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   Chapter 10 No.10

The Kidnapped President By Guy Boothby Characters: 22796

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


It was with a feeling of profound thankfulness that I turned into my bunk that morning. The clattering of feet on deck, and the slapping of the water against the sides, greeted my ears like the sweetest music. Only a few hours before I had deemed myself as good as a dead man. I had been the prisoner of a man without the bowels of compassion, and, what was worse, I knew that I had proved myself a traitor, and had not the ghost of a chance of effecting my escape. Now, however, I was free once more, and in a few days my mission to Equinata would be accomplished; after which I should be at liberty to return to England, to marry Molly, and to settle down to a very different life to that which I had been leading for the past few weeks. When I fell asleep, it was to dream that I was back at Falstead once more. I was smoking a pipe in the front garden, and Molly, seated in the shade of our favourite tree, was reading me an account of a terrible revolution that had taken place in the Republic of Equinata.

"The President, José de Herma?os is his name," she said, "has been assassinated. It appears that he married the niece of his predecessor, General Fernandez!"

That would have been strange enough in all conscience!

Owing, I suppose, to the lateness of my retiring, I was not very early astir, and when I reached the deck I made my way up to the bridge. It was the second mate's watch, but I had not been there very long before Captain Ferguson left his cabin and joined us. Thereupon the mate, with a knowledge of what was correct under such circumstances, crossed to the other side of the bridge, leaving us free to talk together concerning the events of the previous night.

"You don't know what a fright I had, Mr. Trevelyan," said the captain. "I sent a boat ashore as directed, and after waiting an hour and a half it returned to report that you had not put in an appearance. I had quite made up my mind that you had been captured."

"As a matter of fact, I was," I replied, and proceeded to give him an outline of my adventures during the evening.

"This will be the last of this sort of business for me," he said, when he heard me out. "The game is far from being worth the candle. I wonder what the end of it all will be? From what I gathered when ashore, and also from what you have told me, I have come to the conclusion that whatever Don Silvestre's ambition may be, he has lost his hold upon Equinata. If he is fool enough to return, I fancy he will find that the other's party is still too strong for him. The part of a President of a South American Republic is not an easy one to play."

"The wonder to me is that they ever get any one to play it at all," I answered. "Thank goodness, however, we have fulfilled our portion of the contract; we have got Fernandez, and that's all that can be expected of us."

"I think I understood you to say that the lady who accompanies him is a relative?"

"She is his niece, and a very beautiful woman."

"If you were to ask me, I should say that I was more afraid of her than of him. Stand by and keep your eye open for squalls, would be my motto if I had to deal with her."

"You may be very sure that I will do that," I replied. "I think I know the length of her ladyship's foot."

I thought of the time we had spent together in the balcony of the Opera House, and how strangely her seriousness had affected me. It was difficult to believe that it had all been a mere piece of acting.

Half-an-hour or so later, when I had left the bridge and had walked aft, Fernandez made his appearance on deck.

"Good-morning, se?or," I said, with a bow to him. "In compliment to you we are favoured with a delightful morning."

"Delightful indeed," he replied, throwing a glance over the stern. "We are well on our way, I suppose, and steering due north, I observe. Let me see, if I am not mistaken, that should be in the direction of--" Here he looked at me interrogatively, as if he expected me to answer his question.

"In the direction of New York, shall we say?" I answered. "If we continue as we are going long enough, I have no doubt we shall see the Goddess of Liberty holding her torch aloft."

"The illustration is scarcely a pleasing one," he returned, "since I am a prisoner. The Goddess of Liberty has not done very much for me. But there, nothing is to be gained by repining! I have been in worse positions than this before to-day, and have always managed to get out of them with some sort of credit to myself."

"I hope you may do so in this instance," I answered, "but not while I have the charge of you."

He looked at me steadily for a few seconds.

"Do you know, Se?or Trevelyan," he said at last, "I have come to the conclusion that I like you. I did not do so at first, but my opinion of you has changed."

"I am very glad to hear you say so," I replied; "but I confess I can scarcely see why you should have changed your mind regarding myself. If there is one man in the world whom I despise, it is myself."

"And I fancy I can understand why," he continued, still with the same grave look upon his face. "You must not, however, think badly of yourself, for I can assure you, you have managed this business remarkably well. The plot was excellently arranged. There is one thing, however, that puzzles me; that is, how Herma?os managed to overcome the Guards at the cartel? I quite imagined that the men were to be relied on."

"I cannot give you any information on that point," I replied, knowing that it was useless to endeavour to conceal the fact that Herma?os was present on that occasion. "I had no knowledge of the affair until the door was opened and I discovered that I was free."

"Some day I shall hope to be even with our friend Herma?os," Fernandez replied, more to himself than to me. "I have always had my suspicions about the man, but I never dreamt that he would rise to such a height as he has done in this affair. I deemed him a coward throughout."

"And a coward he is," I answered. "He is scheming now to save his own neck."

"The most dangerous conspirator you can have to deal with," Fernandez remarked. "Such a man lacks the saving grace of Ambition. He who risks his life for fame and fortune must have something good in him, but the individual who embarks upon a conspiracy, and who would throw over and denounce his friends on finding that his own participation in the plot is about to be discovered, is neither fish, flesh, nor fowl. There was a time when I could have had Herma?os for the holding up of a finger, but I wanted men of firmer metal, men like yourself, for instance."

"You pay me a great compliment," I answered. "Unfortunately, however, we met too late in the day. My services were already bespoken."

At that moment a steward approached him with a cup of chocolate and a roll.

"This is luxury in bondage," he remarked as he took it. Then, with a smile, he added: "If you had been breakfasting in the cartel this moment, I should probably have only allowed you bread and water."

"With a dozen bullets in my body to help me digest it," I thought to myself.

It was considerably past ten o'clock before the Se?orita made her appearance on deck. The question of her attire had occurred to me earlier, and, in consequence, I had procured for her a cloth pilot-coat from the third mate, who, as fortune had it, was only a little fellow, and had placed it at her door. This she now wore, and though the garment was somewhat incongruous, when the rest of her attire was taken into consideration, the effect was by no means unbecoming. On leaving the companion she looked about her, and then ran her eye along the sky-line, as if in the hope of being able to discover her whereabouts. The yacht was pitching a little at the time, but I noticed that she balanced herself as cleverly as any old sailor could have done. She bade us good-morning, but did not take the chair I offered her.

"I wonder what they are doing at the palace," she said, more to her uncle than to myself. "I hope they will not forget to feed my poor little birds. I wonder if I shall ever see them again?"

"So long as there is life there is hope," replied the President. "Is that not so, Se?or Trevelyan?"

"I believe so," I answered. "Who knows but that you may be back in La Gloria again before many months are past. Who is likely to be appointed President in your absence?"

"General Sagana," Fernandez returned; "and, by the way, he was the man who introduced you to me. I must endeavour to remember that fact when next he and I meet!"

The expression on his face as he said this was not altogether a pleasant one.

Hour after hour we steamed steadily on our course. The day was warm, the sea as smooth as glass, and the sky a perfect blue. We passed two vessels, but signalled neither. By midday our run totalled a hundred and twenty-five miles, a very fair record, all things considered. As for my passengers and myself we spent the greater part of the day under the for'ard awning, where we amused ourselves and each other as best we could. Had any stranger looked in upon us, he or she would have found it difficult to realize our respective positions. I had not the appearance of a gaoler, and no one would have guessed that the President, leaning back in his chair, cigar in mouth, was the head of an influential country and an abducted citizen.

The memory of our dinner that evening will never be effaced from my mind. It forms one of a number of strange mental pictures connected with that more than extraordinary time. The Se?orita, who had discarded the pea-jacket I have already referred to, appeared in all the bravery of her previous evening's apparel. The President had perforce to follow her example, and though he had discarded his ribbon, he still wore his orders. I on my part, out of compliment to them, dressed myself with great care, while Captain Ferguson, who shared the meal with us, had also made an elaborate toilet. The beautiful saloon, the noiseless servants, the lavish table decorations, the excellent menu, and the rare wines, all combined to play their parts in a scene that must almost be without a parallel. After dinner we adjourned to the deck above, where we seated ourselves and smoked until bed-time.

It would have been instructive to have known what thoughts were passing in the minds of the various members of our party as we men lay in our chairs upon the deck. That the Se?orita was really the President's niece I do not, and shall never believe. I have my own reasons for making this statement, and they are fairly conclusive. The President himself was an adventurer of the most determined description. Ferguson was a sea captain and but little better-(he was a married man, so I discovered later, and his wife kept a small girls' school in a village near Plymouth), while I-well, you know all there is to tell so far as I am concerned, so I need say no more on that subject. Taken altogether, however, we were a queer quartette.

At ten o'clock the Se?orita declared herself sleepy and retired to her cabin, Ferguson went up to the bridge to see how things were there, while the President and I started to patrol the deck. In the hour that followed I learnt more of his past life than I had ever known before. I knew very well that his career had been an extraordinary one, but I

had never dreamt that it had been so strange as his telling made it appear. He was born in a village near Madrid. His parents were poor but of noble birth. In due course he entered the army, but after a time the life of a private soldier disgusted him, and he exchanged the profession of arms for that of an assistant to a sugar planter on the island of St. Vincent. An unfortunate love affair with the planter's daughter threw him upon the world again, penniless. From the island he drifted to the mainland of South America, saw a good deal of Revolutionary fighting, and for the first time tried his hand at the fascinating game of politics. The result was by no means satisfactory, for he had the misfortune to throw in his lot with the losing side. After a certain particularly stubborn battle he was captured and condemned to be shot-a foretaste of the fate he had arranged for me. At the last moment, however, the sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life, and he was sent to the mines. Eventually he was liberated and took service with the man who, up to that time, had been his greatest enemy. He climbed the ladder of fame, and in time he managed to win a fair amount of power in the land; another Revolution, however, cast this power to the winds, and sent him flying post-haste to the islands of the Pacific. In one way and another he enlarged his experience there, saw life as a trader, a pearler, and an agent for the native labour traffic as he euphemistically termed it. At last he found himself on board a schooner returning to Valparaiso. It was then that he first met Silvestre, and for some considerable time the two men were on the most friendly terms. Fernandez, who had been warned as to what was shortly to happen, discovered a post for the time being as a clerk to an auctioneer. Then came the big Revolution-Fernandez chose the winning side, Silvestre the losing. The latter departed to Equinata-which country at that time was just coming into notice-while his friend remained in Chili to derive what profit he could for himself from his loyalty to the party he had assisted into Power.

"As soon as I had saved sufficient money, however," he continued, "I quitted the Republic and, after one or two other adventures with which I will not trouble you, found myself stranded in Equinata. To my astonishment I discovered that my old partner Silvestre had made the best use of his time there, and by an extraordinary manipulation of circumstances had managed to become a person of considerable importance in the Republic. So far as I was concerned, however, there was another hegira, and this time at a somewhat short notice. I next visited the United States, afterwards crossed the Atlantic to Europe, and, after an absence of some three years, found myself once more in La Gloria. When I reached that country I discovered that a strange change had taken place. Silvestre, who, though he had held a position of some importance when I was last in Equinata, had shown no sign of any great ability, was now President, and had even greater ambitions. Needless to say I threw in my lot with him and--"

"Eventually ousted him from his position?" I put in. "I have heard that part of the story from the man himself."

"Yes, I confess I did oust him," he answered, taking his cigar from his mouth and knocking the ash off against the rail. "The victory is to the strongest, and if Silvestre had been stronger than I-well-he would have won. As it was, he fled the country. Whereupon I picked up the reins of Government, played the game as I thought it should be played, and now find myself and all my plans upset, I trust you will forgive my plain speaking, by a man who only a few months ago was chief officer on board a South American mail-boat. Who can say what the next chapter of the story will be?"

"Well, you have had a very good innings, and I don't see that you have any right to complain."

"Perhaps not," he replied. "But don't run away with the idea that, because you've trapped me, I am beaten. I'm a long way off that! Believe me, I know exactly how far you are concerned in the business, and I tell you this, if you are wise, you will be advised by me, and drop out of it as soon as you can. The time will come when Don Guzman de Silvestre and I will have to settle accounts together, and if you are a prudent man you will have balanced your books with him and have departed long before that."

"I think I am very well able to take care of myself," I remarked.

"Ah! We all think that! Sometimes, however, we find we are wrong."

A few moments later he bade me good-night and retired to his cabin. I accompanied him so far as the saloon companion entrance and then returned to my chair on deck. I had not been there many minutes before Ferguson joined me.

"We shall have to keep a sharp look-out on our friend, Don Fernandez," he said, after he had lit a cigar. "I don't trust him a little bit."

"How so?" I inquired. "What has he been up to now?"

"Nothing very much that I know of," the captain replied, "but I have a sort of notion that he has been endeavouring to sound some of the men as to the chance of seizing the boat. He has said nothing outright, but Reston (the boatswain) tells me he dropped a hint to him that a large reward would be forthcoming if he and his niece were helped ashore again. He has a most persuasive manner, unlimited wealth, and there's not very much, I fancy, that he would stop at."

"I suppose you can place implicit trust in your officers and crew?" I said.

"Implicit trust," he answered. "But with a man like Fernandez aboard one cannot take too many precautions."

"You are right," I replied. "At the same time, I must admit that I like the man. More, perhaps, than I do-well, another gentleman with whom we are both acquainted."

Ferguson understood my meaning.

"I understand," he replied. "And what's more I agree with you."

When we had chatted for upwards of an hour I bade him good-night, and went below to my cabin to fall asleep and dream that Fernandez had seized the boat and was going to make me walk the plank at daylight.

In two days we were due to arrive at the island. From the progress we were making, and from the glimpse I had of the chart, it struck me that we should reach San Diaz between six and seven o'clock in the evening.

At four o'clock on the following afternoon I was standing at the taffrail, looking at the frothing wake astern, and thinking of something very far removed from Equinata and her President. As a matter of fact I was wondering how long it would be before I should see Falstead again, and what sort of welcome I should receive from Molly and my mother on my return, when I caught the sound of a light footstep behind me. I turned my head to discover the Se?orita. She came and stood beside me resting her jewelled hands upon the rail. It did not take me long to become aware that she was in one of her curious moods. Her manner was most persuasive and seductive to a degree, and once or twice I found myself admiring her beauty, and for the moment forgetting how dangerous a woman she was.

"I am afraid, Se?orita," I said, "that since we danced together in the Opera House I have fallen woefully in your estimation."

"Why should that be so?" she answered. "I admire your resource, and however much I may deplore it, cannot help but admire the cleverness with which you carried out your scheme, in spite of the opposition you received. Had you been working for us I should have offered you my heartiest congratulations, but since we are the victims of your skill, you can scarcely expect me to be so magnanimous. Oh! Se?or Trevelyan, how I wish I could have persuaded you to side with us. But you had already cast in your lot with the enemy. At one time I had almost begun to think that I was deceived in you, but the other night when you refused my uncle's bribe I realized your real character. To a man of such enterprise as you possess anything is possible. Have you never experienced a longing for power yourself? If I were a man, my ambition would be limitless. As it is, I can only admire what I see of it in others!"

Recalling that conversation now, it seems as plain to me as daylight that she was doing her best to hoodwink me. I must confess, however, that at the time I failed entirely to see through her motive. As I have said before she was a beautiful woman, and she had the advantage of also being an extremely clever one. No one will ever know the temptations she placed before me that evening, and I think it says something for my love for Molly-not to mention my sense of duty to Silvestre, that I did not give way to her. By some mysterious means she had discovered the bond that existed between Ferguson and myself; she knew also that I was all-powerful aboard the yacht, and if she did not prevail upon me to turn the boat's head about and convey them back to Equinata, well, it was certainly not for want of trying. I proved adamant, however, and when at last she left me and went below it must have been with the consciousness that she had not only failed in her scheme but had done herself harm into the bargain.

"You have had the pleasure of my niece's company for some considerable time," said Fernandez, when I joined him some minutes later. "I hope you have had a pleasant and instructive conversation!"

There was a scarcely-concealed sneer in his voice that I did not fail to notice.

"The Se?orita has been endeavouring to undermine my loyalty to Silvestre," I said, blurting out the truth without fear of the consequences. "She has promised me, on your behalf, all sorts of rewards if I will turn traitor and run the boat back to La Gloria."

"And I gather from your tone that she was not successful," he replied. "You are a very pillar of rectitude, my friend."

"What is more," I continued, ignoring his sneer, and making up my mind to let him have it from the shoulder while I was about it, "I hear from Captain Ferguson that you have been endeavouring to tamper with the crew. I should be sorry, se?or, to be compelled to confine you to your cabin for the rest of the voyage, but if this sort of thing continues I fear there will be no other course left open to me."

"You surely would not have me neglect an opportunity when it presents itself?" he returned, still with the same curious smile upon his face. "I have as much right to try to help myself out of this hole as you had to get me into it. However, as your men appear to be as immaculate and bribe-proof as their leaders, I will give you my assurance that I will not tamper with their honour again. Will that satisfy you?"

"As long as you stick to it," I replied. "But I warn you that I shall keep a strict watch upon you, and if you play me false you know what you may expect."

From that moment I had no more trouble with either of them. The Se?orita adopted a haughty air towards me. The President, on the other hand, made himself even more agreeable to me than he had been before.

One day later, and, as I expected, a little before sun-down, a small speck appeared upon the horizon. This gradually increased in size until it developed into a small densely-wooded island.

"That," said Ferguson, who was standing beside me on the bridge, "is San Diaz!"

"And, thank goodness, our destination!"

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