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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSoldiers Of Fortune - Chapter VII
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Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter VII Post by :BettyM Category :Long Stories Author :Richard Harding Davis Date :March 2011 Read :2409

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Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter VII

At ten o'clock that same evening Clay began to prepare himself
for the ball at the Government palace, and MacWilliams, who was
not invited, watched him dress with critical approval that showed
no sign of envy.

The better to do honor to the President, Clay had brought out
several foreign orders, and MacWilliams helped him to tie around
his neck the collar of the Red Eagle which the German Emperor had
given him, and to fasten the ribbon and cross of the Star of
Olancho across his breast, and a Spanish Order and the Legion of
Honor to the lapel of his coat. MacWilliams surveyed the effect
of the tiny enamelled crosses with his head on one side, and with
the same air of affectionate pride and concern that a mother
shows over her daughter's first ball-dress.

``Got any more?'' he asked, anxiously.

``I have some war medals,'' Clay answered, smiling doubtfully.
``But I'm not in uniform.''

``Oh, that's all right,'' declared MacWilliams. ``Put 'em on,
put 'em all on. Give the girls a treat. Everybody will
think they were given for feats of swimming, anyway; but they
will show up well from the front. Now, then, you look like a
drum-major or a conjuring chap.''

``I do not,'' said Clay. ``I look like a French Ambassador, and
I hardly understand how you find courage to speak to me at all.''

He went up the hill in high spirits, and found the carriage at
the door and King, Mr. Langham, and Miss Langham sitting waiting
for him. They were ready to depart, and Miss Langham had but
just seated herself in the carriage when they heard hurrying
across the tiled floor a quick, light step and the rustle of
silk, and turning they saw Hope standing in the doorway, radiant
and smiling. She wore a white frock that reached to the ground,
and that left her arms and shoulders bare. Her hair was dressed
high upon her head, and she was pulling vigorously at a pair of
long, tan-colored gloves. The transformation was so complete,
and the girl looked so much older and so stately and beautiful,
that the two young men stared at her in silent admiration and
astonishment.

``Why, Hope!'' exclaimed her sister. ``What does this mean?''

Hope stopped in some alarm, and clasped her hair with both hands.

``What is it?'' she asked; ``is anything wrong?''

``Why, my dear child,'' said her sister, ``you're not thinking of
going with us, are you?''

``Not going?'' echoed the younger sister, in dismay. ``Why,
Alice, why not? I was asked.''

``But, Hope-- Father,'' said the elder sister, stepping out of
the carriage and turning to Mr. Langham, ``you didn't intend that
Hope should go, did you? She's not out yet.''

``Oh, nonsense,'' said Hope, defiantly. But she drew in her
breath quickly and blushed, as she saw the two young men moving
away out of hearing of this family crisis. She felt that she was
being made to look like a spoiled child. ``It doesn't count down
here,'' she said, ``and I want to go. I thought you knew I was
going all the time. Marie made this frock for me on purpose.''

``I don't think Hope is old enough,'' the elder sister said,
addressing her father, ``and if she goes to dances here, there's
no reason why she should not go to those at home.''

``But I don't want to go to dances at home,'' interrupted Hope.

Mr. Langham looked exceedingly uncomfortable, and turned
apppealingly to his elder daughter. ``What do you think,
Alice?'' he said, doubtfully.

``I'm sorry,'' Miss Langham replied, ``but I know it would
not be at all proper. I hate to seem horrid about it, Hope, but
indeed you are too young, and the men here are not the men a
young girl ought to meet.''

``You meet them, Alice,'' said Hope, but pulling off her gloves
in token of defeat.

``But, my dear child, I'm fifty years older than you are.''

``Perhaps Alice knows best, Hope,'' Mr. Langham said. ``I'm
sorry if you are disappointed.''

Hope held her head a little higher, and turned toward the door.

``I don't mind if you don't wish it, father,'' she said. ``Good-
night.'' She moved away, but apparently thought better of it,
and came back and stood smiling and nodding to them as they
seated themselves in the carriage. Mr. Langham leaned forward
and said, in a troubled voice, ``We will tell you all about it in
the morning. I'm very sorry. You won't be lonely, will you?
I'll stay with you if you wish.''

``Nonsense!'' laughed Hope. ``Why, it's given to you, father;
don't bother about me. I'll read something or other and go to
bed.''

``Good-night, Cinderella,'' King called out to her.

``Good-night, Prince Charming,'' Hope answered.

Both Clay and King felt that the girl would not mind missing the
ball so much as she would the fact of having been treated like a
child in their presence, so they refrained from any expression of
sympathy or regret, but raised their hats and bowed a little more
impressively than usual as the carriage drove away.

The picture Hope made, as she stood deserted and forlorn on the
steps of the empty house in her new finery, struck Clay as
unnecessarily pathetic. He felt a strong sense of resentment
against her sister and her father, and thanked heaven devoutly
that he was out of their class, and when Miss Langham continued
to express her sorrow that she had been forced to act as she had
done, he remained silent. It seemed to Clay such a simple thing
to give children pleasure, and to remember that their woes were
always out of all proportion to the cause. Children, dumb
animals, and blind people were always grouped together in his
mind as objects demanding the most tender and constant
consideration. So the pleasure of the evening was spoiled for
him while he remembered the hurt and disappointed look in Hope's
face, and when Miss Langham asked him why he was so preoccupied,
he told her bluntly that he thought she had been very unkind to
Hope, and that her objections were absurd.

Miss Langham held herself a little more stiffly. ``Perhaps you
do not quite understand, Mr. Clay,'' she said. ``Some of us have
to conform to certain rules that the people with whom we best
like to associate have laid down for themselves. If we choose to
be conventional, it is probably because we find it makes life
easier for the greater number. You cannot think it was a
pleasant task for me. But I have given up things of much more
importance than a dance for the sake of appearances, and Hope
herself will see to-morrow that I acted for the best.''

Clay said he trusted so, but doubted it, and by way of re-
establishing himself in Miss Langham's good favor, asked her if
she could give him the next dance. But Miss Langham was not to
be propitiated.

``I'm sorry,'' she said, ``but I believe I am engaged until
supper-time. Come and ask me then, and I'll have one saved for
you. But there is something you can do,'' she added. ``I left
my fan in the carriage--do you think you could manage to get it
for me without much trouble?''

``The carriage did not wait. I believe it was sent back,'' said
Clay, ``but I can borrow a horse from one of Stuart's men, and
ride back and get it for you, if you like.''

``How absurd!'' laughed Miss Langham, but she looked pleased,
notwithstanding.

``Oh, not at all,'' Clay answered. He was smiling down at her in
some amusement, and was apparently much entertained at his idea.
``Will you consider it an act of devotion?'' he asked.

There was so little of devotion, and so much more of mischief in
his eyes, that Miss Langham guessed he was only laughing at her,
and shook her head.

``You won't go,'' she said, turning away. She followed him with
her eyes, however, as he crossed the room, his head and shoulders
towering above the native men and women. She had never seen him
so resplendent, and she noted, with an eye that considered
trifles, the orders, and his well-fitting white gloves, and his
manner of bowing in the Continental fashion, holding his opera-
hat on his thigh, as though his hand rested on a sword. She
noticed that the little Olanchoans stopped and looked after him,
as he pushed his way among them, and she could see that the men
were telling the women who he was. Sir Julian Pindar, the old
British Minister, stopped him, and she watched them as they
laughed together over the English war medals on the American's
breast, which Sir Julian touched with his finger. He called the
French Minister and his pretty wife to look, too, and they
all laughed and talked together in great spirits, and Miss
Langham wondered if Clay was speaking in French to them.

Miss Langham did not enjoy the ball; she felt injured and
aggrieved, and she assured herself that she had been hardly used.

She had only done her duty, and yet all the sympathy had gone to
her sister, who had placed her in a trying position. She thought
it was most inconsiderate.

Hope walked slowly across the veranda when the others had gone,
and watched the carriage as long as it remained in sight. Then
she threw herself into a big arm-chair, and looked down upon her
pretty frock and her new dancing-slippers. She, too, felt badly
used.

The moonlight fell all about her, as it had on the first night of
their arrival, a month before, but now it seemed cold and
cheerless, and gave an added sense of loneliness to the silent
house. She did not go inside to read, as she had promised to do,
but sat for the next hour looking out across the harbor. She
could not blame Alice. She considered that Alice always moved by
rules and precedents, like a queen in a game of chess, and she
wondered why. It made life so tame and uninteresting, and yet
people invariably admired Alice, and some one had spoken of her
as the noblest example of the modern gentlewoman. She was
sure she could not grow up to be any thing like that. She was
quite confident that she was going to disappoint her family. She
wondered if people would like her better if she were discreet
like Alice, and less like her brother Ted. If Mr. Clay, for
instance, would like her better? She wondered if he disapproved
of her riding on the engine with MacWilliams, and of her tearing
through the mines on her pony, and spearing with a lance of
sugar-cane at the mongrel curs that ran to snap at his flanks.
She remembered his look of astonished amusement the day he had
caught her in this impromptu pig-sticking, and she felt herself
growing red at the recollection. She was sure he thought her a
tomboy. Probably he never thought of her at all.

Hope leaned back in the chair and looked up at the stars above
the mountains and tried to think of any of her heroes and princes
in fiction who had gone through such interesting experiences as
had Mr. Clay. Some of them had done so, but they were creatures
in a book and this hero was alive, and she knew him, and had
probably made him despise her as a silly little girl who was
scolded and sent off to bed like a disobedient child. Hope felt
a choking in her throat and something like a tear creep to her
eyes: but she was surprised to find that the fact did not
make her ashamed of herself. She owned that she was wounded
and disappointed, and to make it harder she could not help
picturing Alice and Clay laughing and talking together in some
corner away from the ball-room, while she, who understood him so
well, and who could not find the words to tell him how much she
valued what he was and what he had done, was forgotten and
sitting here alone, like Cinderella, by the empty fireplace.

The picture was so pathetic as Hope drew it, that for a moment
she felt almost a touch of self-pity, but the next she laughed
scornfully at her own foolishness, and rising with an impatient
shrug, walked away in the direction of her room.

But before she had crossed the veranda she was stopped by the
sound of a horse's hoofs galloping over the hard sun-baked road
that led from the city, and before she had stepped forward out of
the shadow in which she stood the horse had reached the steps and
his rider had pulled him back on his haunches and swung himself
off before the forefeet had touched the ground.

Hope had guessed that it was Clay by his riding, and she feared
from his haste that some one of her people were ill. So she ran
anxiously forward and asked if anything were wrong.

Clay started at her sudden appearance, and gave a short boyish
laugh of pleasure.

``I'm so glad you're still up,'' he said. ``No, nothing is
wrong.'' He stopped in some embarrassment. He had been moved to
return by the fact that the little girl he knew was in trouble,
and now that he was suddenly confronted by this older and
statelier young person, his action seemed particularly silly, and
he was at a loss to explain it in any way that would not give
offence.

``No, nothing is wrong,'' he repeated. ``I came after
something.''

Clay had borrowed one of the cloaks the troopers wore at night
from the same man who had lent him the horse, and as he stood
bareheaded before her, with the cloak hanging from his
shoulders to the floor and the star and ribbon across his breast,
Hope felt very grateful to him for being able to look like a
Prince or a hero in a book, and to yet remain her Mr. Clay at the
same time.

``I came to get your sister's fan,'' Clay explained. ``She
forgot it.''

The young girl looked at him for a moment in surprise and then
straightened herself slightly. She did not know whether she was
the more indignant with Alice for sending such a man on so
foolish an errand, or with Clay for submitting to such a service.

``Oh, is that it?'' she said at last. ``I will go and find
you one.'' She gave him a dignified little bow and moved away
toward the door, with every appearance of disapproval.

``Oh, I don't know,'' she heard Clay say, doubtfully; ``I don't
have to go just yet, do I? May I not stay here a little while?''

Hope stood and looked at him in some perplexity.

``Why, yes,'' she answered, wonderingly. ``But don't you want to
go back? You came in a great hurry. And won't Alice want her
fan?''

``Oh, she has it by this time. I told Stuart to find it. She
left it in the carriage, and the carriage is waiting at the end
of the plaza.''

``Then why did you come?'' asked Hope, with rising suspicion.

``Oh, I don't know,'' said Clay, helplessly. ``I thought I'd
just like a ride in the moonlight. I hate balls and dances
anyway, don't you? I think you were very wise not to go.''

Hope placed her hands on the back of the big arm-chair and looked
steadily at him as he stood where she could see his face in the
moonlight. ``You came back,'' she said, ``because they thought I
was crying, and they sent you to see. Is that it? Did Alice
send you?'' she demanded.

Clay gave a gasp of consternation.

``You know that no one sent me,'' he said. ``I thought they
treated you abominably, and I wanted to come and say so. That's
all. And I wanted to tell you that I missed you very much, and
that your not coming had spoiled the evening for me, and I came
also because I preferred to talk to you than to stay where I was.
No one knows that I came to see you. I said I was going to get
the fan, and I told Stuart to find it after I'd left. I just
wanted to see you, that's all. But I will go back again at
once.''

While he had been speaking Hope had lowered her eyes from his
face and had turned and looked out across the harbor. There was
a strange, happy tumult in her breast, and she was breathing so
rapidly that she was afraid he would notice it. She also felt an
absurd inclination to cry, and that frightened her. So she
laughed and turned and looked up into his face again. Clay saw
the same look in her eyes that he had seen there the day when she
had congratulated him on his work at the mines. He had seen it
before in the eyes of other women and it troubled him. Hope
seated herself in the big chair, and Clay tossed his cloak on the
floor at her feet and sat down with his shoulders against one of
the pillars. He glanced up at her and found that the look that
had troubled him was gone, and that her eyes were now smiling
with excitement and pleasure.

``And did you bring me something from the ball in your pocket to
comfort me,'' she asked, mockingly.

``Yes, I did,'' Clay answered, unabashed. ``I brought you some
bonbons.''

``You didn't, really!'' Hope cried, with a shriek of delight.
``How absurd of you! The sort you pull?''

``The sort you pull,'' Clay repeated, gravely. ``And also a
dance-card, which is a relic of barbarism still existing in this
Southern capital. It has the arms of Olancho on it in gold, and
I thought you might like to keep it as a souvenir.'' He pulled
the card from his coat-pocket and said, ``May I have this
dance?''

``You may,'' Hope answered. ``But you wouldn't mind if we sat it
out, would you?''

``I should prefer it,'' Clay said, as he scrawled his name across
the card. ``It is so crowded inside, and the company is rather
mixed.'' They both laughed lightly at their own foolishness, and
Hope smiled down upon him affectionately and proudly. ``You may
smoke, if you choose; and would you like something cool to
drink?'' she asked, anxiously. ``After your ride, you know,''
she suggested, with hospitable intent. Clay said that he was
very comfortable without a drink, but lighted a cigar and watched
her covertly through the smoke, as she sat smiling happily
and quite unconsciously upon the moonlit world around them. She
caught Clay's eye fixed on her, and laughed lightly.

``What is it?'' he said.

``Oh, I was just thinking,'' Hope replied, ``that it was much
better to have a dance come to you, than to go to the dance.''

``Does one man and a dance-card and three bonbons constitute your
idea of a ball?''

``Doesn't it? You see, I am not out yet, I don't know.''

``I should think it might depend a good deal upon the man,'' Clay
suggested.

``That sounds as though you were hinting,'' said Hope,
doubtfully. ``Now what would I say to that if I were out?''

``I don't know, but don't say it,'' Clay answered. ``It would
probably be something very unflattering or very forward, and in
either case I should take you back to your chaperon and leave you
there.''

Hope had not been listening. Her eyes were fixed on a level with
his tie, and Clay raised his hand to it in some trepidation.
``Mr. Clay,'' she began abruptly and leaning eagerly forward,
``would you think me very rude if I asked you what you did to get
all those crosses? I know they mean something, and I do so
want to know what. Please tell me.''

``Oh, those!'' said Clay. ``The reason I put them on to-night is
because wearing them is supposed to be a sort of compliment to
your host. I got in the habit abroad--''

``I didn't ask you that,'' said Hope, severely. ``I asked you
what you did to get them. Now begin with the Legion of Honor on
the left, and go right on until you come to the end, and please
don't skip anything. Leave in all the bloodthirsty parts, and
please don't be modest.''

``Like Othello,'' suggested Clay.

``Yes,'' said Hope; ``I will be Desdemona.''

``Well, Desdemona, it was like this,'' said Clay, laughing. ``I
got that medal and that star for serving in the Nile campaign,
under Wolseley. After I left Egypt, I went up the coast to
Algiers, where I took service under the French in a most
disreputable organization known as the Foreign Legion--''

``Don't tell me,'' exclaimed Hope, in delight, ``that you have
been a Chasseur d'Afrique! Not like the man in `Under Two
Flags'?''

``No, not at all like that man,'' said Clay, emphatically. ``I
was just a plain, common, or garden, sappeur, and I showed the
other good-for-nothings how to dig trenches. Well, I
contaminated the Foreign Legion for eight months, and then I
went to Peru, where I--''

``You're skipping,'' said Hope. ``How did you get the Legion of
Honor?''

``Oh, that?'' said Clay. ``That was a gallery play I made once
when we were chasing some Arabs. They took the French flag away
from our color-bearer, and I got it back again and waved it
frantically around my head until I was quite certain the Colonel
had seen me doing it, and then I stopped as soon as I knew that I
was sure of promotion.''

``Oh, how can you?'' cried Hope. ``You didn't do anything of the
sort. You probably saved the entire regiment.''

``Well, perhaps I did,'' Clay returned. ``Though I don't
remember it, and nobody mentioned it at the time.''

``Go on about the others,'' said Hope. ``And do try to be
truthful.''

``Well, I got this one from Spain, because I was President of an
International Congress of Engineers at Madrid. That was the
ostensible reason, but the real reason was because I taught the
Spanish Commissioners to play poker instead of baccarat. The
German Emperor gave me this for designing a fort, and the Sultan
of Zanzibar gave me this, and no one but the Sultan knows
why, and he won't tell. I suppose he's ashamed. He gives them
away instead of cigars. He was out of cigars the day I called.''

``What a lot of places you have seen,'' sighed Hope. ``I have
been in Cairo and Algiers, too, but I always had to walk about
with a governess, and she wouldn't go to the mosques because she
said they were full of fleas. We always go to Homburg and Paris
in the summer, and to big hotels in London. I love to travel,
but I don't love to travel that way, would you?''

``I travel because I have no home,'' said Clay. ``I'm different
from the chap that came home because all the other places were
shut. I go to other places because there is no home open.''

``What do you mean?'' said Hope, shaking her head. ``Why have
you no home?''

``There was a ranch in Colorado that I used to call home,'' said
Clay, ``but they've cut it up into town lots. I own a plot in
the cemetery outside of the town, where my mother is buried, and
I visit that whenever I am in the States, and that is the only
piece of earth anywhere in the world that I have to go back to.''

Hope leaned forward with her hands clasped in front of her and
her eyes wide open.

``And your father?'' she said, softly; ``is he--is he there,
too--''

Clay looked at the lighted end of his cigar as he turned it
between his fingers.

``My father, Miss Hope,'' he said, ``was a filibuster, and went
out on the `Virginius' to help free Cuba, and was shot, against a
stone wall. We never knew where he was buried.''

``Oh, forgive me; I beg your pardon,'' said Hope. There was such
distress in her voice that Clay looked at her quickly and saw the
tears in her eyes. She reached out her hand timidly, and touched
for an instant his own rough, sunburned fist, as it lay clenched
on his knee. ``I am so sorry,'' she said, ``so sorry.'' For the
first time in many years the tears came to Clay's eyes and
blurred the moonlight and the scene before him, and he sat
unmanned and silent before the simple touch of a young girl's
sympathy.

An hour later, when his pony struck the gravel from beneath his
hoofs on the race back to the city, and Clay turned to wave his
hand to Hope in the doorway, she seemed, as she stood with the
moonlight falling about her white figure, like a spirit beckoning
the way to a new paradise.

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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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Clay believed that Alice Langham's visit to the mines had openedhis eyes fully to vast differences between them. He laughed andrailed at himself for having dared to imagine that he was in aposition to care for her. Confident as he was at times, and sureas he was of his ability in certain directions, he was uneasy andfearful when he matched himself against a man of gentle birth andgentle breeding, and one who, like King, was part of a world ofwhich he knew little, and to which, in his ignorance concerningit, he attributed many advantages that it did not possess.
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