Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSoldiers Of Fortune - Chapter III
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter III Post by :winte37703 Category :Long Stories Author :Richard Harding Davis Date :March 2011 Read :3178

Click below to download : Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter III (Format : PDF)

Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter III

The Langhams were to arrive on Friday, and during the week before
that day Clay went about with a long slip of paper in his pocket
which he would consult earnestly in corners, and upon which he
would note down the things that they had left undone. At night
he would sit staring at it and turning it over in much concern,
and would beg Langham to tell him what he could have meant when
he wrote ``see Weimer,'' or ``clean brasses,'' or ``S. Q. M.''
``Why should I see Weimer,'' he would exclaim, ``and which
brasses, and what does S. Q. M. stand for, for heaven's sake?''

They held a full-dress rehearsal in the bungalow to improve its
state of preparation, and drilled the servants and talked English
to them, so that they would know what was wanted when the young
ladies came. It was an interesting exercise, and had the three
young men been less serious in their anxiety to welcome the
coming guests they would have found themselves very amusing--as
when Langham would lean over the balcony in the court and
shout back into the kitchen, in what was supposed to be an
imitation of his sister's manner, ``Bring my coffee and rolls--
and don't take all day about it either,'' while Clay and
MacWilliams stood anxiously below to head off the servants when
they carried in a can of hot water instead of bringing the horses
round to the door, as they had been told to do.

``Of course it's a bit rough and all that,'' Clay would say,
``but they have only to tell us what they want changed and we can
have it ready for them in an hour.''

``Oh, my sisters are all right,'' Langham would reassure him;
``they'll think it's fine. It will be like camping-out to them,
or a picnic. They'll understand.''

But to make sure, and to ``test his girders,'' as Clay put it,
they gave a dinner, and after that a breakfast. The President
came to the first, with his wife, the Countess Manuelata, Madame
la Presidenta, and Captain Stuart, late of the Gordon
Highlanders, and now in command of the household troops at the
Government House and of the body-guard of the President. He was
a friend of Clay's and popular with every one present, except for
the fact that he occupied this position, instead of serving his
own Government in his own army. Some people said he had been
crossed in love, others, less sentimental, that he had forged a
check, or mixed up the mess accounts of his company. But Clay
and MacWilliams said it concerned no one why he was there, and
then emphasized the remark by picking a quarrel with a man who
had given an unpleasant reason for it. Stuart, so far as they
were concerned, could do no wrong.

The dinner went off very well, and the President consented to
dine with them in a week, on the invitation of young Langham to
meet his father.

``Miss Langham is very beautiful, they tell me,'' Madame Alvarez
said to Clay. ``I heard of her one winter in Rome; she was
presented there and much admired.''

``Yes, I believe she is considered very beautiful,'' Clay said.
``I have only just met her, but she has travelled a great deal
and knows every one who is of interest, and I think you will like
her very much.''

``I mean to like her,'' said the woman. ``There are very few of
the native ladies who have seen much of the world beyond a trip
to Paris, where they live in their hotels and at the dressmaker's
while their husbands enjoy themselves; and sometimes I am rather
heart-sick for my home and my own people. I was overjoyed when I
heard Miss Langham was to be with us this winter. But you
must not keep her out here to yourselves. It is too far and too
selfish. She must spend some time with me at the Government
House.''

``Yes,'' said Clay, ``I am afraid of that. I am afraid the young
ladies will find it rather lonely out here.''

``Ah, no,'' exclaimed the woman, quickly. ``You have made it
beautiful, and it is only a half-hour's ride, except when it
rains,'' she added, laughing, ``and then it is almost as easy to
row as to ride.''

``I will have the road repaired,'' interrupted the President.
``It is my wish, Mr. Clay, that you will command me in every way;
I am most desirous to make the visit of Mr. Langham agreeable to
him, he is doing so much for us.''

The breakfast was given later in the week, and only men were
present. They were the rich planters and bankers of Valencia,
generals in the army, and members of the Cabinet, and officers
from the tiny war-ship in the harbor. The breeze from the bay
touched them through the open doors, the food and wine cheered
them, and the eager courtesy and hospitality of the three
Americans pleased and flattered them. They were of a people who
better appreciate the amenities of life than its sacrifices.

The breakfast lasted far into the afternoon, and, inspired by
the success of the banquet, Clay quite unexpectedly found himself
on his feet with his hand on his heart, thanking the guests for
the good-will and assistance which they had given him in his
work. ``I have tramped down your coffee plants, and cut away
your forests, and disturbed your sleep with my engines, and you
have not complained,'' he said, in his best Spanish, ``and we
will show that we are not ungrateful.''

Then Weimer, the Consul, spoke, and told them that in his Annual
Consular Report, which he had just forwarded to the State
Department, he had related how ready the Government of Olancho
had been to assist the American company. ``And I hope,'' he
concluded, ``that you will allow me, gentlemen, to propose the
health of President Alvarez and the members of his Cabinet.''

The men rose to their feet, one by one, filling their glasses and
laughing and saying, ``Viva el Gobernador,'' until they were all
standing. Then, as they looked at one another and saw only the
faces of friends, some one of them cried, suddenly, ``To
President Alvarez, Dictator of Olancho!''

The cry was drowned in a yell of exultation, and men sprang
cheering to their chairs waving their napkins above their heads,
and those who wore swords drew them and flashed them in the
air, and the quiet, lazy good-nature of the breakfast was turned
into an uproarious scene of wild excitement. Clay pushed back
his chair from the head of the table with an anxious look at the
servants gathered about the open door, and Weimer clutched
frantically at Langham's elbow and whispered, ``What did I say?
For heaven's sake, how did it begin?''

The outburst ceased as suddenly as it had started, and old
General Rojas, the Vice-President, called out, ``What is said is
said, but it must not be repeated.''

Stuart waited until after the rest had gone, and Clay led him out
to the end of the veranda. ``Now will you kindly tell me what
that was?'' Clay asked. ``It didn't sound like champagne.''

``No,'' said the other, ``I thought you knew. Alvarez means to
proclaim himself Dictator, if he can, before the spring
elections.''

``And are you going to help him?''

``Of course,'' said the Englishman, simply.

``Well, that's all right,'' said Clay, ``but there's no use
shouting the fact all over the shop like that--and they shouldn't
drag me into it.''

Stuart laughed easily and shook his head. ``It won't be long
before you'll be in it yourself,'' he said.

Clay awoke early Friday morning to hear the shutters beating
viciously against the side of the house, and the wind rushing
through the palms, and the rain beating in splashes on the zinc
roof. It did not come soothingly and in a steady downpour, but
brokenly, like the rush of waves sweeping over a rough beach. He
turned on the pillow and shut his eyes again with the same
impotent and rebellious sense of disappointment that he used to
feel when he had wakened as a boy and found it storming on his
holiday, and he tried to sleep once more in the hope that when he
again awoke the sun would be shining in his eyes; but the storm
only slackened and did not cease, and the rain continued to fall
with dreary, relentless persistence. The men climbed the muddy
road to the Palms, and viewed in silence the wreck which the
night had brought to their plants and garden paths. Rivulets of
muddy water had cut gutters over the lawn and poured out from
under the veranda, and plants and palms lay bent and broken, with
their broad leaves bedraggled and coated with mud. The harbor
and the encircling mountains showed dimly through a curtain of
warm, sticky rain. To something that Langham said of making the
best of it, MacWilliams replied, gloomily, that he would not be
at all surprised if the ladies refused to leave the ship and
demanded to be taken home immediately. ``I am sorry,'' Clay
said, simply; ``I wanted them to like it.''

The men walked back to the office in grim silence, and took turns
in watching with a glass the arms of the semaphore, three miles
below, at the narrow opening of the bay. Clay smiled nervously
at himself, with a sudden sinking at the heart, and with a hot
blush of pleasure, as he thought of how often he had looked at
its great arms out lined like a mast against the sky, and thanked
it in advance for telling him that she was near. In the harbor
below, the vessels lay with bare yards and empty decks, the
wharves were deserted, and only an occasional small boat moved
across the beaten surface of the bay.

But at twelve o'clock MacWilliams lowered the glass quickly, with
a little gasp of excitement, rubbed its moist lens on the inside
of his coat and turned it again toward a limp strip of bunting
that was crawling slowly up the halyards of the semaphore. A
second dripping rag answered it from the semaphore in front of
the Custom-House, and MacWilliams laughed nervously and shut the
glass.

``It's red,'' he said; ``they've come.''

They had planned to wear white duck suits, and go out in a launch
with a flag flying, and they had made MacWilliams purchase a red
cummerbund and a pith helmet; but they tumbled into the
launch now, wet and bedraggled as they were, and raced Weimer in
his boat, with the American flag clinging to the pole, to the
side of the big steamer as she drew slowly into the bay. Other
row-boats and launches and lighters began to push out from the
wharves, men appeared under the sagging awnings of the bare
houses along the river-front, and the custom and health officers
in shining oil-skins and puffing damp cigars clambered over the
side.

``I see them,'' cried Langham, jumping up and rocking the boat in
his excitement. ``There they are in the bow. That's Hope
waving. Hope! hullo, Hope!'' he shouted, ``hullo!'' Clay
recognized her standing between the younger sister and her
father, with the rain beating on all of them, and waving her hand
to Langham. The men took off their hats, and as they pulled up
alongside she bowed to Clay and nodded brightly. They sent
Langham up the gangway first, and waited until he had made his
greetings to his family alone.

``We have had a terrible trip, Mr. Clay,'' Miss Langham said to
him, beginning, as people will, with the last few days, as though
they were of the greatest importance; ``and we could see nothing
of you at the mines at all as we passed--only a wet flag, and
a lot of very friendly workmen, who cheered and fired off pans of
dynamite.''

``They did, did they?'' said Clay, with a satisfied nod.
``That's all right, then. That was a royal salute in your honor.
Kirkland had that to do. He's the foreman of A opening. I am
awfully sorry about this rain--it spoils everything.''

``I hope it hasn't spoiled our breakfast,'' said Mr. Langham.
``We haven't eaten anything this morning, because we wanted a
change of diet, and the captain told us we should be on shore
before now.''

``We have some carriages for you at the wharf, and we will drive
you right out to the Palms,'' said young Langham. ``It's shorter
by water, but there's a hill that the girls couldn't climb today.
That's the house we built for you, Governor, with the flag-pole,
up there on the hill; and there's your ugly old pier; and that's
where we live, in the little shack above it, with the tin roof;
and that opening to the right is the terminus of the railroad
MacWilliams built. Where's MacWilliams? Here, Mac, I want you
to know my father. This is MacWilliams, sir, of whom I wrote
you.''

There was some delay about the baggage, and in getting the party
together in the boats that Langham and the Consul had brought;
and after they had stood for some time on the wet dock,
hungry and damp, it was rather aggravating to find that the
carriages which Langham had ordered to be at one pier had gone to
another. So the new arrivals sat rather silently under the shed
of the levee on a row of cotton-bales, while Clay and MacWilliams
raced off after the carriages.

``I wish we didn't have to keep the hood down,'' young Langham
said, anxiously, as they at last proceeded heavily up the muddy
streets; ``it makes it so hot, and you can't see anything. Not
that it's worth seeing in all this mud and muck, but it's great
when the sun shines. We had planned it all so differently.''

He was alone with his family now in one carriage, and the other
men and the servants were before them in two others. It seemed
an interminable ride to them all--to the strangers, and to the
men who were anxious that they should be pleased. They left the
city at last, and toiled along the limestone road to the Palms,
rocking from side to side and sinking in ruts filled with rushing
water. When they opened the flap of the hood the rain beat in on
them, and when they closed it they stewed in a damp, warm
atmosphere of wet leather and horse-hair.

``This is worse than a Turkish bath,'' said Hope, faintly.
``Don't you live anywhere, Ted?''

``Oh, it's not far now,'' said the younger brother, dismally; but
even as he spoke the carriage lurched forward and plunged to one
side and came to a halt, and they could hear the streams rushing
past the wheels like the water at the bow of a boat. A wet,
black face appeared at the opening of the hood, and a man spoke
despondently in Spanish.

``He says we're stuck in the mud,'' explained Langham. He looked
at them so beseechingly and so pitifully, with the perspiration
streaming down his face, and his clothes damp and bedraggled,
that Hope leaned back and laughed, and his father patted him on
the knee. ``It can't be any worse,'' he said, cheerfully; ``it
must mend now. It is not your fault, Ted, that we're starving
and lost in the mud.''

Langham looked out to find Clay and MacWilliams knee-deep in the
running water, with their shoulders against the muddy wheels, and
the driver lashing at the horses and dragging at their bridles.
He sprang out to their assistance, and Hope, shaking off her
sister's detaining hands, jumped out after him, laughing. She
splashed up the hill to the horses' heads, motioning to the
driver to release his hold on their bridles.

``That is not the way to treat a horse,'' she said. ``Let me
have them. Are you men all ready down there?'' she called.
Each of the three men glued a shoulder to a wheel, and clenched
his teeth and nodded. ``All right, then,'' Hope called back.
She took hold of the huge Mexican bits close to the mouth, where
the pressure was not so cruel, and then coaxing and tugging by
turns, and slipping as often as the horses themselves, she drew
them out of the mud, and with the help of the men back of the
carriage pulled it clear until it stood free again at the top of
the hill. Then she released her hold on the bridles and looked
down, in dismay, at her frock and hands, and then up at the three
men. They appeared so utterly miserable and forlorn in their
muddy garments, and with their faces washed with the rain and
perspiration, that the girl gave way suddenly to an
uncontrollable shriek of delight. The men stared blankly at her
for a moment, and then inquiringly at one another, and as the
humor of the situation struck them they burst into an echoing
shout of laughter, which rose above the noise of the wind and
rain, and before which the disappointments and trials of the
morning were swept away. Before they reached the Palms the sun
was out and shining with fierce brilliancy, reflecting its rays
on every damp leaf, and drinking up each glistening pool of
water.

MacWilliams and Clay left the Langhams alone together, and
returned to the office, where they assured each other again and
again that there was no doubt, from what each had heard different
members of the family say, that they were greatly pleased with
all that had been prepared for them.

``They think it's fine!'' said young Langham, who had run down
the hill to tell them about it. ``I tell you, they are pleased.
I took them all over the house, and they just exclaimed every
minute. Of course,'' he said, dispassionately, ``I thought
they'd like it, but I had no idea it would please them as much as
it has. My Governor is so delighted with the place that he's
sitting out there on the veranda now, rocking himself up and down
and taking long breaths of sea-air, just as though he owned the
whole coast-line.''

Langham dined with his people that night, Clay and MacWilliams
having promised to follow him up the hill later. It was a night
of much moment to them all, and the two men ate their dinner in
silence, each considering what the coming of the strangers might
mean to him.

As he was leaving the room MacWilliams stopped and hovered
uncertainly in the doorway.

``Are you going to get yourself into a dress-suit to-night?'' he
asked. Clay said that he thought he would; he wanted to feel
quite clean once more.

``Well, all right, then,'' the other returned, reluctantly.
``I'll do it for this once, if you mean to, but you needn't think
I'm going to make a practice of it, for I'm not. I haven't worn
a dress-suit,'' he continued, as though explaining his principles
in the matter, ``since your spread when we opened the railroad--
that's six months ago; and the time before that I wore one at
MacGolderick's funeral. MacGolderick blew himself up at Puerto
Truxillo, shooting rocks for the breakwater. We never found all
of him, but we gave what we could get together as fine a funeral
as those natives ever saw. The boys, they wanted to make him
look respectable, so they asked me to lend them my dress-suit,
but I told them I meant to wear it myself. That's how I came to
wear a dress-suit at a funeral. It was either me or
MacGolderick.''

``MacWilliams,'' said Clay, as he stuck the toe of one boot into
the heel of the other, ``if I had your imagination I'd give up
railroading and take to writing war clouds for the newspapers.''

``Do you mean you don't believe that story?'' MacWilliams
demanded, sternly.

``I do,'' said Clay, ``I mean I don't.''

``Well, let it go,'' returned MacWilliams, gloomily; ``but
there's been funerals for less than that, let me tell you.''

A half-hour later MacWilliams appeared in the door and stood
gazing attentively at Clay arranging his tie before a hand-glass,
and then at himself in his unusual apparel.

``No wonder you voted to dress up,'' he exclaimed finally, in a
tone of personal injury. ``That's not a dress-suit you've got on
anyway. It hasn't any tails. And I hope for your sake, Mr.
Clay,'' he continued, his voice rising in plaintive indignation,
``that you are not going to play that scarf on us for a vest.
And you haven't got a high collar on, either. That's only a
rough blue print of a dress-suit. Why, you look just as
comfortable as though you were going to enjoy yourself--and you
look cool, too.''

``Well, why not?'' laughed Clay.

``Well, but look at me,'' cried the other. ``Do I look cool? Do
I look happy or comfortable? No, I don't. I look just about the
way I feel, like a fool undertaker. I'm going to take this thing
right off. You and Ted Langham can wear your silk scarfs and
bobtail coats, if you like, but if they don't want me in white
duck they don't get me.''

When they reached the Palms, Clay asked Miss Langham if she did
not want to see his view. ``And perhaps, if you appreciate it
properly, I will make you a present of it,'' he said, as he
walked before her down the length of the veranda.

``It would be very selfish to keep it all to my self,'' she said.

``Couldn't we share it?'' They had left the others seated facing
the bay, with MacWilliams and young Langham on the broad steps of
the veranda, and the younger sister and her father sitting in
long bamboo steamer-chairs above them.

Clay and Miss Langham were quite alone. From the high cliff on
which the Palms stood they could look down the narrow inlet that
joined the ocean and see the moonlight turning the water into a
rippling ladder of light and gilding the dark green leaves of the
palms near them with a border of silver. Directly below them lay
the waters of the bay, reflecting the red and green lights of the
ships at anchor, and beyond them again were the yellow lights of
the town, rising one above the other as the city crept up the
hill. And back of all were the mountains, grim and mysterious,
with white clouds sleeping in their huge valleys, like masses of
fog.

Except for the ceaseless murmur of the insect life about them the
night was absolutely still--so still that the striking of the
ships' bells in the harbor came to them sharply across the
surface of the water, and they could hear from time to time the
splash of some great fish and the steady creaking of an oar in a
rowlock that grew fainter and fainter as it grew further
away, until it was drowned in the distance. Miss Langham was for
a long time silent. She stood with her hands clasped behind her,
gazing from side to side into the moonlight, and had apparently
forgotten that Clay was present.

``Well,'' he said at last, ``I think you appreciate it properly.
I was afraid you would exclaim about it, and say it was fine, or
charming, or something.''

Miss Langham turned to him and smiled slightly. ``And you told
me once that you knew me so very well,'' she said.

Clay chose to forget much that he had said on that night when he
had first met her. He knew that he had been bold then, and had
dared to be so because he did not think he would see her again;
but, now that he was to meet her every day through several
months, it seemed better to him that they should grow to know
each other as they really were, simply and sincerely, and without
forcing the situation in any way.

So he replied, ``I don't know you so well now. You must remember
I haven't seen you for a year.''

``Yes, but you hadn't seen me for twenty-two years then,'' she
answered. ``I don't think you have changed much,'' she went on.
``I expected to find you gray with cares. Ted wrote us about
the way you work all day at the mines and sit up all night over
calculations and plans and reports. But you don't show it. When
are you going to take us over the mines? To-morrow? I am very
anxious to see them, but I suppose father will want to inspect
them first. Hope knows all about them, I believe; she knows
their names, and how much you have taken out, and how much you
have put in, too, and what MacWilliams's railroad cost, and who
got the contract for the ore pier. Ted told us in his letters,
and she used to work it out on the map in father's study. She is
a most energetic child; I think sometimes she should have been a
boy. I wish I could be the help to any one that she is to my
father and to me. Whenever I am blue or down she makes fun of
me, and--''

``Why should you ever be blue?'' asked Clay, abruptly.

``There is no real reason, I suppose,'' the girl answered,
smiling, ``except that life is so very easy for me that I have to
invent some woes. I should be better for a few reverses.'' And
then she went on in a lower voice, and turning her head away,
``In our family there is no woman older than I am to whom I can
go with questions that trouble me. Hope is like a boy, as I
said, and plays with Ted, and my father is very busy with his
affairs, and since my mother died I have been very much
alone. A man cannot understand. And I cannot understand why I
should be speaking to you about myself and my troubles,
except--'' she added, a little wistfully, ``that you once said
you were interested in me, even if it was as long as a year ago.
And because I want you to be very kind to me, as you have been to
Ted, and I hope that we are going to be very good friends.''

She was so beautiful, standing in the shadow with the moonlight
about her and with her hand held out to him, that Clay felt as
though the scene were hardly real. He took her hand in his and
held it for a moment. His pleasure in the sweet friendliness of
her manner and in her beauty was so great that it kept him
silent.

``Friends!'' he laughed under his breath. ``I don't think there
is much danger of our not being friends. The danger lies,'' he
went on, smiling, ``in my not being able to stop there.''

Miss Langham made no sign that she had heard him, but turned and
walked out into the moonlight and down the porch to where the
others were sitting.

Young Langham had ordered a native orchestra of guitars and reed
instruments from the town to serenade his people, and they were
standing in front of the house in the moonlight as Miss
Langham and Clay came forward. They played the shrill, eerie
music of their country with a passion and feeling that filled out
the strange tropical scene around them; but Clay heard them only
as an accompaniment to his own thoughts, and as a part of the
beautiful night and the tall, beautiful girl who had dominated
it. He watched her from the shadow as she sat leaning easily
forward and looking into the night. The moonlight fell full upon
her, and though she did not once look at him or turn her head in
his direction, he felt as though she must be conscious of his
presence, as though there were already an understanding between
them which she herself had established. She had asked him to be
her friend. That was only a pretty speech, perhaps; but she had
spoken of herself, and had hinted at her perplexities and her
loneliness, and he argued that while it was no compliment to be
asked to share another's pleasure, it must mean something when
one was allowed to learn a little of another's troubles.

And while his mind was flattered and aroused by this promise of
confidence between them, he was rejoicing in the rare quality of
her beauty, and in the thought that she was to be near him, and
near him here, of all places. It seemed a very wonderful thing
to Clay--something that could only have happened in a novel or a
play. For while the man and the hour frequently appeared
together, he had found that the one woman in the world and the
place and the man was a much more difficult combination to bring
into effect. No one, he assured himself thankfully, could have
designed a more lovely setting for his love-story, if it was to
be a love-story, and he hoped it was, than this into which she
had come of her own free will. It was a land of romance and
adventure, of guitars and latticed windows, of warm brilliant
days and gorgeous silent nights, under purple heavens and white
stars. And he was to have her all to himself, with no one near
to interrupt, no other friends, even, and no possible rival. She
was not guarded now by a complex social system, with its
responsibilities. He was the most lucky of men. Others had only
seen her in her drawing-room or in an opera-box, but he was free
to ford mountain-streams at her side, or ride with her under
arches of the great palms, or to play a guitar boldly beneath her
window. He was free to come and go at any hour; not only free to
do so, but the very nature of his duties made it necessary that
they should be thrown constantly together.

The music of the violins moved him and touched him deeply, and
stirred depths at which he had not guessed. It made him humble
and deeply grateful, and he felt how mean and unworthy he was
of such great happiness. He had never loved any woman as he felt
that he could love this woman, as he hoped that he was to love
her. For he was not so far blinded by her beauty and by what he
guessed her character to be, as to imagine that he really knew
her. He only knew what he hoped she was, what he believed the
soul must be that looked out of those kind, beautiful eyes, and
that found utterance in that wonderful voice which could control
him and move him by a word.

He felt, as he looked at the group before him, how lonely his own
life had been, how hard he had worked for so little--for what
other men found ready at hand when they were born into the world.

He felt almost a touch of self-pity at his own imperfectness; and
the power of his will and his confidence in himself, of which he
was so proud, seemed misplaced and little. And then he wondered
if he had not neglected chances; but in answer to this his
injured self-love rose to rebut the idea that he had wasted any
portion of his time, and he assured himself that he had done the
work that he had cut out for himself to do as best he could; no
one but himself knew with what courage and spirit. And so he sat
combating with himself, hoping one moment that she would
prove what he believed her to be, and the next, scandalized at
his temerity in daring to think of her at all.

The spell lifted as the music ceased, and Clay brought himself
back to the moment and looked about him as though he were waking
from a dream and had expected to see the scene disappear and the
figures near him fade into the moonlight.

Young Langham had taken a guitar from one of the musicians and
pressed it upon MacWilliams, with imperative directions to sing
such and such songs, of which, in their isolation, they had grown
to think most highly, and MacWilliams was protesting in much
embarrassment.

MacWilliams had a tenor voice which he maltreated in the most
villanous manner by singing directly through his nose. He had a
taste for sentimental songs, in which ``kiss'' rhymed with
``bliss,'' and in which ``the people cry'' was always sure to be
followed with ``as she goes by, that's pretty Katie Moody,'' or
``Rosie McIntyre.'' He had gathered his songs at the side of
camp-fires, and in canteens at the first section-house of a new
railroad, and his original collection of ballads had had but few
additions in several years. MacWilliams at first was shy, which
was quite a new development, until he made them promise to
laugh if they wanted to laugh, explaining that he would not
mind that so much as he would the idea that he thought he was
serious.

The song of which he was especially fond was one called ``He
never cares to wander from his own Fireside,'' which was
especially appropriate in coming from a man who had visited
almost every spot in the three Americas, except his home, in ten
years. MacWilliams always ended the evening's entertainment with
this chorus, no matter how many times it had been sung
previously, and seemed to regard it with much the same veneration
that the true Briton feels for his national anthem.

The words of the chorus were:

``He never cares to wander from his own fireside,
He never cares to wander or to roam.
With his babies on his knee,
He's as happy as can be,
For there's no place like Home, Sweet Home.''

MacWilliams loved accidentals, and what he called ``barber-shop
chords.'' He used a beautiful accidental at the word ``be,'' of
which he was very fond, and he used to hang on that note for a
long time, so that those in the extreme rear of the hall, as he
was wont to explain, should get the full benefit of it. And it
was his custom to emphasize ``for'' in the last line by
speaking instead of singing it, and then coming to a full stop
before dashing on again with the excellent truth that ``there is
NO place like Home, Sweet Home.''

The men at the mines used to laugh at him and his song at first,
but they saw that it was not to be so laughed away, and that he
regarded it with some peculiar sentiment. So they suffered him
to sing it in peace.

MacWilliams went through his repertoire to the unconcealed
amusement of young Langham and Hope. When he had finished he
asked Hope if she knew a comic song of which he had only heard by
reputation. One of the men at the mines had gained a certain
celebrity by claiming to have heard it in the States, but as he
gave a completely new set of words to the tune of the ``Wearing
of the Green'' as the true version, his veracity was doubted.
Hope said she knew it, of course, and they all went into the
drawing-room, where the men grouped themselves about the piano.
It was a night they remembered long afterward. Hope sat at the
piano protesting and laughing, but singing the songs of which the
new-comers had become so weary, but which the three men heard
open-eyed, and hailed with shouts of pleasure. The others
enjoyed them and their delight, as though they were people in a
play expressing themselves in this extravagant manner for
their entertainment, until they understood how poverty-stricken
their lives had been and that they were not only enjoying the
music for itself, but because it was characteristic of all that
they had left behind them. It was pathetic to hear them boast of
having read of a certain song in such a paper, and of the fact
that they knew the plot of a late comic opera and the names of
those who had played in it, and that it had or had not been
acceptable to the New York public.

``Dear me,'' Hope would cry, looking over her shoulder with a
despairing glance at her sister and father, ``they don't even
know `Tommy Atkins'!''

It was a very happy evening for them all, foreshadowing, as it
did, a continuation of just such evenings. Young Langham was
radiant with pleasure at the good account which Clay had given of
him to his father, and Mr. Langham was gratified, and proud of
the manner in which his son and heir had conducted himself; and
MacWilliams, who had never before been taken so simply and
sincerely by people of a class that he had always held in
humorous awe, felt a sudden accession of dignity, and an unhappy
fear that when they laughed at what he said, it was because its
sense was so utterly different from their point of view, and not
because they saw the humor of it. He did not know what the word
``snob'' signified, and in his roughened, easy-going nature there
was no touch of false pride; but he could not help thinking how
surprised his people would be if they could see him, whom they
regarded as a wanderer and renegade on the face of the earth and
the prodigal of the family, and for that reason the best loved,
leaning over a grand piano, while one daughter of his
much-revered president played comic songs for his delectation,
and the other, who according to the newspapers refused princes
daily, and who was the most wonderful creature he had ever seen,
poured out his coffee and brought it to him with her own hands.

The evening came to an end at last, and the new arrivals
accompanied their visitors to the veranda as they started to
their cabin for the night. Clay was asking Mr. Langham when he
wished to visit the mines, and the others were laughing over
farewell speeches, when young Langham startled them all by
hurrying down the length of the veranda and calling on them to
follow.

``Look!'' he cried, pointing down the inlet. ``Here comes a man-
of-war, or a yacht. Isn't she smart-looking? What can she want
here at this hour of the night? They won't let them land. Can
you make her out, MacWilliams?''

A long, white ship was steaming slowly up the inlet, and
passed within a few hundred feet of the cliff on which they were
standing.

``Why, it's the `Vesta'!'' exclaimed Hope, wonderingly. ``I
thought she wasn't coming for a week?''

``It can't be the `Vesta'!'' said the elder sister; ``she was not
to have sailed from Havana until to-day.''

``What do you mean?'' asked Langham. ``Is it King's boat? Do
you expect him here? Oh, what fun! I say, Clay, here's the
`Vesta,' Reggie King's yacht, and he's no end of a sport. We can
go all over the place now, and he can land us right at the door
of the mines if we want to.''

``Is it the King I met at dinner that night?'' asked Clay,
turning to Miss Langham.

``Yes,'' she said. ``He wanted us to come down on the yacht, but
we thought the steamer would be faster; so he sailed without us
and was to have touched at Havana, but he has apparently changed
his course. Doesn't she look like a phantom ship in the
moonlight?''

Young Langham thought he could distinguish King among the white
figures on the bridge, and tossed his hat and shouted, and a man
in the stern of the yacht replied with a wave of his hand.

``That must be Mr. King,'' said Hope. ``He didn't bring any
one with him, and he seems to be the only man aft.''

They stood watching the yacht as she stopped with a rattle of
anchor-chains and a confusion of orders that came sharply across
the water, and then the party separated and the three men walked
down the hill, Langham eagerly assuring the other two that King
was a very good sort, and telling them what a treasure-house his
yacht was, and how he would have probably brought the latest
papers, and that he would certainly give a dance on board in
their honor.

The men stood for some short time together, after they had
reached the office, discussing the great events of the day, and
then with cheerful good-nights disappeared into their separate
rooms.

An hour later Clay stood without his coat, and with a pen in his
hand, at MacWilliams's bedside and shook him by the shoulder.

``I'm not asleep,'' said MacWilliams, sitting up; ``what is it?
What have you been doing?'' he demanded. ``Not working?''

``There were some reports came in after we left,'' said Clay,
``and I find I will have to see Kirkland to-morrow morning. Send
them word to run me down on an engine at five-thirty, will you?
I am sorry to have to wake you, but I couldn't remember in
which shack that engineer lives.''

MacWilliams jumped from his bed and began kicking about the floor
for his boots. ``Oh, that's all right,'' he said. ``I wasn't
asleep, I was just--'' he lowered his voice that Langham might
not hear him through the canvas partitions--``I was just lying
awake playing duets with the President, and racing for the
International Cup in my new centre-board yacht, that's all!''

MacWilliams buttoned a waterproof coat over his pajamas and
stamped his bare feet into his boots. ``Oh, I tell you, Clay,''
he said with a grim chuckle, ``we're mixing right in with the
four hundred, we are! I'm substitute and understudy when anybody
gets ill. We're right in our own class at last! Pure amateurs
with no professional record against us. Me and President
Langham, I guess!'' He struck a match and lit the smoky wick in a
tin lantern.

``But now,'' he said, cheerfully, ``my time being too valuable
for me to sleep, I will go wake up that nigger engine-driver and
set his alarm clock at five-thirty. Five-thirty, I believe you
said. All right; good-night.'' And whistling cheerfully to
himself MacWilliams disappeared up the hill, his body hidden in
the darkness and his legs showing fantastically in the light
of the swinging lantern.

Clay walked out upon the veranda and stood with his back to one
of the pillars. MacWilliams and his pleasantries disturbed and
troubled him. Perhaps, after all, the boy was right. It seemed
absurd, but it was true. They were only employees of Langham--
two of the thousands of young men who were working all over the
United States to please him, to make him richer, to whom he was
only a name and a power, which meant an increase of salary or the
loss of place.

Clay laughed and shrugged his shoulders. He knew that he was not
in that class; if he did good work it was because his self-
respect demanded it of him; he did not work for Langham or the
Olancho Mining Company (Limited). And yet he turned with almost
a feeling of resentment toward the white yacht lying calmly in
magnificent repose a hundred yards from his porch.

He could see her as clearly in her circle of electric lights as
though she were a picture and held in the light of a stereopticon
on a screen. He could see her white decks, and the rails of
polished brass, and the comfortable wicker chairs and gay
cushions and flat coils of rope, and the tapering masts and
intricate rigging. How easy it was made for some men! This
one had come like the prince in the fairy tale on his magic
carpet. If Alice Langham were to leave Valencia that next day,
Clay could not follow her. He had his duties and
responsibilities; he was at another man's bidding.

But this Prince Fortunatus had but to raise anchor and start in
pursuit, knowing that he would be welcome wherever he found her.
That was the worst of it to Clay, for he knew that men did not
follow women from continent to continent without some assurance
of a friendly greeting. Clay's mind went back to the days when
he was a boy, when his father was absent fighting for a lost
cause; when his mother taught in a little schoolhouse under the
shadow of Pike's Peak, and when Kit Carson was his hero. He
thought of the poverty of those days poverty so mean and hopeless
that it was almost something to feel shame for; of the days that
followed when, an orphan and without a home, he had sailed away
from New Orleans to the Cape. How the mind of the mathematician,
which he had inherited from the Boston schoolmistress, had been
swayed by the spirit of the soldier, which he had inherited from
his father, and which led him from the mines of South Africa to
little wars in Madagascar, Egypt, and Algiers. It had been a
life as restless as the seaweed on a rock. But as he looked
back to its poor beginnings and admitted to himself its later
successes, he gave a sigh of content, and shaking off the mood
stood up and paced the length of the veranda.

He looked up the hill to the low-roofed bungalow with the palm-
leaves about it, outlined against the sky, and as motionless as
patterns cut in tin. He had built that house. He had built it
for her. That was her room where the light was shining out from
the black bulk of the house about it like a star. And beyond the
house he saw his five great mountains, the knuckles of the giant
hand, with its gauntlet of iron that lay shut and clenched in the
face of the sea that swept up whimpering before it. Clay felt a
boyish, foolish pride rise in his breast as he looked toward the
great mines he had discovered and opened, at the iron mountains
that were crumbling away before his touch.

He turned his eyes again to the blazing yacht, and this time
there was no trace of envy in them. He laughed instead, partly
with pleasure at the thought of the struggle he scented in the
air, and partly at his own braggadocio.

``I'm not afraid,'' he said, smiling, and shaking his head at the
white ship that loomed up like a man-of-war in the black waters.
``I'm not afraid to fight you for anything worth fighting for.

He bowed his bared head in good-night toward the light on the
hill, as he turned and walked back into his bedroom. ``And I
think,'' he murmured grimly, as he put out the light, ``that she
is worth fighting for.''

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter IV Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter IV

Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter IV
The work which had called Clay to the mines kept him there forsome time, and it was not until the third day after the arrivalof the Langhams that he returned again to the Palms. On theafternoon when he climbed the hill to the bungalow he found theLanghams as he had left them, with the difference that King nowoccupied a place in the family circle. Clay was made so welcome,and especially so by King, that he felt rather ashamed of hissentiments toward him, and considered his three days of absenceto be well repaid by the heartiness of their greeting.``For myself,''
PREVIOUS BOOKS

Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter II Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter II

Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter II
A year before Mrs. Porter's dinner a tramp steamer on her way tothe capital of Brazil had steered so close to the shores ofOlancho that her solitary passenger could look into the cavernsthe waves had tunnelled in the limestone cliffs along the coast. The solitary passenger was Robert Clay, and he made a guess thatthe white palisades which fringed the base of the mountains alongthe shore had been forced up above the level of the sea manyyears before by some volcanic action. Olancho, as many peopleknow, is situated on the northeastern coast of South America, andits shores are washed by
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT