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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Owl Taxi » CHAPTER X AMY'S STORY
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Greg's immediate impulse was to confide in Bessie Bickle. That good soul looked interested but dubious.

"Will she have her boy's pants on?" she demanded.

"No," said Greg smiling.

"That's all right, then. Mind, I'm not saying I blame her; if she can get away with it, all right. But I wouldn't have the face myself to talk to a girl with boy's pants on; I wouldn't know where to look. You can have my parlor to sit in."

"You must come in too," said Greg. "I want you to know her. She needs a woman friend."

"But you said she was a high-toned lady. What would she want with the likes of me?"

"Well, I don't know, if it comes to that, you're pretty high-toned yourself."

"Go along with you!"

Bessie's parlor was the front room over the grocery store. The room was the secret pride of her heart, though, poor soul, she had little enough occasion to use it. So carefully was it kept that it looked as spick and span as when it had first been created, perhaps twenty-five years before. There was a Brussels carpet on the floor with a design of bunches of red roses on a green ground, and there was a green plush "parlor suit." In the center of the room stood a marble-topped table with wonderfully curly legs, and upon it there was a plush album, and two piles of "gift-books" placed criss-cross. On the mantel-piece was an imitation onyx clock flanked by a superb pair of near-bronze Vikings with battle-axes which you could take out of their hands if you wished.

Over the mantel hung a crayon portrait of Bessie's second husband, the late Mr. Bickle, fresh from the barber's. He occupied the place of honor presumably because he was the more recent. He was faced from across the room by Mr. Daniel Creavy, his predecessor. Mr. Creavy was cross-eyed and the crayon artist, evidently a grim realist, had disdained to modify his squint by a jot. There were several other pictures colored and representing sentimental situations entitled: "Parted," "The Tiff," and "The Green-eyed Monster."

As the time drew near when Hickey might be supposed to return with his passenger, Greg and Bessie waited in the parlor. Bessie in a stiff, rustling black taffeta was magnificent and very high-toned indeed. She had adopted a manner to match, and sat in awful silence with her hands in her lap, while Greg fidgeted. He found himself endlessly computing the number of yards that had gone to make that voluminous costume. The word had gone round the yard below that Greg's friend, the little South American Princess (as reported by Hickey), was coming that night, and one by one they all found some excuse for dropping in on the chance of seeing her: Bull Tandy, Blossom, Ginger McAfee; only Pa Simmons was missing.

They heard the machine-gun when she first turned the corner from Houston Street, and Greg sprang down the stairs. Hickey had been instructed to bring his passenger to the front door of course. Bessie waited in monumental dignity at the top of the stairs. When Amy alighted from the flivver Greg, had he not known it must be she, must have looked twice before recognizing her. In her comical tight little jacket and elaborate cheap hat she was the belle of the service entrance to the life. Amy, it appeared, was an incorrigible comedienne; though there was no need for her to play her part just then, she could not help bridling, ogling and flirting her skirts like the coquette of below stairs. Greg chuckled and Hickey roared.

But by the time she reached the head of the stairs she had sobered down. From Bessie's imposing port she gathered, no doubt, that the landlady was not a person to be trifled with. Her abrupt transition to demureness caused Greg a fresh chuckle.

When she removed the absurd hat and jacket she put off the parlormaid for good. In her simple dress she was her own exquisite little self. Bessie, in the presence of one even surer of herself than Bessie was, became a little uneasy, and it was Amy's turn then to put Bessie at her ease. As for Greg he could not look at her enough. It was the first time he had seen her glorious hair uncovered. It was the color of bright copper, of a certain glowing variety of chrysanthemum, of a horse chestnut fresh out of its burr. It was the sort of hair, full of light, that does itself; any old twist creates the effect of a coiffure.

Greg gazed in a sort of delighted despair. He thought: "She is ever so much more charming than I supposed. She's a new woman every five minutes; a dozen women in one! What man could ever hope to tie her down. She would always elude him like a pixie. She's too charming; a man would have no chance against her. God help the man that she enslaves; she'll keep him jumping through hoops!"

Meanwhile Bessie and Amy were doing the polite.

"It's an honor to welcome you to my poor home, Miss de Soak-oater," said the former grandly.

"Miss Wilmot," corrected Amy.

Bessie looked surprised. "But Mr. Parr said——"

"I know, that's part of my story. I'll tell you directly. What a charming room you have, Mrs. Bickle. So cozy and characteristic!"

After that Bessie was hers. "Well, I aim to keep one nice room," she said complacently, "though I live in a street where niceness is hardly looked for."

"What must you think of me appearing from nowhere?" said Amy.

"Mr. Parr has told me about you. It is a strange story."

"But he only knows a little of it. I have come to tell you the whole."

"Wait a minute," interrupted Greg. "The fellows are down-stairs. They sacrificed half their earnings to-night on the chance of seeing you. Do you mind if I bring them up for a moment?"

"By all means bring them up!" said Amy.

When Greg went to call them Bessie with an apology disappeared for a moment, returning with a strip of linoleum which she put down near the door.

"There's a mud-hole in the yard," said she.

The four men—for of course Hickey came with them—filed into the room in their shabby overcoats, caps in hand. A threatening look in Bessie's eyes warned them not to step off the linoleum. It was hardly big enough to hold them all. They were almost overcome. Though they carried such young ladies in their cabs as a matter of course, to be personally introduced to one of them was another matter. They could scarcely lift their eyes to hers; their voices died away in their throats. There was nothing of the pixie about Amy now. Towards these dumb souls she exhibited an angelic kindliness.

"You're Hickey," she said to the first in line. "Of course I feel as if I knew you quite well already, but I'm glad to have the chance of speaking to you."

"This is Bull Tandy," said Greg indicating the next.

"William Tandy," corrected that individual acutely distressed.

"Oh, I like Bull much better," said Amy quickly. "There's something so strong and steady about it."

"This is Ginger McAfee," said Greg.

"Another nickname! And a good one! You look gingery!"

The delighted Ginger could only grin and wag his head from side to side like an imbecile school-boy.

"Blossom," said Greg coming to the end. "Nobody knows his other name."

"Billups," said Blossom in a voice so sepulchral they all had to laugh, and their embarrassment was much relieved.

"How do you do, Mr. Billups," said Amy. "Don't mind if we laugh at your name. We like you none the less for it."

"You have another friend here, Pa Simmons," said Greg. "He's away on your job to-night. You'll have to meet him another time."

At this point Bessie coughed as a hint that it was time for the men to go. But Ginger McAfee stepped forward to the extreme edge of the linoleum and cleared his throat.

"Excuse me, Miss," said he, "but us fellows made up something we wanted to say to you, and they picked on me to put it over, because they said I got the tongue of a ready speaker. But it ain't much to say. It's just this. Without wishing to pry into your private affairs at all we heard that you was up against it like. I mean that you had undertaken the job of putting a gang of crooks where they belong. Well, what we want to say is, if we could help we'd jump at the chance, that's all. If you need a man or a gang to back you up, try us. Us and our boats is yours to command!"

Amy was touched. Her eyes were misty as she replied simply: "Thank you, Ginger, and all of you. It's sweet to find friends. I shan't forget you."

After they had filed out Amy sat down on the green sofa and started her tale.

"My real name is Amy Wilmot. My father, Gerald Wilmot, was United States minister to Managuay. Managuay, as you know, is a small Central American republic. During my father's term of office there he married a Managuayan lady, Emilia Bareda, and I was their only child. My mother died while I was still an infant. My father brought me up with the assistance of a succession of servants more or less inefficient. Of course I was very badly brought up, but I was happy.

"My father was a generous, frank and liberal-minded man, and all the men in Managuay like him were attracted to our house. Young as I was I can still remember the good talk around our table—especially since I have begun to try to think for myself. My uncle Tony, Antonio Bareda, was such a man as my father, and they were the closest of friends. Uncle Tony was continually at our house. He understood children and I idolized him.

"Well, the climate of Managuay is an unhealthy one except for natives, and when I was eleven years old a fever carried off my kind, wise father. I was too young of course to realize what his loss meant to me. Of course I grieved as children grieve, but like a child I soon adapted myself to my new surroundings.

"These were very different from what I had known up to that time. Since my father had no near relatives, I was adopted by my mother's cousin, Se?ora de Socotra, who taught me to call her mamma. She is a dear kind soul too, and I love her dearly. The only thing I have against her is that she gave me a Spanish name, while I was still too young to realize what I was giving up. She called me Amèlie de Socotra, by which name of course I have always been known. But I mean to take my own name back now.

"Mamma is devotedly attached to her husband, and actually after living with him for twenty years has no idea but that he is a model of all the virtues. But she is simplicity itself. I have noticed since I have become suspicious of him myself that Mamma will believe any tale, however wild, that he tells her. It is his discovery that I am not so gullible that has made him suddenly suspicious of me.

"For some reason I never could bring myself to call him 'father.' He encouraged me to call him Francisco, and I have always done so. He has invariably been kind to me in his casual, offhand way, which is not the same of course as a real affection. I always acted towards him as my instinct told me he wished me to act, that is to say, the amusing child, the plaything for idle hours. He was the master, the source of all good things. If anybody had asked me if I loved him, I suppose I would have said yes, but I can see now that I never did, though I saw nothing but his charming, good-humored, amusing side.

"The de Socotras are of the old Spanish stock, very prominent in Managuay; and in addition Francisco has made a great fortune to revive the ancient glories of his house. How he made it I don't know. I am ashamed to confess my ignorance of the practical side of life. While Francisco is always deep in affairs he has no regular, visible business like other men. He has no office. He never appears to do any work, but just 'confers' with men of all kinds. It has something to do with politics.

"But there is no doubt about the reality of the fortune. He was rich before I went to live with them. We live in grand style at home. I remember how grand it seemed to me when first I went to them. Later of course I learned to take everything for granted, and came to think that it was the only way for nice people to live. We have a fine house in Santiago and a magnificent country place among the hills. I had horses to ride, automobiles, jewels, troops of servants who looked up to me as a superior being. We went to Havana every year, or to Paris if Mamma felt equal to the trip, and bought more clothes than we could ever wear.

"It is small wonder that a girl should be spoiled by a life like this. Half-grown girls are fatally impressionable. I completely forgot the saner, healthier ideas I had been taught in the beginning, and soon began to look upon myself as one of the chosen ones of earth, responsible only to God who looked with great leniency on the faults of one like me. Life was very busy and pleasant. Everything helped one not to think. I imbibed the idea that it spoiled a woman's looks to think. So I just frivoled.

"I was a good deal freer than the other Managuayan girls and I got the name of being very daring. Much was excused me because I was half-American. I was the one who got up the private theatricals and took the boys' parts myself. The old ladies talked with bated breath of how I rode and hunted in knickerbockers. I loved to shock them. You do not know our Spanish dowagers. They acted on me like a perpetual dare.

"I never saw my dear Uncle Tony after I went to live with the de Socotras. I missed him at first, but it was delicately intimated to me that he was really not one of us, and after awhile I believed it. Little girls are natural snobs. When I grew up I began to understand that Francisco and Uncle Tony were on opposite sides in politics. In Managuay men become extraordinarily bitter over politics. In our house Uncle Tony was called renegade, socialist, traitor to his class, atheist, and I don't know what. I had only the vaguest idea of what was meant by politics. I never read the newspapers.

"I cannot give you any idea of the situation in Managuay at present except to say that in a general way Uncle Tony was on the side of the poor people and Francisco, of course, on the side of the rich. I sided with Francisco naturally. They told me the poor people were envious and discontented; that if they were not kept under, they would burn and destroy and never rest until they had made us as poor as themselves.

"One day in Managuay,—it is really only a week ago, though it seems like seven years, I have traveled so far since,—we were still at Casa del Monte, the country house, and Nina came to me—at home Nina is my own maid, though when we travel she serves both Mamma and me,—Nina came to me and said that a gentleman wished to speak to me and that he was waiting under the banyan tree in the Jardin des Plantes.

"For a moment I was very indignant at the idea of any man bidding me to a rendezvous through my maid, but I saw from the expression on Nina's face that this was no ordinary cavalier. I asked her who it was. 'Se?or Bareda,' she said in a scared way; 'He said to tell you, your Uncle Tony.'

"Well, at the mere sound of the dear name a sudden warmth flooded my breast. I forgot all the harsh things I had heard said about him in that house; I forgot that I considered myself on the other side from him; I remembered only the days when he had taken me on his knee and recited funny rhymes about the King of the Cannibal Islands. I ran to him as fast as I could go.

"The Jardin des Plantes was Francisco's private botanical gardens, planned after the famous gardens in Martinique. It occupied a great stretch of level ground at the foot of the hill on which the house was built. Trees, shrubs and flowers from every quarter of the earth were growing there. The banyan tree is famous in Managuay. It is far from the house, but near the public road on the other side. It made a little natural arbor all to itself, and there was a stone bench under it, on which I found my Uncle Tony sitting. I wondered who had steered him to the spot.

"He looked so sad and kind and patient, and he was not at all fashionably dressed, that my heart went right out to him; the selfish, self-indulgent years slipped away and I felt like a child again. He won me before he said a word. He kissed me on the forehead as he used to do, and said smiling:

"'Is it very wrong for a gentleman to ask for a secret meeting with a young lady if he is sixty-four years old, and she his niece? If I had gone to the house I should not have been admitted.'

"'But how did you get here?' I asked. 'How did you get hold of Nina?'

"'Her brother is a friend of mine. I sent a note to her through him.'

"Every word of that talk is engraved on my mind. 'Sit down beside me,' he said. 'Let me look at you. How beautiful you are!' He said that you know; I merely repeat his words. 'And quite the glass of fashion, the mold of form! What have they taught you, my child, except how to dress well?'

"When he asked me that I suddenly seemed inexpressibly ignorant to myself. 'Why—why, nothing much, I guess,' I stammered. He smiled such a dear smile. 'Oh, well, if you feel that you know nothing there is still hope for you.'

"'I suppose you wonder what my errand is,' he went on, 'and now that I am here I scarcely know how to tell you. It was an impulse of the heart. I felt somehow as if my heart could not rest unless I saw you before I went away.'

"'You are going away!' I cried, already experiencing the sinking sensation that one feels at the prospect of losing an old friend. 'They are driving you away!' I added, thinking of Francisco.

"He smiled a different kind of smile. 'No, they are not driving me away. I go for Managuay.'


"'To the United States. I sail on the Allian?a to-morrow. It is a dangerous errand from which I may not return.'

"'Dangerous!' I cried like the foolish child I was, 'but there's no danger nowadays!'

"He smiled and answered with another question. 'Do you know anything about me? what I stand for? what de Socotra stands for?'

"'No,' I said, 'Francisco only abuses you. He tells us nothing.'

"My uncle was silent for awhile. It was at this time that he took out the little black book and showed it to me, saying what I repeated to you night before last: 'The happiness of a whole people is bound up in this!' But he seemed to change his mind, and put it away without saying more. 'No, I shall not tell you,' he said, 'for if anything happens to me de Socotra would be your only protector. I dare not take the responsibility of setting you against him. I will only say this; that he opposes all I hold dear. And he would say the same of me I have no doubt.'

"'I am so ignorant!' I murmured.

"'Well, at twenty years old that is natural enough,' he said kindly, 'but at twenty-five, say, it will be different. God will never accept ignorance as an excuse from an adult. That was really my purpose in coming. I felt it my duty to my sister's child to make an effort to awaken you while I could.' He looked around at the luxuriant, perfectly-kept gardens. 'You would never awake in this castle of indolence.'

"'But I am considered extremely wide awake,' I objected.

"'I mean in your mind. It is time you thought of things.'

"'What things?'

"'Well, life and people and how you stand towards them. You must read and observe and make up your own mind as to what is right. You must examine the rules that have been laid down for you and decide for yourself whether they are meet.'

"'But what is the use?' I said like a child. 'Here I am. I can't change anything.'

"'You can change yourself.'

"'What's the matter with me?'

"He smiled in both kindness and fun. 'One who did not love you might call you a thoughtless, pleasure-loving butterfly. Are you satisfied with that?'

"I believe I began to cry then. I had always thought very well of myself, you see.

"He went on: 'I know it seems a dreadful task to the young, to think. But it need not be. Try the wings of thought warily. Be satisfied with little flights at first. I mean, think with your heart, too. That ought not to be hard for a woman. Consider the poor people in the city below, who, by the workings of an evil system, are actually enslaved to the rich. Are you willing to continue to pass your days in delicious idleness at the cost of the women and children down there; the little children already bent and emaciated by overwork, who have no release in sight but death?'

"'I am not responsible!' I cried aghast.

"'But you are!' he said sternly. 'For the very people that I speak of work on the plantations and in the factories that pay the dividends that bought this exquisite dress you are wearing, and that string of pearls around your neck.'

"I tore off the pearls and tried to press them into his hand. 'Take them and sell them and give them the money,' I implored him.

"'Put them on again,' he said coldly. 'They do not ask for charity, but justice.'

"Well, there was much more to the same effect. I don't suppose you need it as much as I did, so I will hasten on with my story. This was exactly the way Francisco had said that Antonio Bareda talked, but somehow in my uncle's own kind voice it had a very different effect; it had the ring of the truth. If he had been content simply to have lectured me like a school-master I should have listened with my tongue in my cheek, and would have hastened to tell Francisco afterward, and laugh with him. But Uncle Tony seemed sorry for me; that was what brought the tears to my eyes. And he was so very kind, and so ready to laugh, too, and he understood me so well. I didn't understand half what he said, but I knew from his deep sad eyes that he was right. I had never seen the proud and confident Francisco's eyes soften.

"When he left me I wept bitterly. I cannot describe my state of mind; fear for him, fear for myself, lonesomeness, self-distrust, all had a part in it. Of course the final effect was what he had intended. Willy-nilly I began to think of these matters. Since that hour I have not been able to stop thinking. And even if this dreadful tragedy had not taken place I should never have been the same as I was before.

"When Francisco came up from the town that day I watched him with a new and critical gaze. Under the elegant, courteous, smiling air, I became aware of a suggestion of ruthless cruelty. For the first time it struck me that his handsome eyes were too close together. On the present occasion I saw that under his debonair nonchalance which never varied, he was deeply concerned about something.

"At dinner when the servants had left the room, the cause of it came out. He was obliged to make a hurried trip to New Orleans on affairs of the government, he said. I must explain that mamma is of a soft and affectionate nature and prides herself on the fact that she has never been parted from Francisco. Francisco, whatever his faults, is devoted to mamma and humors her in all things. Consequently he is obliged to carry us with him wherever he goes, though I am sure it is often inconvenient. So when he said New Orleans we began to plan our packing.

"We would go aboard his yacht La Tinita at bed-time, he said, and she would weigh anchor as soon as she was coaled. It must be given out that we were merely going cruising in the Caribbean, he said. Secrecy had often been enjoined on us before, and we had taken it as a matter of course. To his own household Francisco could do no wrong.

"But this time my suspicions were aroused. I wondered what devilment he was up to. It did not occur to me to connect our sudden departure with my uncle's journey. 'New Orleans' put me off the track. The Allian?a went to New York. Moreover the idea of a personal enmity between the two men had not yet been suggested to me. I merely thought of them as belonging to different parties.

"At sea next day I had the impulse to try to draw out Francisco. He is always especially good-tempered at sea. We were sitting in deck-chairs under the lee of the after deck-house; mamma was there too, and I said:

"'Francisco, what is the political situation in Managuay?'

"He stared and laughed. 'Good Heavens, child! what put the idea of politics into your head?'

"'I'm no longer a child,' I objected. 'I must begin to know about things.'

"'Not politics, I hope!'

"'What is politics, anyway?'

"'Politics is knavish tricks,' he said teasingly.

"'Well, you're a politician, aren't you?'

"'No, I'm a statesman,' he said with a wink.

"'Please be serious. What party do you belong to?'

"'The Conservative party. Why?'

"'What party does my Uncle Tony belong to?'

"I saw that I had flicked him on the raw. His eyes narrowed, he sucked in his lip. Almost immediately he was smiling again. 'What on earth made you think of him just then?'

"'I often think of him.'

"'What have you heard about him lately?'

"The anxiety with which he asked this suggested to me the wisdom of lying. 'Nothing but what you say about him,' I replied with a clear brow.

"'Are you still fond of him?' he asked with a queer look.

"'How could I be?' I answered, 'not having seen him in eleven years.'

"'I'm afraid you would find your Uncle Tony much changed,' he said gravely. Francisco's manner was really admirable, but I could not forget his terrified start at the first mention of the other man's name. 'He too, has become a politician. You ask me to what party he belongs; well, he calls himself a liberal, but that is a cloak used by many an unsuccessful self-seeking man. I'm afraid your Uncle Tony must be put down as a thoroughly bad man, my dear. He is poor, as you know; his patrimony was squandered before it reached him. Well, poverty is no disgrace of course, but it is the way in which a man sets about to rehabilitate his fortunes that betrays his quality. Most men set to work; others fall to scheming. Your Uncle Tony has chosen the worser way, I'm sorry to say. He is what men call an agitator, a demagogue. His sole aim is to stir up strife. He has deliberately set to work to inflame the passions of the mob to the point of revolution, not caring how much ruin is wrought thereby, or what blood spilt, if he may thereby be carried to a place of power. Do you understand?'

"'Perfectly,' I said. I thought of my uncle's deep sad eyes and did not believe a word of it. The possessor of those eyes a 'thoroughly bad man,'—impossible. I began to suspect that the 'thoroughly bad man' was much nearer me at that moment. From that time forward Francisco ceased to have the slightest influence over me.

"Our talk about politics languished. 'Put it out of your pretty head, my dear!' said Francisco. 'Thank God! that horrible unsexed creature, the political woman, has not yet penetrated to our Managuayan Eden. Never forget that a woman's sole duty is to be beautiful. Leave politics to us coarser beings, men.'

"I saw that my political education would not be much furthered by Francisco, and that I should probably learn more from him by appearing to be the feather-headed creature that he commended. So I started to chatter. But he was not perfectly satisfied that he had laid the political bogie in me. More than once during the remainder of the voyage I caught him glancing at me queerly. He was thinking perhaps of my half-American ancestry. Francisco hates Americans, though he never lets that appear of course while he's in America.

"It was on Wednesday night that we left Santiago de Managuay. La Tinita is fast, and we landed in New Orleans on Friday. We had no sooner got there than Francisco announced that his plans were changed, and we were going on to New York by train. As soon as he said New York I began to wonder if his trip had anything to do with my uncle.

"We left New Orleans on the first train. Two men joined us there, Managuayans. When I say joined us, I mean they conferred with Francisco en route. He did not present them to us. My curiosity was fully aroused now. I longed to hear what they talked about. But they held all their conferences in a private compartment.

"We reached New York on Sunday morning and went to the Meriden. We found Bianca Guiterrez already established there. Bianca is a second cousin of Francisco's. I don't know how she got to New York. She was in Managuay three weeks ago. I must say that in Managuay the women look rather askance at Bianca, and she does not exactly move in society. She is a prime favorite with the men of our set, particularly Francisco. I have sometimes thought,—but that doesn't signify.

"When we reached the Meriden other men kept turning up, none of whom was presented to us. From one thing and other, scraps of telephone conversation, chance remarks picked up, I gathered that there was a little circle of Managuayan politicians established here in New York, whose meeting-place was in that house on Ninth Street. What their purpose was I could not guess. There were some Americans among them too.

"In particular there was one man, Abanez, who seemed to be a sort of leader among them, a leader under Francisco you understand; for it was clear to me that Francisco was the master of them all.

"The day we arrived this Abanez was closeted with Francisco for awhile in our sitting-room at the hotel, and at last I had an opportunity to overhear one of Francisco's mysterious conferences. My bedroom adjoined the sitting-room on one side, mamma's on the other; she was asleep. I don't know where Bianca was. Her room was in a different part of the hotel.

"I was in my room when Francisco and Abanez entered the sitting-room. Perhaps Francisco thought I was asleep too, or it may be that it never occurred to him that the doors are thinner in this country than at home. In the beginning they were cautious enough, but as they went on they forgot and raised their voices a little. As soon as I heard them come in, I softly drew the key out of my door and put my ear to the keyhole. I felt not the slightest compunctions in eavesdropping, for I was sure that I was helping the right.

"It was maddening at first, they talked so low. I could hear nothing. Then Francisco, it appeared, lost his temper. I heard him say: 'I'll tell you why I came up here. It looked to me as if this job was in a fair way of being bungled. I wanted to oversee things myself. Do you understand the importance of it? Do you understand that if the slightest thing goes wrong it will mean complete ruin for all of us? On the other hand if it's properly carried through, we can sit back, we'll have no more trouble.'

"Abanez' reply I could not hear. From his tone I guessed that he was trying to placate Francisco. The latter then said:

"'I didn't think much of the man you sent down, this de Silva.'

"Abanez said deprecatingly: 'He was the best I could lay hands on at such short notice. As I told you, I hoped you might be able to supplant him with somebody better from down there.'

"'In Managuay?' said Francisco scornfully. 'Where everybody and everything is known? What chance would we have of foisting any of our people off on Bareda? As for Bareda's own people, they are incorruptible. I've tried them and I know.'

"Abanez evidently asked him next what was his objection to de Silva. Francisco replied impatiently:

"'A conceited little bravo. No one but a fool like Bareda could possibly have been taken in by him.'

"Again Abanez said something I could not hear.

"Francisco said: 'It was all right up to the time I left, but they will be thrown together for five days on the ship. Bareda may well smell a rat before they reach New York.'

"I missed Abanez' reply.

"Francisco went on impatiently: 'I didn't think much of the scheme he outlined to me either. It sounded fantastic. The simplest measures are always the best. Why didn't you have him taken to the Ninth Street house? You can drive right in there out of sight of the street.'

"Abanez said: 'That would have necessitated taking the taxi-driver into our confidence. We had no one on whom we could rely.'

"'Good God! Why didn't you buy a taxi-cab, and put one of our men on it?'

"'It did not seem feasible.'

"Francisco was getting angrier and angrier. 'Do you mean to tell me that you are going to depend on any chance taxi-cab that you pick up on the pier?'

"As Francisco stormed the other man became more obsequious. 'It could not be avoided,' he explained. 'You see when the steamship docks the cabs are admitted in single file and engaged by the passengers in order as they come. There was no way in which we could ensure that de Silva would get a particular cab.'

"'There is always a way!' cried Francisco. 'If you use a little head-work! Well, it's too late now to change de Silva's instructions. I wish I had attended to these preliminaries myself. Anyhow, I shall be on the pier. Later I'll go to the ferry to see what has happened.'

"There was more, but Francisco seemed to have recollected caution, and I could not hear it. What I had heard caused me a terrible feeling of uneasiness, but I had nothing definite to go on. It is perfectly clear now, when we know what happened, but you must remember my situation. I never dreamed of anything so terrible as the truth. Think of my ignorance and inexperience. Why, I had lived in the same house with Francisco for nine years. I could not conceive of him as a murderer.

"But it was clear enough that mischief of some sort was afoot, with my Uncle Tony as the intended victim. I thought perhaps they intended to rob him of the little black book, on which he set such store. I determined to warn him if I could. I made up my mind that I would be on the pier myself when the Allianca came in, and tell him exactly what I had overheard.

"From a newspaper I learned that she was due the next day, Monday. Several times on Monday I called up the steamship office, and finally learned that she had been sighted, and was expected to land her passengers at ten o'clock Monday night.

"This was a blow. I had anticipated difficulties in getting away by myself during the day—living in a strange hotel, mamma did not want to let me out of her sight for a moment; but to get away at night seemed quite out of the question. I almost gave up. I was terrified on my own account too. One hears such awful tales of New York after dark.

"Fortunately I had Nina to help me. At first I decided to take her, and go openly to the pier in a cab, but then I recollected that Francisco was going to be there, and would certainly see us. I did not yet dare to defy him openly. Finally I decided to disguise myself and go alone.

"I sent Nina out to buy me an outfit of boy's clothes which she succeeded in smuggling into my room. At dinner Francisco remarked that he had a business engagement, but offered to take us to the theater on his way, if we wouldn't mind coming home in a cab by ourselves. I pleaded a headache, and of course mamma would not go without me.

"The same headache provided me with an excuse to go to bed after dinner. Dear mamma insisted on fussing over me until I nearly went out of my mind! The precious minutes were slipping by so fast! I only got rid of her by insisting that sleep alone would cure me, and that I must not be disturbed. The instant she left me Nina, who was waiting, slipped in and helped me dress. I got out of the hotel as I have told you. Nina had fixed matters with the watchman.

"I got a cab to the pier, but alas! I was too late. The Allian?a was already made fast to her pier, and the passengers even then were driving away. Only those were left who were having trouble with their baggage. There was no sign of my uncle. But I saw Francisco at the entrance to the pier lighting a cigar, and I determined to follow him to see what was to come later.

"On that water-front street, he took a car bound uptown and rode to a ferry slip some blocks above. I was on the back platform. I remembered the references to a ferry in his talk with Abanez. At the ferry-house he met two men, men I had seen before at the hotel; he seemed to be surprised to find them there, and at what they told him. I dared not approach close enough to overhear what was said, for I knew that my disguise would not stand a close inspection. The three of them waited there for some time, obviously growing all the time more anxious and impatient.

"Finally Francisco set off across the plaza to a little hotel there, and went in to telephone perhaps, or to get himself a drink. I could not follow him in of course. While he was inside you drove up in your cab and went into the bar. Presently Francisco came out by another door. Something in the look of the cab seemed to arrest his attention. He looked it over. He opened the door a crack and peeped in. I know now what he saw there, but of course I couldn't guess then. He turned around with an ugly smile. Then you came out, and he engaged you, and rode off on the front seat. There was no other cab handy. I ran across the plaza after you, and managed to get on the same boat. Well, you know all the rest. That's my story."

Bessie had listened to this tale with ever-deepening indignation. "A black villain!" she cried. "This Francisco fellow! Him with his castle and his yacht and his money and all! He ain't got no call to be crooked. It must be pure cussedness. And I hope you bring him to the rope, I do!"

Amy had ended her story on a note of dejection, and now to Greg's surprise her eyes were full of tears. "It's not so simple," she murmured. "I think of mamma. This would kill her if she knew!"

Bessie made a clucking sound of sympathy. "But she'll have to know sooner or later," she said.

"She'll have to suffer of course," said Amy, "but I must think how to save her from the worst."

Bessie got up. "I expect you and Mr. Parr have your plans to talk over. I'm going down-stairs to make you a cup of hot coffee before you start out in the cold."

Greg thought: "Good old Bessie! She's a lady!"

Nevertheless, left alone with Amy as he had so much desired, a sudden diffidence overcame him, and he could find nothing to say. Amy had fallen into a kind of study, and scarcely seemed to be aware of his presence.

Finally he said: "What do you want me to do?"

"Ah, if I knew!" she murmured.

To Greg's direct masculine mind there was but one course to be taken. "We have the body safe," he said, "and the conversation you overheard in the hotel supplies the necessary link of evidence. I could go to the police and ask for his arrest."

The surprising girl's eyes flashed at him. "I will not have it!" she cried. "That is stupid!"

"But—but you said you wanted him brought to justice," stammered Greg.

"Would you expect me to go on the witness stand and swear his life away—with mamma listening there? Here in a strange country!"

"But you said—you were an American."

"So I am—in spirit. But I have lived all my life in Managuay. Give me time."

"But we cannot let him go free. That would be making ourselves accessory to the crime."

She looked at him strangely. "I shall not let him go free. I am thinking how to punish him. I shall punish him in a way that even you will admit is sufficient."

A dreadful fear made Greg's eyes widen.

She apprehended it without his speaking. "Oh, I shall not kill him myself," she said. "I suspect I am too much American for that."

She went on presently: "I have a feeling that the murder of my uncle is only the first act in a whole drama of crime that Francisco is planning. We must prevent it! If I only knew what was in that little book! You have had no answer to your cable to Estuban?"

Greg shook his head.

"Even if he comes it would be a week before he could get here. Francisco will not wait a week."

Bessie interrupted them to say that the boy from the druggist's at the corner had come to say that Greg was wanted on the telephone.

"That will be Pa Simmons," said Greg. "Back in a jiffy."

This was what Greg heard over the wire in Pa Simmons' crinkly voice:

"This you, Greg? This is me. Do you get me? Well, I picked up that party all right at the address given, and I stuck to him closer than a brother all afternoon and evening. I'll give you a full report when I come in. I just called up now to say that at eleven-thirty I followed him to the Stickney Arms, and he's there yet. Looks to me like he was going to stay all night. If you want the place watched any longer you'll have to send up one of the boys to relieve me, because I'm all in. I gotta have my sleep."

"All right, Pa," said Greg. "Come on home."

When Greg got back to Bessie's, Bessie and Amy were drinking coffee together like sisters. A slight alteration in their demeanor as he came in, suggested that they were exchanging confidences that were denied him. Greg felt a little sore.

He reported what Pa Simmons had told him.

Amy sprang up. "Good!" she cried. "He'll stay all night of course. I'll go right home. If he still has the little black book upon him I promise you I'll get it before he leaves the apartment."


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