“Not at all.” Mr. Howland gazed at his cigar a moment, flicking the ashes off with his little finger. “Is that why you let the assassin go?”
Dan rose to the situation without hesitating.
“Mr. Howland, you were fishing when you asked that question. You don’t have to do that. I did let that chap go. I believed he had attempted a good job. I saved Rodriguez’s worthless life and took a risk in doing it. I would not have done so, but I thought the man was aiming at you; but since I did, the only reward I was entitled to, or wanted, was to do as I pleased with the man.”
“Undoubtedly,” said Mr. Howland. “Of course it occurred to you that Rodriguez’s life, however worthless you hold it in other ways, might be extremely valuable to the San Blanco Trading and Investment Company, which is myself?”
“Yes, I did think of that,” replied Dan, “although I am employed by the Coastwise Company, I know you practically own both. I realize, too, your kindness to me in the past; but I did look on the fellow as a man honestly trying to serve his country; and when it came to deliver him up to be hanged—why I simply could not do it.” Dan rose slowly. “I showed myself ungrateful to your interests. As I say, I appreciate what you have done. I am going to show that I do by asking you to consider my resignation in your hands to act upon as soon—whenever you please.”
“Sit down, Captain Merrithew,” said Mr. Howland, as though he had not heard the last words. “In the first place, you recognize that where there is no law and order legitimate business cannot be carried on. Where a country is governed in a haphazard manner, while it may be easy to secure contracts, it is impossible to collect on them. Business interests having connections with such countries find conditions intolerable, and where we can we rectify them. If you have studied San Blancan affairs you know that under Rodriguez (who, despite his cruelty, is honest) business here, whether controlled by myself or any one else, may for the first time in history be conducted on an honest and reliable basis. That is all I ask or have asked. I have no benefit of discriminating duties. I am largely interested in the business affairs of this country; but I obtained those interests fairly, and it is my duty to myself and my daughter and my business associates to maintain and develop them.
“I talk to you this way, Merrithew, because I have felt you were going wrong, and I wanted to set you right. I’ll say frankly I know I’ll not lose anything in so doing. I owe you a great deal. I am glad I do; for I like your sort. I wish I had a boy growing up as you have grown. You have a future before you—if you will only watch that damned hot head of yours.”
Much that Mr. Howland had said in regard to the disinterested nature of his business activities was true; some things involved tactical evasion. In expressing his attitude toward Dan he was sincere. The Captain did not attempt to analyze. He was completely won, just as Mr. Howland wanted him to be. As he essayed to speak, Mr. Howland placed his hand on Dan’s shoulder.