A SEABOLD FIGHTS
The trap is sprung—A bananarepublic acquires a new master and a Seabold discovers that arrogance goes before humility
The Story: In order to please his elderly cousin who heads the Seabold Fruit Company, young Joseph Seabold goes to the Republic of San Esteban on business.
He finds that Don Ricardo Rodriguez, President of the Republic, ivas placed in power by his cousin; that Robertson, the company manager, is loo old to carry on; that Marigny of the Universal Fruit Company is an unscrupulous business rival; that General Jack Easter helped his cousin establish the present political regime; that his cousin is a national hero; that Mary Cosgrove is his enemy because his cousin injured her father.
Ignorant of local customs, Joseph offends nearly everyone, particularly General Jack Easier when he does not immediately accede to the latter’s request for a loan of $5,000. Advised by Robertson that he made a mistake, Joseph offers the general the money; but the latter is a proud man and will not now accept it; in fact he states that in order to uphold his dignity he must become Joseph's enemy.
President Rodriguez announces that a revolution headed by General Hurtado has broken out, and he places Marigny under arrest and General Easter under surveillance. Joseph suspects some sort of plot, and his suspicion is increased when the President demands $400,000 with which to suppress the revolution, offering in return a clear title to the vast banana lands which the Seabold Fruit Company holds. Joseph says he will think it over. Ilis cousin dies, so now he heads the company and must either give up the banana business entirely or fight.
Disgusted with the intrigue which he sees on every hand, Joseph ivants to quit. But when Mary Cosgrove’s companion insults him and Mary herself sneeringly remarks, "He’s running away," Joseph reconsiders.
THE age took RAIN him was home; ended and when the Joseph wide silence Seabold’s spoke carrito him, as he felt, of his own shame. The groaning lurches of the old carriage, the stagger and sloshing of the wheels in the ruts tormented his mind, because he wanted to gather his thoughts and examine himself inwardly.
When they came to the entrance driveway of the Seabold mansion, the wheels crunched smoothly over the gravel, but the driver did not put his team to a trot. Instead, he blew three blasts on his horn. Seabold, through the misted windows of the carriage, saw the horn answered by a sudden appearance of lights along the front of the building, the fronds of the intervening palms leaning black across that background. Half a dozen of the house servants were lined up to greet him after the carriage had stopped in the
big patio. They were all smiles and bows and good wishes until the darkness of his face sobered them; he was glad when they left him alone in his bedroom and he knew that they were glad to be gone from him. There was no one in San Esteban whom he could please. Filibusters of the old school, diplomats, servants, all disliked him, and since his encounter with the tall young Englishman that evening they would begin to despise him, no doubt.
He sat staring at the white mosquito netting which shrouded the bed and under which the Admiral had slept so many times in the calmness of an assured strength, but his thoughts remained back there in the palace of the President confronting the Englishman. He felt that he never had been tested before. Boxing gloves in a gymnasium with an instructor or a friend were one thing; personal opposition in a strange country was quite another. I íe remembered how cold his face had been afterward, and could not tell whether it had been caused by the Englishman or by the laughter that had followed him. It was not a matter of fisticuffs, of course, for that sort of thing was impossible; it was merely a question of out fronting a hostile pair of eyes.
He took off his clothes and went to bed. The mosquito song kept him from thinking anything to a conclusion. All he could remember was the time he had heard a friend say about another friend: “Champ is all right. We all like
Champ, of course. But some people say that he’s just a little yellow.”
Seabold sat suddenly up in the bed, nauseated. But the answer to his own self-question was only the thin whining of the mosquitoes. He lay back. The bedclothes were damp and hot. Sleep came over him like a miserable drug.
/'""l ARPENTER ROBERTSON was there in the morning, his eyes big and tired in his scrawny face.
He had taken a social train the instant word came over the wire of the revolt of Hurtado. He had with him the first countereffort of the President, a handbill hastily struck off the press that showed pictures of Agosto Hurtado in profile and in full face. Hurtado had the common look of a peon, a broad chunk of a face, heavy in the jowls, and with a huge spread of mustaches which were not gathered into points at the side but fanned out into an unkempt brush. Don Ricardo offered fifty thousand pesos, which meant twenty thousand of the good Northern dollars that the President admired so much, for the apprehension of the traitor, dead or alive.
Robertson knew everything. He said:
“Hurtado made a fool of himself. He hit out before he
had Easter and Marigny beside him. Otherwise there would be hell to pay. With that pair in his hands, Don Ricardo ought to be able to handle this affair pretty easily.” “Marigny wanted to be captured,” said Seabold. “Wanted? Are you out of your wits?”
“I saw his face at the moment of the arrest . . . You can call it a mask he was wearing, if you please. But I tell you that he was not displeased.”
“Come, come!” answered Robertson. “You can’t pretend to do what no other man in the world can manage —read Marigny’s mind. I’ve seen the roulette wheel take fifty thousand from him in five minutes, and he simply seemed amused, like a bull terrier when it sees a chance for a fight. No, no! Don’t tell me that Marigny is pleased. Why the devil should he be pleased?”
“I don’t know,” admitted Seabold.
“Neither do I,” snapped little Robertson, dismissing the idea. “Now tell me how much money Don Ricardo wanted from you.”
“You’d know that, would you? That he’d ask for money?”
“Joseph, what is the Seabold Company here for except to make contributions when the pinches come? Of course he’d ask you for money. But how much?”
“A million pesos.”
“Four hundred thousand dollars? The dirty, contemptible, blood-sucking leech! Four hundred thousand!” “Shall I offer him a quarter part of that?”
“No, you’ve got to give him what he asks. The whole of it. There’s no other way. The whole of it . . . The Admiral—he wouldn’t have dared to look the Admiral in the face and ask that much. What did he say to you?” “He said the soldiers were behind in their pay, and that the treasury was empty.”
“Of course it’s empty, and Don Ricardo has three or four millions of the treasury money cached away safely in Paris banks. But a million pesos ! You gave it to him, of course?” “I told him that I’d have to wait until morning and think it over and—”
“My lord, why did you do that? We’re the jackals and he’s the lion. We can’t afford to bargain with him. All you’ve done is to make him realize that we don’t trust what he says. Joseph, I never should have let you come up here alone, but how could I have guessed? . . . Go to him as fast as you can and take the chequebook with you. He’ll want a million and a half, after he’s had a chance to think his needs over all night long . . . But you have to give him what he wants. There’s still money in your New York deposits. Go on, Joseph, and get the dirty business done with!”
THAT WAS why Seabold went back to the Presidential palace with a feeling that he was under the whip. He found San Esteban City a vastly changed place, now that the rains had let up. The mountain which smoked beside the great lake had stepped leagues nearer during the night ; with its smoke streaming behind, it gave a foolish semblance of being under full steam for the little city. And all the town was out to enjoy the blast of the sun. Thick mists smoked up from the wet of the streets. In the gutters water was still gurgling. The atmosphere was of a greenhouse thickness; the mere labor of breathing started sweat.
His carriage left him at the Presidential entrance. A yellow-faced servant took him to a chocolate-colored secretary, who ushered him into a waiting-room where officers in service uniforms that looked surprisingly drab and efficient were taking their ease and talking with much laughter.
He waited there a half hour with the certain knowledge that he was being disciplined, because the insolent, smoky eyes of officialdom constantly looked askance at him and then interchanged grins with one another. Then a door opened and a big, fat fellow on the threshold was saying: “Now, Mr. Seabold. if you please.”
So he went into the study, to find the President standing in front of a big map that covered half of one wall. He was sticking pins in it, pins with blue or red tiny pennons attached to them. When he heard Seabold’s voice, he said, absently: “Ah, yes—my friend.”
Then he turned with a tired smile and gave his hand languidly.
“A bad business!” he said. “I’m glad that you didn’t make up your mind last night. I spoke too quickly. There’s poison in the veins of my country, Señor Seabold, and we need strong medicine to fight it ... I said a million pesos last night. Bah, it would not cover half the needs!”
He made a gesture with both hands.
“I’d ask for twice that much, because I trust the generosity of your company as a child trusts its father. But shame prevents me. I tell you, my dear friend, that I could weep for shame when I think that the President of a free republic has to turn abroad to find the sinews of war. But we are poor. Ah, the curse of poverty ! I turn my head away and ask like a beggar for a million and a half pesos . . . Refuse me, scorn me, but I must ask what the country must have!”
He did not, in fact, turn his head away, but with an eye as bright as the eye of a parrot, he studied Seabold. And all that Seabold could think of was that Carpenter Robertson had struck the nail so exactly on the head. He had known
to a penny just how the demand would increase, and a profound disgust stifled Seabold as he drew out his chequebook.
"You can cash it here?” asked Seabold. “Your banks can cash it?”
“They can—they will—they must!” said the President. .“Ah, when I go before the Congress this very morning and tell them of what you have done! They will know then whether or not 1 have found them a friend for our country. Señor, for you this is a glorious act of generosity. For me, it is a triumph of faith !”
But Seabold heard, through the unctuous voice, a triumph that was purely one of laughter. He got from the official presence as fast as he could. Yet he knew, on the way back to his house, that he had not done the thing properly. He should have declared that the vaults of the company were swept bare by making this contribution. He should have vowed that it was only because his heart bled for San Esteban as for his own native land that he had been willing to make such a sacrifice. For he began to see that a lie must be confronted with a lie, and even though the false stamp is apparent, the coin will pass current in some mysterious manner.
HE WAS six hundred thousand dollars more committed to this country than he had been the day before, he realized grimly as his carriage returned toward his house, the smoke of the volcano ¡jointing a dark flag down the sky.
A boy on a mule went trotting by, his voice shaken to bits as he sang:
“Dirty face, dirty face I will wash you in the fountain of my love:
Shameless one, shameless one . . . ”
That was like San Esteban, he thought—a dirty face, and who could have love for the place? But as the thought came to him, he relented from it a little. That flag of smoke
in the sky, and the golden strength of the sunshine, and the big blue mountains heaped into the sky, made him think of the Admiral in new terms. That conqueror would not have striven for a conquest that was not worth the making.
When Joseph reached the house, he found little Car¡jenter Robertson pacing up and down under the great vault of the library, with the brilliant flash of the lake showing like touches of quicksilver through the trees beyond the windows. Robertson’s hands were full of telegrams.
“Old Hurtado is well up from Palos,” he said. “And he’s raising the devil—and a big army—as he goes along. How much did Don Ricardo want?”
“You knew the figure to a penny,” said Seabold.
“And you refused it again?” exclaimed Robertson. “Don’t tell me that! It will be two millions the next time.” "I didn’t refuse. I paid.”
“But you can’t have paid!” shouted Carpenter Robertson. the cords of his thin neck standing out with his vehemence. "Of course you can’t have paid. Heavens, man. you’re still back there telling him that it’s more money than you have in cash—that you’ve got to beg, borrow and steal it, that only personal devotion to his dirty self induces you and he’s sweating and making promises of new concessions, new acuerdas ...”
“I couldn’t bargain,” said Seabold simply, “because if I’d had to spend another five minutes with the hypocrite, I would have told him to go to the devil and take his country along with him.”
Robertson, for a moment, eyed him stupidly. Then he said: “Well, all right; it's done. That’s all . It’s done! You gave him the cheque? I le’U get the cash for it by wire. Then we’ll see ... I’ve got to 1«' off and buzz around the town and see what’s happening. I low do the ¡jeople look?” "Happy,” said Seabold.
“Marigny ! What’s Marigny doing in the prison? What’s he thinking?” murmured Robertson. “I’d give ten years of life to be inside his mind for a moment.”
“He’s not beaten,” answered Seabold, remembering the dark, sneering face. “Whatever is true about him, he’s not beaten.”
“We’ll see,” answered Robertson, and left the house in his usual hurry.
His last injunction was: “Just stay here where I’ll know how to find you if a pinch comes ... I don’t like all this. I don’t like anything about it, except that Marigny is under Don Ricardo’s thumb. That’s the only blessing in the business.”
Later that day, a clashing of steel brought Seabold to a window and he saw, in the court, a pair of mozos fencing with heavy machetes. They worked with the skill of trained foilsmen and the ferocity of tigers. The quick blade-work dazzled the eyes of Seabold as he watched, and he carried back to his chair a rather different conception of the men of San Esteban. The books and the newspapers cheapened them beyond comparison; and still there was the fact that the Admiral had chosen to live so many years in the country. Not altogether for money, perhaps. It was impossible to define the Admiral in terms of money entirely.
T_JE HAD no word from Robertson by late afternoon, so he went out in a powerboat for a spin on the lake. It was the only way of finding coolness after the thick, close heat of the day. He sat with his face to the imperial purples that had gathered around the mountains; he was still on the water when the horizon turned green, the sunset spread into quick darkness, and the stars came down close through the sky.
The motorboat was close to the private pier by that time, and all the little fishing boats were scurrying for the shore, when the man in the bows jumped up and shouted: “Ah hai! All dark! The house has no eyes!”
It was perfectly true that the house of Seabold was not glimmering at them from behind its screen of trees. And he heard the helmsman-engineer mutter: “By
heaven, isn’t one death enough? Is there a plague?”
The two men went up with him from the pier. They were close under the dark wall of the house when a light shone from the library window, and then the voice of Carpenter Robertson was crying out: “Seabold! Hello! Joseph! Oh, Joseph!” Here the two boatmen paused, making a sudden halt. Seabold answered with a shout and hurried through the side entrance to the library, where Robertson was waiting in the middle of the room, with his hands gripping the back of a chair that covered him almost to the shoulders. He made Seabold think of a head on a tray, a head fresh from the guillotine, the eyes of the little man were so blank.
“Why’s the house so empty? Where has everyone gone?” demanded Seabold. “1 took a spin on the lake, and then ...” “You might as well have dived into it and never come up again,” said Robertson in a dead voice. “You haven’t heard?” “Heard what?”
“They’re shouting it through the streets. You’re done. Marigny’s in with Universal Fruit, and you’re out. Out forever!”
“All right,” said Seabold.
“All right?” shouted Robertson. “Do you understand what I’m saying? The double-crossing dog of a Don Ricardo went before his Legislature this afternoon and told the deputies that there was only one thing to do in the emergency, with Hurtado marching on San Esteban and growing stronger every moment . . . The one thing was to ally themselves with the great Universal Fruit Company, because the only Seabold was a witless boy!” Seabold took a chair.
“Go on,” he said. “Marigny is out of prison and in the saddle . . . The deputies did everything that Don Ricardo wanted?” “They voted the Seabold Company out and the Universal in, and they did it with cheering . . . Yes, Marigny is out of prison . . .You were right about one thing. I thought that the snake was being swallowed by San Esteban; instead, the snake was doing the swallowing . . . And
heaven deliver me from the lying sound of the Spanish tongue forever!”
“So even the servants ran out on me?” asked Seabold.
“They ran out. Of course they ran. They’re kissing the foot of Marigny now, I suppose. They ran out, and you’ll be on the run before morning, if you know what’s best for you.”
“What’s happened to Mary Cosgrave? What’s happened to her father’s claims?” asked Seabold.
“How did you guess at that? Why, the Cosgrave Company is brought to life, as an ally of the Marigny outfit. They get some large holdings. Large? Well, only a drop in the Marigny bucket, but enough to make her rich for life. Enough to make her feel that she’s even with the Admiral for the old days . . . Three days ago everything on an even keel, and now no keel at all !”
“I seem to have thrown everything away,” said Seabold.
“You, or some black devil of bad luck . . I don’t know. I’m going crazy. We’ll try to get down to the seacoast together. I don’t know. They may be glad to get rid of us. Or else they may simply stand us against a wall and shoot us down . . . Will you pack what you think you need for the trip down the river? We won’t dare to use the railroad.”
“Jack Easter,” said Seabold. “What’s become of him?”
“Easter? Why, there’s only one thing that they’d do with Easter. There’s still old Hurtado in the field. Marigny has double-crossed him and gone over to fatfaced Don Ricardo. That means that Hurtado will be without money, which means that he’ll soon be through if there’s a good general to oppose him. And Marigny and Don Ricardo have found the good man.”
“Will Easter fight for them?”
“He will,” said Robertson.
“I don’t believe it,” said Seabold.
“Think it over again. Who was it that slapped Easter’s face a few days ago? Five thousand dollars! You wouldn’t let him have five thousand dirty dollars !”
“That’s cost me six hundred thousand in the meantime,” said Seabold.
“And now it’s cost’you all the rest,” answered Robertson.
“I don’t think so,” said Seabold. “I don’t think that Easter will fight for ’em. He was too long on our side.”
“Will you believe,” cried Robertson, “when I tell you that Easter’s already generalissimo? Does that make any sense to you? When I tell you that Don Ricardo marshalled a square of two thousand soldiers and gave Easter a sword and the whole command? Does that convince you? I’ve only come from the seeing of it ! I saw the President pin the épaulettes on the shoulders of Easter. Now do you believe me?”
“No,” said Seabold, “I don’t believe.” “What the devil are you talking about, man?”
“I can’t tell, exactly. But there’s too much lion in Easter. He can’t fight for a rat like Marigny.”
“You’ll find that out afterward,” said Robertson. “Now we start for the coast. We start for Rio Negro, and we can pray to God all the way that we’re not caught.” “You go ahead,” said Seabold. “You’ve done your best, and it wasn’t good enough.
I was too much in your way. You go ahead, Robertson, and take care of yourself.” “And you?”
“I’m staying here,” said Seabold. “There’ll be a bloody, pillaging rabble here in half an hour,” said Robertson. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m telling you that I’m staying here ... I never cared for this whole business before, but now I rather like it.”
Carpenter Robertson came out from behind his chair for the first time.
“Ah, I see,” he said. “You think you can play at being the Admiral, do you?”
“I think I can play at being myself,” said Seabold.
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THERE WAS NOT even a stable-boy remaining in the big establishment. Seabold got into riding clothes and picked out in the bar a serviceable-looking mule; in the slosh that filled the streets he wanted something better than the footing of a horse beneath him.
Carjxmter Robertson came out with a flashlight and stood helplessly beside him as he cinched the saddle on the mule, digging his knee in to make the brute stop puffing his belly. Robertson said : “What’s the good, Joseph? What can you do? Where can you go?’’
“I don’t know,” said Seabold. And he swung himself on to the back of the mule. It hunched under him as though ready to buck.
“If you don’t know, why start out in the dark?” asked Robertson.
“Suppose that I could pick up the trail of the Admiral?” asked Seabold.
“The trail? Of the Admiral?” asked Robertson. “You don’t understand. He was white magic, in this country. You can’t do what he did.”
“If I can find the way he travelled, I’ll try to take my own steps,” said Seabold. “Where will General Jack Easter be staying?”
“In La Casa del Rey—that big old hotel. Listen to me. You can’t go to Easter.”
“He’s my starting point,” said Seabold.
The patio of La Casa del Rey was dry by this time, and over the cobbles people were trooping continually. All around the court were iron rings fastened into the old stone pillars, and everything from mountain burros to blood horses were hitched to the rings, switching their tails and shrugging their skins vainly at the mosquito hordes. Barefooted peons stood about, and soldiers with shoes or without, and now and then some personality in medals and gay uniform passed under the lights through the entrance arch. Joseph lighted a cigarette and went into the hall, which was the central swarming place of the hive. He met the big Englishman and Mary Cosgrave coming out. It was suddenly easy to look the man straight in the eye, which was a clean, pale blue.
“There he is with his tail between his legs,” said Jerry. He said it loudly, with his glance steady on Seabold.
The girl glanced up at him angrily, saying: “Don’t do that! Don’t be this
Something about her attitude gave Seabold more inches. He found his voice coming smoothly as he answered: “I don’t know what you want—a Tom to your Jerry? A fist fight? What do you want?”
“I’ll take whatever—” began the Englishman.
The girl said: “Jerry, be still ! . . . I’m
That last was to Seabold.
He answered her: “Don’t you be
ashamed. He’s helped me to grow up.”
He felt her glance pulling after him as he went on into the crowd. There was such a queer happiness in him that he seemed light of foot. He had turned a new page in his life, and the story in it was changed without warning.
“I want General Easter,” he said to a hotel servant.
“Ah—all the world wants him—in there,” said the man.
The hotel was a sprawling affair with the best rooms on the ground floor. One of the doors stood open, with a pair of soldiers blocking the way. They had bright steel bayonets on their rifles, and new uniforms, and bandoleers of cartridges across their bodies as though they were already in the fighting field. The room behind them was crowded with waiting people of all sorts.
“I want to see the general,” said Seabold.
“Name?” asked one of the pair.
“Ha !” theygrunted together. One put out a hand toward Seabold’s arm but drew it back again without touching; he merely
rolled significant eyes at his companion, who nodded and hurried away through the waiting-room.
“Who comes with you?” asked the remaining guard, with a worried look up and down the bustling of the hall.
“I come by myself,” said Seabold.
“God will again save me!” muttered the soldier, with wonder opening his eyes.
His fellow returned and nodded. “You come behind me,” he said.
He led the way across the next room, shouldering rudely through the crowd.
Someone said in clear English, from a corner: “That’s Seabold now. The fool’s dead and doesn’t know it.”
Here the door of the next chamber pushed open. A servant on the threshold was calling out: “Gentlemen —friends—
the general can see no other people. He prays you to wait till the morning. And he drinks to your health and begs you to drink to his in the name of Saint James .
Three more mozos came sweating through the same doorway, one with a tray of chattering glasses, two more with buckets that held iced champagne. The people in the waiting-room began to laugh and cheer: “Viva Easter! Viva the
general! The good days are coming back to us!”
“Here is the Señor Seabold,” said the soldier.
The fellow on the threshold grunted, stared, loosened his jacket at the throat. “Well, of course! Of course this one!” he said. His grin had begun before the tail of Seabold’s eye was past him. The door shut heavily behind; the lock turned in it with a faint screech of rusty iron.
TT WAS a big old room with the four-
poster bed partially shut away behind a great screen of feathenvork, all glossed over with the brilliant silk of hummingbird plumage. A marble-topped table held the place of central honor on crooked, gilded legs, with a chandelier of crystal pendent above it and throwing dim images of brightness into the polish of the stone. There were tall red curtains by the windows, like streaks of hot noonday; and between a pair of these curtains, lounging in an easy chair with bucket of ice and long-necked bottles, was General Easter, just Unbuttoning the official dignity of his coat.
“Ah, there’s Joseph!” he said, and got himself to his feet.
“I said there was to be nobody else,” he told the soldier.
“Yes, my general,” answered the fellow. “But I knew ...”
He pointed to Seabold with the palm of his hand, offering him like a gift.
“Go away, then,” said Easter. “And sit down here, Joseph. How does it go with you? No, that’s the wrong thing to ask. Everything goes like the devil with you . . . Hai, Jose! Pull off my boots and bring me a pair of slippers.”
A mozo came with bare feet whispering over the floor, kneeled to draw off the boots and offer the slippers. Jack Easter clasped a stockinged foot in both hands.
“Once when we were taking a whack at Palos on the run,” he explained, “we found that they’d stuck the ground full of sharpened nails. I did the finding out by stepping on one of ’em ; I’d worn out my boots a week before. That damned nail went all the way through; I could hardly hobble to the palisades. Afterward I thought that there would be blood-poisoning, but I got an old Indian doctor and he soaked it for three days in rum. Joseph, if rum is good for a man’s foot, think how good it must be for his belly! Will you have some now, or would you rather just blot up some of this Rhine wine?”
He allowed the slipper to be placed on his foot, and waved the servant away. Two more armed men waited motionless at
the farther end of the room. Easter appeared not to notice them. Seabold took a glass of the cold wine and sipped it. It was a good Rudesheimer, soft to the tongue, with multiple overtones against the palate.
“Shall I talk now?” asked Seabold.
“Do you have to talk?” asked Jack Easter. “Won’t drinking be enough? I’ve been talking so long to the damned politicos that my brain’s gone with them.” “I know,” said Seabold. “You don’t like ’em, do you?”
“Not a bit.”
“Neither do I,” said Seabold, and took another drink.
He seemed able to watch the pink face of the general without keeping his eyes upon it.
“Politics—and bad gin—rotting the soul out of the world,” said the general. “What you say, Joseph? Rotting the soul out of the world?”
“How do you feel about Hurtado?” asked Seabold.
“Old Agosto? Great old fellow. If he had two good legs under him, he’d have conquered the world before this.”
“Politics . . They’ll leave him to rot in the jungle, now, won’t they?” asked Seabold.
“He’ll have to go back to the sea and put what’s left of his army on a boat,” answered Easter. “The trouble with old Hurtado is that he’s too stubborn. He fights bad luck like a bull. He plays the whole game on one number. Now, he’s been shown over and over—the Admiral and I showed him—that he couldn’t find his luck in San Esteban. But he still keeps trying the game. If he wants a revolution, why doesn’t he try another country?”
“He seems to like this one,” said Seabold. “You think that may be the answer?”
“That may be the answer. It’s a bad thing to be too emotional, Joseph. Damned bad ! Easy to hurt the thing you love. Look at Hurtado. See what he’s done to San Esteban !”
“I’ve been thinking about him a lot, this evening,” said Seabold. “What would he need for that revolution of his?”
“One good general with two sound legs under him, and a good potful of hard cash. That’s all,” said Easter.
“And you out of the way?” asked Seabold.
“I don’t flatter myself too much. Hurtado is a hard nut to crack . . . But I know most of his tricks.”
“I’ve been wondering,” said Seabold, “if Hurtado could ever be friendly to a man of my name, after all the harm that the Admiral did to him?”
“I don’t know. It would be the devil on him to have to use your name. Why?”
“If I took my money and went to him, I mean.”
“If you what?” asked Jack Easter, sitting up from the cushioned ease of his chair.
“If I got together all the money I could and went to Hurtado . . . Do you think that my cash would be enough for the revolution, supposing that I brought along a good general with a sound pair of legs under him?”
UASTER, having stared, leaned gradually back again and lighted a cigarette. “It’s a wonder to me,” he said, “that they haven’t put you in jail before this. Don Ricardo is getting careless.”
“Not a bit,” said Seabold. “He doesn’t want to cause an international incident over outrages offered to foreign citizens.” General Easter puffed at his cigarette and said nothing.
“Besides,” said Seabold, “I’ve proved to Don Ricardo Rodriguez that I’m no better than a fool and a coward ... He had a
million and a half pesos out of me this morning.”
“Ah-h-h!” murmured Easter. His face was veiled by a leisurely exhalation of the smoke. Then he explained: “You’re a
queer lad, Joseph. I didn’t know that you were this way.”
“I’ve changed a little,” said Seabold. “I’ve learned something out of five thousand dollars that I didn’t lend.”
“No; not that,” snapped Easter. He stirred a little; his color grew a bit hotter.
“All right,” said Seabold. “Not that, then.”
“Fact is,” said Easter, “that I’m a damned traitor for giving you advice in a time like this, but I’ve got to put you right. Here’s Don Ricardo with as many as ten thousand well-armed men that he can call together at a moment’s notice. And here’s that clever devil Marigny with all the money in the world to back him. Don Ricardo can take his time, wait till Hurtado’s army of rags and tatters and sore feet gets out of the jungle, and then sweep him olT the face of the earth. Poor old Hurtado! This is the last revolution% for him.”
“But sup|X)se that Hurtado had my money and a clever general to help him?” “He couldn’t win,” said Easter. “The cards are stacked against him. This grinning ape, this catfish, this Don Ricardo, is not just the man everybody would choose to serve, but the |X)int is that Hurtado’s helpless against Ricardo Rodriguez and the Universal Fruit Company, with Marigny’s brains to manage everything. Think of what that Marigny has done, just now ! To start a revolution just to build up the hand th-aLfce can layto put the revolution down!”
“It’s a smart thing to have done,” said Seabold. “You wouldn’t find much more cleverness than that even in hell.”
“No,” agreed the general. “No, you wouldn’t.”
He became thoughtful, picked up his glass suddenly, and drank it off. He continued to spin it between thumb and forefinger. He blew it full of smoke and let the mist curl out again.
“Well?” he asked, almost angrily, recovering from his thoughts.
“I was simply thinking,” said Seabold. “Thinking, and smiling ... I don’t like that. What’s up your sleeve, Joseph?” “The general who can beat Ricardo and the Universal Fruit Company. The general who can save the hide of Hurtado.”
“You have the man in mind?” frowned Easter. “Why the devil are you telling me all of this? Look here, Joseph, we’re enemies; we’re on opposite sides of the fence.”
“No,” said Seabold.
“No? Did you say ‘no’?”
“I tell you, I’ve found the right man,” said Seabold.
"Tom Lennox—the liquor has him. A brave devil and a good brain for fighting, but the rum is in his head and bones. It won’t come out again.”
“Try again,” suggested Seabold. “Ramirez. Oh, that’s a man. I almost forgot Ramirez. But no. He has too soft a place in Guatemala . . . That Swede of a Petersen? No, Petersen’s in jail iifChina . . . Roscommon, dead last year . . . Mulford; I don’t know where Mulford is. Terry Mulford is the man you have in mind !”
“I’ve a better man than Mulford,” said Seabold.
npiIERE IS no better man.” exclaimed Easter, leaping up from his chair in one of those extraordinary bursts of activity that were characteristic of him. “Better man than Terry Mulford? I remember when the old Marguerila was lying under the guns of the fort, the rudder knocked off her, hell right under our noses, and every minute a shell apt to smash into her and hit in among the ammunition that crowded her from head to heel ... God of my life, that was a moment for you! The tide holding us steady for the fort, drifting us right in at ’em, and the shells hitting everywhere. Mulford gave me his idea. What a brain ! What a brain ! We fired up the boilers, got the men into the boats, started the old ship full steam ahead and let the tide direct her, and the last thing before leaving we set fire to her; and there our rotten little army lay on the backs of the rollers watching the old tub flame as she drove for the shore . . . What a brain, Joseph, eh? What a glorious head on that Irish pair of shoulders !”
“Brain?” said Seabold. “I don’t see how you got out of the trouble.”
“Of course you don’t see,” said Jack Easter. “But the point was that when the old hulk hit the foot of the bluff with the fort above it, the fire reached the magazines and she went off like a Roman candle. She spilled streams of fire up that cliff as though out of hoses. She put out the moon and stars. And part of those rivers of fire—d’you see?—were spilling down on the heads of the soldiers in the fort. That didn’t matter. But the same flames were eating into the thatch and the palisades and the barracks, and, by heaven, the fort turned into a fountain of fireworks of its own accord ! So all we had to do was to land our boats in peace and trudge up that cliff and take possession of the cinders. That gave us the high ground, and of course the town was ours in the morning. No; if poor old Hurtado wanted a good general, he couldn’t find a better devil than Mulford.”
“I think he could,” said Seabold.
“You think so? Name him then, Joseph, and be damned !”
“He’s well known in this part of the world.”
“Is he? Name him, then. Out with it! Who the devil do you mean?”
“I mean Jack Easter,” said Seabold. “Ha!” said Easter. “You think—by heaven !”
“Hurtado’s a patriot,” said Seabold. “You’ve always fought for money. You’d like the change.”
“Hurtado!” murmured Easter. “Why, he’d give me to a firing squad. Hurtado! He wouldn’t believe his eyes! Hurtado and I?”
He stood erect, stiff, with his empty glass held up as though he were proposing a toast.
“There wouldn’t be a chance,” said Easter.
Seabold said nothing.
“And here I’ll have it easy for life. State pension—everything a man could ask for . . . ”
“What would you get out of it?” demanded Easter, suddenly looking down at him.
“Marigny and Don Ricardo. I’d get the pair of them for fish-food,” said Seabold. “I don’t care about anything else.”
“I’ve got to think,” said Easter through his teeth. “Damn this wine, there’s no body to it. There’s no life to it. Jose! Jose!”
“Señor?” cried the hurrying voice of Jose.
“You son of a toad, you frog-faced flyeater!” shouted Easter. “What do you mean leaving a gentleman alone with nothing but this belly-wash? Bring me rum. Rum, Jose !”
Here there was a rapid tapping on the door, which was pushed open at once. The manager of the hotel was bowing on the threshold.
“Ten thousand pardons, my general,’ he said, “but His Excellency the President has telephoned to beg me to inform you that he has great need to talk with you at once. May I say that you will come?” “No,” cried Easter. “Tell him that I’m in bed with the fever !”
“Exactly, señor. But may I tell him that you will come?”
“Ah—I suppose so,” groaned Easter. “Jose! My boots again.”
He added to Seabold; “I’ll see you before long. Go home and wait.”
PRESIDENT RODRIGUEZ was noted for the courtesy and the fine coffee which he gave to his guests. He and Marigny were having some of that coffee, together with little one-shaped glasses of old French cognac, when General Easter came into the room. They both stood up to greet him.
“This is too bad,” said Easter. “The pair of you can get on much faster without me.”
“Dear general,” said the President of the Republic, “on the contrary, discussions go forward on a more solid basis when there are three to talk; because there is always a majority on one side or the other. Pray take that chair; it is the only one that fits your long legs. Will you have coffee with us, and brandy?”
“Rum,” said Easter.
Rum, accordingly, was brought.
“The question is about the young heir of the Admiral,” said the President. “If he is openly arrested, he may become an international affair.”
“And that might be very awkward,” said Marigny.
“Tell me, Marigny,” said Easter. “Are you French, Italian, Spanish, English or American?”
Marigny turned his dark smile on the general. One rarely could tell whether amusement or thought made him pause in this manner.
He answered: “My country is the one I have the best reason to love.”
“You’re a diplomat,” said Easter, and swallowed half a glass of rum as he spoke. “But what’s the matter with young Seabold? He’s as helpless as a new kitten. Why does he have to be bottled up?”
“My people are superstitious,” said the President. “They have not the forgetful nature of you of the North. They remember great names, of saints and men.”
“I’ve just been talking with Seabold,” said the general. “All he wants is a safe way out of the country.”
“If he is free to leave, he will be free to return,” said Marigny.
“Why, the people despise him,” answered the general.
“They despised him yesterday; they’ll pity him tomorrow; and they’ll love him the next day,” suggested Marigny.
“The volatile and affectionate nature of my people ...” said the President, smiling behind his glasses until his two eyes were reduced to mere glimmerings between the rolls of fat.
“Well, what?” asked Easter. “Roll him in a sack and throw him into the lake?” “Murder will out,” said Marigny. “And then trouble comes.”
He smiled at them both, a particular smile for each.
“An arrest and the jail, then,” suggested Easter.
“A common arrest,” said Don Ricardo, “by rough-handed soldiers or the police ... It causes talk. It has an air of cruelty.”
“Then what?” asked Easter.
“If he were taken by someone who is known to have loved the Admiral . . . ” suggested Marigny softly.
“It then becomes,” interpolated the President, “an act necessary though painful. For the good of the country, though our hearts bleed for the measure.”
“Who would fill the bill for the job?” asked Easter.
“You, of course, are the only man,” said Don Ricardo. He put his fat hands to-
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gether and smiled over the tips of the fingers at the general.
Easter answered: “You two do the
cooking and then I come along to clean up the dirty dishes. Is that it?”
“No, no, no!” cried the President. Marigny lighted a cigarette. Wherever he was present, time seemed of little object.
“You want to turn me into a sparrow hawk, to stoop at the small birds,” said Easter.
“Come, come ! We are three minds who are thinking of the good of San Esteban, are we not?” asked Don Ricardo.
“Between you and me,” said Easter, “we’re each looking for a soft spot. Marigny contributes some money ; he gets several million dollars worth of cleared and cultivated rich land in return for his work. You get a good part of the cash he contributes for your own pocket. And I have a chance to be easy the rest of my days as soon as I’ve wiped out Hurtado. Why talk about the good of San Esteban? Will it be any better under the Universal Fruit than it was under the Seabold outfit?”
“The larger the organization, the more stable,” said Don Ricardo. “In the hands of a poor young fellow like this new Seabold, what confidence could we invest in the future of the company? But Universal Fruit ...”
He made his favorite gesture with both hands, suggesting infinite space.
“By the way, did you get a contribution out of Seabold before you cut his throat?” asked Easter.
“It would be a pity to throw away a source of supplies before it is drained.” smirked the President. “I secured a small contribution, it is true.”
MARIGNY looked up, without his smile.
“Enough,” said the President, “to retire some of the railroad bonds. Enough to help us a little through the present emergency.” “The poor halfwit of a Seabold says that it was a million and a half pesos,” answered Easter.
“Did he name such a great sum?” murmured Don Ricardo. “But exaggeration is a family trait of the Seabolds.” Marigny continued to look for a moment at the President. Then he said: “If
Seabold disappears, there will be too much talk. If he’s allowed to go free, he can make trouble.”
“The whole city knows that he’s a weakling,” said the general.
“Not weak, but nervous, very nervous,” answered Marigny.
“What’s the difference between weakness and the sort of nervousness you’re shaking about?” asked Easter.
He filled his glass again with the raw
spirits and sipped it. Don Ricardo shuddered as he watched.
“Cats are nervous, and they’re dangerous when cornered,” said Marigny. “I always keep an eye on nervous men, like young Seabold. If a pinch comes, they’re apt to forget to be afraid.”
“If you, my general,” suggested the President, “were to go now to the house of Seabold, with twenty soldiers behind you, and make the arrest in the name of the Republic . . . You see that everything will be open and aboveboard. There will be no whispering afterward. The world will know that Señor Seabold has been openly and honorably detained by the Government.”
“For what reason?” asked Easter.
“Why, to lcok into the question of certain back taxes which the Seabold Company failed to pay to San Esteban,” said the President.
“Taxes!” muttered Easter. “I forgot about taxes ! That’s the tree on which any man can be hanged ... I don’t like this business, Marigny. The dirt of it would get even through gloves.”
Don Ricardo said in a higher, sharper voice: “Either you arrest him, or we send the gendarmes.”
“And Seabold is too big a name for a common arrest,” said Marigny. “People remember the Admiral too well. He spent money like water on the poor of the town ... A clever fellow, the Admiral—except that he forgot to keep on living.”
“And you didn’t make that mistake?” grunted the general.
“An error that all flesh is heir to,” said Marigny, with his smile.
“I suppose it’s up to me, then,” nodded Easter.
“I knew that you’d see reason,” said the President. “We hope that the young man will be reasonable.”
“Reasonable?” echoed Easter.
“If he should be so nervous that he tried to escape ...” said Marigny.
“Ah, is that it?” asked Easter.
“Well, observe for yourself,” said Don Ricardo. “If the poor young man is arrested and becomes so highly nervous that he attempts to bolt—wouldn’t it be natural for one of the soldiers to fire into him as he runs?”
“The proof is only that the bullet is through his back,” stated Marigny.
“Ah, that’s it, then. Taxes are the pretense for the arrest. And a bullet through the back is the final answer,” nodded Easter. “You think that it has to be that way?”
Don Ricardo leaned forward to whisper: “Suppose the young fool joined Hurtado? ... He has to die, General !”
“Well,” said Easter, “I’ve shot rabbits before this. Good-by till tomorrow.”
To be Continued