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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe White Mice - Chapter 3
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The White Mice - Chapter 3 Post by :rlscott Category :Long Stories Author :Richard Harding Davis Date :May 2012 Read :1153

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The White Mice - Chapter 3

Chapter III

Roddy 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, emerging from beneath it.

Further up the path the young Venezuelan was struggling in the arms of his friends. Fearful that he might still be in danger they were restraining him, and he, eager to pursue the man who had fired on him, was crying aloud his protests. Others of his friends were racing down the different paths, breaking through the bushes, and often, in their excitement, seizing upon one another. Huddled together in a group, the waiters and coachmen explained, gesticulated, shrieked.

But above the clamor of all, the voice of Peter was the most insistent. Leaping from a wreck of plates and glasses, his clothing splashed with claret, with coffee, with salad dressing, with the tablecloth wound like a kilt about his legs, he jumped at Roddy and Roddy retreated before him. Raging, and in the name of profane places, Peter demanded what Roddy "meant" by it.

"Look at me!" he commanded. "Look what you did! Look at me!"

Roddy did not look. If he looked he knew he would laugh. And he knew Peter was hoping he would laugh so that, at that crowning insult, he might fall upon him.

In tones of humble, acute regret Roddy protested.

"I did it, Peter," he stammered hastily. "I did it--to save you. I was afraid he would hit you. I had to act quickly----"

"Afraid _he'd hit me!" roared Peter. "_You hit me! Hit me with a table! Look at my new white flannel suit! And look at this!" With his fingers he gingerly parted his wet, disheveled hair. "Look at the bump on the back of my head. Is _that your idea of saving me? I wish," he exploded savagely, "I wish he'd shot you full of holes!"

The violent onslaught of Peter was interrupted by one hardly less violent from the young Venezuelan. He had freed himself from his friends, and, as it now was evident the man who had attempted his life had escaped, and that to search further was useless, he ran to thank the stranger who had served him. Extravagantly, but with real feeling, he wrung both of Roddy's hands. In the native fashion he embraced him, shook him by the shoulders, patted him affectionately on the back. Eloquently but incoherently in Spanish, French and English he poured forth his thanks. He hailed Roddy as his preserver, his _bon amigo_, his _brav camarad_. In expressing their gratitude his friends were equally voluble and generous. They praised, they applauded, they admired; in swift, graceful gestures they reenacted for each other the blow upon the chin, the struggle for the revolver, the escape of the would-be assassin.

Even Peter, as the only one who had suffered, became a heroic figure.

It was many minutes before the Americans could depart, and then only after every one had drunk to them in warm, sweet champagne.

When the glasses were filled the young Venezuelan turned to those standing about him on the grass and commanded silence. He now spoke in excellent English, but Roddy noted that those of the older men who could not understand regarded him with uneasiness.

"I ask you, my friends," cried the Venezuelan, "to drink to the name of Forrester. How much," he exclaimed, "does not that name mean to my unhappy country. I--myself--that _my life should be taken--it is nothing; but that it should be saved for my country by one of that name is for us an omen--a lucky omen. It means," he cried, the soft, liquid eyes flashing, "it means success. It means--" As though suddenly conscious of the warning frowns of his friends, he paused abruptly, and with a graceful bow, and waving his glass toward Roddy, said quietly, "Let us drink to the son of a good friend of Venezuela--to Mr. Forrester."

Not until the landau was well on its way to Willemstad did Roddy deem it wise to make a certain inquiry.

"What," he asked of the driver, "is the name of the gentleman that the other gentleman tried to shoot?"

The driver turned completely in his seat. His eyes were opened wide in amazement.

"You don't know that gentleman!" he exclaimed. "I think everybody know _that gentleman. He be very brave Venezuela gentleman; he be Colonel Vega."

As though sure of the effect of that name, the driver paused dramatically, but, except that the two Americans looked inquiringly at each other, they made no sign.

"Mebbe I better call that gentleman--Pino?" the driver suggested. "Everybody call him Pino, just like he be everybody's brother." The man showed his teeth broadly, in a delighted grin. "The market womens, the sailor mens, the police mens, the black peoples, and the white gentlemens, everybodys--call him Pino. Pino he be exiled. If he go to his country that President Alvarez he say he shoot him. So Pino go over that way," with his whip he pointed to the east. "They say he go live in Paris. But yesterday he come in that steamer, and all the peoples be waiting at that wharf. Everybody be glad to see Pino."

"Everybody but that man with that gun," suggested Roddy.

The driver rolled his eyes darkly and pursed his lips. "That be bad man," he said.

"Did President Alvarez," inquired Roddy pleasantly, "send that bad man over here to shoot the too popular Pino?"

Peter uttered a sudden growl of indignation.

"Look where you are driving!" he ordered.

When the negro had turned to his horses Peter stared at Roddy long and steadily.

"What that parrot said of you," he declared grimly, "was true."

Those Venezuelans who at once had set forth on their ponies to overtake the would-be assassin already had brought word of the attempt upon Colonel Vega to Willemstad, and the repose of the peaceful burgh was greatly ruffled. The arrival of the young men increased the excitement, and, though they fled to their rooms, from their balcony overlooking the wharf they could hear their driver, enthroned upon his box seat, describing the event to an intent and eager audience.

As Peter was changing into dry clothes he held his watch so that Roddy could note the hour.

"How long would you have said we have been living on this island?" he asked.

"Oh, at least a week!" exclaimed Roddy. "I have had more excitement than I could get in New York in a year, and we haven't been here twelve hours!"

"But it is all over now," Peter announced. "We can't stay here. We're getting too chummy with this Venezuelan crowd, thanks to you."

"What have I done now?" complained Roddy.

"You can't help being who you are," admitted Peter, "but you can see that this town is a red-hot incubator for revolutions. Every one in it thinks of nothing else, and every one thinks you are in deep with your father against Alvarez, and if we linger here Alvarez will think so, too. We've got to get back to Porto Cabello where we have a clean bill of health."

Roddy had stretched himself upon his cot, in preparation for his afternoon siesta, but he sat upright, his face filled with dismay.

"And not see the Rojas family?" he cried.

Peter growled indignantly.

"See them! How can you see them?" he demanded. "We only drove past their house, along a public road, and already everybody in town has a flashlight picture of us doing it."

"But," objected Roddy, "we haven't got our credentials."

"We'll have to do without them," declared Peter. "I tell you, if you get mixed up with Brother Pino when you get back to Porto Cabello you'll go to jail. And what chance will we have then of saving General Rojas? He will stay in prison and die there. As White Mice," announced Peter firmly, "we have our work to do, and we must not be turned aside by anybody's revolution, your father's, or Pino Vega's, or anybody's. We're White Mice, first, last and all the time. Our duty isn't to take life but to save it." As though suddenly surprised by a new idea Peter halted abruptly.

"I suppose," he demanded scornfully, "you think you prevented a murder this morning, and you will be claiming the White Mice medal for saving life?"

"I certainly will," declared Roddy cheerfully, "and you will have to certify I earned it, because you saw me earn it."

"But I didn't," declared Peter. "I was under the table."

Roddy closed his eyes and again fell back upon the cot. For so long a time was he silent that Peter, who had gone out upon the balcony, supposed him asleep, when Roddy suddenly raised himself on his elbow.

"Anyway," he began abruptly, "we can't leave here until the boat takes us away, three days from now. I'll bet in three days I'll get all the credentials we want."

Roddy had been awake since sunrise, the heat was soporific, the events of the morning exhausting, and in two minutes, unmindful of revolutions, indifferent to spies, to plots and counter-plots, he was sleeping happily. But as he slumbered, in two lands, at great distances apart, he and his affairs were being earnestly considered. On the twenty-seventh floor of the Forrester Building his father, with perplexed and frowning brows, studied a cablegram; in the Casa Blanca, Senora Rojas and her daughters listened in amazement to a marvelous tale. Had it not been their faithful friend and jealous guardian, the American Consul, who was speaking, they could not have credited it.

At the Forrester Building the cablegram had been just translated from the secret code of the company and placed upon the desk of Mr. Forrester. It was signed by Von Amberg, and read: "To-day at meeting your party, unknown man fired three shots Vega; Young Forrester overpowered man; Vega unhurt; man escaped. Understand young Forrester not in our confidence. Please instruct."

Three times Mr. Forrester read the cablegram, and then, laying it upon his knee, sat staring out of the open window.

Before his physical eyes were deep canyons of office buildings like his own, towering crag above crag, white curling columns of smoke from busy tugboats, and the great loom of the Brooklyn Bridge with its shuttles of clattering cable-cars. But what he saw was his son, alone in a strange land, struggling with an unknown man, a man intent on murder. With a hand that moved unsteadily the Light-house King lifted the desk telephone and summoned the third vice-president, and when Mr. Sam Caldwell had entered, silently gave him the cablegram.

Sam Caldwell read it and exclaimed with annoyance:

"Looks to me," he commented briskly, "as though they know why Pino came back. Looks as though they had sent this fellow to do him up, before we can----"

In a strange, thin voice, Mr. Forrester stopped him sharply.

"If the boy'd been hurt--they'd have said so, wouldn't they?" he demanded.

Sam Caldwell recognized his error. Carefully he reread the cablegram.

"Why, of course," he assented heartily. "It says here he overpowered the other fellow: says 'Vega unhurt.'"

In the same unfamiliar, strained tone Mr. Forrester interrupted. "It doesn't say Roddy is unhurt," he objected.

The young man laughed reassuringly.

"But the very fact they don't say so shows--why, they'd know that's what you most want to hear. I wouldn't worry about Roddy. Not for a minute."

Embarrassed by his own feeling, annoyed that Sam Caldwell should have discovered it, Mr. Forrester answered, "_You wouldn't. He isn't _your son."

He reached for a cable form, and wrote rapidly:

"Von Amberg. Willemstad, Curacao, W. I. Forrester most certainly not in our confidence. Return him Cabello. Is he"--the pen hesitated and then again moved swiftly--"unhurt?"

He drew another blank toward him and addressing it to McKildrick, wrote: "Why is Forrester in Curacao? Cable him return. Keep him on job, or lose yours."

For a moment Mr. Forrester sat studying the two messages, then he raised his eyes.

"I have half a mind," he said, "to order him home. I would, if he weren't doing so well down there." With an effort to eliminate from his voice any accent of fatherly pride, Mr. Forrester asked coldly: "McKildrick reports that he is doing well, doesn't he?"

The third vice-president nodded affirmatively.

"If he comes back here," argued Mr. Forrester, "he'll do nothing but race his car, and he'll learn nothing of the business. And then, again," he added doubtfully, "while he's down there I don't want him to learn too much of the business, not this Pino Vega end of it, or he might want to take a hand, and that might embarrass us. Perhaps I had better cable him, too."

He looked inquiringly at the third vice-president, but that gentleman refused to be drawn.

"He isn't _my son," he remarked.

"I am not speaking of him as my son," snapped Mr. Forrester warmly. "Speaking of him, not as my son, but as an employee of the company, what would _you do with him?"

"I'd cable him to mind his own business," answered Sam Caldwell.

For the fraction of a second, under levelled eyebrows, Mr. Forrester stared at young Mr. Caldwell, and then, as a sign that the interview was at an end, swung in his swivel chair and picked up his letters. Over his shoulder he said, "Cable him that."

* * * * *

While Roddy in Willemstad was slumbering under his mosquito-net, and Sam Caldwell in New York was concocting a cablegram, which, he calculated, would put Roddy in his proper place, but which, instead, put him in a very bad temper, Captain Codman, at Casa Blanca, had just finished relating his marvelous tale.

It was the story of how young Forrester, without letters of introduction, without credentials, had that morning walked into the consulate and announced that, without asking advice, he intended to liberate the Lion of Valencia.

Upon the members of the Rojas household the marvelous tale had a widely different effect.

To understand why this should be so it is necessary to know something of the three women who formed the Rojas household.

Senora Rojas was an American. When she was very young her father, a professor at one of the smaller universities in New England, in order to study the archives of the Spanish rulers of Venezuela, had visited that country, and taken his daughter with him. She was spirited, clever, and possessed of the particular type of beauty the Spaniard admires. Young Rojas saw her, and at once fell in love with her, and, after the death of her father, which occurred in the North, followed her there and married her. She then was very young and he an attache in the diplomatic service. Since their marriage, unlike many of his countrymen, Rojas had not looked with interest upon any other woman, and, with each year of their life together, their affection had grown stronger, their dependence upon each other had increased.

In wisdom, in experience, in honors, Rojas had grown rich. In countries where his own was only a spot upon the map, Rojas himself, the statesman, the diplomat, the man who spoke and read in many languages, the charming host with the brilliant wife, was admired, sought after. There were three children: the two girls, and a son, a lieutenant of artillery, whose death during the revolution of Andreda had brought to the family its first knowledge of grief.

Of the two sisters, Lolita, the elder, was like her father--grave, gracious, speaking but seldom and, in spite of the years spent in foreign capitals, still a Spanish-American. Her interests were in her church, her music and the duties of the household.

Of all the names given at her christening to the younger sister, the one that survived was Inez. Inez was a cosmopolitan. She had been permitted to see too much of the world to make it possible for her ever again to sit down tamely behind the iron bars of the Porto Cabello drawing-room. She was too much like her American mother; not as her mother was now, after thirty years in a Venezuelan's household, but as her mother had been when she left the New England college town. Unlike her sister, she could not be satisfied with the cloister-like life of the young girls of Spanish-America. During the time her father had served as minister to Paris she had been at school in the convent at Neuilly, but at the time he was transferred to London she was of an age to make her bow at court, and old enough to move about with a freedom which, had it been permitted her at home, would have created public scandal. She had been free to ride in the Row, to play tennis, to walk abroad, even through public streets and parks, even when it rained, even unattended. She had met men, not always as prospective suitors, but as friends and companions.

And there had been a wonderful visit to her mother's country and her mother's people, when for a summer she had rejoiced in the friendly, inconsequent, out-of-door life of a Massachusetts' seaside colony. Once on the North Shore, and later on Cape Cod, she had learned to swim, to steer a knockabout, to dance the "Boston," even in rubber-soled shoes, to "sit out" on the Casino balcony and hear young men, with desperate anxiety, ask if there were any more in South America like her. To this question she always replied that there were not; and that, in consequence, if the young man had any thoughts on the subject, she was the person to whom they should be addressed.

Then, following the calm, uneventful life of the convent, of London and its gayeties, of the Massachusetts coast with its gray fogs and open, drift-wood fires, came the return to her own country. There, with her father, she rode over his plantations among the wild cattle, or with her mother and sister sat in the _patio and read novels in three languages, or sleepily watched the shadow of the tropical sun creep across the yellow wall.

And then, suddenly, all of these different, happy lives were turned into memories, shadows, happenings of a previous and unreal existence. There came a night, which for months later in terrified dreams returned to haunt her, a night when she woke to find her bed surrounded by soldiers, to hear in the court-yard the sobs of her mother and the shrieks of the serving-women, to see her father--concerned only for his wife and daughters--in a circle of the secret police, to see him, before she could speak with him, hurried to a closed carriage and driven away.

Then had begun the two years of exile in Willemstad, the two years of mourning, not of quiet grief for one at rest, but anxious, unending distress for one alive, one dearly loved, one tortured in mind, enduring petty indignities, bodily torments, degradations that killed the soul and broke the brave spirit.

To the three women Rojas had been more than husband or father. He had been their knight, their idol, their reason for happiness. They alone knew how brave he was, how patient, how, beyond imagination, considerate. That they should be free to eat and sleep, to work and play, while he was punished like a felon, buried alive, unable to carry on the work in the world God had given him to do, caused them intolerable misery. While he suffered there was no taste in life, and the three shut themselves from the world. They admitted only the Consul, who had been his friend, and those who, like themselves, were exiles, and in whose hatred of Alvarez lay their only hope of again seeing the one they loved. Time after time a plan of rescue had failed. A plot that promised release had been disclosed and the conspirators punished. Hope had left them, and, on the part of their friends, had been followed by lethargy.

But within the last three months a new hope had arisen, and with it, for the younger daughter, a new distress.

It was whispered that a revolution, backed by great wealth and sanctified by the prayers of the people, was to be started near Valencia. Its leader in the field was to be young Pino Vega, in several campaigns the personal aide-de-camp of General Rojas, a young man indebted to his chief for many favors, devoted to him by reason of mutual confidence and esteem. If successful, this revolt against Alvarez was to put Vega in command of the army, to free Rojas and to place him as president at Miraflores. To the women the thought that Rojas might become president was intolerable. It was because he had consented to be president that he had suffered. The mere thought of the office, and of the cruelties that had been practised by the man who held it, made it, to the women, terrifying.

For Rojas they wanted neither position nor power. They wanted Rojas free. They wanted to hold him close, to touch him, to look into his eyes, to see the gentle, understanding smile.

Each felt that there was nothing she could not do, no sacrifice she would not make, if once more she could sit beside him, holding his hand, waiting in silence for the joy of hearing him speak. And of the younger girl the sacrifice has been required. At least a way in which she could assist the cause that would lead to the freedom of her father had been presented to her. From Paris, Pino Vega had written her mother, requesting permission to ask Inez to be his wife.

To the girl, of all the men she knew in Venezuela, Pino was the most attractive. They both had lived for years outside of their own country and, in consequence, had much in common. He was thirty-seven, older than she by fourteen years, but, as has already been pointed out, in appearance, in manner, in spirits, he seemed much younger than his years. To his detriment nothing could be said that could not have been said of the other young men of his class in his country. But the girl was not in love with the young man of that class, nor with her country.

Her brother had been sacrificed in what to her had seemed but a squalid struggle for place between two greedy politicians; her father, for the very reason that he had served his country loyally, faithfully, and was, in consequence, beloved by the people, had been caged like a wild animal. She had no love for her native land. She distrusted and feared it.

Night after night, as she paced the walk along the cliff where the waves broke at her feet, she shuddered to think of returning to that land, only sixty miles from her, that had robbed her of so much that had made life beautiful; of all, up to the present, that had made it happy. She wished never to see it again. Could her father have been returned to her she would have rejoiced that they were exiles. And, as she distrusted the country, she distrusted the men of the country, at least those of the class to which Vega belonged. She knew them well, the born orators, born fighters, born conspirators. To scheme, to plot, to organize against the authority of the moment was in their blood.

If she thought of a possible husband, and, in a country where a girl marries at fifteen, and where her first, if not her only duty in life, is to marry, it would have been surprising if she had not, the man she considered as a husband was not a Venezuelan. For their deference to women, for their courtesy to each other, for their courage as shown in their campaigns, for their appreciation of art, of letters, of music, she greatly admired her countrymen; but that they themselves created nothing, that they scorned labor and all those who labored, made them, to Inez, intolerable.

That she was half an American of the North was to her a source of secret pride. With satisfaction she remembered young men she had known during the summers on the North Shore and Cape Cod, the young men who, during the first of the week, toiled and sweltered in their offices, and who, when the week-end came, took their pleasures strenuously, in exercise and sport. She liked to remember that her American and English devotees had treated her as a comrade, as an intelligent, thinking creature. They had not talked to her exclusively of the beauty of her eyes, her teeth and hair.

She preferred their breathless, "Well played, partner!" to the elaborate, "I saw the Senorita at mass this morning. As she raised her eyes to Heaven--the angels grew jealous."

When the mother told Inez that Colonel Vega had written, proposing on his return to pay his addresses to her, the girl was in genuine distress. She protested earnestly.

In thirty years Senora Rojas unconsciously had assimilated the thoughts, the habits, the attitude of mind of the women of her adopted country, and, when Inez had finished her protest, her mother, seeing the consequence from her own point of view, was greatly disturbed. "It is most unfortunate," she said. "Pino is selfish; when he learns you will not listen to him he will be very angry and he will be less eager to help your father. He will think only of himself. If you only could have cared----"

"Pino could not be so cruel," said the girl. But she spoke as though she were arguing against her own conviction. "He cannot be so vain--so spoiled," she protested, "that because one woman fails to fall on her knees to him, he must punish her."

The talk between the mother and daughter had taken place a week before Colonel Vega's arrival from Paris. On the day his steamer was due, Senora Rojas again spoke to Inez.

"After mass this morning," she said, "I consulted Father Paul about Pino. He hopes it will be possible for you not to give him a direct answer. He says Pino will be leaving us almost at once. He is to land north of Porto Cabello, and our people are to join him there. Father Paul thinks," the Senora hesitated, and then went on hastily, "you might let him go in ignorance. You might ask for time to consider. You might even tell him----"

The girl's cheeks flushed crimson and the tears came to her eyes. The mother looked away. After an instant's silence she exclaimed bitterly: "It is only a lie to a man who has lied to many women! I think of nothing," she declared, "but that it would keep him true to your father. What else matters!" she broke forth, "I would lie, cheat, steal," she cried, "if I could save your father one moment's suffering."

The girl took the hand of the elder woman and pressed it to her cheek. "I know," she whispered, "I know."

There was a moment's silence. "If it were anything else!" protested the girl. "If I could change places with father I would run to do it--you know that--but this"--with a gesture of repugnance the girl threw out her hands--"to pretend--to care! It is degrading, it makes me feel unclean."

"You will make an enemy," asked the mother coldly, "of the only person who can bring your father back to us? Sooner than let Pino think you care for him, you would let him turn against us? You and Pino," she pleaded, "are old friends. Your father is his friend. What more natural!" She broke forth hysterically. "I beg of you," she cried, "I command you not to make an enemy of Pino. Tell him to wait, tell him that now you can think of nothing but your father, but that when your father is free, that if he will only set him free--" The mother held the girl toward her, searching her eyes. "Promise me," she begged.

Inez regarded her mother unhappily, and turned away.

This, then, on the afternoon of Colonel Vega's arrival at Curacao was the position toward him and toward each other of the three women of the Rojas household, and explains, perhaps, why, when that same afternoon Captain Codman told them the marvelous tale of Roddy's proposition, Senora Rojas and her daughter received the news each in a different manner.

Before she had fully understood, Senora Rojas exclaimed with gratitude:

"It is the hand of God. It is His hand working through this great company."

"Not at all," snapped Captain Codman. "The company has nothing to do with it. As far as I can see it is only the wild plan of a harum-scarum young man. He has no authority. He's doing it for excitement, for an adventure. He doesn't seem to know anything of--of what is going on--and, personally, I think he's mad. He and his friend are the two men who twice drove past your house this morning. What his friend is like I don't know; but Forrester seems quite capable of forcing his way in here. He wants what he calls 'credentials.' In fact, when I refused to help him, he as much as threatened to come here and get them for himself."

The voice of Senora Rojas was shaken with alarm. "He is coming here!" she cried. "But if he is seen _here they will know at once at Caracas, and my husband will suffer. It may mean the end of everything." Her voice rose, trembling with indignation. "How dare he! How dare he, for the sake of an adventure, risk the life of my husband? How can he expect to succeed where our friends have failed, and now, when Pino has returned and there is hope."

"I told him that," said the Consul.

"You warned him," insisted the Senora; "you told him he must not come near us?"

Inez, who, with her sister, stood eagerly intent behind the chair in which their mother was seated, laid her hand soothingly upon the Senora's shoulder.

"Is it best," she asked, "to turn the young man away without learning what he wishes to do? Living in Porto Cabello, he may know something we could not know. Did you find out," she asked the Consul, "in what way Mr. Forrester wishes to help us?"

"No," confessed Captain Codman, "I did not. I was so taken aback," he explained; "he was so ignorant, so cocksure, that he made me mad. And I just ordered him out, and I told him, told him for his own good, of course," the Consul added hastily, "that he talked too much."

With critical eyes Inez regarded her old friend doubtfully, and shook her head at him.

"And how did he take that?" she asked.

"He told me," answered the Consul, painfully truthful, "that my parrot had said the same thing, and that we might both be wrong."

There was an instant's silence, and then Inez laughed. In shocked tones her mother exclaimed reprovingly.

"But he comes here," protested the girl, "to do us a service, the greatest service, and he is ordered away. Why should we refuse to let him help us, to let any one help us. We should make the most of every chance that offers."

Senora Rojas turned in her chair and looked steadily at her daughter.

"Your advice is good, Inez," she said, "but it comes strangely from you."

At the same moment, as though conjured by her thought, a servant announced Colonel Vega, and that gentleman, with several of those who had lunched with him at the Cafe Ducrot, entered the room. In alarm Captain Codman waited only to shake hands with the visitors and then precipitately departed. But in the meeting of the exiles there was nothing that would have compromised him. The reception of Colonel Vega by the three women was without outward significance. They greeted him, not as a leader of their conspiracy, but as they might have received any friend who, after an absence, had returned to them. When he bent over the hand of Inez he raised his liquid eyes to hers, but the girl welcomed him simply, without confusion.

He decided that her mother could not as yet have told her of his wishes. Had she done so he felt sure, in view of the honor he would pay her, her embarrassment at meeting him would have been apparent to all.

Vega himself elected to tell the ladies of the attack made upon him at the Cafe Ducrot. He made little of it. He let the ladies understand that his life, like that of all public men, was always at the mercy of assassins. To Roddy he gave full credit.

"Imagine this man reaching for his weapon," he related dramatically, "myself too far from him to fall upon him, and my arms resting upon the shoulders of my two good friends. Their safety, also, is in my mind. But I am helpless. I saw the villain smile confidently. He points the weapon. Then the young man springs upon him and the bullets pass us harmlessly. Believe me, but for Mr. Forrester all three of us, General Pulido, Colonel Ramon and myself, might now be dead."

The two gentlemen designated dismissed the thought with a negligent wave of the hand. It suggested that, to soldiers like themselves, being dead was an annoyance to which they had grown accustomed.

"Mr. Forrester!" exclaimed Inez, catching at the name.

"Mr. Forrester!" repeated her mother. "But I thought--I was told only just now that he knew nothing of our plans."

"That is quite true," Colonel Vega assured her. "He was not with us. He was there by accident."

"Let us rather say," corrected Senora Rojas piously, "he was placed there by a special Providence to save you."

That the Almighty should be especially concerned in his well-being did not appear to Vega as at all unlikely.

He nodded his head gravely.

"It may be so," he admitted.

Through force of habit Senora Rojas glanced about her; but the open windows showed the empty garden, and around her, seated in two rows of rocking-chairs, the ladies facing the door, the men facing the ladies, she saw only friends.

"But why," she asked, "is young Mr. Forrester _not in the confidence of his father? Can he not trust his own son?"

As though sure of her answer she cast a triumphant glance at the daughter who had dared, against Captain Codman and herself, to champion Mr. Forrester's son. Pino frowned mysteriously. He did not like to say that with any action of the great Mr. Forrester he was not acquainted. So he scowled darkly and shook his head.

"It is a puzzle," he said; "the young man is a fine fellow. To him I owe my life." He appealed to his friends, who, in time to the sedate rocking of the chairs, nodded gravely. "But his father is very decided. He cables us to send him at once to Porto Cabello. He instructs us not to let him know what we plan to do. I learned that in Porto Cabello he is only a workman, or, a little better, the foreman of the Jamaica coolies. I do not say so," Pino pointed out, as though if he wished he might say a great deal, "but it looks as though he were here for some punishment--as though he had displeased his father. Or," he demanded, "why should his father, who is so wealthy, give his son the wages of a foreman?"

During the visit of the conspirators the traditions of Spanish etiquette gave Colonel Vega no opportunity to separate Inez from the others; and soon, without having spoken to her alone, he and his followers departed.

When they had gone, Inez, as was her custom when she wished to be by herself, ordered her pony and rode out on the cliff road toward the orange groves. Riding unattended was a breach of Spanish-American convention. But her mother permitted it, and, in the eyes of the people of Willemstad, her long residence abroad, and the fact that she was half American of the North, partially excused it. Every morning at sunrise, before the heat of the day, and just before the sun set, Inez made these excursions. They were the bright moments of her present life. If she did not wish to think, they prevented her from thinking; if she did wish to think, they protected her from intrusion, and gave her strength and health to bear the grinding anxiety of the other hours. They brought back to her, also, memories of rides of former days, before her father had been taken from her, when they had trotted politely over the tan bark of Rotten Row, or when, with her soldier brother, she had chased the wild cattle on the plantation.

Now, with her head bent, with the hand that held the reins lying loosely on her knee, she rode at a walk, her body relaxed, her eyes seeing nothing. Her mind was intent upon her problem, one in which her answer to Pino Vega was but a part. To carry out the plan she had in mind she needed a man to help her, and there were two men to whom she might appeal. But only one, not both of them, could help her. She was determined not to return from her ride until she had decided which one it should be.

After an hour, as though she had reached her decision and was fearful lest she might reconsider it, she lifted the pony into a gallop and raced to Casa Blanca. On arriving there she went directly to her room, wrote a note, and returned with it to the stable where the groom was just removing the saddle from her pony.

He was an old man, trusted by Inez. As a body servant he had first served her brother, then her father, and after the imprisonment of General Rojas, had volunteered to follow the women of the family into exile. For a moment the girl regarded him earnestly.

"Pedro," she asked, "what would you do to save the master?"

When the man was assured he had understood her he lowered the saddle to the ground, and standing erect threw out his arms with his open palms toward her. In pantomime he seemed to signify that for the purpose she named, his body, his life was at her disposition.

Inez showed him the note.

"You will take this," she said, "to an American, Mr. Forrester. He is at one of the hotels. No one must know you are seeking him, no one must see you give him this note. Not even my mother must suspect that any message has been sent from this house to that gentleman. When he has read the note he will say 'yes' or 'no.' If he asks questions you will shake your head. As soon as you get your answer come directly to me."

She gave him the note and after an impressive delay continued: "There is a new plan to save my father. If you deliver this note safely you will have taken the first step to set him free. If you blunder, if it is found out that Mr. Forrester and one of the Rojas family are conspiring together, it will mean greater cruelties for my father; it may mean his death."

The girl had spoken in the way she knew would best appeal to the man before her. And she was not disappointed. His eyes shone with excitement. That he was conspiring, that he was a factor in a plot, that the plot had in view the end he so much desired, filled him with pleasure and pride. Crossing himself he promised to carry out her orders.

As Inez returned to the main portion of the house the sun was just sinking into the sea; and, to keep their daily tryst, her mother and sister were moving toward the cliff. While the crimson disk descended, the three women stood silent and immovable, the face of each turned toward the rim of the horizon. As though her eyes could pierce the sixty miles that lay between her and her father Inez leaned forward, her fingers interlaced, her lips slightly apart. That, at that moment, he was thinking of her, that he was looking to where he knew she was on guard, and thinking of him, moved her as greatly as though the daily ceremony was for the first time being carried forward. A wandering breeze, not born of the sea, but of the soil, of tropical plants and forests, and warm with sunshine, caressed her face. It came from the land toward which her eyes were turned. It was comforting, sheltering, breathing of peace. As it touched her she smiled slightly. She accepted it as a good omen, as a message sent from across the sea, to tell her that in the step she had taken she had done well.

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