
"He's a what?" demanded the Orchid Hunter. He had been patriotically celebrating the arrival of the American Squadron. During tiffin, the sight of the white uniforms in the hotel dining-room had increased his patriotism; and after tiffin the departure of the Pacific Mail, carrying to the Golden Gate so many "good fellows," further aroused it. Until the night before, in the billiard-room, he had never met any of the good fellows; but the thought that he might never see them again now depressed him. And the tea he was drinking neither cheered nor inebriated. So when the Orchid Hunter spoke he showed a touch of temper.
"Don't talk sea slang to me," he commanded; "when you say he is a mouse, what do you mean by a mouse?"
"I mean a mouse," said the Lieutenant, "a white mouse with pink eyes. He bunks in the engine-room, and when he smells sulphuric gas escaping anywhere he squeals; and the chief finds the leak, and the ship isn't blown up. Sometimes, one little, white mouse will save the lives of a dozen bluejackets."
Roddy and Peter de Peyster nodded appreciatively.
"Mos' extr'd'n'ry!" said the Orchid Hunter. "Mos' sad, too. I will now drink to the mouse. The moral of the story is," he pointed out, "that everybody, no matter how impecunious, can help; even you fellows could help. So could I."
His voice rose in sudden excitement. "I will now," he cried, "organize the Society of the Order of the White Mice. The object of the society is to save everybody's life. Don't tell me," he objected scornfully, "that you fellows will let a little white mice save twelve hundred bluejackets, an' you sit there an' grin. You mus' all be a White Mice. You mus' all save somebody's life. An'—then—then we give ourself a dinner."
"And medals!" suggested Peter de Peyster.
The Orchid Hunter frowned. He regarded the amendment with suspicion.
"Is't th' intention of the Hon'ble Member from N'York," he asked, "that each of us gets a medal, or just th' one that does th' saving?"
"Just one," said Peter de Peyster.
"No, we all get 'em," protested Roddy. "Each time!"
"Th' 'men'ment to th' 'men'ment is carried," announced the Orchid Hunter. He untwisted his legs and clapped his hands. The paper walls slid apart, the little Nezans, giggling, bowing, ironing out their knees with open palms, came tripping and stumbling to obey.
"Take away the tea!" shouted the Orchid Hunter. "It makes me nervous. Bring us fizzy-water, in larges' size, cold, expensive bottles. And now, you fellows," proclaimed the Orchid Hunter, "I'm goin' into secret session and initiate you into Yokohama Chapter, Secret Order of White Mice. And—I will be Mos' Exalted Secret White Mouse."
When he returned to the ship Perry told the wardroom about it and laughed, and the wardroom laughed, and that night at the Grand Hotel, while the Japanese band played "Give My Regards to Broadway," which Peter de Peyster told them was the American national anthem, the White Mice gave their first annual dinner. For, as the Orchid Hunter pointed out, in order to save life, one must sustain it.
And Louis Eppinger himself designed that dinner, and the Paymaster, and Perry's brother-officers, who were honored guests, still speak of it with awe; and the next week's Box of Curios said of it editorially: "And while our little Yokohama police know much of ju-jitsu, they found that they had still something to learn of the short jab to the jaw and the quick getaway."
Indeed, throughout, it was a most successful dinner.
And just to show how small this world is, and that "God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform," at three o'clock that morning, when the dinner-party in rickshaws were rolling down the Bund, singing "We're Little White Mice Who Have Gone Astray," their voices carried across the Pacific, across the Cordilleras and the Caribbean Sea; and an old man in his cell, tossing and shivering with fever, smiled and sank to sleep; for in his dreams he had heard the scampering feet of the White Mice, and he had seen the gates of his prison-cell roll open.
* * * * *
The Forrester Construction Company did not get the contract to build the three light-houses. The Japanese preferred a light-house made by an English firm. They said it was cheaper. It was cheaper, because they bought the working plans from a draughtsman the English firm had discharged for drunkenness, and, by causing the revolving light to wink once instead of twice, dodged their own patent laws.
Mr. Forrester agreed with the English firm that the Japanese were "a wonderful little people," and then looked about for some one individual he could blame. Finding no one else, he blamed Roddy. The interview took place on the twenty-seventh story of the Forrester Building, in a room that overlooked the Brooklyn Bridge.
"You didn't fall down on the job," the fond parent was carefully explaining, "because you never were on the job. You didn't even start. It was thoughtful of you to bring back kimonos to mother and the girls. But the one you brought me does not entirely compensate me for the ninety thousand dollars you didn't bring back. I would like my friends to see me in a kimono with silk storks and purple wistarias down the front, but I feel I cannot afford to pay ninety thousand dollars for a bathrobe.
"Nor do I find," continued the irate parent coldly, "that the honor you did the company by disguising yourself as a stoker and helping the base-ball team of the Louisiana to win the pennant of the Asiatic Squadron, altogether reconciles us to the loss of a government contract. I have paid a good deal to have you taught mechanical engineering, and I should like to know how soon you expect to give me the interest on my money."
Roddy grinned sheepishly, and said he would begin at once, by taking his father out to lunch.
"Good!" said Forrester, Senior. "But before we go, Roddy, I want you to look over there to the Brooklyn side. Do you see pier number eleven—just south of the bridge? Yes? Then do you see a white steamer taking on supplies?"
Roddy, delighted at the change of subject, nodded.
"That ship," continued his father, "is sailing to Venezuela, where we have a concession from the government to build breakwaters and buoy the harbors and put up light-houses. We have been working there for two years and we've spent about two million dollars. And some day we hope to get our money. Sometimes," continued Mr. Forrester, "it is necessary to throw good money after bad. That is what we are doing in Venezuela."
"I don't understand," interrupted Roddy with polite interest.
"You are not expected to," said his father. "If you will kindly condescend to hold down the jobs I give you, you can safely leave the high finance of the company to your father."
"Quite so," said Roddy hastily. "Where shall we go to lunch?"
As though he had not heard him, Forrester, Senior, continued relentlessly: "To-morrow," he said, "you are sailing on that ship for Porto Cabello; we have just started a light-house at Porto Cabello, and are buoying the harbor. You are going for the F. C. C. You are an inspector."
Roddy groaned and sank into a chair.
"Go on," he commanded, "break it to me quick! What do I inspect?"
"You sit in the sun," said Mr. Forrester, "with a pencil, and every time our men empty a bag of cement into the ocean you make a mark. At the same time, if you are not an utter idiot and completely blind, you can't help but see how a light-house is set up. The company is having trouble in Venezuela, trouble in collecting its money. You might as well know that, because everybody in Venezuela will tell you so. But that's all you need to know. The other men working for the company down there will think, because you are my son, that you know more about what I'm doing in Venezuela than they do. Now, understand, you don't know anything, and I want you to say so. I want you to stick to your own job, and not mix up in anything that doesn't concern you. There will be nothing to distract you. McKildrick writes me that in Porto Cabello there are no tea-houses, no roads for automobiles, and, except for the fire-flies, all the white lights go out at nine o'clock.
"Now, Roddy," concluded Mr. Forrester warningly, "this is your chance, and it is the last chance for dinner in the dining-car, for you. If you fail the company, and by the company I mean myself, this time, you can ask Fred Sterry for a job on the waiters' nine at Palm Beach."
* * * * *
Like all the other great captains, Mr. Forrester succeeded through the work of his lieutenants. For him, in every part of the world, more especially in those parts of it in which the white man was but just feeling his way, they were at work.
In Siberia, in British East Africa, in Upper Burmah, engineers of the Forrester Construction Company had tamed, shackled and bridged great rivers. In the Soudan they had thrown up ramparts against the Nile. Along the coasts of South America they had cast the rays of the Forrester revolving light upon the face of the waters of both the South Atlantic and the Pacific.
They were of all ages, from the boys who had never before looked through a transit except across the college campus, to sun-tanned, fever-haunted veterans who, for many years, had fought Nature where she was most stubborn, petulant and cruel. They had seen a tidal-wave crumple up a breakwater which had cost them a half-year of labor, and slide it into the ocean. They had seen swollen rivers, drunk with the rains, trip bridges by the ankles and toss them on the banks, twisted and sprawling; they had seen a tropical hurricane overturn a half-finished light-house as gayly as a summer breeze upsets a rocking-chair; they had fought with wild beasts, they had fought with wild men, with Soudanese of the Desert, with Federated Sons of Labor, with Yaqui Indians, and they had seen cholera, sleeping-sickness and the white man's gin turn their compounds into pest-camps and crematories.
Of these things Mr. Forrester, in the twenty-seven-story Forrester sky-scraper, where gray-coated special policemen and elevator-starters touched their caps to him, had seen nothing. He regarded these misadventures by flood and field only as obstacles to his carrying out in the time stipulated a business contract. He accepted them patiently as he would a strike of the workmen on the apartment-house his firm was building on Fifty-ninth Street.
Sometimes, in order to better show the progress they were making, his engineers sent him from strange lands photographs of their work. At these, for a moment, he would glance curiously, at the pictures of naked, dark-skinned coolies in turbans, of elephants dragging iron girders, his iron girders; and perhaps he would wonder if the man in the muddy boots and the heavy sun hat was McKenzie. His interest went no further than that; his imagination was not stirred.
Sometimes McKenzie returned and, in evening dress, dined with him at his up-town club, or at a fashionable restaurant, where the senses of the engineer were stifled by the steam heat, the music and the scent of flowers; where, through a joyous mist of red candle-shades and golden champagne, he once more looked upon women of his own color. It was not under such conditions that Mr. Forrester could expect to know the real McKenzie. This was not the McKenzie who, two months before, was fighting death on a diet of fruit salts, and who, against the sun, wore a bath-towel down his spinal column. On such occasions Mr. Forrester wanted to know if, with native labor costing but a few yards of cotton and a bowl of rice, the new mechanical rivet-drivers were not an extravagance. How, he would ask, did salt water and a sweating temperature of one hundred and five degrees act upon the new anti-rust paint? That was what he wanted to know.
Once one of his young lieutenants, inspired by a marvellous dinner, called to him across the table: "You remember, sir, that light-house we put up in the Persian Gulf? The Consul at Aden told me, this last trip, that before that light was there the wrecks on the coast averaged fifteen a year and the deaths from drowning over a hundred. You will be glad to hear that since your light went up, three years ago, there have been only two wrecks and no deaths."
Mr. Forrester nodded gravely.
"I remember," he said. "That was the time we made the mistake of sending cement through the Canal instead of around the Cape, and the tolls cost us five thousand dollars."
It was not that Mr. Forrester weighed the loss of the five thousand dollars against a credit of lives saved. It was rather that he was not in the life-saving business. Like all his brother captains, he was, in a magnificent way, mechanically charitable. For institutions that did make it a business to save life he wrote large checks. But he never mixed charity and business. In what he was doing in the world he either was unable to see, or was not interested in seeing, what was human, dramatic, picturesque. When he forced himself to rest from his labor, his relaxation was the reading of novels of romance, of adventure—novels that told of strange places and strange peoples. Between the after-dinner hour and bedtime, or while his yacht picked her way up the Sound, these tales filled him with surprise. Often he would exclaim admiringly: "I don't see how these fellows think up such things."
He did not know that, in his own business, there were melodramas, romances which made those of the fiction-writers ridiculous.
And so, when young Sam Caldwell, the third vice-president, told Mr. Forrester that if the company hoped to obtain the money it had sunk in Venezuela it must finance a revolution, Mr. Forrester, without question, consented to the expense, and put it down under "Political." Had Sam Caldwell shown him that what was needed was a construction-raft or a half-dozen giant steam-shovels, he would have furnished the money as readily and with as little curiosity.
Sam Caldwell, the third vice-president, was a very smart young man. Every one, even men much older than he, said as much, and no one was more sure of it than was Sam Caldwell himself. His vanity on that point was, indeed, his most prepossessing human quality.
He was very proud of his freedom from those weak scruples that prevented rival business men from underbidding the F. C. C. He congratulated himself on the fact that at thirty-four he was much more of a cynic than men of sixty. He held no illusions, and he rejoiced in a sense of superiority over those of his own class in college, who, in matters of business, were still hampered by old-time traditions.
If in any foreign country the work of the F. C. C. was halted by politicians, it was always Sam Caldwell who was sent across the sea to confer with them. He could quote you the market-price on a Russian grand-duke, or a Portuguese colonial governor, as accurately as he could that of a Tammany sachem. His was the non-publicity department. People who did not like him called him Mr. Forrester's jackal. When the lawyers of the company had studied how they could evade the law on corporations, and had shown how the officers of the F. C. C. could do a certain thing and still keep out of jail, Sam Caldwell was the man who did that thing.
He had been to Venezuela "to look over the ground," and he had reported that President Alvarez must go, and that some one who would be friendly to the F. C. C. must be put in his place. That was all Mr. Forrester knew, or cared to know. With the delay in Venezuela he was impatient. He wanted to close up that business and move his fleet of tenders, dredges and rafts to another coast. So, as was the official routine, he turned over the matter to Sam Caldwell, to settle it in Sam Caldwell's own way.
Two weeks after his talk with his father, Roddy, ignorant of Mr. Caldwell's intentions, was in Venezuela, sitting on the edge of a construction-raft, dangling his rubber boots in the ocean, and watching a steel skeleton creep up from a coral reef into a blazing, burning sky. At intervals he would wake to remove his cigarette, and shout fiercely: "O-i-i-ga, you Moso! Get a move on! Pronto! If you don't I'll do that myself."
Every ten minutes El Senor Roddy had made the same threat, and the workmen, once hopeful that he would carry it into effect, had grown despondent.
* * * * *
In the mind of Peter de Peyster there was no doubt that, unless something was done, and at once, the Order of the White Mice would cease to exist. The call of Gain, of Duty, of Pleasure had scattered the charter members to distant corners of the world. Their dues were unpaid, the pages of the Golden Book of Record were blank. Without the necessary quorum of two there could be no meetings, without meetings there could be no dinners, and, incidentally, over all the world people continued to die, and the White Mice were doing nothing to prevent it. Peter de Peyster, mindful of his oath, of his duty as the Most Secret Secretary and High Historian of the Order, shot arrows in the air in the form of irate postal-cards. He charged all White Mice to instantly report to the Historian the names of those persons whom, up to date, they had saved from death.
From the battle-ship Louisiana, Perry wrote briefly:
"Beg to report during gale off Finisterre, went to rescue of man overboard. Man overboard proved to be Reagan, gunner's mate, first class, holding long-distance championship for swimming and two medals for saving life. After I sank the third time, Reagan got me by the hair and towed me to the ship. Who gets the assist?"
From Raffles' Hotel, Singapore, the Orchid Hunter cabled:
"Have saved own valuable life by refusing any longer to drink Father's beer. Give everybody medal."
From Porto Cabello, Venezuela, Roddy wrote:
"I have saved lives of fifty Jamaica coolies daily by not carrying an axe. If you want to save my life from suicide, sunstroke and sleeping-sickness—which attacks me with special virulence immediately after lunch—come by next steamer."
A week later, Peter de Peyster took the Red D boat south, and after touching at Porto Rico and at the Island of Curacao, swept into Porto Cabello and into the arms of his friend.
On the wharf, after the shouts of welcome had died away, Roddy inquired anxiously: "As you made the harbor, Peter, did you notice any red and black buoys? Those are my buoys. I put them there—myself. And I laid out that entire channel you came in by, all by myself, too!"
Much time had passed since the two friends had been able to insult each other face to face.
"Roddy," coldly declared Peter, "if I thought you had charted that channel I'd go home on foot, by land."
"Do you mean you think I can't plant deep-sea buoys?" demanded Roddy.
"You can't plant potatoes!" said Peter. "If you had to set up lamp-posts, with the street names on them, along Broadway, you would put the ones marked Union Square in Columbus Circle."
"I want you to know," shouted Roddy, "that my buoys are the talk of this port. These people are just crazy about my buoys—especially the red buoys. If you didn't come to Venezuela to see my buoys, why did you come? I will plant a buoy for you to-morrow!" challenged Roddy. "I will show you!"
"You will have to show me," said Peter.
* * * * *
Peter had been a week in Porto Cabello, and, in keeping Roddy at work, had immensely enjoyed himself. Each morning, in the company's gasoline launch, the two friends went put-put-putting outside the harbor, where Roddy made soundings for his buoys, and Peter lolled in the stern and fished. His special pleasure was in trying to haul man-eating sharks into the launch at the moment Roddy was leaning over the gunwale, taking a sounding.
One evening at sunset, on their return trip, as they were under the shadow of the fortress, the engine of the launch broke down. While the black man from Trinidad was diagnosing the trouble, Peter was endeavoring to interest Roddy in the quaint little Dutch Island of Curacao that lay one hundred miles to the east of them. He chose to talk of Curacao because the ship that carried him from the States had touched there, while the ship that brought Roddy south had not. This fact irritated Roddy, so Peter naturally selected the moment when the launch had broken down and Roddy was both hungry and peevish to talk of Curacao.
"Think of your never having seen Curacao!" he sighed. "Some day you certainly must visit it. With a sea as flat as this is to-night you could make the run in the launch in twelve hours. It is a place you should see."
"That is so like you," exclaimed Roddy indignantly. "I have been here four months, and you have been here a week, and you try to tell me about Curacao! It is the place where curacao and revolutionists come from. All the exiles from Venezuela wait over there until there is a revolution over here, and then they come across. You can't tell me anything about Curacao. I don't have to go to a place to know about it."
"I'll bet," challenged Peter, "you don't know about the mother and the two daughters who were exiled from Venezuela and live in Curacao, and who look over here every night at sunset?"
Roddy laughed scornfully. "Why, that is the first thing they tell you," he cried; "the purser points them out from the ship, and tells you——"
"Tells you, yes," cried Peter triumphantly, "but I saw them. As we left the harbor they were standing on the cliff—three women in white—looking toward Venezuela. They told me the father of the two girls is in prison here. He was——"
"Told you, yes," mimicked Roddy, "told you he was in prison. I have seen him in prison. There is the prison."
Roddy pointed at the flat, yellow fortress that rose above them. Behind the tiny promontory on which the fortress crouched was the town, separated from it by a stretch of water so narrow that a golf-player, using the quay of the custom-house for a tee, could have driven a ball against the prison wall.
Daily, from the town, Peter had looked across the narrow harbor toward the level stretch of limestone rock that led to the prison gates, and had seen the petty criminals, in chains, splash through the pools left by the falling tide, had watched each pick up a cask of fresh water, and, guarded by the barefooted, red-capped soldiers, drag his chains back to the prison. Now, only the boat's-length from them, he saw the sheer face of the fortress, where it slipped to depths unknown into the sea. It impressed him most unpleasantly. It had the look less of a fortress than of a neglected tomb. Its front was broken by wind and waves, its surface, blotched and mildewed, white with crusted salt, hideous with an eruption of dead barnacles. As each wave lifted and retreated, leaving the porous wall dripping like a sponge, it disturbed countless crabs, rock scorpions and creeping, leech-like things that ran blindly into the holes in the limestone; and, at the water-line, the sea-weed, licking hungrily at the wall, rose and fell, the great arms twisting and coiling like the tentacles of many devilfish.
Distaste at what he saw, or the fever that at sunset drives wise Venezuelans behind closed shutters, caused Peter to shiver slightly.
For some moments, with grave faces and in silence, the two young men sat motionless, the mind of each trying to conceive what life must be behind those rusted bars and moss-grown walls.
"Somewhere, buried in there," said Roddy, "is General Rojas, the Lion of Valencia, a man," he added sententiously, "beloved by the people. He has held all the cabinet positions, and been ambassador in Europe, and Alvarez is more afraid of him than of any other man in Venezuela. And why? For the simple reason that he is good. When the people found out what a blackguard Alvarez is they begged Rojas to run for President against him, and Rojas promised that if, at the next election, the people still desired it, he would do as they wished. That night Alvarez hauled him out of bed and put him in there. He has been there two years. There are healthy prisons, but Alvarez put Rojas in this one, hoping it would kill him. He is afraid to murder him openly, because the people love him. When I first came here I went through the fortress with Vicenti, the prison doctor, on a sort of Seeing-Porto-Cabello trip. He pointed out Rojas to me through the bars, same as you would point out a monument to a dead man. Rojas was sitting at a table, writing, wrapped in a shawl. The cell was lit by a candle, and I give you my word, although it was blazing hot outside, the place was as damp as a refrigerator. When we raised our lanterns he stood up, and I got a good look at him. He is a thin, frail little man with white hair and big, sad eyes, with a terribly lonely look in them. At least I thought so; and I felt so ashamed at staring at him that I bowed and salaamed to him through the bars, and he gave me the most splendid bow, just as though he were still an ambassador and I a visiting prince. The doctor had studied medicine in New York, so probably he talked to me a little more freely than he should. He says he warned the commandant of the fortress that unless Rojas is moved to the upper tier of cells, above the water-line, he will die in six months. And the commandant told him not to meddle in affairs of state, that his orders from the President were that Rojas 'must never again feel the heat of the sun.'"
Peter de Peyster exclaimed profanely. "Are there no men in this country?" he growled. "Why don't his friends get him out?"
"They'd have to get themselves out first," explained Roddy. "Alvarez made a clean sweep of it, even of his wife and his two daughters, the women you saw. He exiled them, and they went to Curacao. They have plenty of money, and they could have lived in Paris or London. He has been minister in both places, and has many friends over there, but even though they cannot see him or communicate with him, they settled down in Curacao so that they might be near him.
"The night his wife was ordered out of the country she was allowed to say good-by to him in the fortress, and there she arranged that every night at sunset she and her daughters would look toward Port Cabello, and he would look toward Curacao. The women bought a villa on the cliff, to the left of the harbor of Willemstad as you enter, and the people, the Dutch and the Spaniards and negroes, all know the story, and when they see the three women on the cliff at sunset it is like the Angelus ringing, and, they say, the people pray that the women may see him again."
For a long time Peter de Peyster sat scowling at the prison, and Roddy did not speak, for it is not possible to room with another man through two years of college life and not know something of his moods.
Then Peter leaned toward Roddy and stared into his face. His voice carried the suggestion of a challenge.
"I hear something!" he whispered.
Whether his friend spoke in metaphor or stated a fact, Roddy could not determine. He looked at him questioningly, and raised his head to listen. Save for the whisper of the waves against the base of the fortress, there was no sound.
"What?" asked Roddy.
"I hear the call of the White Mice," said Peter de Peyster.
There was a long silence. Then Roddy laughed softly, his eyes half closed; the muscles around the lower jaw drew tight.
Often before Peter had seen the look in his face, notably on a memorable afternoon when Roddy went to the bat, with three men on base, two runs needed to win the championship and twenty thousand shrieking people trying to break his nerve.
"I will go as far as you like," said Roddy.
* * * * *
Porto Cabello is laid out within the four boundaries of a square. The boundary on the east and the boundary on the north of the square meet at a point that juts into the harbor. The wharves and the custom-house, looking toward the promontory on which stands the fortress prison, form the eastern side of the square, and along the northern edge are the Aquatic Club, with its veranda over the water, the hotel, with its bath-rooms underneath the water, and farther along the harbor front houses set in gardens. As his work was in the harbor, Roddy had rented one of these houses. It was discreetly hidden by mango-trees and palmetto, and in the rear of the garden, steps cut in the living rock led down into the water. In a semicircle beyond these steps was a fence of bamboo stout enough to protect a bather from the harbor sharks and to serve as a breakwater for the launch.
"When I rented this house," said Roddy, "I thought I took it because I could eat mangoes while I was in bathing and up to my ears in water, which is the only way you can eat a mango and keep your self-respect. But I see now that Providence sent me here because we can steal away in the launch without any one knowing it."
"If you can move that launch its own length without the whole town knowing it," commented Peter, "you will have to chloroform it. It barks like a machine gun."
"My idea was," explained Roddy, "that we would row to the fortress. After we get the General on board, the more it sounds like a machine gun the better."
Since their return in the launch, and during dinner, which had been served in the tiny patio under the stars, the White Mice had been discussing ways and means. A hundred plans had been proposed, criticised, rejected; but by one in the morning, when the candles were guttering in the harbor breeze and the Scotch whiskey had shrunk several inches, the conspirators found themselves agreed. They had decided they could do nothing until they knew in which cell the General was imprisoned, and especially the position of his window in that cell that looked out upon the harbor; that, with the aid of the launch, the rescue must be made from the water, and that the rescuers must work from the outside. To get at Rojas from the inside it would be necessary to take into their confidence some one of the prison officials, and there was no one they dared to trust. Had it been a question of money, Roddy pointed out, the friends of Rojas would already have set him free. That they had failed to do so proved, not that the prison officials were incorruptible, but that their fear of the wrath of Alvarez was greater than their cupidity.
"There are several reasons why we should not attempt to bribe any one," said Roddy, "and the best one is the same reason the man gave for not playing poker. To-morrow I will introduce you to Vicenti, the prison doctor, and we'll ask him to take us over the prison, and count the cells, and try to mark the one in which we see Rojas. Perhaps we'd better have the doctor in to dinner. He likes to tell you what a devil of a fellow he was in New York, and you must pretend to believe he was. We might also have the captain of the port, and get him to give us permission to take the launch out at night. This port is still under martial law, and after the sunset gun no boat may move about the harbor. Then we must have some harpoons made and get out that headlight, and spear eels."
"You couldn't spear an eel," objected Peter, "and if you could I wouldn't eat it."
"You don't have to eat it!" explained Roddy; "the eels are only an excuse. We want to get the sentries used to seeing us flashing around the harbor at night. If we went out there without some excuse, and without permission, exploding like a barrel of fire-crackers, they'd sink us. So we must say we are out spearing eels."
The next morning Roddy showed a blacksmith how to hammer out tridents for spearing eels, and that night those people who lived along the harbor front were kept awake by quick-fire explosions, and the glare in their windows of a shifting search-light. But at the end of the week the launch of the Gringos, as it darted noisily in and out of the harbor, and carelessly flashed its search-light on the walls of the fortress, came to be regarded less as a nuisance than a blessing. For with noble self-sacrifice the harbor eels lent themselves to the deception. By hundreds they swarmed in front of the dazzling headlight; by dozens they impaled themselves upon the tines of the pitchforks. So expert did Roddy and Peter become in harpooning, that soon they were able each morning to send to the captain of the port, to the commandant, to the prison doctor, to every citizen who objected to having his sleep punctuated, a basket of eels. It was noticed that at intervals the engine of the launch would not act properly, and the gringos were seen propelling the boat with oars. Also, the light often went out, leaving them in darkness. They spoke freely of these accidents with bitter annoyance, and people sympathized with them.
One night, when they were seated plotting in the patio, Roddy was overwhelmed with sudden misgivings.
"Wouldn't it be awful," he cried, "if, after we have cut the bars and shown him the rope ladder and the launch, he refuses to come with us!"
"Is that all that's worrying you?" asked Peter.
"How is he to know?" persisted Roddy, "that we are not paid by Alvarez, that we aren't leading him on to escape so that the sentries can have an excuse to shoot him. That has been done before. It is an old trick, like killing a man in his cell and giving out that he committed suicide. The first thing Rojas will ask us is, who sends us, and where are our credentials."
"I guess he will take his chance," said Peter. "He'll see we are not Venezuelans."
"That is the very thing that will make him refuse," protested Roddy. "Why should he trust himself to strangers—to gringos? No, I tell you, we can't go on without credentials." He lowered his voice and glanced suspiciously into the dark corners of the patio. "And the only people who can give them to us," he added, tapping impressively upon the table, "live in Curacao."
With sudden enthusiasm Peter de Peyster sat upright.
"I am on in that scene," he protested.
"I thought of it first," said Roddy.
"We will toss," compromised Peter. "The head of Bolivar, you go. The arms of Venezuela, I go, and you stay here and catch eels."
The silver peso rang upon the table, and Roddy exclaimed jubilantly:
"Heads! I go!" he cried. But the effort of Peter to show he was not disappointed was so unconvincing that Roddy instantly relented.
"We had better both go!" he amended. "Your headwork is better than mine, so you come, too. And if you give me the right signals, I'll try to put the ball where you can reach it."
As though in his eagerness he would set forth on the instant, Roddy sprang to his feet and stood smiling down at Peter, his face lit with pleasurable excitement. Then suddenly his expression grew thoughtful.
"Peter," he inquired, "how old do you think the daughters are?"
The next day Roddy and Peter sailed for Willemstad, the chief port and the capital of the tiny island colony of Holland. In twelve hours they had made their land-fall and were entering the harbor mouth. The sun was just rising, and as its rays touched the cliff from which, twelve hours later, Senora Rojas and her daughters would look toward Porto Cabello, they felt a thrill of possible adventure.
Roddy knew that, as a refuge for revolutionists exiled from Venezuela, Willemstad was policed with secret agents of Alvarez, and he knew that were these spies to learn that during his visit either he or Peter had called upon the family of Rojas they would be reported to Caracas as "suspect," and the chance of their saving the Lion of Valencia would be at an end. So it became them to be careful.
Before leaving Porto Cabello Roddy had told McKildrick, the foreman of the Construction Company's work there, that some boxes of new machinery and supplies for his launch had gone astray and that he wished permission to cross to Curacao to look them up. McKildrick believed the missing boxes were only an excuse for a holiday, but he was not anxious to assert his authority over the son and heir of the F. C. C., and so gave Roddy his leave of absence. And at the wharf at Porto Cabello, while waiting for the ship to weigh anchor, Roddy had complained to the custom-house officials at having to cross to Curacao. He gave them the same reason for the trip, and said it was most annoying.
In order to be consistent, when, on landing at Willemstad, three soiled individuals approached Roddy and introduced themselves as guides, he told them the same story. He was looking for boxes of machinery invoiced for Porto Cabello; he feared they had been carried on to La Guayra or dropped at Willemstad. Could they direct him to the office of the steamship line and to the American Consul? One of the soiled persons led him across the quay to the office of the agent, and while Roddy repeated his complaint, listened so eagerly that to both Peter and Roddy it was quite evident the business of the guide was not to disclose Curacao to strangers, but to learn what brought strangers to Curacao. The agent was only too delighted to serve the son of one who in money meant so much to the line. For an hour he searched his books, his warehouse and the quays. But, naturally, the search was unsuccessful, and with most genuine apologies Roddy left him, saying that at the office of the American Consul he would continue his search for the lost boxes.
Meanwhile, Peter, in his character of tourist, engaged rooms for them at the Hotel Commercial, and started off alone to explore the town.
At the Consulate, the soiled person listened to the beginning of Roddy's speech, and then, apparently satisfied he had learned all that was necessary, retreated to the outer office.
The Consul promptly rose and closed the door.
The representative of the United States was an elderly man, of unusual height, with searching, honest blue eyes under white eyebrows. His hair was white, his beard, worn long, was white, and his clothes were of white duck.
His name was Sylvanus Cobb Codman, with the added title of captain, which he had earned when, as a younger man, he had been owner and master of one of the finest whalers that ever cleared the harbor of New Bedford. During his cruises he had found the life of the West Indies much to his liking, and when, at the age of fifty, he ceased to follow the sea, he had asked for an appointment as consul to Porto Cabello. Since then, except when at home on leave at Fairhaven, he had lived in the Spanish Americas, and at many ports had served the State Department faithfully and well. In spite of his age, Captain Codman gave a pleasant impression of strength and nervous energy. Roddy felt that the mind and body of the man were as clean as his clothes, and that the Consul was one who could be trusted.
As Captain Codman seated himself behind his desk he was frowning.
"You must look out for that guide," he said. "He is from Caracas. He is an agent of Alvarez. It just shows," he went on impatiently, "what little sense these spies have, that he didn't recognize your name. The Forrester Construction Company is certainly well enough known. That the son of your father should be spied on is ridiculous."
"Then, again," said Roddy mysteriously, "maybe it isn't. I haven't got such a clean bill of health. That's why I came to you." With an air which he considered was becoming in a conspirator, he lowered his voice. "May I ask, sir," he said, "if you are acquainted with Senora Rojas, who is in exile here?"
The blue eyes of the Consul opened slightly, but he answered with directness, "I am. I have that honor."
"And with her daughters?" added Roddy anxiously.
With dignity the Consul inclined his head.
"I want very much to meet them—her," corrected Roddy. "I am going to set her husband free!"
For a moment, as though considering whether he were not confronted by a madman, the Consul regarded Roddy with an expression of concern. Then, in the deprecatory tone of one who believes he has not heard aright, he asked, "You are going to do—what?"
"I am going to help General Rojas to escape," Roddy went on briskly—"myself and another fellow. But we are afraid he won't trust himself to us, so I am over here to get credentials from his wife. But, you see, I have first got to get credentials to her. So I came to ask you if you'd sort of vouch for me, tell her who I am—and all that."
The Consul was staring at him so strangely that Roddy believed he had not made himself fully understood.
"You know what I mean," he explained. "Credentials, something he will know came from her—a ring or a piece of paper saying, 'These are friends. Go with them.' Or a lock of her hair, or—or—you know," urged Roddy in embarrassment—"credentials."
"Are you jesting?" asked the older man coldly.
Roddy felt genuinely uncomfortable. He was conscious he was blushing. "Certainly not," he protested. "It is serious enough, isn't it?"
The voice of the Consul dropped to a whisper.
"Who sent you here?" he demanded. Without waiting for an answer he suddenly rose. Moving with surprising lightness to the door, he jerked it open. But if by this manoeuvre he expected to precipitate the spy into the room, he was disappointed, for the outer office was empty. The Consul crossed it quickly to the window. He saw the spy disappearing into a neighboring wine-shop.
When Captain Codman again entered the inner office he did not return to his seat, but, after closing the door, as though to shut Roddy from the only means of escape, he stood with his back against it. He was very much excited.
"Mr. Forrester," he began angrily, "I don't know who is back of you, and," he cried violently, "I don't mean to know. I have been American Consul in these Central American countries for fifteen years, and I have never mixed myself up with what doesn't concern me. I represent the United States government. I don't represent anything else. I am not down here to assist any corporation, no matter how rich, any junta, any revolutionary party——"
"Here! Wait!" cried Roddy anxiously. "You don't understand! I am not a revolution. There is only me and Peter."
"What is that?" snapped the Consul savagely. The exclamation was like the crack of a flapping jib.
"You see, it's this way," began Roddy. He started to explain elaborately. "Peter and I belong to the Secret Order——"
"Stop!" thundered the Consul. "I tell you I won't listen to you!"
The rebuff was most embarrassing. Ignorant as to how he had offended the Consul, and uncertain as to whether the Consul had not offended him, Roddy helplessly rubbed his handkerchief over his perplexed and perspiring countenance. He wondered if, as a conspirator, he had not been lacking in finesse, if he had not been too communicative.
In the corner of the room, in a tin cage, a great green parrot, with its head cocked on one side, had been regarding Roddy with mocking, malevolent eyes. Now, to further add to his discomfiture, it suddenly emitted a chuckle, human and contemptuous. As though choking with hidden laughter, the bird gurgled feebly, "Polly, Polly." And then, in a tone of stern disapproval, added briskly, "You talk too much!" At this flank attack Roddy flushed indignantly. He began to wish he had brought Peter with him, to give him the proper signals.
With his hands clinched behind him, and tossing his white beard from side to side, the Consul paced the room.
"So that is it!" he muttered. "That is why he left Paris. That explains the Restaurador. Of course," he added indignantly as he passed Roddy, throwing the words at him over his shoulder, "that is where the money came from!"
Roddy, now thoroughly exasperated, protested warmly: "Look here," he cried, "if you aren't careful you'll tell me something you don't want me to know."
The Consul came to an instant pause. From his great height he stood staring at his visitor, the placid depths of his blue eyes glowering with doubt and excitement.
"I give you my word," continued Roddy sulkily, "I don't know what you are talking about."
"Do you mean to tell me," demanded the old man truculently, "that you are not Mr. Forrester's son?"
"Certainly I am his son," cried Roddy.
"Then," returned the Consul, "perhaps you will deny he is suing Alvarez for two million dollars gold, you will deny that he might get it if Alvarez were thrown out, you will deny that a—a certain person might ratify the concession, and pay your father for the harbor improvements he has already made? You see!" exclaimed the Consul triumphantly. "And these missing boxes!" he cried as though following up an advantage, "shall I tell you what is in them?" He lowered his voice. "Cartridges and rifles! Do you deny it?"
Roddy found that at last he was on firm ground.
"Of course I deny it," he answered, "because there are no boxes. They're only an invention of mine to get me to Curacao. Now, you let me talk."
The Consul retreated behind his desk, and as Roddy spoke regarded him sternly and with open suspicion. In concluding his story Roddy said: "We have no other object in saving General Rojas than that he's an old man, that he's dying, and that Peter and I can't sleep of nights for thinking of him lying in a damp cell, not three hundred yards from us, coughing himself to death."
At the words the eyes of the Consul closed quickly; he pressed his great, tanned, freckled fingers nervously against his lip. But instantly the stern look of the cross-examiner returned. "Go on," he commanded.
"If we have cut in on some one's private wire," continued Roddy, "it's an accident; and when you talk about father recovering two million dollars you are telling me things I don't know. Father is not a chatty person. He has often said to me that the only safe time to talk of what you are doing, or are going to do, is when you have done it. So, if the Venezuelan government owes the Forrester Construction Company two millions and father's making a fight for it, I am probably the last person in the world he would talk to about it. All I know is that he pays me twenty dollars a week to plant buoys. But out of working hours I can do as I please, and my friend and I please to get General Rojas out of prison." Roddy rose, smiling pleasantly. "So, if you won't introduce me to Senora Rojas," he concluded, "I guess I will have to introduce myself."
With an angry gesture the Consul motioned him to be seated. From his manner it was evident that Captain Codman was uncertain whether Roddy was or was not to be believed, that, in his perplexity, he was fearful of saying too much or too little.
"Either," the old man exclaimed angrily, "you are a very clever young man, or you are extremely ignorant. Either," he went on with increasing indignation, "they have sent you here to test me, or you know nothing, and you are blundering in where other men are doing work. If you know nothing you are going to upset the plans of those men. In any case I will have nothing further to do with you. I wash my hands of you. Good-morning."
Then, as though excusing himself, he added sharply, "Besides, you talk too much."
Roddy, deeply hurt, answered with equal asperity:
"That is what your parrot thinks. Maybe you are both wrong."
When Roddy had reached the top of the stairs leading to the street, and was on the point of disappearing, the Consul called sharply to him and followed into the hall.
"Before you go," the old man whispered earnestly, "I want you clearly to understand my position toward the Rojas family. When I was Consul in Porto Cabello, General Rojas became the best friend I had. Since I have been stationed here it has been my privilege to be of service to his wife. His daughters treat me as kindly as though I were their own grandfather. No man on earth could wish General Rojas free as much as I wish it." The voice of Captain Codman trembled. For an instant his face, as though swept with sudden pain, twisted in strange lines. "No one," he protested, "could wish to serve him as I do, but I warn you if you go on with this you will land in prison yourself, and you will bring General Rojas to his death. Take my advice—and go back to Porto Cabello, and keep out of politics. Or, what is better—go home. You are too young to understand the Venezuelans, and, if you stay here, you are going to make trouble for many people. For your father, and for—for many people."
As though with the hope of finally dissuading Roddy, he added ominously, "And these Venezuelans have a nasty trick of sticking a knife——"
"Oh, you go to the devil!" retorted Roddy.
As he ran down the dark stairs and out into the glaring street he heard faintly the voice of the parrot pursuing him, with mocking and triumphant jeers.
The Consul returned slowly to his office, and, sinking into his chair, buried his face in his great, knotty hands and bent his head upon the table. A ray of sunshine, filtering through the heavy Venetian blinds, touched the white hair and turned it into silver.
For a short space, save for the scratching of the parrot at the tin bars of his cage, and the steady drip, drip of the water-jar, there was no sound; then the voice of the sea-captain, as many times before it had been raised in thanksgiving in the meeting-house in Fairhaven, and from the deck of his ship as she drifted under the Southern Cross, was lifted in entreaty. The blue eyes, as the old man raised them, were wet; his bronzed fists fiercely interlocked.
"Oh, Thou," he prayed, "who walked beside me on the waters, make clear to me what I am to do. I am old, but I pray Thee to let me live to see Thine enemies perish, to see those who love Thee reunited once more, happy, at home. If, in Thy wisdom, even as Thou sent forth David against Goliath, Thou hast sent this child against Thine enemies, make that clear to me. His speech is foolish, but his heart seems filled with pity. What he would do, I would do. But the way is very dark. If I serve this boy, may I serve Thee? Teach me!"
Outside the Consulate, Roddy found his convoy, the guide, waiting for him, and, to allay the suspicion of that person, gave him a cable to put on the wire for McKildrick. It read: "No trace of freight; it may come next steamer; will wait."
He returned to the agent of the line and told him he now believed the freight had been left behind in New York and that he would remain in Willemstad until the arrival of the next steamer, which was due in three days.
At the hotel he found Peter anxiously awaiting him. Having locked themselves in the room the two conspirators sat down to talk things over. From what had escaped the Consul, Roddy pointed out certain facts that seemed evident: Alvarez had not paid the Forrester Construction Company, or, in a word, his father, for the work already completed in the last two years. His father, in order to obtain his money, was interested in some scheme to get rid of Alvarez and in his place put some one who would abide by the terms of the original concession. This some one might be Rojas, and then, again, might not. As Peter suggested, the Construction Company might prefer to back a candidate for president, who, while he might not be so welcome to the Venezuelans, would be more amenable to the wishes of the F. C. C. It also would probably prefer to assist a man younger than Rojas, one more easily controlled, perhaps one less scrupulously honest. It also seemed likely that if, by revolution, the men of the Construction Company intended to put in the field a candidate of their own, they would choose one with whom they could consult daily, not one who, while he might once have been a popular idol, had for the last two years been buried from the sight of man, and with whom it now was impossible to communicate.
The longer they discussed the matter the more sure they became that Rojas could not be the man for whom the Construction Company was plotting.
"If Rojas isn't the choice of the F. C. C.," argued Roddy, "his being free, or in prison, does not interest them in the least. While, on the other hand, if Rojas is the candidate father is backing, the sooner he is out of prison the better for everybody.
"Anyway," added Roddy, with the airy fatalism of one who nails his banner to the mast, "if my father is going to lose two millions because you and I set an old man free, then father is going to lose two millions."
Having arrived at this dutiful conclusion Roddy proposed that, covertly, in the guise of innocent sight-seers, they should explore the town, and from a distance reconnoitre the home of Senora Rojas. They accordingly hired one of the public landaus of Willemstad and told the driver to show them the places of interest.
But in Willemstad there are no particular places of interest. It is the place itself that is of interest. It is not like any other port in the world.
"It used to be," Roddy pointed out, "that every comic opera had one act on a tropical island. Then some fellow discovered Holland, and now all comic operas run to blonde girls in patched breeches and wooden shoes, and the back drops are 'Rotterdam, Amsterdam, any damn place at all.' But this town combines both the ancient and modern schools. Its scene is from Miss Hook of Holland, and the girls are out of Bandanna Land."
Willemstad is compact and tiny, with a miniature governor and palace. It is painted with all the primary colors, and, though rain seldom falls on Curacao Island, it is as clean as though the minute before it had been washed by a spring shower and put out in the sun to dry. Saint Ann Bay, which is the harbor of Willemstad, is less of a bay than a canal. On entering it a captain from his bridge can almost see what the people in the houses on either bank are eating for breakfast. These houses are modeled like those that border the canals of The Hague. They have the same peaked roofs, the front running in steps to a point, the flat facades, the many stories. But they are painted in the colors of tropical Spanish-America, in pink, yellow, cobalt blue, and behind the peaked points are scarlet tiles. Under the southern sun they are so brilliant, so theatrical, so unreal, that they look like the houses of a Noah's Ark fresh from the toy shop. There are two towns: Willemstad, and, joined to it by bridges, Otrabanda. It is on the Willemstad side that the ships tie up, and where, from the deck to the steamer, one can converse quite easily with the Monsanto brothers in their drawing-room, or with the political exiles on the balconies of the Hotel Commercial. The streets are narrow and, like the streets of Holland, paved with round cobblestones as clean as a pan of rolls just ready for the oven. Willemstad is the cleanest port in the West Indies. It is the Spotless Town of the tropics. Beyond the town are the orange plantations, and the favorite drive is from Willemstad through these orange trees around the inner harbor, or the Schottegat, to Otrabanda, and so back across the drawbridge of Good Queen Emma into Willemstad. It is a drive of little over two hours, and Roddy and Peter found it altogether charming.
About three miles outside of Willemstad they came upon the former home of a rich Spanish planter, which had been turned into a restaurant, and which, once the Groot du Crot, was now the Cafe Ducrot. There is little shade on the Island of Curacao and the young men dived into the shadows of the Ducrot garden as into a cool bath. Through orange trees and spreading palmettos, flowering bushes and a tangle of vines, they followed paths of pebbles, and wandered in a maze in which they lost themselves.
"It is the enchanted garden of the sleeping princess," said Peter. "And there are her sleeping attendants," he added, pointing at two waiters who were slumbering peacefully, their arms stretched out upon the marble-top tables.
It seemed heartless to awaken them, and the young men explored further until they found a stately, rambling mansion where a theatrical landlord with much rubbing of his hands brought them glasses and wonderful Holland gin.
"We must remember the Cafe Ducrot," said Roddy, as they drove on. "It is so quiet and peaceful."
Afterward they recalled his having said this, and the fact caused them much amusement.
From the Cafe Ducrot the road ran between high bushes and stunted trees that shaded it in on either side; but could not shade it completely. Then it turned toward Otrabanda along the cliff that overlooks the sea.
On the land side was a wall of dusky mesquite bushes, bound together by tangled vines, with here and there bending above them a wind-tortured cocoanut palm. On the east side of the road, at great distances apart, were villas surrounded by groves of such hardy trees and plants as could survive the sweep of the sea winds. "If we ask the driver," whispered Roddy, "who lives in each house, he won't suspect we are looking for any one house in particular." Accordingly, as they drew up even with a villa they rivaled each other in exclaiming over its beauty. And the driver, his local pride becoming more and more gratified, gave them the name of the owner of the house and his history.
As he approached a villa all of white stucco, with high, white pillars rising to the flat roof of the tropics, he needed no prompting, but, with the air of one sure of his effect, pulled his horses to a halt and pointed with his whip.
"That house, gentle-mans," he said, "belongs to Senora Rojas." Though the house was one hundred yards from the road, as though fearful of being overheard, the negro spoke in an impressive whisper. "She is the lady of General Rojas. He is a great General, gentle-mans, and now he be put in prison. President Alvarez, he put that General Rojas in prison, down in the water, an' he chain him to the rock, an' he put that lady in exile. President Alvarez he be very bad man.
"Every day at six o'clock that lady and the young ladies they stand on that cliff and pray for that General Rojas. You like me to drive you, gentle-mans, out here at six o'clock," he inquired insinuatingly, "an' see those ladies pray?"
"Certainly not!" exclaimed Roddy indignantly.
But Peter, more discreet, yawned and stirred impatiently. "I am just dying for something to eat!" he protested. "Let her out, driver."
For appearance's sake they drove nearly to the outskirts of Otrabanda, and then, as though perversely, Roddy declared he wanted to drive back the way they had come and breakfast at the Cafe Ducrot.
"Why should we eat in a hot, smelly dining-room," he demanded in tones intended to reach the driver, "when we can eat under orange trees?"
Peter, with apparent reluctance, assented.
"Oh, have it your own way," he said. "Personally, I could eat under any tree—under a gallows-tree."
For the second time they passed the Casa Blanca, and, while apparently intent on planning an extensive breakfast, their eyes photographed its every feature. Now, as the driver was not observing them, they were able to note the position of the entrances, of the windows, rising behind iron bars, from a terrace of white and black marble. They noted the wing, used as a stable for horses and carriages, and, what was of greater interest, that a hand-rail disappeared over the edge of the cliff and suggested a landing-pier below.
But of those who lived in the white palace there was no sign. It hurt Roddy to think that if, from the house, the inmates noted the two young men in a public carriage, peering at their home, they would regard the strangers only as impertinent sighters. They could not know that the eyes of the tourists were filled with pity, that, at the sight of the villa on the cliff the heart of each had quickened with kindly emotions, with excitement, with the hope of possible adventure.
Roddy clutched Peter by the wrist; with the other hand he pointed quickly. Through a narrow opening in a thicket that stood a few rods from the house Peter descried the formal lines of a tennis court. Roddy raised his eyebrows significantly. His smile was radiant, triumphant.
"Which seems to prove," he remarked enigmatically, "that certain parties of the first part are neither aged nor infirm."
His deduction gave him such satisfaction that when they drew up at the Cafe Ducrot he was still smiling.
Within the short hour that had elapsed since they had last seen the Ducrot garden a surprising transformation had taken place. No longer the orange grove lay slumbering in silence. No longer the waiters dozed beside the marble-topped tables. Drawn up outside the iron fence that protected the garden from the road a half-dozen fiery Venezuelan ponies under heavy saddles, and as many more fastened to landaus and dog-carts, were neighing, squealing, jangling their silver harness, and stamping holes in the highway. On the inside, through the heavy foliage of the orange trees, came the voice of the maitre d'hotel, from the kitchen the fat chef bellowed commands. The pebbles on the walks grated harshly beneath the flying feet of the waiters.
Seated at breakfast around a long table in the far end of the garden were over twenty men, and that it was in their service the restaurant had roused itself was fairly evident. The gentlemen who made up the breakfast-party were not the broadly-built, blonde Dutchmen of the island, but Venezuelans. And a young and handsome Venezuelan, seated at the head of the table, and facing the entrance to the garden, was apparently the person in whose honor they were assembled. So much younger, at least in looks, than the others, was the chief guest, that Peter, who was displeased by this invasion of their sleeping palace, suggested it was a coming-of-age party.
It was some time before the signals of the Americans were regarded. Although they had established themselves at a table surrounded by flowering shrubs, and yet strategically situated not too far distant from the kitchen or the cafe, no one found time to wait upon them, and they finally obtained the services of one of the waiters only by the expedient of holding tightly to his flying apron. Roddy commanded him to bring whatever was being served at the large table.
"That cook," Roddy pointed out, "is too excited to bother with our order; but, if there's enough for twenty, there will be enough for two more."
Although they were scorned by the waiters, the young men were surprised to find that to the gentlemen of the birthday-party their coming was of the utmost interest, and, though the tables were much too far apart for Roddy to hear what was said, he could see that many glances were cast in his direction, that the others were talking of him, and that, for some reason, his presence was most disconcerting.
Finally, under pretence of giving an order to his coachman, one of the birthday-party, both in going and returning from the gate, walked close to their table and observed them narrowly. As he all but paused in the gravel walk opposite them, Roddy said with conviction:
"No! Walter Pater never gave the Stoic philosophy a just interpretation, while to Euphuism——"
"On the contrary," interrupted Peter warmly, "Oscar Hammerstein is the ONLY impressario who can keep the pennant flying over grand opera and a roof garden. Believe me——"
With a bewildered countenance the Venezuelan hastily passed on. Placidly the two young men continued with their breakfast.
"Even if he does understand English," continued Roddy, "that should keep him guessing for a while."
As they, themselves, had no interest in the birthday-party, and as they had eaten nothing since early coffee on the steamer, the young men were soon deep in the joy of feasting. But they were not long to remain in peace.
From the bushes behind them there emerged suddenly and quietly a young negro. He was intelligent looking and of good appearance. His white duck was freshly ironed, his straw hat sported a gay ribbon. Without for an instant hesitating between the two men, he laid a letter in front of Roddy. "For Mr. Forrester," he said, and turning, parted the bushes and, as quickly as he had come, departed.
Roddy stared at the hedge through which the messenger had vanished, and his wandering eyes turned toward the birthday-party. He found that every one at that table was regarding him intently. It was evident all had witnessed the incident. Roddy wondered if it were possible that the letter came from them. Looking further he observed that the man who was serving Peter and himself also was regarding him with greater interest than seemed natural, and that he was not the man who first had waited upon them.
"You," began Roddy doubtfully, "you are not the waiter who——"
The man shrugged his shoulders.
"That fellow he can't speakety English," he explained. "I speakety English very good."
The man smiled knowingly, so it seemed to Roddy, impertinently. Roddy felt uncomfortably convinced that some jest was going on behind his back, and he resented the thought.
"Yes," he began hotly, "and I will bet you understand it, too."
Under the table Peter kicked violently at his ankles.
"Read your letter," he said.
The envelope bore only the name Rodman Forrester. The letter began abruptly and was not signed. It read:
"Willemstad is a small place. Every one in it knows every one else. Therefore, the most conspicuous person in it is the last person to arrive. You are the last person to arrive, and, accordingly, everything you do is noted. That this morning you twice passed the Casa Blanca has been already reported both by those who guard it and by those who spy upon it. If you would bring disaster to those you say you wish to serve, keep on as idiotically as you have begun."
The rebuke, although anonymous, turned Roddy's cheeks a rosy red, but he had sufficient self-control to toss the letter to his companion, and to say carelessly: "He wants us to dine with him."
The waiter, who had been openly listening, moved off in the direction of the kitchen. A moment later Roddy saw him bear a dish to the Venezuelan at the head of the long table, and as he proffered it, the two men whispered eagerly.
When Peter had read the warning he threw it, face down, upon the table, and with a disturbed countenance pretended to devote his attention to the salad dressing. Roddy was now grinning with pleasure, and made no effort to conceal that fact.
"I wouldn't have missed this," he whispered, "for a week in God's country. Apparently everybody's business is everybody else's business, and every one spies on every one. It's like the island where they were too proud to do their own washing, so everybody took in somebody else's washing."
"Who is it from," interrupted Peter irritably, "the Consul?"
Roddy nodded and laughed.
"You may laugh," protested Peter, "but you don't know. You've been in Venezuela only four months, and Captain Codman's been here eighteen years. These people don't look at things the way we do. We think it's all comic opera, but——"
"They're children," declared Roddy tolerantly, "children trying to frighten you with a mask on. And old man Codman—he's caught it, too. The fact that he's been down here eighteen years is the only thing against him. He's lost his sense of humor. The idea," he exclaimed, "of spying on us and sending us anonymous warnings. Why doesn't he come to the hotel and say what he has to say? Where does he think he is—in Siberia?"
Roddy chuckled and clapped his hands loudly for the waiter. He was pleasantly at ease. The breakfast was to his liking, the orange trees shielded him from the sun, and the wind from the sea stirred the flowering shrubs and filled the air with spicy, pungent odors.
"Perhaps the Consul understands them better than you do," persisted Peter. "These revolutionists——"
"They're a pack of cards," declared Roddy. "As Alice said to the King and Queen, 'You're only a pack of cards.'"
As he was speaking Mr. Von Amberg, the agent of the steamship line, with whom that morning he had been in consultation, and one of the other commission merchants of Willemstad, came up the gravel walk and halted at their table.
Both Von Amberg and his companion had but lately arrived from Holland. They were big men, of generous girth, beaming with good health and good humor. They looked like Kris Kringles in white duck. In continental fashion they raised their Panama hats and bowed profusely. They congratulated the young men on so soon having found their way to the Cafe Ducrot, and that Mr. de Peyster, whose name appealed to them, had pronounced the cooking excellent, afforded them personal satisfaction.
Von Amberg told the young men he had just left cards for the club at their hotel, and hoped they would make use of it. His launch, carriage and he, himself, were at their disposition.
When Roddy invited the two merchants to join them Von Amberg thanked him politely and explained that his table was already laid for breakfast. With another exchange of bows the two gentlemen continued up the twisting path and disappeared among the bushes.
"That's what I mean!" exclaimed Roddy approvingly. "Now they are our people. They have better manners, perhaps, than we have, but they're sensible, straight-from-the-shoulder men of business. They aren't spying on anybody, or sending black-hand letters, or burying old men alive in prisons. If they saw a revolution coming they wouldn't know what——"
He was interrupted by the sudden reappearance of the men of whom he spoke. They were moving rapidly in the direction of the gate, and the countenance of each wore an expression of surprise and alarm. While his companion passed them quickly, Mr. Von Amberg reluctantly hesitated, and, in evident perplexity and with some suspicion, looked from one to the other. The waiter had placed the coffee and bottles of cognac and of curacao upon the table; and Roddy hospitably moved a chair forward.
"Won't you change your mind," he said, "and try some of the stuff that made this island famous?"
In spite of his evident desire to escape, Von Amberg's good manners did not forsake him. He bowed and raised his hat in protest.
"I—I should be very pleased—some other time," he stammered, "but now I must return to town. I find to-day it is not possible to breakfast here. There is a large party—" he paused, and his voice rose interrogatively.
"Yes," Roddy replied with indifference. "We found them here. They took all the waiters away from us."
The nature of the answer seemed greatly to surprise Von Amberg.
"You—you are not acquainted with those gentlemen?" he inquired.
In the fashion of his country, Roddy answered by another question.
"Who are they?" he asked. "Who is the one whose health they are all the time drinking?"
For an instant Von Amberg continued to show complete bewilderment. Then he smiled broadly. For him, apparently, the situation now possessed an aspect as amusing as it had been disturbing. He made a sly face and winked jovially.
"Oh! You Americans!" he exclaimed. "You make good politicians. Do not fear," he added hurriedly. "I have seen nothing, and I say nothing. I do not mix myself in politics." He started toward the gate, then halted, and with one eye closed whispered hoarsely, "It is all right. I will say nothing!" Nodding mysteriously, he hurried down the path.
Peter leaned back in his chair and chuckled delightedly.
"There go your sensible business men," he jeered, "running away! Now what have you to say?"
Roddy was staring blankly down the path and shook his head.
"You can subpoena me," he sighed. "Why should they be afraid of a birthday-party? Why!" he exclaimed, "they were even afraid of me! He didn't believe that we don't know those Venezuelans. He said," Roddy recapitulated, "he didn't mix in politics. That means, of course, that those fellows are politicians, and, probably this is their fashion of holding a primary. It must be the local method of floating a revolution. But why should Von Amberg think we're in the plot, too? Because my name's Forrester?"
Peter nodded. "That must be it," he said. "Your father is in deep with these Venezuelans, and everybody knows that, and makes the mistake of thinking you are also. I wish," he exclaimed patiently, "your father was more confiding. It is all very well for him—plotting plots from the top of the Forrester Building—but it makes it difficult for any one down here inside the firing-line. If your father isn't more careful," he protested warmly, "Alvarez will stand us blindfolded against a wall, and we'll play blind man's buff with a firing-squad."
Peter's forebodings afforded Roddy much amusement. He laughed at his friend, and mocked him, urging him to keep a better hold upon his sense of humor.
"You have been down here too long yourself," he said. "You'll be having tropic choler next. I tell you, you must think of them as children: they're a pack of cards."
"Maybe they are," sighed Peter "but as long as we don't know the game——"
From where Peter sat, with his back in their direction, he could not see the Venezuelans; but Roddy, who was facing them, now observed that they had finished their breakfast. Talking, gesticulating, laughing, they were crowding down the path. He touched Peter, and Peter turned in his chair to look at them.
At the same moment a man stepped from the bushes, and halting at one side of Roddy, stood with his eyes fixed upon the men of the birthday-party, waiting for them to approach. He wore the silk cap of a chauffeur, a pair of automobile goggles, and a long automobile coat. The attitude of the chauffeur suggested that he had come forward to learn if his employer was among those now making their departure; and Roddy wondered that he had heard no automobile arrive, and that he had seen none in Willemstad. Except for that thought, so interested was Roddy in the men who had shown so keen an interest in him, that to the waiting figure he gave no further consideration.
The Venezuelans had found they were too many to walk abreast. Some had scattered down other paths. Others had spread out over the grass. But the chief guest still kept to the gravel walk which led to the gate. And now Roddy saw him plainly.
Owing to a charming quality of youth, it was impossible to guess the man's age. He might be under thirty. He might be forty. He was tall, graceful, and yet soldierly-looking, with crisp, black hair clinging close to a small, aristocratic head. Like many Venezuelans, he had the brown skin, ruddy cheeks, and pointed mustache of a Neapolitan. His eyes were radiant, liquid, brilliant. He was walking between two of his friends, with a hand resting affectionately on the shoulder of each; and though both of the men were older than himself, his notice obviously flattered them. They were laughing, and nodding delighted approval at what he said, and he was talking eagerly and smiling. Roddy thought he had seldom seen a smile so winning, one that carried with it so strong a personal appeal. Roddy altogether approved of the young man. He found him gay, buoyant, in appearance entirely the conquering hero, the Prince Charming. And even though of his charm the young man seemed to be well aware, he appeared none the less a graceful, gallant, triumphant figure.
As Roddy, mildly curious, watched him, the young man turned his head gayly from the friend on his one side to address the one on the other. It was but a movement of an instant, but in the short circuit of the glance Roddy saw the eyes of the young man halt. As though suddenly hypnotized, his lips slowly closed, his white teeth disappeared, the charming smile grew rigid. He was regarding something to the left of Roddy and above him.
Roddy turned and saw the waiting figure of the chauffeur. He had stepped clear of the bushes, and, behind the mask-like goggles, his eyes were fixed upon the young Venezuelan. He took a short step forward, and his right hand reached up under his left cuff.
Roddy had seen Englishmen in searching for a handkerchief make a similar movement, but now the gesture was swift and sinister. In the attitude of the masked figure itself there was something prehensible and menacing. The hand of the man came free, and Roddy saw that it held a weapon.
As the quickest way to get his legs from under the table, Roddy shoved the table and everything on it into the lap of Peter. With one spring Roddy was beside the man, and as he struck him on the chin, with his other hand he beat at the weapon. There were two reports and a sharp high cry.
Under the blow the masked man staggered drunkenly, his revolver swaying in front of Roddy's eyes. Roddy clutched at it and there was a struggle—another report—and then the man broke from him, and with the swift, gliding movement of a snake, slipped through the bushes.
Roddy stood staring blankly, unconsciously sucking at a raw spot on his finger where the powder had burned it. At his feet the bottle of curacao, from which he had just been drinking, was rolling upon the gravel path, its life-blood bubbling out upon the pebbles. He stooped and lifted it. Later he remembered wondering how it had come there, and, at the time, that so much good liquor had been wasted had seemed a most irritating circumstance.
He moved to replace the bottle upon the table and found the table overturned, with Peter, his clothes dripping and his eyes aflame, emerging from beneath it.
Further up the path the young Venezuelan was struggling in the arms of his friends. Fearful that he might still be in danger they were restraining him, and he, eager to pursue the man who had fired on him, was crying aloud his protests. Others of his friends were racing down the different paths, breaking through the bushes, and often, in their excitement, seizing upon one another. Huddled together in a group, the waiters and coachmen explained, gesticulated, shrieked.
But above the clamor of all, the voice of Peter was the most insistent. Leaping from a wreck of plates and glasses, his clothing splashed with claret, with coffee, with salad dressing, with the tablecloth wound like a kilt about his legs, he jumped at Roddy and Roddy retreated before him. Raging, and in the name of profane places, Peter demanded what Roddy "meant" by it.
"Look at me!" he commanded. "Look what you did! Look at me!"
Roddy did not look. If he looked he knew he would laugh. And he knew Peter was hoping he would laugh so that, at that crowning insult, he might fall upon him.
In tones of humble, acute regret Roddy protested.
"I did it, Peter," he stammered hastily. "I did it—to save you. I was afraid he would hit you. I had to act quickly——"
"Afraid he'd hit me!" roared Peter. "You hit me! Hit me with a table! Look at my new white flannel suit! And look at this!" With his fingers he gingerly parted his wet, disheveled hair. "Look at the bump on the back of my head. Is that your idea of saving me? I wish," he exploded savagely, "I wish he'd shot you full of holes!"
The violent onslaught of Peter was interrupted by one hardly less violent from the young Venezuelan. He had freed himself from his friends, and, as it now was evident the man who had attempted his life had escaped, and that to search further was useless, he ran to thank the stranger who had served him. Extravagantly, but with real feeling, he wrung both of Roddy's hands. In the native fashion he embraced him, shook him by the shoulders, patted him affectionately on the back. Eloquently but incoherently in Spanish, French and English he poured forth his thanks. He hailed Roddy as his preserver, his bon amigo, his brav camarad. In expressing their gratitude his friends were equally voluble and generous. They praised, they applauded, they admired; in swift, graceful gestures they reenacted for each other the blow upon the chin, the struggle for the revolver, the escape of the would-be assassin.
Even Peter, as the only one who had suffered, became a heroic figure.
It was many minutes before the Americans could depart, and then only after every one had drunk to them in warm, sweet champagne.
When the glasses were filled the young Venezuelan turned to those standing about him on the grass and commanded silence. He now spoke in excellent English, but Roddy noted that those of the older men who could not understand regarded him with uneasiness.
"I ask you, my friends," cried the Venezuelan, "to drink to the name of Forrester. How much," he exclaimed, "does not that name mean to my unhappy country. I—myself—that my life should be taken—it is nothing; but that it should be saved for my country by one of that name is for us an omen—a lucky omen. It means," he cried, the soft, liquid eyes flashing, "it means success. It means—" As though suddenly conscious of the warning frowns of his friends, he paused abruptly, and with a graceful bow, and waving his glass toward Roddy, said quietly, "Let us drink to the son of a good friend of Venezuela—to Mr. Forrester."