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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe White Mice - Chapter 6
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The White Mice - Chapter 6 Post by :mrtwist Category :Long Stories Author :Richard Harding Davis Date :May 2012 Read :2169

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The White Mice - Chapter 6

Chapter VI

At the last moment Roddy had decided against taking the water route, and, leaving his rowboat at his own wharf, had, on foot, skirted the edge of the harbor. It was high tide, and the narrow strip of shore front on which he now stood, and which ran between the garden and the Rojas' private wharf, was only a few feet in width. Overhead the moon was shining brilliantly, but a procession of black clouds caused the stone steps and the tiny summer-house at the end of the wharf to appear and disappear like slides in a magic lantern.

In one of the moments of light the figures of a man and a woman loomed suddenly in the gateway of the garden. Pedro came anxiously forward, and Roddy leaped past him up the steps. He recognized Inez with difficulty. In the fashion of the peasant women she had drawn around her head and face a fringed, silk shawl, which left only her eyes visible, and which hung from her shoulders in lines that hid her figure. Roddy eagerly stretched out his hand, but the girl raised her own in warning and, motioning him to follow, passed quickly from the steps to the wharf. At its farther end was a shelter of thatched palm leaves. The sides were open, and half of the wharf was filled with moonlight, but over the other half the roof cast a black shadow, and into this Inez passed quickly. Roddy as quickly followed. His heart was leaping in a delightful tumult. His love of adventure, of the picturesque, was deeply gratified. As he saw it, the scene was set for romance; he was once more in the presence of the girl who, though he had but twice met her, and, in spite of the fact that she had promised herself to another man, attracted him more strongly than had any woman he had ever known. And the tiny wharf, the lapping of the waves against the stone sides, the moonlight, the purpose of their meeting, all seemed combined for sentiment, for a display of the more tender emotions.

But he was quickly disillusionized. The voice that issued from the shadows was brisk and incisive.

"You know," Inez began abruptly, in sharp disapprobation, "this won't do at all!"

Had she pushed him into the cold waters of the harbor and left him to the colder charity of the harbor sharks, Roddy could not have been more completely surprised. He stared at the cloaked figure blankly.

"I _beg your pardon!" he stammered.

"You must not expect me to meet you like this," protested the girl; "it is impossible. You risk everything."

Bewildered by the nature and the unexpectedness of the attack, Roddy murmured incoherently:

"I'm _so sorry," he stammered. "I thought you would wish to know."

"What else is there I could so much wish!" protested the girl with spirit. "But not in this way."

Roddy hung his head humbly.

"I see," he murmured. "I forgot etiquette. I should have considered you."

"I was not thinking of myself!" exclaimed the girl. "A week ago I _was frightened. Tradition, training, was strong with me, and I _did think too much of how my meeting you would appear to others. But now I see it as you see it. I'll risk their displeasure, gossip, scandal, all of that, if I can only help my father. But _this will not help him. This will lead to discovery. You must not come near me, nor visit this house. My mother"--the girl hesitated--"it is hard to say," she went on quickly, "but my mother more than dislikes you--she regards you as our evil genius. She thinks you are doing all in your power to spoil the plans of your own father and of Vega. She--we have all heard of your striking Vega in defense of Alvarez. Vega is the one man she thinks can save my father. She believes you are his enemy. Therefore, you are her enemy. And she has been told, also, of the words you used to my father when your friend was permitted to visit him." With an effort the girl tried to eliminate from her voice the note of obvious impatience. "Of course," she added quickly, "the story came to us distorted. I could not see your object, but I was sure you had a motive. I was sure it was well meant!"

"Well meant!" exclaimed Roddy, but interrupted himself quickly. "All right," he said, "go on."

The girl recognized the restraint in his tone.

"You think I am unjust, ungrateful," she protested earnestly, "but, believe me, I am not. I want only to impress upon you to be careful and to show you where you stand."

"With whom?" asked Roddy.

"With my mother and Vega and with their party."

"I am more interested," said Roddy, "in knowing how I stand with you."

The girl answered quietly: "Oh, we are friends. And you know that I am deeply grateful to you because _I know what you are trying to do, the others do not."

"Suppose we tell them?" said Roddy.

The girl gave a quick exclamation of protest, and Roddy could hear rather than see her move from him. They were now quite alone. Lest any one coming from the house should discover Roddy, Pedro had been on guard at the gate. But he had seen, both above and below the wharf, mysterious, moonlit figures loitering at the edge of the water, and in order to investigate them he left his post. There was a moment of silence. On three sides the moonlight turned the tiny waves into thousands of silver mirrors, and from farther up the curving coast-line the fires in the wickerwork huts of the fishermen burned red. At their feet the water was thick with the phosphorescence, shining more brilliantly than the moonlight. And, as schools of minnows fled, darting and doubling on their course before some larger fish that leaped and splashed in pursuit, the black depths of the harbor were lit with vivid streaks, and the drops of water cast into the air flashed like sparks from an anvil.

A harbor shark, nosing up stealthily to the wharf, thought himself invisible, but the phosphorescence showed his great length and cruel head as clearly as though he wore a suit of flame.

"Suppose you tell them?" repeated Roddy.

The girl spoke with evident reluctance.

"I cannot," she said, "and the reason why I cannot is quite foolish, absurd. But their minds are full of it. In some way Vega learned of our meeting. He believes it was by accident, but, nevertheless, he also believes--why I can't imagine--that you are interested in me."

As though fearful Roddy would speak, she continued quickly. She spoke in impersonal, matter-of-fact tones that suggested that in the subject at hand she herself was in no way involved.

"My mother was already prejudiced against you because she thought that, for the sake of adventure, you were risking the life of my father. And this last suggestion of Vega's has added to her prejudice."

As though waiting for Roddy to make some comment or ask some question, the girl hesitated.

"I see," said Roddy.

"No, I am afraid you cannot see," said Inez, "unless you know the facts. I am sorry to weary you with family secrets, but, if you know them, my mother's prejudice is more easy to understand. Colonel Vega wishes to marry me. My mother also desires it. That is why they are hostile to you."

The young girl gave an exclamation of impatience.

"It is ridiculous," she protested, "that such an absurd complication should be brought into a matter of life and death. But there it is. And for that reason it would be folly to tell them of your purpose. They would accept nothing from your hands. You must continue to work alone, and you must not come near me nor try to speak to me. If it is absolutely necessary to communicate with me, write what you have to tell me; or, better still, give a verbal message to Pedro." She made an abrupt movement. "I must go!" she exclaimed. "I told them I would walk in the garden, and they may follow."

At the thought she gave a little gasp of alarm.

"Surely it is not as serious as that?" Roddy objected.

"Quite," returned the girl. "To them, what I am doing now is unpardonable. But I was afraid to write you. A letter may sound so harsh, it can be so easily misread. I did not wish to offend you, so I risked seeing you this way--for the last time."

"For the last time," repeated Roddy.

Inez made a movement to go.

"Wait!" he commanded. "Do you come often to this place?"

"Yes," said the girl, and then, answering the possible thought back of the question, she added: "My mother and sister come here with me every evening--for the sake of the harbor breeze--at least we used to do so. Why?" she demanded.

In her voice was a note of warning.

"I was thinking," said Roddy, "I could row past here in my boat, far out, where no one could see me. But I could see you."

Inez gave a quick sigh of exasperation.

"You will _not understand!" she exclaimed. "Why," she demanded, "after all I have told you, after my taking this risk to make it plain to you that you must _not see me, do you still persist?"

"As you wish," answered Roddy quietly, but his tone showed that his purpose to see her was unchanged. Inez heard him laugh happily. He moved suddenly toward her. "Why do I persist?" he asked. His voice, sunken to a whisper, was eager, mocking. In it she discerned a new note. It vibrated with feeling. "Why do I persist?" he whispered. "Because you are the most wonderful person I have ever met. Because if I did not persist I'd despise myself. Since I last saw you I have thought of nothing but _you_, I have been miserable for the sight of _you_. You can forbid me seeing you, but you can't take away from me what you have given me--the things you never knew you gave me."

The girl interrupted him sharply.

"Mr. Forrester!" she cried.

Roddy went on, as though she had not spoken.

"I had to tell you," he exclaimed. "Until I told you I couldn't sleep. It has been in my head, in my heart, every moment since I saw you. You _had to know. And this night!" he exclaimed. As though calling upon them to justify him he flung out his arms toward the magic moonlight, the flashing waves, the great fronds of the palms rising above the wall of the garden. "You have given me," he cried, "the most beautiful thing that has come into my life, and on a night like this I _had to speak. I had to thank you. On such a night as this," Roddy cried breathlessly, "Jessica stole from Shylock's house to meet her lover. On such a night as this Leander swam the Hellespont. And on this night I had to tell you that to me you are the most wonderful and beautiful woman in the world."

How Inez Rojas, bewildered, indignant, silent only through astonishment, would have met this attack, Roddy never knew, for Pedro, leaping suddenly from the shore, gave her no time to answer. Trembling with excitement, the Venezuelan spoke rapidly.

"You must go!" he commanded. He seized Roddy by the arm and tried to drag him toward the garden. "The police! They surround the house."

With his free hand he pointed at two figures, each carrying a lantern, who approached rapidly along the shore from either direction.

"They are spying upon all who enter. If they find _you_!" In an agony of alarm the old man tossed up his hands.

Under his breath Roddy cursed himself impotently for a fool. He saw that again he would compromise the girl he had just told he held in high regard, that he would put in jeopardy the cause for which he had boasted to her he would give his life. Furious, and considering only in what way he could protect Inez, he stood for a moment at a loss. From either side the swinging lanterns drew nearer. In his rear his retreat was cut off by the harbor. Only the dark shadows of Miramar offered a refuge.

"Quick!" commanded Inez. "You must hide in the garden." Her voice was cold with displeasure. "When they have gone Pedro will tell you and you will leave. And," she added, "you will see that you do not return."

The words sobered Roddy. They left him smarting, and they left him quite cool. After her speech he could not accept the hospitality of the garden. And his hiding there might even further compromise her. He saw only one way out; to rush the nearest policeman and in the uncertain light, hope, unrecognized, to escape. But even that chance left the police free to explain, in their own way, why the Senorita Rojas was in the company of a man who fled before them.

"Do you hear?" whispered Inez. "Hide yourself!"

With a cry of dismay Pedro forced Roddy into the shadow.

"It is too late!" he exclaimed.

Standing in the gateway of the garden, clearly illuminated by the moonlight, stood Senora Rojas, with her arm in that of Pino Vega.

In spite of himself, Roddy emitted an excited chuckle. In the presence of such odds his self-reproaches fell from him. He felt only a pleasing thrill of danger. This was no time for regrets or upbraidings. The situation demanded of him only quick action and that he should keep his head. As Roddy now saw it, he was again the base-runner, beset in front and rear. He missed only the shouts and cheers of thousands of partisans. The players of the other side were closing in and shortening the distance in which he could turn and run. They had him in a trap, and, in another instant, the ball would touch him. It was quite time, Roddy decided, to "slide!" Still hidden by the shadow of the thatched roof, he dropped at the feet of Inez, and, before she could understand his purpose, had turned quickly on his face and lowered himself into the harbor. There was a faint splash and a shower of phosphorescence. Roddy's fingers still clung to the edge of the wharf, and Inez, sinking to her knees, brought her face close to his.

"Come back!" she commanded. "Come back! You will drown!" She gave a sudden gasp of horror. "The sharks!" she whispered. "You could not live a moment." With both hands she dragged at his sleeve.

Roddy cast a quick glance at the moon. A friendly cloud was hastening to his aid. He saw that if, for a moment longer, he could remain concealed, he would under cover of the brief eclipse, be able to swim to safety. He drew free of Inez, and, treading water, fearful even to breathe, watched the lanterns of the police halt at the wharf.

The voice of Senora Rojas rose in anxious inquiry.

"Is that you, Inez?" she called.

There was no reply. Concerned as to what struggle of conscience might not be going on in the mind of the girl, Roddy threw his arm across the edge of the wharf and drew his shoulders clear of the water. In the shadow Inez was still kneeling, her face was still close to his.

"Answer her!" commanded Roddy. "I'm all right." He laughed softly, mockingly. He raised his head nearer. "'On such a night,'" he whispered, "'Leander swam the Hellespont.' Why? Because he loved her!"

With an exclamation, partly of exasperation, partly of relief at finding the man did not consider himself in danger, Inez rose to her feet and stepped into the moonlight.

"Yes, I am here," she called. "I am with Pedro."

At the same moment the black cloud swept across the moon, and, with the stealth and silence of a water rat, Roddy slipped from the wharf and struck out toward the open harbor.

At the gate the two policemen raised their lanterns and swung them in the face of Senora Rojas.

Vega turned upon them fiercely.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded. "Do you wish to know who I am? Well, I am Colonel Vega. Report that to your chief. Go!"

With a gesture he waved the men to one side, and, saluting sulkily, they moved away.

When they had gone Senora Rojas sighed with relief, but the hand that rested upon the arm of Vega trembled.

"My dear lady!" he protested. "When I am here no harm can come."

Vega hoped that Inez had heard him. He trusted, also, that she had observed the manner in which he had addressed the police, and how, awed by his authority, they had slunk away. But Inez had not observed him.

With her hands pressed against her breast, her eyes filled with fear, she was watching in fascinated horror a thin ripple of phosphorescence that moved leisurely and steadily out to sea.

(Illustration: On such a night, Leander swam the Hellespont.)

* * * * *

In the _patio of Roddy's house Peter was reclining in a steamer-chair. At his elbow was a long drink, and between his fingers a long cigar. Opposite him, in another chair, was stretched young Vicenti. At midnight, on his way home from visiting a patient, the doctor, seeing a light in the court-yard of Roddy's house, had clamored for admittance. To Peter the visit was most ill-timed. Roddy had now been absent for four hours, and the imagination of his friend was greatly disturbed. He knew for what purpose Roddy had set forth, and he pictured him pierced with a bullet as he climbed the garden wall, or a prisoner behind the bars of the _cartel_. He was in no mood to entertain visitors, but the servants were in bed, and when Vicenti knocked, Peter himself had opened the door. On any other night the doctor would have been most welcome. He was an observing young man, and his residence in the States enabled him to take the point of view of Peter and Roddy, and his comments upon their country and his own were amusing. For his attack upon General Rojas he had been greatly offended with Roddy, but the American had written him an apology, and by this late and informal visit Vicenti intended to show that they were again friends.

But, for Peter, it was a severe test of self-control. Each moment his fears for Roddy's safety increased, and of his uneasiness, in the presence of the visitor, he dared give no sign. It was with a feeling of genuine delight that he heard from the garden a mysterious whistle.

"Who's there?" he challenged.

"Is anybody with you?" The voice was strangely feeble, but it was the voice of Roddy.

"Our friend Vicenti," Peter cried, warningly.

At the same moment, Roddy, clad simply in his stockings, and dripping with water, stood swaying in the doorway.

"For Heaven's sake!" protested Peter.

Roddy grinned foolishly, and unclasping his hands from the sides of the door, made an unsteady start toward the table on which stood the bottles and glasses.

"I want a drink," he murmured.

"You want quinine!" cried Vicenti indignantly. "How dared you go swimming at night! It was madness! If the fever----"

He flew into the hall where he had left his medicine-case, and Peter ran for a bathrobe. As they returned with them there was a crash of broken glass, and when they reached the _patio they found Roddy stretched at length upon the stones.

At the same moment a little, old man sprang from the garden and knelt beside him. It was Pedro.

"He is dead!" he cried, "he is dead!"

His grief was so real that neither Peter nor Vicenti could suppose he was other than a friend, and without concerning himself as to how he had been so suddenly precipitated into the scene, Vicenti, as he poured brandy between Roddy's teeth, commanded Pedro to rub and beat his body. Coughing and choking, Roddy signalized his return to consciousness by kicking the little man in the stomach.

"Ah, he lives!" cried Pedro. He again dropped upon his knees and, crossing himself, prayed his thanks.

Roddy fell into the bathrobe and into the steamer chair. Sighing luxuriously, he closed his eyes.

"Such a fool, to faint," he murmured. "So ashamed. Made a bet--with harbor sharks. Bet them, could not get me. I win." He opened his eyes and stared dully at Pedro. "Hello!" he said, "there's good old Pedro. What you doing here, Pedro?"

The old man, now recovered from his fear on Roddy's account, was in fresh alarm as to his own, and, glancing at Vicenti, made a movement to escape into the garden.

Roddy waved Vicenti and Peter into the hall.

"Go away," he commanded. "He wants to talk to me."

"But I must not leave you," protested the doctor. "Now I am here as your physician, not as your guest."

"A moment," begged Roddy, "a moment." His eyes closed and his head fell back. Pedro bent over him.

"She sent me," he whispered eagerly. "She could not sleep. She must know to-night if you live. I hid myself in your garden, and I wait and I wait. But you do not come, and I despair. And then," cried the old man joyfully, "the miracle! Now my mistress can sleep in peace."

Roddy lay so still that had it not been for his sharp breathing Pedro would have thought he had again fainted. With a sudden, sharp cry Roddy opened his eyes. His clenched fists beat feebly on the arms of the chair.

"It's a lie!" he shouted fiercely, "it's a lie!" His eyes were wide and staring. Vicenti, returning hastily, looked into them and, with an exclamation, drew back.

"The fever!" he said.

Roddy was shouting wildly.

"It's a lie!" he cried. "She did _not send you. She does not care whether I drown or live. She loves Pino Vega. She will marry----"

Peter, with his arm around Roddy's neck, choked him, and held his hand over his mouth.

"Be still," he entreated, "for God's sake, be still!" He looked fearfully at Vicenti, but the young doctor, though his eyes were wide with astonishment, made an impatient gesture.

"Help me get him to bed," Vicenti commanded briskly. "Take his other arm."

With the strength the fever lent him, Roddy hurled the two men from him.

"She and Vega--they stood on the wharf," he shouted, "you understand? They laughed at me. And then the sharks smelt me out and followed; and I couldn't hide because the harbor was on fire. I struck at them and screamed, but I couldn't shake them off; they dived and turned; they crept up on me stealthily, in great circles. They were waiting for me to drown. Whichever way I swam I saw them, under me, on every side! They lit the water with great streaks of flame. And she and Vega pointed me out and laughed."

"Stop him!" shrieked Peter. "You _must not listen! Give him morphine! Dope him! Stop him!"

Roddy wrenched his wrists free and ran to Pedro, clutching him by the shoulders.

"But _we'll save him!" he cried. "_We'll set him free! Because he is an old man. Because he is a great man. Because he is her father. We'll make him President!" His voice soared exultantly. "To hell with Vega!" he shouted. "To hell with Alvarez!" He flung up his arms into the air. "Viva Rojas!" he cried.

Peter turned on Vicenti and shook his fist savagely in his face.

"What you've heard," he threatened, "you've heard under the seal of your profession."

But the eyes that looked into his were as wild as those of the man driven with fever. The face of the Venezuelan was jubilant, exalted, like that of a worshipping fanatic.

"The truth!" he whispered breathlessly, "the truth!"

"The boy is raving mad," protested Peter. "He doesn't mean it. You have heard nothing!"

From the servants' quarters there came the sound of hurrying footsteps.

In alarm, Vicenti glanced in that direction, and then came close to Peter, seizing him by the arm.

"If he's mad," he whispered fiercely, "then _I am mad, and I know ten thousand more as mad as he."

When the sun rose dripping out of the harbor, Vicenti and Peter walked into the garden.

"I can leave him now," said the doctor. He looked at Peter's white face and the black rings around his eyes, and laughed. "When he wakes," he said, "he will be in much better health than you or I."

"He certainly gave us a jolly night," sighed Peter, "and I shall never thank you enough for staying by me and Pedro. When a man I've roomed with for two years can't make up his mind whether I am I or a shark, it gets on my nerves."

A few hours later, in another garden half a mile distant, Pedro was telling his young mistress of the night just past. The tears stood in his eyes and his hands trembled in eloquent pantomime.

"He is so like my young master, your brother," he pleaded, "so brave, so strong, so young, and, like him, loves so deeply."

"I am very grateful," said the girl gently. "For my father and for me he risked his life. I am grateful to him--and to God, who spared him."

Pedro lowered his eyes as he repeated: "And he loves so deeply."

The girl regarded him steadily.

"What is it you wish to say?" she demanded.

"All through the night I sat beside him," answered the old man eagerly, "and in his fever he spoke only one name."

The girl turned from him and for a moment stood looking out into the harbor.

"Then the others heard?" she said.

Pedro, with a deprecatory gesture, bowed. With sudden vehemence, with a gesture of relief, the girl flung out her arms.

"I'm glad," she cried. "I am _tired of secrets, tired of deceit. I am glad they know. It makes me proud! It makes me happy!"

During the long night, while Roddy had tossed and muttered, Vicenti talked to Peter frankly and freely. He held back nothing. His appointment as prison doctor he had received from Alvarez, but it was impossible for any one to be long in close contact with General Rojas and not learn to admire and love him. And for the past year Vicenti had done all in his power to keep life in the older man and to work for his release. But General Rojas, embittered by past experience, did not confide in him, did not trust him. In spite of this, the doctor had continued working in his interests. He assured Peter that the adherents of Rojas were many, that they were well organized, that they waited only for the proper moment to revolt against Alvarez, release Rojas, and place him in power. On their programme Vega had no place. They suspected his loyalty to his former patron and chief, they feared his ambition; and they believed, were he to succeed in making himself President, he would be the servant of Forrester, and of the other foreigners who desired concessions, rather than of the people of Venezuela. The amnesty, Vicenti believed, had been declared only that Alvarez might entice Vega to Venezuela, where, when he wished, he could lay his hands on him. When he had obtained evidence that Vega was plotting against him he would submit this evidence to the people and throw Vega into prison.

"Vega knows his danger," added Vicenti, "and, knowing it, he must mean to strike soon--to-day--to-morrow. We of the Rojas faction are as ignorant of his plans as we hope he is of ours. But in every camp there are traitors. No one can tell at what hour all our secrets may not be made known. Of only one thing you can be certain: matters cannot continue as they are. Within a week you will see this country torn by civil war, or those who oppose Alvarez, either of our party or of Vega's, will be in prison."

When Roddy, rested and refreshed and with normal pulse and mind, came to luncheon, Peter confided to him all that Vicenti had told him.

"If all that is going to happen," was Roddy's comment, "the sooner we get Rojas free the better. We will begin work on the tunnel to-night."

The attacking party consisted of McKildrick, Roddy, and Peter. When the day's task on the light-house was finished and the other workmen had returned to the city, these three men remained behind and, placing crowbars, picks, and sticks of dynamite in Roddy's launch, proceeded to a little inlet a half-mile below El Morro. By seven o'clock they had made their way through the laurel to the fortress, and while Roddy and Peter acted as lookouts McKildrick attacked the entrance to the tunnel. He did not, as he had boasted, open it in an hour, but by ten o'clock the iron bars that held the slabs together had been cut and the cement loosened. Fearful of the consequences if they returned to the city at too late an hour, the tools and dynamite were hidden, rubbish and vines were so scattered as to conceal the evidence of their work, and the launch landed the conspirators at Roddy's wharf.

"We shall say," explained Roddy, "that we have been out spearing eels, and I suggest that we now go to the _Dos Hermanos and say it."

They found the cafe, as usual, crowded. Men of all political opinions, officers of the army and the custom-house, from the tiny warship in the harbor, Vegaistas, and those who secretly were adherents of Rojas, were all gathered amicably together. The Americans, saluting impartially their acquaintances, made their way to a table that remained empty in the middle of the room. They had hardly seated themselves when from a distant corner an alert young man, waving his hand in greeting, pushed his way toward them. They recognized the third vice-president of the Forrester Construction Company, Mr. Sam Caldwell.

Mr. Caldwell had arrived that afternoon. He was delighted at being free of the ship. At the house of Colonel Vega he had dined well, and at sight of familiar faces he was inclined to unbend. He approached the employees of the company as one conferring a favor and assured of a welcome. He appreciated that since his arrival he was the man of the moment. In the crowded restaurant every one knew him as the representative of that great corporation that had dared to lock horns with the government. As he passed the tables the officers of that government followed him with a scowl or a sneer; those of the Vegaistas, who looked upon him as the man who dealt out money, ammunition and offices, with awe. How the secret supporters of Rojas considered him was soon to appear.

"This," Roddy whispered in a quick aside, "is where I renounce the F. C. C. and all its works."

"Don't be an ass!" entreated Peter.

Roddy rose and, with his hands sunk in his pockets, awaited the approach of the third vice-president.

"Well, boys, here I am!" called that young man heartily. He seemed to feel that his own surprise at finding himself outside the limits of Greater New York must be shared by all. But, as though to see to whom this greeting was extended, Roddy turned and glanced at his companions.

McKildrick rose and stood uncomfortably.

"Well, Roddy," exclaimed Sam Caldwell genially, "how's business?"

Roddy's eyebrows rose.

"'Roddy?'" he repeated, as though he had not heard aright. "Are you speaking to me?"

Sam Caldwell was conscious that over all the room there had come a sudden hush. A waiter, hurrying with a tray of jingling glasses, by some unseen hand was jerked by the apron and brought to abrupt silence. In the sudden quiet Roddy's voice seemed to Caldwell to have come through a megaphone. The pink, smooth-shaven cheeks of the newcomer, that were in such contrast to the dark and sun-tanned faces around him, turned slowly red.

"What's the idea?" he asked.

"You sent me a cable to Curacao," Roddy replied, "telling me to mind my own business."

It had never been said of Sam Caldwell that he was an unwilling or unworthy antagonist. He accepted Roddy's challenge promptly. His little, piglike eyes regarded Roddy contemptuously.

"I did," he retaliated, "at your father's dictation."

"Well, my business hours," continued Roddy undisturbed, "are between eight and five. If you come out to the light-house to-morrow you will see me minding my own business and bossing a gang of niggers, at twenty dollars a week. Outside of business hours I choose my own company."

Caldwell came closer to him and dropped his voice.

"Are you sober?" he demanded.

"Perfectly," said Roddy.

Caldwell surveyed him grimly.

"You are more out of hand than we thought," he commented. "I have heard some pretty strange tales about you this afternoon. Are they true?"

"You have your own methods of finding out," returned Roddy. He waved his hand toward the table. "If you wish to join these gentlemen I am delighted to withdraw."

Caldwell retreated a few steps and then turned back angrily.

"I'll have a talk with you to-morrow," he said, "and to-night I'll cable your father what you are doing here."

Roddy bowed and slightly raised his voice, so that it reached to every part of the room.

"If you can interest my father," he said, "in anything that concerns his son I shall be grateful."

As Caldwell made his way to the door, and Roddy, frowning gravely, sank back into his chair, the long silence was broken by a babble of whispered questions and rapid answers. Even to those who understood no English the pantomime had been sufficiently enlightening. Unobtrusively the secret agents of Alvarez rose from the tables and stole into the night. A half-hour later it was known in Caracas that the son of Mr. Forrester had publicly insulted the representative of his father, the arch-enemy of the government, and had apparently ranged himself on the side of Alvarez. Hitherto the _Dos Hermanos had been free from politics, but as Roddy made his exit from the cafe, the officers of the army chose the moment for a demonstration. Revolution was in the air, and they desired to declare their loyalty. Rising to their feet and raising their glasses to Roddy they cried, "Bravo, bravo! Viva Alvarez!"

Bowing and nodding to them and wishing them good-night, Roddy hurried to the street.

Under the lamps of the Alameda McKildrick regarded him quizzically.

"And what do you gain by that?" he asked.

"Well, I force Sam into the open," declared Roddy, "and I'm no longer on the suspect list. Look at my record! I've insulted everybody. I have insulted Rojas, insulted Vega, insulted Caldwell, all enemies of Alvarez. So now the Alvarez crowd will love me. Now they trust me! If they caught me digging the tunnel and I told them I was building a light-house, they'd believe me. If I insult a few more people they'll give me the Order of Bolivar."

The next morning Roddy attended Mass. But he was not entirely engrossed in his devotions. Starting from the front entrance of the church he moved slowly nearer and nearer to the altar, and, slipping from the shelter of one pillar to another, anxiously scanned the rows of kneeling women. He found the mantilla a baffling disguise, and as each woman present in the church wore one, and as the hair of each was black, and as the back of the head of one woman is very much like that of another, it was not until the worshippers had turned to leave that he discovered the Senorita Inez Rojas. In her black satin dress, with her face wreathed by the black lace mantilla, Roddy thought he had never seen her look more beautiful.

After her explicit commands that he should not attempt to see her again he was most anxious she should not learn how soon he had disobeyed her; and that she was walking with her sister and mother made it still more necessary that he should remain unnoticed.

But in his eagerness and delight in the sight of her he leaned far forward. Inez, at that instant raising her eyes, saw him. Of the two Roddy was the more concerned. The girl made no sign of recognition, but the next moment, with an exclamation, she suddenly unclasped her hands, and, as though to show they were empty, held them toward her mother and sister. Leaving them, she returned hurriedly toward the altar. Senora Rojas and the sister continued on their way toward the door, exchanging greetings with the women of their acquaintance, whom, after an absence of two years, they now met for the first time. Seeing them thus engaged Inez paused and, turning, looked directly at Roddy. Her glance was not forbidding, and Roddy, who needed but little encouragement, hastened to follow. The church was very dark. The sunlight came only through the lifted curtains at the farthest entrance, and the acolytes were already extinguishing the candles that had illuminated the altar. As Inez, in the centre of the church, picked her way among the scattered praying-chairs, Roddy, in the side aisle and hidden by the pillars, kept pace with her.

Directly in front of the altar Inez stooped, and, after picking up a fan and a prayer-book, stood irresolutely looking about her. Roddy cautiously emerged from the side aisle and from behind the last of the long row of pillars. Inez came quickly toward him. The last of the acolytes to leave the altar, in their haste to depart, stumbled and tripped past them, leaving them quite alone. Concealed by the great pillar from all of those in the far front of the church, Inez gave Roddy her hand. The eyes that looked into his were serious, penitent.

"I am so sorry," she begged; "can you forgive me?"

"Forgive you!" whispered Roddy. His voice was filled with such delight that it was apparently a sufficient answer. Inez, smiling slightly, withdrew her hand, and taking from inside her glove a folded piece of paper, thrust it toward him.

"I brought this for you," she said.

Roddy seized it greedily.

"For me!" he exclaimed in surprise. As though in apology for the question he raised his eyes appealingly. "How did you know," he begged, "that I would be here?"

For an instant, with a frown, the girl regarded him steadily. Then her cheeks flushed slightly and her eyes grew radiant. She flashed upon him the same mocking, dazzling smile that twice before had left him in complete subjection.

"How did you know," she returned, "_I would be here?"

She moved instantly from him, but Roddy started recklessly in pursuit.

"Wait!" he demanded. "Just what does that mean?"

With an imperative gesture the girl motioned him back, and then, as though to soften the harshness of the gesture, reassured him in a voice full of consideration.

"The note will tell you," she whispered, and, turning her back on him, hurried to the door.

Roddy allowed her sufficient time in which to leave the neighborhood of the church, and while he waited, as the most obvious method of expressing his feelings, stuffed all the coins in his pockets into the poor-box. From the church he hastened to an empty bench in the Alameda, and opened the note. He was surprised to find that it came from Mrs. Broughton, the wife of the English Consul at Porto Cabello. She was an American girl who, against the advice of her family, had married an Englishman, and one much older than herself. Since their marriage he had indulged and spoiled her as recklessly as any American might have done, and at the same time, in his choice of a wife, had continued to consider himself a most fortunate individual. Since his arrival at Porto Cabello Roddy had been a friend of each. For hours he would play in the garden with their children, without considering it necessary to inform either the father or mother that he was on the premises; and on many evenings the Broughtons and himself sat in his _patio reading the American periodicals, without a word being spoken by any one of them until they said good-night. But since his return from Curacao, Roddy had been too occupied with coming events to remember old friends.

The note read:

"DEAR MR. FORRESTER: My husband and I have not seen you for
ages, and the children cry for 'Uncle Roddy.' Will you and
Mr. De Peyster take tea with us day after to-morrow? The
only other friend who is coming _will give you this note_."

The Broughtons had been stationed at Porto Cabello for five years, and, as Roddy now saw, it was most natural that in the limited social life of Porto Cabello the two American girls should be friends. That he had not already thought of the possibility of this filled him with rage, and, at the same time, the promise held forth by the note thrilled him with pleasure. He leaped to his feet and danced jubilantly upon the gravel walk. Tearing the note into scraps he hurled them into the air.

"Mary Broughton!" he exclaimed ecstatically, "you're a brick!"

Such was his feeling of gratitude to the lady, that he at once sought out a confectioner's and sent her many pounds of the candied fruits that have made Venezuela famous, and that, on this occasion, for several days made the Broughton children extremely ill.

That night the attack on the barricade to the tunnel was made with a vigor no cement nor rusty iron could resist. Inspired by the thought that on the morrow he would see Inez, and that she herself wished to see him, and anxious to give her a good report of the work of rescue, Roddy toiled like a coal-passer. His energy moved McKildrick and Peter to endeavors equally strenuous, and by nine o'clock the great stone slabs were wedged apart, and on the warm-scented night air and upon the sweating bodies of the men there struck a cold, foul breath that told them one end of the tunnel lay open.

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The White Mice - Chapter 7 The White Mice - Chapter 7

The White Mice - Chapter 7
Chapter VIIRoddy was for at once dashing down the stone steps and exploring the tunnel, but McKildrick held him back."You couldn't live for a moment," he protested, "and it may be days before we can enter." In proof of what he said, he lit one wax match after another, and as he passed each over the mouth of the tunnel Roddy saw the flame sicken and die."That has been a tomb for half a century," McKildrick reminded him. "Even if a strong, young idiot like you could breathe that air, Rojas couldn't.""All the same, I am going down," said Roddy."And I

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