Thursday, 18 September 2008

Trailing The Gun Runners

Trailing The Gun Runners

By A. HYATT VERRILL

Author of "Pearls Beyond Price," "The Syndicate of Terror," etc.

From Secret Service Stories magazine September 1928, Digital capture September 2008 by Doug Frizzle

A TWO PART STORY—CONCLUSION ONLY

SUMMARY OF PRECEDING CHAPTERS

Uncle Sam learns that ammunition is being smuggled to the natives of San Lorenzo and that a Revolution is about to take place. Gale, who is a naturalist, taking his "man Friday," starts on this mission to trail the gun runners supposedly on one of his bug hunts. They paddle around for some time and finally come to a lagoon where they take shelter, and from whence they are able to watch ships coming in and out of the bay. Several days pass, when one dark night a boat is sighted and on investigation it is found to be a smuggler's craft. They trail the ship and find out its name and port, and are caught and given chase. They elude the smugglers, and we leave them lost in an enormous swamp.

THE VOODOO DANCERS

IT was useless to stop and bemoan the predicament into which our blind hurry had taken us. The most important matter was to find our way out, and in doing this we would be compelled to trust wholly to luck.

There was no appreciable current in any of the small creeks to guide us and it was useless to attempt to find our way by compass. To be sure, we knew we were to the south of the bay, and if we could work our way north we would, in time, emerge from the swamp, but the waterways twisted and turned and doubled back among the trees, and to maintain a straight course in any given direction would be an impossibility.

Selecting the largest of the many channels which led from the lagoon, we paddled along, frequently passing other creeks which joined the one we were following. Whenever one of these appeared to lead north, we entered it and, for over an hour, kept steadily traveling in this manner.

Joseph seemed very much upset and blamed himself for our troubles; and he could not understand how he had missed his way in the first place. To cheer him up I laughed at his fears and regrets and turned the conversation to the gun-runners and Hirschfeldt.

For some time we had been talking on these matters as we paddled along, when my ears caught a peculiar sound, a sort of rythmatic vibration that reminded me of the throb of ship's engines. I stopped paddling and called Joseph's attention to the sound. At first he said it was the bellowing of a distant mantee, but after a moment or two, he admitted that this could not be the case, and confessed that he was as puzzled as myself.

We again resumed our paddling and presently we realized that we gradually were approaching the mysterious noise, which was constantly becoming louder. I had never seen Joseph frightened, but I now saw that he was nervous, and I admit the noise was eerie and uncanny,—an allpervading tremor that seemed to issue from the very air around and above us. At any time or place it would have savored of the supernatural, but here, on the black, unknown waters of the vast swamp, with the shadows of the mangroves and the illusive moonlight distorting the roots and branches in weird forms, I could feel little creeping sensations running up and down my own spine.

For perhaps ten minutes we paddled in this way, when suddenly the explanation of the sound dawned upon me.

"Joseph," I exclaimed, "I know what that noise is. It's a tamboola. Somebody's giving a dance and there must be houses or a village ahead." Now that the mystery was solved, we could laugh at our nervous fears of a few minutes before, and plying our paddles vigorously we drove the canoe rapidly towards the sound. Louder and louder the noise became, and presently we could distinguish the regular "tuma, tum-tum-tum, tum-tum, tuma, tum-tum," of the crude African drum.

Soon after, we emerged from the creek and came upon a large lagoon among the mangroves with its farther side bordered by huge trees, their branches showing in dark masses against the moonlit sky,—a sure proof that solid ground was close at hand. From beyond the trees the sound of the tamboola booled loud and resonant, and between the giant tree trunks we caught the ruddy glow of a fire.

Supposing that we were approaching some small native village at which a dance was in progress, we paddled rapidly across the lagoon without hesitation. Reaching the bank we ran the canoe ashore and stepped forward beneath the trees along a rough but well worn pathway. As we reached a turn in the path we both halted in our tracks and crouched low behind the bushes.

Ahead of us was a circular clearing in the forest, and in its center a great fire of blazing logs. At one side squatted a nearly naked negro with an enormous tamboola between his knees, while around the fire danced a double row of terrifying, demoniacal figures.

Black, brown and yellow, naked to the waist and with horned heads and dragging tails, the hideous creatures seemed veritable demons, keeping time to the boom of the monotonous drumming by strange contortions and a droning chant.

Now and then, one of the dancers would leap forward and rush madly about, screaming, raving and working himself into a perfect frenzy, and instantly I knew that instead of an innocent village dance, we were looking upon a Voodoo orgy, and that if discovered we would pay the penalty of death by torture.

Joseph also was keenly aware of our peril, and as our only hope lay in a hasty and silent retreat we started to turn about and retrace our steps to the canoe.

As I rose from my crouching posture a pair of enormous arms were flung about me, and ere I could resist or cry out, I was borne to earth, my wrists were jerked behind me, and in a breath, both hands and feet were securely bound.

I realized that two men were binding me; but not a word was uttered until, when firmly secured, I was pulled rudely over on my back and to a sitting posture. Over me stood two half-nude negroes, each with drawn machete in hands.

"Qui Ca?" (Who is it) queried one of my captors as the other peered into my face.

"Pas save" (I don't know), replied the other, straightening up and adding:

"Leve ou, vite!" (Rise quickly), and enforcing the order by roughly jerking me to my feet.

My half-formed suspicions were confirmed; the few words in French West Indian Patois proved that the men were not natives, but wild, half-civilized Hatiens, many of whom are devotees of Voodooism and hold weird orgies and ceremonies in the depths of the forest. But I could not imagine what they were doing here.

Glancing about, I saw Joseph was also a captive and like myself was being dragged towards the fire by a couple of blacks. The surprise had been complete, and I raged inwardly at having been so easily captured and trussed up through our own carelessness. I well knew what our fate would be, for no white man knowingly would be permitted to witness a devil dance and live to tell of it, and I dimly wondered if Merritt would ever guess what had become of us.

I had little time for reflection, however, for my captors, seizing me by the shoulders, forced me rapidly towards the fire. As we emerged from the shadows of the forest, the tamboo ceased abruptly and the dancers stood silent and motionless until we were within their circle and were thrown violently on the ground beside the blaze.

Instantly the wild creatures burst into cries and imprecations in their barbaric Patois and commenced a mad prancing about us. Faster and faster they circled, the tamboo thundering out a deafening, rapid roar; the whirling, gyrating savages striking at us with their hands and feet and charging us with the horns bound to their heads. Nearer and nearer they came, and I knew that in a few seconds their frenzy would be worked to the proper pitch, and we would be tossed, bound and helpless, into the flames behind us.

Suddenly one of our captors sprang forward through the crowd. "Ouaill!" he cried, "Piess, Le vini Papa!" (Silence, Papa comes), and instantly the hubub ceased and the dancers formed into two long lines while every head was turned expectantly towards the forest.

Following their gaze, I perceived a gigantic figure approaching in a half-dancing, half-crouching manner. On his head were strapped an enormous pair of steer's horns from which hung clanking chains attached to his belt. About his middle was the hide of a cow, its tail dragging on the ground, while in one hand he wore a black horse-tail wand,—the insignia of the Obeah Man or Witch Doctor,—and in the other he brandished a gleaming butcher's knife.

At the first sight of this advancing figure I realized that here was the high-priest of the clan and that to him was to be left the pleasant task of despatching us.

Slowly and with deliberate steps, the priest advanced while, with each contortion of his body, the great muscles rippled like coiled serpents beneath his skin gleaming bronze in the firelight. Twisting and prancing he entered the lane formed by his fellows, and passing between them, moved relentlessly towards us, like some gigantic spider approaching a helpless fly entangled in its web.

As he entered the firelight and came within full view of our faces, he straightened up, gazed steadily at me for a moment and then, with a wild yell, rushed forward with up-raised knife.

I felt that the end had come and closed my eyes expecting to feel cold steel at my throat. Instead, I felt the knife slash down between my ankles, I was whirled over on my face, there was a quick slash at my wrists and, utterly amazed and breathless, I was jerked to my feet and stood, freed of my bonds, beside i the Obeah Man.

Instantly a babel of cries broke out from the circle of onlookers and several started towards us; but a wave of the mystical horse tail and a commanding, "Arrete ou!" (Halt) stopped them.

"Nou pas ka brile amis!" (We do not burn friends) cried the Witch Doctor.

"Et ca y fai pou nou, Papa?" (And what has he done for us, Papa) chorused the blood-thirsty crowd.

"Le paye pou ma pain, le Beke baill sucou mon!" (He bought me bread, the white man saved my life) replied the leader, and I realized that, for some unknown reason, my life was saved as by a miracle.

At the final words of my new champion the onlookers seemed satisfied, and while some grumbling continued, most of the dancers greeted the words approvingly. Then at a further order from the Obeah Man, the crowd dispersed and melted away in the shadows of the surrounding forest.

Stooping over Joseph, the strange giant cut the bonds that held him, and as he did so I spoke for the first time.

"Coument ou, ka cri ou?" (What is your name) I asked in his own Patois. I had expected him to start with surprise at my words, for his dialect is known to but few white men; but in that I was mistaken.

"Mafi!" he cried. "You do not know me, M'sieu?" And with a low chuckle he pulled off his headdress and, stepping close to me, exclaimed, "Moin Clisonne!"

It was my turn to be surprised, for, without his horns, I recognized him instantly. It was indeed Clisonne,—a man who, many years before, I had known and employed in the French islands far to the south.

"Clisonne!" I exclaimed and grasped his hand. "What in the world are you doing here among these savages? I never expected to meet you.”

He laughed. "Ai, Ouill, M'sieu! Morne pas ka encountre,—moune ka encountre tojou!" (Only mountains never meet; people always meet again). "But come," he added, "let us talk," and so saying he led the way into the forest.

A few yards within the outer fringe of majestic trees we entered a small clearing with numerous little thatched and wattled huts, the homes of the dancers. Stripped of their savage adornments, the people appeared like very peaceful and ordinary negroes, and as they greeted our arrival with pleasant words and light laughter, it was hard to believe that a few minutes previously they were clamoring for our deaths.

As we passed through the tiny village one old hag cried out: "Ou brave, mafi! Beke bon khe." (You are brave, yes. White man of the good heart), and her compliment was greeted with a low murmur of approval. Evidently the fact that Clisonne vouched for us was amply sufficient, and from being hated strangers to be ruthlessly slaughtered, we had been transformed to friends to be respected.

Presently we reached a hut on the extreme right of the clearing, and at Clisonnes' invitation we entered. I was consumed with curiosity to hear the fellow's story, but in response to my first questions he had asked me to wait until we could converse freely, and I had therefore held my peace until he was ready to tell his tale.

Although I spoke his Patois, I knew that Clisonne spoke English, and I was not at all surprised when he commenced his narrative in my own language. He related how he had left the islands to find work in the republic through the promises of labor agents from the Cana Honda estate. How, after the abandonment of the plantation, he and a number of his countrymen had wandered into the forest and had made a clearing, built their homes, and had attempted to live peacefully and independently on their tiny garden plots. All had gone well for some time until one day Hirschfeldt had descended on them, and, ordering them off his land, had destroyed their gardens and burned their huts, enforcing his orders and threats by armed natives. Discouraged and embittered, the little band of maroons had wandered further into the bush and, little by little, had reverted to Voodooism and Obeah practices.

"But we are not savages, M'sieu," added Clisonne." We dance the tamboola and we cry Obeah, but we have houses, Oui. We cultivate the land and we carry our things to the towns and buy clothing."

"Yes, Clisonne," I replied. "But how about burning strangers that come near?"

"Ah!" he exclaimed. "That is different," and he proceeded to explain that the men had mistaken us for some of Hirschfeldt's retainers and had hoped to make an example of us out of revenge; but that no harm would have come to us if we had been recognized as strangers.

I had my own private opinions as to the truth of this statement, for I well knew the childish and primitive character of these people, and how readily they would resume the savage practices of their ancestors through their belief in Obeah and the supernatural, once they were freed from the restraint of civilization. Moreover, I had not forgotten that Clisonne had been regarded with considerable awe in his own island, and that even to me he would be unwilling to admit that he believed in the weird rites which he practised.

However, we were safe and bygones were bygones, but in my heart I was rather sorry that Hirschfeldt had not been in my shoes earlier in the evening.

One thing was certain; Clisonne could certainly help us to find our way out of the swamp, and, moreover, I could kill two birds with one stone by having him carry a message to Merritt and bring my belongings from the cave on the island.

He had already asked me how we happened to reach his village, and in a few sentences I explained that we had been bound for Cana Honda on a hunting trip and had become lost in the swamps. I added that I was anxious to send words to my friends that all was well, and asked him if he could guide us on our way and also carry my message. I also mentioned that I had left some of my things at the cave, expecting to return for them, and I suggested that, on his return from his trip with my letter he could stop at the island and secure my belongings.

All this he readily agreed to do, and as I wished the news of my discoveries to reach Merritt as soon or sooner than the schooner made a port, I asked Clisonne to get the messenger off before dawn.

I knew I could trust him personally, but I knew nothing of his comrades, and when I mentioned my doubts as to their ability to follow my directions he offered to take the letter himself, adding that he would start as soon as I had the note written.

Tearing a leaf from my notebook I wrote briefly to LeCroix as follows: "All well. Tell M. to warn all ports of Gaviota, Curacao. Space between deck and ceiling in hold. Cargo landed last night in Hirschfeldt's care. Will attend to him personally. Advise next moves later."

The note thus tersely written could be stowed in a very small space, and removing the bullet from a rifle cartridge, I emptied the powder, slipped the letter inside, replaced the bullet and handed it to Clisonne.

"Take that to M'sieu LeCroix," I directed, "and if he is not there give it to M'sieu Branch."

I then admonished him not to deliver the cartridge to any other soul and to hand it to LeCroix or Branch in person. Then adding that he would receive a liberal reward for his services, I wrote another note to LeCroix authorizing him to deliver twenty-five dollars worth of merchandise and half a dozen machetes to Clisonne and to charge the bill to Merritt. Telling Clisonne of its contents, I instructed him to hand it to LeCroix with the cartridge.

A few moments later Clisonne disappeared in the forest in company with another stalwart negro, and I felt sure that my message would be in Merritt's hands within a few hours.

Now that the excitement was over, I found I was terribly tired and woefully in need of sleep. Joseph already had curled up in a hammock, and as I crawled into another I remarked: "Well, Joseph, what do you think of tonight's fun?"

"Stoopid niggers!" he replied with a yawn, and a moment later was snoring loudly.

AN UNEXPECTED ARRIVAL

THE forenoon was well advanced when I awoke, and going to the door of the hut, I saw Joseph, surrounded by a crowd of villagers, seated beneath a tree and enjoying a hearty breakfast. At sight of me one of the men hurried off to another hut and, in a few moments, reappeared accompanied by a young girl carrying a tray of food on her turbaned head.

As I ate, the waitress and her escort squatted outside the doorway, and when I spoke to them in Patois they were tremendously surprised and pleased. "Eh, eh!" they exclaimed, "M'sieu speaks the Patois, yes!" and immediately they commenced to talk and laugh like old friends, and I had to smile when I thought how close I had been to roasting to death at the hands of these same people a few hours before.

Joseph soon joined us, and although he could not speak Patois he had no difficulty in joining in the conversation, as all the people spoke Spanish and many of them English as well. We soon learned that there were about one hundred people in the village and that most of them originally came from the French-English islands of Dominica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent, but that many Haitiens had joined them and that a few were natives of the republic. Their gardens were hidden here and there in the forests, and on the lagoon they had a half dozen dug outs or "cayucas" in which they visited the towns on the northern side of the bay. The lagoon, they told us, was about two miles inland from the bay and about ten miles from Cana Honda landing. The latter, they said, could not be reached overland, for the village was on a large island separated from the mainland by swamps and creeks, and hence they felt quite secure from further attacks by Hirschfeldt, especially as they were beyond the boundaries of the estate. They were all very bitter against the Dutchman, for which I could not blame them, and every man I spoke with swore to kill the red bearded giant if ever he had the chance. Judging from our experience of the night before I did not envy him if ever he fell into their hands.

The day dragged by very slowly and we amused ourselves as best we could; visiting the lagoon and securing several ibis and a few ducks for dinner, wandering about in the forest, visiting the people's gardens and chatting with the villagers. Night had fallen and the people had finished their evening meal and were squatted about their doorways telling stories and enjoying the cool evening, when at last we heard a faint call from the direction of the lagoon. One of the men at once dashed into his hut and emerged a moment later with a "flamboula",—a mass of resinous gum rolled in a plantain leaf. This he thrust into the fire and instantly the torch flared up in a brilliant flame emitting dense clouds of aromatic smoke. Others appeared with similar torches on every side and, holding the blazing flambous above their heads, the villagers started towards the landing place accompanied by Joseph and myself.

As we reached the shore of the lagoon and the torches cast their ruddy glare far over the water, we saw a boat approaching and, a few moments later, Clisonne and his companion sprang from the cayuca as it was drawn by willing hands onto the shore. The people crowded about, chattering and laughing with pleasure over the goods from town, and Clisonne pushed his way through the crowd, handed me a packet, and turning gave orders for transporting the cargo of the cayuca to the village. As they were thus busily engaged I opened the envelope and read the letter by the light from the flaring torches. It was from LeCroix and ran as follows:

"Your messenger reached me and I at once sent word to M. The Gaviota was in at the time and M. at once had her seized and the men placed under arrest. One of the five escaped. He was a red-headed chap and swam like a fish across the harbor beyond the river. He was fired at but he got safely away and dodged into the bush and has not yet been found. If you want help with Hirschfeldt send word. He's a tough proposition, I hear. M. is tickled to death over success and Branch could only keep repeating, 'My word!' and 'Extraordinary chap, Gale!' Hope we land the ringleaders. Have given your man goods as per request. Where on earth did you run across such a good-natured ogre? He refuses to answer any questions, and all the blacks here seem afraid of him."

As I finished reading, I turned to speak to Joseph and as I did so I fairly gasped in utter astonishment. Coming towards us from the boat with a bag of beans on his shoulder was the red-headed negro I had seen on the schooner!

Joseph also had caught sight of him and stood, gazing with open mouth, as surprised as if he had seen a ghost. The next instant the fellow had disappeared up the path, and stepping to Clisonne I drew him to one side.

"Who is that red-headed man?" I demanded.

"Pas save, M'sieu," answered Clisonne carelessly. "I found him in a broken boat in the middle of the bay. He said he had lost his oars and the boat was full of water, and he begged me to take him along. He's from Montserrat, I think."

"Well!" I exclaimed. "I can't blame you under those circumstances, but I know the man. He's a friend of Hirschfeldt and a spy. We must seize him and take him back across the bay. He is wanted by the authorities."

I well knew that the fact that the red head was a fugitive from justice would arouse sympathy, rather than enmity, among these maroons; but I trusted to my statement that he was Hirschfeldt's friend to win my point, and in this I was not disappointed. I scarcely had I finished speaking before Clisonne had called to some of his men.

"Carefully, Clisonne," I cautioned. "Remember if that fellow gets away he will bring Hirschfeldt down on you. Take him as neatly as you caught me last night and you'll be all right."

Clisonne and his men chuckled and grinned at this, and a moment later I saw a couple of the men slink off into the bushes. The others continued at their work of unloading the cayuca as if nothing had happened, and presently we heard the rustle of the brush along the pathway as the carriers returned from the village for another load.

One, two, three men came into view and stepped towards the cayuca, all unaware that they had passed close to their comrades in ambush. A second more and we heard the thud of a falling body, followed by choking, gasping words, and rushing up the path, we found our red-headed friend struggling fiercely but helplessly in the grasp of his two powerful captors.

He was soon bound and wrapped about with long, flexible lianas, and seizing him by heels and head, the men carried him to the village and threw him carelessly on the ground like a sack of meal.

Instantly all was excitement in the village, and like angry hornets, the people buzzed about, questioning and chattering. Clisonne told them that the prisoner was a friend of Hirschfeldt and a spy, and although the captive swore vociferously in Spanish, English and broken Patois, and declared he never knew the Dutchman and had never been to Cana Honda, no one took his part. My word had carried weight, and the mere mention of Hirschfeldt's name had been sufficient to arouse the suspicion and hatred of the people. Moreover, the man was a "negrouge", a type cordially disliked by the French West Indians, and many of those present clamored loudly for his immediate butchery.

I had no mind to have them murder the captive, for he had done nothing to deserve death as far as I knew, and my only object in having him taken prisoner was to turn him over to Merritt, and at the same time prevent him from reaching Hirschfeldt to report the seizure of the schooner, which I felt convinced was his object in begging a passage with Clisonne. Moreover, he had been present when the latter stopped at the cave for my belongings, and it would not require a vast amount of reasoning on his part to put two and two together and to connect our presence with the seizure of the Gaviota, especially as he had seen us when the captain fired at me from the rowboat.

I was certainly on the horns of a dilemma. Unless I could use some strong and convincing argument to save the man's life, I knew he would not live until morning, and, on the other hand, I hesitated about divulging the true purpose of my visit to the locality.

I was well aware that every man in the village would turn smuggler himself if the opportunity offered, and that if the negroes learned that we were trying to capture gunrunners they at once would become suspicious and would not raise a finger to help me in that sort of work.

Still dwelling on the fact that the captive was a friend of Hirschfeldt and that he was an outlaw and wanted by the authorities, not only for his own misdeeds, but also as a witness against others, I added that Hirschfeldt would soon be arrested for a serious crime, that the prisoner was an accomplice and that, by following my advice, they would injure Hirschfeldt and, at the same time, win the favor of the government. As a further argument, I offered to use my influence to have the government deed the land to the villagers and, in addition, promised a liberal reward for delivering the negrouge to the police. Finally, to clinch the matter I said:

"Your men are crazy for guns, Clisonne. You know you cannot buy arms on the island; but if you and your people do as I ask, I will give you and your men ten new guns and plenty of ammunition. The guns will be given to you when you deliver the negrouge, unharmed, into the hands of M'sieu LeCroix. I'll give you the order now."

Thereupon, I wrote a note to LeCroix: "Upon receipt of the redheaded negro alive and unhurt, please deliver to the 'good-natured ogre' ten shot guns, a keg of powder and fifty pounds of shot. I have promised this as a reward."

Signing the note, I handed it to Clisonne, saying: "Tell your men that you have the order for the guns and report to them all I have told you,— the guns will do you far more good than the dead body of that rascal you have tied up."

Clisonne then called for silence and, standing over the prisoner in the midst of the villagers, he addressed them; cajoling, threatening and promising by turns; repeating my words, touching upon the intimacy between the read-headed negro and Hirschfeldt, and showing how, by delivering the man to the police, they would injure the Dutchman, and closing his convincing oration by holding my order aloft and telling his people its contents.

From the very first I had seen that Clisonne was recognized as the headman of the community, and that his status as Obeah Man carried with it almost regal powers. The manner in which the devil-dancers had addressed him as "Papa" proved this, but I had my doubts as to how far his authority could be depended upon in a case like the present.

Whether it was the idea of getting even with Hirschfeldt, or the desire for guns and ammunition, or both, I do not know; but at the expiration of Clisonne's address the people applauded and, without a dissenting voice, agreed to keep the negrouge prisoner until he could be carried across the bay.

This matter being thus satisfactorily settled, the crowd broke up and the people drifted away to their huts, leaving the smuggler in charge of two men who dragged him into an open shed or "ajupa".

It was now past midnight, and telling Clisonne that we wished to start for Cana Honda at daybreak, we crept into our hammocks and were soon sleeping soundly. At dawn we were aroused by Clisonne, and after a hasty breakfast made our way to the landing place and entered the canoe, while two of Clisonne's men waited for us in a small cayuca. Clisonne himself was to remain behind to carry the prisoner across the bay, and bidding him farewell, and with parting salutations from the people, we started on our trip to Cana Honda.

Our guides now left us and disappeared among the mangroves, while we paddled to the landing and moored-our canoe. From here a well beaten path led off to the south through the grass, but before taking this and making our way towards the house occupied by Hirschfeldt, I left Joseph on watch and hurried to the clump of trees that concealed the old machine shop.

Here I found a tumble-down building, so dilapidated that no one would ever dream of it being used as a hiding place, and so thoroughly hidden by the vegetation that one could have passed within a dozen yards and never have suspected its existence.

Approaching the machine shop I stepped through the sagging doorway and peered about. The sun was now well above the horizon and I could see the interior of the building plainly. Along the farther side were the remains of an old forge, the bellows still in place but rotten and riddled by wood-ants. The great stone chimney was in good condition, however, and as this seemed the only likely place to hide the arms, I stepped towards it.

Glancing at the forge, I noticed that the half-burned coals upon its top seemed very fresh and free from dust. Thrusting my hand into the ashes and feeling about, my fingers came in contact with a metal ring, and pulling gently on this, I lifted a sheet of iron from the stonework of the forge and disclosed a large cavity beneath.

There was no need to search further; the entire interior of the stone forge had been removed and in the recess were the cases of ammunition, the rifles and the revolvers which I had seen landed from the Gaviota two nights previously. Carefully replacing the false cover to the forge, and scraping the coals together over it, I crept cautiously from the building and rejoined Joseph.

Telling him of my discovery, we started up the trail towards the houses. The path was fairly good and suitable for horsemen, and for some distance was nearly level, winding along the banks of the creek and through rich meadow land overgrown with a jungle of weeds. Presently it left the course of the stream and led over low rounded hills and through a grove of trees. Emerging from these, we saw a little group of neglected buildings which Joseph said were the old offices and men's quarters, but he cautioned me not to attempt an investigation, as the spot was within view of Hirschfeldt's house. In front of the little cluster of buildings, we crossed an open space and Joseph remarked that the house was in sight upon the hill ahead. Glancing up I saw it plainly; a large wooden structure on the summit of a high, steep hill, and from its roof a long, bamboo flag-staff extended. The house had a balcony on the side toward us, and on this I could see the figure of a man. No doubt it was Hirschfeldt himself and I surmised that he was probably studying us through a pair of glasses. As we carried bundles and had our guns slung on our backs, we must have presented a peaceful appearance, while the confident and open manner in which we passed along the path in plain view would, I hoped, allay any suspicions that the Dutchman might have of unexpected visitors.

We gave no sign of having seen him and, crossing a little bridge, we began a steep ascent up the side of a stony hill. Here the house was hidden from sight by a dense growth of bananas, bamboos and trees which clothed all the hillsides, but as we reached the summit, we emerged upon a cleared space with the house about twenty yards distant on the farther side.

The house was built upon posts which raised it some ten feet above the ground, and the space beneath served as a stable for horses, as poultry roosts, and for a piggery. The front and rear of the dwelling were wider than the central portion, and between the two projecting ends extended a wide veranda which faced the valley and the path over which we had come. Seated in a chair on this veranda was Hirschfeldt, and as we came into view and crossed the little yard, he jumped up and came forward to the head of the stairs.

"Hola!" he cried in assumed surprise, "Bienvenido Senores!" adding in Spanish, "Do you speak Dutch?"

"No, Senor," I replied. "Do you speak English?"

"Ach, yah!" he answered. "Velcome, mine frendt; you iss English, eh?"

"American," I replied.

By this time we had reached the foot of the stairs, and setting down my luggage and gun beside Joseph I stepped forward.

"Veil, veil!" continued the Dutchman, "Englishers or American, all da same I velcome you. Glat I am to see sdrangers. Mine name iss Hirschfeldt, yah. Vat gan I do for you, mine frendt. Mister—?"

"Gale," I supplied, adding, "Thanks for such a pleasant welcome, Mr. Hirschfeldt. It is certainly a pleasure to meet anyone who speaks English, so far from civilization. I am a naturalist, and learning that there were many rare specimens over here I took the liberty of coming as an uninvited guest. I trust I am not intruding. If so I can easily take myself off and camp out."

Hirschfeldt slapped me heartily on the back. "So, so!" he cooed in his deep bass voice. "A naturalist, eh. Yah, blenty of blants vill you vind, und blenty of birts und pugs. Make at home yourselluf, mine frendt. Camb-oud! No, der house iss pig und der grub iss ble'nty. Stop ass long ass you like. Haf a sead, mine frendt; und dere you are!"

As I seated myself in the rude chair he pushed forward, he clapped his hands and called loudly in Spanish for "Rosa".

At his summons, a lithe, dark skinned native woman appeared, her hair arranged in the fashion of the southern provinces of the republic, and with a tired, frightened, cringing expression on her face.

"Rosa!" cried Hirschfeldt in Spanish, "my friend, Mr. Gale. He will stop with us. Get his breakfast and have a room ready, and tell Carlos to take the black boy to a room and to bring up Mr. Gale's things."

Carlos, a snaky-looking native, now appeared, and followed by Joseph, brought our dunnage and guns into a room opening off one end of the veranda. He then led Joseph to another room a few yards away, and I was glad to see that we were not to be far separated.

Rosa now appeared with coffee and we entered the big, bare room at the front of the house. I glanced about the room as I entered, and through the front windows I could see out across the valley to the lagoon and the bay beyond, and I realized that from here Hirschfeldt could see a vessel lying in the creek, and that undoubtedly the signal we had seen on the Gaviota had been answered from the flag-staff over our heads.

I wondered if by any chance the smugglers had signalled their discovery of our canoe before they departed; but there was no means of knowing, for even if he suspected us, our host would not betray his feelings. He was a dissembling old rascal, I could see, for I well knew that he had watched us approach and yet his assumption of surprise on our arrival was perfect.

Seating ourselves at a bare table of magnificent native mahogany, the coffee and eggs were placed before us and Hirschfeldt immediately fell to, gulping down his food like some animal, and dribbling egg and coffee over his tangled beard.

"Ach, Mr. Gale," he began, "goot times you vill haf. Carlos gan show you vere iss blenty birts und orghids, und ven I return I vill tagke you vere iss a pigeon roost, yah! But today I moost go avay to vind a caddle dot haas strait; und dere you are!"

I expressed great regret that he was obliged to leave us, thanked him for his offer of Carlos' services, and rising, sauntered over to the window.

"It's a splendid view you have here, Mr. Hirschfeldt," I remarked. "It seems a shame that such a fine estate should be abandoned. I suppose you have few visitors now?"

"Ach, yah!" he replied as he joined me at the window. "Sometimes nod for one mondth does nopoddy gome. Efen den dey iss niggars or dam nadifs. Ven der esdate vas running boats game to der creek doo or tree times in der veek. Now, nod vun effer gomes. Py der vay, how game you without a boat?"

I had expected this question and was prepared for it.

"Oh," I answered, "I have a little canoe. We hired passage on a native cayuca bound to Sabana la Mar and dropped off outside the lagoon before daylight. My boy used to work on the estate and knew the way here, so we came along without waiting for dawn. The canoe is down at the landing. If you had been looking out you might have seen us come up the creek."

"Um, um," he muttered, and while I knew that he considered the story plausible enough, I had my doubts as to his swallowing it without suspicion.

In a few minutes I begged to be excused, stating that I could not afford to waste time and must start on my collecting work. Hirschfeldt agreed at once, saying it was also time for him to leave, and, declining his offer of Carlos, on the plea that three people would be more liable to alarm the birds than two, and calling Joseph, we took our guns and left the house.

As soon as we were well out of sight and sound of the place, and had plunged into the bush, I spoke to Joseph, asking him if he had heard anything suspicious, and if he thought Hirschfeldt was doubtful of our mission or had received word of our discovery of the smugglers.

He told me that while eating he had overheard Rosa and Carlos talking, that the former had laughed at Carlos when he suggested that we might be there for some secret purpose, and that Carlos had then declared his intention of keeping watch on our movements as long as we remained on the estate. Then, without the last change in his tones, Joseph continued; "He clost behin' us now, Sir. Ah sure he follerin' fo' some time back."

"In that case," I replied, "I think we'll have to give friend Carlos a little scare. It will never do to have him sneaking at our heels continually."

Crossing the portrero to the hill, we climbed the slope, passed along the ridge until we reached a clump of thick-growing trees, and seated ourselves comfortably in the shade. Through my glasses I could see every detail of the house distinctly. Soon I saw Carlos appear and commence to open cacao-pods near the kitchen. A few minutes later, Hirschfeldt emerged from the dining room, walked to the head of the stairs and evidently spoke to Carlos, for the latter rose and turned towards his employer. A moment later he disappeared beneath the house, and presently returned, leading a saddled horse which he hitched to the steps. Then he resumed his labors at the cacao-pods.

Finally, I saw Carlos start up from his work and Hirschfeldt stepped to the edge of the veranda. A second later a horseman galloped up the trail and across the yard to the foot of the stairs.

We had not long to wait, for a few minutes later Hirschfeldt reappeared, followed by four mounted men, each one leading a pack-horse behind him.

"Joseph!" I exclaimed, "those fellows have come to get the arms and carry them to the interior."

But there was nothing to do but wait for the reappearance of the men on their return, and in the meantime we amused ourselves by watching the house and keeping our eyes on the little section of roadway over which the cavalcade had passed.

IN WHICH JOSEPH MAKES GOOD

AS I did not wish to reach the house too early, and desired a reasonable number of specimens to account for the time we had been absent, we walked through the woods down the valley, collecting as we proceeded. It was an interesting country, and I found many forms of plant and animal life which I had not before seen, and I soon became deeply interested in obtaining specimens.

We had been thus busily engaged for two or three hours, and had just reached a rather high, wooded hill, when Joseph uttered an exclamation of surprise, and looking in the direction he indicated, I at once saw the cause of his astonishment.

Through an opening among the trees, we could look across the lower hills and valleys to the house about two miles distant. From the flagstaff on the roof a tiny red flag was flying, sharp and distinct against the deep-blue sky.

"Joseph!" I cried excitedly, "Hirschfeldt is signalling a boat! I wonder what's up now. Is there any short cut to a spot from which we can get a view of the lagoon?"

"Yesseir," he replied. "Ah knows a' old banana road tha' runs down jus’ beyon’ here an' crosses a hill above the ol’ quarters. If the bush ain' growed up too much, Ah think you can see the bay from there, Sir."

"All right, come along and let's get a move on."

Hurrying through the woods we soon came upon the old road, originally of corduroy construction, but now full of holes and half-hidden with brush and vines. Joseph led the way, and in a few minutes we had crossed the little ravine-like valley and were rapidly pushing our way through the bush towards the top of a sharp, steep hill beyond. Reaching the summit of this hill we were disgusted to find it covered with thick bush higher than our heads, and which shut us off as effectually from a view of the surrounding country as if we had been in the valley we had just passed.

Looking about, I saw a good-sized trumpet-tree rising above the brush, and I at once told Joseph to climb the tree and if he saw anything to call down to me. I realized that in the tree he might be visible from the house or the bay, but I trusted to the foliage to screen his body, and even if he were seen, Hirschfeldt would probably think he was after some plant or orchid. Presently he was above the bushes, and he had scarcely glanced towards the north when he called softly down: "The boat's on the lagoon, Mr. Gale. Ah thinks he a fishin' boat, anyway he a little boat, Sir. Looks to be headin’ fo' the creek, Sir, an' has a red flag at he mas'."

"All right, Joseph, come on down. You may be seen at any minute and we can't afford to take risks."

I had been thinking rapidly and my mind was made up. The boat could not be a smuggler, and it would undoubtedly come up the creek to the landing. The signal flags proved that Hirschfeldt had sighted the craft, and in all probability he would go' to the landing to meet it, rather than risk the visitors coming to the house where we might be expected to appear at any time. I would make my way to the landing, watch the meeting and see what occurred.

Quickly telling Joseph my plan, I asked him if we could make our way unseen to the landing. He at once replied that the road we had followed led through the old banana fields to the tramway near the machine shop, and that he thought that by using caution we could manage to gain the shelter of the little grove about the building without exposing ourselves to a possible watcher at the house.

Although I felt sure we were invisible from the open, yet I took no chances and placed my gun within easy reach with a heavy charge in each barrel.

The open space before us was deserted and silent, the canoe drawn up on the grassy bank, and not a sign of Hirschfeldt or the approaching boat.

In a short time, however, we heard the sound of someone on the path and, an instant later, Hirschfeldt appeared on horseback with a gun across the saddle before him.

Dismounting, he hitched his horse to the tree under which we had first seen him on the night the cargo was landed from the schooner, and stepping forward to the edge of the bank, he stood expectantly waiting.

Presently we heard the splash of oars, a small sloop rounded the bend of the creek, and as it ran alongside the bank, the single occupant dropped his oars, ran forward and, painter in hand, leaped ashore.

He was a short, stout, dark man with enormous black mustaches and with rings in his ears, and I at once recognized him as the proprietor of a little drinking place and gambling house not far from LeCroix's warehouse on the waterfront across the bay.

"Lechon de San Antonio!" (Pig of St. Anthony) he cried as he jumped ashore, "but I have news for you amigo!"

"No mi diga!" (You don't tell me) answered Hirschfeldt sarcastically. "And what else should I think would bring you here? Out with it hombre. It's no good news I swear; but don't yell so loudly or they'll hear you in Hell and get impatient."

"Por Dios!" exclaimed the other angrily. "Perhaps you're nearer your future home than I, amigo mio. But come, fellow thieves should not quarrel,—of a truth the news I bring is not pleasant. Mira peus, day before yesterday the Gaviota was seized!"

Hirschfeldt started back as if struck, and purple with rage he grasped the other by the shoulder and shook him violently.

"Is that the truth?" he roared. "By all your Saints, if you are lying I'll tear out your heart, and if you speak the truth,—and have betrayed me,— I'll feed your carcass to my pigs!"

"Merced! Merced!" choked the gambler. "For the love of Heaven, stop! Si, Senor Hirschfeldt, I speak the truth, but, Valgane Dios! I had no hand in it. 'Twas thus it happened, Senor. The schooner arrived and when the Customs men boarded her, three soldiers were in their boat. Without looking at the papers,— without a word to El Capitan,—he and his men were arrested and the schooner seized."

Hirschfeldt interrupted with an oath. "Manuel and his crew were arrested, you say? And none resisted,—the curs!"

"Si, amigo," answered the other, edging away. "But one man did escape. 'Twas but one of the crew, the fellow with the red hair from the English islands. He jumped from the schooner when he saw the soldiers come aboard and he swam to the swamp. The soldiers fired at him and he may have been killed or wounded, for none have seen him since."

Hirschfeldt remained silent for a moment and then, thrusting his face close to that of the other, he growled, "And tell me, rat, how do you know all this? Were you on board the vessel when it was seized, or have the Customs men become your friends, to make you their confidant?"

"No, no, no!" protested the little man in fright. "'Tis but the talk of the town, my friend. All the world knows it and the men are in jail now awaiting trial. I came to bring the news that you might be upon your guard, they may come for you next, Quien sabe?"

"Let them come!" muttered Hirschfeldt. "They can prove nothing, the goods have all gone in today, and if Manuel betrays me his word will be no proof."

At this moment his friend caught sight of my canoe for the first time.

"Carrajo!" he exclaimed. "From where did you get that boat, amigo? ‘Tis the canoe of a crazy Americano. Tell me, how came it here?"

Hirschfeldt scarcely turned his head. "Yes," he muttered, "truly 'tis the boat of an American,—a harmless fool who searches through the bush for bugs and birds. He is here now,—I heard his popgun in the valley near my house even as I saw your boat." Then, after a moment's pause, he added: "Well, we have been well paid,—you and I,—and 'tis the fortune of war. I own not the Gaviota, and I care not a snap of my fingers for the fate of her crew; but I hoped that another cargo might come in. How soon do you return, Pedro?"

"Now, amigo Hirschfeldt," answered Pedro, "I sailed for Sabana la Mar and I must be on my way or sunset will find me at sea. I risked much to give you the news, and I receive only curses for my pains, but I forgive thee, amigo, 'tis a hard blow, so Adios."

So saying, he stepped into his boat and pushed off with a few last words to Hirschfeldt, who stood sullenly on the bank. The boat swung round with the current, and a moment later slipped behind the mangroves and out of sight.

Hirschfeldt waited a moment, muttering to himself, and then, turning, he mounted his horse and cantered off up the trail.

As the sounds of his horse's hoof-beats grew faint in the distance, Joseph and I crawled from our hiding place and made our way through the brush to the deserted tramway.

"Well, Joseph," I said, "our Dutch friend doesn't seem to have much of an opinion of me, but if I'm not mistaken, we'll give him a jolt yet. Anyway, we know the arms have all gone and there's nothing to keep us here any longer. The next thing is to get to the Seybo and if old Hirschfeldt isn't too ugly to let us have horses, we'll leave tomorrow."

It was now nearly noon, we were several miles from the house, and in order to reach it in such a way as to avoid suspicion, we would be obliged to follow back in the same direction from which we had come. We accordingly retraced our steps over the old road to the hill from where we had first seen the red flag, and crossing the valley beyond, reached the first hill from which we had kept watch of the house. From this point there were two routes by which we could arrive at the house without following the trail that led to the landing. One way was to climb over the hill and cross the portrero; the other was to continue on half a mile further, round the end of the hill, come into the road to the Seybo, walk down this for a short distance and then approach the house from the other end of the portrero.

We were tired, the morning was hot, and I did not feel like climbing the hill, and moreover, it occurred to me that, if I fired a shot now and then as we came within hearing of the house from the opposite direction, it would surely cause Hirschfeldt to think that we had been far from the landing all the forenoon. Having decided upon this course, we continued along the base of the hill towards the Seybo road.

The walking was fairly good and the ground was free of underbrush, and we soon reached the upper end of the hill and came in sight of the road. We had almost reached this when we heard the noise of a galloping horse and, dodging back in bushes, were scarcely out of sight when Carlos dashed up the road towards Seybo.

"I wonder where on earth he’s bound for," I exclaimed, and as an idea occurred to me I added, shouldn't wonder if Hirschfeldt sent word to old Fales about the schooner."

Stepping into the roadway, we started forward and had traveled perhaps a hundred yards, when we caught sight of a white object lying in the road. As we reached it I saw that it was a folded paper. Picking it up, I found that it was badly torn and that a three cornered piece was missing from one edge. Spreading it on my knee, I saw the address was:

"Don M—es, Seybo." The central portion of the name was torn away, but it was easy to guess that it originally had been: "Don Miguel Fales, Seybo." Turning it over, I read the contents, which briefly set forth that word had just been received of the capture of the Gaviota and her crew, and that no more arms could be expected. The note was signed by Hirschfeldt.

I was deeply gratified at our discovery and had no doubt that it had been dropped by Carlos. I was very anxious to retain the note, but I feared that if Carlos missed it he I might return to search for it at any moment, and while I was hesitating what course to pursue, I was startled by the sound of an approaching

"You dog!" cried the Dutchman in Spanish. "So that is how you carry my messages, eh?"

Carlos shrank still lower and muttered that his wallet had become unfastened and that the letter had dropped out.

Hirschfeldt uttered an oath and crying: "That for your carelessness, you nigger!" he launched a vicious kick at the trembling servant. The heavy riding boot caught Carlos full in the stomach, there was a dull thud as it struck, a low agonized groan, and the limp form turned half over and sunk, sprawling on the ground.

Hirschfeldt was now crazy with rage, and in a bersark fury he jumped squarely onto the face of his victim. Again and again he leaped, cursing furiously, and I grew faint and sick as I heard the bones crunch beneath the weight of the frenzied Dutchman.

Twice I raised my gun to fire, but desisted. It would not help Carlos now and, after all, I had no right to appoint myself his avenger. At last Hirschfeldt exhausted his fury, and with a final contemptuous kick at the battered corpse, he walked to his horse. Uncoiling the picket rope from his saddle, he made one end fast to the ankles of the dead Carlos, and mounting his horse took a turn of the rope round the pommel and started along the road, dragging the mangled, bleeding body behind him.

A few rods up the road, there was a rude bridge across a small, dank swamp, and here Hirschfeldt halted and dismounted. Cutting the rope from his victim's feet, he seized the ankles in his huge hands and with a mighty heave, flung the body far out into the swamp. There was a loud splash, and without once looking back, Hirschfeldt coiled his rope, mounted his horse and cantered off towards the Seybo.

"Of all the low-born, brutal, beastly murderers!" I muttered.

Joseph spat contemptuously. "Mr Gale," he said slowly, "Ah'm a man of peace, but Ah'd be well pleased to kill that Dutchman. He surely is pure corruption."

As we stepped from our hiding place I caught a glimpse of white in the trampled roadway, and reaching down I picked up the note. The cause of the murder had been forgotten in its accomplishment.

Hirschfeldt did not return until late in the afternoon of the following day, and he seemed in wonderfully good humor. I could hardly prevent my disgust at his presence from being apparent, and I hated to sit at the table with him.

I had made up my mind to leave for the Seybo the following morning, and in fact, only Hirschfeldt's absence had prevented me from departing before, for I now knew that Fales was really the prime mover in the gun-running game and I was anxious to reach his headquarters as soon as possible.

He had evidently been drinking heavily, and was quite content to do all the talking, and I felt that I would do well to take advantage of his present mood to ask him for horses for my trip. I thought very likely he would refuse, or that he might become suspicious of my motives; but my mind was made up and I decided to disarm his suspicions by my very frankness.

"By the way, Mr. Hirschfeldt," I said casually, as we sat smoking by the window, "I have a friend over this way that I met on the steamer coming down. He asked me to visit him, and I want to ask if you can let me have a couple of horses for the trip?"

"Uumm," he muttered dubiously. "Vat's der name of dis frendt und yere does he liff?"

"He lives at a place called Seybo," I answered, adding, "Here's his name, perhaps you know him." As I spoke, I handed him one of my cards on which Fales had written his name and beneath it his address: "La Antigua, Seybo."

Hirschfeldt studied the card, pulled his beard and, after a moment's reflection, remarked: "No, I know der blace, bud not der chentlemans. Sure you can haff der horses. Ven did you vant dem?"

"If it's all the same to you, I'll start tomorrow morning. I've only a few more days left before I have to go back, and I'd like a day or two with Senor Fales."

"All right, mino frendt, I’ll dell Carlos to haff der horses retty in der mornings." Rising, he lurched off towards the kitchen.

The cool self-possession of the man was absolutely amazing, and it seemed almost uncanny to hear him thus speak of calling the murdered Carlos.

I was mightily thankful that Hirschfeldt had not offered to accompany us but, on second thought, I realized that with Carlos gone, he would not care to leave the house alone for any length of time, and for the same reason, he was not likely to appear at Seybo during our visit.

Presently he returned grumbling. "Per lazy nigger," he complained, "I send him yesterdays mornings to El Valle for grub und yet he hass not game. Py gollys! If he gomes not pack I ged der horses retty mineselluf."

"Thanks, Mr. Hirschfeldt, "but if we're to start on that ride at dawn I'd best be getting to bed." Bidding him good night, I went to my room, bolted the door and placed my automatic under my pillow. The sight of the preceding day was still fresh in my mind.

I was aroused by Hirschfeldt, to find the eastern sky growing bright with the coming dawn, and Rosa serving coffee by candlelight.

Hirschfeldt was still in good humor, and remarked that, "Der horses iss retty. Dot trunken pig game in lade und he's sleebing yet und gan't do noddings, so I ged der horses mineselluf."

I did not doubt the truth of the latter part of his statement, for I well knew that Carlos was sleeping far too soundly to do anything; but I could not forbear wondering how Hirschfeldt would have acted had his servant really come in late the night before.

As soon as I had finished my coffee I went outside and found Joseph waiting at the foot of the steps beside our mounts. One was a very good horse with a riding saddle, the other a diminutive beast with a pack-saddle to which Joseph already had strapped our belongings. Turning, I bade Hirschfeldt good bye, mounted my horse and trotted off through the chill dawn on our ride to Seybo.

A short time after reaching the main road, we passed the spot where Carlos was murdered, and as we clattered over the bridge I glanced with a shudder at the place where Hirschfeldt had thrown the body. The slimy black mud was smooth and unbroken and revealed no sign of the gruesome secret hidden beneath its surface.

For a few miles further the road was very good, but it then became swampy and the horses often were up to their bellies in mud. Several times Joseph's little beast became mired and I was compelled to drag him to firm ground with my lariat. On one occasion he stumbled in the mud and plunged forward on his knees, throwing Joseph from his seat, but Joseph's legs were so long and the horse was so small that the rider merely stepped over his horse's head without falling. It was a comical sight, and even Joseph was obliged to laugh, despite his disgust at plunging up to his knees in the red ooze. After a mile or two of this we once more reached firm ground, but the trail was rough and narrow, while hanging vines and stout branches projected over it so that we constantly were compelled to crouch low in our saddles to avoid being torn from our horses. The trail was indeed "narsty", as Joseph had expressed it, and after an hour's ride we decided to stop to rest and to breathe our winded horses.

Selecting a little open spot, we seated ourselves beneath a wide-spreading "guama" tree at the roadside. Behind us was a low hill, covered with thick growth, and as we sat quietly resting I heard a strange bird note. It was a low, trumulous whistle and seemed to issue from the hillside at our backs. I touched Joseph's arm, whispering, "What is that bird? I never heard the note before."

He listened attentively until the call was repeated, and then replied that it was also new to him. I at once decided to secure the specimen, and stepping to my horse, unfastened my shot gun, shoved in a couple of shells, and with Joseph at my heels moved noiselessly up the little rise.

I fairly gasped with astonishment; before us was the red-headed negro whom we had left securely bound at CHsonne's village four days previously!

Slowly the man rose to his feet. His clothing was in tatters and his dirty chocolate colored skin was scratched, bruised and bleeding. Wildly he peered about, and again he whistled. Then, as one of our horses whinnied he called in a hoarse voice: "Marster Hirschfeldt! Marster Hirschfeldt! Here am I!"

Evidently the fugitive had heard our approach on the road and had mistaken us for his Dutch friend. For a moment he listened for an answering call, and then started forward, and I saw that he limped badly and walked as if in pain for, after proceeding a few feet, he again sank down before a mass of hanging saw-grass.

Instantly there was a crash behind him, a dark body sprang like a panther through the grass, there was a flash of steel and with a thud the weapon descended on the red-headed skull, splitting it to the ears.

Towering over the body, and wiping his machete on a leaf, stood Clisonne! I could scarcely believe my eyes, and for a moment remained motionless, and then, calling out in Patois, I leaped up and hurried forward.

"Clisonne!" I demanded, "what does this mean? How is this man here and why have you .killed him?"

Clisonne smiled grimly and related the story in a few words. It appeared that while the people of his village were at the landing to see us off, and while the attention of the prisoner's guards had been attracted by our departure, the native suddenly had sprung upon one of the men, seizing his machete and striking him down, and had dashed into the forest before the other guard could gather his wits together.

The alarm was at once given, and a hasty examination showed that the prisoner had sawed through his bonds by rubbing them against a broken pot on the ground, and had doubtless been free for some time, only waiting for a favorable chance to make his escape.

Upon tracing him to the limits of the island they were dumbfounded to discover that he had recklessly plunged into the morass and had floundered across. None dared to follow through the alligator-infested slough save Clisonne, who, swearing he would follow to the death, had plunged into the swamp in pursuit.

For the past four days he had doggedly followed the fugitive's trail, often coming close to him, but never getting within reach; but pressing him so hard that the negrouge dared not attempt to break into the open and approach Hirschfeldt's house. A few hours before our arrival on the scene, the smuggler had injured his ankle by stepping between two logs, and had later betrayed his hiding place by trying to signal Hirschfeldt when he mistook our horses for those of his friend. Realizing that if he captured the runaway he could not hope to carry him back with his injured leg, Clisonne had solved the problem with his machete.

As he finished speaking, we were startled by a gruff "Hants up!" from behind us, and turning, I looked full into the barrel of a musket in the hands of Hirschfeldt, who stood at the edge of the woods.

"So-oh," he growled savagely. "dots der sort of game you hundt, eh! Veil, you damn Yankee, I tink I do some gollectings mine—”

The sentence was never finished. There was a spurt of flame and a sharp report from the brush, the musket roared over my head and fell clattering to the ground, and with a gasping cry Hirschfeldt swayed unsteadily and crashed backward among the ferns.

Joseph, his still smoking revolver in hand, stepped from the bushes.

"Ah waste mah cart'idges, Mr. Gale," he remarked calmly. "An’ Ah'm well pleased for to kill that man. He surely is pure corruption!"

"Joseph!" I cried as I grasped his hand gratefully, "I can't thank you for saving my life,—it's beyond thanks,—but I do thank God that I gave you that gun and that you can shoot straight. I'll never joke about your marksmanship again. How on earth did you do it, anyway? I thought you were standing beside me all the time."

Joseph grinned. "No, Sir, when yo' went to tal' to Clisonne, Ah stopped behin' to have a drink at the brook. Jus' as Ah put mah face down Ah saw Hirschfeldt sneakin' among the trees. Ah couldn't call out, Sir, fo' fear he shoot, an' Ah know as he don' see me, so Ah jus' crep' up an' shoot he, Sir."

OFF TO THE SEYBO

AND now, M'sieu, that I have killed the negrouge we do not get the guns?" said Clisonne in disappointed tones.

His half-questioning inflection showed that he still had hopes, and it instantly occurred to me that I could now send him on a message to Merritt and could fulfill my promise of a reward at the same time.

"Yes, Clisonne," I answered, "it was not expected that the red-head would escape, and I cannot blame you or your people. If you will take another letter to M'sieu LeCroix I will call it square. Have you my order with you?"

For reply he drew a tiny wallet of rawhide from the folds of his belt and opening it handed me the order to LeCroix.

Taking the paper, I crossed off the words "red-headed negro alive and unhurt," and wrote: "this paper with the message on the other side." Then, turning it over, I wrote the following: "The red-head escaped. Was trailed to Cana Honda by bearer, and as he could not be delivered as expected he was duly executed by the 'ogre'. Hirschfeldt butted in and was about to blow out my brains when Joseph took a hand and saved my life by dropping the Dutchman in his tracks with a splendid shot from his revolver. Am off to Seybo. Tell M. to send gunboat and help capture his 'Queen bee'."

"There, Clisonne," I remarked as I folded the note, "take that to M'sieu to reach your village and then take the fastest cayuca you own and get the letter over. Allezvite!"

Clisonne slipped the letter into his wallet, tucked it in his belt and with a final hitch to his trousers, and a murmured, "Merci, M'sieu moin," he slipped like a shadow into the forest and vanished from sight.

"Ah tol’ yo' it was a narsty road an’ on'y fit fo' stoopid niggars. Ah think this the las' ford, Mr. Gale, an’ after that the road is good. Sir."

"All right, come along. I guess we can stand this after all we've passed, and I'll sure be glad to see a 'good' road again."

As I finished speaking, I urged my horse down the bank and started across, with Joseph on his miniature mount a few yards behind me.

Our horses swam the first easily, scrambled out on the bar and, crossing this, plunged into the swift main channel. I was half way across, using every effort to stem the torrent and keep my horse's head above water, when I heard a cry of alarm from Joseph.

Turning quickly in my saddle, I saw his horse plunging madly in the water as the rushing stream carried him swiftly towards the falls. The next instant, Joseph slipped from his saddle and, swimming beside the animal's head, tried valiantly to turn the creature towards the sand bar.

At the first glance I grasped Joseph's predicament. His horse had become frightened at the current and was beyond control or reason, and Joseph was in imminent peril of being injured by the struggling horse or drawn with him over the waterfall to be dashed to pieces on the rocks below.

Turning my horse in midstream, I urged him diagonally towards the sand bar, and as his feet touched the gravel I spurred at full speed down the bar towards the gorge, rapidly uncoiling my reata as I rode.

Reaching the end of the sand bar, I shouted to Joseph to leave the horse, and forcing my mount into the stream until the water swirled about his breast, I whirled the reata around my head, and as Joseph obeyed my commands I threw the coil towards him.

The rope splashed in the water beside him, and as he grasped it his abandoned horse gave a final snort of terror, a few convulsive kicks and, spinning around and around, plunged over the falls and into the rapids below.

Wheeling my horse I dragged Joseph, to safety on the bar, where he collapsed half drowned and exhausted on the sand, and after gasping and gulping for a moment, he felt of his holster to assure himself of the safety of his beloved revolver.

In a few moments he had quite recovered, and rising to his feet exclaimed gratefully: "Mr. Gale, Ah can' thank yo' fo’ savin' me, like as yo' said when Ah shot Hirschfeldt, but jus' the same Ah thank the Lord yo' had that rope an’ throwed it straight, Sir."

We were in a fix. Joseph's horse was gone and with it our entire outfit with the exception of my gun, the cartridges I had with me, my glasses and automatic and Joseph's revolver.

All this passed rapidly through my mind and I strove to think of the best means out of our difficulty. It was useless to attempt to swim the current with two of us on one horse, or even holding to him and swimming ourselves, and even if we did manage to reach the shore safely, Joseph would scarcely be able to walk to El Valle after the strenuous experience he had just undergone.

Suddenly Joseph interrupted my thoughts. "Ah think Ah knows a way, Mr. Gale. Ah'll tie yo' rope under mah arms an' stan' up to mah neck in the water. Then yo' swim yo' horse across an' when yo' come to the en' of the rope Ah'll jump in an' swim, an' befo' Ah'm ca'ied far down or draf on the rope, yo’ horse will be safe across an' yo' can haul me over. They's a cantina on the road 'bout two miles ahead an' Ah'll walk there. Sir, an' we can get another horse."

"See here, Joseph," I demanded, "what sort of a fish do you think you are, anyway? Here you've just been yanked out of that confounded river and you're crazy to get back into it again. Do you imagine you'll be able' to walk two miles after I've pulled you ashore through that current?"

"Ah surely do, Mr. Gale," replied Joseph with a broad grin. "When Ah was humbuggin' with mah horse Ah got mah mouth full o' water an' near drownded. Ah'll confess, Sir; but if Ah know Ah'm goin' under Ah'll keep mah mouth shut an' come out O.K. Don' yo' fear fo' me, Sir."

It seemed the only possible solution of the difficulty, but I insisted on Joseph getting a good rest before the attempt was made, although he was ready to start at once.

All was now ready, and riding up the bar a short distance above him, I urged my horse into the stream, and a moment later he was swimming strongly and steadily across the current. When a little more than half way across I turned my head just in time to see Joseph bend forward, and with long, overhand strokes swim boldly towards the center of the channel.

Rapidly I neared the bank, and as my horse felt the bottom beneath his hoofs and scrambled ashore I looked behind and saw Joseph still swimming and well past the center of the channel. As yet, he had not required my help, but to save his strength I at once commenced hauling on the rope, and a few moments later he rose to his feet and walked through the shallows to the shore,—panting a little, to be sure, but otherwise untroubled by his passage.

Gathering a pile of dry branches, we soon had a fire going and dried Joseph's clothing, and presently he was dressed and ready to guide me to the cantina.

We traveled slowly, and darkness overtook us long before we came out upon a broad and level savanna and saw the twinkling lights of a little building beside the road ahead.

The cantina or wayside drinking place was a little shack of two or three rooms surrounded by an ill-kept garden containing a few ragged crotons and with a bread fruit tree and a couple of cocoanut palms at one side. Before the buildings was a row of posts to which several horses were hitched, and throwing my reins over one of the vacant posts I dismounted and entered the swinging cheese-cloth door.

Across one end of the room was a rough bar of hewn boards with bottle-covered shelves behind it, and seated about the room on rude chairs and benches were half a dozen men, some drinking, others laughing and talking, while one was strumming at a battered guitar. They were a wild-looking lot, swarthy, black bearded and unkempt, and dressed in cheap blue drill or white cotton, and each with a long machete and a revolver in his belt,—typical natives of the countryside, and probably small landowners or cattle ranchers. They looked up as we entered, greeted us with pleasant "Buenas noches, Senores," and resumed their talk and laughter without interruption. Leaning against one end of the bar was a tall, brigandish fellow, who straightened up at our approach, and slipping behind the bar inquired in Spanish what he could do for us.

Evidently he was the proprietor, and purchasing cigars to put him in good humor and to win his confidence, I related our troubles and asked if he could give us a good meal and rent me a horse to take us to El Valle.

"Que lastimo!" (What a pity) he exclaimed as I concluded. "Of a truth am I most sorry for the loss of your horse, Senor. The meal I can provide, but the horse,—I have but one, amigo mia,—and him I cannot spare. But pardon, Senor, while I give orders for your food. Stepping through another door in the rear, he called loudly the directions for the immediate preparation of our meal.

While he had been speaking, several of the men had gathered near to listen to my story and now, as the proprietor withdrew, one of them spoke.

"Truly the Senor is most unfortunate in the loss of his horse, but so it is with those of the coast and mountains. Often are they seized with fear at the swift fords, while those of the Seybo,—psst!—they cross the rivers so often that they swim like ducks in very truth."

"No doubt," I replied dryly. "Judging from the road I have just traveled, one must indeed have webbed feet to travel in the Seybo." Then I added, as the proprietor appeared, "But come, amigos,"'tis a thirsty night, drink to the Seybo and its horses." Tossing a handfull of small coins on the bar, I ordered drinks for all.

My invitation was accepted with alacrity, and the men were at once on friendly terms, chuckling over my allusion to their road and applauding my toast to their beloved Seybo; a childish, good-natured crowd despite their savage appearance.

One of their number, the big fellow who had first spoken to me and who was called Ignacio, seemed a sort of leader, and turning to him I said:

"Tell me, amigo, is it not possible to hire a horse here tonight? I am willing to pay well for it."

"Quien sabe?" he replied, shaking his head dubiously. "At El Valle, yes, or perchance even at Cienaga; but here, Senor, horses we have of a truth; but to hire one,—I know not where it could be found."

I was exasperated. Here, in a portion of the country famous for its horses, it was ridiculous to think that I could not find an animal to carry us on our journey, and I exclaimed impatiently: "What foolishness is this, hombre? Why cannot one hire a horse? Do you mean to say that here, in the Seybo, one cannot beg, borrow or buy a horse?"

The fellow threw out his hands in expostulation and his eyes opened in surprise.

"But!" he exclaimed, "of a truth, Senor, you can buy,—not one horse but a thousand if you wish."

Turning to his companions he called: "Here, Jose, Pedro, Chico, the Senor desires to buy a horse! Have you one to sell?"

Instantly there was a babel of voices as the men gathered around.

"Of a truth we have horses to sell," cried one.

"My roan is the best, Senor!" screamed another.

"No, no; my black with the white feet,—take him, Senor," shouted still another, and thus, each striving to outdo his comrades in extolling the virtues of his own steed, they pressed about, until Ignacio, raising his voice above the tumult, silenced his friends and, turning to me, remarked:

"You see, Senor, it is most easy to secure a horse in the Seybo; you have but to make your wishes known."

"So I judge," I answered. "And what prices must we pay for these wonderful steeds?"

"That is a matter for argument," he replied evasively. "Let the Senor see the horses and judge for himself. Vamonos!" Taking a lantern from the bar he led the way, followed by his comrades, Joseph and myself.

The horses were all good animals, and there really was little choice among them, the selection being mainly a matter of price.

"What do you ask for this horse?" I inquired as I examined the first animal.

"Fifty dollars, American," was the prompt reply from the man called Jose.

"I'll sell you mine for forty," interrupted Chico.

"Mine for thirty with saddle and bridle," called Pedro.

"For thirty-five mine is the better," yelled Jose.

"Twenty-five for my horse as it stands," exclaimed Pedro.

For a few moments it looked as if I had only to wait in order to have one or more horses given to me, so rapidly did the prices drop with the anxiety of the owners to sell. Presently, however, only Pedro and Jose continued to bargain, and I accepted Pedro's roan for twenty-two dollars with a fairly good saddle and bridle included.

Returning to the bar-room, a bill of sale was duly made out, Pedro made his mark upon the paper, and to seal the bargain I ordered another round of liquid refreshments for the men.

"Well, Joseph," I remarked as we sat down to our meal, "I guess it's cheaper to buy horses than to rent them in the Seybo, and they certainly don't intend to let strangers starve."

The meal over, we entered the barroom, paid the landlord, and bidding "Adios" to the men, mounted our horses and cantered off through the darkness across the broad, grass-covered savannas towards El Valle.

STUNG!

FOR two hours we rode onward through the night, our faces fanned by a cool wind, and our horses cantering easily over the smooth, firm road, until a few dim lights twinkled in the darkness ahead.

"El Valle!" exclaimed Joseph, and a few minutes later we entered the first village of the Seybo.

Even in the darkness I could see that the village consisted merely of a double, row of huts and small buildings on each side of the road, and with one or two exceptions all were dark and silent.

Pushing through the crowd we approached the bar, and I inquired of the proprietor,—a tall Armenian,— if he could direct us to some place where we could find accommodations for the night.

He replied that there was no posada in the village, that it was very late, but that he thought the Senora Shultz might put us up.

"And who is this Senora Shultz?" I asked.

"God knows!" he answered with a shrug of his shoulders. "A foreigner of some sort, but she owns the paneria and bakes the bread of the village. It is the third house across the road,—you will know it by the Ceiba tree by its side."

Thanking the fellow for his information, we led our horses a few rods down the road to a two story house beneath a huge silk-cotton tree.

There were lights within, as could be seen through the chinks in the heavy wooden shutters on the windows, and leaving Joseph to hold the horses, I approached and pounded on the door.

A whining voice answered my knock, asking what was wanted and who was there, to which I replied that we were strangers,—an American and his man,—and wished a place in which to sleep for the night with breakfast in the morning and food for our horses. There was silence for several minutes, and then I heard shuffling feet approach the door, the bolts were drawn back, the door opened and the Senora stood before me.

She was a stout, faded old woman dressed in a single loose gown of gaudy purple and yellow calico, her yellowish-gray hair adorned with numerous curl-papers, and as she held a comb and brush and a bunch of paper in one hand, I had no doubt that we had interrupted her in the midst of her toilette. She spoke in a dreary, monotonous voice in Spanish with a strong Teutonic accent, and after glancing me over assured me that she would be most happy to accommodate us, but, "Alas! she had no vacant room, her family was large and she knew not what to do, unless,—"Ah! the very thing; the Senor and his man could sleep in the bakery!"

Calling loudly for "Maximilian", she at once commenced to entertain me by chapters from her family history.

She was Austrian, she said. "Did the Senor know any of my countrymen? No? What a pity. I have heard there were many in America," —and her husband had come to the republic to become a general in the native army, and then, he had but begun to make money when in a rebellion he had been killed, and— But at this moment her recital was interrupted by approaching footsteps and her son, Maximilian, appeared.

He was the most remarkable looking person I have ever seen. His enormous head appeared almost bald, so thin and light colored was his hair, while his face was so pasty and white, so colorless and absolutely lacking in expression, that it appeared as if made of unbaked dough. He was short and pudgy, and it was impossible to say whether he was fifteen or fifty years of age. He was clad in coarse blue drill with sandals on his big, flat feet, and he came towards us yawning, rubbing his eyes and blinking like a fledgling owl in the light.

The widow beamed fondly at this odd creature and exclaimed: "Max, my dear, the American Senor will stop here tonight. Show him to the bakery and put his horses in the corral." Turning to me, she added, "Senor, this is my dear son, Maximilian, the very image of his brave father."

"In that case," I thought to myself, "I do not wonder the natives shot him."

"Pure corruption!" agreed Joseph, sleepily.

Despite our unusual and uncomfortable quarters, we slept well and were aroused by the sounds of voices, to find half a dozen native girls pounding and rolling the dough on the tables near us.

They seemed not in the least disturbed at our presence, and greeted us with "Buenos dias" as unconcernedly as if the sight of strangers sleeping in the bakery was an everyday occurrence.

The sun was just rising as we stepped outside and the air was chilly with a strong wind sweeping across the plains from the north. Having fed and watered our horses, we strolled towards the house just in time to be summoned to breakfast by Maxmillian.

By daylight he was even more grotesque than he had appeared the night before, and I could think of nothing he so much resembled as the images I had made from cooky dough when I was a child.

Entering the dining room we found the Senora Shultz seated at the table with three other members of her family,—two boys and a girl,—and each the exact counterpart of the dough-faced Max.

I was heartily glad when at last the meal was over, and mounting our horses we galloped off between the rows of huts and soon left El Valle behind.

The air was cool and fresh, the road smooth and level, and we made good time, pounding steadily along for mile after mile across the plains. On either side of the road stretched the broad savannas,the grass swaying and undulating in the wind in billows of green, while, here and there, little groves of trees stood, like wooded islands, in the grassy sea which swept away to east and west to the distant mountains.

Now and then, the road dipped sharply into a barranca and our horses splashed through muddy brooks beneath the shadows of vine-shaped trees, from which flocks of parrots flew noisily at our approach.

Gradually the vega became narrower as the foothills converged on either side, while the ground became moist and muddy and the rich grass of the plain gave way to low sedges and masses of coarse rushes.

This, Joseph informed me, was the marsh of "cienaga", adding that the village of the same name was but a short distance ahead at the junction of the road we were following with that leading to Sabana la Mar.

A few minutes later we ascended a little rise, cantered down the other side and, passing through a wooded barranca, drew up before the little fonda at the entrance to the village.

Telling Joseph to lead the horses into the shade and care for them, I dismounted and entered the inn. The room was neat and clean,—the walls decorated with gaudy lithographs,—while at the farther end swung a luxurious hammock with a small table beside it. All this I took in at a glance, and instantly I uttered an exclamation of wonder and surprise.

Seated in the hammock, a briar pipe between his lips, a paper-covered novel in his hands, and a bottle of beer beside him, was Branch!

"By Jove!" he cried as he jumped up, "awfully glad to see you, old chap; really I am!"

"For Heaven's sake, Branch!" I exclaimed as we shook hands, "will wonders never cease? Who in the world would have dreamed of finding you here? How did you get here and what are you doing at Cienaga?"

"My word! You Yankees are impetuous chaps, Gale. I say, old top, have a seat and a glass of beer, do. The bally innkeeper's getting dinner ready."

As I seated myself beside him, he called to the approaching landlord to hurry the food and to fetch another bottle of beer.

"Beastly dull place, this!" he remarked, turning to me. "Been waiting about since yesterday afternoon for you, fact."

"Waiting for me?" I repeated incredulously.

"Rather," he replied. "Asked the bloomin' natives if you'd passed this way and stopped for you to show up."

"But how the dickens did you know I was near here, and how did you get here anyway? Start at the beginning, Branch, and spin me the whole yarn."

"Righto, old chap. LeCroix had a message, you know,—brought by a rum-looking savage chap,—saying you were off to the Seybo and all that sort of thing. Extraordinary chap, that boy Joseph; jolly well bowled over the Dutchman just in time, eh! Let's see, where was I? Oh, to be sure,—Merritt reading letter. Asked me to join him and be in at the finish. Had my bags ready and just having tiffin when my clerk brought a letter from the Commandante-chap at Sabana la Mar. Said a darkey,— Jamaica boy,—had been arrested; British subject and all that rot. Required my presence,—obliged to uphold His Majesty's dignity,you know; but knocked up all my plans. Awfully disappointed, really; told Merritt so. Fine chap, Merritt. Told me to 'get a move on' or some other beastly slang to that effect. Said to take LeCroix's launch and go ahead and he'd jog along by gunboat. Told me to hurry through at Sabana la Mar, then ride overland and meet at Fale's place tonight. Thought I might run across you on the road. Deucedly good job I turned up in time."

"Branch," I laughed, "you're all right, and for my part I'm mighty glad your precious Jamaica boy got pinched if it brought you here."

"Oh, but I say!" he exclaimed, "that's awfully funny, you know. The bounder wasn't a British subject after all,—bloomin' Yankee,—fact. Lived in the States and became naturalized citizen, Commandante-chap made a mistake,—'pon my word, yes!"

Food was now served and we fell to with a will, chatting and laughing and discussing what would happen when we reached Fales' house. Branch was deeply interested in the story of my adventures, and kept repeating, "My word!" and "By Jove!" for Branch was as sincere, as staunch and as true a friend as ever lived, despite his superficial and flippant mannerisms.

"I hope Merritt doesn't get ahead of us," I remarked during the course of our conversation. "If old Fales sees the gun-boat he may get scared and sneak off. I've plenty of proof against him, and for Merritt's sake I hope he gets Fales and the arms too; but do you know, Branch, I hated like blazes to go to visit Don Miguel and then spy on him. I'd about made up my mind to camp up in the bush and wait for Merritt to do the dirty work. But if he gets to the coast this afternoon it will save all that."

"Rippin' for you, Gale!" cried Branch. "I know how you feel,— rotten kind of go,—eating a chap's bread and then getting him jugged, you know. Been there myself,—part of a diplomat's work and all that sort of thing. Leaves a nasty taste in your mouth just the same, eh?"

"Well," I said, rising, "if we're going to get to the coast and meet Merritt before dark we've got to hustle. Come along, Branch, let's get off."

As we stepped outside, Joseph appeared leading the horses, and Branch at once strode to him and shook his hand vigorously.

"Oh, I say, Joseph!" he exclaimed, "perfectly rippin', the way you saved Gale, my boy. Can't thank you enough; really I can't. Any time you want a billet come to me, laddie. I'll take you into His Majesty's service; 'pon my word, yes!"

Joseph was mightily embarrassed, but he stammered out thanks to Branch and grinned, and a moment later we mounted our horses and were soon galloping down the valley towards the sea.

From the little rise on which we stood the road led down between two rows of towering royal palms rising high above waving fields of cane which stretched, like a broad golden river, to a strip of coal-black beach where the long blue rollers broke in a quivering, gleaming line of foam.

To the left, and almost hidden in a grove of palms and flaming poinciana trees, was a group of cream-white buildings, their deep red roofs contrasting sharply with the greenery about. And beyond,—floating upon the bosom of the turquoise sea,—rode a tiny lead-colored gun-boat, the flag of the republic flying from her stern, while from her masthead fluttered the Stars and Stripes.

"By Jove!" cried Branch, breaking the silence, "Merritt beat us after all, old thing! But there's no row going on. Extraordinary, don't you think?"

As he spoke, I unslung my glasses, and before his sentence was completed I had them focussed on the gun-boat.

"Yes, 'tis queer there's not more excitement," I replied, puzzled. "The boat seems peaceful, too. I can see a couple of men under the after awning,—engineer and sailor, I should say,—and an armed sentry is pacing the deck.

The rest of the crew must be ashore. Yes, there's the launch drawn up on the beach by the sea-grape trees. I'll be hanged if I know what to make of it."

I then turned by glasses on the buildings, but the trees were thick and the house faced the sea, and I could see nothing. I shoved the glasses back in their case with a bang.

"There's nothing to do but ride along down," I declared. "We can't find out anything standing here."

Five minutes later we were riding through the avenue of royal palms, their feathery leaves rustling softly in the sea breeze a hundred feet above our heads, while the setting sun threw their shadows far across the can-field at our side.

No sound of strife or excitement broke the peaceful hush of the afternoon as we advanced, and turning to Branch I exclaimed: "I don't like this. It's too darned quiet. Look at that fellow yonder. Does he look as if his master was being arrested for smuggling?" As I spoke, I pointed to a burly mulatto approaching through the field and contentedly gnawing at a piece of cane. At sound of my voice he glanced up and, touching his hat, wished us "Buenas tardes."

"My word, no!" assented Branch. "It jolly well funks me. Gale. As you Yankees say, 'it gets my goat.'"

We were now close to the buildings and were soon passing beside a high stone wall which enclosed the kitchens and stables. Near the end of this wall the road turned sharply to the left, and as we rode under an arched opening in the wall and came into a large open courtyard, two neatly-liveried grooms stepped forward to hold our horses' heads.

Springing from our saddles, we walked briskly to the front of the house where a broad veranda faced the sea. Along the outer edge of this ran a low stone balustrade, half-hidden in a mass of jasmine, and in its center a little fountain tinkled sleepily. Here and there, rich Oriental rugs hid the mosaic flagging, while luxurious bamboo lounges and easy chairs stood about.

Seated in one of these, his feet resting on the balustrade, was a man in spotless white duck.

We had approached quietly and had not disturbed the reclining figure gazing thoughtfully out to sea and puffing contentedly at a big black cigar.

"The jolly beggar!" ejaculated Branch, as he caught sight of him.

"Hands up, Merritt!" I cried.

"Hello, boys!" exclaimed Merritt, as he sprang from his chair. "Welcome to La Antigua! Caught me napping, eh! Well, I didn't expect you so early."

"How long have you been here and where's Fales?" I demanded in one breath as we grasped hands.

"Been in ever since four bells," he replied. "Don Miguel went over to El Bano across the hill a couple of hours ago. Expected to be back before you turned up. Left word to make yourselves at home,—said he'd be back by dark anyway."

"Merritt," I exclaimed, "you are easy. You don't for a moment expect that he's coming back after seeing that tin gun-boat of yours, do you?"

"Surest thing you know," laughed Merritt. "Don Miguel's all right. But I'll quit jollying you and talk sense."

"After Branch left," he continued, "I had a wire from the capital. Old Munez had died suddenly and the President appointed a new Secretary of War right off the bat. Chose Fales for the job. It knocked all my plans to smash. As Secretary of War, Don Miguel could bring in all the arms he wanted. Too late to get word to you, and I knew Branch was knocking about here somewhere, so I decided to run over and meet you two and congratulate Don Miguel at the same time, Just as well after all. He hasn't had a hand in the game this time."

"Look here, Merritt," I interrupted impatiently. "Fales may be Secretary of War all right; but if you think he hasn't been running in guns you're away off the track. How do you explain this?" As I spoke I handed Merritt the scrap of paper that had cost Carlos his life.

He glanced at it casually and chuckled. "I was coming to that," he declared. "That note is not addressed to Don Miguel Fales. It's for Manuel Gonzales,—an old rascal who lived in the next valley, Fales told me all about him. He got word of the Gaviota seizure and skipped the country two days ago."

"My word!" ejaculated Branch. Most extraordinary how things happen. By Jove, yes!"

"Well," I remarked thoughtfully as I filled my pipe and leaned back in an easy chair, "Fales is too decent a fellow to be run in anyway. I told Branch that it made me sick to be spying on him. Now I can accept his invitation with a clear conscience. I'm blamed glad it has turned out as it has."

"Same here," agreed Merritt heartily, and added: "But we were all stung nevertheless."

"Yes," I observed, "that generally happens if you try to fool with a queen bee."

(The End)

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.