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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Man Of Mark - Chapter 7. The Mine Is Laid
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A Man Of Mark - Chapter 7. The Mine Is Laid Post by :Marc_Meole Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :2320

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A Man Of Mark - Chapter 7. The Mine Is Laid

CHAPTER VII. THE MINE IS LAID

The morning meeting had been devoted to principles and to the awakening of enthusiasm; in the evening the conspirators condescended upon details, and we held a prolonged and anxious conference at the signorina's. Mrs. Carrington was commanded to have a headache after dinner, and retired with it to bed; and from ten till one we sat and conspired. The result of our deliberations was a very pretty plan, of which the main outlines were as follows:

This was Tuesday. On Friday night the colonel, with twenty determined ruffians (or resolute patriots) previously bound to him, body and soul, by a donation of no less than fifty dollars a man, was to surprise the Golden House, seize the person of the President and all cash and securities on the premises; no killing, if it could be avoided, but on the other hand no shilly-shally. McGregor wanted to put the President out of the way at once, as a precautionary measure, but I strongly opposed this proposal, and, finding the signorina was absolutely inflexible on the same side, he yielded. I had a strong desire to be present at this midnight surprise, but another duty called for my presence. There was a gala supper at the barracks that evening, to commemorate some incident or other in the national history, and I was to be present and to reply to the toast of "The Commerce of Aureataland." My task was, _at all hazards_, to keep this party going till the colonel's job was done, when he would appear at the soldiers' quarters, bribe in hand, and demand their allegiance. Our knowledge of the character of the troops made us regard the result as a certainty, if once the President was a prisoner and the dollars before their eyes. The colonel and the troops were to surround the officers' messroom, and offer them life and largesse, or death and destruction. Here again we anticipated their choice with composure. The army was then to be paraded in the Piazza, the town overawed or converted, and, behold, the Revolution was accomplished! The success of this design entirely depended on its existence remaining a dead secret from the one man we feared, and on that one man being found alone and unguarded at twelve o'clock on Friday night. If he discovered the plot, we were lost. If he took it into his head to attend the supper, our difficulties would be greatly increased. At this point we turned to the signorina, and I said briefly:

"This appears to be where you come in, signorina. Permit me to invite you to dine with his Excellency on Friday evening, at eight precisely."

"You mean," she said slowly, "that I am to keep him at home, and, but for myself, alone, on Friday?"

"Yes," said I. "Is there any difficulty?"

"I do not think there is great difficulty," she said, "but I don't like it; it looks so treacherous."

Of course it did. I didn't like her doing it myself, but how else was the President to be secured?

"Rather late to think of that, isn't it?" asked McGregor, with a sneer. "A revolution won't run on high moral wheels."

"Think how he jockeyed you about the money," said I, assuming the part of the tempter.

"By the way," said McGregor, "it's understood the signorina enters into possession of the President's country villa, isn't it?"

Now, my poor signorina had a longing for that choice little retreat; and between resentment for her lost money and a desire for the pretty house on the one hand, and, on the other, her dislike of the Delilah-like part she was to play, she was sore beset. Left to herself, I believe she would have yielded to her better feelings, and spoiled the plot. As it was, the colonel and I, alarmed at this recrudescence of conscience, managed to stifle its promptings, and bent her to our wicked will.

"After all, he deserves it," she said, "and I'll do it!"

It is always sad to see anybody suffering from a loss of self-respect, so I tried to restore the signorina's confidence in her own motives, by references to Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, Charlotte Corday, and such other relentless heroines as occurred to me. McGregor looked upon this striving after self-justification with undisguised contempt.

"It's only making a fool of him again," he said; "you've done it before, you know!"

"I'll do it, if you'll swear not to--to hurt him," she said.

"I've promised already," he replied sullenly. "I won't touch him, unless he brings it on himself. If he tries to kill me, I suppose I needn't bare my breast to the blow?"

"No, no," I interposed; "I have a regard for his Excellency, but we must not let our feelings betray us into weakness. He must be taken--alive and well, if possible--but in the last resort, dead or alive."

"Come, that's more like sense," said the colonel approvingly.

The signorina sighed, but opposed us no longer.

Returning to ways and means, we arranged for communication in case of need during the next three days without the necessity of meeting. My position, as the center of financial business in Whittingham, made this easy; the passage of bank messengers to and fro would excite little remark, and the messages could easily be so expressed as to reveal nothing to an uninstructed eye. It was further agreed that on the smallest hint of danger reaching any one of us, the word should at once be passed to the others, and we should _rendezvous at the colonel's "ranch," which lay some seven miles from the town. Thence, in this lamentable case, escape would be more possible.

"And now," said the colonel, "if Martin will hand over the dollars, I think that's about all."

I had brought the ten thousand dollars with me. I produced them and put them on the table, keeping a loving hand on them.

"You fully understand my position, colonel?" I said. "This thing is no use to me unless I receive at least three hundred and twenty thousand dollars, to pay back principal, to meet interest, and to replace another small debt to the bank. If I do that, I shall be left with a net profit of five thousand dollars, not an extravagant reward. If I don't get that sum I shall be a defaulter, revolution or no revolution."

"I can't make money if it's not there," he said, but without his usual brusqueness of tone. "But to this we agree: You are to have first turn at anything we find, up to the sum you name. It's to be handed over solid to you. The signorina and I take the leavings. You don't claim to share them too, do you?"

"No," I said, "I'm content to be a preference shareholder. If the money's found at the Golden House, it's mine. If not, the new Government, whatever it may do as to the rest of the debt, will pay me that sum."

With that I pushed my money over to the colonel.

"I expect the new Government to be very considerate to the bondholders all round," said the colonel, as he pocketed it with a chuckle. "Anyhow, your terms are agreed; eh, signorina?"

"Agreed!" said she. "And I'm to have the country seat?"

"Agreed!" said I. "And the colonel's to be President and to have the Golden House and all that therein is."

"Agreed! agreed! agreed!" chanted the signorina; "and that's quite enough business, and it's very late for me to be entertaining gentlemen. One toast, and then good-night. Success to the Revolution! To be drunk in blood-red wine!"

As there was no red wine, except claret, and that lies cold on the stomach at three in the morning, we drank it in French brandy. I had risen to go, when a sudden thought struck me:

"By Jupiter! where's Johnny Carr? I say, colonel, how drunk was he last night? Do you think he remembers telling you about it?"

"Yes," said the colonel, "I expect he does by now. He didn't when I left him this morning."

"Will he confess to the President? If he does, it might make the old man keep an unpleasantly sharp eye on you. He knows you don't love him."

"Well, he hasn't seen the President yet. He was to stay at my house over to-day. He was uncommon seedy this morning, and I persuaded the doctor to give him a composing draught. Fact is, I wanted him quiet till I'd had time to think! You know I don't believe he would own up--the President would drop on him so; but he might, and it's better they shouldn't meet."

"There's somebody else he oughtn't to meet," said the signorina.

"Who's that?" I asked.

"Donna Antonia," she replied. "He's getting very fond of her, and depend upon it, if he's in trouble he'll go and tell her the first thing. Mr. Carr is very confidential to his friends."

We recognized the value of this suggestion. If Donna Antonia knew, the President would soon know.

"Quite right," said the colonel. "It won't do to have them rushing about letting out that we know all about it. He's all right up to now."

"Yes, but if he gets restive to-morrow morning?" said I. "And then you don't want him at the Golden House on Friday evening, and I don't want him at the barracks."

"No, he'd show fight, Carr would," said the colonel. "Look here, we're in for this thing, and I'm going through with it. I shall keep Carr at my house till it's all over."

"How?" asked the signorina.

"By love, if possible!" said the colonel, with a grin--"that is, by drink. Failing that, by force. It's essential that the old man shouldn't get wind of anything being up; and if Carr told him about last night he'd prick up his wicked old ears. No, Master Johnny is better quiet."

"Suppose he turns nasty," I suggested again.

"He may turn as nasty as he likes," said the colonel. "He don't leave my house unless he puts a bullet into me first. That's settled. Leave it to me. If he behaves nicely, he'll be all right. If not--"

"What shall you do to him?" asked the signorina.

I foresaw another outburst of conscience, and though I liked Johnny, I liked myself better. So I said:

"Oh, leave it to the colonel; he'll manage all right."

"Now I'm off," said the latter, "back to my friend Johnny. Good-night, signorina. Write to the President to-morrow. Good-night, Martin. Make that speech of yours pretty long. _Au revoir till next Friday."

I prepared to go, for the colonel lingered till I came with him. Even then we so distrusted one another that neither would leave the other alone with the signorina.

We parted at the door, he going off up the road to get his horse and ride to his "ranch," I turning down toward the Piazza.

We left the signorina at the door, looking pale and weary, and for once bereft of her high spirits. Poor girl! She found conspiracy rather trying work.

I was a little troubled myself. I began to see more clearly that it doesn't do for a man of scruples to dabble in politics. I had a great regard for poor Johnny, and I felt no confidence in the colonel treating him with any consideration. In fact, I would not have insured Johnny's life for the next week at any conceivable premium. Again I thought it unlikely that, if we succeeded, the President would survive his downfall. I had to repeat to myself all the story of his treachery to me, lashing myself into a fury against him, before I could bring myself to think with resignation of the imminent extinction of that shining light. What a loss he would be to the world! So many delightful stories, so great a gift of manner, so immense a personal charm--all to disappear into the pit! And for what? To put into his place a ruffian without redeeming qualities. Was it worth while to put down Lucifer only to enthrone Beelzebub? I could only check this doleful strain of reflection by sternly recalling myself to the real question--the state of the fortunes of me, John Martin. And to me the revolution was necessary. I might get the money; at least I should gain time. And I might satisfy my love. I was animated by the honorable motive of saving my employers from loss and by the overwhelming motive of my own passion. If the continued existence of Johnny and the President was incompatible with these legitimate objects, so much the worse for Johnny and the President.

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