No one but the woman herself and her husband really understood the tremendous difficulties of their task or the vital issues at stake. Although they seemed to be making progress, they knew that they were dealing with a people not only excitable and egotistic, but steeped in guile, and distrustful by nature. The fire was close to the magazine. But this was Edith Cortlandt’s chosen field, and she brought to bear a manlike power of cool calculation, together with a brilliant intuition of her own. Never had her tact, her knowledge of human nature, her keen realization of political values been called into such play as now. So triumphantly did she exercise these qualities that all who came into contact with her recognized the master mind directing the campaign, and, consciously or unconsciously, relegated her husband to the background.
To the Latin intellect this display of power, on the part of a woman, was a revelation. She knew the effect she produced, and made the most of it.
Old Anibal Alfarez was, perhaps, the last fully to appreciate her. He did, however, learn in time that while he could successfully match his craft against that of the husband, the wife read him unerringly. The result was that he broke with them openly.
When news of this reached the members of the Canal Commission, they were alarmed, and Colonel Jolson felt it necessary to make known their views upon the situation. Accordingly, a few nights later, the Cortlandts dined at his handsome residence on the heights above Culebra. After their return to Panama, the Colonel, in whom was vested the supreme authority over his nation’s interests, acknowledged that his acquaintance with diplomacy was as nothing compared with Edith Cortlandt’s.
It was to Colonel Bland, in charge of the Atlantic Division, that he confessed:
“In all my life I never met a woman like her. Cortlandt, as you know, is a clever fellow, and I flatter myself that I’m no mental invalid; but we were like children in her hands. He sided with me at first, but she talked us both around in spite of ourselves. I agree with her now, perfectly, and I am content to let her have free rein.”
“General Alfarez is the strongest man in the Republic,” said Colonel Bland. “As Governor of Panama Province, he’s the logical next President. Besides that, he has the machinery behind him. I don’t see who there is to defeat him.”
“We argued the same thing. She thinks Garavel is the proper man.”
“Garavel is a banker; he’s not a politician.”
The chief-engineer laughed.
“All Spanish-Americans are politicians, Colonel; they can’t help it.”
“Would he accept?”
“It is her business to find out. I had my doubts.”
“But could he win? It would be a calamity if he had American backing and failed; it would mean a disaster.”