Tải bản đầy đủ

His unknown wife


HisUnknownWife
LouisTracy
1916


CHAPTERI
SHARPWORK
“PRISONER,attention!HisexcellencythePresidenthaspermittedSeñor
Steinbaumtovisityou.”
The“prisoner”waslyingonhisbackonaplankbed,withhishandstucked
beneathhisheadtoobtainsomemeasureofprotectionfromtherollofrough
fibermattingwhichformedapillow.Hedidnotpaytheslightestheedtothe
half-casteSpanishjailer’sgruffcommand.Butthevisitor’snamestirredhim.He
turnedhishead,apparentlytomakesurethathewasnotbeingdeceived,and
roseonanelbow.
“Hello,Steinbaum!”hesaidinEnglish.“What’stheswindle!Excusethis
terseness,butIhavetodieinanhour,orevenless,ifasunbeamhasn’tmisled
me.”
“There’snoswindlethistime,Mr.Maseden,”camethegutturalanswer.“I’m
sorryIcannothelpyou,butIwantyoutodoagoodturnforalady.”

“Alady!Whatlady?”
“Idon’tknow.”
“Ifyoudon’tknowtheladythatisarecommendationinitself.Atanyrate,what
sortofgoodturncanamancondemnedtodeathdoforanylady?”
“Shewantstomarryyou.”
Thenthemanwho,byhisownshowing,wasrapidlynearingthecloseofhis
earthlycareer,sprangerectandlookedsothreateningthathisvisitorshrankback
apace,whilethehalf-castejailer’srighthandclutchedthebuttofarevolver.
“WhateverelseImayhavethoughtyou,Ineverregardedyouasafool,
Steinbaum,”hesaidsternly.“Goaway,man!Haveyounosenseofdecency!
YouandthatskunkEnricoSuarez,havedoneyourworstagainstmeand
succeeded.WhenIamdeadthe‘state’willcollarmyproperty—andIamwell


awarethatinthisinstancethe‘state’willberepresentedbySeñorEnricoSuarez
andMr.FritzSteinbaum.Youareabouttomurderandrobme.Can’tyouleave
meinpeaceduringthelastfewminutesofmylife!Beoff,oryoumayfindthat
incominghereyouhaveactedfoolishlyforonce.”
“Ach,was!”sighedSteinbaum,neverthelessretreatinganothersteptowardsthe
doorandthewatchfulhalf-caste,whohadbeenwarnedtoshootstraightand
quicklyiftheprisonerattackedtheaugustpersonoftheportlyfinancier.“Itell
youthetruth,andyouwillnotlisten.ItisasIsay.Alady,astranger,arrivedin
Cartagenalastnight.Sheheardofyouthismorning.Sheasked:‘Ishemarried,
thisAmerican?’Theysaid,‘No.’Thenshecametomeandbeggedmetousemy
influencewiththePresident.Shesaid:‘IfthisAmericangentlemanistobeshot,
Iamsorry;butitcannotmattertohimifheismarried,anditwillobligemevery
much.’Itoldher—”
Thespeaker’svoicegrewhuskyandhepausedtoclearhisthroat.Maseden
smiledwanlyatthemadabsurdityofit,buthewasbeginningtobelievesome
partofSteinbaum’sstory.
“Andwhatdidyoutellher?”hebrokein.
“ItoldherthatyouwereQuixoticinsomethings,andyoumightagree.”
“Butwhatonearthdoestheladygainbyit?Suarezandyouwilltakemighty
goodcareshedoesn’tgetawaywithmyranchandmoney.Doesshewantmy
name?”
“Perhaps.”
Masedentookthoughtamoment.
“Ithasneverbeendishonoredduringmylife,”hesaidquietly.“Iwouldneedto
beassuredthatitwillnotbesmirchedaftermydeath.”
Steinbaumwasstout.Acertainanxietytosucceedinanextraordinarymission,


joinedtothewarm,moistatmosphereofthecell,hadinducedacopious
perspiration.
“Ach,Gott!”hepurreddespairingly.“Iknownothing.Shetoldmenothing.She
offeredtopaymeforthetrouble—”


“Ah!”
“Whynot?Irunsomeriskinactingso.SheisAmerican,likeyourself.Shecame
tome—”
“American,yousay!Issheyoung?”
“Ithinkso.Ihavenotseenherface.Shewearsathickveil.”
RomancesuddenlyspreaditsfairywingsinthatsqualidSouthAmericanprisonhouse.Maseden’sspiritwasfiredtoperformalastactofchivalry,ofmercy,it
mightbe,inbehalfofsomeunhappygirlofhisownrace.Thesheerfollyofthis
amazingmarriagemovedhimtogrimmirth.
“Verywell,”hesaidwithahalf-heartedlaugh.“I’lldoit!But,asyouaremixing
thecards,Steinbaum,theremustbeajokerinthepacksomewhere.I’mapretty
quickthinker,youknow,andIshallprobablyseethroughyourproposition
beforeIdie,thoughIamdamnedifIcansizeituprightoff.”
“Mr.Maseden,Iassureyou,onmy—well,youandIneverwerefriendsand
neverwillbe,butIhavetoldyoutherealfactsthistime.”
“Whenistheweddingtotakeplace?”
“Now.”
“GreatScott!Didtheladycomewithyouf”
“Yes.Sheisherewithapriestandanotary.”
Masedenpeeredoverthejailer’sshoulderintothewhitewashedpassagebeyond
thehalfopendoor,asthoughheexpectedtofindashroudedfigurestanding
there.Steinbauminterpretedhisglance.
“Sheisinthegreathall,”hesaid.“Theguardiswaitingattheendofthe
corridor.”
“Oh,it’stobeamilitarywedding,then?”
“Yes,inasense.”


TheyoungermanappreciatedthenicedistinctionSteinbaumwasdrawing.The
waiting“guard”wasthefiring-party.
“Whattimeisit?”hedemanded,sosharplythatthefatmanstarted.Foraskilled
intriguerSteinbaumwasridiculouslynervous.
“Aquarterpastseven.”
“Allowmetoputthequestionasdelicatelyaspossible,but—er—isthereany
extensionoftimebeyondeighto’clock?”
“SeñorSuarezwouldnotgiveoneminute.”
“Heknowsabouttheceremony,ofcourse?”
“Yes.”
“Whataskunkthemanis!Howhemustfearme!SuchSpartaninflexibilityis
foreigntotheSpanishnature….Bytheway,Steinbaum,didyouever,inyour
innocentyouth,heartheopera‘Maritana,’orseeaplaycalled‘DonCesarde
Bazan’?”
“Whywastetime,Mr.Maseden?”criedtheotherimpatiently.Heloathedthe
environmentofthatdimcell,withitsslightlyfetidair,suggestiveofyellowjack
anddysentery.Hewassoobviouslyillatease,sofearfullestheshouldfailinan
extraordinarynegotiation,that,givenlessstrenuousconditions,theyoungerman
musthavereadmoreintotheproposalthanappearedonthefaceofit.
ButthesandsoflifewererunningshortforMaseden.Outwardlycooland
imperturbablyAmerican,hissoulwasinrevolt.Forallthathelaughed
cheerfully.
“Wastetime,indeed!”hecried.“I,whohavelessthanforty-fiveminutesto
live!…Now,thesearemyterms.”
“Therearenoterms,”brokeinSteinbaumharshly.“Youobligethelady,oryou
don’t.Pleaseyourself.”
“Ah,that’sbetter.ThatsoundsmorelikethehoundthatIknowyouare.Yet,I
insistonmyterms.


“Iwasdraggedoutofbedinmypajamasatfouro’clockthismorning,andnot
evenpermittedtodress.Theyhardlywaitedtogetmeapairofboots.Ihaven’ta
redcentinmypocket,whichisafigureofspeech,becauseIhaven’tapocket.If
youthinkyoucanborrowfromanoldcomedyjustsomuchofthesituationas
suitsyourpurposeanddisregardthecostumeandappearanceofthestaractor,
you’remistaken.
“Igatherfromyourfuriousgruntsthatyoudon’tunderstandme.Verywell.I’ll
comestraighttothepoint.IfIamtomarrytheladyofyourchoice,Idemandthe
righttoappearatthealtardecentlycladandwithenoughgoodmoneyinmy
pockettostandafewbottlesofwinetothegallantblackguardswhoareaboutto
shootme.
“Thosearemyterms,Steinbaum.Takethemorleavethem!Butdon’taccuseme
ofwastingtime.It’suptoyoutoarrangethestagesetting.Imighthaveinsisted
onashave,butIwon’t.
“Theladywillnotexpectmetokissher,Isuppose?…Bygad,shemustbea
personofstrangetastes.Whyanyyoungwomanshouldwanttomarryaman
becausehe’sgoingtobeshothalfanhourlaterisoneofthosemysterieswhich
thefemininemindmaycomprehend,butit’sbeyondme.However,that’sher
affair,notmine.
“Now,Steinbaum,hurryup!I’mtalkingforthemeresakeofhearingmyown
voice,butyou’rekeepingtheladyinsuspense.”
Masedenhadindeedcorrectlydescribedhisownattitude.Hewaswholly
indifferenttothepersonalelementinthebizarrecompactproposedbyhisarchenemy,onwhomhehadturnedhisbackwhilespeaking.
Thesightofabloated,angry,perplexedfaceofthecoarsesttypewasmentally
disturbing.Heelectedrathertowatchtheshaftofsunlightcomingthroughthe
long,narrowslitinafour-footwallwhichservedasawindow.Heknewthathis
cellwasonthenortheastsideoftheprison,andthetravelingsunbeamhad
alreadymarkedtheflightoftimewithsufficientaccuracysincehewasthrust
intothatdismalplace.
Hehadbeensentencedtodeathjustonehourandahalfafterbeingarrested.The
evidence,likethetrial,wasatravestyofjustice.HisexcellencyDonEnrico
Suarez,electedpresidentoftheRepublicofSanJuanatmidnight,andconfirmed


inpowerbythebulletwhichremovedhispredecessor,wreakedvengeance
speedilyontheAmericanintruderwhohadhelpedtomarhisschemestwicein
twoyears.
Therewouldbeadiplomaticsquabbleaboutthejudicialmurderofacitizenof
theUnitedStates,ofcourse.TheAmericanandBritishconsulswouldprotest,
andbothcountrieswoulddispatchwarshipstoCartagena,whichwasatoncethe
capitaloftherepublicanditschiefport.Butofwhatavailsuchwranglingafter
onewasdead?
Dead,attwenty-eight,whentheworldwasbrightandfortunewasapparently
smiling!Dead,becausehesupporteddearoldDomenicoValdes,themurdered
president,andoneofthefewhonest,God-fearingmeninarottenlittleSouth
Americanstatewhichwouldhavebeensweptoutofputridexistencelongago
wereitnotforthepolicyoftheMonroeDoctrine.Masedenknewthatnopower
onearthwouldsavehimnow,becauseSuarezandhecouldnotexistinthesame
community,andSuarezwassupremeintheRepublicofSanJuan-supreme,that
is,untilsomeothercut-throatclimbedtothepresidencyoverarival’scorpse.
Steinbaum,acraftypersonwhoplayedthegameofhighpoliticswithsome
abilityandseldomfailedtoadvancehisownandhisallies’interests,hadbacked
Suarezfinanciallyandwouldbecomehisjackalforthetime.
ItwasrathersurprisingthatsuchamasterplottershouldhaveadmittedaforeknowledgeofMaseden’sfate,andthiselementinthesituationsuddenlydawned
onMasedenhimself.Thearrest,thetrial,andthecondemnationwerealikekept
secret.
TheAmericanconsul,aPortuguesemerchant,possessedenoughbackboneto
demandthepostponementoftheexecutionuntilhehadcommunicatedwith
Washington,andinthisactionhewouldhavebeensupportedbythe
representativeofGreatBritain.Buthewouldknownothingaboutthejudicial
crimeuntilitwasanaccomplishedfact.
How,then,hadsomeenterprisingyounglady—
“Bytheway,Steinbaum,youmightexplain—”
Masedenswungonhisheel;thematrimonialagenthadvanished.
“Theseñorsignifiedthathewouldreturnsoon,”saidthejailer.


“He’sgonefortheclothes!”musedMaseden,histhoughtspromptlyrevertingto
thefantasticmarriageproject.“Theslyoldfoxisdevilishanxioustogetme
splicedbeforemynumbergoesup.Iwonderwhy?Andwhereintheworldwill
heraiseasuitablerig?Hangitall,IwishIhadalittlelongertolive.This
businessbecomesmoreinterestingeveryminute!”
Thoughhewassuretheattemptwouldbehopeless,Masedenresolvedtomake
onelasteffort.Helookedthehalf-castesquarelyintheface.
“GetmeoutofthisbeforeSeñorSteinbaumcomesbackandI’llgiveyoutwenty
thousanddollarsgold,”hesaidquietly.
Themanmethisglancewithoutflinching.
“Icouldnothelpyou,señor,ifyoupaidmeamilliondollars,”heanswered.“It
isyourlifeormine-thosearemyorders.Anditisuselesstothinkofattacking
me,”headded,becauseforonemomentblackdespairscowledmenacinglyfrom
Maseden’sstrongfeatures.“Therearetenmenateachdoorofthecorridorready
toshootyouattheleastsignofanyattempttoescape.”
“Thepreparationsfortheweddingarefairlycomplete,then?”
MasedenspokeSpanishfluently,andthehalf-castegrinnedatthejoke.
“Itwillsoonbeover,señor,”wasallhecouldfindtosay.
Thecondemnedmanknewthatthefellowwasnottobebribedatthecostofhis
ownlife.Heturnedagainandgrewinterestedoncemoreintheshaftofsunlight.
Howquicklyitmoved!Hecalculatedthatbeforeitreachedacertaincrackinthe
masonryhewouldhavepassedinto“yesterday’sseventhousandyears.”
Itwasnotapleasingconceit.Inself-defense,asitwere,hebenthiswitsonto
theproposedmarriage.Hewashalfinclinedtoregretthechivalrousimpulse
whichspurredhimtoagreetoit.Yettherewasaspiceofhumorinthefactthata
manwhowasregardedasaninveteratewoman-haterbytheduskyyoungladies
ofSanJuanshouldbeledtothealtarliterallyattheeleventhhour.
Whatmannerofwomancouldthisunknownbridebe?Whatmotiveswayedher?
Perhapsitwasbetternottoask.Butiftheknotweretiedbyapriest,anotary
andaEuropeanfinancier,itwasevidentlyintendedtobeavalidundertaking.


AndwhywasSteinbaumsointerested?Wasthewould-beMrs.Masedensowell
endowedwiththisworld’sgoodsthatshesparednoexpenseinattainingher
object?
ThemostcontraryemotionssurgedthroughMaseden’sconscience.Hewasby
turnscurious,sympathetic,suspicious,absurdlyeagertolearnmore.
Inthislastmoodheresolvedtohaveonestraightlookatthelady.Surelyaman
wasentitledtoseehisbride’sface!Yes,comewhatmight,hewouldinsistthat
shemustraisethe“thick,whiteveil”whichhadhithertoscreenedherfeatures
fromSteinbaum’sgoggleeyes—supposing,thatis,therascalhadtoldthetruth.
Ahingecreaked,andthehalf-casteannouncedthattheseñorwasreturning.Ina
fewsecondsSteinbaumpantedin.Hewascarryingagorgeousuniformofskyblueclothwithfacingsofsilverbraid.Ashedumpedapairofbrilliantpatentleathertop-bootsonthestoneflooraglitteringhelmetfellfromamongthe
clothesandrolledtoMaseden’sfeet.
“Seehere,Steinbaum,whattomfooleryisthis?”criedtheAmericanwrathfully.
“Itisyourtomfoolery,notmine,”cametheheatedretort.“WhereamItogeta
suitofclothesforyou?Thesewillfit,Ithink.Iborrowedthemfromthe
President’saide-de-camp,CaptainFerdinandoGomez.”
MasedenknewCaptainGomez-aSouthAmericandandyofthefirstwater.For
themomenttheludicroussideofthebusinessbanishedallotherconsiderations.
“What!”helaughed,“amItobemarriedinthegiddyrigofthebiggestassin
Cartagena?Well,Igivein.AsI’mtobeshotateight,Ferdinando’sfinefeathers
willbeinasadmess,becauseI’llnottake‘emoffagainunlessI’mundressed
forcibly.GoodLord!Doesmyunknownbriderealizewhatsortofrarebirdshe’s
goingtoespouse?…
“Yes,yes,we’relosingtime.Chuckoverthosepants.Gomezisnotquitemy
height,buthistogsmaybe0.K.”
Asamatteroffact,PhilipAlexanderMasedenlookedaveryfinefigureofaman
whenarrayedinallthegloryofthepresidentialaide-decamp.Theonlytrouble
wasthattheeleganttop-bootswereconfoundedlytight,being,intruth,asizetoo
smallfortheirvainowner;butthebridegroom-electputupwiththis


inconvenience.
Hehadnotfartowalk.Afewstepstotherightlaythe“greathall”inwhich,
accordingtoSteinbaum,theceremonywouldtakeplace.Verylittlefarthertothe
leftwastheenclosedpatio,orcourtyard,inwhichhewouldbeshotwithinthirty
minutes!
“I’mdashedifIfeelabitlikedying,”hesaid,ashestrodebySteinbaum’sside
alongtheoutercorridor.“IfthetimewasaboutfourteenhourslaterImight
imagineIwasgoingtoafancydressball,thoughIwouldn’tbeabletodance
muchintheseconfoundedboots.”
Thestoutfinanciermadenoreply.Hewassingularlyillatease.Anycritical
onlooker,notcognizantofthefacts,wouldtakehimandnotMasedentobethe
mancondemnedtodeath.
Aheavy,iron-clampeddoorleadingtotherowofcellswaswideopen.Some
soldiers,linedupclosetoitinthehall,werecraningtheirneckstocatchafirst
glimpseoftheAmericanowhowasabouttomarryanddieinthesamebreath,so
tospeak.
Beyond,nearatableinthecenterofthespaciouschamber,stoodagroupthat
arrestedtheeye-aSpanishpriest,investmentsofsemi-state;anolive-skinned
manwhomMasedenrecognizedasalegalpractitioneroffairreputeina
communitywherechicaneryflourished,andaslenderly-builtwomanofmiddle
height,thoughtallerthaneitherofhercompanions,whosestylishcoatandskirt
ofthin,graycloth,andsmartshoestiedwithlittlebowsofblackribbon,were
strangelyincongruouswiththeblacklacemantillawhichdrapedherheadand
shoulders,andheldinpositionadoubleveiltiedfirmlybeneathherchin.
Masedenwassoastonishedatdiscoveringtheidentityofthelawyerthathe
momentarilylostinterestinthemysteriouswomanwhowouldsoonbehiswife.
“SeñorPorilla!”hecried.“Iamgladyouarehere.Doyouunderstand—”
“Itisforbidden!”hissedSteinbaum.“Onemoreword,andbackyougotoyour
cell!”
“Oh,isthatpartofthecompact?”saidMasedencheerfully.“Well,well!We
mustnotmakemattersunpleasantforalady—mustwe,Steinbaum?…Now,


madam,raiseyourveil,andletmeatleasthavethehonorofknowingwhatsort
ofpersonthefutureMrs.PhilipAlexanderMasedenwillbe!”
Theonlyanswerwasastifledbutquiteaudiblesob,andMasedenhadan
impressionthattheladymightputasummarystoptotheproceedingsby
fainting.
Steinbaum,however,hadrecoveredhisnerveinthestrongerlightofthegreat
hall,especiallysincethesoldiershadgatheredaround.
“Thesenoradeclinestounveil,”hegrowledinSpanish.“Begin,padre!Thereis
notamomenttospare.”
Theecclesiasticopenedabookandplungedforthwithintothemarriageservice.
Masedenwasawarethattheshrinkingfigurebyhissidewastremblingviolently,
andawaveofpityforhersurgedthroughhisheart.
“Cheerup!”hewhispered.“It’sonlyamatterofform,anyhow;andI’mgladto
beabletohelpyou.Idon’tcarearedcentwhatyourmotiveis.”
Steinbaumgurgledominously,andthebridegroomsaidnomore.Clearly,though
hehadgivennobond,hewasimperilingthefulfillmentofthisunhappygirl’s
desireifhetalked.
Buthekepthiswitsalert.ItwasevidentthattheladyunderstoodlittleLatinand
noSpanish.Shewasquiteunabletofollowthesonorousphrases.Whenthe
portlypriest,whoseemedtohavesmallrelishfortheparthewascompelledto
playinthisamazingmarriage,askedMasedenifhewouldhave“thiswoman”to
behisweddedwife,thebridegroomanswered“Yes,”inSpanish;butasimilar
questionaddressedtothebridefoundherdumb.
“Say‘Iwill,’“murmuredMasedeninherear.
Sheturnedslightly.Atthatinstanttheirheadscameclosetogether,andthelong,
unfamiliarfragranceofawoman’swell-tendedhairreachedhim.
Ithadanextraordinaryeffect.Memoriesofhismother,ofasimpleold-world
dwellinginaVermontvillage,rushedinonhimwithanalmostoverwhelming
force.


Hissuperbself-possessionnearlygaveway.Hefeltthathemightbreakdown
undertheintolerablestrain.
Hefeared,duringafewsecondsofanguish,thathemightrevealhisheartacheto
thesemenofinferiorraces.
Thentheprideofaregalbirthrightcametohisaid,andaspeciesofmostvivid
andpoignantconsciousnesssucceeded.HeheardSteinbaum’sgruffsponsorship
forthebride,obeyedsmilinglywhentoldtotakeherrighthandinhisrighthand,
andlookedwithsingularintentnessatthelong,straight,artisticfingerswhichhe
held.
Itwasabeautifullymodeledhand,wellkept,butcoldandtremulous.Thequeer
conceitleapedupinhimthatthoughhemightneverlookonthefaceofhis
weddedwifehewouldknowthathandiftheymetagainonlyattheJudgment
Seat!
Then,inadazedwaywhichimpressedtheonlookersastheheightofAmerican
nonchalance,hesaid,afterthecelebrant:“I,PhilipAlexander,takethee,
Madeleine—”
Madeleine!SothatwastheChristiannameofthewomanwhomhewastaking
“tilldeathdouspart,”fortheSpanishliturgyprovidedalmostanexact
equivalentoftheEnglishservice.Madeleine!Hehadneverevenknownanygirl
ofthename.Somehow,helikedit.Outwardlysocalm,hewasinwardlyaflame
withanewlongingforlifeandallthatlifemeant.
Hisjumbledwitswereperemptorilyrecalledtothedemandsofthemomentby
thewould-bebride’sfailuretorepeathershareofthemarriagevow,whenit
becameherturntotakeMaseden’shand.
Thepriestnodded,andSteinbaum,nowcarryinghimselfwithacertain
truculence,essayedtoleadthegirl’sfalteringtonguethroughtheSpanish
phrases.
“Theladymustunderstandwhatsheissaying,”brokeinMaseden,dominating
thegruffmanbysheerforceofwill.
“Now,”hesaid,andhisvoicegrewgentleasheturnedtothewomanhehadjust
promised“tohaveandtohold,”“toloveandcherish,”andtheretoplightedhis


troth-“whenthepriestpauses,Iwilltranslate,andyoumustspeakthewords
aloud.”
Helistened,inawakingtrance,totheclear,well-bredaccentsofawomanofhis
ownpeopleutteringthebindingpledgeofmatrimony.TheSpanishsentences
recalledtheEnglishversion,whichhesuppliedwithsingularaccuracy,seeing
thathehadonlyattendedtwoweddingspreviously,andthoseduringhis
boyhood.
“Madeleine”-hewouldlearnhersurnamewhenhesignedtheregister-was
obviouslyhardpressedtoretainhersensestilltheend.Shewassobbing
pitifully,andtheknowledgethatherdistresswasinducedbythefate
immediatelyinstoreforthemanwhomshewasespousing“byGod’sholy
ordinance”testedMaseden’ssteelnervetotheverylimitofendurance.
Butheheldonwiththattenaciouschivalrywhichisthefinestcharacteristicof
hisclass,andevensmiledatSteinbaum’sfumblinginawaistcoatpocketfora
ring.Hewasputtingtheringonthefourthfingerofhiswife’slefthandand
pronouncingthelastformulaoftheceremony,whenhecaughtanagonized
whisper:
“Please,please,forgiveme!Icannothelpmyself.Iam—morethansorryfor
you.Ishallprayforyou—andthinkofyou—always!”
Anditwasinthatinstant,whilebreathlesslycatchingeachsyllableofabroken
pleaforsympathyandgageoflastingremembrance,thatMaseden’sbemused
facultiessawameansofsavinghislife.
Thoughaforlornhope,atthebest,withahundredchancesoffailureagainstone
ofsuccess,hewouldseizethathundredthchance.Whatmatterifhewereshotat
quartertoeightinsteadofateighto’clock!Steelbefore,hewasunemotionalas
marblenow,amanofstonewithabrainofdiamondclarity.
Ifeventsfollowedtheirnormalandreasonablecourse,hewouldbefreeofthese
accursedwallswithinafewminutes.Comewhatmight,hewouldstrikealusty
blowforfreedom.Ifhefailed,andsankintoeternalnight,oneormoreofthe
half-castehirelingsnowsoreadytofulfillthemurderousschemesofPresident
SuarezandhishenchmanSteinbaumwouldescortanAmerican’sspirittothe
realmbeyondtheshadows.


Hedidnotstoptothinkthatanunknownwoman’sstrangewhimshouldhave
madepossiblethatwhich,withoutherpresenceinhisprison-house,was
absolutelyimpossible;stilllessdidhetroubleastothefuture,immediateor
remote.Hismind’seyewasfixedonasunbeamcreepingstealthilytowardsa
crackinthemasonryofthatdetestablecell.
Hemeanttocheatthatsunbeam,onewayortheother!


TIMEVERSUSETERNITY
HenceforthMasedenconcentratedallhisfacultiesonthesuccessfulperformance
ofthetrickwhichmightwinhimclearofthecastleofSanJuan.Nothinginthe
wideworldmatteredlesstohimthanthatthenewly-madebrideshouldstoopto
signtheregisterafterhehaddoneso,orthatbyturningtoaddressSteinbaumhe
wasdeliberatelythrowingawaytheopportunitythusaffordedoflearningher
surname.
Whenanavowedenemyfirstbroachedthesubjectofthisextraordinary
marriage,hehadmadeabitterjestontheuseinreallifeofawell-worn
histrionicsituation.Andnow,perforce,hehadbecomeanactorofraremerit.
Eachlook,eachwordmustleaduptothegrandclimax.Thepenaltyoffailure
wasnottheboredomofanaudience,butdeath;sucha“curtain”wouldsharpen
thedullestwits,andMaseden,ifwhollyinnocentofstageexperiencehitherto,
wasnotdull.
Hescoredhisfirstpointwhilethebridewassigninghername.Beamingon
Steinbaum,hesaidcheerfully:
“Ibargainedformoney,Shylock.You’vehadyourpoundofflesh.Wherearemy
ducats?”
Steinbaumproducedaten-dollarbill.Heevenforcedasmile.Seeminglyhewas
anxioustokeeptheprisonerinthisdevil-may-caremood.
“Nothalfenough!”criedMaseden,andhebrokeintoSpanish.
“Hi,mygallantcaballeros,isn’tthereanothersquadinthepatio?”
Si,señor!”criedseveralvoices.
Eventhesecrude,half-castesoldiersrevealedtheLatinsenseofthedramaticand
picturesque.TheyappreciatedtheAmerican’scavalierair.Thatmorning’s
doingswouldlosenaughtinthetellingwhenthestoryspreadthroughthecafes
ofCartagena.
Andwhatastorytheywouldhavetotell!Littlecouldtheyguessitsscope,its


sensationsyettocome.
“Verywell,then!Atleastanotherten-spot,Steinbaum….But,mindyou,
sergeant,notadroptillthevolleyisfired!Youmightmiss,youknow!”
Themanwhomheaddressedassergeanteyedthetwonoteswithanamiable
grin.
“Youwillfeelnothing,señor—wepromiseyouthat,”hesaidwondering,
perhaps,whytheprisonerdidnotbestowthelargesseatonce.
“Excellent!Leadon,friend!Iwantmylastfewminutestomyself.”
“Therearesomedocumentstocomplete,”putinSteinbaumhastily,withaquick
handflourishtothenotary.
SeniorPorillaspreadtwolegal-lookingparchmentsonthetable.
“Theseareconveyancesofyourpropertytoyourwife,”heexplained.“Iam
instructedtoseethateverythingisdoneinaccordancewiththelawsofthe
Republic.Bythesedeedsyou—”
“Handovereverythingtothelady.Isthatit?Iunderstand.WheredoIsign?
Here?Thankyou.Andhere?Nothingelse…Mrs.Maseden,Ihavegivenyou
mynameandallmyworldlygoods.Praymakegooduseofbothendowments….
Now,Idemandtobeleftalone.”
Withoutsomuchasafarewellglanceathiswife,who,tokeepherselffrom
falling,wasleaningonthetable,hestrodeoffinthedirectionofthecorridorinto
whichhiscellopened.Itwasavitalpartofhisschemethatheshouldenterfirst.
Thejailerwouldhaveleftthedooropen.Masedenwasdeterminedthatitshould
beclosed.
CaptainGomez’stightbootspinchedhistoescruellyashewalked,butherecked
littleofthatminorinconvenienceatthemoment.Infourorfiverapidpaceshe
reachedthedoorwayandpassedthroughit.Thereheturnedwithhisrighthand
onthedooritself,andhislefthand,carryingthehelmet,raisedinaparting
salute.Hesmiledmostaffably,and,ofsetpurpose,spokeinSpanish.


“Good-by,señora!”hesaid.“Farewell,gentlemen!Ishallrememberthis
pleasantgatheringaslongasIlive!”
Thehalf-castewasathisprisoner’sside,andenjoyingtheepisodethoroughly.
Hewouldswillhisshareofthewine,ofcourse,andthehourofthesiestashould
findhimcomfortablydrunk.
Masedenflourishedhislefthandagain,andtheplumedhelmettemporarily
obscuredthejailer’svision.Thedoorswungonitshinges.Thelockclashed.In
thesameinstanttheAmerican’sclenchedrightfistlandedonthehalf-caste’s
jaw,findingwithscientificaccuracytheclusterofnerveswhichtheworldof
pugilismterms“thepoint.”
Itwasaperfectblow,cleanandhard,deliveredbyanathlete.Outofthetailof
hiseye,Masedenhadseenwheretohit.Heknewhowtohitalready,andput
everyounceofhisweight,eachshredofhisboxingknowledge,intothatone
punch.
Ithadtobeacomplete“knock-out,”orhisplanmiscarried.Acry,astruggle,a
revolvershot,wouldhavebroughtascoreofassailantsthunderingoneachdoor.
Asithappened,however,thehaplessSpaniardcollapsedasthoughhewere
struckdeadbyheart-failureorapoplexy.Masedencaughttheinertbodybeforeit
reachedthestonefloor,andcarrieditswiftlyintothecell.Improvisingagagout
ofhisdiscardedpajamas,heboundthehalf-caste’shandsandfeettogether
behindhisback,utilizingtheman’sownleatherbeltforthepurpose.
Thesethingsweredoneswiftlybutwithoutnervoushaste.Theveryessenceof
theplanwastheconvictionthatnoforwardstepshouldbetakenwithoutmaking
surethatthepriormoveswerecompleteandthorough.
Hehaddetachedfromthejailer’sbeltachaincarryingabunchofkeysandthe
revolverinitsleatherholster.Beforeslippingthislatteroverthebelthewas
wearing,heexaminedit.Thoughsomewhatold-fashioned,itseemedtobe
thoroughlyserviceable,andheldsixcartridgeswithbull-nosebulletsofheavy
caliber.
Thenhesearchedtheunconsciousman’spocketsforcigarettesandmatches.
Hereheencounteredanunforeseendelay.EverySpaniardcarrieseither
cigarettesorthematerialsforrollingthem,butthisfellowseemedtobean


exception.
Now,acigaretteformedanalmostindispensableiteminMaseden’sscheme;but
timewasevenmoreprecious,andhewasabouttoabandonthesearchwhenhe
noticedthatonebuttonholeofthejailer’stunicwasfarmorefrayedthanany
other.Hetoreopenthecoat,andfoundbothcigarettesandmatchesinaninside
breastpocket.
Notonemaninamillion,insimilarconditions,wouldhavebeencool-headed
enoughtoobservesuchatrivialdetailasafrayedbuttonhole.
Nextheexaminedthebunchofkeys,andcametotheconclusion,rightlyasit
transpired,thatthesamelargekeyfittedthelocksofbothdoors;which,
however,wereheavilybarredbyexternaldraw-bolts.
Jammingonthehelmet-liketheglitteringboots,itwasasizetoosmall—he
loweredthechin-strap,lightedacigarette,andlimpedquicklyalongthecorridor
towardsthepatio,whichfilledasquareequalinsizetotheareaofthegreathall.
Asheleftthecellheheardthehalf-caste’sbreathingbecomemoreregular.The
manwouldsoonrecoverhissenses.Wouldthegagproveeffective?Maseden
darednotwaittomakesure.
Hecouldhaveinducedamorelastingsilence,butevenlifeitselfmightbe
purchasedtoodarly;hetooktheriskofaspeedyuproar.
Unlockingthedoor,withaconfidentrattlingofkeysandchain,heshouted:
“Hi,guards!Drawtheholts!”
Thesoldiersinthepatiowerereadyforsomesuchsummons,thoughthehour
wasslightlyinadvanceofthetimefixedfortheAmerican’sexecution,sothe
orderwasobeyedwithalcrity.Masedenappearedinthedoorway,takingcare
thatthedoordidnotswingfarback.Heblewagreatcloudofsmoke;growled
overhisshoulder:“I’llreturninfiveminutes,”pulledthedoorto,andswaggered
pastthewaitingtroops,notforgettingtosaluteastheyshoulderedtheirrifles.
AlongtimeafterwardshelearnedthatheactuallyowedhisescapetoCaptain
FerdinandoGomez’stightboots.Oneofthemenwasobservant,andinclinedto
beskeptical.


“Who’sthat!”hesaid.“NotelCaptainFerdinando,I’llswear!”
“Idiot!”grinnedanother.“Lookathislimp!Hepincheshistoestillhecanhardly
walk.”
Atthegateway,orporch,leadingtothepatio,stoodasentry,who,luckily,was
gazingseaward.Masedenconservedthecigaretteforanothervolumeofsmoke,
andpulleddownthechin-strapdeterminedly.
Hegotbeyondthisdragonwithoutanydifficulty.Indeed,themanwastakenby
surprise,andonlynoticedhimwhenhehadgoneby.
Masedenwasnowinagraveledsquare.Behindhim,andtotheleft,stoodthe
time-darkenedwallsoftheoldSpanishfortress.Infront,brokenonlybyalineof
treesandthesquathumpsofsixantiquatedcannons,sparkledtheblueexpanse
ofthePacific.Totherightlaytheport,thenewtown,andsuchmeasureof
freedomashemightwin.
Hehadyettopassthemainentrancetothecastle,where,inadditiontoasentry,
wouldsurelybestationedsomesharp-eyedservants,eachandallonthequivive
atthatearlyhour,andstirredtounusualactivitybythemorning’snews,because
Cartagenaregardedachangeofpresidentbymeansofarevolutionasasortof
movableholiday.
Atthiscrisis,luckbefriendedhim.Intheshadeofthetreesoppositethemain
gatewasanorderlyholdingahorse.Theanimal’strappingsshowedthatitdid
notbelongtoaprivatesoldier,andthefactthatthemanstoodtoattentionas
Masedenapproachedseemedtoindicatethatwhichwasactuallythefact-the
chargerbelongedtononeotherthanthepresident’saide-de-camp.
Fortuneseldombestowsherfavorsinwhatthecasino-jargonofMonteCarlo
describesas“intermittentsequences,”or,inplainlanguage,alternatecoupsof
redandblack,successivestrokesofgoodandbadluck.Theficklegoddess
ratherinclinestorunsonacolor.HavingbroughtMasedentotheverybrinkof
thegrave,shehaddecidedtohelphimnow.
Asitturnedout,Gomez’ssoldierservanthadbeeninjuredduringtheovernight
disturbance,andthedeputywasanewcomer.
Hesaluted,heldbridleandstirrupwhileMasedenmounted,andstrolledcasually


acrossthesquaretoinquirewhetherheoughttowaitorgobacktohisquarters.
Hesucceededinpuzzlingtheverysergeantwhowasmentallycontrivingthe
bestmeansofsecuringthelion’s,orsergeant’s,shareoftwentydollars’worthof
wine.
“CaptainGomezhasnotgoneout,”snappedthecalculator.“Getoutoftheway!
Don’tstandthereliketheearsofadonkey!Ihaveoccupation.TheSeñor
Steinbaumisputtingaladyintohiscar,andsheisveryill.”
Sothetrooperwasunceremoniouslybrushedaside.Alittlelaterhemighthave
remindedthesergeantofthefollyofcountingchickensbeforetheeggsare
hatched.
Masedenwasafirst-ratehorseman,but,owingtothediscomfortof
excruciatinglytightbootsandawobblyhelmet,hedidnotenjoythefirsthalf
mileofafastgallopdownthewindingroadwhichhewasobligedtofollow
beforehecouldstrikeintothecountry.Beneath,totheleft,andonaplateauin
front,wererespectivelytheancientandmodernsectionsofCartagena.But,
havingsucceededthusfar,hehadmadeuphismindinflexiblyastothecourse
hewouldpursue.
Hemeanttoreachhisownranch,twelvemilesinland,withinthehour.He
reckonedthat,intheeasy-goingSouthAmericanway,itwouldnotbeoccupied
asyetbyanarmedguard.Anofficerhadrummagedamonghispapersthat
morning,butcameawaywiththeothers.
Inanyevent,inthatdirection,andthereonly,layanyrealchanceofultimate
safety.
Onhisestatethereweretwomenatleastinwhomhemightplacetrust;andeven
ifhecouldnotenterthehouse,oneofthemmightobtainforhimtheclothesand
moneywithoutwhichhehadnottheremotestprospect‘ofgettingawayalive
fromtheRepublicofSanJuan.
HehadpocketedSteinbaum’stwentydollarsinordertohireahorse,butthe
unwittinghospitalityofCaptainGomezhadprovidedhimwithabetteranimal
thanwastobepickedupatthenearestposada.Indeed,withtheexceptionofan
automobile,aluxurythatwasfewandfarbetweeninCartagena,hecouldnot
havesecuredaswifterormorereliableconveyancethanthisverysteed,which
wouldcoverthetwelvemilesinlessthananhour,andhadalsosavedhima


quarterofanhour’srunningwalk,anexperiencesavoringofChinesetorture
whenundertakenintightboots.
Thenotionofpossiblepursuitbyapartyofsoldiersinacarhadbarelyoccurred
tohimwhenheheardtherapidpantingofanautomobileintherear.
Heslackenedpace,tookashortergripofthereins,andloosenedtherevolverin
itscase.Flightwasridiculous,unlesshemadeacrosscountry;alastresource,
involvingafatallossoftime.
Hetooknothingforgranted.Steinbaumwasoneofthehalf-dozencar-ownersin
Cartagena,andthiswassurelyhe,escortingSeñorPorillaandtheladybackto
thetown.
Theymightpasshimwithoutrecognition.Iftheydidn’t,hewouldshoot
Steinbaumandputabulletintoatire.Therewouldbenohalfmeasures.Suarez
andhisallyhaddeclaredwaronhimtothedeath,andwartheywouldhave
withoutstintorquarter.
Itwasaticklishmomentwhenthefast-runningcardrewnear.Masedenaffected
tobendoverandexaminethehorse’sforeaction,asthoughhesuspected
lamenessoralooseshoe.Hegaveoneswiftunderlookintothelimousineasit
spedbyandfanciedhesawPorilla,seatedwithhisbacktotheengine,bending
forward.
Thatwasall.Thecarracedonandwasspeedilylostinadust-cloud.
Sofar,sogood.Hewasdodgingperilinthehairbreadthfashionpopularly
ascribedtowarriorsonastrickenfield.Yethismountwashardlyinacanter
againbeforehewasplungedwithoutwarningintothemostticklishdilemmaof
all.
Steinbaum’scarhadjustturnedtotheleft,wheretheroadbifurcatedafew
hundredyardsahead,whenanothercarcameflyingdowntheotherroad-that
whichthefugitivehimselfmusttakefornearlyhalfamile;andthissecond
menaceharborednolessapersonagethanDonEnricoSuarez,presidentofthe
RepublicofSanJuan!
Itwasanopencar,too,andthepresidentwasseatedaloneinthetonneau.


Masedenjumpedtotheinstantconclusionthathisenemywashurryingto
witnesshisexecution,probablytojeerathimforhavingventuredtocrossthe
predestinedpathofaconqueror.But,eventhoughhepassed,Suarezwould
knowthatthegailybedizenedhorsemanwasnothisglitteringaide-de-camp.
TopermitthepresidenttoreachtheCastlemeantthebeginningofanirresistible
pursuitwithinfiveminutes.However,thatconsiderationdidnotbotherthe
Vermonteriffornobetterreasonthanthathewasdetermineditshouldnotcome
intoplay.
Hesmiledthoughtfully,adjustedthehelmetoncemore,andvoicedhis
sentimentsaloud.
“Good!”hesaid.“Thistime,Enrico,youandIsquareaccounts!”
Pullingup,hetookthemiddleoftheroad,wheelingthehorse“halfleft,”and
holdinguphisrighthand.Thechauffeursawhim,slackenedspeed,andfinally
haltedwithinadistanceofafewfeet.Fromfirsttolast,themanregardedthe
newcomerasbeingCaptainGomez.Thewind-screenwasup,andtheroadswere
dust-laden,sohecouldnotseewithabsoluteaccuracy.Moreover,events
followedeachothersorapidlythathewasgivennochancetocorrectan
erroneousfirstimpression.
Thecarbeingstopped,Masedenmovedon,passingbytheleft.Drawingthe
revolver,hefiredatthefrontrighthandtireatsuchcloserangethatitwas
impossibletomiss.Thereportsoftheweaponandtheburstingtubewere
simultaneous.
Thenextshotwouldhavelodgedinthepresident’sheartifthestartledhorsehad
notswerved.Asitwas,quiteanastyholewastorninthepresidentialanatomy;
Suarez,himselffumblingforanautomaticpistol,sankbackinthetonneaua
severelyifnotmortallywoundedman.
Foronefatefulinstant,theeyesofthetwohadmetandclashed,andrecognition
wasmutual.
Athirdbulletplowedthroughthebackrighthandtire,andMasedengallopedoff,
thehorsebeingonlytooeagertogetawayfromtheracket.
TheAmericandidnotlookbehindtoascertainwhatthechauffeurwasdoing.It


reallydidnotmatteragreatdeal.Speedanddirectionweretheparamount
conditionsduringthenextfiftyminutes.Thediewascastnowbeyondallhope
ofrevocation.HewasatwarwiththeRepublic,and,althoughhehadrendered
itscitizensavaluableserviceinshootingtheirrascallypresident,theymightnot
regardtheincidentinitsproperlightuntilaperiodfartoolatetobenefitthe
philanthropist.
Asamatteroffact,interestinghistoricallyandotherwise,thechauffeurwas
convincedthatCaptainFerdinandoGomezhadassassinatedhismaster,andsaid
so,withmanyoaths,whenhesummonedassistancefromaneighboringhouse.It
mayalsobeplacedonrecordherethataboutthesametimethegallantaide-decamphadcometosuspectthathisbeautifuluniform,ifnotreturnedpromptly,
mightbesadlysmirchedbyascoreofbullets,withaccessories;andwaskicking
upafearfulrowbecausenoonecouldgetatthejailerandrescuethatgala
costumebeforetheprisonerwasledforthtoexecution.
Inaword,theRepublic’spresidentialaffairsweregreatlymixed,andremained
ininextricableconfusionuntillongafterMasedendrewreinonablownhorseat
thegateofhisownestancia.
Theranch,knownasLosAndes,andoneofthefinestestatesinSanJuan,
providedtheoriginalboneofcontentionbetweenMasedenandSuarez.Ithad
beenbuiltup,duringthirtylazyyears,byadistantcousinofSuarez,anelderly
bachelor,whogrewcoffeeandmaize,andrearedstockinahaphazardway.
SevenyearsearlierhehadmettheyoungAmericaninNewYork,tookaliking
tohim,andofferedtoemployhimasoverseerwhileteachinghimthebusiness.
Thepupilsoonbecametheinstructor.Scientificmethodswereintroduced,direct
marketsweretapped,andtheproduceoftheestatewasquadrupledwithinafew
seasons.
Thentheoldermandied,andlefttheranchanditscontentstohisassistant.
Therewasnotmuchmoney-thecapitalwassunkinstockandimprovement-soa
numberoffreeandindependentburghersofCartagenareceivedsmalleramounts
thantheyexpected,
Suarezwasoneofthebeneficiaries,seveninall.Sixtookthesituationcalmly.
Healonewasirreconcilable,andblusteredaboutlegalproceedings,only
desistingwhenpersuadedthathehadnocase,evenforthevenalcourtsofSan


Juan.
Andnow,onthatsultryJanuarymorning,thelawfulowneroftheLosAndes
ranch,whileawaitingtheappearanceofapeon,who,heknew,wastendingsome
cattleinabyrebehindthelodge,waswonderingwhetherornothemighturgea
tiredchargerintoafinalcantertothedoorofhisownhousewithoutbringing
aboutapitchedbattlewhenhearrivedthere.
AtlastcamePedro-everysecondmaninSouthAmericaisnamedafterthechief
oftheApostles-abrown,lithe,Indian-lookingperson.ButhewasSpanish
enoughintheexpressionofhisemotions.
“Bytheeleventhousandvirgins!”hecriedjoyously,afterafirststareof
incredulity,fortheeyesrolledinhisheadatsightofMaseden’sgarb,“itisnot
true,then,master,thatyouareaprisoner!”
“WhosaysthatIam?”inquiredMaseden.
“Theysayitupthereattheestancia,señor,”andPedrojerkedathumbtowards
anavenueofmahoganytrees.
“Theysay?Whosay?”
Pedrowasscared,butMasedenhadtaughthishelperstoanswertruthfully.
“OldLopezsaidit,senor.Hetoldmethepresident’smenhadchargedhimto
touchnothingtilltheyreturned.”
Maseden’sheartthrobbedmorefuriouslyatthatreplythanataughtwhichhad
befallenhimduringthefewpregnanthourssincedawn.
“Thoserascalshavegone,then?”hesaid,soplacidlythatthepeonwas
bewildered.
“Si,senor.Didtheynotgowithyou?”
“Yes.Iwasnotsureofall….Closeandlockthegate,Pedro.Leaveotherthings.
Saddleyourmustangandmountguardatthebendintheavenue,fromwhich
youcanwatchtheCartagenaroad.Ifyouseehorses,oranautomobile,coming
thisway,ridetothehouseandtellme.”


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