A SEABOLD FIGHTS
Marching men! Thundering guns! Death and destruction! And in the midst of it all, the one girl —on the enemy's side!
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, was placed in power by his cousin; that Robertson, the company manager, is too 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 Cosgrave 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.
A revolution headed by General Hurtado breaks out, and President Rodriguez demands $400,000 from Joseph in order to put it down, offering in return a clear title to the banana lands which the Seabold Fruit Company holds. Joseph’s cousin dies, and now Joseph heads the company and must make his own decisions. He pays the amount demanded.
President Rodriguez then sends Easter to arrest Joseph on a trumped-up charge; but the general’s sense of justice prevails and he proposes to Joseph that both of them should join Hurtado’s revolution.
Joseph and General Easier manage to escape from San Esteban City; and they make their way along the Rio Negro River toward the revolutionary army, in constant peril from government soldiers and jungle beasts.
NEITHER jungle nor mosquitoes had beginning or ending. Like chaos, they were and there was nought else. The only sky that General Easter and Joseph Seabold saw was a greyness that rained at them. Underfoot was no ground, but green slush. Overhead more green, dripping upon them, and yet no clean water to drink except the flat, tasteless distilled juice which they got from the round tubes of some climbing vines.
Now and then they found a game trail that helped them suddenly forward and made them feel free and strong. But presently it was sure to wander away from their direction; and there was a compass in the brain of the general that would not vary from the true north. He had estimated as well as he could the probable position of the army of the revolution; he held firmly to that estimate and aimed their journey accordingly.
On the third day they came to a village of three houses and one inhabitant. All the people had gone a fortnight before, and the jungle green was beginning to sprout up in the lane. In the last house of the three they found the sole inhabitant. He was an old man whom time had starved more than the lack of food. He sat cross-legged like an Indian on the naked floor of his hut, with no morsel of food about him. When he opened his mouth to speak to them.
he looked like a death’s head whose jaw never would close again.
“The army of the revolution,” said Easter.
“Where is it, father?”
“Viva Hurtado!” said the croaking old man.
“He is there! He is there! Or at least a fortnight ago he was there, when the others left me.”
Easter considered the direction of the pointing arm.
“Start the fire there,” he said to Seabold.
“Get some water boiling in the pot. We still have some bacon and rice . . . Why did they leave you, father?”
“The Panama disease came into the bananas. So they went away to find clean ground. They said they would come back for me, but I told them not to.”
“They walked off and left you, father?” asked Easter, sitting down on his heels.
“There was no room on the mule,” said he. “After the beds were piled on and the pot on top of all, it was more than the mule could carry. So they left me because I cannot walk very well. My knees go so—so ! I still can rub out the wet corn for the tortillas and I can sew a little if somebody threads the needles for me, but I can’t walk. The wits have gone out of my legs.”
When the rice was cooked with the last of the bacon, Easter said: “This is for you, father. We are so young and strong that we can live on our fat until we reach the army. Then we’ll send back for you.”
He carried the pot and laid it on the floor beside the ancient man. But the peon shook his head.
“Now I am finished with the pain in the belly,” he said, “and it will be easy to die ... I sleep a great deal. I crawl over to that corner where the bed used to be, and I sleep there. When I wake up, I lie for a minute thinking that I am only a boy again and that the pot of frijoles is simmering by the fire and the bubbles bursting with fat along the brink of the jar. Then I feel my bare gums grind against one another and I know that I am old Pedro again, and here, and alone. So I crawl back here and sit and look out the door at that mahogany tree. It will not be very long, now. Sometimes I get dizzy and fall over, even while I sit here, so I know that it won’t be long.”
“Here, here!” commanded Piaster. “Take some of this rice. Look! Good ja mon, too. Good, fat jamón!”
“I have finished with eating,” said old Pedro, “but a cigarette would comfort my soul. I finished the last tobacco a week ago.”
THE GENERAL took out tobacco and papers and made a cigarette. When it was lighted, Pedro held up a skeleton, dirty arm, and blessed him.
“How fast does a soul mount, amigo?” asked Pedro. “Will it be swiftly, the way a buzzard rises, or slowly, like this smoke?”
“It will be the way you want it to rise.” said Easter. “Then slowly, slowly,” said the old man. “Because I want to see everything for the last time. I want to see the
river, and perhaps I can look down to the next village. Do you think I shall be able to look as far as the sea?”
“You will,” said Easter. “You shall be able to see that far.”
“It will be bright, will it not?” asked Pedro, earnestly.
“It will be all polished with the sun of heaven, father,” said Easter.
“So! So!” said Pedro. “I never have been to the sea, and that is the only hunger that remains in me, except the hunger for heaven. Yes, yes, God forgive me, except the hunger for heaven ...”
“Will God forgive you, Pedro, if you refuse the food that would keep life in you?” asked Easter. “Mind you, father. When we reach the army we send back men to bring you in a mule litter. Will God love you if you refuse help?”
Pedro held up a rosary of wooden beads and laughed a little, his voice shaking crazily away to nothing.
“Why, God has been my friend for these many years,” said Pedro. “He has been my friend since the dog died.”
“How did that come about?” asked Easter.
“I had an old dog that died,” said Pedro, “and he left behind him a strong young son that was just learning to fetch and carry. The night the old dog died I stood outside the door of my house and said: ‘God, I praise Thee, for You take the useless and leave the strong. That should be the way of a kind and wise God!’ And the next morning I saw the young dog lying curled in a heap, with his upper lip twitched back from his teeth as though he were chewing a good fat bone. And he was dead. So I went outside my house that evening, which is the time when God is nearest the earth, and I said: ‘God, I understand. Let there be peace between us. I, also, am old.’ From that time forward, there has been an understanding between us. And He will forgive me if I refuse life and take death.”
“Shall I force some of the rice down his throat?” asked Seabold.
The general answered him with a look.
“What would a priest say about this?” asked Easter.
“Priests and very old men are very much alike,” said Pedro. “Or else they should be alike.”
“I think we can manage to carry you between us,” observed the general thoughtfully.
“A plant cannot live without its roots,” said Pedro, “and how could I live without the look of these four walls, and places in the floor that were dug out in ways I remember, or the face of the big mahogany tree, there? In all of these things I am rooted.”
“You shall stay here, then,” said Easter.
“Thank you, my general!” said Pedro.
“Ah—do you know me, Pedro?” exclaimed Easter.
“I never have been to the sea, but once I was all the way to San Esteban City, and there I saw the great people ride in a procession on one day, and you were at the head of them all, beside the President, where the people were cheering the most.”
“Why didn’t you say you knew me, before this?” asked Easter.
“Because a great man without his greatness is a naked thing. Who am I to shame you, my general? ’ answered Pedro.
“True!” said Easter, startled to his feet. “True! True! It’s better to die than to sink into the gutter.”
“Brother, it is best of all to know God.” said Pedro. “One day you also may have a dog that you love, and the dog may die.”
“We must go, Joe,” said the general. “Take the pot along with you and we’ll eat in the ojien.”
“And leave him?” asked Seabold.
“Leave him? Man, can’t you see that he’s not alone?”
So they went out into the open to eat the rice and bacon, and the old man blessed them as they passed through his door.
“He knew me !” muttered Easter. “He knew me!”
And he ran his eye gradually up the trunk of a great tree and rested his glance for a long time in the topmost branches.
It seemed to Seabold that between Easter and the old man there was a country which was still undiscovered for him, and he insisted no lo’ver about Pedro. He merely said: “But to leave him mere unburied?”
“The jungle covers its Deojr'.,’ said Easter. “Ic buries them as well as a priest and a grave digger . . . Talk about something else, Joe. I’ve got a chill in my bones, and no fever to follow it!”
THEY STRUCK thicker jungle than ever. It was a dense green wall, a pale green like the belly of a lizard, and the machete could be fleshed in it from the hilt to the jooint. They slashed above and below, a high stroke and a low stroke, and pulled the tangled mass back and tramjoled it underfoot.
It was work in a steam bath. They were drenched with sweat and with continual dripping. Even the skin of their faces began to grow pulpy, aund every time they gripjxxl the machete, spelling one another, they had to close the fingers one by one against the jiain. It was like grasping the blade, not the handle.
They got through to a game trail. It carried them in almost the true direction for half a day, and then the jungle met them again, a little less stifling, but still a green horror through which they had to tunnel. All day they worked, and when the night came they sharpened the machete on a stone and went to sleeji where they sat. They had had no food for a long time, the labor was terrible, and the only weight they would carry with them was that of the rifle.
Jack Easter had begun to grin as he worked. It was not a distortion of the face, but a stem smile. His accurate mind clocked off the hours of the day, and at the end of each hour they sjxdled one another with the machete. Many a time Seabold attempted to work longer than his shift, but the general always pulled him back and took his stance in front of the green wall.
They were four days from the village before Easter collapsed. He had taken a full stroke with the machete and then fell forward on his face.
Seabold turned him over. Half-ojjen, glazed eyes looked up at him. He took the head of the general between his hands and shook it gently. Ilis hands left marks of blood.
He shouted. The sound of his own voice was like an answer. Lonely terror got hold of him.
Then Easter’s voice said calmly: “I’ve turned old and rotten, have I?”
He pushed himself uji to a sitting jxisture and slouched Ills back against a tree trunk.
vou've been doing the work of three men!” cried Seaboid. '‘What are vou talking about?”
“Be still,” said Easter.
Seabold looked down at the bowed head, the coal all rotted and tom, the shirt decaying beneath it, the trousers tattered at the knees and ankles.
He said no more but returned to the attack on the jungle wall. After a while, Easter stood up and took his turn until he staggered. Only then would he let Seabold take the machete away from him. When he mumbled a\
protest, Seabold pushed him back. His knees were no good, and he slumpied to the ground.
Sometimes it seemed to Seabold that all the flesh was worn away from the jxilm of his hand and that he was clutching the machete grip with naked bones and nerves. His right ami grew inflamed. He had learned to shift the great knife to his left hand and labor nearly as effectively with this, but the skin and flesh of it seemed softer, more pulpy. It wore away.
On the fifth day, in the morning, Easter did not rise. He got no higher than his knees and then crumpled uji.
Seabold worked alone that day, shifting the big knife rhythmically every twenty strokes from hand to hand. By noon, the general no longer could crawl forward to keep up with him. He had to go back from time to time, and carry the half-senseless body up to the place where he was working.
Then he stojijxxl carrying. 1 íe jiicked up the weight by the armjiits and dragged it forward, the heels on the ground, the feet wobbling back and forth. After each one of those journeys, Seabold had to droji on one knee until the dizziness melted out of his brain. The hunger jiains ate into the middle of him. A dog was eating his heart out, a fox, like the Sjiartan lad. He pulled uj> his Ixfft until it was biting him in two, like the belt around a beggar’s monkey.
That fifth day had no ending. It had portions and sections, but no ending.
In one jxjrtion, after he had dragged the general forward a hundred feet to the cutting, in the tail of his eye he saw something wink and looked back to find Easter jiutting the muzzle of the rifle in his mouth and fumbling for the trigger. He kicked the rifle away. The front guard of it cut the mouth of Easter. He sat stupidly, touching the blood and then looking down at his hand.
Then he said: “D’you want me to be the death of two men instead of one, Joe?”
A horrible weakness came up out of the heart of Seabold and weakened his spirit. He began to sob. He said over and over: “Easter, don’t do that! Don’t do that!”
At last he could hear Easter answering: “All right. I won’t do anything. All right, Joe.”
Then he went back to the work. He felt that he had been unmanned, but in hell manliness doesn’t count. Or does it?
A STAR shone in the eyes of Seabold.
He was on his knees, because cutting a tunnel the height of a standing man was useless. But still he saw a star, with shattered rays, shining straight in his eyes. It was the twilight of that fifth day which had no ending. He was cutting by touch, not by sight; and here was a star before him, as though he were cutting upward toward the sky, and not straight ahead, on the ground. A soul, to be saved from the jungle, perhaps had to cut its way upward through the thick green . .
And then the machete knifed forward through the tendrils into emptiness.
He thought he was entering a vast cave. When he blundered forward into the open, he saw that there were stars but they were above his head, and before him were fires, more golden than the sun, more beautiful than heaven, and dark figures moving about them, and the blessed scent of food.
"Quien viva?" yelled a man.
“Hurtado!” shouted Seabold.
"Si! Viva Hurtado!” shouted the soldier.
Seabold began to laugh.
He went back into the dark tunnel and stumbled over the body of Easter.
“We’ve found ’em . . . Stand up, general!” cried Seabold.
But Easter lay still.
He got hold of the fxxly and draped the limpness of it over his shoulder. I le felt as strong as a madman, except for a craziness in his knees, as he staggered out into the open again.
“Hurtado ! Hurtado !” he kept shouting.
The fires grew bigger before his eyes. Hands laid hold of him, but he could not see the faces.
THE BRAIN of Seabold was numbed.
As a drunkard clings with insane stubbornness to his limited ideas, fixing upon each with an infuriating singleness of mind, so he set himself to ward off danger from Easter. During that last agony.jf starvation and labor there had been nothing in his thoughts except the dread of the jungle and the fear for Jack Easter; now through a dingy mist of exhaustion he continued to guard the general. Like the memory of a drunkard, afterward most of the moving picture was lost from his mind and there were only scattered frames, here and there, that came back to him vividly. Throughout, the brown faces, the dark hands were not to be trusted and all their ministrations were to be avoided. The strange logic that operated in Seabold’s semi consciousness was that first Jack Easter was to be resuscitated, and then the wiser brain of the general would be able to take care of them both.
So he could remember the next day how he had beaten off the hands that extended toward them out of the bodiless darkness that surrounded him, fire-lighted with unearthly, long splashes of golden brilliance. He could remember seeing the pallet at a fireside and stretching Easter’s long body upon it, and how the head of Easter lay, turned to one side, the mouth open, the face swollen with mosquito poison, arms and legs lifelessly sprawling. He could remember how he had pressed his ear to the breast of that senseless body until the slow, faint tremor of the heart was perceptible; how he roused from that great discovery and reward to find that brown hands were lifting the head of Easter and putting food into the half-living mouth; how he fought those hands away with the dread of poison in his foggy mind, then tasted the soup, trusted it, and so set his teeth on his own terrible desire and fed it swallow by swallow to his friend; how many men stood about silently and watched ; how Easter first opened his eyes and how the swollen lips murmured, “All right, amigo!" and then how this si>eech seemed to release him from the long damnation of effort, so that he could lie down'and sleep, sleep, sleep, hi? spirit descending through whirling darknesses that might have carried him forever from this queer little world, except that with
one hand he gripped the tatters of the general’s coat as he passed into unconsciousness.
When he wakened the next day Seabold was prone on a good hammock that swung under a low tent whose sides were rolled up to let the steaming jungle-breath pass through. He roused from a nightmare, shouting: “General! General! Where
“Here! Here! Here!” shouted the voice of Easter.
And he saw Jack Easter propped in a similar hammock close beside him, waving a hand, laughing, restored almost to the very semblance of that cheerful fellow who first had entered the dreadful jungle.
“Are you all right?” asked Seabold.
“I’m as fit as a fiddle,” said Easter. “And you, old son?”
“I’m right; I’m all right.”
“Here’s General Hurtado.”
Agosto Hurtado wore a plain khaki uniform with no insignia whatever upon it, and only the red neckerchief of a general around his throat. He had a brown, round, featureless puff of a face like any other peon, adorned with a very Nordic brush of mustache. When he smiled, the vast bushes of the mustache parted like ten spreading fingers. He was smiling now as he took the sore hand of young Seabold gently and said: “The Admiral was too
strong for me; perhaps with you, I shall be too strong for the others.”
Without waiting for an answer, Hurtado walked out from the tent and his savage voice bellowed for food: “Soup—tortillas —coffee—roast kid—chicken—pork—wine —food ! Where are the cooks? My friends starve and my army lies asleep !”
There was a table in the tent. Seabold got himself into a chair in front of it. There was still no sense in his knees, for they w'obbled like the legs of a new-born calf, but he managed to get to the table. He was so weak that it was hard even to keep his head erect, but he would not lie back in the hammock to eat the food that was brought to him. He could have eaten a roasted ox; but Hurtado stopped him when he had had only a little.
Then he smoked a cigarette and found himself staring at the general through the smoke and laughing insanely from time to time, until his head fell in sleep on his breast.
YY7TIEN HE wakened again, Easter *V was Up ancj about, though the steps he took were short ; and Seabold also was a new man, though for days a wolf was couched inside the spring of his ribs and devoured him.
The army was moving slowly through the jungle, following the line of a small railway, narrow gauge, which had been tom up by the troops of President Don Ricardo Rodriguez. However, new rails were laid and the little engines rolled over them, dragging the long lines of freight cars laden with men, guns and provisions. They went so slowly the jungle already was springing up and closing the gap which had been drilled through the forest. A corps of men had to go in advance to clear the greenery away before the rails could be relaid.
Right and left, the trains passed little banana farms and great plantations in all stages of growth, as they climbed gradually toward the mountains of the uplands. But still the jungle was a huge wall of stifling green that Seabold watched from the windows of a caboose as the train inched forward. He had tunnelled through the sweating green of that hell; the palms of his healing hands itched as he watched the huge front of the trees go crawling by, enormous trunks that blossomed toward the top, and tangling, sweeping curtains of lianas falling thirty yards to the ground; then swamps starred with white lilies and with great butterflies blowing across them like flowers in a happy wind; then forest again, cohune palms that have forgotten to evolve with the rest of creation, cotton trees, ceibas.
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and always the incredible festooning of air-plants, with orchids making points and moments of loveliness. Now a hardwood monster 200 feet high with a writhing, twisting trunk and branches, painted in green stripes with moss an inch thick; then ferns delicate as the lace of maiden hair, or big as a tree with trunks as thick as a man’s arm ; now fragrances never dreamed by the cold North and rainbows falling through the moist air; then wine palms, coral trees, hollow cecropias. Seabold, as he watched them walking past, closed his eyes from time to time and drew a breath through pinching nostrils. The face of it all was splendid and strange, but he knew what it. was to dig through the green smother at the foot of all this glory.
It was four days after he joined the army that the whole tatterdemalion crowd was marshalled in the mud of a banana plantation, while Hurtado mounted a platform that was erected in the midst and bellowed at the top of his lungs as he embraced Joseph Seabold before all his troops, belted his own sword around the waist of the young man, snatched the neckerchief from around his own throat and retied it for Seabold.
It was a brief but strenuous burst of oratory that preceded this making of a general. Seabold, all unprepared, was thrust up onto the platform, blinking and a little dizzy, and while he stood there he heard a friend of San Esteban described— one who poured his fortunes into the lap of the republic, who clove to her fortunes through evil and through good, who had placed his hand and his heart at the feet of San Esteban. Who was that man? He stood before them. As a gift of great price, he had brought to' them the greatest of military geniuses. General Easter, the general. And now command was given into the hands of Joseph Seabold himself, and the proud title, Friend of the Republic !
The speech, the sword-giving, the yellir.g of the army, reinforced and inspired by rum that was distributed afterward, cheered Seabold and dizzied him at the same time.
Afterward he said to Easter: “But
suppose that Robertson doesn’t come up to us with money? What will happen then?”
“It doesn’t matter—for a while,” said Easter. “The whole army knows that you’re with us. Every time a soldier looks at you. it’s as good as a pay cheque in his pocket. Yes, and the hard cash already counted out for him!”
Then Robertson arrived.
HE CAME UP on a little blond mule that wagged its ears in time with its stepping. He nad a bullet-hole through the flap of his coat and ruinous news to tell Hurtado: The men of Don Ricardo had broken through below and were masters of the railroad from the heels of the army to the sea ! No more provisions would come rolling to them from the low countries. Nothing more would reach them from the sea. They had to get out of the jungle swiftly and fight out the duel with Don Ricardo’s armies on the highlands above. Whatever the decision, it must be reached quickly.
When he had finished speaking, the little man lugged two sacks from his mule into the general’s tent and poured out on the table 100 pounds of coined gold. It made a splendid heap. Some of the coins rolled onto the ground. Half a dozen of them were snatched up beyond the door of the tent by the guards who were placed there. Hurtado refused to take the money away from the lucky ones. He stood at the open flap of his tent and yelled to the rabble of his army: “You see what the General
Seabold brings to us? Oceans of gold, brothers! Money, money, my children, with which to fight for our country. A golden sword has the sharpest edge in every battle. Courage and be of great heart !”
When he turned back into the tent little
Carpenter Robertson sat on a canvas stool mopping the sweat from his face and said to him, quietly, very quietly: “If ten
thousand dollars will help you, there it is. But that’s all we’ll get out of the Seabold Company until Joseph Seabold himself goes home and unlocks the vaults of his bank !”
“Ah-h-h-h !” snorted Hurtado. “What is this thing you say to me? He must go? Before he returns, the revolution is mired in the mud and stilled in the jungle!” Carpenter Robertson cast telegrams on the table. The code words were translated in a hasty pencilled scrawl. He gave them the abstracted information briefly: “Kelvin is elected president of the Seabold Company. I íe begs you to come back at once, Joseph. He tells me over the wire in seven different ways that, although you may own, personally, the greater part of the stock of the company, there are other interests to be considered.”
He picked up a telegram and read off a portion :
“Disastrous effect of Seabold’s presence in San Esteban now undoubted. We are faced with total loss of all our possessions there. Hurtado’s movements bound to die of weakness before long. Entreat and insist that Seabold return. We cannot furnish more money on top of the enormous drafts recently dispatched. Beg to suggest that older heads may have wiser suggestions to offer. Kelvin.”
James Princeton Easter let rum trickle slowly into a glass until it was full. He raised it to his lips and gave them a toast : “Here’s to a quick retreat and a safe one, Agosto. Here’s to a pleasant sea voyage afterward!”
Hurtado said nothing, but Seabold caught the wrist of the general before he could drink.
“Don’t do that !” he said.
They looked to him for further speech, but he had nothing more to say for a moment.
Carpenter Robertson broke out: “What’s that red rag doing around your neck, Joseph?”
Hurtado, stunned, was leaning helplessly against the centre pole of the tent at this moment. He turned his head slowly as Seabold answered: “It’s a gift from General Hurtado. He gave me a sword to go along with it, Robertson, and I’m going to use it.”
Carpenter Robertson said: “Oh, curse it, is it going to be as kindergarten as all this? Joseph, do I have to start at the beginning and argue? Don’t you see that the only thing for you to do is to take your fine sword and go home?”
Seabold suddenly laughed. He took the glass of rum from the hand of Easter and shouted: “Viva! Viva the revolution!
Viva Hurtado! Viva Easter! Viva everything! We’ll march for San Esteban City while there’s skin on our feet !”
And swallowed the rum at one gulp. The bushy mustaches of Hurtado spread their ten fingers wide apart. Easter began to slosh rum into the glasses, and Carpenter Robertson, stunned, allowed a glass to be thrust into his numb hand. All the other matters, the revolution, the fate of the Seabold Company, were as nothing compared with the knowledge that he had seen a drink taken unprotested from the hand of James Princeton Easter, as though by a peer, as though by a master.
TWO DAYS LATER they were out of nearly all sorts of food, particularly of posol. Posol is a sticky, pasty, white com meal, cooked and soggy. The true Indian of San Esteban won’t work unless he has his ration of it; and the moment posol disappeared from the provisions of the
army of Hurtado, the Indian part of his forces was ready to go home.
They were almost on the fringe of the jungle when the three generals sat down with Carpenter Robertson and debated the future. They added Robertson to their councils because at every moment he saw the worst before them, and served as the skeleton at the feast.
Two days away lay the highlands, the end of the narrow gauge, and the army of Don Ricardo with General Tom Lennox at the head of it. Grim reports came back into the jungle, brought by scouts who declared that they had seen with their own eyes a very efficient field artillery which manoeuvred behind strong, swift trucks; they had seen a whole corps of machinegunners, and an army fat, happy, cheerful, confident, laughing at the ragamuffins who were to come out at them from the steam of the jungle. They had plenty of munitions of every sort, and the great Universal Fruit Company was pouring forth its hard cash in an endless stream. They even had built a small railroad line out from San Esteban City, a sort of improvised railroad which served them as the great arteries serve the body.
Carpenter Robertson brought a map to Seabold and pointed out the main features of their situation. The forces of the Government waited like a pair of strong jaws, ready to close upon the army of the revolution the moment it issued from the jungle. There was still time for Seabold to attempt to get back to the seacoast and thence home.
“Don Ricardo has more men, more money. What have you got to stake against all that?” asked Robertson.
“I’ve got Hurtado and Easter,” said Seabold.
And that same day he was given his first important task to perform alone. He was to follow a narrow little branch of the railroad to a big banana farm on the right of the army. It had been the most inland of all the properties of the Seabold Company. He was to go there, surround the place by stealth, and harvest all the provisions which were stocked there for the use of the hundreds of laborers. He was to collect every scruple of food, particularly posol. At the supper table he talked things over with Hurtado and Easter; Robertson was there as a matter of course.
Easter said: “What will you do, Joe?” “Why, I’ll go there, surround the place, and bring home the bacon,” grinned Seabold.
“You’ll send scouts ahead, though?” suggested Easter. “You’ll feel out your way? You’ll remember that a whole army can be smashed to pieces if it’s caught in one of these narrow trenches through the jungle? Then there’s another thing. You know what to do when in doubt?”
“What’s that?” asked Seabold.
“Let him find out for himself,” said Hurtado.
“Find out or die, eh?” asked Easter. “Well, maybe that’s the best way.”
Robertson put in: “There’s only one
thing to do. You have four thousand men; Don Ricardo has twelve thousand. You can’t win, Hurtado ! Buc the right thing is to withdraw. Appeal to our own Government. Point out that the company has been robbed. Get Joseph reinstated. When he’s recouped his losses, then we can plan another revolution and finance it properly from the start.”
“Not at all,” said Easter. “Don’t forget that the girl planned this with Marigny and Don Ricardo.”
“Wrhat girl?” asked Robertson.
“Mary Cosgrave,” said Easter. “Look at their setup, all built on her. If there’s any protest Ricardo simply answers that he’s doing justice, not confiscating. The Seabold Company dispossessed the Cosgrave Company,
those long years ago. It took a long time for the Don Ricardo conscience to get worked up about the thing, but as soon as he realized how the Cosgrave outfit had been injured, he wanted to do them right. So he transferred all the acuerdas that set up the Seabold Company to the rightful owners, the Cosgraves! You see? All simple, all legal !”
Robertson broke out: “Where does that let in Marigny and the Universal Fruit?”
“Why,” said Easter, “that’s simple. If the Cosgrave Company chooses to let out part of its rights to another company that will finance the working of the properties— who can prevent that? Mary Cosgrave will get about half a million in good farms out of this business. The rest goes to Universal Fruit. But the whole legal emphasis is on the big-hearted way in which the Government is doing right by the Cosgrave outfit ... I’m tired of talking. Pass me that bottle.”
“You send Joseph alone today?” asked Robertson.
“No,” grinned Easter. “You go along with him, Robertson !”
SEABOLD set off that day with a map, 500 men, and a very great doubt. The map showed him the way to the banana farm and its village of huts; the 500 men were a scramble of rags, dirt and irresponsible good nature; the doubt concerned that thing which he should do whenever he was in doubt—a thing which every good commander in this part of the world should understand, it appeared, but which a man should find out for himself.
They had to cut their way through the new growth which had sprung up across the narrow tracks of the railroad since the trains had stopped running with the coming of the revolution. Some of that new growth was twenty feet high. And the little bridges that crossed the watercourses had been broken down by the Government troops or by the employees of the Universal Fruit Company, which nowpossessed the banana farms. Seabold. Robertson, and a few other minor officers rode mules or little mountain horses near the head of the column, within sound of the swishing of the machetes that carved the way through the jungle. On the whole, it was as cheerful a detachment as one could wish to see. Those round, brownfaced soldiers chattered with Seabold most familiarly.
They would say: “ Hai, señor, how does it feel in the stomach to be first marching to battle? Is it cold there?”
And they would rub their stomachs and howl with laughter; yet it never seemed to occur to them that they were incurring any particular addition of danger by being commanded by a novice. They joked at him, they taunted him from time to time, but always in the highest good nature.
One fellow reached up to him a corn husk filled with chili peppers packed in salt.
“Eat, my general!” he said. “It will warm your heart!”
All up and down the line, since it was noon, the Indians in the army were squatting, eating their rations and finishing off with those chilis packed in salt, picking at them like birds at seed.
“It will scald your throat out,” said Robertson. “Don’t be a fool, Joseph !”
But Seabold already was munching a pepper. The oily fire that sprang up from it sprayed across his palate and into his nose. He could not breathe. So he shouted: “Viva the revolution ! Brother, I am on fire—with happiness!”
Tears poured down his face, but he kept on with the peppers, picking up liberal pinches of salt. The burning oil seemed to strike into the roots of his brain, into the balls of his eyes. The world swam before him. The tears flowed in a current. And yet at the same time there was a queer comfort to the inner man in this red-hot fodder.
The Indians, in an ecstasy, grouped closely around his mule. They stopped it. They held the bridle. They pointed to the wet face of their general and their sides shook with laughter.
The savage voice of Robertson cut in: “You see what you’ve done ! You’ve made yourself a laughingstock forever!”
But Seabold kept on eating and laughing and crying out: “If we burn on earth, we will find it cool hereafter.”
Literally, he finished the chilies in that corn husk. The Indians, staggered with mirth, offered him a flask of their wine. It was sour and stale, but it carried some of the conflagration out of his mouth and throat.
“Viva Seabold!” the soldiers were crying, yelling with laughter.
One of them shouted: “Do not kill me with laughing, my general ! Let me die for you with bullets. Viva! Viva!”
They were all bellowing and cheering. Robertson said: “A fine, quiet way to steal through the jungle and surprise the enemy, Joseph!”
“Look at ’em!” said Seabold. “They’re happy, aren't they? The whole crew of them as happy as can be. I’d say. What does it matter if they laugh at me, if they’ll keep on laughing when the shooting begins?”
BUT THERE was no laughing when the shooting began.
When the head of the column cut its way through to the banana farm they could see the little squat village of huts behind the superintendent’s house, which stood up on stilts. For a quarter of a mile of the plantation had been levelled to the ground, to give the defenders a clear field for fire and prevent the army of the revolution from creeping up to close range for a charge. The only shelter wras offered by obstacles which had been too hard for the workers to tear down. For the banana farm stood among the scattered ruins of the ancient city of La Merced. Many generations before, that site had been laid out as a capital for the country, with its dozen churches and its palaces for the rich of the land. But they found out that the rains were stronger than their handwork; fever cleared away the population; presently the place was left deserted. Still fragments of a wall stood up a little from the deep mud, or the strong arch of an old casement offered a frame for glimpses of the jungle, and just behind the overseer’s house was a very considerable mound where the cathedral once had stood. One lofty section of the nave still remained, sustained by its flying buttresses. From that artificial hill came the worst news for the Hurtadistas as they deployed from the green mouth of the jungle. The crackling rifle fire from the village was not so bad. They could stand it, dodging behind humps and fragments of decaying masonry, even scooping rifle-pits in the mud of the cultivated land, and popping back their own bullets at the line of huts from which the storm was breaking; but now from the heaped ruins of the cathedral field guns began to open. With heavy shells they smashed down the shelters which the Hurtadistas had found. With a plunging fire of shrapnel they raked the edge of the jungle into which the greater part of Seabold’s expedition had crawled for shelter.
Half a dozen of those three-inch, rapidfire devils were working from the cathedral mound. Seabold, beside Carpenter Robertson, sat in the lee of the butt of some old bastion and watched the havoc around him. Not far from him, a shell tossed into the air a bit of ancient wall that was sheltering three revolutionists. Two of them appeared no more from beneath the down-showering wreckage; the third came running and dodging like a snipe through the mud to Seabold’s own place of refuge. There he sat down in that same mud, leaned his rifle against his shoulder, and lighted a cigarette. A flying bit of shell or of stone wreckage had grazed his forehead and a steady trickle of blood ran
down his face, but he was as steady as a stone.
“Hot. my general, eh?” he said. “But if the fools would put riflemen up there on the mound along with the big guns, it would soon be a great deal hotter!”
Seabold, venturing to look over his shelter, had three or four bullets instantly whistling about his ears. They came from the huts of the village; hardly a rifleshot was being fired from the cathedral mound.
“What is your name, friend?” he said to the wounded soldier.
“Juan Jose,” said the man.
A shell thudded into the farther side of the bastion, exploded, and cast up a vast shower of mud. The three were dappled with sticky blackness.
“Juan Jose.” said Seabold, “this is hotter even than chili peppers and salt.”
The soldier laughed.
“Can you get back to the edge of the jungle?” asked Seabold. “If you can, pass the word that everyone is to work over to the left among the trees. Finish your cigarette and then go back to them.”
“And what will you do out there, my general?” asked Juan Jose, as he dropped the butt of his smoke into the mud.
“I’m trying to hear the jokes they're making in the village,” said Seabold. For as the riflemen kept up their fire from the safety of their huts, they could be heard laughing and cheering. And hardly a shell burst without bringing a cheer from the defenders.
Juan Jose was laughing as he got to his knees.
“Adios, my general,” he said. “When you find out the joke, will you tell me?”
HE RAN suddenly from them toward the woods. Almost at the edge of the jungle, he stumbled and fell on his face.
“They’ve knocked him over,” said Seabold. “Who the devil would suppose that these fellows could shoot so well?” “Ay, there’s the last of your messenger,” said Robertson. “Shoot? They’re so poor, down here, that they have to shoot straight because they can’t afford to waste bullets.”
“Look! He’s up again!” cried Seabold. Juan Jose, getting to his feet, ran with a stagger into the green gloom of the forest.
Presently other forms could be seen, in vague glimpses, moving toward the left.
“According to what I’ve read of Central American fighting,” said Seabold, “our fellows ought to be making tracks for the rear; but see ’em still obeying orders?” “People believe what they like to believe,” said Robertson. “Fifty per cent casualties in one day’s row—I’ve seen that, down here.”
He spoke from the side of his mouth as he lay on his belly and took aim around the corner of the bastion. His rifle exploded.
“High to the right,” said Robertson through his teeth. “I’m always that kind of a fool !”
He fired again. “Viva the revolution! Joseph, this is something like.”
He began to cackle like a hen; but Seabold was watching a group of four of his men running from an advanced post back toward the woods. One of them fell and did not rise; the other three gained that insecure shelter of the cloudy green of the trees.
“Stay here,” said Seabold, patting the hip of Robertson. “See if you can snag another one of ’em.”
He stood up. It was like rising, naked, into a cold wind.
“Amigos! Compañeros!” he shouted to the scattered ruins that lay between him and the jungle. “Come on writh me for the guns ! We charge, brothers !”
Here invisible fingers plucked his hat to the side of his head. He heard the wasp sound of the bullet go by. But up from the scattered ruins jumped single men and small groups; and another swarm poured out from the edge of the jungle just in front of the cathedral hill.
They were yelling “Charge!” or “Viva!” It seemed to the excited brain of Seabold
that they were standing still, jumping up and down, brandishing their rifles like fools who expected to frighten their enemies away from the field.
Then he saw little Carpenter Robertson go by him like a weazened old jackrabbit, bent low, swing his rifle so that it almost dragged in the mud. He was heading straight for the cathedral guns.
Seabold went past him, shouting: “Take cover, you old fool !”
He was too late. Robertson was down, hands clutching at his throat. One moment, a man in agony. The next, a still figure sprawled motionless in the mud. “He’s dead.” Instinct spoke in Seabold. Then: “They’ve killed him!” Cold fury possessed him.
Three shells in a single salvo struck the ground in front of him and threw up black volcanoes of earth. I lis men ran through the descending shower of mud. He could not keep up with them. A good leader ought to be that in fact. If only he had had sound footing to travel over . . .
A voice that was not his own, a bestial, yelling voice tore his throat. I íe could not tell what he was shouting. One small part of his soul, an aloof witness, watched him sliding and floundering through the mud. All he wanted was to find up there among the guns that dark face of Marigny and the fat smile of Don Ricardo.
The slope grew sharper. He fell over a stone and barked both shins.
He found that he was yelling: “Wait
for me ! . . . Smash ’em !... Down with ’em! . . . Viva! . . . Hurtado!”
And then he was up there among the guns, each in a neatly hollowed emplacement. A scattering of fugitives scampered down the farther side of the cathedral hill; other soldiers of the Government already were fleeing from the village as they saw the vital point of their line in the hands of the Hurtadistas. Some of his own men, shouting drunkenly, were pulling the guns around to turn them on the huts. But there was no time for that. He felt with a strange sort of agony that every fugitive who escai^d was a priceless treasure that had slipped through his fingers.
He began to yell, “Charge! Charge!” and ran down the slope toward the village.
TUTE COULD see the little field of that -*• battle as he ran. All firing from the huts had ended. Still, from the verge of the jungle, the more laggard part of his small army was streaming out. And again active, brown-skinned men sped past him while he damned the mud, the weight of his boots . . . If he could get his hands on one enemy; if he could drive one bullet through living flesh . . .
He carried a rifle like a club, with the butt forward, shouting: “Leave the street.
Cut in behind the houses. Cut in behind !”
For there was that maddening wastage of fugitives who streaked away into the depths of the plantation. I lis men, running faster and faster before him, veered off at his direction behind the little town. He was staggering on through the mud with no one near him when a dozen armed men lurched out from the rear of a hut. There was such a madness on Seabold that he ran at them with his clubbed rifle raised. They shrank from him. They threw down their guns and fell on their knees. They lifted their empty hands into the air toward him and screamed out for mercy. It was seeing that picture that sobered him with a sudden stroke. He leaned on his rifle, gasping. Lungs and throat burned as though he had been running for an hour against the wind.
Twelve men, all on their knees, surrendering; and he alone with his rifle grasped like a truncheon. He had wanted to smash out their brains. He had felt that their brains would be paper under his blows. Now, abruptly, he saw that they had human faces. He was sick. He wanted to vomit.
More of his men poured about him. They were spreading through the village, smashing things.
“These are yours, my general,” said one of his soldiers, pointing to the grovelling shapes. “What will you do with them?”
He got the answer somewhere out of a book.
“Send ’em to the rear,” he said, and gladly turned his back on them.
He had to think about things, and his brain was not fit for thought. He wanted to sit down and recall that he had been a blind beast and try to get back to reasonable sense again; instead, he had to remember about getting the food supplies, all the food supplies out of the town. That was what Hurtado wanted. Then there were the guns, too, and the ammunition . .
A breathless soldier was reporting something to him, making many gesticulations;
“Don’t shout like a brainless monkey!” cried Seabold. “Now tell me what you want!”
“Yes, my general. A foreign woman here—in that house—she has barricaded the doors. She shoots rifle bullets through them. But one little shell from the guns on the hill ...”
Seabold went to the hut. A score of his men stood back from it.
“Hello ! Who’s there?” he called.
“Are you a foreigner?” cried a thin voice from the house.
“Yes. Open the door before it’s smashed open. Who are you?”
“Mary Cosgrave,” she answered. “Will you keep them out? Will you keep their hands away from me?”
To be Continued