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The Kidnapped President By Guy Boothby Characters: 8881

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Strange to say, the populace of La Gloria did not appear to trouble themselves very much, either one way or the other, concerning their President's re-appearance. The officials, however, were, as behoved them, considerably more demonstrative. They were well acquainted with Fernandez' temper, and, like sagacious mortals, realized that it would be wiser for them to allow him to suppose that, whatever their own private opinions might be, they desired no better leader than himself. With Herma?os, and his fellow-conspirators, he was not likely, as he observed, to have very much trouble. They professed to have seen the error of their ways, and were as enthusiastic in Fernandez' praise as they had hitherto been in his detriment. As for my own part in this singular business I allowed Fernandez to tell the story in his own fashion. This he did, to such good purpose that in a very short time I found myself the hero of La Gloria, an honour with which I could very well have dispensed. Monsieur Maxime and his crew were most liberally rewarded by the President, as were Matthews and his fellow-sailor. They remained in Equinata for a short time, but what became of them later I cannot say.

"My dear Trevelyan," said Fernandez to me one morning, "I really intend that we should have a serious talk together. Now you know that whenever I have broached the subject of a recompense to you for the trouble you have taken, you have invariably put me off with some excuse or another, but I will be denied no longer. Forgive me if I say I am well acquainted with the state of your finances."

"It is not a fine prospect, is it?" I said, with a laugh.

"If you had stood by Silvestre and had left me to my fate, you would have been a comparatively rich man. And even if you did turn the tables upon Silvestre, why were you so quixotic as to hand him back the money?"

"I think you can guess," I answered. "If you can't, I am afraid I must leave you to work the problem out."

"And if you would not take his money, why should you be equally particular in my case? It is only fair that I should recompense you for the inestimable service you have rendered me."

"I am afraid that it is impossible," I answered, for, as I have already said, I had long since made up my mind upon this subject.

Fernandez endeavoured to press me, but I remained adamant. Nothing he could do or say would induce me to change my mind. I knew that it was only by adhering to my resolution that I could salve my conscience. I had still sufficient money of my own left to pay for my passage to England.

Important as the capital of Equinata may appear in the eyes of its inhabitants, it is, nevertheless, scarcely so prominent in the maritime world as certain other places I could mention on the South American coast. It was true I could wait for the monthly mail-steamer which would connect with a branch line at La Guayra, or I might take one of the small trading-boats and proceed along the coast until I could find a vessel bound for Europe. But having had sufficient of trading schooners in La Belle Josephine to last me a lifetime, I eventually made up my mind to await the coming of the mail-boat, which, if all went well, would put in an appearance in a fortnight's time.

During that fortnight I was permitted a further opportunity of studying the character of the Se?orita under another aspect. Since her return to La Gloria she seemed to have undergone a complete change. Her temper was scarcely alike for two days at a time. She was capricious, wilful, easily made angry; then she would veer round, and be tender, repentant and so anxious to please, that it was impossible to be vexed with her.

"The President will miss you very much when you leave us," she said to me on the evening before my departure, as we stood together on the marble terrace overlooking the palace gardens.

It was a lovely night, and the air was filled with the scent of the orange blossom. I do not think my companion had ever looked more beautiful than she did at that moment. Indeed her beauty seemed to me to be almost unearthly.

"I fancy every one likes to feel that he or she will be missed," I answered. "You may be sure I shall often think of Equinata. Perhaps some day I may be able to return."

"Who knows where we shall be then?" she replied gloomily.

"What do you mean?" I asked in a tone of surprise. "You will, of course, be here, leading th

e Social Life of Equinata as you do now!"

"I am afraid that even now you do not realize how quickly affairs change in South America," she replied. "Some one else may manage to catch the Public Fancy, there will be a Revolution and we shall go out of power-perhaps to our graves!"

"I cannot believe that. In any case your uncle would take care your safety is assured!"

She gave a little impatient tap with her foot upon the stones.

"Of course he would protect me if he could," she answered, "but he might not be able to do anything. Had you not come to our rescue on that island, what use would his protection have been to me? How do I know that we may not be situated like that again? Oh, I am tired of this life-tired-tired!"

Almost before I knew what had happened she was leaning on the balustrading, sobbing as if her heart would break. I was so taken by surprise, that for a moment I did not know what to say, or do, to comfort her. Then I went forward and placed my hand gently upon her shoulder.

"Se?orita," I said, "is there anything I can do to help you?"

"No, no," she answered. "You can do nothing! Leave me to my misery. Does it matter to you, or to any one, what becomes of me?"

"It must matter a good deal to your friends," I replied.

"Friends?" she cried, facing me once more and speaking with a scorn impossible to describe. "I have no friends. The women hate and fear me, the men cringe to me because of my influence with the President. Even he may grow tired of me before long, and then--"

I allowed this speech to pass uncommented on. At the same time I wished the President would make his appearance and put an end to what was becoming a rather dangerous tête-à-tête. When she spoke again it was in a fierce whisper.

"Do you remember that night when we stood together in the balcony of the Opera House, and talked of ambition and of what a man might rise to? Se?or Trevelyan, I tell you this, if I loved a man I could help him to rise to anything. Do you hear me? To anything!"

There was only one way to treat the matter, and before I answered her I knew perfectly well what the result would be.

"Enviable man!" was all I said.

She drew herself up to her full height. Then, turning on her heel, she made her way swiftly towards the house. My silly compliment had succeeded where expostulation or reserve would have failed.

Next morning the mail-boat which was to carry me away from Equinata made her appearance in the harbour. She was to sail at midday, and up to eleven o'clock I had seen nothing of the Se?orita. About ten minutes before I left the palace, however, she made her appearance in the President's study. Her face was somewhat paler than usual, and though she endeavoured to lead me to suppose that she had forgotten our conversation on the previous evening, I could see that the memory of it still weighed heavily upon her. The President had declared his intention of personally escorting me on board the steamer, and at the last moment, not a little to my surprise, the Se?orita decided to accompany him. We accordingly set off, and in due course reached the vessel, a miserable packet of some six hundred tons, whose captain, on hearing of our arrival, hastened forward to receive his distinguished guests. After he had paid his respects he offered to show the Se?orita the saloon, and thus gave me a few minutes alone with the President.

"It is needless for me to say how sorry I am that you are going," said the latter. "I wish I could have persuaded you to stay with us. But I suppose you know your own business best. Remember this, however! Should you ever need a friend, there is one in La Gloria to whom you can always turn!"

I thanked him and promised that I would not forget, and then the Se?orita rejoined us. We had only time to exchange a few words before the whistle sounded for strangers to leave the ship.

"Good-bye," said the President, giving me his hand. "Think sometimes of Equinata."

"You may be sure I shall do that," I answered, with a glance at the white town ashore.

Then the Se?orita in her turn held out her little hand. I took it, and as I did so looked into her eyes.

"Good-bye," she said, and in a low voice added:-"May the Saints protect you."

Then she followed the President to the gangway. A quarter of an hour later we were steaming between the Heads, and in half-an-hour La Gloria was out of sight.

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