I was altogether unprepared for this move. Was Fernandez about to break his promise to me? It certainly looked very much like it. I was on the point of expostulating, when the door opened and the Senorita entered hurriedly. She glanced from one to the other of us with a frightened expression upon her face. Then she turned to Fernandez.
"What is the meaning of this?" she asked, holding out her hands to him as if in supplication.
"Forgive me, my dear, but I think it would be better if you leave us,"
the President replied. "I shall be very happy to give you full particulars later."
"No, no," she cried. "Senor Hermanos, you helped to bring this trouble upon us, and--ah! I see it all. Why are you here at this hour, and what is the meaning of the Guard?" Then turning to the President she continued, "Oh, sir, are we never to be free from this sort of thing?
Is it impossible for us all to be friends?"
"It certainly seems difficult," Fernandez replied. "Thanks to Senor Hermanos and his friends, I have pa.s.sed through an extremely dangerous and unpleasant crisis. Had matters gone as they intended they should do, by this time I should have been in my grave. Fortune favoured me, however, and now I have returned to my own. Who can blame me if I repay those who would have worked my ruin?"
Turning to the captain of the Guard, he bade him remove his prisoners.
On hearing this the Senorita completely broke down. She fell on her knees at the President's feet and implored him to forgive. Whether it was a mere matter of acting and had all been previously arranged, as I am sometimes tempted to believe, or whether it was genuine, I am not in a position to say. Whatever else it may have been, however, it was at least effective. Then I saw my opportunity and took advantage of it.
"Your Excellency must forgive me if I interfere," I said. "There seems one point, however, that has escaped your attention. If Senor Hermanos and his companions are to be held guilty for your abduction, it is only fit and proper that I, who was the leading spirit in it, should take my place with them. If they are to be shot then I must share their fate."
My decision seemed to stagger them. He looked from me to them and then back again. Then he laughed outright, but I could not help thinking that his merriment lacked sincerity.
"You are certainly an extraordinary man, my dear Trevelyan. You abduct me and then save my life. You rejoice at being friends with me again and then ask me to shoot you. It seems to me, Hermanos, that you are fortunate in your advocates. The Senorita, to whom I can deny nothing, pleads for you; Senor Trevelyan, to whom I owe my life, refuses to let you die unless he dies too. I should be more than human to resist!"
Then, waving his hand to the captain of the Guard, who had been watching us with a puzzled expression upon his face, he continued, "Well, well, since it must be, let it be so! You can leave us."
The captain retired with his men, and a somewhat awkward silence fell upon us. There was still a look of pleading upon the Senorita's face.
The President, however, seemed thoughtful. It was evident that he had no desire to forego his vengeance. He paced the room for a few minutes, while we watched him with anxious faces. Heaven alone knows what Hermanos and his friends were thinking of, but I know very well what I thought, and I can a.s.sure you, my dear reader, I was far from happy. At last he stopped, and, after a momentary pause, faced Hermanos.
"Hermanos," he said, "you threw in your lot with my enemies, and you could not blame me if I made you answer for so doing. I certainly intended to do so; but I suppose we are none of us infallible, and with such pleading in your favour, I have nothing left me but to surrender. From this moment you are free. I give you your lives, gentlemen! Is it possible, since Silvestre is dead, for you to give me your allegiance? Now, shall we shake hands, endeavour to forget the past, and live only to promote the happiness of the country, for which we have risked so much?"
One by one they advanced and solemnly shook Fernandez by the hand.
Then, at a signal from the President, Antoine left the room, to appear a moment later with a tray of gla.s.ses and two bottles of champagne.
"Gentlemen," cried Fernandez, holding his gla.s.s aloft, "I give you the toast, 'Peace and prosperity to the fair State of Equinata.'"
When they had departed, Fernandez turned to me with a queer smile upon his face.
"I don't think they will trouble us again," he said.
I did not reply! What I was thinking was that I would have given something to have heard their conversation as they crossed the Square!
Strange to say, the populace of La Gloria did not appear to trouble themselves very much, either one way or the other, concerning their President's re-appearance. The officials, however, were, as behoved them, considerably more demonstrative. They were well acquainted with Fernandez' temper, and, like sagacious mortals, realized that it would be wiser for them to allow him to suppose that, whatever their own private opinions might be, they desired no better leader than himself.
With Hermanos, and his fellow-conspirators, he was not likely, as he observed, to have very much trouble. They professed to have seen the error of their ways, and were as enthusiastic in Fernandez' praise as they had hitherto been in his detriment. As for my own part in this singular business I allowed Fernandez to tell the story in his own fashion. This he did, to such good purpose that in a very short time I found myself the hero of La Gloria, an honour with which I could very well have dispensed. Monsieur Maxime and his crew were most liberally rewarded by the President, as were Matthews and his fellow-sailor.
They remained in Equinata for a short time, but what became of them later I cannot say.
"My dear Trevelyan," said Fernandez to me one morning, "I really intend that we should have a serious talk together. Now you know that whenever I have broached the subject of a recompense to you for the trouble you have taken, you have invariably put me off with some excuse or another, but I will be denied no longer. Forgive me if I say I am well acquainted with the state of your finances."
"It is not a fine prospect, is it?" I said, with a laugh.
"If you had stood by Silvestre and had left me to my fate, you would have been a comparatively rich man. And even if you did turn the tables upon Silvestre, why were you so quixotic as to hand him back the money?"
"I think you can guess," I answered. "If you can't, I am afraid I must leave you to work the problem out."
"And if you would not take _his_ money, why should you be equally particular in my case? It is only fair that I should recompense you for the inestimable service you have rendered me."
"I am afraid that it is impossible," I answered, for, as I have already said, I had long since made up my mind upon this subject.
Fernandez endeavoured to press me, but I remained adamant. Nothing he could do or say would induce me to change my mind. I knew that it was only by adhering to my resolution that I could salve my conscience. I had still sufficient money of my own left to pay for my pa.s.sage to England.
Important as the capital of Equinata may appear in the eyes of its inhabitants, it is, nevertheless, scarcely so prominent in the maritime world as certain other places I could mention on the South American coast. It was true I could wait for the monthly mail-steamer which would connect with a branch line at La Guayra, or I might take one of the small trading-boats and proceed along the coast until I could find a vessel bound for Europe. But having had sufficient of trading schooners in _La Belle Josephine_ to last me a lifetime, I eventually made up my mind to await the coming of the mail-boat, which, if all went well, would put in an appearance in a fortnight's time.
During that fortnight I was permitted a further opportunity of studying the character of the Senorita under another aspect. Since her return to La Gloria she seemed to have undergone a complete change.
Her temper was scarcely alike for two days at a time. She was capricious, wilful, easily made angry; then she would veer round, and be tender, repentant and so anxious to please, that it was impossible to be vexed with her.
"The President will miss you very much when you leave us," she said to me on the evening before my departure, as we stood together on the marble terrace overlooking the palace gardens.
It was a lovely night, and the air was filled with the scent of the orange blossom. I do not think my companion had ever looked more beautiful than she did at that moment. Indeed her beauty seemed to me to be almost unearthly.
"I fancy every one likes to feel that he or she will be missed," I answered. "You may be sure I shall often think of Equinata. Perhaps some day I may be able to return."
"Who knows where we shall be then?" she replied gloomily.
"What do you mean?" I asked in a tone of surprise. "You will, of course, be here, leading the Social Life of Equinata as you do now!"
"I am afraid that even now you do not realize how quickly affairs change in South America," she replied. "Some one else may manage to catch the Public Fancy, there will be a Revolution and we shall go out of power--perhaps to our graves!"
"I cannot believe that. In any case your uncle would take care your safety is a.s.sured!"
She gave a little impatient tap with her foot upon the stones.
"Of course he would protect me if he could," she answered, "but he might not be able to do anything. Had you not come to our rescue on that island, what use would his protection have been to me? How do I know that we may not be situated like that again? Oh, I am tired of this life--tired--tired!"
Almost before I knew what had happened she was leaning on the bal.u.s.trading, sobbing as if her heart would break. I was so taken by surprise, that for a moment I did not know what to say, or do, to comfort her. Then I went forward and placed my hand gently upon her shoulder.
"Senorita," I said, "is there anything I can do to help you?"
"No, no," she answered. "You can do nothing! Leave me to my misery.
Does it matter to you, or to any one, what becomes of me?"
"It must matter a good deal to your friends," I replied.
"Friends?" she cried, facing me once more and speaking with a scorn impossible to describe. "I have no friends. The women hate and fear me, the men cringe to me because of my influence with the President.
Even he may grow tired of me before long, and then----"
I allowed this speech to pa.s.s uncommented on. At the same time I wished the President would make his appearance and put an end to what was becoming a rather dangerous _tete-a-tete_. When she spoke again it was in a fierce whisper.
"Do you remember that night when we stood together in the balcony of the Opera House, and talked of ambition and of what a man might rise to? Senor Trevelyan, I tell you this, if I loved a man I could help him to rise to anything. Do you hear me? To anything!"
« Previous My Bookmarks Chapters Next»