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 XIII
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter XIII Post by :scortillion Category :Long Stories Author :Richard Harding Davis Date :March 2011 Read :2741

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

Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter XIII

The President's travelling carriage was a double-seated diligence
covered with heavy hoods and with places on the box for two men.
Only one of the coachmen, the same man who had driven the State
carriage from the review, had remained at the stables. As he
knew the roads to Los Bocos, Clay ordered him up to the driver's
seat, and MacWilliams climbed into the place beside him after
first storing three rifles under the lap-robe.

Hope pulled open the leather curtains of the carriage and found
Madame Alvarez where the men had laid her upon the cushions, weak
and hysterical. The girl crept in beside her, and lifting her in
her arms, rested the older woman's head against her shoulder, and
soothed and comforted her with tenderness and sympathy.

Clay stopped with his foot in the stirrup and looked up anxiously
at Langham who was already in the saddle.

``Is there no possible way of getting Hope out of this and back
to the Palms?'' he asked.

``No, it's too late. This is the only way now.'' Hope opened
the leather curtains and looking out shook her head impatiently
at Clay. ``I wouldn't go now if there were another way,'' she
said. ``I couldn't leave her like this.''

``You're delaying the game, Clay,'' cried Langham, warningly, as
he stuck his spurs into his pony's side.

The people in the diligence lurched forward as the horses felt
the lash of the whip and strained against the harness, and then
plunged ahead at a gallop on their long race to the sea. As they
sped through the gardens, the stables and the trees hid them from
the sight of those in the palace, and the turf, upon which the
driver had turned the horses for greater safety, deadened the
sound of their flight.

They found the gates of the botanical gardens already opened, and
Clay, in the street outside, beckoning them on. Without waiting
for the others the two outriders galloped ahead to the first
cross street, looked up and down its length, and then, in evident
concern at what they saw in the distance, motioned the driver to
greater speed, and crossing the street signalled him to follow
them. At the next corner Clay flung himself off his pony, and
throwing the bridle to Langham, ran ahead into the cross street
on foot, and after a quick glance pointed down its length
away from the heart of the city to the mountains.

The driver turned as Clay directed him, and when the man found
that his face was fairly set toward the goal he lashed his horses
recklessly through the narrow street, so that the murmur of the
mob behind them grew perceptibly fainter at each leap forward.

The noise of the galloping hoofs brought women and children to
the barred windows of the houses, but no men stepped into the
road to stop their progress, and those few they met running in
the direction of the palace hastened to get out of their way, and
stood with their backs pressed against the walls of the narrow
thoroughfare looking after them with wonder.

Even those who suspected their errand were helpless to detain
them, for sooner than they could raise the hue and cry or
formulate a plan of action, the carriage had passed and was
disappearing in the distance, rocking from wheel to wheel like a
ship in a gale. Two men who were so bold as to start to follow,
stopped abruptly when they saw the outriders draw rein and turn
in their saddles as though to await their coming.

Clay's mind was torn with doubts, and his nerves were drawn taut
like the strings of a violin. Personal danger exhilarated him,
but this chance of harm to others who were helpless, except
for him, depressed his spirit with anxiety. He experienced in
his own mind all the nervous fears of a thief who sees an officer
in every passing citizen, and at one moment he warned the driver
to move more circumspectly, and so avert suspicion, and the next
urged him into more desperate bursts of speed. In his fancy
every cross street threatened an ambush, and as he cantered now
before and now behind the carriage, he wished that he was a
multitude of men who could encompass it entirely and hide it.

But the solid streets soon gave way to open places, and low mud
cabins, where the horses' hoofs beat on a sun-baked road, and
where the inhabitants sat lazily before the door in the fading
light, with no knowledge of the changes that the day had wrought
in the city, and with only a moment's curious interest in the
hooded carriage, and the grim, white-faced foreigners who guarded
it.

Clay turned his pony into a trot at Langham's side. His face was
pale and drawn.

As the danger of immediate pursuit and capture grew less, the
carriage had slackened its pace, and for some minutes the
outriders galloped on together side by side in silence. But the
same thought was in the mind of each, and when Langham spoke
it was as though he were continuing where he had but just been
interrupted.

He laid his hand gently on Clay's arm. He did not turn his face
toward him, and his eyes were still peering into the shadows
before them. ``Tell me?'' he asked.

``He was coming up the stairs,'' Clay answered. He spoke in so
low a voice that Langham had to lean from his saddle to hear him.
``They were close behind; but when they saw her they stopped and
refused to go farther. I called to him to come away, but he
would not understand. They killed him before he really
understood what they meant to do. He was dead almost before I
reached him. He died in my arms.'' There was a long pause. ``I
wonder if he knows that?'' Clay said.

Langham sat erect in the saddle again and drew a short breath.
``I wish he could have known how he helped me,'' he whispered,
``how much just knowing him helped me.''

Clay bowed his head to the boy as though he were thanking him.
``His was the gentlest soul I ever knew,'' he said.

``That's what I wanted to say,'' Langham answered. ``We will let
that be his epitaph,'' and touching his spur to his horse he
galloped on ahead and left Clay riding alone.

Langham had proceeded for nearly a mile when he saw the forest
opening before them, and at the sight he gave a shout of relief,
but almost at the same instant he pulled his pony back on his
haunches and whirling him about, sprang back to the carriage with
a cry of warning.

``There are soldiers ahead of us,'' he cried. ``Did you know
it?'' he demanded of the driver. ``Did you lie to me? Turn
back.''

``He can't turn back,'' MacWilliams answered. ``They have seen
us. They are only the custom officers at the city limits. They
know nothing. Go on.'' He reached forward and catching the
reins dragged the horses down into a walk. Then he handed the
reins back to the driver with a shake of the head.

``If you know these roads as well as you say you do, you want to
keep us out of the way of soldiers,'' he said. ``If we fall into
a trap you'll be the first man shot on either side.''

A sentry strolled lazily out into the road dragging his gun after
him by the bayonet, and raised his hand for them to halt. His
captain followed him from the post-house throwing away a
cigarette as he came, and saluted MacWilliams on the box and
bowed to the two riders in the background. In his right hand he
held one of the long iron rods with which the collectors of the
city's taxes were wont to pierce the bundles and packs, and
even the carriage cushions of those who entered the city limits
from the coast, and who might be suspected of smuggling.

``Whose carriage is this, and where is it going?'' he asked.

As the speed of the diligence slackened, Hope put her head out of
the curtains, and as she surveyed the soldier with apparent
surprise, she turned to her brother.

``What does this mean?'' she asked. ``What are we waiting for?''

``We are going to the Hacienda of Senor Palacio,''
MacWilliams said, in answer to the officer. ``The driver thinks
that this is the road, but I say we should have taken the one to
the right.''

``No, this is the road to Senor Palacio's plantation,'' the
officer answered, ``but you cannot leave the city without a pass
signed by General Mendoza. That is the order we received this
morning. Have you such a pass?''

``Certainly not,'' Clay answered, warmly. ``This is the carriage
of an American, the president of the mines. His daughters are
inside and on their way to visit the residence of Senor
Palacio. They are foreigners--Americans. We are all
foreigners, and we have a perfect right to leave the city
when we choose. You can only stop us when we enter it.''

The officer looked uncertainly from Clay to Hope and up at the
driver on the box. His eyes fell upon the heavy brass mountings
of the harness. They bore the arms of Olancho. He wheeled
sharply and called to his men inside the post-house, and they
stepped out from the veranda and spread themselves leisurely
across the road.

``Ride him down, Clay,'' Langham muttered, in a whisper. The
officer did not understand the words, but he saw Clay gather the
reins tighter in his hands and he stepped back quickly to the
safety of the porch, and from that ground of vantage smiled
pleasantly.

``Pardon,'' he said, ``there is no need for blows when one is
rich enough to pay. A little something for myself and a drink
for my brave fellows, and you can go where you please.''

``Damned brigands,'' growled Langham, savagely.

``Not at all,'' Clay answered. ``He is an officer and a
gentleman. I have no money with me,'' he said, in Spanish,
addressing the officer, ``but between caballeros a word of honor
is sufficient. I shall be returning this way to-morrow morning,
and I will bring a few hundred sols from Senor Palacio
for you and your men; but if we are followed you will get
nothing, and you must have forgotten in the mean time that you
have seen us pass.''

There was a murmur inside the carriage, and Hope's face
disappeared from between the curtains to reappear again
almost immediately. She beckoned to the officer with her hand,
and the men saw that she held between her thumb and little finger
a diamond ring of size and brilliancy. She moved it so that it
flashed in the light of the guard lantern above the post-house.

``My sister tells me you shall be given this tomorrow morning,''
Hope said, ``if we are not followed.''

The man's eyes laughed with pleasure. He swept his sombrero to
the ground.

``I am your servant, Senorita,'' he said. ``Gentlemen,'' he
cried, gayly, turning to Clay, ``if you wish it, I will accompany
you with my men. Yes, I will leave word that I have gone in the
sudden pursuit of smugglers; or I will remain here as you wish,
and send those who may follow back again.''

``You are most gracious, sir,'' said Clay. ``It is always a
pleasure to meet with a gentleman and a philosopher. We prefer
to travel without an escort, and remember, you have seen nothing
and heard nothing.'' He leaned from the saddle, and touched
the officer on the breast. ``That ring is worth a king's
ransom.''

``Or a president's,'' muttered the man, smiling. ``Let the
American ladies pass,'' he commanded.

The soldiers scattered as the whip fell, and the horses once more
leaped forward, and as the carriage entered the forest, Clay
looked back and saw the officer exhaling the smoke of a fresh
cigarette, with the satisfaction of one who enjoys a clean
conscience and a sense of duty well performed.

The road through the forest was narrow and uneven, and as the
horses fell into a trot the men on horseback closed up together
behind the carriage.

``Do you think that road-agent will keep his word?'' Langham
asked.

``Yes; he has nothing to win by telling the truth,'' Clay
answered. ``He can say he saw a party of foreigners, Americans,
driving in the direction of Palacio's coffee plantation. That
lets him out, and in the morning he knows he can levy on us for
the gate money. I am not so much afraid of being overtaken as I
am that King may make a mistake and not get to Bocos on time. We
ought to reach there, if the carriage holds together, by eleven.
King should be there by eight o'clock, and the yacht ought to
make the run to Truxillo in three hours. But we shall not
be able to get back to the city before five to-morrow morning. I
suppose your family will be wild about Hope. We didn't know
where she was when we sent the groom back to King.''

``Do you think that driver is taking us the right way?'' Langham
asked, after a pause.

``He'd better. He knows it well enough. He was through the last
revolution, and carried messages from Los Bocos to the city on
foot for two months. He has covered every trail on the way, and
if he goes wrong he knows what will happen to him.''

``And Los Bocos--it is a village, isn't it, and the landing must
be in sight of the Custom-house?''

``The village lies some distance back from the shore, and the
only house on the beach is the Custom-house itself; but every one
will be asleep by the time we get there, and it will take us only
a minute to hand her into the launch. If there should be a guard
there, King will have fixed them one way or another by the time
we arrive. Anyhow, there is no need of looking for trouble that
far ahead. There is enough to worry about in between. We
haven't got there yet.''

The moon rose grandly a few minutes later, and flooded the forest
with light so that the open places were as clear as day. It
threw strange shadows across the trail, and turned the rocks
and fallen trees into figures of men crouching or standing
upright with uplifted arms. They were so like to them that Clay
and Langham flung their carbines to their shoulders again and
again, and pointed them at some black object that turned as they
advanced into wood or stone. From the forest they came to little
streams and broad shallow rivers where the rocks in the fording
places churned the water into white masses of foam, and the
horses kicked up showers of spray as they made their way,
slipping and stumbling, against the current. It was a silent
pilgrim age, and never for a moment did the strain slacken or the
men draw rein. Sometimes, as they hurried across a broad
tableland, or skirted the edge of a precipice and looked down
hundreds of feet below at the shining waters they had just
forded, or up at the rocky points of the mountains before them,
the beauty of the night overcame them and made them forget the
significance of their journey.

They were not always alone, for they passed at intervals through
sleeping villages of mud huts with thatched roofs, where the dogs
ran yelping out to bark at them, and where the pine-knots,
blazing on the clay ovens, burned cheerily in the moonlight. In
the low lands where the fever lay, the mist rose above the level
of their heads and enshrouded them in a curtain of fog, and the
dew fell heavily, penetrating their clothing and chilling
their heated bodies so that the sweating horses moved in a lather
of steam.

They had settled down into a steady gallop now, and ten or
fifteen miles had been left behind them.

``We are making excellent time,'' said Clay. ``The village of
San Lorenzo should lie beyond that ridge.'' He drove up beside
the driver and pointed with his whip. ``Is not that San
Lorenzo?'' he asked.

``Yes, senor,'' the man answered, ``but I mean to drive around
it by the old wagon trail. It is a large town, and people may be
awake. You will be able to see it from the top of the next
hill.''

The cavalcade stopped at the summit of the ridge and the men
looked down into the silent village. It was like the others they
had passed, with a few houses built round a square of grass that
could hardly be recognized as a plaza, except for the church on
its one side, and the huge wooden cross planted in its centre.
From the top of the hill they could see that the greater number
of the houses were in darkness, but in a large building of two
stories lights were shining from every window.

``That is the comandancia,'' said the driver, shaking his
head. ``They are still awake. It is a telegraph station.''

``Great Scott!'' exclaimed MacWilliams. ``We forgot the
telegraph. They may have sent word to head us off already.''

``Nine o'clock is not so very late,'' said Clay. ``It may mean
nothing.''

``We had better make sure, though,'' MacWilliams answered,
jumping to the ground. ``Lend me your pony, Ted, and take my
place. I'll run in there and dust around and see what's up.
I'll join you on the other side of the town after you get back to
the main road.''

``Wait a minute,'' said Clay. ``What do you mean to do?''

``I can't tell till I get there, but I'll try to find out how
much they know. Don't you be afraid. I'll run fast enough if
there's any sign of trouble. And if you come across a telegraph
wire, cut it. The message may not have gone over yet.''

The two women in the carriage had parted the flaps of the hoods
and were trying to hear what was being said, but could not
understand, and Langham explained to them that they were about to
make a slight detour to avoid San Lorenzo while MacWilliams was
going into it to reconnoitre. He asked if they were comfortable,
and assured them that the greater part of the ride was over,
and that there was a good road from San Lorenzo to the sea.

MacWilliams rode down into the village along the main trail, and
threw his reins over a post in front of the comandancia. He
mounted boldly to the second floor of the building and stopped at
the head of the stairs, in front of an open door. There were
three men in the room before him, one an elderly man, whom he
rightly guessed was the comandante, and two younger men who
were standing behind a railing and bending over a telegraph
instrument on a table. As he stamped into the room, they looked
up and stared at him in surprise; their faces showed that he had
interrupted them at a moment of unusual interest.

MacWilliams saluted the three men civilly, and, according to the
native custom, apologized for appearing before them in his spurs.

He had been riding from Los Bocos to the capital, he said, and
his horse had gone lame. Could they tell him if there
was any one in the village from whom he could hire a mule, as he
must push on to the capital that night?

The comandante surveyed him for a moment, as though still
disturbed by the interruption, and then shook his head
impatiently. ``You can hire a mule from one Pulido Paul, at the
corner of the plaza,'' he said. And as MacWilliams still
stood uncertainly, he added, ``You say you have come from
Los Bocos. Did you meet any one on your way?''

The two younger men looked up at him anxiously, but before he
could answer, the instrument began to tick out the signal, and
they turned their eyes to it again, and one of them began to take
its message down on paper.

The instrument spoke to MacWilliams also, for he was used to
sending telegrams daily from the office to the mines, and could
make it talk for him in either English or Spanish. So, in his
effort to hear what it might say, he stammered and glanced at it
involuntarily, and the comandante, without suspecting his
reason for doing so, turned also and peered over the shoulder of
the man who was receiving the message. Except for the clicking
of the instrument, the room was absolutely still; the three men
bent silently over the table, while MacWilliams stood gazing at
the ceiling and turning his hat in his hands. The message
MacWilliams read from the instrument was this: ``They are
reported to have left the city by the south, so they are going to
Para, or San Pedro, or to Los Bocos. She must be stopped--take
an armed force and guard the roads. If necessary, kill her. She
has in the carriage or hidden on her person, drafts for five
million sols. You will be held responsible for every one of
them. Repeat this message to show you understand, and relay it
to Los Bocos. If you fail--''

MacWilliams could not wait to hear more; he gave a curt nod to
the men and started toward the stairs. ``Wait,'' the
comandante called after him.

MacWilliams paused with one hand on top of the banisters
balancing himself in readiness for instant flight.

``You have not answered me. Did you meet with any one on your
ride here from Los Bocos?''

``I met several men on foot, and the mail carrier passed me a
league out from the coast, and oh, yes, I met a carriage at the
cross roads, and the driver asked me the way of San Pedro Sula.''

``A carriage?--yes--and what did you tell him?''

``I told him he was on the road to Los Bocos, and he turned back
and--''

``You are sure he turned back?''

``Certainly, sir. I rode behind him for some distance. He
turned finally to the right into the trail to San Pedro Sula.''

The man flung himself across the railing.

``Quick,'' he commanded, ``telegraph to Morales, Comandante
San Pedro Sula--''

He had turned his back on MacWilliams, and as the younger man
bent over the instrument, MacWilliams stepped softly down the
stairs, and mounting his pony rode slowly off in the direction of
the capital. As soon as he had reached the outskirts of the
town, he turned and galloped round it and then rode fast with his
head in air, glancing up at the telegraph wire that sagged from
tree-trunk to tree-trunk along the trail. At a point where he
thought he could dismount in safety and tear down the wire, he
came across it dangling from the branches and he gave a shout of
relief. He caught the loose end and dragged it free from its
support, and then laying it across a rock pounded the blade of
his knife upon it with a stone, until he had hacked off a piece
some fifty feet in length. Taking this in his hand he
mounted again and rode off with it, dragging the wire in
the road behind him. He held it up as he rejoined Clay, and
laughed triumphantly. ``They'll have some trouble splicing that
circuit,'' he said, ``you only half did the work. What wouldn't
we give to know all this little piece of copper knows, eh?''

``Do you mean you think they have telegraphed to Los Bocos
already?''

``I know that they were telegraphing to San Pedro Sula as I left
and to all the coast towns. But whether you cut this down
before or after is what I should like to know.''

``We shall probably learn that later,'' said Clay, grimly.

The last three miles of the journey lay over a hard, smooth road,
wide enough to allow the carriage and its escort to ride abreast.

It was in such contrast to the tortuous paths they had just
followed, that the horses gained a fresh impetus and galloped
forward as freely as though the race had but just begun.

Madame Alvarez stopped the carriage at one place and asked the
men to lower the hood at the back that she might feel the fresh
air and see about her, and when this had been done, the women
seated themselves with their backs to the horses where they could
look out at the moonlit road as it unrolled behind them.

Hope felt selfishly and wickedly happy. The excitement had kept
her spirits at the highest point, and the knowledge that Clay was
guarding and protecting her was in itself a pleasure. She leaned
back on the cushions and put her arm around the older woman's
waist, and listened to the light beat of his pony's hoofs
outside, now running ahead, now scrambling and slipping up some
steep place, and again coming to a halt as Langham or MacWilliams
called, ``Look to the right, behind those trees,'' or
``Ahead there! Don't you see what I mean, something crouching?''

She did not know when the false alarms would turn into a genuine
attack, but she was confident that when the time came he would
take care of her, and she welcomed the danger because it brought
that solace with it.

Madame Alvarez sat at her side, rigid, silent, and beyond the
help of comfort. She tortured herself with thoughts of the
ambitions she had held, and which had been so cruelly mocked that
very morning; of the chivalric love that had been hers, of the
life even that had been hers, and which had been given up for her
so tragically. When she spoke at all, it was to murmur her
sorrow that Hope had exposed herself to danger on her poor
account, and that her life, as far as she loved it, was at an
end. Only once after the men had parted the curtains and asked
concerning her comfort with grave solicitude did she give way to
tears.

``Why are they so good to me?'' she moaned. ``Why are you so
good to me? I am a wicked, vain woman, I have brought a nation to
war and I have killed the only man I ever trusted.''

Hope touched her gently with her hand and felt guiltily how
selfish she herself must be not to feel the woman's grief, but
she could not. She only saw in it a contrast to her own
happiness, a black background before which the figure of Clay and
his solicitude for her shone out, the only fact in the world that
was of value.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the carriage coming to a halt,
and a significant movement upon the part of the men. MacWilliams
had descended from the box-seat and stepping into the carriage
took the place the women had just left.

He had a carbine in his hand, and after he was seated Langham
handed him another which he laid across his knees.

``They thought I was too conspicuous on the box to do any good
there,'' he explained in a confidential whisper. ``In case there
is any firing now, you ladies want to get down on your knees here
at my feet, and hide your heads in the cushions. We are entering
Los Bocos.''

Langham and Clay were riding far in advance, scouting to the
right and left, and the carriage moved noiselessly behind them
through the empty streets. There was no light in any of the
windows, and not even a dog barked, or a cock crowed. The women
sat erect, listening for the first signal of an attack, each
holding the other's hand and looking at MacWilliams, who sat with
his thumb on the trigger of his carbine, glancing to the right
and left and breathing quickly. His eyes twinkled, like
those of a little fox terrier. The men dropped back, and drew up
on a level with the carriage.

``We are all right, so far,'' Clay whispered. ``The beach slopes
down from the other side of that line of trees. What is the
matter with you?'' he demanded, suddenly, looking up at the
driver, ``are you afraid?''

``No,'' the man answered, hurriedly, his voice shaking; ``it's
the cold.''

Langham had galloped on ahead and as he passed through the trees
and came out upon the beach, he saw a broad stretch of moonlit
water and the lights from the yacht shining from a point a
quarter of a mile off shore. Among the rocks on the edge of the
beach was the ``Vesta's'' longboat and her crew seated in it or
standing about on the beach. The carriage had stopped under the
protecting shadow of the trees, and he raced back toward it.

``The yacht is here,'' he cried. ``The long-boat is waiting and
there is not a sign of light about the Custom-house. Come on,''
he cried. ``We have beaten them after all.''

A sailor, who had been acting as lookout on the rocks, sprang to
his full height, and shouted to the group around the long-boat,
and King came up the beach toward them running heavily through
the deep sand.

Madame Alvarez stepped down from the carriage, and as Hope handed
her her jewel case in silence, the men draped her cloak about her
shoulders. She put out her hand to them, and as Clay took it in
his, she bent her head quickly and kissed his hand. ``You were
his friend,'' she murmured.

She held Hope in her arms for an instant, and kissed her, and
then gave her hand in turn to Langham and to MacWilliams.

``I do not know whether I shall ever see you again,'' she said,
looking slowly from one to the other, ``but I will pray for you
every day, and God will reward you for saving a worthless life.''

As she finished speaking King came up to the group, followed by
three of his men.

``Is Hope with you, is she safe?'' he asked.

``Yes, she is with me,'' Madame Alvarez answered.

``Thank God,'' King exclaimed, breathlessly. ``Then we will
start at once, Madame. Where is she? She must come with us!''

``Of course,'' Clay-assented, eagerly, ``she will be much safer
on the yacht.''

But Hope protested. ``I must get back to father,'' she said.
``The yacht will not arrive until late to-morrow, and the
carriage can take me to him five hours earlier. The family have
worried too long about me as it is, and, besides, I will not
leave Ted. I am going back as I came.''

``It is most unsafe,'' King urged.

``On the contrary, it is perfectly safe now,'' Hope answered.
``It was not one of us they wanted.''

``You may be right,'' King said. ``They don't know what has
happened to you, and perhaps after all it would be better if you
went back the quicker way.'' He gave his arm to Madame Alvarez
and walked with her toward the shore. As the men surrounded her
on every side and moved away, Clay glanced back at Hope and saw
her standing upright in the carriage looking after them.

``We will be with you in a minute,'' he called, as though in
apology for leaving her for even that brief space. And then the
shadow of the trees shut her and the carriage from his sight.
His footsteps made no sound in the soft sand, and except for the
whispering of the palms and the sleepy wash of the waves as they
ran up the pebbly beach and sank again, the place was as peaceful
and silent as a deserted island, though the moon made it as light
as day.

The long-boat had been drawn up with her stern to the shore, and
the men were already in their places, some standing waiting for
the order to shove off, and others seated balancing their
oars.

King had arranged to fire a rocket when the launch left the
shore, in order that the captain of the yacht might run in closer
to pick them up. As he hurried down the beach, he called to his
boatswain to give the signal, and the man answered that he
understood and stooped to light a match. King had jumped into
the stern and lifted Madame Alvarez after him, leaving her late
escort standing with uncovered heads on the beach behind her,
when the rocket shot up into the calm white air, with a roar and
a rush and a sudden flash of color. At the same instant, as
though in answer to its challenge, the woods back of them burst
into an irregular line of flame, a volley of rifle shots
shattered the silence, and a score of bullets splashed in the
water and on the rocks about them.

The boatswain in the bow of the long-boat tossed up his arms and
pitched forward between the thwarts.

``Give way,'' he shouted as he fell.

``Pull,'' Clay yelled, ``pull, all of you.''

He threw himself against the stern of the boat, and Langham and
MacWilliams clutched its sides, and with their shoulders against
it and their bodies half sunk in the water, shoved it off, free
of the shore.

The shots continued fiercely, and two of the crew cried out
and fell back upon the oars of the men behind them.

Madame Alvarez sprang to her feet and stood swaying unsteadily as
the boat leaped forward.

``Take me back. Stop, I command you,'' she cried, ``I will not
leave those men. Do you hear?''

King caught her by the waist and dragged her down, but she
struggled to free herself. ``I will not leave them to be
murdered,'' she cried. ``You cowards, put me back.''

``Hold her, King,'' Clay shouted. ``We're all right. They're
not firing at us.''

His voice was drowned in the noise of the oars beating in the
rowlocks, and the reports of the rifles. The boat disappeared in
a mist of spray and moonlight, and Clay turned and faced about
him. Langham and MacWilliams were crouching behind a rock and
firing at the flashes in the woods.

``You can't stay there,'' Clay cried. ``We must get back to
Hope.''

He ran forward, dodging from side to side and firing as he ran.
He heard shots from the water, and looking back saw that the men
in the longboat had ceased rowing, and were returning the fire
from the shore.

``Come back, Hope is all right,'' her brother called to him. ``I
haven't seen a shot within a hundred yards of her yet, they're
firing from the Custom-house and below. I think Mac's hit.''

``I'm not,'' MacWilliams's voice answered from behind a rock,
``but I'd like to see something to shoot at.''

A hot tremor of rage swept over Clay at the thought of a possibly
fatal termination to the night's adventure. He groaned at the
mockery of having found his life only to lose it now, when it was
more precious to him than it had ever been, and to lose it in a
silly brawl with semi-savages. He cursed himself impotently and
rebelliously for a senseless fool.

``Keep back, can't you?'' he heard Langham calling to him from
the shore. ``You're only drawing the fire toward Hope. She's
got away by now. She had both the horses.''

Langham and MacWilliams started forward to Clay's side, but the
instant they left the shadow of the rock, the bullets threw up
the sand at their feet and they stopped irresolutely. The moon
showed the three men outlined against the white sand of the beach
as clearly as though a searchlight had been turned upon them,
even while its shadows sheltered and protected their assailants.
At their backs the open sea cut off retreat, and the line of fire
in front held them in check. They were as helpless as chessmen
upon a board.

``I'm not going to stand still to be shot at,'' cried
MacWilliams. ``Let's hide or let's run. This isn't doing
anybody any good.'' But no one moved. They could hear the
singing of the bullets as they passed them whining in the air
like a banjo-string that is being tightened, and they knew they
were in equal danger from those who were firing from the boat.

``They're shooting better,'' said MacWilliams. ``They'll reach
us in a minute.''

``They've reached me already, I think,'' Langham answered, with
suppressed satisfaction, ``in the shoulder. It's nothing.'' His
unconcern was quite sincere; to a young man who had galloped
through two long halves of a football match on a strained tendon,
a scratched shoulder was not important, except as an unsought
honor.

But it was of the most importance to MacWilliams. He raised his
voice against the men in the woods in impotent fury. ``Come out,
you cowards, where we can see you,'' he cried. ``Come out where
I can shoot your black heads off.''

Clay had fired the last cartridge in his rifle, and throwing it
away drew his revolver.

``We must either swim or hide,'' he said. ``Put your heads down
and run.''

But as he spoke, they saw the carriage plunging out of the shadow
of the woods and the horses galloping toward them down the
beach. MacWilliams gave a cheer of welcome. ``Hurrah!'' he
shouted, ``it's Jose' coming for us. He's a good man. Well
done, Jose'!'' he called.

``That's not Jose','' Langham cried, doubtfully, peering
through the moonlight. ``Good God! It's Hope,'' he exclaimed.
He waved his hands frantically above his head. ``Go back,
Hope,'' he cried, ``go back!''

But the carriage did not swerve on its way toward them. They all
saw her now distinctly. She was on the driver's box and alone,
leaning forward and lashing the horses' backs with the whip and
reins, and bending over to avoid the bullets that passed above
her head. As she came down upon them, she stood up, her woman's
figure outlined clearly in the riding habit she still wore.
``Jump in when I turn,'' she cried. ``I'm going to turn slowly,
run and jump in.''

She bent forward again and pulled the horses to the right, and as
they obeyed her, plunging and tugging at their bits, as though
they knew the danger they were in, the men threw themselves at
the carriage. Clay caught the hood at the back, swung himself
up, and scrambled over the cushions and up to the box seat. He
dropped down behind Hope, and reaching his arms around her took
the reins in one hand, and with the other forced her down to
her knees upon the footboard, so that, as she knelt, his arms and
body protected her from the bullets sent after them. Langham
followed Clay, and tumbled into the carriage over the hood at the
back, but MacWilliams endeavored to vault in from the step, and
missing his footing fell under the hind wheel, so that the weight
of the carriage passed over him, and his head was buried for an
instant in the sand. But he was on his feet again before they
had noticed that he was down, and as he jumped for the hood,
Langham caught him by the collar of his coat and dragged him into
the seat, panting and gasping, and rubbing the sand from his
mouth and nostrils. Clay turned the carriage at a right angle
through the heavy sand, and still standing with Hope crouched at
his knees, he raced back to the woods into the face of the
firing, with the boys behind him answering it from each side of
the carriage, so that the horses leaped forward in a frenzy of
terror, and dashing through the woods, passed into the first road
that opened before them.

The road into which they had turned was narrow, but level, and
ran through a forest of banana palms that bent and swayed above
them. Langham and MacWilliams still knelt in the rear seat of
the carriage, watching the road on the chance of possible
pursuit.

``Give me some cartridges,'' said Langham. ``My belt is empty.
What road is this?''

``It is a private road, I should say, through somebody's banana
plantation. But it must cross the main road somewhere. It
doesn't matter, we're all right now. I mean to take it easy.''
MacWilliams turned on his back and stretched out his legs on the
seat opposite.

``Where do you suppose those men sprang from? Were they
following us all the time?''

``Perhaps, or else that message got over the wire before we cut
it, and they've been lying in wait for us. They were probably
watching King and his sailors for the last hour or so, but they
didn't want him. They wanted her and the money. It was pretty
exciting, wasn't it? How's your shoulder?''

``It's a little stiff, thank you,'' said Langham. He stood up
and by peering over the hood could just see the top of Clay's
sombrero rising above it where he sat on the back seat.

``You and Hope all right up there, Clay?'' he asked.

The top of the sombrero moved slightly, and Langham took it as a
sign that all was well. He dropped back into his seat beside
MacWilliams, and they both breathed a long sigh of relief and
content. Langham's wounded arm was the one nearest
MacWilliams, and the latter parted the torn sleeve and examined
the furrow across the shoulder with unconcealed envy.

``I am afraid it won't leave a scar,'' he said, sympathetically.

``Won't it?'' asked Langham, in some concern.

The horses had dropped into a walk, and the beauty of the moonlit
night put its spell upon the two boys, and the rustling of the
great leaves above their heads stilled and quieted them so that
they unconsciously spoke in whispers.

Clay had not moved since the horses turned of their own accord
into the valley of the palms. He no longer feared pursuit nor
any interruption to their further progress. His only sensation
was one of utter thankfulness that they were all well out of it,
and that Hope had been the one who had helped them in their
trouble, and his dearest thought was that, whether she wished or
not, he owed his safety, and possibly his life, to her.

She still crouched between his knees upon the broad footboard,
with her hands clasped in front of her, and looking ahead into
the vista of soft mysterious lights and dark shadows that the
moon cast upon the road. Neither of them spoke, and as the
silence continued unbroken, it took a weightier significance, and
at each added second of time became more full of meaning.

The horses had dropped into a tired walk, and drew them smoothly
over the white road; from behind the hood came broken snatches of
the boys' talk, and above their heads the heavy leaves of the
palms bent and bowed as though in benediction. A warm breeze
from the land filled the air with the odor of ripening fruit and
pungent smells, and the silence seemed to envelop them and mark
them as the only living creatures awake in the brilliant tropical
night.

Hope sank slowly back, and as she did so, her shoulder touched
for an instant against Clay's knee; she straightened herself and
made a movement as though to rise. Her nearness to him and
something in her attitude at his feet held Clay in a spell. He
bent forward and laid his hand fearfully upon her shoulder, and
the touch seemed to stop the blood in his veins and hushed the
words upon his lips. Hope raised her head slowly as though with
a great effort, and looked into his eyes. It seemed to him that
he had been looking into those same eyes for centuries, as though
he had always known them, and the soul that looked out of them
into his. He bent his head lower, and stretching out his arms
drew her to him, and the eyes did not waver. He raised her
and held her close against his breast. Her eyes faltered and
closed.

``Hope,'' he whispered, ``Hope.'' He stooped lower and kissed
her, and his lips told her what they could not speak--and they
were quite alone.

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

Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter XIV Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter XIV

Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter XIV
An hour later Langham rose with a protesting sigh and shook thehood violently.``I say!'' he called. ``Are you asleep up there. We'll neverget home at this rate. Doesn't Hope want to come back here andgo to sleep?The carriage stopped, and the boys tumbled out and walked aroundin front of it. Hope sat smiling on the box-seat. She wasapparently far from sleepy, and she was quite contented where shewas, she told him.``Do you know we haven't had anything to eat since yesterday atbreakfast?'' asked Langham. ``MacWilliams and I are fainting. We move that we stop at
PREVIOUS BOOKS

Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter XII Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter XII

Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter XII
The day of the review rose clear and warm, tempered by a lightbreeze from the sea. As it was a fete day, the harbor wore anair of unwonted inactivity; no lighters passed heavily from thelevees to the merchantmen at anchor, and the warehouses along thewharves were closed and deserted. A thin line of smoke from thefunnels of the `Vesta' showed that her fires were burning, andthe fact that she rode on a single anchor chain seemed to promisethat at any moment she might slip away to sea.As Clay was finishing his coffee two notes were brought to himfrom messengers
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT