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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe White Mice - Chapter 2
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The White Mice - Chapter 2 Post by :Joe_Coon Category :Long Stories Author :Richard Harding Davis Date :May 2012 Read :1438

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The White Mice - Chapter 2

Chapter II

The next day Roddy and Peter sailed for Willemstad, the chief port and the capital of the tiny island colony of Holland. In twelve hours they had made their land-fall and were entering the harbor mouth. The sun was just rising, and as its rays touched the cliff from which, twelve hours later, Senora Rojas and her daughters would look toward Porto Cabello, they felt a thrill of possible adventure.

Roddy knew that, as a refuge for revolutionists exiled from Venezuela, Willemstad was policed with secret agents of Alvarez, and he knew that were these spies to learn that during his visit either he or Peter had called upon the family of Rojas they would be reported to Caracas as "suspect," and the chance of their saving the Lion of Valencia would be at an end. So it became them to be careful.

Before leaving Porto Cabello Roddy had told McKildrick, the foreman of the Construction Company's work there, that some boxes of new machinery and supplies for his launch had gone astray and that he wished permission to cross to Curacao to look them up. McKildrick believed the missing boxes were only an excuse for a holiday, but he was not anxious to assert his authority over the son and heir of the F. C. C., and so gave Roddy his leave of absence. And at the wharf at Porto Cabello, while waiting for the ship to weigh anchor, Roddy had complained to the custom-house officials at having to cross to Curacao. He gave them the same reason for the trip, and said it was most annoying.

In order to be consistent, when, on landing at Willemstad, three soiled individuals approached Roddy and introduced themselves as guides, he told them the same story. He was looking for boxes of machinery invoiced for Porto Cabello; he feared they had been carried on to La Guayra or dropped at Willemstad. Could they direct him to the office of the steamship line and to the American Consul? One of the soiled persons led him across the quay to the office of the agent, and while Roddy repeated his complaint, listened so eagerly that to both Peter and Roddy it was quite evident the business of the guide was not to disclose Curacao to strangers, but to learn what brought strangers to Curacao. The agent was only too delighted to serve the son of one who in money meant so much to the line. For an hour he searched his books, his warehouse and the quays. But, naturally, the search was unsuccessful, and with most genuine apologies Roddy left him, saying that at the office of the American Consul he would continue his search for the lost boxes.

Meanwhile, Peter, in his character of tourist, engaged rooms for them at the Hotel Commercial, and started off alone to explore the town.

At the Consulate, the soiled person listened to the beginning of Roddy's speech, and then, apparently satisfied he had learned all that was necessary, retreated to the outer office.

The Consul promptly rose and closed the door.

The representative of the United States was an elderly man, of unusual height, with searching, honest blue eyes under white eyebrows. His hair was white, his beard, worn long, was white, and his clothes were of white duck.

His name was Sylvanus Cobb Codman, with the added title of captain, which he had earned when, as a younger man, he had been owner and master of one of the finest whalers that ever cleared the harbor of New Bedford. During his cruises he had found the life of the West Indies much to his liking, and when, at the age of fifty, he ceased to follow the sea, he had asked for an appointment as consul to Porto Cabello. Since then, except when at home on leave at Fairhaven, he had lived in the Spanish Americas, and at many ports had served the State Department faithfully and well. In spite of his age, Captain Codman gave a pleasant impression of strength and nervous energy. Roddy felt that the mind and body of the man were as clean as his clothes, and that the Consul was one who could be trusted.

As Captain Codman seated himself behind his desk he was frowning.

"You must look out for that guide," he said. "He is from Caracas. He is an agent of Alvarez. It just shows," he went on impatiently, "what little sense these spies have, that he didn't recognize your name. The Forrester Construction Company is certainly well enough known. That the son of your father should be spied on is ridiculous."

"Then, again," said Roddy mysteriously, "maybe it isn't. I haven't got such a clean bill of health. That's why I came to you." With an air which he considered was becoming in a conspirator, he lowered his voice. "May I ask, sir," he said, "if you are acquainted with Senora Rojas, who is in exile here?"

The blue eyes of the Consul opened slightly, but he answered with directness, "I am. I have that honor."

"And with her daughters?" added Roddy anxiously.

With dignity the Consul inclined his head.

"I want very much to meet them--her," corrected Roddy. "I am going to set her husband free!"

For a moment, as though considering whether he were not confronted by a madman, the Consul regarded Roddy with an expression of concern. Then, in the deprecatory tone of one who believes he has not heard aright, he asked, "You are going to do--_what_?"

"I am going to help General Rojas to escape," Roddy went on briskly--"myself and another fellow. But we are afraid he won't trust himself to us, so I am over here to get credentials from his wife. But, you see, I have first got to get credentials to her. So I came to ask you if you'd sort of vouch for me, tell her who I am--and all that."

The Consul was staring at him so strangely that Roddy believed he had not made himself fully understood.

"You know what I mean," he explained. "Credentials, something he will know came from her--a ring or a piece of paper saying, 'These are friends. Go with them.' Or a lock of her hair, or--or--you know," urged Roddy in embarrassment--"credentials."

"Are you jesting?" asked the older man coldly.

Roddy felt genuinely uncomfortable. He was conscious he was blushing. "Certainly not," he protested. "It is serious enough, isn't it?"

The voice of the Consul dropped to a whisper.

"Who sent you here?" he demanded. Without waiting for an answer he suddenly rose. Moving with surprising lightness to the door, he jerked it open. But if by this manoeuvre he expected to precipitate the spy into the room, he was disappointed, for the outer office was empty. The Consul crossed it quickly to the window. He saw the spy disappearing into a neighboring wine-shop.

When Captain Codman again entered the inner office he did not return to his seat, but, after closing the door, as though to shut Roddy from the only means of escape, he stood with his back against it. He was very much excited.

"Mr. Forrester," he began angrily, "I don't know who is back of you, and," he cried violently, "I don't _mean to know. I have been American Consul in these Central American countries for fifteen years, and I have never mixed myself up with what doesn't concern me. I represent the United States government. I don't represent anything else. I am not down here to assist any corporation, no matter how rich, any junta, any revolutionary party----"

"Here! Wait!" cried Roddy anxiously. "You don't understand! I am not a revolution. There is only me and Peter."

"What is that?" snapped the Consul savagely. The exclamation was like the crack of a flapping jib.

"You see, it's this way," began Roddy. He started to explain elaborately. "Peter and I belong to the Secret Order----"

"Stop!" thundered the Consul. "I tell you I won't listen to you!"

The rebuff was most embarrassing. Ignorant as to how he had offended the Consul, and uncertain as to whether the Consul had not offended him, Roddy helplessly rubbed his handkerchief over his perplexed and perspiring countenance. He wondered if, as a conspirator, he had not been lacking in finesse, if he had not been too communicative.

In the corner of the room, in a tin cage, a great green parrot, with its head cocked on one side, had been regarding Roddy with mocking, malevolent eyes. Now, to further add to his discomfiture, it suddenly emitted a chuckle, human and contemptuous. As though choking with hidden laughter, the bird gurgled feebly, "Polly, Polly." And then, in a tone of stern disapproval, added briskly, "You talk too much!" At this flank attack Roddy flushed indignantly. He began to wish he had brought Peter with him, to give him the proper signals.

With his hands clinched behind him, and tossing his white beard from side to side, the Consul paced the room.

"So that is it!" he muttered. "_That is why he left Paris. That explains the _Restaurador_. Of course," he added indignantly as he passed Roddy, throwing the words at him over his shoulder, "_that is where the money came from!"

Roddy, now thoroughly exasperated, protested warmly: "Look here," he cried, "if you aren't careful you'll tell me something you don't want me to know."

The Consul came to an instant pause. From his great height he stood staring at his visitor, the placid depths of his blue eyes glowering with doubt and excitement.

"I give you my word," continued Roddy sulkily, "I don't know what you are talking about."

"Do you mean to tell me," demanded the old man truculently, "that you are _not Mr. Forrester's son?"

"Certainly I am his son," cried Roddy.

"Then," returned the Consul, "perhaps you will deny he is suing Alvarez for two million dollars gold, you will deny that he might get it if Alvarez were thrown out, you will deny that a--a certain person might ratify the concession, and pay your father for the harbor improvements he has already made? You see!" exclaimed the Consul triumphantly. "And these missing boxes!" he cried as though following up an advantage, "shall I tell you what is in them?" He lowered his voice. "Cartridges and rifles! Do you deny it?"

Roddy found that at last he was on firm ground.

"Of course I deny it," he answered, "because there are no boxes. They're only an invention of mine to get me to Curacao. Now, you let _me talk."

The Consul retreated behind his desk, and as Roddy spoke regarded him sternly and with open suspicion. In concluding his story Roddy said: "We have no other object in saving General Rojas than that he's an old man, that he's dying, and that Peter and I can't sleep of nights for thinking of him lying in a damp cell, not three hundred yards from us, coughing himself to death."

At the words the eyes of the Consul closed quickly; he pressed his great, tanned, freckled fingers nervously against his lip. But instantly the stern look of the cross-examiner returned. "Go on," he commanded.

"If we have cut in on some one's private wire," continued Roddy, "it's an accident; and when you talk about father recovering two million dollars you are telling me things I don't know. Father is not a chatty person. He has often said to me that the only safe time to talk of what you are doing, or are going to do, is when you have done it. So, if the Venezuelan government owes the Forrester Construction Company two millions and father's making a fight for it, I am probably the last person in the world he would talk to about it. All I know is that he pays me twenty dollars a week to plant buoys. But out of working hours I can do as I please, and my friend and I please to get General Rojas out of prison." Roddy rose, smiling pleasantly. "So, if you won't introduce me to Senora Rojas," he concluded, "I guess I will have to introduce myself."

With an angry gesture the Consul motioned him to be seated. From his manner it was evident that Captain Codman was uncertain whether Roddy was or was not to be believed, that, in his perplexity, he was fearful of saying too much or too little.

"Either," the old man exclaimed angrily, "you are a very clever young man, or you are extremely ignorant. Either," he went on with increasing indignation, "they have sent you here to test me, or you know nothing, and you are blundering in where other men are doing work. If you know nothing you are going to upset the plans of those men. In any case I will have nothing further to do with you. I wash my hands of you. Good-morning."

Then, as though excusing himself, he added sharply, "Besides, you talk too much."

Roddy, deeply hurt, answered with equal asperity:

"That is what your parrot thinks. Maybe you are both wrong."

When Roddy had reached the top of the stairs leading to the street, and was on the point of disappearing, the Consul called sharply to him and followed into the hall.

"Before you go," the old man whispered earnestly, "I want you clearly to understand my position toward the Rojas family. When I was Consul in Porto Cabello, General Rojas became the best friend I had. Since I have been stationed here it has been my privilege to be of service to his wife. His daughters treat me as kindly as though I were their own grandfather. No man on earth could wish General Rojas free as much as I wish it." The voice of Captain Codman trembled. For an instant his face, as though swept with sudden pain, twisted in strange lines. "No one," he protested, "could wish to serve him as I do, but I warn you if you go on with this you will land in prison yourself, and you will bring General Rojas to his death. Take my advice--and go back to Porto Cabello, and keep out of politics. Or, what is better--go home. You are too young to understand the Venezuelans, and, if you stay here, you are going to make trouble for many people. For your father, and for--for many people."

As though with the hope of finally dissuading Roddy, he added ominously, "And these Venezuelans have a nasty trick of sticking a knife----"

"Oh, you go to the devil!" retorted Roddy.

As he ran down the dark stairs and out into the glaring street he heard faintly the voice of the parrot pursuing him, with mocking and triumphant jeers.

The Consul returned slowly to his office, and, sinking into his chair, buried his face in his great, knotty hands and bent his head upon the table. A ray of sunshine, filtering through the heavy Venetian blinds, touched the white hair and turned it into silver.

For a short space, save for the scratching of the parrot at the tin bars of his cage, and the steady drip, drip of the water-jar, there was no sound; then the voice of the sea-captain, as many times before it had been raised in thanksgiving in the meeting-house in Fairhaven, and from the deck of his ship as she drifted under the Southern Cross, was lifted in entreaty. The blue eyes, as the old man raised them, were wet; his bronzed fists fiercely interlocked.

"Oh, Thou," he prayed, "who walked beside me on the waters, make clear to me what I am to do. I am old, but I pray Thee to let me live to see Thine enemies perish, to see those who love Thee reunited once more, happy, at home. If, in Thy wisdom, even as Thou sent forth David against Goliath, Thou hast sent this child against Thine enemies, make that clear to me. His speech is foolish, but his heart seems filled with pity. What he would do, I would do. But the way is very dark. If I serve this boy, may I serve Thee? Teach me!"

Outside the Consulate, Roddy found his convoy, the guide, waiting for him, and, to allay the suspicion of that person, gave him a cable to put on the wire for McKildrick. It read: "No trace of freight; it may come next steamer; will wait."

He returned to the agent of the line and told him he now believed the freight had been left behind in New York and that he would remain in Willemstad until the arrival of the next steamer, which was due in three days.

At the hotel he found Peter anxiously awaiting him. Having locked themselves in the room the two conspirators sat down to talk things over. From what had escaped the Consul, Roddy pointed out certain facts that seemed evident: Alvarez had not paid the Forrester Construction Company, or, in a word, his father, for the work already completed in the last two years. His father, in order to obtain his money, was interested in some scheme to get rid of Alvarez and in his place put some one who would abide by the terms of the original concession. This some one might be Rojas, and then, again, might not. As Peter suggested, the Construction Company might prefer to back a candidate for president, who, while he might not be so welcome to the Venezuelans, would be more amenable to the wishes of the F. C. C. It also would probably prefer to assist a man younger than Rojas, one more easily controlled, perhaps one less scrupulously honest. It also seemed likely that if, by revolution, the men of the Construction Company intended to put in the field a candidate of their own, they would choose one with whom they could consult daily, not one who, while he might once have been a popular idol, had for the last two years been buried from the sight of man, and with whom it now was impossible to communicate.

The longer they discussed the matter the more sure they became that Rojas could not be the man for whom the Construction Company was plotting.

"If Rojas isn't the choice of the F. C. C.," argued Roddy, "his being free, or in prison, does not interest them in the least. While, on the other hand, if Rojas _is the candidate father is backing, the sooner he is out of prison the better for everybody.

"Anyway," added Roddy, with the airy fatalism of one who nails his banner to the mast, "if my father is going to lose two millions because you and I set an old man free, then father is going to lose two millions."

Having arrived at this dutiful conclusion Roddy proposed that, covertly, in the guise of innocent sight-seers, they should explore the town, and from a distance reconnoitre the home of Senora Rojas. They accordingly hired one of the public landaus of Willemstad and told the driver to show them the places of interest.

But in Willemstad there are no particular places of interest. It is the place itself that is of interest. It is not like any other port in the world.

"It used to be," Roddy pointed out, "that every comic opera had one act on a tropical island. Then some fellow discovered Holland, and now all comic operas run to blonde girls in patched breeches and wooden shoes, and the back drops are 'Rotterdam, Amsterdam, any damn place at all.' But this town combines both the ancient and modern schools. Its scene is from Miss Hook of Holland, and the girls are out of Bandanna Land."

Willemstad is compact and tiny, with a miniature governor and palace. It is painted with all the primary colors, and, though rain seldom falls on Curacao Island, it is as clean as though the minute before it had been washed by a spring shower and put out in the sun to dry. Saint Ann Bay, which is the harbor of Willemstad, is less of a bay than a canal. On entering it a captain from his bridge can almost see what the people in the houses on either bank are eating for breakfast. These houses are modeled like those that border the canals of The Hague. They have the same peaked roofs, the front running in steps to a point, the flat facades, the many stories. But they are painted in the colors of tropical Spanish-America, in pink, yellow, cobalt blue, and behind the peaked points are scarlet tiles. Under the southern sun they are so brilliant, so theatrical, so unreal, that they look like the houses of a Noah's Ark fresh from the toy shop. There are two towns: Willemstad, and, joined to it by bridges, Otrabanda. It is on the Willemstad side that the ships tie up, and where, from the deck to the steamer, one can converse quite easily with the Monsanto brothers in their drawing-room, or with the political exiles on the balconies of the Hotel Commercial. The streets are narrow and, like the streets of Holland, paved with round cobblestones as clean as a pan of rolls just ready for the oven. Willemstad is the cleanest port in the West Indies. It is the Spotless Town of the tropics. Beyond the town are the orange plantations, and the favorite drive is from Willemstad through these orange trees around the inner harbor, or the Schottegat, to Otrabanda, and so back across the drawbridge of Good Queen Emma into Willemstad. It is a drive of little over two hours, and Roddy and Peter found it altogether charming.

About three miles outside of Willemstad they came upon the former home of a rich Spanish planter, which had been turned into a restaurant, and which, once the Groot du Crot, was now the Cafe Ducrot. There is little shade on the Island of Curacao and the young men dived into the shadows of the Ducrot garden as into a cool bath. Through orange trees and spreading palmettos, flowering bushes and a tangle of vines, they followed paths of pebbles, and wandered in a maze in which they lost themselves.

"It is the enchanted garden of the sleeping princess," said Peter. "And there are her sleeping attendants," he added, pointing at two waiters who were slumbering peacefully, their arms stretched out upon the marble-top tables.

It seemed heartless to awaken them, and the young men explored further until they found a stately, rambling mansion where a theatrical landlord with much rubbing of his hands brought them glasses and wonderful Holland gin.

"We must remember the Cafe Ducrot," said Roddy, as they drove on. "It is so quiet and peaceful."

Afterward they recalled his having said this, and the fact caused them much amusement.

From the Cafe Ducrot the road ran between high bushes and stunted trees that shaded it in on either side; but could not shade it completely. Then it turned toward Otrabanda along the cliff that overlooks the sea.

On the land side was a wall of dusky mesquite bushes, bound together by tangled vines, with here and there bending above them a wind-tortured cocoanut palm. On the east side of the road, at great distances apart, were villas surrounded by groves of such hardy trees and plants as could survive the sweep of the sea winds. "If we ask the driver," whispered Roddy, "who lives in each house, he won't suspect we are looking for any one house in particular." Accordingly, as they drew up even with a villa they rivaled each other in exclaiming over its beauty. And the driver, his local pride becoming more and more gratified, gave them the name of the owner of the house and his history.

As he approached a villa all of white stucco, with high, white pillars rising to the flat roof of the tropics, he needed no prompting, but, with the air of one sure of his effect, pulled his horses to a halt and pointed with his whip.

"That house, gentle-mans," he said, "belongs to Senora Rojas." Though the house was one hundred yards from the road, as though fearful of being overheard, the negro spoke in an impressive whisper. "She is the lady of General Rojas. He is a great General, gentle-mans, and now he be put in prison. President Alvarez, he put that General Rojas in prison, down in the water, an' he chain him to the rock, an' he put that lady in exile. President Alvarez he be very bad man.

"Every day at six o'clock that lady and the young ladies they stand on that cliff and pray for that General Rojas. You like me to drive you, gentle-mans, out here at six o'clock," he inquired insinuatingly, "an' see those ladies pray?"

"Certainly not!" exclaimed Roddy indignantly.

But Peter, more discreet, yawned and stirred impatiently. "I am just dying for something to eat!" he protested. "Let her out, driver."

For appearance's sake they drove nearly to the outskirts of Otrabanda, and then, as though perversely, Roddy declared he wanted to drive back the way they had come and breakfast at the Cafe Ducrot.

"Why should we eat in a hot, smelly dining-room," he demanded in tones intended to reach the driver, "when we can eat under orange trees?"

Peter, with apparent reluctance, assented.

"Oh, have it your own way," he said. "Personally, I could eat under any tree--under a gallows-tree."

For the second time they passed the Casa Blanca, and, while apparently intent on planning an extensive breakfast, their eyes photographed its every feature. Now, as the driver was not observing them, they were able to note the position of the entrances, of the windows, rising behind iron bars, from a terrace of white and black marble. They noted the wing, used as a stable for horses and carriages, and, what was of greater interest, that a hand-rail disappeared over the edge of the cliff and suggested a landing-pier below.

But of those who lived in the white palace there was no sign. It hurt Roddy to think that if, from the house, the inmates noted the two young men in a public carriage, peering at their home, they would regard the strangers only as impertinent sighters. They could not know that the eyes of the tourists were filled with pity, that, at the sight of the villa on the cliff the heart of each had quickened with kindly emotions, with excitement, with the hope of possible adventure.

Roddy clutched Peter by the wrist; with the other hand he pointed quickly. Through a narrow opening in a thicket that stood a few rods from the house Peter descried the formal lines of a tennis court. Roddy raised his eyebrows significantly. His smile was radiant, triumphant.

"Which seems to prove," he remarked enigmatically, "that certain parties of the first part are neither aged nor infirm."

His deduction gave him such satisfaction that when they drew up at the Cafe Ducrot he was still smiling.

Within the short hour that had elapsed since they had last seen the Ducrot garden a surprising transformation had taken place. No longer the orange grove lay slumbering in silence. No longer the waiters dozed beside the marble-topped tables. Drawn up outside the iron fence that protected the garden from the road a half-dozen fiery Venezuelan ponies under heavy saddles, and as many more fastened to landaus and dog-carts, were neighing, squealing, jangling their silver harness, and stamping holes in the highway. On the inside, through the heavy foliage of the orange trees, came the voice of the maitre d'hotel, from the kitchen the fat chef bellowed commands. The pebbles on the walks grated harshly beneath the flying feet of the waiters.

Seated at breakfast around a long table in the far end of the garden were over twenty men, and that it was in their service the restaurant had roused itself was fairly evident. The gentlemen who made up the breakfast-party were not the broadly-built, blonde Dutchmen of the island, but Venezuelans. And a young and handsome Venezuelan, seated at the head of the table, and facing the entrance to the garden, was apparently the person in whose honor they were assembled. So much younger, at least in looks, than the others, was the chief guest, that Peter, who was displeased by this invasion of their sleeping palace, suggested it was a coming-of-age party.

It was some time before the signals of the Americans were regarded. Although they had established themselves at a table surrounded by flowering shrubs, and yet strategically situated not too far distant from the kitchen or the cafe, no one found time to wait upon them, and they finally obtained the services of one of the waiters only by the expedient of holding tightly to his flying apron. Roddy commanded him to bring whatever was being served at the large table.

"That cook," Roddy pointed out, "is too excited to bother with our order; but, if there's enough for twenty, there will be enough for two more."

Although they were scorned by the waiters, the young men were surprised to find that to the gentlemen of the birthday-party their coming was of the utmost interest, and, though the tables were much too far apart for Roddy to hear what was said, he could see that many glances were cast in his direction, that the others were talking of him, and that, for some reason, his presence was most disconcerting.

Finally, under pretence of giving an order to his coachman, one of the birthday-party, both in going and returning from the gate, walked close to their table and observed them narrowly. As he all but paused in the gravel walk opposite them, Roddy said with conviction:

"No! Walter Pater never gave the Stoic philosophy a just interpretation, while to Euphuism----"

"On the contrary," interrupted Peter warmly, "Oscar Hammerstein is the ONLY impressario who can keep the pennant flying over grand opera and a roof garden. Believe me----"

With a bewildered countenance the Venezuelan hastily passed on. Placidly the two young men continued with their breakfast.

"Even if he _does understand English," continued Roddy, "that should keep him guessing for a while."

As they, themselves, had no interest in the birthday-party, and as they had eaten nothing since early coffee on the steamer, the young men were soon deep in the joy of feasting. But they were not long to remain in peace.

From the bushes behind them there emerged suddenly and quietly a young negro. He was intelligent looking and of good appearance. His white duck was freshly ironed, his straw hat sported a gay ribbon. Without for an instant hesitating between the two men, he laid a letter in front of Roddy. "For Mr. Forrester," he said, and turning, parted the bushes and, as quickly as he had come, departed.

Roddy stared at the hedge through which the messenger had vanished, and his wandering eyes turned toward the birthday-party. He found that every one at that table was regarding him intently. It was evident all had witnessed the incident. Roddy wondered if it were possible that the letter came from them. Looking further he observed that the man who was serving Peter and himself also was regarding him with greater interest than seemed natural, and that he was not the man who first had waited upon them.

"You," began Roddy doubtfully, "you are not the waiter who----"

The man shrugged his shoulders.

"That fellow he can't speakety English," he explained. "I speakety English very good."

The man smiled knowingly, so it seemed to Roddy, impertinently. Roddy felt uncomfortably convinced that some jest was going on behind his back, and he resented the thought.

"Yes," he began hotly, "and I will bet you _understand it, too."

Under the table Peter kicked violently at his ankles.

"Read your letter," he said.

The envelope bore only the name Rodman Forrester. The letter began abruptly and was not signed. It read:

"Willemstad is a small place. Every one in it knows every
one else. Therefore, the most conspicuous person in it is
the last person to arrive. You are the last person to
arrive, and, accordingly, everything you do is noted. That
this morning you twice passed the Casa Blanca has been
already reported both by those who guard it and by those who
spy upon it. If you would bring disaster to those you say
you wish to serve, keep on as idiotically as you have
begun."

The rebuke, although anonymous, turned Roddy's cheeks a rosy red, but he had sufficient self-control to toss the letter to his companion, and to say carelessly: "He wants us to dine with him."

The waiter, who had been openly listening, moved off in the direction of the kitchen. A moment later Roddy saw him bear a dish to the Venezuelan at the head of the long table, and as he proffered it, the two men whispered eagerly.

When Peter had read the warning he threw it, face down, upon the table, and with a disturbed countenance pretended to devote his attention to the salad dressing. Roddy was now grinning with pleasure, and made no effort to conceal that fact.

"I wouldn't have missed this," he whispered, "for a week in God's country. Apparently everybody's business is everybody else's business, and every one spies on every one. It's like the island where they were too proud to do their own washing, so everybody took in somebody else's washing."

"Who is it from," interrupted Peter irritably, "the Consul?"

Roddy nodded and laughed.

"You may laugh," protested Peter, "but you don't know. You've been in Venezuela only four months, and Captain Codman's been here eighteen years. These people don't look at things the way we do. We think it's all comic opera, but----"

"They're children," declared Roddy tolerantly, "children trying to frighten you with a mask on. And old man Codman--he's caught it, too. The fact that he's been down here eighteen years is the only thing against him. He's lost his sense of humor. The idea," he exclaimed, "of spying on us and sending us anonymous warnings. Why doesn't he come to the hotel and say what he has to say? Where does he think he is--in Siberia?"

Roddy chuckled and clapped his hands loudly for the waiter. He was pleasantly at ease. The breakfast was to his liking, the orange trees shielded him from the sun, and the wind from the sea stirred the flowering shrubs and filled the air with spicy, pungent odors.

"Perhaps the Consul understands them better than you do," persisted Peter. "These revolutionists----"

"They're a pack of cards," declared Roddy. "As Alice said to the King and Queen, 'You're only a pack of cards.'"

As he was speaking Mr. Von Amberg, the agent of the steamship line, with whom that morning he had been in consultation, and one of the other commission merchants of Willemstad, came up the gravel walk and halted at their table.

Both Von Amberg and his companion had but lately arrived from Holland. They were big men, of generous girth, beaming with good health and good humor. They looked like Kris Kringles in white duck. In continental fashion they raised their Panama hats and bowed profusely. They congratulated the young men on so soon having found their way to the Cafe Ducrot, and that Mr. de Peyster, whose name appealed to them, had pronounced the cooking excellent, afforded them personal satisfaction.

Von Amberg told the young men he had just left cards for the club at their hotel, and hoped they would make use of it. His launch, carriage and he, himself, were at their disposition.

When Roddy invited the two merchants to join them Von Amberg thanked him politely and explained that his table was already laid for breakfast. With another exchange of bows the two gentlemen continued up the twisting path and disappeared among the bushes.

"_That's what I mean!" exclaimed Roddy approvingly. "Now they are _our people. They have better manners, perhaps, than we have, but they're sensible, straight-from-the-shoulder men of business. _They aren't spying on anybody, or sending black-hand letters, or burying old men alive in prisons. If they saw a revolution coming they wouldn't know what----"

He was interrupted by the sudden reappearance of the men of whom he spoke. They were moving rapidly in the direction of the gate, and the countenance of each wore an expression of surprise and alarm. While his companion passed them quickly, Mr. Von Amberg reluctantly hesitated, and, in evident perplexity and with some suspicion, looked from one to the other. The waiter had placed the coffee and bottles of cognac and of curacao upon the table; and Roddy hospitably moved a chair forward.

"Won't you change your mind," he said, "and try some of the stuff that made this island famous?"

In spite of his evident desire to escape, Von Amberg's good manners did not forsake him. He bowed and raised his hat in protest.

"I--I should be very pleased--some other time," he stammered, "but now I must return to town. I find to-day it is not possible to breakfast here. There is a large party--" he paused, and his voice rose interrogatively.

"Yes," Roddy replied with indifference. "We found them here. They took all the waiters away from us."

The nature of the answer seemed greatly to surprise Von Amberg.

"You--you are not acquainted with those gentlemen?" he inquired.

In the fashion of his country, Roddy answered by another question.

"Who are they?" he asked. "Who is the one whose health they are all the time drinking?"

For an instant Von Amberg continued to show complete bewilderment. Then he smiled broadly. For him, apparently, the situation now possessed an aspect as amusing as it had been disturbing. He made a sly face and winked jovially.

"Oh! You Americans!" he exclaimed. "You make good politicians. Do not fear," he added hurriedly. "I have seen nothing, and I say nothing. I do not mix myself in politics." He started toward the gate, then halted, and with one eye closed whispered hoarsely, "It is all right. I will say nothing!" Nodding mysteriously, he hurried down the path.

Peter leaned back in his chair and chuckled delightedly.

"There go your sensible business men," he jeered, "running away! Now what have you to say?"

Roddy was staring blankly down the path and shook his head.

"You can subpoena me," he sighed. "Why should they be afraid of a birthday-party? Why!" he exclaimed, "they were even afraid of _me_! He didn't believe that we don't know those Venezuelans. He said," Roddy recapitulated, "he didn't mix in politics. That means, of course, that those fellows are politicians, and, probably this is their fashion of holding a primary. It must be the local method of floating a revolution. But why should Von Amberg think we're in the plot, too? Because my name's Forrester?"

Peter nodded. "That must be it," he said. "Your father is in deep with these Venezuelans, and everybody knows that, and makes the mistake of thinking you are also. I wish," he exclaimed patiently, "your father was more confiding. It is all very well for him--plotting plots from the top of the Forrester Building--but it makes it difficult for any one down here inside the firing-line. If your father isn't more careful," he protested warmly, "Alvarez will stand us blindfolded against a wall, and we'll play blind man's buff with a firing-squad."

Peter's forebodings afforded Roddy much amusement. He laughed at his friend, and mocked him, urging him to keep a better hold upon his sense of humor.

"You have been down here too long yourself," he said. "You'll be having tropic choler next. I tell you, you must think of them as children: they're a pack of cards."

"Maybe they are," sighed Peter "but as long as we don't know the game----"

From where Peter sat, with his back in their direction, he could not see the Venezuelans; but Roddy, who was facing them, now observed that they had finished their breakfast. Talking, gesticulating, laughing, they were crowding down the path. He touched Peter, and Peter turned in his chair to look at them.

At the same moment a man stepped from the bushes, and halting at one side of Roddy, stood with his eyes fixed upon the men of the birthday-party, waiting for them to approach. He wore the silk cap of a chauffeur, a pair of automobile goggles, and a long automobile coat. The attitude of the chauffeur suggested that he had come forward to learn if his employer was among those now making their departure; and Roddy wondered that he had heard no automobile arrive, and that he had seen none in Willemstad. Except for that thought, so interested was Roddy in the men who had shown so keen an interest in him, that to the waiting figure he gave no further consideration.

The Venezuelans had found they were too many to walk abreast. Some had scattered down other paths. Others had spread out over the grass. But the chief guest still kept to the gravel walk which led to the gate. And now Roddy saw him plainly.

Owing to a charming quality of youth, it was impossible to guess the man's age. He might be under thirty. He might be forty. He was tall, graceful, and yet soldierly-looking, with crisp, black hair clinging close to a small, aristocratic head. Like many Venezuelans, he had the brown skin, ruddy cheeks, and pointed mustache of a Neapolitan. His eyes were radiant, liquid, brilliant. He was walking between two of his friends, with a hand resting affectionately on the shoulder of each; and though both of the men were older than himself, his notice obviously flattered them. They were laughing, and nodding delighted approval at what he said, and he was talking eagerly and smiling. Roddy thought he had seldom seen a smile so winning, one that carried with it so strong a personal appeal. Roddy altogether approved of the young man. He found him gay, buoyant, in appearance entirely the conquering hero, the Prince Charming. And even though of his charm the young man seemed to be well aware, he appeared none the less a graceful, gallant, triumphant figure.

As Roddy, mildly curious, watched him, the young man turned his head gayly from the friend on his one side to address the one on the other. It was but a movement of an instant, but in the short circuit of the glance Roddy saw the eyes of the young man halt. As though suddenly hypnotized, his lips slowly closed, his white teeth disappeared, the charming smile grew rigid. He was regarding something to the left of Roddy and above him.

Roddy turned and saw the waiting figure of the chauffeur. He had stepped clear of the bushes, and, behind the mask-like goggles, his eyes were fixed upon the young Venezuelan. He took a short step forward, and his right hand reached up under his left cuff.

Roddy had seen Englishmen in searching for a handkerchief make a similar movement, but now the gesture was swift and sinister. In the attitude of the masked figure itself there was something prehensible and menacing. The hand of the man came free, and Roddy saw that it held a weapon.

As the quickest way to get his legs from under the table, Roddy shoved the table and everything on it into the lap of Peter. With one spring Roddy was beside the man, and as he struck him on the chin, with his other hand he beat at the weapon. There were two reports and a sharp high cry.

(Illustration: Under the blow, the masked man staggered drunkenly.)

Under the blow the masked man staggered drunkenly, his revolver swaying in front of Roddy's eyes. Roddy clutched at it and there was a struggle--another report--and then the man broke from him, and with the swift, gliding movement of a snake, slipped through the bushes.

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The White Mice - Chapter 3
Chapter IIIRoddy stood staring blankly, unconsciously sucking at a raw spot on his finger where the powder had burned it. At his feet the bottle of curacao, from which he had just been drinking, was rolling upon the gravel path, its life-blood bubbling out upon the pebbles. He stooped and lifted it. Later he remembered wondering how it had come there, and, at the time, that so much good liquor had been wasted had seemed a most irritating circumstance.He moved to replace the bottle upon the table and found the table overturned, with Peter, his clothes dripping and his eyes aflame,
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Chapter IOnce upon a time a lion dropped his paw upon a mouse."Please let me live!" begged the mouse, "and some day I will do as much for you.""That is so funny," roared the king of beasts, "that we will release you. We had no idea mice had a sense of humor."And then, as you remember, the lion was caught in the net of the hunter, and struggled, and fought, and struck blindly, until his spirit and strength were broken, and he lay helpless and dying.And the mouse, happening to pass that way, gnawed and nibbled at the net, and gave
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