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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSoldiers Of Fortune - Chapter XV
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Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter XV Post by :Billbeebee Category :Long Stories Author :Richard Harding Davis Date :March 2011 Read :2110

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Soldiers Of Fortune - Chapter XV

The steamer ``Santiago,'' carrying ``passengers, bullion, and
coffee,'' was headed to pass Porto Rico by midnight, when she
would be free of land until she anchored at the quarantine
station of the green hills of Staten Island. She had not yet
shaken off the contamination of the earth; a soft inland breeze
still tantalized her with odors of tree and soil, the smell of
the fresh coat of paint that had followed her coaling rose from
her sides, and the odor of spilt coffee-grains that hung around
the hatches had yet to be blown away by a jealous ocean breeze,
or washed by a welcoming cross sea.

The captain stopped at the open entrance of the Social Hall.
``If any of you ladies want to take your last look at Olancho
you've got to come now,'' he said. ``We'll lose the Valencia
light in the next quarter hour.''

Miss Langham and King looked up from their novels and smiled, and
Miss Langham shook her head. ``I've taken three final farewells
of Olancho already,'' she said: ``before we went down to
dinner, and when the sun set, and when the moon rose. I have no
more sentiment left to draw on. Do you want to go?'' she asked.

``I'm very comfortable, thank you,'' King said, and returned to
the consideration of his novel.

But Clay and Hope arose at the captain's suggestion with
suspicious alacrity, and stepped out upon the empty deck, and
into the encompassing darkness, with a little sigh of relief.

Alice Langham looked after them somewhat wistfully and bit the
edges of her book. She sat for some time with her brows knitted,
glancing occasionally and critically toward King and up with
unseeing eyes at the swinging lamps of the saloon. He caught her
looking at him once when he raised his eyes as he turned a page,
and smiled back at her, and she nodded pleasantly and bent her
head over her reading. She assured herself that after all King
understood her and she him, and that if they never rose to
certain heights, they never sank below a high level of mutual
esteem, and that perhaps was the best in the end.

King had placed his yacht at the disposal of Madame Alvarez, and
she had sailed to Colon, where she could change to the steamers
for Lisbon, while he accompanied the Langhams and the wedding
party to New York.

Clay recognized that the time had now arrived in his life
when he could graduate from the position of manager-director and
become the engineering expert, and that his services in Olancho
were no longer needed.

With Rojas in power Mr. Langham had nothing further to fear from
the Government, and with Kirkland in charge and young Langham
returning after a few months' absence to resume his work, he felt
himself free to enjoy his holiday.

They had taken the first steamer out, and the combined efforts of
all had been necessary to prevail upon MacWilliams to accompany
them; and even now the fact that he was to act as Clay's best man
and, as Langham assured him cheerfully, was to wear a frock coat
and see his name in all the papers, brought on such sudden panics
of fear that the fast-fading coast line filled his soul with
regret, and a wilful desire to jump overboard and swim back.

Clay and Hope stopped at the door of the chief engineer's cabin
and said they had come to pay him a visit. The chief had but
just come from the depths where the contamination of the earth
was most evident in the condition of his stokers; but his chin
was now cleanly shaven, and his pipe was drawing as well as his
engine fires, and he had wrapped himself in an old P. & O. white
duck jacket to show what he had been before he sank to the
level of a coasting steamer. They admired the clerk-like
neatness of the report he had just finished, and in return he
promised them the fastest run on record, and showed them the
portrait of his wife, and of their tiny cottage on the Isle of
Wight, and his jade idols from Corea, and carved cocoanut gourds
from Brazil, and a picture from the ``Graphic'' of Lord
Salisbury, tacked to the partition and looking delightedly down
between two highly colored lithographs of Miss Ellen Terry and
the Princess May.

Then they called upon the captain, and Clay asked him why
captains always hung so much lace about their beds when they
invariably slept on a red velvet sofa with their boots on, and
the captain ordered his Chinese steward to mix them a queer drink
and offered them the choice of a six months' accumulation of
paper novels, and free admittance to his bridge at all hours.
And then they passed on to the door of the smoking-room and
beckoned MacWilliams to come out and join them. His manner as he
did so bristled with importance, and he drew them eagerly to the

``I've just been having a chat with Captain Burke,'' he said, in
an undertone. ``He's been telling Langham and me about a new
game that's better than running railroads. He says there's a
country called Macedonia that's got a native prince who
wants to be free from Turkey, and the Turks won't let him, and
Burke says if we'll each put up a thousand dollars, he'll
guarantee to get the prince free in six months. He's made an
estimate of the cost and submitted it to the Russian Embassy at
Washington, and he says they will help him secretly, and he knows
a man who has just patented a new rifle, and who will supply him
with a thousand of them for the sake of the advertisement. He
says it's a mountainous country, and all you have to do is to
stand on the passes and roll rocks down on the Turks as they come
in. It sounds easy, doesn't it?''

``Then you're thinking of turning professional filibuster
yourself?'' said Clay.

``Well, I don't know. It sounds more interesting than
engineering. Burke says I beat him on his last fight, and he'd
like to have me with him in the next one--sort of young-blood-in-
the-firm idea--and he calculates that we can go about setting
people free and upsetting governments for some time to come. He
says there is always something to fight about if you look for it.
And I must say the condition of those poor Macedonians does
appeal to me. Think of them all alone down there bullied by that
Sultan of Turkey, and wanting to be free and independent. That's
not right. You, as an American citizen, ought to be the
last person in the world to throw cold water on an
undertaking like that. In the name of Liberty now?''

``I don't object; set them free, of course,'' laughed Clay.
``But how long have you entertained this feeling for the enslaved
Macedonians, Mac?''

``Well, I never heard of them until a quarter of an hour ago, but
they oughtn't to suffer through my ignorance.''

``Certainly not. Let me know when you're going to do it, and
Hope and I will run over and look on. I should like to see you
and Burke and the Prince of Macedonia rolling rocks down on the
Turkish Empire.''

Hope and Clay passed on up the deck laughing, and MacWilliams
looked after them with a fond and paternal smile. The lamp in
the wheelhouse threw a broad belt of light across the forward
deck as they passed through it into the darkness of the bow,
where the lonely lookout turned and stared at them suspiciously,
and then resumed his stern watch over the great waters.

They leaned upon the rail and breathed the soft air which the
rush of the steamer threw in their faces, and studied in silence
the stars that lay so low upon the horizon line that they looked
like the harbor lights of a great city.

``Do you see that long line of lamps off our port bow?'' asked

Hope nodded.

``Those are the electric lights along the ocean drive at Long
Branch and up the Rumson Road, and those two stars a little
higher up are fixed to the mast-heads of the Scotland Lightship.
And that mass of light that you think is the Milky Way, is the
glare of the New York street lamps thrown up against the sky.''

``Are we so near as that?'' said Hope, smiling. ``And what lies
over there?'' she asked, pointing to the east.

``Over there is the coast of Africa. Don't you see the
lighthouse on Cape Bon? If it wasn't for Gibraltar being in the
way, I could show you the harbor lights of Bizerta, and the
terraces of Algiers shining like a cafe' chantant in the

``Algiers,'' sighed Hope, ``where you were a soldier of Africa,
and rode across the deserts. Will you take me there?''

``There, of course, but to Gibraltar first, where we will drive
along the Alameda by moonlight. I drove there once coming home
from a mess dinner with the Colonel. The drive lies between
broad white balustrades, and the moon shone down on us between
the leaves of the Spanish bayonet. It was like an Italian
garden. But he did not see it, and he would talk to me
about the Watkins range finder on the lower ramparts, and he
puffed on a huge cigar. I tried to imagine I was there on my
honeymoon, but the end of his cigar would light up and I would
see his white mustache and the glow on his red jacket, so I vowed
I would go over that drive again with the proper person. And we
won't talk of range finders, will we?

``There to the North is Paris; your Paris, and my Paris, with
London only eight hours away. If you look very closely, you can
see the thousands of hansom cab lamps flashing across the
asphalt, and the open theatres, and the fairy lamps in the
gardens back of the houses in Mayfair, where they are giving
dances in your honor, in honor of the beautiful American bride,
whom every one wants to meet. And you will wear the finest tiara
we can get on Bond Street, but no one will look at it; they will
only look at you. And I will feel very miserable and tease you
to come home.''

Hope put her hand in his, and he held her finger-tips to his lips
for an instant and closed his other hand upon hers.

``And after that?'' asked Hope.

``After that we will go to work again, and take long journeys to
Mexico and Peru or wherever they want me, and I will sit in
judgment on the work other chaps have done. And when we get
back to our car at night, or to the section house, for it will be
very rough sometimes,''--Hope pressed his hand gently in
answer,--``I will tell you privately how very differently your
husband would have done it, and you, knowing all about it, will
say that had it been left to me, I would certainly have
accomplished it in a vastly superior manner.''

``Well, so you would,'' said Hope, calmly.

``That's what I said you'd say,'' laughed Clay. ``Dearest,'' he
begged, ``promise me something. Promise me that you are going to
be very happy.''

Hope raised her eyes and looked up at him in silence, and had the
man in the wheelhouse been watching the stars, as he should have
been, no one but the two foolish young people on the bow of the
boat would have known her answer.

The ship's bell sounded eight times, and Hope moved slightly.

``So late as that,'' she sighed. ``Come. We must be going

A great wave struck the ship's side a friendly slap, and the wind
caught up the spray and tossed it in their eyes, and blew a
strand of her hair loose so that it fell across Clay's face, and
they laughed happily together as she drew it back and he took her
hand again to steady her progress across the slanting deck.

As they passed hand in hand out of the shadow into the light from
the wheelhouse, the lookout in the bow counted the strokes of the
bell to himself, and then turned and shouted back his measured
cry to the bridge above them. His voice seemed to be a part of
the murmuring sea and the welcoming winds.

``Listen,'' said Clay.

``Eight bells,'' the voice sang from the darkness. ``The for'ard
light's shining bright--and all's well.''

Soldiers of Fortune, by Richard Harding Davis.

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