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his hand at the flag-ship. He dearly loved all the punctilio of
international etiquette and the deference that had ever been his
portion in San Blanco.

And so this captain of industry smiled and hearkened for the first gun
of the expected salute. But it did not come. There was silence
somewhat grim and certainly sullen. He ground his teeth impatiently,
angry disappointment growing as they drew near the fleet. "What is the
matter with those rascals?" he growled, turning to Dan, who,
resplendent in blue and gold, had just joined him on the bridge.

"They don't seem to be happy to see us," replied the Captain, shortly.

"Not happy!" exclaimed Mr. Howland, who began to feel that the
situation approximated _lèse-majesté_. "Not happy? Confound them!
When we're bringing guns to support their mangy and tottering

"Well," replied the young commander, who scented trouble and thought of
the party on board, "they don't seem to be, anyway."

A sharp hail rang out from the nearest gun-boat, the flag-ship.

"What vessel is that, and whither bound?"

Mr. Howland tore at his collar and stuttered in purple fury.

"Impudence! Impertinence! Lunacy! Here, Captain, tell them they know
very well what ship this is - and - and - wait!" as Dan raised the
megaphone to his lips. "Don't waste time talking to the villains.
Tell them - tell them to go - well, you know what to tell them."

And Dan demonstrated that he did - so vigorously, so eloquently that the
answer came in the shape of a blank shot across the _Tampico's_ bows.

Dan looked gravely at the owner.

"The thing is pretty plain, Mr. Howland," he said; "the navy has
evidently joined the insurrection. Why they have not bombarded the
city I don't know; but you can be sure they are going to. We will have
to stop," and without waiting for a reply he jerked the signal
indicator, to cease headway. Mr. Howland was at no pains to conceal
his chagrin.

"A mighty bad stumbling-block; a mighty bad stumbling-block if the navy
has revolted, Captain Merrithew. If this Government falls, it means a
great deal to me; means the loss of considerable money - and prestige.
I must look to you to land those guns, Captain."

Dan did not reply, but gazed earnestly toward the city as though
meditating a dash. But that was out of the question, considering those
aboard. As the chug of the engines died out and the cough of the
exhaust hit the glooming air and the clumsy black hull slid to a
gurgling standstill, a gig was lowered from the _El Toro_, the
flag-ship, and the officer, Admiral Congosto, was soon stumbling up the
gangway of the freighter. Mr. Howland was inclined to have him thrown
overboard at once, but the better counsel of the Captain prevailed.

"Very well," growled the ruffled owner, "have your fling."

Admiral Congosto was a pompous Spaniard, obese, with bristling brows
and moustaches, who wrinkled his forehead and winked his eyes

"So," he said, with unctuous dignity, as Dan met him at the rail, "the

"Yes; the Capitan," and Dan bowed courteously.

"You are for San Blanco with supplies? - and - and - ah!" The Admiral
completed his sentence with a significant shrug of the shoulder. Dan
was equally cautious.

"We were putting in for water, for fresh water," he said. "Our
condenser's filled with bread crumbs or something, and we can't make
enough for our boilers, let alone drinking."

With an ample shrug of his shoulders, the Spaniard suggested that the
Captain might obtain all the water he wished if he would go in, leaving
his cargo outside. And then, as though weary of the subject, he turned
to more congenial topics. He thirsted for good wine; that fact was
early elucidated, after which he rambled along indefinitely, allowing
Dan to gather that all the officers of the fleet were also thirsting
for wine. At last he came straight to the point.

"A case - a dozen bottles - it would suffice - it would be
appreciated - ah!"

Dan had an idea, and began to build upon it forthwith.

"Admiral," he said, "there is much of what you seek aboard. As you
well know, Señor Howland never travels with empty lockers - there is
much of a certain wine that sparkles - see?"

"I see, but I do not hear what I mean," replied the perplexed Admiral,
indulging nevertheless in anticipatory internal gratulations.

"Why, hang it, man, champagne!" The Admiral's beady eyes danced. "Mr.
Howland desires me to say that it is his wish that the friendly
relations between his officers and those of the navy of San Blanco
shall never wane. There will, in short, be a dinner in half an hour to
the officers of the fleet."

"A dinnaire!" Congosto sprang forward and embraced his prospective
host, and five minutes later was speeding to his ship, the bearer of
glad news. For, behold, where he thought to meet an enemy, devious and
tricky, he had encountered instead, a friend, generous, hospitable!

"I fail to see your play, quite, Captain Merrithew," grumbled Mr.

"Well," interpolated Virginia, "it was a very interesting play.
Captain, I had no idea you could be so eloquent."

"Thank you," laughed Dan. "Mr. Howland," he added, "I shall make my
play plain very shortly. All I ask now is that you have your party
assemble at the rail when the officers arrive and receive them as
though they were representatives of the British Navy. They will be
conducted to the saloon. Let no one of the party follow them in.
Please make that clear."

The guests came - in gigs, in launches, dinghies, and longboats - came
with laughter, came with rejoicing, for they were to dine with the
señor of the open hand, Señor Howland, who always opened wine as they
would open tins of beef. The gods never repaired more blithely to a
Bacchanalian revel on Parnassus. Two by two, in rigid order of rank
they were escorted into the saloon, and the eloquent popping of corks
was as music in their ears. The Admiral took his place at the head of
the table; the rest disposed themselves suitably.

With a muttered excuse, Dan slipped out of a near-by door; the stewards
disappeared; every one on the _Tampico_ stole quietly away.

Admiral Congosto had no sooner raised his glass for the first toast
than the two iron bulkhead doors slid together with a clang, followed
by the rasp of bolts flying home. The Admiral of the fleet and his
lords commanders were hopelessly imprisoned amid the luxury of saloon
surroundings, as hopelessly imprisoned as though they had been shut
into the darkness of the lower hold.

In the meantime, the _Tampico_, from hold to masthead, was blazing like
a tall Sound steamboat. Dan gained the bridge and gazed at the
illumination with a smile; for all this splendor of electrical display
was for a purpose.

"You've locked them in, eh?" said Mr. Howland, abruptly. He had been
pacing the bridge, the victim of many doubts.

"Yes," replied Dan; and there was a sharp inflection in the
monosyllable which precluded further questioning. The owner had
instructed his Captain to land the guns which were lying in the hold of
the steamship, and the young Captain was intent on the matter in hand.

He pulled a certain crank, upon which the steam winches began to
revolve with ghostly creakings, bringing the anchor up out of the mud.
Then he signalled for full speed ahead. There was a creaking, a sound
of roiling water, and then, still blazing with light, the steamship
made out for the open sea.

They had gone but a quarter of a mile when those who were left on the
fleet suddenly came to a realizing sense of the diabolical plot hatched
under their very noses. A gun boomed, a six-pounder shell squealed
past the bridge, but the _Tampico_ slipped on her way seaward, while
the funnels of the fleet belched clouds of smoke blacker than the
velvet skies. From the saloon came muffled shouts and ineffectual
poundings on the bulkhead doors.

"The walls are good and thick," said Dan, grimly. "I doubt they will
be heard - unless some one of the craft gets within a hundred yards of
us. They ought to have full steam up by this time. I might as well
stop her right here; this is about right."

As the steamship swung heavily on the tide, the Captain shouted an
order, which was taken up on deck and carried down a hatchway. The
next instant the lights in the lower part of the hull went out. A few
minutes later, another stratum of lights disappeared, and still later
the deck lights. Then out went the port and starboard lamps. Then
there was a ten-minute wait, while Mr. Howland, Virginia, and the rest
of the party who had ventured on deck, thrilled and delighted with the
situation, held their breath. Dan pulled another switch and the
masthead lights went out. The _Tampico_ was now a part of the night.

"Oh!" exclaimed Virginia, "I see. You have given them an imitation of
a vessel disappearing hull down in the darkness. How clever!"

An exclamation from Mr. Howland broke the silence. "Oh!" he cried. "I
see." And he placed his hand on Dan's shoulder.

The stillness was intense. The water swept softly past the hull; the
extremities of the vessel were lost in a blur of black. Mr. Howland
became impatient.

"What can be the matter with those fellows? Why don't they chase us
and be done with it?"

Dan touched him on the shoulder. From the outer darkness floated a
mysterious bourdon, which rapidly outgrew that definition and became a
veritable commotion. One light twinkled, then another, and still
another. Finally the swift pulsation of engines at high pressure rived
the night.

"They are coming." The Captain turned to those who had gathered on the
bridge, adding, "Now I want this place cleared, please. If this scheme
falls through, we shall have our perch raked with machine guns. Go
down on deck and either keep below, or to the side of the forward steel
deck-house, which is away from the warships - and no noise. Not a
sound! Understand?"

Virginia, Mrs. Van Vleck, Oddington, and two others of the party
decided to take their position in the shelter of the deck-house, where
they could see and yet be protected if the vessel were fired upon. All
amusement had gone from the situation for Virginia. She knew that her
father, who insisted upon remaining on the bridge, might at any moment
be placed in jeopardy. And there was another emotion, which she sought
not to deny - the Captain, what if he should fall? Ah, she did not want
that - particularly now he was risking himself, not for honor, not for
any interest of his own, but because he was her father's employee.
Then, too, she wished to study, to know him better; yes, that was what
she wanted, and she had been conscious of it all along, to see, to
learn, to know more of him. She could distinguish his tall, straight
figure against the darkness, moving swiftly.

She had forgotten about the pursuing warships and what might follow,
until her aunt tugged at her sleeve.

"They are coming, Virginia," she said.

They were indeed, and angry craft they were, a spectacle to marvel at,
viewed from the shrouded _Tampico_, lying black and motionless, with
every light out, with tarpaulins over the engine-room hatches and
gratings; with even the ventilator hoods blanketed.

"There they are!" The whisper shot through the _Tampico_ like a draft
of cold air. Virginia was quivering with excitement. She could see
the leading boat as it passed not three hundred yards away, and the
next, both spouting flames from their funnels, throwing up water, which
fell in silvery, phosphorescent spray - racketing, clawing the restless
sea, chugging, hissing with shouts of vengeance hurtling from their
decks, First ploughed the flag-ship _El Toro_, next _El Teuera_, and
last the "battleship" _El Manuel_, sitting almost on her stern,
plugging along doggedly in a Herculean effort to be first in at the
death of the presumptuous kidnappers.

It was alarming, too, and the young people, trembling behind their
shelter, gave a great sigh of relief as the last avenger passed, and
the head of the _Tampico_ swung slowly around in the direction of the
harbor. Virginia again turned her eyes to the bridge. The young
Captain was standing like a statue, with his hands on the engine-room
indicator, jumping the _Tampico_ across the waves under full headway.
He was looking back over his shoulder, and the girl, following his
gaze, saw to her great trepidation that the flag-ship, _El Toro_, had
ceased headway and was lying motionless, as if those aboard her had
divined the trick and were pausing a moment for fresh bearings.

Suddenly came a crash of heavy glass; a girl screamed. One of the
saloon dead-lights had crashed out, the thick glass rattling down the
steel hull to the sea. There was another crash and a yellow glow
flared into a bright blaze, illuminating the hull of the shrouded

"Now they've done it!" cried Oddington. "They have soaked a
table-cloth with kerosene; it's all off now! So much for Captain
Merrithew's scheme. I - " A voice rang from the bridge.

"Everybody down, quick!" The warning was none too soon, for a second
later a rain of lead from the _El Toro_ swept through the top of the
funnel. Then with straining engines the gunboat made a swinging
detour, with the intention, plain to every one, of heading off the

The firing was incessant now, and every one of the Howland party, as
well as the crew, grovelled flat on the deck and heard lead whistling
above. Virginia, glancing at the bridge in an agony of terror, saw the
Captain crouching just a trifle, but still at his post. One man, a
quarter-master, knelt at the wheel. But she missed her father, and a
great dread filled her mind. It was but momentary, however, for Mr.
Howland joined the party behind the deck-house.

"Oh father!" cried the girl, "I feared you were hurt. Why doesn't
Captain Merrithew stop the boat and leave the bridge? Surely his life
and those of his men there are of more value than your interests in

"I told him to stop, to throw ourselves upon the protection of our
flag," and Mr. Howland laughed nervously. "But it was no use. I
believe I reared a Frankenstein monster when I selected him as the man
to land our guns. Frankly he as much as told me to mind my business.
He's in a fighting mood now; his jaws are set like steel-traps - I know
his kind. And do you know, Virginia, he will land us and the guns,
too. You wait!"

The _El Toro_ had stopped firing, and was bending all energies to
heading off the freighter; it looked as though she would do it, too,
for she had once been a private yacht and had evidently lost none of
her speed. It was a mighty race. The _Tampico_ was by no means a
slouchy craft, and she ripped her way through the waters, clawing for
the harbor mouth and San Blanco City like a thing possessed. Swinging
on a tactical semi-circle, the trim little flag-ship flew like a white
ghost, tearing the waters, curling them up on deck until they ran out
of the scuppers. She unlimbered another gun and the leaden hail swept
away the _Tampico's_ port lifeboat, crumpling the stanchions and davits
like thin wire.

"Their marksmanship is bad, as usual," said Mr. Howland, trembling
nevertheless, in suppressed excitement.

But if their marksmanship was bad their speed was not. The _El Toro_
was, in fact, shooting up rapidly; and as she began to circle in on the
freighter it was plain to every one that her path would cross that of
the fugitive. There seemed nothing to mar the success of the gun-boat
in her efforts to prevent the steamship entering the harbor. Dan could
judge of this better than any one else. And yet he kept on. His
spirit dominated the entire vessel. Virginia, as she watched him, with
all that anger that a loser must feel, knew that she was brave, too,
felt that to be otherwise would be a sacrilege. Suddenly her eyes were
riveted on the Captain; she saw him run to the megaphone rack and take
up a cone. Then she saw him dash it to the deck and turn and speak a
few words to the man still kneeling at the wheel. The man nodded and
moved aside, and Dan took his place, erect, immovable.

As he did so, the pursuing gun-boat, not more than four hundred yards
away, let fly another rain of lead, and a few minutes later she slowed
down, swinging broadside across the course of the _Tampico_, firing a
six-pounder shell over the bow of the advancing steamship.

"Too late, too late!" exclaimed Mr. Howland. "All this trouble and
danger for nothing! Now we are caught! But some one will pay - "

His daughter seized his arm.

"Father! Oh, father! We are not stopping. Look!"

It was true. The _Tampico_ was not stopping; she swept on as if
endowed throughout all her length of great black hull with her master's
burning energy and fierce resolve to succeed. A sharp cry came from
the gun-boat, a cry sharply in contrast with its crew's former yells of
triumph. There came another six-pounder shell, this time cutting
cleanly through the Tampico's bow. But that was the last. On, on like
an avenging sea-monster swept the _Tampico_, sullen, silent, with the
potential energy of dynamite lurking in the force of her momentum. And
straight, inexorable, Captain Merrithew stood on the bridge with his
hands on the wheel spokes. No longer was he young in the eyes of
Virginia Howland. No, he was old, old as the avenging ages and as
cruel, as cold as the march of time. Straight he made for the pretty
white side of the gun-boat, as some grim executioner might measure for
the blow of the sword which was to sever the white neck of some captive
maid, some Joan of Arc. And the girl caught his spirit and became
cruel too. She laughed at the gun-boat, as she fired again; she
laughed as the _Tampico_ quivered and went to the heart of the quarry;
she laughed as Dan, with another twist of the wheel, made more sure of
his victim.

The screw of the gun-boat revolved desperately. She was backing; but
it was too late. Another sound now! A heaving swell rose in between
and threw the bow of the steamship slightly off. With an angry cry Dan
jerked at the wheel. But the lost point could not be regained, and the
_Tampico_, instead of hitting the gun-boat amidships and cutting her in
two as intended, struck the quarter obliquely, slicing off a triangle
of the hull and stern as a big knife cuts a cheese.

There was a terrible crash and grinding, shrill screams, with the
sharp, taunting laughter of Dan ringing clear, as his vessel swept
clear of the wreckage, flashing by the crowded small boats which had
been lowered a few seconds before the crash came. Hardly knowing what
she was doing, utterly beside herself, Virginia turned to her friends,
her lips parted, her eyes flashing.

"There!" she cried, "did you ever see a man? I recommend you to look
at Captain Merrithew - "

"Yes, Virginia, it was bully." Oddington's cool, thoroughbred manner
chilled her ardor like a cold blast. "It was mighty fine. You are
excited, girl." And the young man removed the cigarette which had been
between his lips. Virginia regarded him steadily.

"You are right, Ralph," she said at length; "I was excited."

In the meantime, the _Tampico_ was dashing into the harbor at full
speed, her whistle blowing like mad, bringing all officialdom,
including the _Presidente_, to the water front; for, as Mr. Howland had
said, they were expected. Soldiers from the guard-boats swarmed aboard
and took the rebel admiral and his fellow-officers ashore, and a few
hours later well set-up mercenaries were dragging Mr. Howland's machine
guns and eight-inch rifles from the quay to strategic points, where in
the morning the insurrection would be broken as a strong man breaks a
rattan cane.

Later, at the end of a sunrise collation, _Presidente_ Rodriguez rose
and, with one hand on his heart and the other clutching the stem of a
wine glass, metaphorically presented the keys of San Blanco to the
"Saviour of his country," and intimated not only a permanent suspension
of tariff regulations in his favor, but a future statue of heroic size
in the palace plaza. Whereat Mr. Howland turned swiftly to Dan at his
side, and from behind his napkin momentarily altered an expression of
beatific if humble gratitude, and winked almost grotesquely.



The next morning Dan stood at the rail of the _Tampico_, gazing out
over the quay to the distant walls of the city, over which hung a heavy
saffron pall. The faint pat-a-pat-pat-pat of machine guns and the roar
of heavier ordnance was incessant. At first he had been disposed to go
out and participate in the fighting.

But second thought had altered his inclination. He had come to know
something of the business methods of Mr. Howland and men like him; and
while he had no doubt that his employer considered them legitimate, and
could, if he had to, submit many strong reasons for various measures
which capital seems to find it necessary to employ in its relations
with Latin-American Governments, yet he decided that the wholesale
slaughter then in progress had far better be left to those who were
employed for that purpose.

How did he know but the men who had been fighting to capture the city
and were now being shot down like sheep were not the real patriots,
anxious to govern their own country in their way and not in the
interests of foreign corporations? As for Rodriguez, he knew enough of
him to -

Virginia Howland, coming up from behind, touched him on the arm, while
her father, who followed her, placed his hand on Dan's shoulder.

"Captain," said the girl, "I am disappointed. I wagered a box of candy
with father that you were already out fighting."

Dan, unable to suppress the thoughts which had filled his mind, smiled

"I don't think I have any desire to turn butcher," he said, with just a
tinge of bitterness.

The girl flushed and regarded Dan for a moment with a curious
expression, and then glanced at her father.

"Is it really - that?" she said.

Mr. Howland smiled easily.

"Butchery? It seems to amount to about that. Poor beggars! But war
is war," Mr. Howland tapped the rail with his finger by way of
emphasis, "and those who attempt to overthrow governments generally do
either one of two things: they succeed, or they pay the penalty of

"In this case," said Dan, coolly, "they seem to be paying the penalty."

"Yes, thanks to you," replied Mr. Howland, "which is what I wish to
speak to you about."

He paused, and as Dan made no reply he continued:

"You did a mighty fine piece of work for us in landing those guns - you
have placed my company considerably in debt to you; but of that more
later. At the present time I want to tell you that these infernal
revolutionists have burned Belle View - which," turning to his daughter,
"may alter your sympathies a trifle, Virginia - and therefore
necessitates more or less of a change of programme - "

"Belle View burned!" interpolated Virginia. "Why, father, what - "

"As I was saying," resumed Mr. Howland, "we've got to shift things
about. In the first place, if Belle View were not burned, I should
hardly feel safe in having the crowd there with conditions as they
are - and things are not especially pleasant in this city.
However, - how long will it take to get away from here, Captain?"

"We must take on some coal, and Hendrickson has drawn the fires and is
reaming in some new boiler-tubes. We could get away inside of
forty-eight hours, I think."

"Good; let's do it, then. We'll call at San Domingo, Hayti, Jamaica,
and other places to make up for spoiling your house-party, Virginia.
In the meantime I have secured good quarters for our guests at the
Hotel Garcia, where to-night I give the Government a dinner. I shall
expect to see you there, Captain."

Dan would have preferred to stay away from that dinner. The thought of
his practical connivance at the day's slaughter, so obviously suggested
by Mr. Howland, grated on him, and the implied command in the
invitation to the dinner bothered him too. The day was to be filled
with duties about ship, and he wanted the evening to himself, to sit in
his cabin with his pipe and his books and mull over these and other

Of course he might have known what would follow the landing of the guns
from the _Tampico_. He did know, as a matter of fact, but orders are
orders, and duty is duty; and when you are employed by a man you accept
your salary and any other accruing benefits solely upon the

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Online LibraryLawrence PerryDan Merrithew → online text (page 7 of 12)