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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCaptain Macklin: His Memoirs - Chapter 5
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Captain Macklin: His Memoirs - Chapter 5 Post by :codebluenj Category :Long Stories Author :Richard Harding Davis Date :May 2012 Read :2999

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Captain Macklin: His Memoirs - Chapter 5

Chapter V

The day we attacked the capital Joseph Fiske and his party were absent from it, visiting Graham, the manager of the Copan Mines, at his country place, and when word was received there that we had taken the city, Graham urged Mr. Fiske not to return to it, but to ride at once to the coast and go on board the yacht. They told him that the capital was in the hands of a mob.

But what really made Graham, and the rest of the Copan people, and the Isthmian crowd, who now were all working together against us, so anxious to get Fiske out of Honduras, was that part of Laguerre's proclamation in which he said he would force the Isthmian Line to pay its just debts. They were most anxious that Fiske should not learn from us the true version of that claim for back pay. They had told him we were a lot of professional filibusters, that the demand we made for the half-million of dollars was a gigantic attempt at blackmail. They pointed out to him that the judges of the highest courts of Honduras had decided against the validity of our claim, but they did not tell him that Alvarez had ordered the judges to decide in favor of the company, nor how much money they had paid Alvarez and the judges for that decision. Instead they urged that Garcia, a native of the country, had submitted to the decree of the courts and had joined Alvarez, and that now the only people fighting against the Isthmian Line were foreign adventurers. They asked, Was it likely such men would risk their lives to benefit the natives? Was it not evident that they were fighting only for their own pockets? And they warned Fiske that while Laguerre was still urging his claim against this company, it would be unwise for the president of that company to show himself in Tegucigalpa.

But Fiske laughed at the idea of danger to himself. He said a revolution, like cock-fighting, was a national pastime, and no more serious, and that should anyone attempt to molest the property of the company, he would demand the protection of his own country as represented by the Raleigh.

He accordingly rode back to the capital, and with his son and daughter and the company's representatives and the Copan people, returned to the same rooms in the Hotel Continental he had occupied three days before, when Alvarez was president. This made it embarrassing for us, as the Continental was the only hotel in the city, and as it was there we had organized our officers' mess. In consequence, while there was no open war, the dining-room of the hotel was twice daily the meeting- place of the two opposing factions, and Von Ritter told me that until matters had been arranged with the seconds of young Fiske I could not appear there, as it would be "contrary to the code."

But our officers were not going to allow the Copan and Isthmian people to drive them out of their head-quarters, so at the table d'hote luncheon that day our fellows sat at one end of the room, and Fiske and Miss Fiske, Graham and his followers at the other. They entirely ignored each other. After the row I had raised in the street, each side was anxious to avoid further friction.

As I sat in the barracks over my solitary luncheon my thoughts were entirely on the duel.

It had been forced on me, so I accepted it; but it struck me as a most silly proceeding. Young Fiske had insulted my General and my comrades. He had done so publicly and with intent. I had thrashed him as I said I would, and as far as I could see the incident was closed. But Miller and Von Ritter, who knew Honduras from Fonseca Bay to Truxillo, assured me that, unless I met the man, who had insulted me before the people, our prestige would be entirely destroyed. To the Honduranian mind, the fact that I had thrashed him for so doing, would not serve as a substitute for a duel, it only made a duel absolutely necessary. As I had determined, if we did meet, that I would not shoot at him, I knew I would receive no credit from such an encounter, and, so far as I could see, I was being made ridiculous, and stood a very fair chance of being killed.

I sincerely hoped that young Fiske would apologize. I assured myself that my reluctance to meet him was due to the fact that I scorned to fight a civilian. I always classed civilians, with women and children, as non-combatants. But in my heart I knew that it was not this prejudice which made me hesitate. The sister was the real reason. That he was her brother was the only fact of importance. Had his name been Robinson or Brown, I would have gone out and shot at the calves of his legs most cheerfully, and taken considerable satisfaction in the notoriety that would have followed my having done so.

But I could never let his sister know that I had only fired in the air, and I knew that if I fought her brother she would always look upon me as one who had attempted to murder him. I could never speak to her, or even look at her again. And at that moment I felt that if I did not meet her, I could go without meeting any other women for many years to come. She was the most wonderful creature I had ever seen. She was not beautiful, as Beatrice was beautiful, in a womanly, gracious way, but she had the beauty of something unattainable. Instead of inspiring you, she filled you with disquiet. She seemed to me a regal, goddess-like woman, one that a man might worship with that tribute of fear and adoration that savages pay to the fire and the sun.

I had ceased to blush because she had laughed at us. I had begun to think that it was quite right that she should do so. To her we were lawless adventurers, exiles, expatriates, fugitives. She did not know that most of us were unselfish, and that our cause was just. She thought, if she thought of us at all, that we were trying to levy blackmail on her father. I did not blame her for despising us. I only wished I could tell her how she had been deceived, and assure her that among us there was one, at least, who thought of her gratefully and devotedly, and who would suffer much before he would hurt her or hers. I knew that this was so, and I hoped her brother would not be such an ass as to insist upon a duel, and make me pretend to fight him, that her father would be honest enough to pay his debts, and that some day she and I might be friends.

But these hopes were killed by the entrance of Miller and Von Ritter. They looked very grave.

"He won't apologize," Miller said. "We arranged that you are to meet behind the graveyard at sunrise to-morrow morning." I was bitterly disappointed, but of course I could not let them see that.

"Does Laguerre know?" I asked.

"No," Miller said, "neither does old man Fiske. We had the deuce of a time. Graham and Lowell--that young Middy from the Raleigh--are his seconds, and we found we were all agreed that he had better apologize. Lowell, especially, was very keen that you two should shake hands, but when they went out to talk it over with Fiske, he came back with them in a terrible rage, and swore he'd not apologize, and that he'd either shoot you or see you hung. Lowell told him it was all rot that two Americans should be fighting duels, but Fiske said that when he was in Rome, he did as Romans did; that he had been brought up in Paris to believe in duels, and that a duel he would have. Then the sister came in, and there was a hell of a row!"

"The sister!" I exclaimed.

Miller nodded, and Von Ritter and he shook their heads sadly at each other, as though the recollection of the interview weighed heavily.

"Yes, his sister," said Miller. "You know how these Honduranian places are built, if a parrot scratches his feathers in the patio you can hear it in every room in the house. Well, she was reading on the balcony, and when her brother began to rage around and swear he'd have your blood, she heard him, and opened the shutters and came in. She didn't stay long, and she didn't say much, but she talked to us as though we were so many bad children. I never felt so mean in my life."

"She should not have been there," said Von Ritter, stolidly. "It was most irregular."

"Fiske tried the high and mighty, brotherly act with her," Miller continued, "but she shook him up like a charge of rack-a-rock. She told him that a duel was unmanly and un-American, and that he would be a murderer. She said his honor didn't require him to risk his life for every cad who went about armed, insulting unarmed people--"

"What did she say?" I cried. "Say that again."

Von Ritter tossed up his arms and groaned, but Miller shook his fist at me.

"Now, don't you go and get wrathy," he roared. "We'll not stand it. We've been abused by everybody else on your account to-day, and we won't take it from you. It doesn't matter what the girl said. They probably told her you began the fight, and--"

"She said I was a cad," I repeated, "and that I struck an unarmed man. Didn't her brother tell her that he first insulted me, and struck me with his whip, and that I only used my fists. Didn't any of you tell her?"

"No!" roared Miller; "what the devil has that got to do with it? She was trying to prevent the duel. We were trying to prevent the duel. That's all that's important. And if she hadn't made the mistake of thinking you might back out of it, we could have prevented it. Now we can't."

I began to wonder if the opinion the Fiske family had formed of me, on so slight an acquaintance, was not more severe than I deserved, but I did not let the men see how sorely the news had hurt me. I only asked: "What other mistake did the young lady make?"

"She meant it all right," said Miller, "but it was a woman's idea of a bluff, and it didn't go. She told us that before we urged her brother on to fight, we should have found out that he has spent the last five years in Paris, and that he's the gilt-edged pistol-shot of the _salle d'armes in the Rue Scribe, that he can hit a scarf-pin at twenty paces. Of course that ended it. The Baron spoke up in his best style and said that in the face of this information it would be now quite impossible for our man to accept an apology without being considered a coward, and that a meeting must take place. Then the girl ran to her brother and said, 'What have I done?' and he put his arm around her and walked her out of the room. Then we arranged the details in peace and came on here."

"Good," I said, "you did exactly right. I'll meet you at dinner at the hotel."

But at this Von Ritter protested that I must not dine there, that it was against the code.

"The code be hanged," I said. "If I don't turn up at dinner they'll say I'm afraid to show myself out of doors. Besides, if I must be shot through the scarf-pin before breakfast to-morrow morning, I mean to have a good dinner to-night."

They left me, and I rode to the palace to make my daily report to the president. I was relieved to find that both he and Webster were so deep in affairs of state that they had heard nothing of my row in the Plaza, nor of the duel to follow. They were happy as two children building forts of sand on the sea-shore. They had rescinded taxes, altered the tariffs, reorganized the law-courts, taken over the custom-houses by telegraph, and every five minutes were receiving addresses from delegations of prominent Honduranians. Nicaragua and Salvador had both recognized their government, and concession hunters were already cooling their heels in the ante-room. In every town and seaport the adherents of Garcia had swung over to Laguerre and our government, and our flag was now flying in every part of Honduras. It was the flag of Walker, with the five-pointed blood-red star. We did not explain the significance of the five points.

I reported that my scouts had located Alvarez and Garcia in the hills some five miles distant from the capital, that they were preparing a permanent camp there, and that they gave no evidence of any immediate intention of attacking the city. General Laguerre was already informed of the arrival of Mr. Fiske, and had arranged to give him an audience the following morning. He hoped in this interview to make clear to him how just was the people's claim for the half million due them, and to obtain his guaranty that the money should be paid.

As I was leaving the palace I met Aiken. He was in his most cynical mood. He said that the air was filled with plots and counter-plots, and that treachery stalked abroad. He had been unsuccessful in trying to persuade the president to relieve Heinze of his command on Pecachua. He wanted Von Ritter or myself put in his place.

"It is the key to the position," Aiken said, "and if Heinze should sell us out, we would have to run for our lives. These people are all smiles and 'vivas' to-day because we are on top. But if we lost Pecachua, every man of them would turn against us."

I laughed and said: "We can trust Heinze. If I had your opinion of my fellow-man, I'd blow my brains out."

"If I hadn't had such a low opinion of my fellow-man," Aiken retorted, "he'd have blown your brains out. Don't forget that."

"No one listens to me," he said. "I consider that I am very hardly used. For a consideration a friend of Alvarez told me where Alvarez had buried most of the government money. I went to the cellar and dug it up and turned it over to Laguerre. And what do you think he's doing with it!" Aiken exclaimed with indignation. "He's going to give the government troops their back pay, and the post-office clerks, and the peons who worked on the public roads."

I said I considered that that was a most excellent use to make of the money; that from what I had seen of the native troops, it would turn our prisoners of war into our most loyal adherents.

"Of course it will!" Aiken agreed. "Why, if the government troops out there in the hills with Alvarez knew we were paying sixty pesos for soldiers, they'd run to join us so quick that they'd die on the way of sunstroke. But that's not it. Where do we come in? What do we get out of this? Have we been fighting for three months just to pay the troops who have been fighting against us? Charity begins at home, I think."

"You get your own salary, don't you?" I asked.

"Oh, I'm not starving," Aiken said, with a grin. "There's a lot of loot in being chief-of-police. This is going to be a wide-open town if I can run it."

"Well, you can't," I laughed. "Not as long as I'm its provost marshal."

"Yes, and how long will that be?" Aiken retorted. "You take my advice and make money now, while you've got the club to get it with you. Why, if I had your job I could scare ten thousand sols out of these merchants before sunrise. Instead of which you walk around nights to see their front doors are locked. Let them do the walking. We've won, and let's enjoy the spoil. Eat, live, and be merry, my boy, for to- morrow you die."

"I hope not," I exclaimed, and I ran down the steps of the palace and turned toward the barracks.

"To-morrow you die," I repeated, but I could not arouse a single emotion. Portents and premonitions may frighten some people, but the only superstition I hold to is to believe in the luck of Royal Macklin.

"What if Fiske can hit a scarf-pin at twenty paces!" I said to myself, "he can't hit me." I was just as sure of it as I was of the fact that when I met him I was going to fire in the air. I cannot tell why. I was just sure of it.

The dining-room at the Continental held three long tables. That night our officers sat at one. Mr. Fiske and his party were at the one farthest away, and a dining-club of consular agents, merchants, and the Telegraph Company's people occupied the one in between. I could see her whenever the German consul bent over his food. She was very pale and tired-looking, but in the white evening frock she wore, all soft and shining with lace, she was as beautiful as the moonlit night outside. She never once looked in our direction. But I could not keep my eyes away from her. The merchants, no doubt, enjoyed their dinner. They laughed and argued boisterously, but at the two other tables there was very little said.

The waiters, pattering over the stone floor in their bare feet, made more noise than our entire mess.

When the brandy came, Russell nodded at the others, and they filled their glasses and drank to me in silence. At the other table I saw the same pantomime, only on account of old man Fiske they had to act even more covertly. It struck me as being vastly absurd and wicked. What right had young Fiske to put his life in jeopardy to me? It was not in my keeping. I had no claim upon it. It was not in his own keeping. At least not to throw away.

When they had gone and our officers had shaken hands with me and ridden off to their different posts, I went out upon the balcony by myself and sat down in the shadow of the vines. The stream which cuts Tegucigalpa in two ran directly below the hotel, splashing against the rocks and sweeping under the stone bridge with a ceaseless murmur. Beyond it stretched the red-tiled roofs, glowing pink in the moonlight, and beyond them the camp-fires of Alvarez twinkling like glow-worms against the dark background of the hills. The town had gone to sleep, and the hotel was as silent as a church. There was no sound except the whistle of a policeman calling the hour, the bark of the street-dogs in answer, and the voice of one of our sentries, arguing with some jovial gentleman who was abroad without a pass. After the fever and anxieties of the last few days the peace of the moment was sweet and grateful to me, and I sank deeper into the long wicker chair and sighed with content. The previous night I had spent on provost duty in the saddle, and it must have been that I dropped asleep, for when I next raised my head Miss Fiske was standing not twenty feet from me. She was leaning against one of the pillars, a cold and stately statue in the moonlight.

She did not know anyone was near her, and when I moved and my spurs clanked on the stones, she started, and turned her eyes slowly toward the shadow in which I sat.

During dinner they must have told her which one of us was to fight the duel, for when she recognized me she moved sharply away. I did not wish her to think I would intrude on her against her will, so I rose and walked toward the door, but before I had reached it she again turned and approached me.

"You are Captain Macklin?" she said.

I was so excited at the thought that she was about to speak to me, and so happy to hear her voice, that for an instant I could only whip off my hat and gaze at her stupidly.

"Captain Macklin," she repeated. "This afternoon I tried to stop the duel you are to fight with my brother, and I am told that I made a very serious blunder. I should like to try and correct it. When I spoke of my brother's skill, I mean his skill with the pistol, I knew you were ignorant of it and I thought if you did know of it you would see the utter folly, the wickedness of this duel. But instead I am told that I only made it difficult for you not to meet him. I cannot in the least see that that follows. I wish to make it clear to you that it does not."

She paused, and I, as though I had been speaking, drew a long breath. Had she been reading from a book her tone could not have been more impersonal. I might have been one of a class of school-boys to whom she was expounding a problem. At the Point I have heard officers' wives use the same tone to the enlisted men. Its effect on them was to drive them into a surly silence.

But Miss Fiske did not seem conscious of her tone.

"After I had spoken," she went on evenly, "they told me of your reputation in this country, that you are known to be quite fearless. They told me of your ordering your own men to shoot you, and of how you took a cannon with your hands. Well, I cannot see--since your reputation for bravery is so well established--that you need to prove it further, certainly not by engaging in a silly duel. You cannot add to it by fighting my brother, and if you should injure him, you would bring cruel distress to--to others."

"I assure you---" I began.

"Pardon me," she said, raising her hand, but still speaking in the same even tone. "Let me explain myself fully. Your own friends said in my hearing," she went on, "that they did not desire a fight. It is then my remark only which apparently makes it inevitable."

She drew herself up and her tone grew even more distant and disdainful.

"Now, it is not possible," she exclaimed, "that you and your friends are going to take advantage of my mistake, and make it the excuse for this meeting. Suppose any harm should come to my brother." For the first time her voice carried a touch of feeling. "It would be my fault. I would always have myself to blame. And I want to ask you not to fight him. I want to ask you to withdraw from this altogether."

I was completely confused. Never before had a young lady of a class which I had so seldom met, spoken to me even in the words of everyday civility, and now this one, who was the most wonderful and beautiful woman I had ever seen, was asking me to grant an impossible favor, was speaking of my reputation for bravery as though it were a fact which everyone accepted, and was begging me not to make her suffer. What added to my perplexity was that she asked me to act only as I desired to act, but she asked it in such a manner that every nerve in me rebelled.

I could not understand how she could ask so great a favor of one she held in such evident contempt. It seemed to me that she should not have addressed me at all, or if she did ask me to stultify my honor and spare the life of her precious brother she should not have done so in the same tone with which she would have asked a tradesman for his bill. The fact that I knew, since I meant to fire in the air, that the duel was a farce, made it still more difficult for me to speak.

But I managed to say that what she asked was impossible.

"I do not know," I stammered, "that I ought to talk about it to you at all. But you don't understand that your brother did not only insult me. He insulted my regiment, and my general. It was that I resented, and that is why I am fighting."

"Then you refuse?" she said.

"I have no choice," I replied; "he has left me no choice."

She drew back, but still stood looking at me coldly. The dislike in her eyes wounded me inexpressively.

Before she spoke I had longed only for the chance to assure her of my regard, and had she appealed to me generously, in a manner suited to one so noble-looking, I was in a state of mind to swim rivers and climb mountains to serve her. I still would have fought the duel, but sooner than harm her brother I would have put my hand in the fire. Now, since she had spoken, I was filled only with pity and disappointment. It seemed so wrong that one so finely bred and wonderfully fair should feel so little consideration. No matter how greatly she had been prejudiced against me she had no cause to ignore my rights in the matter. To speak to me as though I had no honor of my own, no worthy motive, to treat me like a common brawler who, because his vanity was wounded, was trying to force an unoffending stranger to a fight.

My vanity was wounded, but I felt more sorry for her than for myself, and when she spoke again I listened eagerly, hoping she would say something which would soften what had gone before. But she did not make it easier for either of us.

"If I persuade my brother to apologize for what he said of your regiment," she continued, "will you accept his apology?" Her tone was one partly of interrogation, partly of command. "I do not think he is likely to do so," she added, "but if you will let that suffice, I shall see him at once, and ask him."

"You need not do that!" I replied, quickly. "As I have said, it is not my affair. It concerns my--a great many people. I am sorry, but the meeting must take place."

For the first time Miss Fiske smiled, but it was the same smile of amusement with which she had regarded us when she first saw us in the plaza.

"I quite understand," she said, still smiling. "You need not assure me that it concerns a great many people." She turned away as though the interview was at an end, and then halted. She had stepped into the circle of the moonlight so that her beauty shone full upon me.

"I know that it concerns a great many people," she cried. "I know that it is all a part of the plot against my father!"

I gave a gasp of consternation which she misconstrued, for she continued, bitterly.

"Oh, I know everything," she said. "Mr. Graham has told me all that you mean to do. I was foolish to appeal to any one of you. You have set out to fight my father, and your friends will use any means to win. But I should have thought," she cried, her voice rising and ringing like an alarm, "that they would have stopped at assassinating his son."

I stepped back from her as though she had struck at me.

"Miss Fiske," I cried. What she had charged was so monstrous, so absurd that I could answer nothing in defence. My brain refused to believe that she had said it. I could not conceive that any creature so utterly lovely could be so unseeing, so bitter, and so unfair.

Her charge was ridiculous, but my disappointment in her was so keen that the tears came to my eyes.

I put my hat back on my head, saluted her and passed her quickly.

"Captain Macklin," she cried. "What is it? What have I said?" She stretched out her hand toward me, but I did not stop.

"Captain Macklin!" she called after me in such a voice that I was forced to halt and turn.

"What are you going to do?" she demanded. "Oh, yes, I see," she exclaimed. "I see how it sounded to you. And you?" she cried. Her voice was trembling with concern. "Because I said that, you mean to punish me for it--through my brother? You mean to make him suffer. You will kill him!" Her voice rose to an accent of terror. "But I only said it because he is my brother, my own brother. Cannot you understand what that means to me? Cannot you understand why I said it?"

We stood facing each other, I, staring at her miserably, and she breathing quickly, and holding her hand to her side as though she had been running a long distance.

"No," I said in a low voice. It was very hard for me to speak at all. "No, I cannot understand."

I pulled off my hat again, and stood before her crushing it in my hands.

"Why didn't you trust me?" I said, bitterly. "How could you doubt what I would do? I trusted you. From the moment you came riding toward me, I thanked God for the sight of such a woman. For making anything so beautiful."

I stopped, for I saw I had again offended. At the words she drew back quickly, and her eyes shone with indignation. She looked at me as though I had tried to touch her with my hand. But I spoke on without heeding her. I repeated the words with which I had offended.

"Yes," I said, "I thanked God for anything so noble and so beautiful. To me, you could do no wrong. But you! You judged me before you even knew my name. You said I was a cad who went about armed to fight unarmed men. To you I was a coward who could be frightened off by a tale of bulls-eyes, and broken pipe-stems at a Paris fair. What do I care for your brother's tricks. Let him see my score cards at West Point. He'll find them framed on the walls. I was first a coward and a cad, and now I am a bully and a hired assassin. From the first, you and your brother have laughed at me and mine while all I asked of you was to be what you seemed to be, what I was happy to think you were. I wanted to believe in you. Why did you show me that you can be selfish and unfeeling? It is you who do not understand. You understand so little," I cried, "that I pity you from the bottom of my heart. I give you my word, I pity you."

"Stop," she commanded. I drew back and bowed, and we stood confronting each other in silence.

"And they call you a brave man," she said at last, speaking slowly and steadily, as though she were picking each word. "It is like a brave man to insult a woman, because she wants to save her brother's life."

When I raised my face it was burning, as though she had thrown vitriol.

"If I have insulted you, Miss Fiske," I said, "if I have ever insulted any woman, I hope to God that to-morrow morning your brother will kill me."

When I turned and looked back at her from the door, she was leaning against one of the pillars with her face bent in her hands, and weeping bitterly.

I rode to the barracks and spent several hours in writing a long letter to Beatrice. I felt a great need to draw near to her. I was confused and sore and unhappy, and although nothing of this, nor of the duel appeared in my letter, I was comforted to think that I was writing it to her. It was good to remember that there was such a woman in the world, and when I compared her with the girl from whom I had just parted, I laughed out loud.

And yet I knew that had I put the case to Beatrice, she would have discovered something to present in favor of Miss Fiske.

"She was pleading for her brother, and she did not understand," Beatrice would have said. But in my own heart I could find no excuse. Her family had brought me nothing but evil. Because her father would not pay his debts, I had been twice wounded and many times had risked death; the son had struck me with a whip in the public streets, and the sister had called me everything that is contemptible, from a cad to a hired cut-throat. So, I was done with the house of Fiske. My hand was against it. I owed it nothing.

But with all my indignation against them, for which there was reason enough, I knew in my heart that I had looked up to them, and stood in awe of them, for reasons that made me the cad they called me. Ever since my arrival in Honduras I had been carried away by the talk of the Fiske millions, and later by the beauty of the girl, and by the boy's insolent air, of what I accepted as good breeding. I had been impressed with his five years in Paris, by the cut of his riding- clothes even, by the fact that he owned a yacht. I had looked up to them, because they belonged to a class who formed society, as I knew society through the Sunday papers. And now these superior beings had rewarded my snobbishness by acting toward me in a way that was contrary to every ideal I held of what was right and decent. For such as these, I had felt ashamed of my old comrades. It was humiliating, but it was true; and as I admitted this to myself, my cheeks burned in the darkness, and I buried my face in the pillow. For some time I lay awake debating fiercely in my mind as to whether, when I faced young Fiske, I should shoot the pistol out of his hand, or fire into the ground. And it was not until I had decided that the latter act would better show our contempt for him and his insult, that I fell asleep.

Von Ritter and Miller woke me at four o'clock. They were painfully correct and formal. Miller had even borrowed something of the Baron's manner, which sat upon him as awkwardly as would a wig and patches. I laughed at them both, but, for the time being, they had lost their sense of humor; and we drank our coffee in a constrained and sleepy silence.

At the graveyard we found that Fiske, his two seconds, Graham and Lowell, the young Middy, and a local surgeon had already arrived. We exchanged bows and salutes gloomily and the seconds gathered together, and began to talk in hoarse whispers. It was still very dark. The moon hung empty and pallid above the cold outline of the hills, and although the roosters were crowing cheerfully, the sun had not yet risen. In the hollows the mists lay like lakes, and every stone and rock was wet and shining as though it had been washed in readiness for the coming day. The gravestones shone upon us like freshly scrubbed doorsteps. It was a most dismal spot, and I was so cold that I was afraid I would shiver, and Fiske might think I was nervous. So I moved briskly about among the graves, reading the inscriptions on the tombstones. Under the circumstances the occupation, to a less healthy mind, would have been depressing. My adversary, so it seemed to me, carried himself with a little too much unconcern. It struck me that he overdid it. He laughed with the local surgeon, and pointed out the moon and the lakes of mist as though we had driven out to observe the view. I could not think of anything to do which would show that I was unconcerned too, so I got back into the carriage and stretched my feet out to the seat opposite, and continued to smoke my cigar.

Incidentally, by speaking to Lowell, I hurt Von Ritter's feelings. It seems that as one of the other man's seconds I should have been more haughty with him. But when he passed me, pacing out the ground, he saluted stiffly, and as I saluted back, I called out: "I suppose you know you'll catch it if they find out about this at Washington?" And he answered, with a grin: "Yes, I know, but I couldn't get out of it."

"Neither could I," I replied, cheerfully, and in so loud a tone that everyone heard me. Von Ritter was terribly annoyed.

At last all was arranged and we took our places. We were to use pistols. They were double-barrelled affairs, with very fine hair- triggers. Graham was to give the word by asking if we were ready, andwas then to count "One, two, three."

After the word "one" we could fire when we pleased. When each of us had emptied both barrels, our honor was supposed to be satisfied.

Young Fiske wore a blue yachting suit with the collar turned up, and no white showing except his face, and that in the gray light of the dawn was a sickly white, like the belly of a fish. After he had walked to his mark he never took his eyes from me. They seemed to be probing around under my uniform for the vulnerable spot. I had never before had anyone look at me, who seemed to so frankly dislike me.

Curiously enough, I kept thinking of the story of the man who boasted he was so good a shot that he could break the stem of a wine-glass, and how someone said: "Yes, but the wine-glass isn't holding a pistol." Then, while I was smiling at the application I had made of this story to my scowling adversary, there came up a picture, not of home and of Beatrice, nor of my past sins, but of the fellow's sister as I last saw her in the moonlight, leaning against the pillar of the balcony with her head bowed in her hands. And at once it all seemed contemptible and cruel. No quarrel in the world, so it appeared to me then, was worth while if it were going to make a woman suffer. And for an instant I was so indignant with Fiske for having dragged me into this one, to feed his silly vanity, that for a moment I felt like walking over and giving him a sound thrashing. But at the instant I heard Graham demand, "Are you ready?" and I saw Fiske fasten his eyes on mine, and nod his head. The moment had come.

"One," Graham counted, and at the word Fiske threw up his gun and fired, and the ball whistled past my ear. My pistol was still hanging at my side, so I merely pulled the trigger, and the ball went into the ground. But instantly I saw my mistake. Shame and consternation were written on the faces of my two seconds, and to the face of Fiske there came a contemptuous smile. I at once understood my error. I read what was in the mind of each. They dared to think I had pulled the trigger through nervousness, that I had fired before I was ready, that I was frightened and afraid. I am sure I never was so angry in my life, and I would have cried out to them, if a movement on the part of Fiske had not sobered me. Still smiling, he lifted his pistol slightly and aimed for, so it seemed to me, some seconds, and then fired.

I felt the bullet cut the lining of my tunic and burn the flesh over my ribs, and the warm blood tickling my side, but I was determined he should not know he had hit me, and not even my lips moved.

Then a change, so sudden and so remarkable, came over the face of young Fiske, that its very agony fascinated me. At first it was incomprehensible, and then I understood. He had fired his last shot, he thought he had missed, and he was waiting for me, at my leisure, to kill him with my second bullet.

I raised the pistol, and it was as though you could hear the silence. Every waking thing about us seemed to suddenly grow still. I brought the barrel slowly to a level with his knee, raised it to his heart, passed it over his head, and, aiming in the air, fired at the moon, and then tossed the gun away. The waking world seemed to breathe again, and from every side there came a chorus of quick exclamations; but without turning to note who made them, nor what they signified, I walked back to the carriage, and picked up my cigar. It was still burning.

Von Ritter ran to the side of the carriage.

"You must wait," he protested. "Mr. Fiske wishes to shake hands with you. It is not finished yet."

"Yes, it is finished," I replied, savagely. "I have humored you two long enough. A pest on both your houses. I'm going back to breakfast."

Poor Von Ritter drew away, deeply hurt and scandalized, but my offence was nothing to the shock he received when young Lowell ran to the carriage and caught up my hand. He looked at me with a smile that would have softened a Spanish duenna.

"See here!" he cried. "Whether you like it or not, you've got to shake hands with me. I want to tell you that was one of the finest things I ever saw." He squeezed my fingers until the bones crunched together. "I've heard a lot about you, and now I believe all I've heard. To stand up there," he ran on, breathlessly, "knowing you didn't mean to fire, and knowing he was a dead shot, and make a canvas target of yourself--that was bully. You were an ass to do it, but it was great. You going back to breakfast?" he demanded, suddenly, with the same winning, eager smile. "So am I. I speak to go with you."

Before I could reply he had vaulted into the carriage, and was shouting at the driver.

"Cochero, to the Barracks. Full speed ahead. Vamoose. Give way. Allez vite!"

"But my seconds," I protested.

"They can walk," he said.

Already the horses were at a gallop, and as we swung around the wall of the graveyard and were hidden from the sight of the others, Lowell sprang into the seat beside me. With the quick fingers of the sailor, he cast off my sword-belt and tore open my blouse.

"I wanted to get you away," he muttered, "before he found out he had hit you."

"I'm not hit," I protested.

"Just as you like," he said. "Still, it looks rather damp to the left here."

But, as I knew, the bullet had only grazed me, and the laugh of relief Lowell gave when he raised his head, and said, "Why, it's only a scratch," meant as much to me as though he had rendered me some great service. For it seemed to prove a genuine, friendly concern, and no one, except Laguerre, had shown that for me since I had left home. I had taken a fancy to Lowell from the moment he had saluted me like a brother officer in the Plaza, and I had wished he would like me. I liked him better than any other young man I had ever met. I had never had a man for a friend, but before we had finished breakfast I believe we were better friends than many boys who had lived next door to each other from the day they were babies.

As a rule, I do not hit it off with men, so I felt that his liking me was a great piece of good fortune, and a great honor. He was only three years older than myself, but he knew much more about everything than I did, and his views of things were as fine and honorable as they were amusing.

Since then we have grown to be very close friends indeed, and we have ventured together into many queer corners, but I have never ceased to admire him, and I have always found him the same--unconscious of himself and sufficient to himself. I mean that if he were presented to an Empress he would not be impressed, nor if he chatted with a bar- maid would he be familiar. He would just look at each of them with his grave blue eyes and think only of what she was saying, and not at all of what sort of an impression he was making, or what she thought of him. Aiken helped me a lot by making me try not to be like Aiken; Lowell helped me by making me wish to be like Lowell.

We had a very merry breakfast, and the fact that it was seven in the morning did not in the least interfere with our drinking each other's health in a quart of champagne. Nearly all of our officers came in while we were at breakfast to learn if I were still alive, and Lowell gave them most marvellous accounts of the affair, sometimes representing me as an idiot and sometimes as an heroic martyr.

They all asked him if he thought Fiske had sufficient influence at Washington to cause the Government to give him the use of the Raleigh against us, but he would only laugh and shake his head.

Later, to Laguerre, he talked earnestly on the same subject, and much to the point.

The news of the duel had reached the palace at eight o'clock, and the president at once started for the barracks.

We knew he was coming when we heard the people in the cafes shouting "Viva," as they always did when he appeared in public, and, though I was badly frightened as to what he would say to me, I ran to the door and turned out the guard to receive him.

He had put on one of the foreign uniforms he was entitled to wear--he did not seem to fancy the one I had designed--and as he rode across the Plaza I thought I had never seen a finer soldier. Lowell said he looked like a field marshal of the Second Empire. I was glad Lowell had come to the door with me, as he could now see for himself that my general was one for whom a man might be proud to fight a dozen duels.

The president gave his reins to an orderly and mounted the steps, touching his chapeau to the salute of guard and the shouting citizens, but his eyes were fixed sternly on me. I saw that he was deeply moved, and I wished fervently, now that it was too late, that I had told him of the street fight at the time, and not allowed him to hear of it from others. I feared the worst. I was prepared for any reproof, any punishment, even the loss of my commission, and I braced myself for his condemnation.

But when he reached the top step where I stood at salute, although I was inwardly quaking, he halted and his lips suddenly twisted, and the tears rushed to his eyes.

He tried to speak, but made only a choking, inarticulate sound, and then, with a quick gesture, before all the soldiers and all the people, he caught me in his arms.

"My boy," he whispered, "my boy! For you were lost," he murmured, "and have returned to me."

I heard Lowell running away, and the door of the guard-room banging behind him, I heard the cheers of the people who, it seems, already knew of the duel and understood the tableau on the barrack steps, but the thought that Laguerre cared for me even as a son made me deaf to everything, and my heart choked with happiness.

It passed in a moment, and in manner he was once more my superior officer, but the door he had opened was never again wholly shut to me.

In the guard-room I presented Lowell to the president, and I was proud to see the respect with which Lowell addressed him. At the first glance they seemed to understand each other, and they talked together as simply as would friends of long acquaintance.

After they had spoken of many things, Laguerre said: "Would it be fair for me to ask you, Mr. Lowell, what instructions the United States has given your commanding officer in regard to our government?"

To this Lowell answered: "All I know, sir, is that when we arrived at Amapala, Captain Miller telegraphed the late president, Doctor Alvarez, that we were here to protect American interests. But you probably know," he added, "as everyone else does, that we came here because the Isthmian Line demanded protection."

"Yes, so I supposed," Laguerre replied. "But I understand Mr. Graham has said that when Mr. Fiske gives the word Captain Miller will land your marines and drive us out of the country."

Lowell shrugged his shoulders and frowned.

"Mr. Graham--" he began, "is Mr. Graham." He added: "Captain Miller is not taking orders from civilians, and he depends on his own sources for information. I am here because he sent me to 'Go, look, see,' and report. I have been wiring him ever since you started from the coast, and since you became president. Your censor has very kindly allowed me to use our cipher."

I laughed, and said: "We court investigation."

"Pardon me, sir," Lowell answered, earnestly, addressing himself to Laguerre, "but I should think you would. Why," he exclaimed, "every merchant in the city has told me he considers his interests have never been so secure as since you became president. It is only the Isthmian Line that wants the protection of our ship. The foreign merchants are not afraid. I hate it!" he cried, "I hate to think that a billionaire, with a pull at Washington, can turn our Jackies into Janissaries. Protect American interests!" he exclaimed, indignantly, "protect American sharpers! The Isthmian Line has no more right to the protection of our Navy than have the debtors in Ludlow Street Jail."

Laguerre sat for a long time without replying, and then rose and bowed to Lowell with great courtesy.

"I must be returning," he said. "I thank you, sir, for your good opinion. At my earliest convenience I shall pay my respects to your commanding officer. At ten o'clock," he continued turning to me, "I am to have my talk with Mr. Fiske. I have not the least doubt but that he will see the justice of our claim against his company, and before evening I am sure I shall be able to announce throughout the republic that I have his guaranty for the money. Mr. Fiske is an able, upright business man, as well as a gentleman, and he will not see this country robbed."

He shook hands with us and we escorted him to his horse.

I always like to remember him as I saw him then, in that gorgeous uniform, riding away under the great palms of the Plaza, with the tropical sunshine touching his white hair, and flashing upon the sabres of the body-guard, and the people running from every side of the square to cheer him.

Two hours later, when I had finished my "paper" work and was setting forth on my daily round, Miller came galloping up to the barracks and flung himself out of the saddle. He nodded to Lowell, and pulled me roughly to one side.

"The talk with Fiske," he whispered, "ended in the deuce of a row. Fiske behaved like a mule. He told Laguerre that the original charter of the company had been tampered with, and that the one Laguerre submitted to him was a fake copy. And he ended by asking Laguerre to name his price to leave them alone."

"And Laguerre?"

"Well, what do you suppose," Miller returned, scornfully. "The General just looked at him, and then picked up a pen, and began to write, and said to the orderly, 'Show him out.'

"'What's that?' Fiske said. And Laguerre answered: 'Merely a figure of speech; what I really meant was "Put him out," or "throw him out!" You are an offensive and foolish old man. I, the President of this country, received you and conferred with you as one gentleman with another, and you tried to insult me. You are either extremely ignorant, or extremely dishonest, and I shall treat with you no longer. Instead, I shall at once seize every piece of property belonging to your company, and hold it until you pay your debts. Now you go, and congratulate yourself that when you tried to insult me, you did so when you were under my roof, at my invitation.' Then Laguerre wired the commandantes at all the seaports to seize the warehouses and officers of the Isthmian Line, and even its ships, and to occupy the buildings with troops. He means business," Miller cried, jubilantly. "This time it's a fight to a finish."

Lowell had already sent for his horse, and altogether we started at a gallop for the palace. At the office of the Isthmian Line we were halted by a crowd so great that it blocked the street. The doors of the building were barred, and two sentries were standing guard in front of it. A proclamation on the wall announced that, by order of the President, the entire plant of the Isthmian Line had been confiscated, and that unless within two weeks the company paid its debts to the government, the government would sell the property of the company until it had obtained the money due it.

At the entrance to the palace the sergeant in charge of the native guard, who was one of our men, told us that two ships of the Isthmian Line had been caught in port; one at Cortez on her way to Aspinwall, and one at Truxillo, bound north. The passengers had been landed, and were to remain on shore as guests of the government until they could be transferred to another line.

Lowell's face as he heard this was very grave, and he shook his head.

"A perfectly just reprisal, if you ask me," he said, "but what one lonely ensign tells you in confidence, and what Fiske will tell the State Department at Washington, is a very different matter. It's a good thing," he exclaimed, with a laugh, "that the Raleigh's on the wrong side of the Isthmus. If we were in the Caribbean, they might order us to make you give back those ships. As it is, we can't get marines here from the Pacific under three days. So I'd better start them at once," he added, suddenly. "Good-by, I must wire the Captain."

"Don't let the United States Navy do anything reckless," I said. "I'm not so sure you could take those ships, and I'm not so sure your marines can get here in three days, either, or that they ever could get here."

Lowell gave a shout of derision.

"What," he cried, "you'd fight against your country's flag?"

I told him he must not forget that at West Point they had decided I was not good enough to fight for my country's flag.

"We've three ships of our own now," I added, with a grin. "How would you like to be Rear Admiral of the naval forces of Honduras?"

Lowell caught up his reins in mock terror.

"What!" he cried. "You'd dare to bribe an American officer? And with such a fat bribe, too?" he exclaimed. "A Rear-Admiral at my age! That's dangerously near my price. I'm afraid to listen to you. Good- by." He waved his hand and started down the street. "Good-by, Satan," he called back to me, and I laughed, and he rode away.

That was the end of the laughter, of the jests, of the play-acting.

After that it was grim, grim, bitter and miserable. We dogs had had our day. We soldiers of either fortune had tasted our cup of triumph, and though it was only a taste, it had flown to our brains like heavy wine, and the headaches and the heartaches followed fast. For some it was more than a heartache; to them it brought the deep, drugged sleep of Nirvana.

The storm broke at the moment I turned from Lowell on the steps of the palace, and it did not cease, for even one brief breathing space, until we were cast forth, and scattered, and beaten.

As Lowell left me, General Laguerre, with Aiken at his side, came hurrying down the hall of the palace. The President was walking with his head bowed, listening to Aiken, who was whispering and gesticulating vehemently. I had never seen him so greatly excited. When he caught sight of me he ran forward.

"Here he is," he cried. "Have you heard from Heinze?" he demanded. "Has he asked you to send him a native regiment to Pecachua?"

"Yes," I answered, "he wanted natives to dig trenches. I sent five hundred at eight this morning."

Aiken clenched his fingers. It was like the quick, desperate clutch of a drowning man.

"I'm right," he cried. He turned upon Laguerre. "Macklin has sent them. By this time our men are prisoners."

Laguerre glanced sharply at the native guard drawn up at attention on either side of us. "Hush," he said. He ran past us down the steps, and halting when he reached the street, turned and looked up at the great bulk of El Pecachua that rose in the fierce sunlight, calm and inscrutable, against the white, glaring masses of the clouds.

"What is it?" I whispered.

"Heinze!" Aiken answered, savagely. "Heinze has sold them Pecachua."

I cried out, but again Laguerre commanded silence. "You do not know that," he said; but his voice trembled, and his face was drawn in lines of deep concern.

"I warned you!" Aiken cried, roughly. "I warned you yesterday; I told you to send Macklin to Pecachua."

He turned on me and held me by the sleeve, but like Laguerre he still continued to look fearfully toward the mountain.

"They came to me last night, Graham came to me," he whispered. "He offered me ten thousand dollars gold, and I did not take it." In his wonder at his own integrity, in spite of the excitement which shook him, Aiken's face for an instant lit with a weak, gratified smile. "I pretended to consider it," he went on, "and sent another of my men to Pecachua. He came back an hour ago. He tells me Graham offered Heinze twenty thousand dollars to buy off himself and the other officers and the men. But Heinze was afraid of the others, and so he planned to ask Laguerre for a native regiment, to pretend that he wanted them to work on the trenches. And then, when our men were lying about, suspecting nothing, the natives should fall on them and tie them, or shoot them, and then turn the guns on the city. And he _has sent for the niggars!" Aiken cried. "And there's not one of them that wouldn't sell you out. They're there now!" he cried, shaking his hand at the mountain. "I warned you! I warned you!"

Incredible as it seemed, difficult as it was to believe such baseness, I felt convinced that Aiken spoke the truth. The thought sickened me, but I stepped over to Laguerre and saluted.

"I can assemble the men in half an hour," I said. "We can reach the base of the rock an hour later."

"But if it should not be true," Laguerre protested. "The insult to Heinze--"

"Heinze!" Aiken shouted, and broke into a volley of curses. But the oaths died in his throat. We heard a whirr of galloping hoofs; a man's voice shrieking to his horse; the sounds of many people running, and one of my scouts swept into the street, and raced toward us. He fell off at our feet, and the pony rolled upon its head, its flanks heaving horribly and the blood spurting from its nostrils.

"Garcia and Alvarez!" the man panted. "They're making for the city. They tried to fool us. They left their tents up, and fires burning, and started at night, but I smelt 'em the moment they struck the trail. We fellows have been on their flanks since sun-up, picking 'em off at long range, but we can't hold them. They'll be here in two hours."

"Now, will you believe me?" Aiken shouted. "That's their plot. They're working together. They mean to trap us on every side. Ah!" he cried. "Look!"

I knew the thing at which he wished me to look. His voice and my dread told me at what his arm was pointing.

I raised my eyes fearfully to El Pecachua. From its green crest a puff of smoke was swelling into a white cloud, the cloud was split with a flash of flame, and the dull echo of the report drifted toward us on the hot, motionless air. At the same instant our flag on the crest of Pecachua, the flag with the five-pointed, blood-red star, came twitching down; and a shell screeched and broke above us.

Now that he knew the worst, the doubt and concern on the face of General Laguerre fell from it like a mask.

"We have no guns that will reach the mountain, have we?" he asked. He spoke as calmly as though we were changing guard.

"No, not one," I answered. "All our heavy pieces are on Pecachua."

"Then we must take it by assault," he said. "We will first drive Garcia back, and then we will storm the hill, or starve them out. Assemble all the men at the palace at once. Trust to no one but yourself. Ride to every outpost and order them here. Send Von Ritter and the gatlings to meet Alvarez. This man will act as his guide."

He turned to the scout. "You will find my horse in the court-yard of the palace," he said to him. "Take it, and accompany Captain Macklin. Tell Von Ritter," he continued, turning to me, "not to expose his men, but to harass the enemy, and hold him until I come." His tone was easy, confident, and assured. Even as I listened to his command I marvelled at the rapidity with which his mind worked, how he rose to an unexpected situation, and met unforeseen difficulties.

"That is all," he said. "I will expect the men here in half an hour."

He turned from me calmly. As he re-entered the palace between the lines of the guard he saluted as punctiliously as though he were on his way to luncheon.

But no one else shared in his calmness. The bursting shells had driven the people from their houses, and they were screaming through the streets, as though an earthquake had shaken the city. Even the palace was in an uproar.

The scout, as he entered it, shouting for the President's horse, had told the story to our men, and they came running to the great doors, fastening their accoutrements as they ran. Outside, even as Laguerre had been speaking, the people had gathered in a great circle, whispering and gesticulating, pointing at us, at the dying horse, at the shells that swung above us, at the flag of Alvarez which floated from Pecachua. When I spurred my horse forward, with the scout at my side, there was a sullen silence. The smiles, the raised hats, the cheers were missing, and I had but turned my back on them when a voice shouted, "Viva Alvarez!"

I swung in my saddle, and pulled out my sword. I thought it was only the bravado of some impudent fellow who needed a lesson.

But it was a signal, for as I turned I saw the native guard spring like one man upon our sergeant and drive their bayonets into his throat. He went down with a dozen of the dwarf-like negroes stabbing and kicking at him, and the mob ran shrieking upon the door of the palace.

On the instant I forgot everything except Laguerre. I had only one thought, to get to him, to place myself at his side.

I pushed my horse among the people, beating at the little beasts with my sword. But the voice I knew best of all called my name from just above my head, and I looked up and saw Laguerre with Aiken and Webster on the iron balcony of the palace.

Laguerre's face was white and set.

"Captain Macklin!" he cried. "What does this mean? Obey your orders. You have my orders. Obey my orders."

"I can't," I cried. "This is an attack upon you! They will kill you!"

At the moment I spoke our men fired a scattering volley at the mob, and swung to the great gates. The mob answered their volley with a dozen pistol-shots, and threw itself forward. Still looking up, I saw Laguerre clasp his hands to his throat, and fall back upon Webster's shoulder, but he again instantly stood upright and motioned me fiercely with his arm. "Go," he cried. "Bring the gatlings here, and all the men. If you delay we lose the palace. Obey my orders," he again commanded, with a second fierce gesture.

The movement was all but fatal. The wound in his throat tore apart, his head fell forward and his eyes closed. I saw the blood spreading and dyeing the gold braid. But he straightened himself and leaned forward. His eyes opened, and, holding himself erect with one hand on the railing of the balcony, he stretched the other over me, as though in benediction.

"Go, Royal!" he cried, "and--God bless you!"

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