He took a map from his pocket and unfolded it upon the table. Then placing his finger on a small dot in the Caribbean Sea, some distance from the Republic of Equinata, he continued--
"There it is! It is called San Diaz, and is a picturesque little place. The man who owns it is monarch of all he surveys. If we can once get Fernandez there, all will be well. No vessels call at the island, and, unless he likes to attempt a long swim, which I should be the last to prevent, I fancy he will find some difficulty in returning to the mainland."
Another thought flashed through my mind.
"Before we go any further," I said, "there is one thing I should say to you. It is this. Before I take any hand in the business, I must have your positive a.s.surance that no violence will be used towards the man you are so anxious to secure. I could not be a party to anything of that sort, nor could I possibly deliver him to you if I thought you meant to do him any ill."
"I will give you the a.s.surance for which you ask most willingly," my companion replied without hesitation. "I merely desire to keep Fernandez out of Equinata for a time, that is to say, while I reinstate myself in my old position."
When I was satisfied on this point, we discussed various other details connected with the scheme, and the part I was to play in it. It was certainly a big business.
"So far as I am concerned," said Silvestre, "I'm going to be selfish enough to say that I think it is a pity you are going to be married.
As President of the Republic, I could make your fortune for you in a very short time. You wouldn't care to bring your wife out to Equinata and settle down there, I suppose. I'd like to have a man beside me whom I felt sure I could trust."
"Many thanks for the compliment you pay me," I replied. "I fear, however, South American politics are a little too uncertain for my taste."
"Well, perhaps you are right," he answered meditatively, as if he were considering the matter; "but you must at least admit that, as compared with the House of Commons, there is some life in them."
"I should be inclined to subst.i.tute the word 'death' for 'life,'" I returned, thinking of the stories I had been told of the thousands who had perished during the last Revolution. "And now I must go. I have all my work cut out for me if I am to sail on Wednesday."
"Before you leave me," he remarked, "I had better give you this!"
So saying, he took from his pocket a Russian leather case. From it he produced a draft on a London banking firm, which he handed to me. It was for no less a sum than six thousand pounds. This was more than I had expected to receive. I therefore asked his reason for adding the extra amount.
"It is for your expenses," he replied. "For many reasons it would be better that I should not be brought into the business. You had, therefore, better book your pa.s.sage yourself. You will also have to get the outfit of which I spoke just now. That will cost a good deal.
What is left should suffice for your other expenses, which, in your capacity of a rich young Englishman, you will probably find heavy."
This was generous treatment, and I said as much.
"Not at all," he answered. "Believe me, I am only too glad to do it. I count myself lucky in having secured your services, and I am willing to pay for that good fortune. Well, now that I have arranged matters with you, I shall return to London and set the ball rolling in the various directions. If you could make it convenient to meet me on Monday next, I could then tell you how matters progressed, and we could discuss future proceedings together. Here is my address."
With that he handed me his card, which I placed carefully in my pocket-book with the cheque. After that, having promised to call upon him on the day mentioned, I bade him good-bye, and returned to my own home.
Great indeed was my mother's consternation on learning that she was to lose me again so soon. She had counted, she declared, upon having me for another month at least. Molly tried to be brave, but the effort was not a conspicuous success.
"Never mind, darling," I said, "we must put the best face we can upon it. It is a fine chance for me. If I am successful, we shall be able to be married when I return, and I shall then be able to give up the sea. So we must cheer up and look forward to that."
"It should be very important business you are to be engaged upon if you will be able to do that," she answered, looking up at me with her trusting, loving eyes.
"It is most important," I answered. "The biggest thing I have ever had to do with. Some day, perhaps, I may be able to let you know more about it, but at present my lips are sealed."
"Tell me nothing but what you wish, dear," she answered, like the good little woman she was. "I am quite content to wait."
After lunch she walked into Salisbury with me, and did her shopping, while I visited the bank, where I paid in my cheque, and then went on to the tailor's to arrange about my outfit. It is doubtful whether the firm in question had ever had such an order before, and for once in my life I took rank as a person of importance in their eyes. They would have been more surprised, I fancy, had they known the reason of my wanting it all! The next thing to be done was to telegraph for a pa.s.sage to Barbadoes. This I did in my own name, and, as the transaction was with my old firm, I could well imagine the surprise my communication would cause them. A letter I had already written followed the wire, and conveyed the pa.s.sage money. After that the matter was settled. I had nothing to do now but to make the most of my time with my mother and Molly, before it should be necessary for me to leave for London.
When that day arrived I walked into Salisbury and took the train to Waterloo. Thence I made my way to the fashionable hotel at which Guzman de Silvestre was staying. He was in the act of going out as I entered, but on seeing me he led me back to his sitting-room and carefully closed the door.
"I am very glad indeed to see you," he said, placing a chair for me as he spoke. "I trust your preparations are progressing satisfactorily?"
"Everything is prepared," I answered. "I shall join the vessel on Wednesday morning in the docks. The receipt for my pa.s.sage money arrived this morning."
"It does me good to meet so expeditious a person," he remarked, with a smile. "I, on my side, have not been idle. I have received a cable from the folk in Florida to the effect that the yacht will reach Barbadoes on the twenty-sixth, where she will await your arrival.
After that I leave the conduct of affairs in your hands entirely."
"I trust I shall be able to carry it through," I answered. "I only wish I had a little more confidence in my ability to succeed."
"You'll manage it, never fear," Silvestre replied. "I am as certain that I shall one day see Fernandez coming ash.o.r.e at San Diaz, as I am of eating my dinner to-night."
"And that reminds me," I hastened to remark, "that there is still one thing that puzzles me."
"And what may that be?" he inquired. "Don't hesitate to ask any questions you may think of. This is no time for half confidences."
"I want to know why, with all your experience, and the number of men you have met, you should have selected me for this business. Surely you could have discovered hundreds of others better fitted for the work."
"To be candid with you," he returned, "I chose you because I liked the look of you. You seemed to be just the sort of man I wanted. I won't deny that I know lots of men who might have been able to carry it through successfully had it come to a pinch, but the chances are that they might have failed in some little thing, and that would have given rise to suspicion. I wanted an Englishman, and one possessed of the manners and appearance of a gentleman. Allow me to pay you the compliment of saying that in my opinion you combine both these qualifications."
"It is very good of you to say so," I replied, "but I don't quite see what the appearance of a gentleman has to do with the question."
"I will explain," he said. "Fernandez, as I have already told you, is an adventurer himself. He knows the type, and, for that reason, would be quick to detect a brother hawk. One suspicion would give rise to another, and then, you may rest a.s.sured, the attempt to remove him would be frustrated. Now you can see why I want some one who can play the part and yet not rouse his suspicions."
"And so I am to be a gentleman in manners and appearances--and yet be a traitor in reality. I don't know that I consider it altogether a nice part to be called upon to play."
"You must settle that with your own conscience," he answered, with one of his peculiar smiles. "Call it an act of political expediency, and thus settle all qualms."
After that I put a few further questions to him concerning certain contingencies that might occur in the event of the President obtaining an inkling of what was toward. When all this was arranged, I left him, at the same time promising to call upon him on Wednesday for final instructions.
From the hotel I drove to Mr. Winzor's offices in High Holborn. He was not in at the moment, but when I returned, half-an-hour or so later, I found him ready to receive me.
"Well, young gentleman," he began, after we had greeted each other, "and what can I do for you to-day. No more legal troubles, I hope?"
"I have come to you on two errands," I replied. "In the first place I want to know what you have done concerning Harveston and the Company?"
"I have received a letter from the former gentleman this morning," he answered, turning over some papers on the table as he spoke. "Let me see, where is it? Ah! here it is! In it he states that, while he has not the least desire to damage your reputation, or to prejudice your career, he cannot retract what he has said, or withdraw what was entered in the ship's log. The charge of untruthfulness, he admits, might be reconsidered, and he is also willing to suppose that your neglect of the ship might be due to a certain slackness which was engendered by the easy-going habits of your late commander. In conclusion, he begs to a.s.sure me that he has never, at any time, entertained the least feeling of animosity for yourself, but that, in reporting the matter to the Company, he merely acted in the manner that he deemed to be consistent with his duty."
"A preposterous letter in every sense of the word," I cried angrily.
"Not content with injuring me, he must endeavour to reflect on Captain Pomeroy, who is dead. Never mind, I'll be even with him yet--the hound."
The old gentleman permitted a dry smile to appear on his face.
"I am glad at least to observe," he said, "that you have abandoned your notion of taking immediate action against him."
"It would be impossible for me to do so, even if I had any desire that way," I replied. "The fact is, I am leaving England for South America on Wednesday next, and don't quite know when I shall be back. And that brings me to the second portion of the business upon which I desire to consult you."
"Am I to understand that you have obtained another situation?" he inquired. "And, pray, what line of steamships are you now going to serve?"
"I am not serving any line of steamships," I replied. "I am going out on private business, and I want you, if you will be so kind, to take charge of a certain letter I have written, and which I desire shall be opened by the person to whom it is addressed, in the event of my not returning within a year. One never knows what may happen in that part of the world to which I am now going. Here is the letter."
So saying I produced the epistle I had written on the previous evening, and which was addressed to my mother and Molly jointly. The old gentleman took it and turned it over and over in his hands.
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