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understanding that you shall serve his interests to the best of your

Yes, Dan could see that perfectly, and he could also see the bad taste
that lay in intimating dissatisfaction with his employer's methods
while wearing the uniform of Mr. Howland's company and receiving good
pay therefor. And anyway, Mr. Howland had not asked him to cut Blancan
warships in two and endanger the lives of the entire ship's company and
guests. No, that was on his own head, his own hot head.

In the days of the present voyage he had felt a strong tendency to look
beyond the bridge of the _Tampico_ into the future. Of course he liked
adventure, but of late he had begun to feel that perhaps he had had
enough of the strenuous life to last him the remainder of his years.
He certainly did not intend to grow gray on coastwise lines. Bluff,
gnarled old Harrison, his predecessor on this vessel, had served as a
striking object lesson. He could spin yarns of his adventures by the
hour, but at best no one would call him anything but an interesting old
character, a retired shell-back on half pay. Dan found no pleasure in
looking forward to anything of the sort.

Since he had gained a command in the famous Coastwise and West Indian
Shipping Company, he had begun to commend himself to persons who never
before had played a part in his life, principally a cousin of his
father's, a wealthy merchant of Boston, who had written him a long
letter, received just before the _Tampico_ sailed on her present
voyage, expressing a desire to meet him.

"It is not possible," the letter read, "you will want to follow the sea
all your life. There must be plenty of opportunities ashore for men of
your evident executive ability and initiative. I want you to come to
Boston at your first opportunity. I know I can give you good advice,
and it may be I can prove of material assistance to you."

When he first read the letter, Dan smiled to himself, not failing to
note the interest taken in him by relatives, now he seemed to be
proving his ability, who, heretofore, had known little about him and
cared less. But that is life, and he had a great deal rather be
accepted for what he had done than because of mere ties of blood. Thus
thinking, he came to attach greater significance to the letter. He
would go on to Boston when the _Tampico_ returned to the United States.
In the meantime he was Captain of a Howland boat, and he would obey
orders, he smiled grimly, and go to the dinner.

The dinner was a memorable one in San Blanco City. The revolution had
been shattered. The Rodriguez Government was supreme. The
_Presidente's_ palace was a blaze of lights. Conspirators were being
arrested and cast into prison. Vehicles of all sorts were bearing
dinner guests to the Hotel Garcia and dashing away. There were foreign
consuls in uniforms, and their wives; there was Rodriguez and his
cabinet, and officers of the army in resplendent garb, and women who,
when they threw their mantillas aside, revealed tawny necks and

The _Presidente_, Mr. Howland, and high officers of the Government sat
on a long dais at the head of the room; the other guests, including the
_Tampico's_ party, were at round tables with red-shaded lamps. It was
a pleasing picture, and Dan, for the first few courses, was glad he had
come. However, when he found that those with whom he was seated could
not speak English, while he could understand little of Spanish, the
evening began to wear. At length, with the long post-prandials at
hand, he arose.

Flanking one side of the room, which was large, were windows reaching
from the floor almost to the ceiling, which, when the weather was fair,
were opened, giving access to a garden of small, twisted trees and
tropical plants with small tables beneath, to which the pleasure-loving
population came at night, to sip iced drinks and listen to the music of
the orchestra as it flowed out of the dining-room.

Here Dan made his way and, stepping out of one of the windows, paused
on the garden's edge. The cool air was grateful, and with a sigh of
relief he drew a cigar from his pocket and lighted it slowly, From
beneath the trees came little patters of conversation, and the red
lights of cigarettes and the glint of white gowns enlivened the

As he stood there, Virginia Howland and Oddington came out of one of
the windows. The girl was talking vivaciously, familiarly, and
Oddington was laughing. She was in what she would have termed one of
her "Oddington moods," when his personality appealed to her most, when
the congenial bond seemed closest. To-night the lights, the music, the
soft air rustling the lampshades, after all the long days on shipboard,
exalted her. She looked at her companion with kindling eyes.

It seemed hardly the moment to run full upon the Captain of the
_Tampico_, who had just thrown his cigar away with the intention of
returning to the dining-hall.

Dan realized this instinctively. He smiled at the two in an abstracted
manner, as though his mind were occupied with thoughts which he did not
care to interrupt, and turned toward the window, when Virginia, who had
greeted him simultaneously with a smile obviously designed to convey a
similar impression, and, piqued to perversity by the fact that Dan had
so readily interpreted her wishes, paused in the middle of a sentence
and looked back over her shoulder.

"Captain," she said, "is it possible you prefer speeches in Spanish to
our company?"

Dan paused. Oddington was smiling in an exceedingly perfunctory
manner, and the young Captain was about to make some laughing
acknowledgment when the girl, still looking at him, said:

"Mr. Oddington and I were just arguing about the night air of San
Blanco. He says it is filled with malaria. Is it?"

Dan walked slowly toward them.

"Not any more than the day air," he replied, declining Oddington's
proffered cigarette case and drawing his pipe and pouch from his
pocket. "I should say that San Blancan air is filled with malaria at
all times - and with other bad things."

Oddington laughed.

"It is like most of these cities," he said; "things get pretty messy
here, I imagine. I could not exactly commend its sanitary - "

A voice calling him from the window broke the sentence. It was Reggie

"Yes," said Oddington.

"That you, Ralph? Oh, I see you. Say, come in here like a good chap,
will you? I've run across a sort of an anarchist circular about
Rodriguez. I want you to come up with me while I put it up to him."

"All right," replied Oddington. "Will you go in, Virginia?"

"Thank you, I'll wait here for you. I've had enough of that dreary old
dinner; at least until father speaks. And now," said the girl, smiling
at Dan, "what have you to tell me that is thrilling?"

Dan looked at her as she stood framed against the light of the window,
tall, straight, in the full glow of youth and health and animal
spirits. One bare arm was stretched down, clutching the train of her
dress. With the other hand she was idly lashing her gloves against her
skirt. As she spoke she reached out a gleaming slipper, extremely
small for a girl of her height, to push an overturned flower-pot away,
and Dan caught the flash of the silk ankle and a foam of lace.

He felt he was viewing the girl in a new way. Hitherto he had regarded
her as something almost intangible, an essence of elusive femininity,
radiant, overpowering, and in nowise to be considered as a material
embodiment of young womanhood.

But now, while the old spell was still potent, with the moods of the
day still strong, he found new viewpoints struggling for mastery.
Clearly the girl had shown a deep interest in him, and entirely on her
own initiative. If it was to be in the future an interest born of
friendship, why, it should be, he told himself, an engaging future for
him. But he did not desire that her interest in him from now on should
be offered as a sort of largess, or that he should be placed in the
position of posing as an object of merely charitable attention from
her. As these thoughts formulated themselves flashingly in his mind,
he could not but marvel at the sudden transition in his attitude
concerning her. But nevertheless, the transition had taken place, as
well defined as though it had come of weeks of pondering - and

"I can't think of anything thrilling to talk about - unless I select you
as a subject."

The girl glanced at him swiftly and then turned her face toward the
harbor, where a few lights quivered on a velvet floor. She caught the
new note perfectly and her bosom rose in a quick breath.

"I am sure we might select a more interesting topic. I detest
personalities. Tell me how you have enjoyed your first dip into
Blancan society."

"But that would be personal," smiled Dan.

The girl laughed.

"The women here to-night are a great deal less dowdy than one would
imagine, don't you think?"

"I wonder if you realize your responsibility?" said Dan.

Virginia did not reply for a moment. She had not considered this
outgrowing phase of her unreserved interest in the young Captain. So
long as he had remained a sort of quiescent _protégé_, there could be
no possible harm in her attitude toward him. Evidently he did not
intend so to remain. There was of course, therefore, nothing to do but
reestablish their relations.

"I am afraid my responsibilities are too varied and serious for
discussion with - with any one," she said at length.

"But where they concern me?"

The girl stepped back slightly, drawing her skirts about her as though
recoiling, or, rather, withdrawing from the question. Yet despite her
desire to end the conversation, she really was curious as to his drift;
and, besides, he made the most romantic sort of picture as he stood at
her side, clean cut, bareheaded, and as self-assured evidently as any
man she had ever talked with. Her wish was to dismiss him with
admonition, gently, if plainly to be understood. But this she could
not do just then, and the realization of the fact irritated her.

"I suppose," she said slowly, "at least I have read that our
responsibilities do not cease with one's friends, but extend,
sometimes, even to - to acquaintances, or to persons, perhaps, whom one
does not know. What have I done or not done that suggested in your
mind ideas of my responsibility to you?"

Dan shook the fire from his pipe and smiled. "Why, you haven't done a
thing or left a thing undone," he said. "I thought the humor of my
suggestion would strike you as funny, make you laugh. But it didn't,
so I'll be serious. You were decent to me on the _Tampico_ and before;
and to-night, I don't know, but the lights and the music and the night
and all seemed to have gone into me, and I wanted to talk to a
woman - to you - out here in the moonlight, not as we've talked before,
but as a man and woman who feel pretty much the same way about many
things might talk. This was what I had in mind when I spoke of
responsibility. Not an alarming one, would you say?"

The girl gazing out into the darkness did not speak.

"I wanted you to look down at the harbor there and exclaim over the
path the moon is cutting from the horizon to that queer little
lighthouse on the point; and I wanted you to talk enthusiastic nonsense
about the big, soft stars and the cigarette lights under the trees; and
I - I just wanted to listen and, of course, agree with all you said."

Dan was smiling as he spoke; but the girl, whose eyes had fallen
beneath his steady gaze, was aware that no jest underlay his light
words. By no means could she construe what he had said into
impertinence, but she did feel he was presuming upon the kindly
attention she had paid him.

"Captain Merrithew," she said at length, "I have been thinking. I have
been wondering whether I do not think you more inspiring on the bridge
of the _Tampico_, cutting warships in two, or fighting a storm than - "

"Than talking with you in the moonlight?" interpolated Dan.

"_About_ the moonlight," corrected the girl. . . . "If we are to be
friends you must not devise responsibilities - unadvisably."

Dan made a slight gesture, as though to assure her she had made her
meaning quite clear.

"If we are to be friends, Miss Howland, you must not devise
restrictions unadvisably."

Dan was still smiling, and he was speaking easily. But no man had ever
spoken to her in that way before. She flushed, and her eyes sparkled
angrily as he ceased. Her glance did not disconcert him. He stood
looking at her - not masterfully, but with the quiet dignity of
conviction. It was plain that if their association were to continue,
it must be at the price of something more than the scientific, aloof,
touch-and-go interest which had hitherto characterized her attitude
toward him.

She must be his friend in all that the term implies. Until to-night,
had the alternative been proposed, she would have had no hesitation in
deciding, if only because she had no viewpoint other than their
relative positions in the past year.

But his words had opened a new perspective. She could see that he
might be regarded in a different light, that he already so regarded
her. The transformation bewildered her, and when the heated reply died
behind her lips and she smiled quiveringly instead, she felt for the
first time in her life the thrill which all women, however strong, have
when they yield to the dominant personality of a man. She tried to
fight back the overpowering, undefinable surge; she succeeded
partially. All she could now ask was time to think to recover her
equilibrium. She put out her hand involuntarily and touched Dan
lightly on the arm.

"Let us not say anything more about it," she said. "Tell me - tell me
something about San Blanco."

As she ceased speaking, she turned slowly toward the banquet hall.
Dan, following her, complied with what he knew to be a purely
perfunctory request, talking in an easy conversational tone.

"I have looked into the history of the country a good bit," said he.
"It is quite interesting. They have had just twenty-three
_presidentes_ and four dictators, and there have been twelve
assassinations. I believe candidates for the office are liable to
arrest for attempted suicide - "

The girl paused at the window. She had not been listening. Her eyes,
were fastened upon the figure of a man whose skulking form she had made
out where the glow of the window almost opposite the speakers' table
fell upon the garden. Now she saw him again. He had a gun in his
hands and was beginning to kneel.

Breathless and rigid the girl slowly stretched out her hand and touched
Dan on the shoulder; with the other she pointed silently at the
crouching figure. The gun was now being raised to aim, probably at the
_Presidente_, who was speaking, possibly at Mr. Howland. Dan
apprehended the situation at once. In the flash of an eye he was
making for the assassin like an antelope. Hearing the approaching
footfalls, the man turned his head, and then, with a cry, Virginia saw
him arise and shift his weapon toward Dan.

[Illustration: In the flash of an eye, Dan was making for the assassin.]

But he was too late. At least ten feet away Dan left his feet and
launched himself into one of those old-time tackles which even in
Exeter had attracted the eyes of the football authorities of three
universities. Hard and straight he went, head to one side, jaws shut
tight. Then he struck, one brawny shoulder snapping full into the
man's midriff. You have to know how to fall when tackled by a good
man. This San Blancan did not. He went down like a falling tower.
The gun was discharged in the air with a resounding report and flew
into the bushes. The man lay still, gasping. The dinner ended
abruptly and in great confusion. Guests poured out of the windows,
tables were overturned.

Dan quickly dragged the prostrate man into a clump of mesquite. His
first impulse had been to turn him over to the soldiers. But the
defiant, if faint murmurs of the patriot, "Long live San Blanco; death
to Rodriguez!" bringing back to him his emotions of the morning, caused
him to decide differently. He seized the man by the collar.

"Stand up," he said, "you are not hurt; only a bit winded. I guess
Rodriguez has had enough heads without yours. You thought you were
acting for your country's good; I guess you were, from all I hear."

The man had been looking at the speaker wonderingly, not understanding
a word. Dan turned to him impatiently.

"Get out!" he said. He pushed the man, searching his brain for the
Spanish equivalent. "What the mischief - oh," he glared at the
trembling prisoner. "_Vayase Vd! Largo de aqui!_"

The poor wretch needed no more. With a quick, smiling gleam of white
teeth he bowed, and the next instant was loping through the garden.
Dan sauntered slowly toward the hotel. Soldiers acting upon
information given by Miss Howland were beating the grounds, and there
was much shouting and occasionally a pistol shot.

But the hotel was deserted of the brilliant guests who had filled it
but a quarter of an hour before. The spell of darkness lay upon the
banquet hall. A few men and women were loitering in the court,
awaiting developments. Oddington was there, and another man of the
party, but the rest, including the Howlands, had evidently gone to
their rooms.

"Miss Howland told us you made rather an interesting tackle,
Merrithew," said Oddington as Dan nodded to him. "I am sorry I missed
it. Where is your prisoner?"

Dan smiled. "The tackle was so artistic," he said, "that I jarred most
of my senses out of me. He got away. Here's his gun," and Dan held up
an old-fashioned carbine.

Oddington glanced at the weapon.

"Howland will be sorry you let your man escape, if only because he
prevented the carefully prepared speech he had been laboring over. It
was pretty nervy of you, although Howland tells me they are all the
time potting at Rodriguez and missing him. Still, I should think they
would give you the Order of San Blanco."

"I think I can struggle along without it," said Dan. "Good-night."

He turned toward the harbor and the _Tampico_. The moon had now broken
from the clouds which had partially hidden it all evening, and the
hotel grounds and the slope leading to the water front were bathed in
light. Dan's mood was rather bitter. They might have waited for him,
he thought. At least, Miss Howland and her father might have, in view
of what had happened. But still, why should they? The old feeling of
aloofness filled him, and all the self-assurance which had
characterized his attitude with Miss Howland a half-hour before
vanished. He was angry with himself for having dared to maintain such
an attitude.

He turned to look at the hotel and bowed gravely.

"It seems that one Daniel Merrithew has been forgetting he is a mere
steamship captain. He will remember it in future - at all times."

And then he walked slowly to his ship.



Twenty-four hours later the _Tampico_ was at sea. The itinerary proposed
by Mr. Howland had been altered for the reason that cable despatches from
New York had contained financial tidings that made it incumbent upon him
to return to the United States without more delay than was necessary; and
Ralph Oddington's firm had been retained by a corporation seeking
protection against assaults of the Attorney-General's office, and he was
wanted in the city at his "earliest convenience," which he had
interpreted as meaning "right away."

And so there was to be no stopping at various ports, but a quick run to
the States. Mr. Howland imparted this information to Dan as the two sat
at table in the saloon over cigars and coffee the evening after the
departure from San Blanco. The other members of the party had gone on

"They can do their sightseeing at Galveston and Savannah, where you can
call for your cotton and naval stores as usual." As Dan raised his
eyebrows, Mr. Howland shook his head emphatically. "Can't help it," he
said. "You see by this despatch," pointing to a pile of papers on the
table, "that the _Tybee's_ out of commission for a month; and business is
business, party or no party. And now, Merrithew," stuffing the papers
into his pocket as though all matters concerning them were finally
settled, "I want to ask you about something else. Of course you're in
this Central American service here and will be for a time. I've been
thinking what you said about the fighting the other morning." He lit a
cigar and pushed his case toward Dan. "I gathered you did not exactly
approve of it. Didn't you?"

"Mr. Howland," replied Dan, "it was not the fighting that bothered me, it
was the idea I had landed guns which your men were using to shoot down
other men like sheep. It was a new sensation, and it got into me, I'll
say that. Still it was none of my business; I was carrying out your
instructions. I am sorry I was so unwise as to give you the impression I

"Not at all." Mr. Howland gazed at his cigar a moment, flicking the
ashes off with his little finger. "Is that why you let the assassin go?"

Dan rose to the situation without hesitating.

"Mr. Howland, you were fishing when you asked that question. You don't
have to do that. I did let that chap go. I believed he had attempted a
good job. I saved Rodriguez's worthless life and took a risk in doing
it. I would not have done so, but I thought the man was aiming at you;
but since I did, the only reward I was entitled to, or wanted, was to do
as I pleased with the man."

"Undoubtedly," said Mr. Howland. "Of course it occurred to you that
Rodriguez's life, however worthless you hold it in other ways, might be
extremely valuable to the San Blanco Trading and Investment Company,
which is myself?"

"Yes, I did think of that," replied Dan, "although I am employed by the
Coastwise Company, I know you practically own both. I realize, too, your
kindness to me in the past; but I did look on the fellow as a man
honestly trying to serve his country; and when it came to deliver him up
to be hanged - why I simply could not do it." Dan rose slowly. "I showed
myself ungrateful to your interests. As I say, I appreciate what you
have done. I am going to show that I do by asking you to consider my
resignation in your hands to act upon as soon - whenever you please."

"Sit down, Captain Merrithew," said Mr. Howland, as though he had not
heard the last words. "In the first place, you recognize that where
there is no law and order legitimate business cannot be carried on.
Where a country is governed in a haphazard manner, while it may be easy
to secure contracts, it is impossible to collect on them. Business
interests having connections with such countries find conditions
intolerable, and where we can we rectify them. If you have studied San
Blancan affairs you know that under Rodriguez (who, despite his cruelty,
is honest) business here, whether controlled by myself or any one else,
may for the first time in history be conducted on an honest and reliable
basis. That is all I ask or have asked. I have no benefit of
discriminating duties. I am largely interested in the business affairs
of this country; but I obtained those interests fairly, and it is my duty
to myself and my daughter and my business associates to maintain and
develop them.

"I talk to you this way, Merrithew, because I have felt you were going
wrong, and I wanted to set you right. I'll say frankly I know I'll not
lose anything in so doing. I owe you a great deal. I am glad I do; for
I like your sort. I wish I had a boy growing up as you have grown. You
have a future before you - if you will only watch that damned hot head of

Much that Mr. Howland had said in regard to the disinterested nature of
his business activities was true; some things involved tactical evasion.
In expressing his attitude toward Dan he was sincere. The Captain did
not attempt to analyze. He was completely won, just as Mr. Howland
wanted him to be. As he essayed to speak, Mr. Howland placed his hand on
Dan's shoulder.

"Now, not a word, Merrithew. We'll forget it all and start fresh."

In the days of the voyage that followed, while it might not have been
said that Virginia Howland snubbed Dan, neither could it have been said
she was not at pains to see that she was never alone with him.

In fact, the attitude of either in relation to the other might in no way

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Online LibraryLawrence PerryDan Merrithew → online text (page 8 of 12)