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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Kidnapped President By Guy Boothby Characters: 21827

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


"I am indeed glad you have decided to help me," Don Guzman de Silvestre replied, when he heard my reply. "I felt certain you would accept, and I assure you I shall value your co-operation. Would it be possible for you to leave England on Wednesday next?"

"If it comes to that I must make it possible," I answered. "From what you said to me last night, I gather that there is no time to be lost."

"The sooner we get to work the better," he returned. "I will send a cipher message to the States this morning, to ask my friend to have the yacht in readiness. If you leave London on the sixteenth you should reach Barbadoes on the twenty-ninth. The yacht will meet you there, and from the moment you set foot on board her, you may regard her as your own private property to use as you will. You will find her captain a most reliable man, and he will receive orders to do his utmost to assist you. He will discharge all expenses, and will be held responsible for the working of the vessel and the crew. You will, of course, be known on board by another name, which we must arrange, and you will be supposed to be a young Englishman, of immense wealth, whose particular hobby is yachting. In order to sustain the fiction, it will be necessary for you to have a large and varied outfit, which I think you had better order to-day. I shall leave England a week after you do, and shall go direct to the island, where you are to hand the President over to me."

"But you have not told me the name of that island yet," I answered.

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 assurance 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 assurance 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 substitute 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 passage 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 passage 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 passage 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 passage 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 ashore 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 assured, 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 be

gan, 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 assure 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.

"I hope you are not going to get into any mischief," he said. "I mistrust that part of the world. And now what else is there I can do for you?"

"I want you," I replied, "to draw up my will. I have some little property that I should like to leave to Molly and my mother. It is not very much, but it would doubtless prove useful, should anything befall me."

"We will hope that nothing will happen to you," said the lawyer. "At the same time I will draw up your will with pleasure. What have you to leave?"

When the old boy discovered the amount of my fortune his face betrayed his astonishment. Knowing that I had not been left anything by my father, I could see that he was anxious to question me concerning the manner in which I had accumulated this amount. Fortunately for my reputation for truthfulness, however, he repressed his inquisitiveness.

"It is a very creditable sum for a young man to have got together," he remarked. "Much may be done with five thousand pounds. It may interest you to know that I myself started with my articles and not a penny more than a hundred guineas to my name. To-day, however, I fancy-but there, I understand that you wish this amount, in the event of your death, to be divided equally between your mother and Miss Molly. And supposing that one survives the other?"

"In that case the whole amount must pass to the survivor!"

He promised me that the document should be drawn up and forwarded to me for my signature without delay, whereupon I shook him by the hand and bade him good-bye. My one thought now was to get back to Falstead as quickly as possible. I grudged every hour I spent away from it. Perhaps it was the dangerous nature of my enterprise that was accountable for it; at any rate, I know that I was dreading the leave-taking that was ahead of me more than I had ever done before. No one could say what the next few weeks would have in store for me, and, as it happened, that very night I was fated to have a dream that was scarcely calculated to add to my peace of mind.

It seemed to me that I was standing in a large yard, walled in on every side. Some tropical foliage was to be seen above the walls. At my feet was a large hole which I knew to be a grave. A squad of slovenly soldiers, clad in a uniform I had never before seen, were leaning on their rifles, some little distance away, watching me, while their officer consulted his watch. Then he shut it with a snap and nodded to me. I was about to throw down the handkerchief I held in my hand, when there was a cry and Molly appeared before me. Running towards me, she threw her arms about my neck. Knowing that at any moment the men might fire, I tried to put her aside. But she only clung the tighter. Every moment I expected to hear the rattle of rifles, but it seemed an age before it came. Then the soldiers fired, and Molly and I fell together, down, down, down, and I awoke with a start, to find myself sitting up in bed, my face bathed in perspiration. Never had I had such a dream before. More than twenty-four hours went by before I could get the effect it produced out of my mind. Molly noticed my condition after breakfast and asked what ailed me.

"Cannot you guess, darling?" I asked, having no intention of telling her the truth. "Is it likely that I could be anything but depressed, when I am leaving you for I cannot say how long?"

"But you will be in no danger, and you will come back to me before very long, will you not?" she said, looking at me seriously, as if she were afraid I was hiding something from her.

"Of course, dear," I replied. "Every man, however, has to take his chance of something befalling him when he puts to sea. I might go to the end of the world-risk my life in a thousand different ways-only to return to England to be knocked down in the Strand by a runaway cab. I might go to the North Pole and come back safely, to fall through the ice and be drowned in the Vicarage pond. You mustn't be angry with me, dear," I continued, "if I am a little downcast. Let us try to think of the day when I shall return to make you my bride. Oh, how happy we shall be then!"

"Happy indeed," she answered. "God grant that day may come soon. I shall pray for you always, Dick, and ask Him to send my darling back to me, safe and sound."

We walked as far as Welkam Bridge and then home again across the meadows to lunch. By the time we reached the house I had somewhat recovered my spirits-but they were destined to fall to zero again before the day was at an end. It was a sad little party that sat down to dinner that evening. My mother could scarcely restrain her tears-Molly tried to be cheerful and failed in the attempt; as for myself-though I joked on every conceivable subject, save that of foreign travel-my heart was heavy as lead, and my face, I'll be bound, was as solemn as that of an undertaker's mute. For the reason that I felt it would be too much for her to leave it until the last moment, Molly and I bade each other good-bye that evening.

Next morning I rose early, breakfasted at seven, very much in the same state of mind, I should say, as a man who is about to be led to execution, and at eight o'clock gave my dear old mother one last kiss, and left the house with a lump in my throat that came near to choking me. I can see my mother's tear-stained face at the window even now, as I waved my hand to her before turning the corner of the village street. Little did I dream then how much I was to go through before I should see that beloved countenance again.

When the last house of the village was behind me, I mended my pace and struck out for Salisbury. It was a bright morning; the birds sang in the hedges, the cattle grazed peacefully in the meadows, indeed, all nature seemed happy but myself. I turned the corner of the Ridge Farm, and, passing through the chalk cutting, began the descent of the hill that, when you have left the cross roads and the gipsy's grave behind you, warns you that you are half-way into town. As everybody who knows the neighbourhood is aware, there is at the foot a picturesque cottage, once the residence of the turnpike keeper, and, a hundred yards or so on the other side again, a stile, which commences the footpath across the fields to Mellerton. I was thinking, as I approached it, of the last time I had walked that way with Molly, and was wondering how long it would be before I should do so again, when, as I drew near the stile, I became aware of a girlish figure leaning against the rail. My heart gave a leap within me, and I cried out, "Molly, can it be you?" Yet it was Molly sure enough.

"Oh, Dick, dear," she faltered, as I approached her, "do not be angry with me. I could not stay away. I felt that I must see the last of you!"

It was impossible for me to be angry with her, even though, as she told me later, she had breakfasted at six o'clock, and had been waiting at the stile for me since seven. However, I satisfied myself by promising her a good wigging when I came home again, and then we set off together. How short the remainder of that walk seemed, I must leave you to imagine. It appeared scarcely to have commenced before we had left the country and were in the quaint old streets of Salisbury, making our way towards the railway station. We must have walked somewhat slowly, for, when we reached it, I found that I had only five minutes to spare. Over the parting that took place when the train put in an appearance I must draw a veil.

Punctually at half-past eleven the train steamed into Waterloo and disgorged its passengers upon the platform. I immediately engaged a cab and drove direct to Silvestre's hotel, where, for upwards of half-an-hour, I was closeted in close confabulation with him. Then I bade him good-bye, for it was part of our arrangement that he should not accompany me to the ship, and, having done so, returned to my cab and bade the man drive me to the railway station, where I was to take the train to the docks. By three o'clock I was on board, and endeavouring to convince myself that I was only a passenger, and not in any way connected with the working of the vessel. At a quarter to four we were steaming down the river, and my one and only adventure had commenced.

How was it destined to end? was the question I asked myself.

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