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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSoldiers Of Fortune - Chapter IX
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Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter IX Post by :isalihu2001 Category :Long Stories Author :Richard Harding Davis Date :March 2011 Read :3205

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Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter IX

Clay slept for three hours. He had left a note on the floor
instructing MacWilliams and young Langham not to go to the mines,
but to waken him at ten o'clock, and by eleven the three men were
galloping off to the city. As they left the Palms they met Hope
returning from a morning ride on the Alameda, and Clay begged
her, with much concern, not to ride abroad again. There was a
difference in his tone toward her. There was more anxiety in it
than the occasion seemed to justify, and he put his request in
the form of a favor to himself, while the day previous he would
simply have told her that she must not go riding alone.

``Why?'' asked Hope, eagerly. ``Is there going to be trouble?''

``I hope not,'' Clay said, ``but the soldiers are coming in from
the provinces for the review, and the roads are not safe.''

``I'd be safe with you, though,'' said Hope, smiling persuasively
upon the three men. ``Won't you take me with you, please?''

``Hope,'' said young Langham in the tone of the elder
brother's brief authority, ``you must go home at once.''

Hope smiled wickedly. ``I don't want to,'' she said.

``I'll bet you a box of cigars I can beat you to the veranda by
fifty yards,'' said MacWilliams, turning his horse's head.

Hope clasped her sailor hat in one hand and swung her whip with
the other. ``I think not,'' she cried, and disappeared with a
flutter of skirts and a scurry of flying pebbles.

``At times,'' said Clay, ``MacWilliams shows an unexpected
knowledge of human nature.''

``Yes, he did quite right,'' assented Langham, nodding his head
mysteriously. ``We've no time for girls at present, have we?''

``No, indeed,'' said Clay, hiding any sign of a smile.

Langham breathed deeply at the thought of the part he was to play
in this coming struggle, and remained respectfully silent as they
trotted toward the city. He did not wish to disturb the plots
and counterplots that he was confident were forming in Clay's
brain, and his devotion would have been severely tried had he
known that his hero's mind was filled with a picture of a young
girl in a blue shirt-waist and a whipcord riding-skirt.

Clay sent for Stuart to join them at the restaurant, and
MacWilliams arriving at the same time, the four men seated
themselves conspicuously in the centre of the cafe' and sipped
their chocolate as though unconscious of any imminent danger, and
in apparent freedom from all responsibilities and care. While
MacWilliams and Langham laughed and disputed over a game of
dominoes, the older men exchanged, under cover of their chatter,
the few words which they had met to speak.

The manifestoes, Stuart said, had failed of their purpose. He
had already called upon the President, and had offered to resign
his position and leave the country, or to stay and fight his
maligners, and take up arms at once against Mendoza's party.
Alvarez had treated him like a son, and bade him be patient. He
held that Caesar's wife was above suspicion because she was
Caesar's wife, and that no canards posted at midnight could
affect his faith in his wife or in his friend. He refused to
believe that any coup d'etat was imminent, save the one
which he himself meditated when he was ready to proclaim the
country in a state of revolution, and to assume a military
dictatorship.

``What nonsense!'' exclaimed Clay. ``What is a military
dictatorship without soldiers? Can't he see that the army is
with Mendoza?''

``No,'' Stuart replied. ``Rojas and I were with him all the
morning. Rojas is an old trump, Clay. He's not bright and he's
old-fashioned; but he is honest. And the people know it. If I
had Rojas for a chief instead of Alvarez, I'd arrest Mendoza with
my own hand, and I wouldn't be afraid to take him to the carcel
through the streets. The people wouldn't help him. But the
President doesn't dare. Not that he hasn't pluck,'' added the
young lieutenant, loyally, ``for he takes his life in his hands
when he goes to the review tomorrow, and he knows it. Think of
it, will you, out there alone with a field of five thousand men
around him! Rojas thinks he can hold half of them, as many as
Mendoza can, and I have my fifty. But you can't tell what any
one of them will do for a drink or a dollar. They're no more
soldiers than these waiters. They're bandits in uniform, and
they'll kill for the man that pays best.''

``Then why doesn't Alvarez pay them?'' Clay growled.

Stuart looked away and lowered his eyes to the table. ``He
hasn't the money, I suppose,'' he said, evasively. ``He--he has
transferred every cent of it into drafts on Rothschild. They are
at the house now, representing five millions of dollars in gold--
and her jewels, too--packed ready for flight.''

``Then he does expect trouble?'' said Clay. ``You told me--''

``They're all alike; you know them,'' said Stuart. ``They won't
believe they're in danger until the explosion comes, but they
always have a special train ready, and they keep the funds of the
government under their pillows. He engaged apartments on the
Avenue Kleber six months ago.''

``Bah!'' said Clay. ``It's the old story. Why don't you quit
him?''

Stuart raised his eyes and dropped them again, and Clay sighed.
``I'm sorry,'' he said.

MacWilliams interrupted them in an indignant stage-whisper.
``Say, how long have we got to keep up this fake game?'' he
asked. ``I don't know anything about dominoes, and neither does
Ted. Tell us what you've been saying. Is there going to be
trouble? If there is, Ted and I want to be in it. We are
looking for trouble.''

Clay had tipped back his chair, and was surveying the restaurant
and the blazing plaza beyond its open front with an expression of
cheerful unconcern. Two men were reading the morning papers near
the door, and two others were dragging through a game of dominoes
in a far corner. The heat of midday had settled on the place,
and the waiters dozed, with their chairs tipped back against the
walls. Outside, the awning of the restaurant threw a broad
shadow across the marble-topped tables on the sidewalk, and half
a dozen fiacre drivers slept peacefully in their carriages before
the door.

The town was taking its siesta, and the brisk step of a stranger
who crossed the tessellated floor and rapped with his knuckles on
the top of the cigar-case was the only sign of life. The
newcomer turned with one hand on the glass case and swept the
room carelessly with his eyes. They were hard blue eyes under
straight eyebrows. Their owner was dressed unobtrusively in a
suit of rough tweed, and this and his black hat, and the fact
that he was smooth-shaven, distinguished him as a foreigner.

As he faced them the forelegs of Clay's chair descended slowly to
the floor, and he began to smile comprehendingly and to nod his
head as though the coming of the stranger had explained something
of which he had been in doubt. His companions turned and
followed the direction of his eyes, but saw nothing of interest
in the newcomer. He looked as though he might be a concession
hunter from the States, or a Manchester drummer, prepared to
offer six months' credit on blankets and hardware.

Clay rose and strode across the room, circling the tables in such
a way that he could keep himself between the stranger and
the door. At his approach the new-comer turned his back and
fumbled with his change on the counter.

``Captain Burke, I believe?'' said Clay. The stranger bit the
cigar he had just purchased, and shook his head. ``I am very
glad to see you,'' Clay continued. ``Sit down, won't you? I
want to talk with you.''

``I think you've made a mistake,'' the stranger answered,
quietly. ``My name is--''

``Colonel, perhaps, then,'' said Clay. ``I might have known it.
I congratulate you, Colonel.''

The man looked at Clay for an instant, with the cigar clenched
between his teeth and his blue eyes fixed steadily on the other's
face. Clay waved his hand again invitingly toward a table, and
the man shrugged his shoulders and laughed, and, pulling a chair
toward him, sat down.

``Come over here, boys,'' Clay called. ``I want you to meet an
old friend of mine, Captain Burke.''

The man called Burke stared at the three men as they crossed the
room and seated themselves at the table, and nodded to them in
silence.

``We have here,'' said Clay, gayly, but in a low voice, ``the key
to the situation. This is the gentleman who supplies Mendoza
with the sinews of war. Captain Burke is a brave soldier and a
citizen of my own or of any country, indeed, which happens
to have the most sympathetic Consul-General.''

Burke smiled grimly, with a condescending nod, and putting away
the cigar, took out a brier pipe and began to fill it from his
tobacco-pouch. ``The Captain is a man of few words and extremely
modest about himself,'' Clay continued, lightly; ``so I must tell
you who he is myself. He is a promoter of revolutions. That is
his business,--a professional promoter of revolutions, and that
is what makes me so glad to see him again. He knows all about
the present crisis here, and he is going to tell us all he knows
as soon as he fills his pipe. I ought to warn you, Burke,'' he
added, ``that this is Captain Stuart, in charge of the police and
the President's cavalry troop. So, you see, whatever you say,
you will have one man who will listen to you.''

Burke crossed one short fat leg over the other, and crowded the
tobacco in the bowl of his pipe with his thumb.

``I thought you were in Chili, Clay,'' he said.

``No, you didn't think I was in Chili,'' Clay replied, kindly.
``I left Chili two years ago. The Captain and I met there,'' he
explained to the others, ``when Balmaceda was trying to make
himself dictator. The Captain was on the side of the
Congressionalists, and was furnishing arms and dynamite.
The Captain is always on the winning side, at least he always has
been--up to the present. He is not a creature of sentiment; are
you, Burke? The Captain believes with Napoleon that God is on
the side that has the heaviest artillery.''

Burke lighted his pipe and drummed absentmindedly on the table
with his match-box.

``I can't afford to be sentimental,'' he said. ``Not in my
business.''

``Of course not,'' Clay assented, cheerfully. He looked at Burke
and laughed, as though the sight of him recalled pleasant
memories. ``I wish I could give these boys an idea of how clever
you are, Captain,'' he said. ``The Captain was the first man,
for instance, to think of packing cartridges in tubs of lard, and
of sending rifles in piano-cases. He represents the Welby
revolver people in England, and half a dozen firms in the States,
and he has his little stores in Tampa and Mobile and Jamaica,
ready to ship off at a moment's notice to any revolution in
Central America. When I first met the Captain,'' Clay continued,
gleefully, and quite unmindful of the other's continued silence,
``he was starting off to rescue Arabi Pasha from the island of
Ceylon. You may remember, boys, that when Dufferin saved Arabi
from hanging, the British shipped him to Ceylon as a
political prisoner. Well, the Captain was sent by Arabi's
followers in Egypt to bring him back to lead a second rebellion.
Burke had everybody bribed at Ceylon, and a fine schooner fitted
out and a lot of ruffians to do the fighting, and then the good,
kind British Government pardoned Arabi the day before Burke
arrived in port. And you never got a cent for it; did you,
Burke?''

Burke shook his head and frowned.

``Six thousand pounds sterling I was to have got for that,'' he
said, with a touch of pardonable pride in his voice, ``and they
set him free the day before I got there, just as Mr. Clay tells
you.''

``And then you headed Granville Prior's expedition for buried
treasure off the island of Cocos, didn't you?'' said Clay. ``Go
on, tell them about it. Be sociable. You ought to write a book
about your different business ventures, Burke, indeed you ought;
but then,'' Clay added, smiling, ``nobody would believe you.''
Burke rubbed his chin, thoughtfully, with his fingers, and looked
modestly at the ceiling, and the two younger boys gazed at him
with open-mouthed interest.

``There ain't anything in buried treasure,'' he said, after a
pause, ``except the money that's sunk in the fitting out. It
sounds good, but it's all foolishness.''

``All foolishness, eh?'' said Clay, encouragingly. ``And
what did you do after Balmaceda was beaten?--after I last saw
you?''

``Crespo,'' Burke replied, after a pause, during which he pulled
gently on his pipe. `` `Caroline Brewer'--cleared from Key West
for Curacao, with cargo of sewing-machines and ploughs--
beached below Maracaibo--thirty-five thousand rounds and two
thousand rifles--at twenty bolivars apiece.''

``Of course,'' said Clay, in a tone of genuine appreciation. ``I
might have known you'd be in that. He says,'' he explained,
``that he assisted General Crespo in Venezuela during his
revolution against Guzman Blanco's party, and loaded a tramp
steamer called the `Caroline Brewer' at Key West with arms, which
he landed safely at a place for which he had no clearance papers,
and he received forty thousand dollars in our money for the job--
and very good pay, too, I should think,'' commented Clay.

``Well, I don't know,'' Burke demurred. ``You take in the cost
of leasing the boat and provisioning her, and the crew's wages,
and the cost of the cargo; that cuts into profits. Then I had to
stand off shore between Trinidad and Curacao for over three
weeks before I got the signal to run in, and after that I was
chased by a gun-boat for three days, and the crazy fool put a
shot clean through my engine-room. Cost me about twelve
hundred dollars in repairs.''

There was a pause, and Clay turned his eyes to the street, and
then asked, abruptly, ``What are you doing now?''

``Trying to get orders for smokeless powder,'' Burke answered,
promptly. He met Clay's look with eyes as undisturbed as his
own. ``But they won't touch it down here,'' he went on. ``It
doesn't appeal to 'em. It's too expensive, and they'd rather see
the smoke. It makes them think--''

``How long did you expect to stay here?'' Clay interrupted.

``How long?'' repeated Burke, like a man in a witness-box who is
trying to gain time. ``Well, I was thinking of leaving by
Friday, and taking a mule-train over to Bogota instead of waiting
for the steamer to Colon.'' He blew a mouthful of smoke into the
air and watched it drifting toward the door with apparent
interest.

``The `Santiago' leaves here Saturday for New York. I guess you
had better wait over for her,'' Clay said. ``I'll engage your
passage, and, in the meantime, Captain Stuart here will see that
they treat you well in the cuartel.''

The men around the table started, and sat motionless looking at
Clay, but Burke only took his pipe from his mouth and
knocked the ashes out on the heel of his boot. ``What am I going
to the cuartel for?'' he asked.

``Well, the public good, I suppose,'' laughed Clay. ``I'm sorry,
but it's your own fault. You shouldn't have shown yourself here
at all.''

``What have you got to do with it?'' asked Burke, calmly, as he
began to refill his pipe. He had the air of a man who saw
nothing before him but an afternoon of pleasant discourse and
leisurely inactivity.

``You know what I've got to do with it,'' Clay replied. ``I've
got our concession to look after.''

``Well, you're not running the town, too, are you?'' asked Burke.

``No, but I'm going to run you out of it,'' Clay answered.
``Now, what are you going to do,--make it unpleasant for us and
force our hand, or drive down quietly with our friend MacWilliams
here? He is the best one to take you, because he's not so well
known.''

Burke turned his head and looked over his shoulder at Stuart.

``You taking orders from Mr. Clay, to-day, Captain Stuart?'' he
asked.

``Yes,'' Stuart answered, smiling. ``I agree with Mr. Clay in
whatever he thinks right.''

``Oh, well, in that case,'' said Burke, rising reluctantly,
with a protesting sigh, ``I guess I'd better call on the American
minister.''

``You can't. He's in Ecuador on his annual visit,'' said Clay.

``Indeed! That's bad for me,'' muttered Burke, as though in much
concern. ``Well, then, I'll ask you to let me see our consul
here.''

``Certainly,'' Clay assented, with alacrity. ``Mr. Langham, this
young gentleman's father, got him his appointment, so I've no
doubt he'll be only too glad to do anything for a friend of
ours.''

Burke raised his eyes and looked inquiringly at Clay, as though
to assure himself that this was true, and Clay smiled back at
him.

``Oh, very well,'' Burke said. ``Then, as I happen to be an
Irishman by the name of Burke, and a British subject, I'll try
Her Majesty's representative, and we'll see if he will allow me
to be locked up without a reason or a warrant.''

``That's no good, either,'' said Clay, shaking his head. ``You
fixed your nationality, as far as this continent is concerned, in
Rio harbor, when Peixoto handed you over to the British admiral,
and you claimed to be an American citizen, and were sent on board
the `Detroit.' If there's any doubt about that we've only got to
cable to Rio Janeiro--to either legation. But what's the use?
They know me here, and they don't know you, and I do.
You'll have to go to jail and stay there.''

``Oh, well, if you put it that way, I'll go,'' said Burke.
``But,'' he added, in a lower voice, ``it's too late, Clay.''

The expression of amusement on Clay's face, and his ease of
manner, fell from him at the words, and he pulled Burke back into
the chair again. ``What do you mean?'' he asked, anxiously.

``I mean just that, it's too late,'' Burke answered. ``I don't
mind going to jail. I won't be there long. My work's all done
and paid for. I was only staying on to see the fun at the
finish, to see you fellows made fools of.''

``Oh, you're sure of that, are you?'' asked Clay.

``My dear boy!'' exclaimed the American, with a suggestion in his
speech of his Irish origin, as his interest rose. ``Did you ever
know me to go into anything of this sort for the sentiment of it?
Did you ever know me to back the losing side? No. Well, I tell
you that you fellows have no more show in this than a parcel of
Sunday-school children. Of course I can't say when they mean to
strike. I don't know, and I wouldn't tell you if I did. But
when they do strike there'll be no striking back. It'll be all
over but the cheering.''

Burke's tone was calm and positive. He held the centre of the
stage now, and he looked from one to the other of the
serious faces around him with an expression of pitying amusement.

``Alvarez may get off, and so may Madame Alvarez,'' he added,
lowering his voice and turning his face away from Stuart. ``But
not if she shows herself in the streets, and not if she tries to
take those drafts and jewels with her.''

``Oh, you know that, do you?'' interrupted Clay.

``I know nothing,'' Burke replied. ``At least, nothing to what
the rest of them know. That's only the gossip I pick up at
headquarters. It doesn't concern me. I've delivered my goods
and given my receipt for the money, and that's all I care about.
But if it will make an old friend feel any more comfortable to
have me in jail, why, I'll go, that's all.''

Clay sat with pursed lips looking at Stuart. The two boys leaned
with their elbows on the tables and stared at Burke, who was
searching leisurely through his pockets for his match-box. From
outside came the lazy cry of a vendor of lottery tickets, and the
swift, uneven patter of bare feet, as company after company of
dust-covered soldiers passed on their way from the provinces,
with their shoes swinging from their bayonets.

Clay slapped the table with an exclamation of impatience.

``After all, this is only a matter of business,'' he said,
``with all of us. What do you say, Burke, to taking a ride with
me to Stuart's rooms, and having a talk there with the President
and Mr. Langham? Langham has three millions sunk in these mines,
and Alvarez has even better reasons than that for wanting to hold
his job. What do you say? That's better than going to jail.
Tell us what they mean to do, and who is to do it, and I'll let
you name your own figure, and I'll guarantee you that they'll
meet it. As long as you've no sentiment, you might as well fight
on the side that will pay best.''

Burke opened his lips as though to speak, and then shut them
again, closely. If the others thought that he was giving Clay's
proposition a second and more serious thought, he was quick to
undeceive them.

``There ARE men in the business who do that sort of thing,''
he said. ``They sell arms to one man, and sell the fact that
he's got them to the deputy-marshals, and sell the story of how
smart they've been to the newspapers. And they never make any
more sales after that. I'd look pretty, wouldn't I, bringing
stuff into this country, and getting paid for it, and then
telling you where it was hid, and everything else I knew? I've
no sentiment, as you say, but I've got business instinct, and
that's not business. No, I've told you enough, and if you
think I'm not safe at large, why I'm quite ready to take a ride
with your young friend here.''

MacWilliams rose with alacrity, and beaming with pleasure at the
importance of the duty thrust upon him.

Burke smiled. ``The young 'un seems to like the job,'' he said.

``It's an honor to be associated with Captain Burke in any way,''
said MacWilliams, as he followed him into a cab, while Stuart
galloped off before them in the direction of the cuartel.

``You wouldn't think so if you knew better,'' said Burke. ``My
friends have been watching us while we have been talking in there
for the last hour. They're watching us now, and if I were to nod
my head during this ride, they'd throw you out into the street
and set me free, if they had to break the cab into kindling-wood
while they were doing it.''

MacWilliams changed his seat to the one opposite his prisoner,
and peered up and down the street in some anxiety.

``I suppose you know there's an answer to that, don't you?'' he
asked. ``Well, the answer is, that if you nod your head once,
you lose the top of it.''

Burke gave an exclamation of disgust, and gazed at his zealous
guardian with an expression of trepidation and unconcealed
disapproval. ``You're not armed, are you?'' he asked.

MacWilliams nodded. ``Why not?'' he said; ``these are rather
heavy weather times, just at present, thanks to you and your
friends. Why, you seem rather afraid of fire-arms,'' he added,
with the intolerance of youth.

The Irish-American touched the young man on the knee, and lifted
his hat. ``My son,'' he said, ``when your hair is as gray as
that, and you have been through six campaigns, you'll be brave
enough to own that you're afraid of fire-arms, too.''

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Clay and Langham left MacWilliams and Stuart to look after theirprisoner, and returned to the Palms they dined in state,and made no reference, while the women were present, to theevents of the day.The moon rose late that night, and as Hope watched it, from whereshe sat at the dinner-table facing the open windows, she saw thefigure of a man standing outlined in silhouette upon the edge ofthe cliff. He was dressed in the uniform of a sailor, and themoonlight played along the barrel of a rifle upon which heleaned, motionless and menacing, like a sentry on a rampart.Hope opened
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Clay reached the President's Palace during the supper-hour, andfound Mr. Langham and his daughter at the President's table. Madame Alvarez pointed to a place for him beside Alice Langham,who held up her hand in welcome. ``You were very foolish to rushoff like that,'' she said.``It wasn't there,'' said Clay, crowding into the place besideher.``No, it was here in the carriage all the time. Captain Stuartfound it for me.''``Oh, he did, did he?'' said Clay; ``that's why I couldn't findit. I am hungry,'' he laughed, ``my ride gave me an appetite.'' He looked over and grinned at Stuart, but
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