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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWest Wind Drift - Book 3 - Chapter 3
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West Wind Drift - Book 3 - Chapter 3 Post by :?ric_Hamel Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :1895

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West Wind Drift - Book 3 - Chapter 3

BOOK III CHAPTER III

It was Olga Obosky who discovered and exposed the plot. A young Spaniard had fallen hopelessly, madly in love with her. He was a good-looking, hard-eyed boy from the pampas,--a herder who was on his way to visit his mother in from Rio. He was a "gun-slinger" bearing close relationship to the type of cowboy that existed in the old days of the Far West but who is now extinct save for pictorial perpetuation on the moving-picture screens.

Down in his wild young heart smouldered a furious jealousy of Percival. Crust played upon this jealousy to fine effect. He did not hesitate to feed the flame with sly speculations, innuendos and even tales concerning Percival and Olga.

One day the Spaniard, in the midst of his violent protestations and pleadings, became reckless with promises to Olga. He swore that if she would have him he would make her the first lady of the land in place of the stupid American girl who now held the honour. Then, having loosed his tongue, he poured out the whole of the ugly scheme which was to alter every existing condition on the island. The wiping out of the dictator and his swell-headed gang of "intellectuals"; the seizure of all firearms, ammunition and stores; the complete subjugation of the people, even to the point of slavery; the elevation of Manuel Crust and his followers to a state of absolute power; the confiscation of all property,--including women! He naively advised her to jump at the chance offered her,--the chance to avoid the most unpleasant feature of the new regime.

"As my woman," he said, "you will be safe. It is understood. It is all arranged. If you belong to me, nothing can happen to you. We shall be of the elect. I am to be of the council. I am to be one of the masters, the--"

"But," she cried, scarcely able to believe her ears, "how is all this to be accomplished? How will the few overcome the many? You say there are scarcely more than a dozen of you, my friend. What can a dozen men do to--"

"It will be simple," cried he, his eyes flaming. "How is it that Percival and his little gang hold all of us in bondage? It is because they have the guns, the revolvers, the bullets. Well, we shall have the guns, and everything. When the time comes, when the people have voted in the election and a new party is in control, then we will have our chance. We will have the upper hand. To hell with the people, Olga. They will count for nothing once we have charge of the guns and stores. This Percival he has ordered the election. He insists that the people be given a chance to vote once a year, to elect some one to take his place if they feel like it. He says it is only fair. Faugh! He laughs in his sleeve. Come! Your promise! I love you. I must have you for my woman. I cannot live without you. I will give you power to spit in the face of that woman down there--that American aristocrat! We will be rich, we will be happy, we will have everything. Diamonds and pearls and rubies and all the gold there is on this island. We will be the ones to go away in the ship, and we will have jewels to shame the richest of them."

"We--you and Manuel and the rest--are to go away in the ship?" she cried, cold to the marrow of her bones.

"Sure. Why not? Are we not to be the owners of that ship? It is your chance to go back to the world again,--with me! Oh, and I agree to this also: If you do not want me any longer after you are in Rio or Buenos Aires or anywhere out there,--if you would rather be free again,--I promise to release you. What could be fairer than that? Nothing! I shall kill myself, of course, when you leave me,--but still I promise, and I never break a promise. But I shall love you so much that you will never leave me. You are my queen. Hell, how I love you--how I love you!" His face darkened, then slowly paled. He realized that he had gone too far. Leaning close to her, his frightened eyes not a foot from hers, he said: "You cannot deny me now. I have told you everything. I do not know why I have told you. I must be crazy with love of you. Ah,--the look in your beautiful eyes! God, how it takes the weight off my mind. You will love me,--you will be mine,--I see it in your eyes. When? When?"

She affected a bantering smile. She knew how to play with such fools as he.

"Do you think I am a fool? How do I know you are not lying to me about all this? It may be a trick to influence me. No, no! I am not such a simpleton. You promise me diamonds, and gold, and much love. You promise to take me away from this dreadful place on a ship, back to the world I worship. But you may be lying. I must have something better than your word, my friend."

"But I am telling you the truth. I swear it!" he cried eagerly.

"Keep your hands off of me,--do you hear! Don't touch me! Not yet, not yet. I must have some proof that you can give me all these things you offer. Will you have Manuel Crust guarantee that--"

"My God,--Manuel,--he must not know I have spoken to you. He must never know," he gasped. "Take my word,--believe me, beloved one. It is the God's truth I tell you. Within the month I will lay diamonds, pearls,--everything,--at your feet. I--"

"Leave me now. Come again,--tomorrow. I must think. I must--"

"But you will love me? You will come to me? You--"

"You are a very handsome boy," she said softly, "and I should like to believe you."

He followed her for a few steps, trouble in his eyes.

"It is not enough. I must have your promise," he said.

She looked at him coldly. "You will have it when I am ready to give it," she said, and his face lightened for a moment, only to darken again.

"I will cut your heart out if you breathe a word of this to any one," he whispered hoarsely.

"Is that the way for a lover to speak?" she returned.

"Yes," he said without hesitation. "It is the way,--with me."

"Come to me tomorrow and tell me exactly what my share of the treasure is to be,--and then I will let you know whether it is to be you--or Manuel Crust, my friend. Oh, you see, I am greedy,--and I can love Manuel quite as easily as I can love--"

"I will cut his heart out if you--"

"There--there! It will not be necessary. Come tomorrow."

That same afternoon she went to Percival with the Spaniard's story.

"Well, we'll nip that in the bud," said he, setting his jaw. "The first thing to do is to warn Landover."

"Warn Landover!" cried the Russian. "He is all mix up in it,--he is one of ze ringleaders."

"No, he isn't. He's not that kind of a man. He doesn't know a thing about all this, I'll stake my life on it."

"But, Olga," cried Ruth, white-faced and troubled; "Fernandez will kill you. He will,--Good heaven, girl, did he not swear to cut your heart out if you--"

"Poof!" cried the other, snapping her fingers. "He will not do zat, my dear. I am not afraid. Do you know what happens to informers in my country? They vanish. No one ever sees them again, and no one ever asks where they have gone. They are here today--tomorrow they are not. It is the same the world over."

"You mean,--Manuel's men will make way with him? How horrible!"

"Do not waste your sympathy on zat Fernandez. He is no good. You would see what kind of man he is if this plot should succeed."

"But you will have to give him your answer tomorrow," cried Ruth.

Olga shot a keen glance at Percival's face.

"It is for you to say, Percivail, what my answer shall be," said she, after, a slight pause. A queer pallor spread over her face.

"For me to say?" he exclaimed.

"Are you not the governor? If it suits your plans for me to give myself to zat man--"

"My God, Olga! What the devil are you driving at?"

"--to satisfy him until you are prepared to nip zis revolution in the bud, as you say,--I shall--"

"Thunderation!" he gasped. "You mean you would sacrifice yourself--Great Scot! What do you think I'm expecting to do? Go to sleep for a month or so? Bless your heart, my dear Olga, if you are even thinking of getting married to Fernandez, you'll have to be pretty spry about it. Because I'm going to nip the business in the bud before tomorrow morning."

"Zat is what I thought," said she, the colour rushing back to her face.

That evening Percival called a meeting of the "cabinet,"--as the council was now called. They were asked to come to his home, instead of to the meetinghouse. This, of itself, was surprising. Landover had never set foot inside the "governor's mansion." While his attitude toward the "governor's lady" was studiedly courteous, he made no effort to resume the intimate and friendly relationship that existed before her marriage to his enemy. Contact with Percival was unavoidable. They met frequently in "cabinet" conferences, but avoided each other at all other times.

He came to this hastily called meeting, however, and Percival was the only man present who was not dumbfounded. Sheriff Shay, in summoning the members to this secret meeting, had delivered a message that Landover could not well afford to ignore.

Seventeen men were crowded into the little sitting-room of the house. Each one of them bore a high-sounding title. There were present, besides Percival, State Treasurer Landover, Chief Justice Malone, Minister of War Platt, Minister of Marine Mott, Minister of Agriculture Pedro Drom, State Clerk Flattner, Surgeon General Cullen, Lord High Sheriff Shay, and the following members of the Executive Council: Snipe, Block, Jones, Fitts, Knapendyke, Calkins, Ruiz' and Alvara. Ruiz was a Chilean merchant and Alvara a Brazilian coffee grower. Calkins was an English cattle buyer.

Percival, with his customary abruptness, announced that there was a plot on foot to destroy the present government and turn the island over to the mercy of a gang of desperadoes headed by Manuel Crust.

Landover was on his feet in an instant.

"I am in a position, gentlemen, to declare that there is not a word of truth in that statement. It is true there is a very definite movement on foot to organize a new party to contest the election of many of us who are gathered here tonight. The people want a change. They are dissatisfied. They have a right to vote as they please, to choose their own--"

"We are not here to discuss the election, Mr. Landover," broke in Percival. "Before we go any farther, however, I wish to state that if you are chosen Governor of Trigger Island, you will find no one more willing and ready to serve you than I. But, that is beside the question. If you will listen to me, I will tell you exactly what it is that confronts us. The election next month is to be the signal for all kinds of hell. You may be elected governor, Mr. Landover,--but you will not be allowed to serve. Now, here is the story that came to me today,--and I can vouch for it. I am authorized,--in fact I am commanded to reveal to you the name of my informant. You may be sure I did my best to prevail upon her to remain unknown, for the present, at least, but she threatened to go forth and shout her story from the housetops if I did not do as she wished."

The conference ended an hour later, and Abel Landover had shown his true colours at last. He stood up, his face drawn and haggard, his eyes ablaze, his voice husky, and addressed the group.

"Gentlemen, I have been wrong. I am grateful to Mr. Percival for his generosity in warning me of the danger into which I was rushing. We have not been friends. He could have left me to my fate. I would not have blamed him. He has played fair,--and I have not. I ask you all to bear witness to that humiliating admission. I have argued here tonight against all of you,--when down in my heart I had the sickening fear that this damnable story is true. I now believe it to be true. I now see through the whole devilish game.

"I give you my word of honour as a gentleman and an American, I did not realize the true conditions until tonight. Perhaps I might have found out in time to upset their plans,--but that is doubtful. These men are smart. They are natural born plotters. They are dark men with dark souls. This fellow Fernandez has fooled me completely. He is a gay, smiling boy, but now that I have heard Madame Obosky's account of him, I recall many little traits in his make-up that go far to substantiate my new opinion of him. I never quite understood till now why he hated you, Percival. Frankly, I knew that he had it in his heart to kill you. Crust has told me of his difficulty in keeping him from running a knife into you. I thought it was all talk, boyish bravado,--but now I know he meant it."

He lifted his head and set his jaw. "Gentlemen, I have a shameful confession to make. Ever since I can remember, my sole thought has been to rule. I did not know what it was to take orders from another man until I came to this island. My whole being has been in revolt. The thought uppermost in my mind for two years has been to re-establish myself as a dominating force. To that end, I have played pretty bad politics. I have worked upon the credulity and cupidity of these men, promising them positions of authority if I were chosen by vote to govern the affairs of this island. But, I am sure you all will believe me when I say that it was my purpose to administer those affairs honestly, fairly and as capably as I knew how. I was not only deceived by these men, but by myself as well. I have played, like a blundering fool, into their hands. My chagrin is beyond words. I can only say to you now that you may count upon my unfailing support in any action you may decide to take. My forebears were honest, loyal, law-abiding Americans. I--I think I may say without fear of contradiction that it is impossible for me to run otherwise than true to form.

"I lied, Percival, to Ruth Clinton about the encounter in my stateroom on the Doraine. Believe me or not as you see fit, but I think that was the only deliberate lie I have ever told in my life. I have done a great many high-handed things, I have been inconsiderate of others, I have crushed opposition in my own way, I have never allowed myself to acknowledge defeat. My hand has been against you since the day you appeared on the decks of the Doraine. It was not in my nature to see good in you. To me, you were a good-for-nothing--Well, I'm glad to see you smile! That is the devil with you,--your confounded smile. I ask you to overlook what I have said, and done--and been, Percival,--and shake hands. You have nothing to apologize for. There never has been a time in all these months that I have not felt you to be a real man, an honest one, and a gentleman. I think I know an honest man when I see one,--indeed, it is my business to read men,--and I rarely make a mistake."

As the two men shook hands, Randolph Fitts remarked drily:

"Seems to me I remember your saying something of the sort the first day you ever laid eyes on A. A., Abel."

"The trouble is," put in Soapy Shay sarcastically, "you don't know a dishonest one when you see him, Bill."

"Veil, let's get down to business," said Moses Block nervously. "Ve must go slow and careful-like. If we show our hands too soon, they will uprise and--veil, I don't know vat!"

"Mr. Mott, what would you do if you got wind of a plot like this aboard ship?" inquired Percival, his eyes narrowing.

"I would have the whole gang in chains before morning. Then I'd give 'em a taste of the 'cat' at daybreak, and before noon I'd have the ringleaders hanging from a yard-arm," said Andrew Mott, succinctly.

"Oh, my gracious!" gulped Mr. Block.

"Now, I'll tell you what would happen up in Copperhead Camp," said Percival, darkly. "They would get a beautiful cow-hiding and then sentenced to wear a ball and chain, day and night, for anywhere from six months to two years,--depending largely on the process of regeneration. My experience has been that six months is enough."

"We wouldn't dare do that, A. A.," said Fitts. "You must not forget public sentiment,--and public pity. I've got a better plan. How far out is that little island off New Gibraltar, Platt?"

"A quarter of a mile, I should say."

"Well, if they're not satisfied with life and conditions here, let's make 'em a present of a nice little island of their own. That's what I've always advocated as the proper way to treat anarchists. Stick 'em away on an island completely surrounded by sharks and let 'em run it to suit themselves."

"But there are no sharks in these waters," said Flattner. "They'd swim over here some night and slit all our throats."

"Not a chance. They hate water too much to have ever learned how to swim. Now, here's the scheme. Round up as many of them as we're dead sure about, row 'em out to the island, dump 'em with enough food and water to last a week, supply them with tents and beds and tools, and let 'em build their own penitentiary. They'll have to do it or freeze next winter. Once a week send food and drink out to them. The water is a hundred fathoms deep between Trigger Island and that little green wart out there on the face of the ocean. It will look like a million miles to them. How does it strike you, gentlemen?"

Off the precipitous western extremity of Trigger Island lies a tiny scrap of tree-covered land. It is perhaps one hundred yards wide and thrice as long. An exploring party had visited it shortly after the wreck of the Doraine, but since then no one had set foot upon its shores. Its steep slopes, densely wooded, viewed from afar, suggested a mountain top sticking up out of the sea. By boat, skirting the coast, it was a good ten miles distant from the town.

Three men were seized that night and put through a rigid examination. Early the next morning twelve more were taken, Manuel Crust among them. Half of them, in their terror, "squealed." Crust himself was one of these. Almost before the people of the town knew what was afoot, the fifteen had been tried, convicted, and were on their way to the landing where boats were waiting to take them and their belongings off into exile. As for the conspirators themselves, the blow was so swift, so sudden, that they were dazed. It was like a bolt out of a clear sky.

Judge Malone sent them to "the Island" for indeterminate periods. At stated intervals they were to be released, one by one, and restored to citizenship. The shortest term of exile, however, was one year. The releases were to be decided by lot, except in the case of three men: Crust, Fernandez and an Irish sailor named Clark. They were the ringleaders and they were to remain on "the Island" until the time came for them to go aboard the relief ship with all the other citizens of Trigger. At the end of the first year, and once a month thereafter for twelve months, drawings were to be held, and the man whose name was drawn would be released.

"You are prisoners of state," said Judge Malone, in passing sentence. "The state is obliged to feed you, and clothe you, and sustain you if you fall ill, no matter how bitterly it goes against the grain. You will not be obliged to work, or wash, or observe a single law. You may rob each other to your hearts' content, you may murder each other with perfect impunity, you may do just as you like. We started out to conduct the affairs of this island along lines laid down by the Golden Rule. I have come to the conclusion that the Golden Rule would be all right if it were not for the human race. I am beginning to believe that the Rule of Iron is the only one for the people of this earth to live under,--and that is a pretty hard thing for an Irishman to say. You men ought to be lined up against a wall and shot. We do not feel that we have the right to take your lives. It is not in our hearts to destroy you, as you would have destroyed us. But you may not dwell among us."

Fernandez, wild with fury, shrieked vengeance upon the head of Olga Obosky. Out of his ravings, the unsavoury crew gleaned enough to convince them that he was responsible for their present unhappy plight.

"You will pay for this, you snake!" he yelled, foaming at the mouth and shaking his fist at her. "I will drink your heart's blood! Remember what Joe Fernandez says. I will come back here and get you,--Oh, I will get you,--and when I am through with you your dog of a lover may have what is left. I will cut you to pieces! I swear it--I swear it! Hear my oath! You double-crossed me! You squealed on me! I will come back, and I will drink your heart's blood! I swear it!"

He spat in her direction as he was dragged away with the rest of the gang. Through his glittering, bloodshot eyes he saw the cool, derisive sneer on her red lips. He had failed, however, to note the keen, appraising look with which she searched the faces of his baffled, glowering companions. In that long, tense look she had seen dawning comprehension change to conviction; she had read his doom, so she could, in perfect security, give him that scoffing, heartless smile to take with him on the journey from which he was never to return.

Fifteen men went out to "the Island" that afternoon. From that day, the authorities provided weekly rations for that number of men. To this day they are ignorant of the fact that there are but fourteen mouths to feed.

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NEXT BOOKS

West Wind Drift - Book 3 - Chapter 4 West Wind Drift - Book 3 - Chapter 4

West Wind Drift - Book 3 - Chapter 4
BOOK III CHAPTER IVIn the cool of a balmy January evening, following what had been the hottest day the castaways had experienced since coming to Trigger Island, a group of men and women sat upon the Governor's porch. There was no moon, but the sky was speckled with millions of stars. Olga Obosky, sitting on the squared log that served as a step, leaned back against the awning post, her legs stretched out in luxurious abandon. She was fanning herself, and her breath came rapidly, pantingly. Now and then she patted her moist face with a handkerchief. "How warm you are,
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West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 14 West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 14

West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 14
BOOK II CHAPTER XIVA fortnight later, Ruth and Percival were married. He was now governor of Trigger Island. The ceremony took place at noon on the Green in front of the Government Building,--(an imposing name added to the already extensive list by which the "meeting-house" was known),--and was attended by the whole population of the island. His desire for a simple wedding had been vigorously, almost violently opposed by the people. Led by Randolph Fitts and the eloquent Malone, they demanded the pomp and ceremony of a state wedding. As governor of Trigger Island, they clamoured, it was his duty to
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