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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe White Mice - Chapter 4
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The White Mice - Chapter 4 Post by :vbhnl Category :Long Stories Author :Richard Harding Davis Date :May 2012 Read :1517

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The White Mice - Chapter 4

Chapter IV

After their dinner at the hotel, Roddy and Peter strolled down the quay and over the tiny drawbridge that binds Otrabanda to Willemstad. There, for some time, half-way between the two towns, they loitered against the railing of the bridge, smoking and enjoying the cool night breeze from the sea. After his long nap Roddy was wakeful. He had been told that Willemstad boasted of a _cafe chantant_, and he was for finding it. But Peter, who had been awake since the ship's steward had aroused him before sunrise, doubted that there was a _cafe chantant_, and that if it did exist it could keep him from sleep, and announced his determination to seek his bed.

Left to himself, Roddy strolled slowly around the narrow limits of the town. A few of the shops and two of the cafes were still open, throwing bright spaces of light across the narrow sidewalks, but the greater number of houses were tightly barred; the streets slumbered in darkness. For a quarter of an hour Roddy sauntered idly, and then awoke to the fact that he was not alone. Behind him in the shadow, a man with his face hidden in a shawl, the sound of his footsteps muffled by his rope sandals, was following his wanderings.

Under the circumstances, after the developments of the day, Roddy was not surprised, nor was he greatly interested. Even in Porto Cabello, at one time or another, every one was beset by spies. And that here, in the central office of the revolutionists, Alvarez should be well represented was but natural.

Twice, softly and quickly, the man who followed had approached him from the rear, and each time, lest he should have some more serious purpose than to simply spy upon him, Roddy had stepped into the street. But when for the third time the man drew near, his approach was so swift that Roddy had no time to move away. The man brushed against him, and when he had passed Roddy found a letter had been pressed into his hand.

The hour was late, Roddy looked like a tourist, the note had been delivered covertly. Roddy concluded it contained an invitation to some disreputable adventure, and after calling the man the name associated with what Roddy believed to be his ancient and dishonorable profession, he tossed the note into the street.

With a cry of dismay the man ran toward it, but Roddy was before him. As the note had left his hand his fingers had touched upon heavy, waxen seals.

In an instant he had retrieved the note, and, followed eagerly by the man, carried it to the light of a gas lamp. The envelope was not illuminating, the sealing-wax was stamped with no crest or initials, the handwriting was obviously disguised.

After observing that from the shadow the man still watched him, while at the same time he kept an anxious lookout up and down the street, Roddy opened the note. It read: "You have come to Curacao for a purpose. One who has the success of that purpose most at heart desires to help you. To-morrow, just before sunrise, walk out the same road over which you drove to-day. Beyond the Cafe Ducrot the bearer of this letter will wait for you with a led horse. Follow him. If you think he is leading you into danger, order him to ride in advance, and cover him with your revolver. If you will come, say to the bearer, '_Vengo_,' if not, '_No Vengo_.' He has orders not to reply to any question of yours. If you speak of this to others, or if the bearer of this suspects you have arranged for others to follow you, he will only lead you back to your hotel, and your chance to right a great wrong will have passed."

There was no signature. But as though it were an afterthought, at the bottom of the page was written, "Adventures are for the adventurous."

Standing well in the light of the street lamp, with his back to the houses, with his face toward the waiting messenger, Roddy read the letter three times. But after the first reading his eyes neglected the body of the note and raced to the postscript. That was the line that beckoned and appealed; to him it seemed that whoever wrote the letter doubted he would come to the rendezvous, and was by that line enticing him, mocking him, daring him to refuse. It held forth both a promise and a challenge.

As to who the writer of the note might be, there were in Roddy's mind three explanations. He considered them hastily. Peter was the author of the note, and it was a poor joke intended to test him. It was a genuine offer from some one who had guessed the object of his visit to Curacao and honestly wished to be of service. It came from the man in the mask and his associates, who, resenting his interference of the morning, had pleasant thoughts of luring him down a lonely road and leaving him lying there. Which of the three suppositions might be correct it was impossible to know, but the postscript decided him. He beckoned to the messenger, and the man ran eagerly forward. "I will come," said Roddy. The man smiled with pleasure, bowed to him, and dived into the darkness. As he ran down the street Roddy stood listening until the soft patter of the sandals had ceased, and then slowly returned to the hotel.

For an hour, still speculating as to who his anonymous friend might be, he stood, smoking, upon the balcony. On the quay below him a negro policeman dozed against a hawser-post. A group of cargadores, stretched at length upon stacks of hides, chattered in drowsy undertones. In the moonlight the lamps on the fishing-boats and on the bridge, now locked against the outside world, burned mistily, and the deck of the steamer moored directly below him was as deserted and bare, as uncanny and ghostlike, as the deck of the ship of the Ancient Mariner. Except for the chiming of ships' bells, the whisper of the running tide, and the sleepy murmur of the longshoremen, the town of Willemstad was steeped in sleep and silence. Roddy, finding he could arrive at no satisfactory explanation of the note, woke the night porter, and telling that official he was off before daybreak to shoot wild pigeons, and wanted his coffee at that hour, betook himself to his cot. It seemed as though he had not twice tossed on the pillow before the night-watchman stood yawning at his side.

Roddy and Peter occupied adjoining rooms, and the door between the two was unlocked. When Roddy had bathed, dressed, and, with a feeling of some importance, stuck his revolver into his pocket, he opened the door, and, still suspicious that his faithful friend was sending him on a wild-goose chase, for a few moments stood beside his bed. But Peter, deep in the sleep of innocence, was breathing evenly, stentoriously. Not without envying him the hours of rest still before him, Roddy helped himself to Peter's revolver, left him a line saying it was he who had borrowed it, and went out into the dark and empty streets.

Half awake and with his hunger only partially satisfied, Roddy now regarded his expedition with little favor. He reverted strongly to the theory that some one was making a fool of him. He reminded himself that if in New York he had received such a note, he either would have at once dismissed it as a hoax or turned it over to the precinct station-house. But as the darkness changed to gray, and the black bulk of the Cafe Ducrot came into view, his interest quickened. He encouraged himself with the thought that while in New York the wording of the note would be improbable, hysterical, melodramatic, in hot, turbulent Venezuela it was in keeping with the country and with the people.

Since setting forth from the hotel a half hour had passed, and as he left the Cafe Ducrot behind him the night faded into the gray-blue mist of dawn. Out of the mist, riding slowly toward him, mounted on one pony and leading another, Roddy saw the man who on the night before had brought him the letter. He was leaning forward, peering through the uncertain light. When he recognized Roddy he galloped to him, and with evident pleasure but without speaking, handed him the reins of the led pony. Then motioning to Roddy to wait, he rode rapidly down the road over which the American had just come. Roddy settled himself in the saddle, and with a smile of satisfaction beamed upon the ghostlike world around him. So far, at least, the adventure promised to be genuine. Certainly, he argued, Peter could not have prepared a joke so elaborate.

Apparently satisfied that Roddy had brought no one with him, the messenger now rejoined him, and with a gesture of apology took the lead, and at a smart trot started in the same direction in which Roddy had been walking.

Roddy gave his guide a start of fifty feet, and followed. With the idea of a possible ambush still in his mind, he held the pony well in hand, and in front of him, in his belt, stuck one of the revolvers. He now was fully awake. No longer in the darkness was he stumbling on foot over the stones and ruts of the road. Instead, the day was breaking and he had under him a good horse, on which, if necessary, he could run away. The thought was comforting, and the sense of possible danger excited him delightfully. When he remembered Peter, sleeping stolidly and missing what was to come, he felt a touch of remorse. But he had been warned to bring no one with him, and of the letter to speak to no one. He would tell Peter later. But, he considered, what if there should be nothing to tell, or, if there were, what if he should not be alive to tell it? If the men who had planned to assassinate Colonel Vega intended to punish him for his interference, they could not have selected a place or hour better suited to their purpose. In all the world, apparently, he was the only soul awake. On either side of him were high hedges of the Spanish bayonet, and back of them acres of orange groves. The homes of the planters lay far from the highway, and along the sides of the road there were no houses, no lodge gates, not even a peon's thatched hut.

Roddy was approaching a sharp turn in the road, a turn to the left at almost right angles. It was marked by an impenetrable hedge. Up to now, although the hedges would have concealed a regiment, the white road itself had stretched before him, straight and open. But now the turn shut it from his sight. The guide had reached the corner. Instead of taking it, he turned in his saddle and pulled his pony to a walk.

To Roddy the act seemed significant. It was apparent that they had arrived at their rendezvous. Sharply, Roddy also brought his pony to a walk, and with a heavy pull on the reins moved slowly forward. The guide drew to the right and halted. To Roddy's excited imagination this manoeuvre could have but one explanation. The man was withdrawing himself from a possible line of fire. Shifting the reins to his left hand, Roddy let the other fall upon his revolver. Holding in the pony and bending forward, Roddy peered cautiously around the corner.

What he saw was so astonishing, so unlike what he expected, so utterly out of place, that, still leaning forward, still with his hand on his revolver, he stared stupidly.

For half a mile the road lay empty, but directly in front of him, blocking the way, was a restless, pirouetting pony, and seated upon the pony, unmoved either by his gyrations or by the appearance of a stranger in her path, was a young girl.

As Roddy had cautiously made his approach he had in his mind a picture of skulking Venezuelans with pointed carbines; his ears were prepared for a command to throw up his hands, for the slap of a bullet. He had convinced himself that around the angle of the impenetrable hedge this was the welcome that awaited him. And when he was confronted by a girl who apparently was no more a daughter of Venezuela than she was a masked highwayman, his first thought was that this must be some innocent foreigner stumbling in upon the ambush. In alarm for her safety his eyes searched the road beyond her, the hedges on either side. If she remained for an instant longer he feared she might be the witness to a shocking tragedy, that she herself might even become a victim. But the road lay empty, in the hedges of spiked cactus not a frond stirred; and the aged man who had led him to the rendezvous sat motionless, watchful but undisturbed.

(Illustration: Shifting the reins to his left hand, Roddy let the other fall upon his revolver.)

Roddy again turned to the girl and found her closely observing him. He sank back in his saddle and took off his hat. Still scanning the hedges, he pushed his pony beside hers and spoke quickly.

"Pardon me," he said, "but I think you had better ride on. Some men are coming here. They--they may be here now."

That his anxiety was entirely on her account was obvious. The girl colored slightly, and smiled. As she smiled, Roddy for the first time was looking directly at her, and as he looked his interest in assassins and his anxiety as to what they might do passed entirely from him. For months he had not seen a girl of his own people, and that this girl was one of his own people he did not question. Had he first seen her on her way to mass, with a lace shawl across her shoulders, with a high comb and mantilla, he would have declared her to be Spanish, and of the highest type of Spanish beauty. Now, in her linen riding-skirt and mannish coat and stock, with her hair drawn back under a broad-brimmed hat of black straw, she reminded him only of certain girls with whom he had cantered along the Ocean Drive at Newport or under the pines of Aiken. How a young woman so habited had come to lose herself in a lonely road in Curacao was incomprehensible. Still, it was not for him to object. That the gods had found fit to send her there was, to Roddy, sufficient in itself, and he was extremely grateful. But that fact was too apparent. Though he was unconscious of it, the pleasure in his eyes was evident. He still was too startled to conceal his admiration.

The girl frowned, her slight, boyish figure grew more erect.

"My name is Rojas," she said. "My father is General Rojas. I was told you wished to help him, and last night I sent you a note asking you to meet me here."

She spoke in even, matter-of-fact tones. As she spoke she regarded Roddy steadily. When, the night before, Inez had sent the note, she had been able only to guess as to what manner of man it might be with whom she was making a rendezvous at daybreak, in a lonely road. And she had been more than anxious. Now that she saw him she recognized the type and was reassured. But that he was worthy of the secret she wished to confide in him she had yet to determine. As she waited for him to disclose himself she was to all outward appearances tranquilly studying him. But inwardly her heart was trembling, and it was with real relief that, when she told him her name, she saw his look of admiration disappear, and in his eyes come pity and genuine feeling.

"Oh!" gasped Roddy unhappily, his voice filled with concern. "Oh, I am sorry!"

The girl slightly inclined her head.

"I came to ask you," she began, speaking with abrupt directness, "what you propose to do?"

It was a most disconcerting question. Not knowing what he proposed to do, Roddy, to gain time, slipped to the ground and, hat in hand, moved close to the pommel of her saddle. As he did not answer, the girl spoke again, this time in a tone more kindly. "And to ask why you wish to help us?"

As though carefully considering his reply, Roddy scowled, but made no answer. In a flash it had at last come to him that what to Peter and to himself had seemed a most fascinating game was to others a struggle, grim and momentous. He recognized that until now General Rojas had never been to him a flesh-and-blood person, that he had not appreciated that his rescue meant actual life and happiness. He had considered him rather as one of the pieces in a game of chess, which Peter and himself were secretly playing against the Commandant of the San Carlos prison. And now, here, confronting him, was a human being, living, breathing, suffering, the daughter of this chessman, bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh, demanding of the stranger by what right he made himself her father's champion, by what right he pushed himself into the tragedy of the Rojas family. In his embarrassment Roddy decided desperately to begin at the very beginning, to tell the exact truth, to omit nothing, and then to throw himself upon the mercy of the court.

The gray mist of the morning had lifted. Under the first warm rays of the sun, like objects developing on a photographer's plate, the cactus points stood out sharp and clear, the branches of the orange trees separated, assuming form and outline, the clusters of fruit took on a faint touch of yellow. From the palace yard in distant Willemstad there drifted toward them the boom of the morning gun.

With his reins over his arm, his sombrero crumpled in his hands, his face lifted to the face of the girl, Roddy stood in the road at attention, like a trooper reporting to his superior officer.

"We were in the tea-house of the Hundred and One Steps," said Roddy. "We called ourselves the White Mice."

Speaking quickly he brought his story down to the present moment. When he had finished, Inez, who had been bending toward him, straightened herself in the saddle and sat rigidly erect. Her lips and brows were drawn into two level lines, her voice came to him from an immeasurable distance.

"Then it was a joke?" she said.

"A joke!" cried Roddy hotly. "That's most unfair. If you will only give us permission we'll prove to you that it is no joke. Perhaps, as I told it, it sounded heartless. I told it badly. What could I say--that I am sorry? Could I, a stranger, offer sympathy to you? But we _are sorry. Ever since Peter proposed it, ever since I saw your father----"

The girl threw herself forward, trembling. Her eyes opened wide.

"You saw my father!" she exclaimed. "Tell me," she begged, "did he look well? Did he speak to you? When did you--" she stopped suddenly, and turning her face from him, held her arm across her eyes.

"It was four months ago," said Roddy. "I was not allowed to speak to him. We bowed to each other. That was all."

"I must tell them," cried the girl, "they must know that I have seen some one who has seen him. But if they know I have seen you----"

She paused; as though asking advice she looked questioningly at Roddy. He shook his head.

"I don't understand," he said.

"My mother and sister don't know that I am here," Inez told him. "If they did they would be very angry. No one," she added warningly, "must know. They are afraid of you. They cannot understand why you offer to help us. And they mistrust you. That is why I had to see you here in this way." With a shrug of distaste the girl glanced about her. "Fortunately," she added, "you understand."

"Why, yes," Roddy assented doubtfully. "I understand your doing what _you did, but I don't understand the others. Who is it," he asked, "who mistrusts me? Who," he added smiling, "besides yourself?"

"My mother," answered Inez directly, "your consul, Captain Codman, Colonel Vega, and----"

In surprise, Roddy laughed and raised his eyebrows.

"Vega!" he exclaimed. "Why should Vega mistrust me?" Knowing what was in his mind, the girl made him a formal little bow.

"It is not," she answered, "because you saved his life." In obvious embarrassment she added: "It is because you are not in the confidence of your father. You can see that that must make it difficult for Colonel Vega."

Bewildered, Roddy stared at her and again laughed.

"And what possible interest," he demanded, "can _my father have in Colonel Vega?"

For a moment, with distrust written clearly in her eyes, the girl regarded him reproachfully. Then she asked coldly:

"Do you seriously wish me to think that you do _not know that?"

While they had been speaking, even when Inez had made it most evident to Roddy that to herself and to her friends he was a discredited person, he had smiled patiently. His good humor had appeared unassailable. But now his eyes snapped indignantly. He pressed his lips together and made Inez an abrupt bow.

"I assure you, I know nothing," he said quickly.

He threw the reins over the neck of the pony, and with a slap on its flank drove it across the road within reach of the waiting Pedro. Then lifting his hat, and with another bow, he started in the direction of Willemstad. Inez, too surprised to speak, sat staring after him. But before he had taken a dozen steps, as though she had called him back and asked him to explain, he halted and returned. He had entirely recovered his good humor, but his manner when he spoke was not conciliatory.

"The trouble is this," he said, "your friends are so deep in plots that they have lost sight of the thing that counts. While they are 'mistrusting,' and suspecting, and spying on each other, a man is dying. I know that much, anyway. That is all I care to know." As though it were an extenuating fact, he added: "It is a question of character. It is a Venezuelan way of doing things. But it is not our way. It was very kind of you to give me this chance to explain our interfering. But I see now--everybody," he added dryly, "has taken pains to make it very plain--that we are a nuisance." He paused, and to assure her it was not she he was upbraiding, smiled cheerfully. In his most confidential manner he continued lightly: "For myself, I have always thought there was something to say for the fools who rush in where angels fear to tread. I remember once seeing a fool rush into a burning building and rescue a child, while I and some other angels shouted for ladders." He nodded, and again lifted his hat. "Good-by," he said, "and thank you." Leaving her seated silent in the saddle, he walked away.

This time he had turned the bend in the road and had proceeded along it some hundred yards, when from behind him he heard approaching at a reckless pace the hoof-beats of a pony. Looking back, he saw a whirlwind of fluttering skirts and scattered sparks and pebbles. Inez, followed by Pedro, drew up even with him; and as she dragged her pony to a halt, threw herself free of the pommel and dropped at his feet to the road. Had he not caught her by the shoulders she would have stumbled into his arms. A strand of hair had fallen across her face, her eyes were eager, flashing. She raised her gloved hands impulsively, and clasped them before him.

"Please!" she begged. "You must not go. It is true--what you say about us, but you must help us. I did not know. I had forgotten. It is three years since I talked to any one--any one from your country. I had forgotten. It is true; we are suspicious, we are _not straightforward like you, like the people in the States. But you must not punish us for that. Not _me_!"

At all times the face raised to his was beautiful. Now, the delicate lips, like those of a child before it breaks into sobs, were trembling, the eyes, lifted appealingly, were eloquent with tears.

"You must advise me," said the girl. "You must help me."

She raised her clasped hands higher. She regarded him wistfully, "Won't you?" she begged.

Her attack had been swift, masterly; every feminine weapon had been brought into effective action; and the surrender of Roddy was sudden, and complete. In abject submission he proceeded incoherently:

"My dear young lady!" he cried. "But, my dear young _lady_!"

He was rewarded with a brilliant, blinding smile.

"Then you _will help me?" Inez asked.

Roddy recovered himself quickly.

"My Spanish is very bad," he answered, "but what it sounds like in English is, 'I am at your feet.'"

The sun now was shining brightly, and in the open road they were as conspicuous as though they had stood in a shop window on Broadway. Across the road, in the hedge opposite, a gate barred a path that led into one of the plantations. Roddy opened the gate, and together, followed by Pedro with the ponies, they found a spot where they were hidden by the hedge from any one passing on the highway. Inez halted in the shade of one of the orange trees. Speaking rapidly, she sketched for Roddy a brief history of the various efforts that had been made to rescue her father. She explained why these efforts had failed. She told him of the revolution led by Pino Vega, and the good it was expected to accomplish.

At first the girl spoke in some embarrassment. She knew that to be where she was, at that hour, alone with a stranger, was, in the eyes of her friends and family, an unpardonable offense. And though she resented their point of view, the fact that it existed disquieted her. But the man at her side did not seem to consider talking to a girl in the open sunshine either as a novel experience or one especially disgraceful. Politely, with lowered eyes, he gave to what she said the closest attention. The circumstance that they were alone, even the fact that she was young and attractive, did not once appear to occur to him. Seeing this, Inez with each succeeding moment gained confidence in Roddy and in herself and spoke freely.

"That is what we have tried to do," she said. "Now I am going to tell you why I asked you to meet me here this morning, and how I believe you can help me. Three days ago I received a message from my father."

Roddy exclaimed with interest, but motioned eagerly for her to continue.

"It is in cipher," she continued, "but it is his handwriting. It is unmistakable. It was given to me when I was at church. I was kneeling in the chapel of St. Agnes, which is in the darkest corner of the building. At first I was alone, and then a woman came and knelt close beside me. She was a negress, poorly dressed, and her face was hidden by her shawl. For a moment I thought she was murmuring her prayers, and then I found she was repeating certain words and that she was talking at me. 'I have a letter, a letter from your father,' she whispered. I crowded closer, and she dropped a piece of paper in front of me and then got to her feet and hurried away. I followed, but there were many people at mass, and when I had reached the street she had disappeared. The message she brought me is this: 'Page 54, paragraph 4.' That is all. It is the second message we have had from my father in two years. The first one was by word of mouth, and came a month ago. The meaning of that was only too plain. But what this one means I cannot imagine, nor," proceeded Inez with distress, "can I see why, if he had the chance to write to us, he did not write more openly."

She looked appealingly at Roddy, and paused for him to speak.

"He was afraid the message would be intercepted," said Roddy. "What he probably means to do is to send it to you in two parts. The second message will be the key that explains this one. He knew if he wrote plainly, and it fell into the wrong hands--" Roddy interrupted himself, and for a moment remained silent. "'Page 54, paragraph 4,'" he repeated. "Has he sent you a book?" he asked. "Has any book come to you anonymously?"

The girl shook her head. "No, I thought of that," she said, "but no books have come to us that we haven't ordered ourselves."

"What do the others think?" asked Roddy.

The girl colored slightly and shook her head.

"I have not told them. I knew my mother would ask Pino to help her, and," she explained, "though I like Pino, for certain reasons I do not wish to be indebted to him for the life of my father. Before appealing to him I have been trying for two days to find out the meaning of the cipher, but I could not do it, and I was just about to show it to my mother when Captain Codman told us of your offer. That made me hesitate. And then, as between you and Pino, I decided you were better able to help us. You live in Porto Cabello, within sight of the prison. Pino will be in the field. His revolution may last a month, it may last for years. During that time he would do nothing to help my father. When you risked being shot yesterday, it seemed to me you showed you had spirit, and also, _you are from the States, and Pino is a Venezuelan, so----"

"You needn't take up the time of the court," said Roddy, "in persuading me that I am the man to help you. To save time I will concede that. What was the other message you received from your father?"

The eyes of the girl grew troubled and her voice lost its eagerness.

"It was charged in a French paper," she said, "that the prisoners in San Carlos were being killed by neglect. The French minister is a friend of our family, and he asked Alvarez to appoint a committee of doctors to make an investigation. Alvarez was afraid to refuse, and sent the doctors to examine my father and report on his health. One of them told him that Alvarez would permit him to send a message to my mother, and to tell her himself whether he was, or was not, ill. This is the message that they gave us as coming from my father.

"'I don't know what you gentlemen may decide as to my health,' he said, 'but _I know that I am dying. Tell my wife that I wish to be buried in my native country, and to place upon my tombstone my name and this epitaph: "He wrote history, and made history."'" The voice of the girl had dropped to a whisper. She recovered herself and continued sadly: "Until three days ago that is the only word we have received from my father in two years."

The expression on Roddy's face was one of polite incredulity. Seeing this, Inez, as though answering his thought, said proudly: "My father made history when he arranged the boundary line between British Guiana and Venezuela."

Roddy shook his head impatiently.

"I wasn't thinking of that," he said. "I was thinking of the message. It doesn't sound a bit like your father," he exclaimed. "Not like what _I've heard of him."

The eyes of the girl grew anxious with disappointment.

"Do you mean," she asked, "that you think he did _not send that message?"

"It doesn't sound to me," said Roddy, "like the sort of message he would send, knowing the pain it would cause. He isn't the sort of man to give up hope, either. Even if it were true, why should he tell your mother he is dying? And that epitaph!" cried Roddy excitedly. "_That's not like him, either! It is not modest." With sudden eagerness he leaned toward her. "_Did your father write history?" he demanded.

Unable to see the purpose of his question, the girl gazed at him in bewilderment. "Why, of course," she answered.

"And does any part of it refer to Porto Cabello?"

After a moment of consideration Inez nodded. "The third chapter," she said, "tells of the invasion by Sir Francis Drake."

"'Chapter three, page fifty-four, paragraph four!'" shouted Roddy. "I'll bet my head on it! Don't you see what he has done?" he cried. "He sent you the key before he sent you the cipher. The verbal message is the key to the written one. They gave him a chance to send word to your mother, and he took it. He told her he was dying only that he might give her a direction, apparently about an epitaph, a boastful epitaph. He never boasted while he was alive--why should he boast on his tombstone? His real message is this: 'Look in the history I wrote of Venezuela, on page fifty-four, paragraph four,' and when we have found it," cried Roddy, "we'll have found the way to get him out of prison!"

Inez was not convinced, but his enthusiasm was most inspiriting.

"We have the history at the house," she cried, "and I know you can find it in the Spanish bookstore in Willemstad. I must go at once."

She moved forward, greatly excited, her eyes lit with the happiness of this new hope. Roddy ran to bring her pony, and making a bridge of his hands lifted her to the saddle. "If I am right about this," he said, "I must see you again to-day. Where can I meet you?"

In spite of her eagerness, the girl hesitated. One by one the traditions of a lifetime were smashing about her.

"I _must tell my mother," she pleaded. "And I know she will not allow me----"

"And she'll tell Pino," interrupted Roddy. To detain her, he laid his hand upon the reins and shook them sharply.

"Are you helping Pino to win a revolution," he demanded, "or are you helping me to get your father out of prison?"

Inez gazed at him in dismay. In her brief twenty-two years no man had spoken to her in such a manner. Among her friends she knew of no Venezuelan who, no matter what the provocation, would have addressed his wife, his sister, his daughter in a tone so discourteous. And yet this stranger was treating her, who, as she had been frequently and reliably informed, was the loveliest and most lovable of her sex, as he might a mutinous younger brother. In spite of the new and serious thought that now occupied her mind, this one was also sufficiently novel to compel her attention. It both amused and fascinated her. Here was at last one man who was working to help her father, and not only in order to find favor in her bright eyes. He needed her wits and her courage; he wanted her help, but he wanted it as from a comrade, as he would have asked it of another man. Unconsciously he was paying her the compliment that best pleased her. When she nodded in assent she laughed delightedly, partly at him for bullying, partly at herself that she should for a moment have resented it.

"I am helping _you_!" she said.

Not understanding why she laughed, Roddy regarded her doubtfully.

Imitating the directness of his manner, Inez spoke quickly. "You can keep the pony. It is new to our stable and not known to belong to us. To-morrow morning, before sunrise, ride out again, but this time take the road to Otrabanda and along the cliff. Be sure to pass our house before sunrise. Ride about a mile and turn down a bridle-path to your left. That will bring you to the beach. If I cannot go, Pedro will meet you. You will get the history my father wrote at Belancourts, in Willemstad." For a moment she regarded him with friendly eyes. "If you should be right," she exclaimed, "how can I ever thank you?"

Roddy smiled back at her and shook his head.

"I don't know that we were exactly looking for gratitude," he said. "Now, go!" he ordered, "for I can't leave until you are well out of sight."

With another delightful laugh, that to Roddy was again inexplicable, the girl accepted her dismissal. It was her first rendezvous, but, in spite of her inexperience, she knew that had it been made with a Venezuelan the man would not have been the one first to bring it to an end.

Roddy impatiently waited until a quarter of an hour had passed, then galloped to Willemstad. On the way he put up the pony at a livery-stable in the suburbs, and on foot made his way as quickly as possible to the bookstore. What he wanted, he explained, were guidebooks and histories of Venezuela. Among those the man showed him was one in three volumes, in Spanish, by Senor Don Miguel Rojas. Roddy's fingers itched to open it, but he restrained himself and, after buying half a dozen other books, returned to his hotel. Peter was still asleep, and he could not wait to waken him. Locking himself in, he threw the books he did not want upon the floor, and, with fingers that were all thumbs, fumbled at the first volume of the history until he had found page fifty-four. His eyes ran down it to the fourth paragraph. His knowledge of Spanish was slight, but it was sufficient. Page fifty-four was the description of an attack from the sea by Drake, upon the Fortress of San Carlos. Translated by Roddy, paragraph four read as follows: "Seeing that it was no longer possible to hold the fortress, the defenders were assembled in the guard-room, and from there conducted to the mainland, through the tunnel that connects San Carlos with the Fortress of El Morro."

Like a man in a trance, Roddy walked to the adjoining room and shook the sleeping Peter by the shoulder. Peter opened his eyes, and the look in Roddy's face startled him into instant wakefulness.

"What's wrong?" he demanded.

"Nothing!" said Roddy. Forgetting that to Peter it was unintelligible, he pointed with a triumphant finger at paragraph four.

"I have found an underground passage into the cell of General Rojas," he said. "We must go back and dig him out."

In order to avoid the heat, those planters who lived some distance from Willemstad were in the habit of rising by candlelight, and when the sun rose it found them well advanced upon their journey. So when on the following morning Roddy again set forth to meet Inez Rojas, the few servants who knew of his early departure accepted it, and the excuse he gave of wild-pigeon shooting, as a matter of course.

Without difficulty Roddy found the bridle-path leading down from the cliff road to the sea, and after riding for a short distance along the beach came upon Inez, guarded by the faithful Pedro. The cliff, hollowed at its base by the sea, hung over them, hiding them from any one on the cliff road, and the waves, breaking into spray on an outer barrier of rock, shut them from the sight of those at sea.

As Inez rose from the rock on which she had been seated and came eagerly to meet him, her face was radiant with happiness. Over night she appeared to have gained in health and strength, to have grown younger, and, were it possible, more beautiful. The satisfaction in the eyes of Roddy assured her that he, also, had solved the riddle.

"You have seen the book," she called; "you understand?"

"I think so," replied Roddy. "Anyway, I've got a sort of blueprint idea of it. Enough," he added, "to work on."

"I didn't tell my mother," Inez announced. "Nor," she continued, as though defying her own misgivings, "do I mean to tell her. Until you can get back word to me, until you say that _this time you believe we may hope, it seems to me it would be kinder to keep her in ignorance. But I told Pedro," she added. She flashed a grateful smile at the old man, and he bowed and smiled eagerly in return. "And he has been able to help me greatly. He tells me," she went on, "that his father, who was in the artillery, was often stationed at Morro before it was abandoned. That was fifty years ago. The tunnel was then used daily and every one knew of it. But when the troops were withdrawn from Morro the passage was walled up and each end blocked with stone. In San Carlos it opened into the guard-room. El Morro was hardly a fortress. It was more of a signal-station. Originally, in the days of the pirates, it was used as a lookout. Only a few men were kept on guard there, and only by day. They slept and messed at San Carlos. Each morning they were assembled in the guard-room, and from there marched through the tunnel to El Morro, returning again at sunset."

"I don't know El Morro," said Roddy.

"You have probably seen it," Inez explained, "without knowing it was a fort. It's in ruins now. Have you noticed," she asked, "to the right of the town, a little hill that overlooks the harbor? It is just above the plain where the cattle are corralled until they are shipped to Cuba. Well, the ruins of El Morro are on top of that hill. It is about a quarter of a mile from San Carlos, so we know that is the length of the tunnel. Pedro tells me, for a part of the way it runs under the water of the harbor. It was cut through the solid rock by the prisoners at San Carlos."

"There must be a lot of people," objected Roddy, "who know of it."

"Fifty years ago they knew of it," returned Inez eagerly, "but, remember, for half a century it has virtually ceased to exist. And besides, to my people there is nothing unusual in such a tunnel. You will find them connected with every fort the Spaniards built along this coast, and in Cuba, and on the Isthmus of Panama. All along the Spanish Main, wherever there is more than one fort, you will find them linked together by tunnels. They were intended to protect the soldiers from the fire of the enemy while they were passing from one position to another."

The young people had been standing ankle-deep in the soft, moist sand. Now the girl moved toward her pony, but Roddy still stood looking out to sea. He appeared to have entirely forgotten that Inez was present, and to be intently regarding the waves that surged against the rocks, and burst into glittering walls of foam. At last, with a serious countenance, he came toward her.

"I shall tell the authorities at Porto Cabello," he said, "that they ought to build a light-house on El Morro. At any rate, I will ask permission to make a survey. As they don't intend to pay father for any of his light-houses, they are not likely to object. And as I don't intend to build one, father can't object. He will attribute my offer to mistaken zeal on behalf of the company. And he will consider it another evidence of the fact that I don't understand his business. As soon as I find out anything definite I will let you know. And, by the way," he asked, "_how am I to let you know?"

Inez gave him the address of a fellow-exile from Venezuela, living in Willemstad, who was in secret communication with Pedro. Through this man letters would reach her safely.

She turned to him in farewell, and held out her hand.

"You must be very careful," she said.

"Trust me!" answered Roddy heartily. "I promise you I'll be as mysterious a double-dealer as any Venezuelan that ever plotted a plot. I admit," he went on, "that when I came down here I was the frank, wide-eyed child, but, I assure you, I've reformed. Your people have made me a real Metternich, a genuine Machiavelli. Compared to me now, a Japanese business man is as honest and truth-loving as Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch."

With a grin, Roddy invited the girl to sympathize with his effort to conceal the seriousness of their undertaking, but she regarded him doubtfully, and frowned. In his heart Roddy felt sorry for her. It hurt him to think that any one so charming could not accept his theory, that the only way to treat a serious matter was with flippancy. But the girl undeceived him.

"You don't understand me," she said quietly. "I didn't mean to be careful to protect our interests. I meant you to be careful of yourself. If anything were to happen to you through this--" She hesitated and looked away from him toward the sea. "Do you imagine," she demanded, "that it is easy for me to ask what I am asking of you? _I know I have no right to do it. I know the only possible excuse for me is that I am not asking it for myself, but for my father--although, of course, that _is asking it for myself."

"Beauty in distress," began Roddy briskly, "is the one thing----"

"That's what I mean," interrupted the girl gratefully, "the way you take it, the way you make it easier for me. Every other man I know down here would tell me he was doing it only for me, and he would hope I would believe him. But when _you say you are helping beauty in distress, you are secretly frightened lest I may not have a sense of humor--and believe you. I know you are doing this because you feel deeply for my father. If I didn't know that, if I didn't feel that that were true, all this I have asked of you would be impossible. But it is possible, because I know you first tried to save my father of your own accord. Because I know now that it is your nature to wish to help others. Because you are brave, and you are generous."

But Roddy refused to be ennobled.

"It's because I'm a White Mice," he said. "My oath compels me! How would you like," he demanded, frowning, "if we turned you into an Honorary White Mouse?"

For an instant, with perplexed eyes and levelled brows, the girl regarded him fixedly. Then she smiled upon him. It was the same flashing, blinding smile which the morning before had betrayed him into her hands, bound and captive. It was a smile that passed swiftly, like a flash of sunshine over a garden of gay flowers. It brought out unsuspected, ambushed dimples. It did fascinating and wholly indefensible things to her lips. It filled her eyes with gracious, beautiful meanings. Inez raised her head challengingly.

"You think," she declared, "that I cannot be foolish, too. But I can. Let's sit down here on this rock and be quite foolish."

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The White Mice - Chapter 5 The White Mice - Chapter 5

The White Mice - Chapter 5
Chapter V"I can be quite as foolish as you," Inez repeated as Roddy continued to regard her. "Some day, when this is over, when you have made it all come right, we will sit out here and pretend that we have escaped from Venezuela, that we are up North in my mother's country--in your country. We will play these are the rocks at York Harbor, and we'll be quite young and quite happy. Have you ever sat on the rocks at York Harbor," she demanded eagerly, "when the spray splashed you, and the waves tried to catch your feet?"Roddy was regarding

The White Mice - Chapter 3 The White Mice - Chapter 3

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,