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   Chapter 9 No.9

The Kidnapped President By Guy Boothby Characters: 24287

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


It was evident to me that Herma?os had laid his plans most carefully, for some hundred and fifty to two hundred yards from the gate, we found a vehicle of the volante description awaiting our coming. We entered it, and the driver, without asking for instructions, set off at a sharp pace. We had proceeded some distance before Don José spoke.

"I hope you understand, Se?or Trevelyan," he said at last, "what a serious risk I am running on your account?"

"Many thanks," I replied. "I am afraid, however, you do me too much honour. I fancy if it had only been a question of my safety, I should have had to appeal to you for some time before I should have had your assistance."

I spoke out of the bitterness of my heart, half expecting that my words would offend him. To my surprise, however, they did not do so. He only laughed in a quiet way, and then lapsed into silence once more. The carriage rattled through the silent streets, and at length passed out into the open country on the other side. So far we had not attracted attention. Eventually we pulled up at the foot of a steep hill, one side of which was formed by the mountain, the other looking down upon a stretch of plain, beyond which again was the open sea.

"We must climb this hill," said Herma?os, "and when we have descended it again we shall be at the rendezvous. Let us hope Fernandez has not made his appearance yet."

We accordingly alighted from the vehicle, and, when we had seen it return citywards, began to climb the steep ascent. At the summit, and just before the hill begins to descend on the other side, were three palms. When we reached these my companion uttered a low and peculiar whistle. It was answered from the shadow, and a moment later a figure emerged from the darkness and stood before us. Herma?os went to him and said something in an undertone which I did not hear.

"It's all right," he remarked when he returned to me. "Fernandez has not returned yet. They are watching for him in the valley below, and we had better join them."

"With all my heart," I replied, for, as you may suppose, I was eager to have the business over and done with.

We accordingly descended the hill in the direction indicated. The road here was little better than a cart-track, and one that I should have been very sorry to drive along on a dark night. In the moonlit valley below could be seen the little fishing village of Horejos. I examined my watch and discovered that it wanted twenty minutes to three o'clock. Needless to say, I profoundly hoped that Ferguson had received my message, and that we should find the boat awaiting us.

When we reached the foot of the hill, it was to discover that the road ran between two walls of rock. Blasting operations were accountable at this point for the existence of the track, which would otherwise have been impassable. On the top of the rock on the right, and continuing up the hill-side, was a thick wood, in which it would have been possible for some hundreds of men to have lain concealed. Behind the rock on the other side was a gentle slope continuing to within a few dozen yards of the shore. All things considered, a better place for the work we had in hand could scarcely have been imagined. It would have been out of the question for two carriages to have passed abreast, owing to the width of the road; and one glance was sufficient to show me that it would be quite possible for a determined man to bring a vehicle to a standstill at such a spot. That Herma?os was in a state of considerable trepidation regarding his share in the business I could see. From what he had already said to me I gathered that, had he not advanced so far in the business, he would even at the eleventh hour have drawn back. Had he been left to himself, he would doubtless have allowed General Fernandez' rule to continue without bothering himself about Silvestre. Unfortunately, however, Silvestre had obtained too great a hold upon him, and, in consequence, in order to cover the shortcomings of his own past, he had been compelled to take up arms at the very juncture when he was most desirous of remaining quietly in the background. Who the men with him were I had no sort of idea, nor did he inform me. That they were desperate like himself I could very well imagine.

When we reached the spot just described, Herma?os again gave utterance to the low and peculiar whistle I have already mentioned. This whistle was answered by another, and then a voice from the darkness said in Spanish, "All is well! He has not passed yet!"

A moment later a man scrambled down the bank and stood before us. He wore a poncho, and had a broad-brimmed sombrero.

"No sign of him yet, Luiz?" Herma?os said.

"No, there is no sign yet, se?or," the other replied. "But he can't be long now. In another hour it will begin to grow light, and if he does not come before daybreak, then our opportunity will be gone."

"When he comes, what do you propose to do?" I inquired.

"I thought that when the carriage arrives here some of us would appear in the road and stop the horses, while you go to the door and cover the President with your revolver."

I should here remark that when Herma?os had handed me the hat and poncho, he had also given me a heavy Colt's revolver.

"And having done that?" I asked, more for the sake of seeing what he would say than for any other reason.

"March him down by the path yonder to the sea, put him into the boat, and take him out to the yacht," he answered. "After that you can do with him as you please."

"I trust the boat has arrived," I said. "Is there no way of finding out? We ought to make sure of that!"

"I will send a man to see," he replied, and then ordered the individual named Luiz to go to the beach and discover whether the boat was there.

The fellow made off; and after he had left us we walked a little further down the road and seated ourselves upon the bank. A quarter of an hour passed, during which time we discussed everything but the business before us. Then the messenger returned with the information that the boat was waiting for us, a couple of hundred yards or so away, in charge of the chief officer.

"So far, all is well," I said, and as I spoke the sound of wheels reached us from the distance.

"He is coming," Herma?os exclaimed, springing to his feet; then, turning to the man who had just returned from the beach, he cried: "Call the others, Luiz!"

His voice shook with excitement. The words had scarcely left his lips before Luiz gave a loud whistle. In response to it three other men made their appearance from the wood.

"Herma?os," I said, taking control of affairs, as the party began to don their masks, "you and two of your men had better stand here to stop the horses." Then turning to the others, I continued: "You two, follow me; and, if you don't want to be recognized, let me do whatever talking there is to be done."

The noise made by the approaching carriage could now be distinctly heard. At most it could not be more than a quarter of a mile away. My heart was beating like a sledge-hammer. Closer and closer came the vehicle, then it turned the corner, and we could plainly see its lights. In a very few minutes it would be upon us. Without exception we had all drawn back into the shadow of the cliff, so that they could have no idea of our presence. Descending the little decline, the carriage entered the cleft between the rocks. The lights from the vehicle flashed like angry eyes upon us.

"Stop!" I cried in Spanish, and as I did so Herma?os and his two companions sprang into the centre of the road. The driver of the carriage, seeing the revolvers pointed at him, pulled up his horses so suddenly that they fell back upon their haunches. Meanwhile I had sprung to the carriage-door and had opened it. "General Fernandez," I cried, "you are my prisoner. I am armed, and if you move hand or foot, I give you warning, I shall shoot you."

Meanwhile one of my companions had taken a lamp from the socket and had turned it upon the interior of the carriage. By its light I was enabled to convince myself that we had made no mistake. Fernandez was seated in the corner nearest me, and, to my great astonishment, the Se?orita was beside him. I will do the President the justice of saying that, at such a trying moment, he comported himself like a brave man. His voice was as calm as ever I had heard it when he addressed me.

"Ah! so it's you, Se?or Trevelyan, is it?" he said. "I thought I had stopped your little game! What's the meaning of this?"

"It means that the scheme you did your best to frustrate has succeeded after all," I answered. "But I have no time to spare. I must therefore ask you to alight without further parley. Let me assure you it would be no use your attempting to resist. There are six of us here, and we are all armed."

"It is evident, then, that you have the advantage of me," he continued, still with the same imperturbable good-humour. "Well, what must be must, I suppose," and with that he descended from the carriage and stepped into the road.

Before I could stop her the Se?orita had done the same.

"Where you go I follow," she said, addressing the President. "I am sure we can rely upon Se?or Trevelyan's doing us no harm."

"If you do as I ask you not a hair of your head shall be harmed, Se?orita," I replied. Then turning to the President once more, I added: "Before we proceed further it would, perhaps, be as well to make sure that you are not armed, General! We cannot afford to run any risk."

Fernandez gave a short laugh as he took a revolver from his pocket and handed it to me.

"I was going to use this upon you as soon as I had an opportunity," he said. "I see, however, that I am not to be permitted to do so!"

I turned to the coachman.

"Now, off you go!" I cried. "If you stop anywhere between here and the palace I'll take care that you hear about it later. You can tell them, when you get there, that the President and the Se?orita have gone into the country for a change of air, and that you don't quite know when they will be back."

The man did not answer, but looked at Fernandez as if for instructions. Seeing that the other did not speak, he whipped up his horses and drove off without another word, leaving his master and mistress prisoners with us.

"Now we in our turn will be off," I said, as he disappeared over the brow of the hill. "I must ask you, Se?or President, to be good enough to walk ahead. The Se?orita and I will follow you."

It was a silent little party that made its way down the hill-side towards the beach. First walked the President with an armed man on either side of him, his niece and myself followed next, whilst Herma?os and two of his fellow-conspirators brought up the rear. No one would have imagined that, only a few hours before, the Se?orita and I had been waltzing round the ball-room at La Gloria as partners, or that the President and I had been seated amicably together discussing the politics of Equinata in all apparent friendliness. I must say in common fairness that, even under these trying circumstances, the Se?orita behaved herself with as much coolness as did her fellow-prisoner. Not once did she flinch or show the least sign of fear.

The path from the road to the shore was an exceedingly rough one, little better in fact than a goat-track, and as the Se?orita was still wearing her light dancing-shoes, it must have been an unenviable experience for her. Once her dress was caught by a cactus leaf, and I stopped to extricate it for her. I hoped that my action might break the silence that had so far characterized our march.

"Thank you, se?or," she said gravely, and, without another word, continued her walk.

"Se?orita," I said at last, "I can quite understand how angry you must feel with me. I suppose it is only natural that you should be. Yet, strange though it may appear, I cannot help feeling ashamed."

"I am not angry, se?or," she replied. "My only regret is that we should have been so weak as to have made such a miscalculation. I thought m

y uncle had caused you to be arrested?"

"He certainly did have me arrested, but I managed to escape," I answered. "Doubtless, if your uncle had had his way, he would have had me shot at daybreak."

"It is more than likely," she replied, still with the same gravity. "And all things considered, I am not at all sure it would not have been better for the happiness of Equinata could this event have taken place."

After such a speech there was not much to be said, so we continued our walk in silence. Ten minutes later we reached the beach, walked along it for a hundred yards or so, and then found ourselves beside the yacht's gig, which had been pulled up on the shore to await our coming. As soon as they saw us the boat's crew, led by the chief officer, made their appearance from a hollow in the sand-hills where they had been concealed.

"Permit me to help you into the boat," I said to the Se?orita, moving towards it as I spoke. "When you are on board we can push her out into deeper water."

She accordingly took my hand and stepped into the boat, after which the men ran it into the water.

"Now, Mr. President," I continued, "if you will be so kind as to get in, I think we had better be moving."

He hesitated for a moment.

"Before we do so, might I have a word with you in private, Se?or Trevelyan?" he said. "I will not detain you more than a few moments."

I answered in the affirmative, and we moved a few paces away together. To make sure that he played no trick upon me, I took my revolver from my pocket and carried it somewhat ostentatiously in my hand. He noticed the precaution and gave utterance to one of his peculiar laughs.

"You need have no fear," he said. "I shall not run away. My heart, as you may have heard, is a little weak, and I am afraid a sharp run on this sand would not tend to improve it. Let us talk here. Now, Se?or Trevelyan, I am going to put a very simple question to you. I very naturally presume that you have been well paid by my rival, Don Guzman de Silvestre, to effect my capture and deportation?"

"It is scarcely necessary for me to admit that fact," I answered. "Yes! All things considered, I am very well paid."

"Needless to remark," he continued, "I have no desire to leave Equinata. Nor am I anxious to find myself in my old enemy's hands. The question I wish to put to you, therefore, is this: What would your price be to let me go?"

"I cannot answer that question," I replied, "and for the simple reason that I am unable to let you go at all."

"I should be willing to pay a large sum in cash, and, what is more, I would give you a substantial guarantee that, if you would leave La Gloria to-morrow, I would let you depart in peace."

"I am very sorry, General Fernandez," I said, "but I am afraid you have made some little mistake in your estimation of my character. I will be perfectly candid with you, and will admit that, if I could live the past few weeks over again, I should not be treating you as I am doing to-night. However, I have accepted Don Guzman's offer, and I have taken his money. For that reason I cannot take yours, nor can I let you go, glad as I should be to do so. I wonder what you would have done with me, had I not had the good fortune to escape from the cartel to-night?"

"I can tell you exactly," he answered. "You would have shared your quarters with some of your fellow-conspirators, and I should have shot you in the morning. Experience has taught me that there is nothing like dispatch in these matters. Strike home, and strike hard, is my motto."

"So I have been given to understand," I replied dryly. "And now let us return to the boat."

"You are still determined not to let me go?" he said. "What do you say to an offer of twenty thousand pounds, in English money?"

"I could not do it for fifty thousand," I replied. "Come along, sir, the dawn will soon be here, and I am anxious to be out of Equinata before it comes."

He gave a little shrug of the shoulders as I spoke, and then moved towards the boat.

"One more question," he said before we joined the others. "Where are you going to take me?"

"I shall hope to be able to show you that in a very short time," I answered. "For the present, however, it must remain a secret. Now, sir, into the boat, if you please."

Before he got in he turned to Don José de Herma?os, who was standing with his friends by the water's edge.

"Farewell, Don José," he said, as genially as if he were addressing a valued acquaintance. "I wonder whether you and I are destined to meet again? As you are aware, I have a good memory for both friends and enemies! I once imagined that you and I would have been able to work together. I believe we should have done so, had not you committed yourself too deeply to my rival before I was able to bring my influence to bear upon you. I should put that mask in my pocket if I were you. You forget that you have a mole upon your chin."

The man he addressed stepped back a pace as if he had been struck. He had disguised himself so carefully that he thought detection was impossible. Nevertheless, he had omitted to conceal a disfigurement on the lower portion of his countenance that was sufficient to reveal his identity to any one at all acquainted with him. His astonishment may have accounted for his failure to reply to the other's speech.

The President having taken his place beside the Se?orita, I prepared to follow him, but before doing so I held out my hand to Herma?os.

"Good-bye, my friend," I said. "I owe you something for what you have done for me to-night. I don't suppose we shall ever meet again, but, if we do, I trust it may be under happier auspices."

"I never want to see your face again," he replied, with a candour that was somewhat remarkable. Then, lowering his voice to a whisper, he continued: "For your own safety's sake, take care that you never come back to Equinata. I cannot help thinking that it would have been better if we had shot him out of hand. I fancy you will agree with me before you have done."

His voice must have travelled further than he intended, for the President heard it and uttered a quiet laugh.

"Always the same, always the same," he said mockingly. "You know what ought to be done, but you don't do it. As somebody has said, you let 'I would' wait upon 'I dare!'"

At the same moment a sob escaped the Se?orita. This decided me, and springing into the boat I gave the order to shove off. The crew stood up and pushed with their oars, and a moment later we were afloat. When the men sat down and bent to their work I glanced back at the little group of dark figures on the beach watching us. After a few minutes they were lost against the dark background, and I turned my head to search for the yacht. Already the sky was paling preparatory to the dawn, and I knew that, if we did not hasten, we should scarcely be clear of the coast by daylight. At last we reached the yacht, and pulled up at the accommodation ladder.

"Allow me to help you, Se?orita," I said, springing out and giving her my hand.

Presently we stood together on the deck. Ferguson raised his cap, and I could see that he was more than surprised at seeing a lady standing before him.

"We will get away from here as soon as possible, Mr. Ferguson, if you please," I said. "I want to be clear of La Gloria before daylight."

"Everything is ready, sir," he replied, "and as soon as we have got the boat aboard I'll give the order for full steam ahead."

"In the meantime," I said, turning to the Se?orita, "permit me to escort you to the saloon. Doubtless you are ready for some supper after your long drive."

I was determined that my coolness should equal hers. Nothing was to be gained by acting the part of the stern gaoler. We accordingly passed along the deck to the saloon. The electric bell summoned the attentive chief steward, to whom I gave orders that a meal should be prepared for us immediately.

I cannot attempt to make you understand how beautiful the Se?orita looked as she divested herself of her cloak and seated herself on the luxurious divan that ran round the saloon. It must be remembered that she had driven out from the city dressed just as she had been at the ball, and as this thought crossed my mind I was struck with wonderment as to what she would do for wearing apparel on board. She could not spend the day in a low-necked dress, and with no stronger footgear than a pair of white satin dancing-shoes. However, I postponed consideration of the subject for the moment. Presently the steward reappeared, the cloth was laid, and a meal placed upon the table. My message from the cartel had given them time to prepare it, I suppose; at any rate, it was as delightful a little supper as any one could wish to partake of. We sat down to it, as strange a trio as you would discover in a very long day's sail.

Fernandez still wore his ribbon and orders; the Se?orita, as I have already observed, was in evening dress with a collet of diamonds round her neck. I also was attired just as I had been at the ball, though my raiment was somewhat dishevelled by my encounter with the Presidential Forces on the wharf. We had scarcely sat down at the table before the throbbing of the propellor announced the fact that we were under way. Almost involuntarily I looked at the President.

"Our voyage has commenced," he said. "I drink to your health, Se?or Trevelyan!"

I drew a long deep breath of relief. It was something to know that we were leaving Equinata at last, and that I had got the President aboard. Since his treatment of me that evening, I felt no remorse for having captured him. He had admitted that he would have shot me without compunction had I remained in his power. He could scarcely blame me, therefore, if I experienced a feeling of delight in having turned the tables upon him.

"I must say your employer is by no means niggardly to you," remarked Fernandez, when the servants had withdrawn. "As you do not provide it, I suppose it is not a breach of good manners to observe that this wine is excellent, while the cooking is all that can be desired." Then, with a little sigh, whether real or assumed, he continued: "My own chef will now, I suppose, be obliged to seek another situation. And in some respects he was unrivalled. Well, well, it's the fortune of war!"

"Se?or Trevelyan, is there no way of arranging for our return to Equinata?" asked the Se?orita, leaning a little forward and placing one dainty hand upon my coat-sleeve, while she looked pleadingly into my face.

"I am afraid not," I replied. "Don Fernandez and I have already discussed that matter together, and have come to the conclusion that it is impossible."

She rose from her chair. I thought she was going to break down, but she managed to retain her composure.

"If you will allow me, I think I will retire to my cabin," she said.

I rang the bell for the steward and inquired what state-room had been set aside for the lady. He informed me, and I immediately begged permission to conduct her thither. She bade her uncle good-night and we set off together. When she reached the door she turned to me.

"I feel sure you will be sorry some day for the part you have played to-night," she remarked. "Why should you wish to take us away from the country in which we were so happy, and for which we have done so much?"

"For the simple reason that I am not my own master," I replied. "I am a paid servant, and must do as I am ordered."

She heaved a heavy sigh, and then, without another word, turned and entered the cabin. I thereupon returned to the saloon to find that Fernandez had left it and had gone on deck. I discovered him upon the bulwarks opposite the smoking-room entrance. He had just lit a cigar, and was doubtless meditating on his position. The yacht was cleaving her way through the water, and already the lights of La Gloria lay far behind us.

"What are you thinking of, General?" I inquired as I took my position alongside him.

"I was thinking how I could manage to outwit you," he replied.

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