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 StoriesThe Ne'er-do-well - Chapter 24. A Business Proposition
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Ne'er-do-well - Chapter 24. A Business Proposition Post by :ninja1023 Category :Long Stories Author :Rex Beach Date :May 2012 Read :880

Click below to download : The Ne'er-do-well - Chapter 24. A Business Proposition (Format : PDF)

The Ne'er-do-well - Chapter 24. A Business Proposition

CHAPTER XXIV. A BUSINESS PROPOSITION

Edith Cortlandt's interview with the rival candidates for the Panamanian Presidency formed but a part of her plan. She next held a long conversation with Colonel Jolson, to the end that on Friday morning Runnels heard a rumor that threw him into the greatest consternation. It was to the effect that instead of his succeeding to the office of Superintendent, he was to retain his old post, and that Colonel Jolson's brother-in-law was to supersede him. Although the word was not authoritative, it came with sufficient directness to leave him aghast. If true, it was, of course, equivalent to his discharge, for it meant that he could not even continue in his former position without putting himself in a light intolerable to any man of spirit. Since he was entitled to the promotion, had been promised it, in fact, and had made his plans accordingly, there was no course open except resignation. If he did not resign voluntarily, he knew that his new superior would eventually force him to do so, for Blakeley would build up an organization of his own, and in it there would be no place for one who had aspired to the highest office.

Inasmuch as his assistant was concerned in this threatened calamity, Runnels made haste to lay the matter before him. At first Kirk was inclined to take it as a joke, but his friend quickly brought him to a more serious frame of mind.

"No," he said, "Blakeley has finally put it over. He's wanted this position for a long time, and I guess the Cortlandts weren't strong enough to prevent it--or else they have broken with the Colonel."

"Didn't he promise you the job?"

"Sure! But what are promises? I've been double-crossed, that's all. It means I must quit."

"Of course. I'm trying to figure out what it will mean to me."

Runnels smiled grimly. "The same thing it would mean to me if I stayed, I'd go back to my desk; in a month I'd have a row with Blakeley, no matter what I did; then I'd be fired and have a tough time getting a job with another railroad. Of course, the Cortlandts might do more for you than they would for me, and you might be able to hang on."

"Then this would seem to end our fine hopes, eh?"

"Rather!" Runnels broke out, bitterly. "I've worked like a nigger, Kirk, and I deserve promotion if anybody ever did. This other fellow is a dub--he has proven that. Why, I've forgotten more railroading than he'll ever know. Every man on the system hates him and likes me; and on top of it all I was PROMISED the job. It's tough on the wife and the kid."

He stopped to swallow his emotion. He was a single-purposed, somewhat serious man, a little lacking in resilience, and he could not meet misfortune with Kirk's careless self-confidence.

"I gave this job the best I had in me," he went on, "for I had the idea that I was doing something patriotic, something for my country--that's the way they used to talk about this Canal, you know. I've put in four years of hell; I've lost step with the world; I've lost my business connections in the States; and I haven't saved up any money, I CAN'T quit, and yet I'll have to, for if I'm fired it'll mean I'll have to go back there and start at the bottom again. Those people don't know anything about these damned politics; they'll think I made a failure here in government work, and I'll have to live it down. Still, I suppose I ought not to kick--it's happening all the time to other fellows who came down here with hopes as high as mine--fellows who have given even more to the job than I have. What are YOU going to do?"

Kirk started. "Oh, I don't know. I was thinking about you. This job doesn't worry me, for I'm on my feet at last, and I know I have the goods with me--they can have my position and welcome. Now, about you. I haven't spent much of that lottery coin. It's in the bank, all that Allan hasn't used, and half of it is yours, if you'll take it. You and Mrs. Runnels and the kid, and Allan and I --and one other party--will hike back home and get something else to do. What do you say?"

Runnels' voice shook as he answered: "By Jove! You're the--real stuff, Anthony. I'll think it over." He turned away as if ashamed of his show of feeling, only to whirl about with the question, "Who is this 'other party'?"

"My wife."

"Good Lord! You're not married?"

"No, but I'm going to be. You talk about YOUR troubles; now listen to mine. I'll make you weep like a fog." Briefly he told his friend of the blow that had so suddenly fallen upon him.

"You ARE up against it, old man," agreed Runnels, when he had heard all. "Garavel has set his heart on the Presidency, and he'll pay any price to get it. It's the same all over Central America; these people are mad on politics. There are never more than two parties, you know--the Wanters and the Hasers. The Wanters are out and the Hasers are in; that's what makes these wicked little revolutions at every change of the moon--it isn't a question of policy at all. Now, if Miss Gertrudis were an American girl, she might rebel, elope, do something like that, but she's been reared with the Spanish notions of obedience, and I dare say she will submit tamely because she doesn't know how to put up a fight. That's an admirable characteristic in a wife, but not very helpful in a sweetheart."

"Well, she's half American," said Kirk.

"What do you mean by that?"

"I mean the game isn't over. I carried the ball forty yards once for a touchdown in the last ten seconds of play, and Yale won. I had good 'interference' then, and I need it now. Somebody'll have to run ahead of me."

Runnels smiled. "I guess you can count on me. What is the plan?"

For the next half-hour the two talked earnestly, their heads together, their voices low.

"I don't believe it will work, my boy," Runnels said at last. "I know these people better than you, and yet--Lord! if it does come off!" He whistled softly. "Well, they may kick the political props out from under us, but there will be an awful crash when we hit. Now, don't mention this rumor about Blakeley. I want to see Steve Cortlandt first."

"Cortlandt! By-the-way, do you happen to remember that he's to be our guest for supper to-morrow night? Kind of a joke now, trying to thank him for what he's done, isn't it?"

"Not at all. It may be our one chance of salvation; he may be the one person who can help us."

"Well," Kirk reflected, "I have a good deal to thank him for, I suppose, outside of this, and I'll go through with my part."

He proceeded at once to put his plan into execution, his first step being to rent a room at the Tivoli, taking particular care to select one on the first floor in the north wing. That evening he and Allan moved. It was a simple process, yet he felt that he was engaged in the most momentous act of his Hie. As to its outcome much depended upon Runnels and much more upon himself--so much, in fact, that when he came to look at the matter coldly he confessed the hope of success was slender. But such as it was he clung to it desperately.

Runnels telephoned during the evening that he had been equal to his part of the task, so there remained nothing to do but wait for the hour of the dance.

Over and over Anthony asked himself if he were not foolish to pin his faith to so slight a chance, but he could find no answer. He slept little amid his new surroundings that night, and awoke Saturday morning thrilled with the certainty that his life's crisis was but a few hours away.

It was considerably after dark on Saturday evening that John Weeks, American Consul at Colon, received a caller who came to him direct from the Royal Mail steamer just docked. At first sight the stranger did not impress Mr. Weeks as a man of particular importance. His face was insignificant, and his pale-blue eyes showed little force. His only noticeable feature was displayed when he removed his hat. Then it could be seen that a wide, white scar ran from just over his temple to a point back of his right ear.

He made his name known as Williams, which, of course, meant nothing to the consul, and while drinking one of Weeks' high- balls, inquired idly about the country, the climate, and the people, as if in no hurry to come to his point. Weeks watched him shrewdly, convinced at last by his visitor's excessive caution that his first judgment had been wrong, and that the man was more knowing than he seemed. Mr. Williams was likewise studying the fat man, and when he had satisfied himself, came out openly with these words:

"I'm looking for a chap named Wellar. He landed here some time late in November."

"Friend of yours?"

"Um--m--not exactly." Mr. Williams ran a hand meditatively over the ragged scar on his scalp, as if from force of habit.

"Wellar? I never heard of him."

"He may have travelled under another name. Ever hear of a fellow called Locke?"

The consul's moist lips drew together, his red eyes gleamed watchfully. "Maybe I have, and maybe I haven't," said he. "Why do you want him?"

"I heard he was here. I'd enjoy meeting him again."

"What does he look like?"

Mr. Williams rattled off a description of Kirk Anthony so photographic that the consul suddenly saw a great light.

"Yes, I know him all right," he confessed, warmly. "He's a good friend of mine, too; in fact, he lived with me for a while." Misconstruing the eager expression that came to his caller's face, he rose heavily and thrust out a thick, wet hand. "Don't let's beat about the bush, Mr. Anthony; your son is safe and well and making a name for himself. I'm happy to say I helped him--not much, to be sure, but all I could--yes, sir, I acknowledge the corn--and I'm glad to meet you at last. I have been waiting for you to arrive, and I'm glad you dropped in on me. I have a lot of things to talk about."

But the other stared upward impatiently. "No, no! You've got me wrong. I'm a detective, and I'm after your friend Wellar, alias Locke, alias Anthony. He's wanted for embezzlement and assault and a few other things, and I'm going to take him." The indistinctive Mr. Williams spoke sharply, and his pale blue eyes were suddenly hard and bright.

Weeks stared open-mouthed for an instant. "Then you're really not Darwin K. Anthony?" he gasped.

"Certainly not. Here's the warrant. I'm sorry this chap is your pal, but--"

"My pal! Hell, I hate him like the smallpox. Good thing you spoke or I'd have sold you a cocoanut grove. I KNEW he was wrong. Embezzler, eh? Well, well!"

"Eighty thousand, that's all, and he's got it on him."

"You're wrong there; he was broke when he landed. I ought to know."

"Oh no! He came down on the Santa Cruz; I've seen the purser. He travelled under the name of Jefferson Locke. There's no mistake, and he couldn't have blown it all. No, it's sewed into his shirt, and I'm here to grab it."

Weeks whistled in amazement. "He IS a shrewd one. Eighty thou-- Lord, I wish I'd known that! He's here, all right, working for the railroad and living at Panama. He's made good, too, and got some influential friends. Oh, this is great!"

"Working, hey? Clever stall! Do you see that?" Williams inclined his head for a fuller display of the disfiguration over his ear. "He hung that on me, with a bottle. I damn near died." He laughed disagreeably. "He'll go back, and he'll go back quick. How do I get to Panama?"

Weeks consulted his watch hastily.

"You've missed the last train; but we'll go over together in the morning. I want to have a hand in this arrest for reasons of my own; I don't like him or his influential friends." He began to chuckle ponderously. "No, I don't like his influential friends, in particular."

While this scene was being enacted on the north side of the Isthmus, Kirk Anthony, over at the Tivoli Hotel, was making himself ready for the ball with particular pains. Even his personal appearance might have a bearing upon the outcome of this adventure, and he dared not overlook the slightest advantage.

Allan regarded him admiringly from many angles.

"Oh, Master h'Auntony," he exclaimed, rapturously, "you are beautiful!"

"Thanks! Again thanks! Now, can you remember to do as I have told you?"

"I would die--"

"DON'T say that again, I'm too nervous. Here are your instructions, once more. Keep both doors to this room locked and stand by the one to the veranda! Don't let any one in except Mr. Runnels and the man he'll bring. DON'T--LEAVE--THIS--SPOT, no matter what happens. Does that penetrate your teakwood dome? Does your ivory cue-ball encompass that thought?"

"I shall watch this h'apartment carefully, never fear."

"But I do fear. I'm scared to death. My hands are go cold they are brittle. Remember, when I knock, so, let me in instantly, and keep your wits about you."

"H'Allan never fails, sar. But what is coming to pahss?"

"Never mind what is coming to pass. This is going to be a big night, my boy--a very big night." Kirk strolled out into the hall and made his way to the lobby.

Already the orchestra was tuning up, the wide porches were filling with well-dressed people, while a stream of coaches at the door was delivering the arrivals on the special from Colon. It was a very animated crowd, sprinkled plentifully with Spanish people-- something quite unusual, by-the-way--while the presence of many uniforms gave the affair almost the brilliance of a military function. There were marine officers from Bas Obispo, straight, trim, brown of cheek; naval officers from the cruisers in the roadstead, clad in their white trousers and bell-boy jackets; army officers detailed from Washington on special duty; others from the various parts of the work itself.

Kirk wandered about through the confusion, nodding to his friends, chatting here and there, his eyes fixed anxiously upon the door.

Clifford approached and fell into conversation with him.

"Great doings, eh? I came up from the Central just to see what these affairs are like. Did you see to-night's paper?"

"No."

"Garavel is going to run for President. This is a kind of political coming-out party."

"So I believe."

"It looked like a fight between him and General Alfarez, but they've patched it up, and the General is going to withdraw. Garavel is to have Uncle Sam's congratulations and co-operation. It's a joke, isn't it, this international good feeling?"

"Excuse me." Anthony saw Runnels searching the room with anxiety. He hurried toward him and inquired, breathlessly:

"Have you got him?"

"Sure, I showed him your room."

"Did you lock him in?"

"Certainly not."

"He'll get away."

"Oh no, he'll be on the job. Has she come?"

Kirk shook his head. "Gee! I'm nervous." He wiped his brow with a shaking hand.

"Don't weaken," Runnels encouraged. "I'm beginning to believe you'll pull it off. I told my wife all about it--thought we might need her--and she's perfectly crazy. I never saw her so excited. Let me know as soon as you can which dance it will be. This suspense--Gad! There they are now! Go to it, old man."

Into the lobby came a mixed group, in which were Andres Garavel, his daughter, Ramon Alfarez, and the Cortlandts. Kirk's face was white as he went boldly to meet them, but he did his best to smile unconcernedly. He shook hands with Edith and her husband, bowed to Gertrudis, then turned to meet her father's stare.

"May I have a word with you, sir?"

Garavel inclined his head silently. As the others moved on he said: "This is hardly a suitable time or place, Mr. Anthony."

"Oh, I'm not going to kick up a fuss. I didn't answer your note, because there was nothing to say. You still wish me to cease my attentions?"

"I do! It is her wish and mine."

"Then I shall do so, of course. If Miss Garavel is dancing to- night I would like your permission to place my name on her programme."

"No!" exclaimed the banker.

"Purely to avoid comment. Every one knows I have been calling upon her, and that report of our engagement got about considerably; it would set people talking if she snubbed me. That is the only reason I came to this dance. Believe me, I'd rather have stayed away."

"Perhaps you are right. Let us have no unpleasantness and no gossip about the affair, by all means. I consent, then." Garavel's voice altered and he said, with more of his natural geniality, "I am very glad you take the matter so sensibly, Mr. Anthony; it was, after all, but a dream of youth."

"And permit me to offer my congratulations upon the honor your country is about to bestow upon you." Conversing in a friendly manner, they followed the rest of the party.

As the banker appeared upon the threshold of the ballroom a murmur ran through the crowd; faces were turned in his direction, whispers were exchanged, showing that already the news had travelled. Conscious of this notice and its reason, Garavel drew himself up; he walked with the tread of an emperor.

Kirk ignored Ramon's scowl as he requested the pleasure of seeing Chiquita's programme; then pretended not to notice her start of surprise. After a frightened look at her father, she timidly extended the card to him, and he wrote his name upon it.

As he finished he found Mrs. Cortlandt regarding him.

"Will you dance with me?" he inquired. "Yes. I saved the fourth and the tenth." As he filled in the allotted spaces, she said, in a low voice, "You are the boldest person! Did Mr. Garavel give you leave to do that, or--"

"Of course! Thank you." He made his way out of the press that had gathered and toward the open air. He was shaking with nervousness and cursed all government hotels where a man is denied the solace of a drink.

Runnels pounced upon him just outside.

"Well, well, quick! Did you make it?"

"Number nine."

"Good! I was gnawing my finger-nails. Whew! I'm glad that is over. Now pull yourself together and don't forget you have the first dance with Mrs. Runnels. There goes the music. I--I'm too rattled to dance."

Anthony found his friend's wife bubbling with excitement, and scarcely able to contain herself.

"Oh, I'll never live through it, I know," she cried, as soon as they were out upon the floor. "How CAN you be so calm?"

"I'm not. I'm as panicky as you are."

"And she, poor little thing! She seems frightened to death."

"But--isn't she beautiful?"

Mrs. Runnels admitted the fact cheerfully, and at the same time noted how her partner's muscles swelled and hardened as Miss Garavel glided past in the arms of Ramon Alfarez. It gave her a thrill to see a real drama unfolding thus before her very eyes.

To Kirk, Chiquita had never appeared so ravishing, nor so purely Spanish as to-night. She was clad in some mysterious filmy white stuff that floated about her form like a mist. The strangeness and brilliance of her surroundings had frightened her a little, and the misery at her heart had filled her wide, dark eyes with a plaintive melancholy. But she was entirely the fine lady through it all, and she accepted the prominence that was hers as the leading senorita of the Republic with simple dignity and unconcern. The women began to whisper her name, the men followed her with admiring glances. At every interval between dances she was besieged by gayly clad officers, civilians in white--the flower of her own people and of the American colony as well--all eager to claim her attention or to share in her shy, slow smile.

Now and then her eyes strayed to Kirk with a look that made his blood move quicker. It boded well for the success of his plans, and filled him with a fierce, hot gladness. But how the moments dragged!

General Alfarez entered the room amid a buzz of comment. Then, as he greeted his rival, Garavel, with a smile and a handshake, a round of applause broke forth. The members of the Commission sought them both out, and congratulations were exchanged. At last the Garavel boom was launched in earnest.

Mrs. Cortlandt expressed a desire to sit out the fourth dance.

"So, your engagement to Miss Garavel is broken?" she began, when she and Kirk had seated themselves in two of the big rockers that lined the porch.

"All smashed to pieces, running-gear broken, steering-knuckle bent, gasolene tank punctured. I need a tow."

"You take it calmly."

"What's the use of struggling? I'm no Samson to go around pulling down temples."

"Did you expect her to yield so tamely?"

"I didn't know she had yielded. In fact, I haven't had a chance to talk to her."

"But she has. Mr. Garavel told me not an hour ago that as soon as he explained his wishes she consented to marry Ramon without a protest."

"A refusal would have meant the death of the old man's chances, I presume. She acted quite dutifully."

"Yes. If she had refused Ramon, I doubt if we could have saved her father. As it is, the General withdraws and leaves the field clear, the two young people are reunited, quite as if you had never appeared, and you--My dear Kirk, now what about you?"

"Oh, I don't count. I never have counted in anything, you know. That's the trouble with good-natured people. But is it true that Garavel is practically elected?"

"General Alfarez couldn't very well step in after he had publicly stepped out, could he? That would be a trifle too treacherous; he'd lose his support, and our people could then have an excuse to take a hand. I'm tremendously glad it's all settled finally, I assure you. It was a strain; and although I'm sorry you got your fingers pinched between the political wheels, I'm relieved that the uncertainty is ended."

So far they had been speaking like mere acquaintances, but now Kirk turned upon her a trifle bitterly.

"I think you worked it very cleverly, Mrs. Cortlandt," he said. "Of course, I had no chance to win against a person of your diplomatic gifts. I had my nerve to try."

She regarded him without offence at this candor, then nodded.

"Yes. You see, it meant more to me than to you or to her. With you two it is but a romance forgotten in a night. I have pretty nearly outlived romance."

"You think I will forget easily? That's not flattering."

"All men do. You will even forget my part in the affair, and we will be better friends than ever."

"Suppose I don't choose to accept what it pleases people to hand me?"

"My dear Kirk!" She smiled. "You will have to in this case. There is nothing else to do."

He shook his head. "I hoped we could be friends, Mrs. Cortlandt, but it seems we can't be."

At this she broke out, imperiously, her eyes flashing.

"I ask nothing you can't give. I have never been denied, and I won't be denied now. You can't afford to break with me."

"Indeed! Why do you think that?"

"Listen! I've shown you what I can do in a few months. In a year you can be a great success. That's how big men are made; they know the short-cuts. You are too inexperienced yet to know what success and power mean, but you are beginning to learn, and when you have learned you will thank me for breaking up this foolish romance. I don't ask you to forget your manhood. I ask nothing. I am content to wait. You want to become a big man like your father. Well, Runnels will be out of the way soon; Blakeley amounts to nothing. You will be the Superintendent."

"So! That's not merely a rumor about Blakeley? Runnels is fired, eh?"

"Yes."

"If I choose not to give up Chiq--Miss Garavel, then what? It means the end of me here, is that it?"

"If you 'choose'! Why, my dear, you have no choice whatever in the matter. It is practically closed. You can do nothing--although, if you really intend to make trouble, I shall walk inside when I leave and inform the old gentleman, in which case he will probably send the girl home at once, and take very good care to give you no further opportunity. Ramon is only too anxious to marry her. As to this being the end of you here, well, I really don't see how it could be otherwise. No Kirk, it's for you to decide whether you wish to be shown the secret path up the mountain or to scale the cliffs unaided. There are no conditions. You merely mustn't play the fool."

"And if I don't agree you will tell Mr. Garavel that I'm going to make trouble?" He mused aloud, watching her out of the corner of his eye. She said nothing, so he went on cautiously, sparring for time.

"Well, inasmuch as this seems to be a plain business proposition, suppose I think it over. When it comes time for our next dance, I'll say yes or no."

"As you please."

"Very well. The music has stopped; we'd better go in."

As they rose she laid her hand upon his arm and he felt it tremble as she exclaimed:

"Believe me, Kirk, this isn't at all easy for me, but--I can't bear to lose."

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

The Ne'er-do-well - Chapter 25. Checkmate! The Ne'er-do-well - Chapter 25. Checkmate!

The Ne'er-do-well - Chapter 25. Checkmate!
CHAPTER XXV. CHECKMATE!Anthony had no partner for the eighth dance, and was very glad of it, for he could not have carried off the necessary small talk. As it was, he felt that his excitement must be patent to those around him. His mind was filled with tormenting doubts, his chance for success seemed so infinitely small, his plan so extravagantly impracticable, now that the time had come! As the music ceased and the dancers came pouring out into the cool night air, Runnels approached with his wife. "Well, are you equal to it?" he asked. Kirk nodded; he could not
PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Ne'er-do-well - Chapter 23. A Plot And A Sacrifice The Ne'er-do-well - Chapter 23. A Plot And A Sacrifice

The Ne'er-do-well - Chapter 23. A Plot And A Sacrifice
CHAPTER XXIII. A PLOT AND A SACRIFICEKirk never passed a more unpleasant night than the one which followed. In the morning he went straight to Runnels with the statement that he could take no part in the little testimonial they had intended to give Cortlandt. "But it's too late now to back out. I saw him at the University Club last evening and fixed the date for Saturday night." "Did you tell him I was in the affair?" "Certainly. I said it was your idea. It affected him deeply, too. I never saw a chap so moved over a little thing."
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT