« IndietroContinua »
garding the neat buckskin shoe on his gently swinging foot —“I speak for a considerable majority of the people — demand the return of the stolen funds belonging to them. Our terms go very little further than that. They are very simple. As an accredited spokesman, I promise that our interference will cease if they are accepted. Give up the money, and you and your companion will be permitted to proceed wherever you will. In fact, assistance will be given you in the matter of securing a passage by any outgoing vessel you may choose. It is on my personal responsibility that I add congratulations to the gentleman in Number 10 upon his taste in feminine charms."
Returning his cigar to his mouth, Goodwin observed her, and saw that her eyes followed it and rested upon it with icy and significant concentration. Apparently she had not heard a word he had said. He understood, tossed the cigar out the window, and, with an amused laugh, slid from the table to his feet.
“ That is better," said the lady. “It makes it possible for me to listen to you. For a second lesson in good manners, you might now tell me by whom I am being insulted.”
“I am sorry,” said Goodwin, leaning one hand on
the table," that my time is too brief for devoting much of it to a course of etiquette. Come, now; I appeal to your good sense.
You have shown yourself, in more than one instance, to be well aware of what is to your advantage. This is an occasion that demands the exercise of your undoubted intelligence. There is no mystery here. I am Frank Goodwin ; and I have come for the money. I entered this room at a venture. Had I entered the other I would have had it before now. Do you want it in words? The gentleman in Number 10 has betrayed a great trust. He has robbed his people of a large sum, and it is I who will prevent their losing it. I do not say who that gentleman is; but if I should be forced to see him and he should prove to be a certain high official of the republic, it will be my duty to arrest him. The house is guarded. I am offering you liberal terms. It is not absolutely necessary that I confer personally with the gentleman in the next room. Bring me the valise containing the money, and we will call the affair ended.”
The lady arose from her chair and stood for a moment, thinking deeply.
“Do you live here, Mr. Goodwin ? ” she asked, presently.
“ What is your authority for this intrusion?”
“I am an instrument of the republic. I was advised by wire of the movements of the — gentleman in Number 10."
“May I ask you two or three questions? I believe
you to be a man more apt to be truthful than timid. What sort of a town is this — Coralio, I think they call it?”
“Not much of a town," said Goodwin, smiling. “ A banana town, as they run. Grass huts, 'dobes, five or six two-story houses, accommodations limited, population half-breed Spanish and Indian, Caribs and blackamoors. No sidewalks to speak of, no amusements. Rather unmoral. That's an offhand sketch, of course." “ Are there any inducements, say
inducements, say in a social or in a business way, for people to reside here?”
Oh, yes," answered Goodwin, smiling broadly. “ There are no afternoon teas, no hand-organs, no department stores -- and there is no extradition treaty."
“He told me,” went on the lady, speaking as if to herself, and with a slight frown, “that there were towns on this coast of beauty and importance; that there was a pleasing social order — especially an American colony of cultured residents.”
There is an American colony,” said Goodwin, gazing at her in some wonder. 6 Some of the members are all right. Some are fugitives from justice from the States. I recall two exiled bank presidents, one army paymaster under a cloud, a couple of manslayers, and a widow — arsenic, I believe, was the suspicion in her case. I myself complete the colony, but, as yet, I have not distinguished myself by any particular crime.”
Do not lose hope,” said the lady, dryly; “I see nothing in your actions to-night to guarantee you further obscurity. Some mistake has been made; I do not know just where. But him you shall not disturb to-night. The journey has fatigued him so that he has fallen asleep, I think, in his clothes. You talk of stolen money! I do not understand you. Some mistake has been made. I will convince you. Remain where you are and I will bring you the valise that you seem to covet so, and show it to you.”
She moved toward the closed door that connected the two rooms, but stopped, and half turned and bestowed upon Goodwin a grave, searching look that ended in a quizzical smile.
“ You force my door,” she said, “ and you follow your ruffianly behaviour with the basest accusations; and yet ”- she hesitated, as if to reconsider what she was about to say —" and yet — it is a puzzling thing I am sure there has been some mistake.”
She took a step toward the door, but Goodwin stayed her by a light touch upon her arm. I have said before that women turned to look at him in the streets. He was the viking sort of man, big, goodlooking, and with an air of kindly truculence. She was dark and proud, glowing or pale as her mood moved her. I do not know if Eve were light or dark, , but if such a woman had stood in the garden I know that the apple would have been eaten. This woman was to be Goodwin's fate, and he did not know it; but he must have felt the first throes of destiny, for, as he faced her, the knowledge of what report named her turned bitter in his throat.
“ If there has been any mistake," he said, hotly, “ it was yours. I do not blame the man who has lost his country, his honour, and is about to lose the poor consolation of his stolen riches as much as I blame you, for, by Heaven! I can very well see how he was brought to it. I can understand, and pity him. It is such women as you that strew this degraded coast with wretched exiles, that make men forget their trusts, that drag --"
The lady interrupted him with a weary gesture.