There was a terrible crash and grinding, shrill screams, with the sharp, taunting laughter of Dan ringing clear, as his vessel swept clear of the wreckage, flashing by the crowded small boats which had been lowered a few seconds before the crash came. Hardly knowing what she was doing, utterly beside herself, Virginia turned to her friends, her lips parted, her eyes flashing.
“There!” she cried, “did you ever see a man? I recommend you to look at Captain Merrithew—”
“Yes, Virginia, it was bully.” Oddington’s cool, thoroughbred manner chilled her ardor like a cold blast. “It was mighty fine. You are excited, girl.” And the young man removed the cigarette which had been between his lips. Virginia regarded him steadily.
“You are right, Ralph,” she said at length; “I was excited.”
In the meantime, the Tampico was dashing into the harbor at full speed, her whistle blowing like mad, bringing all officialdom, including the Presidente, to the water front; for, as Mr. Howland had said, they were expected. Soldiers from the guard-boats swarmed aboard and took the rebel admiral and his fellow-officers ashore, and a few hours later well set-up mercenaries were dragging Mr. Howland’s machine guns and eight-inch rifles from the quay to strategic points, where in the morning the insurrection would be broken as a strong man breaks a rattan cane.
Later, at the end of a sunrise collation, Presidente Rodriguez rose and, with one hand on his heart and the other clutching the stem of a wine glass, metaphorically presented the keys of San Blanco to the “Saviour of his country,” and intimated not only a permanent suspension of tariff regulations in his favor, but a future statue of heroic size in the palace plaza. Whereat Mr. Howland turned swiftly to Dan at his side, and from behind his napkin momentarily altered an expression of beatific if humble gratitude, and winked almost grotesquely.
AN ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION
The next morning Dan stood at the rail of the Tampico, gazing out over the quay to the distant walls of the city, over which hung a heavy saffron pall. The faint pat-a-pat-pat-pat of machine guns and the roar of heavier ordnance was incessant. At first he had been disposed to go out and participate in the fighting.
But second thought had altered his inclination. He had come to know something of the business methods of Mr. Howland and men like him; and while he had no doubt that his employer considered them legitimate, and could, if he had to, submit many strong reasons for various measures which capital seems to find it necessary to employ in its relations with Latin-American Governments, yet he decided that the wholesale slaughter then in progress had far better be left to those who were employed for that purpose.
How did he know but the men who had been fighting to capture the city and were now being shot down like sheep were not the real patriots, anxious to govern their own country in their way and not in the interests of foreign corporations? As for Rodriguez, he knew enough of him to—