Read CHAPTER X - TWO SURPRISES of A Man of Mark, free online book, by Anthony Hope, on ReadCentral.com.

It is a sad necessity that compels us to pry into the weaknesses of our fellow-creatures, and seek to turn them to our own profit.  I am not philosopher enough to say whether this course of conduct derives any justification from its universality, but in the region of practice, I have never hesitated to place myself on a moral level with those with whom I had to deal.  I may occasionally even have left the other party to make this needful adjustment, and I have never known him fail to do so.  I felt, therefore, very little scruple in making use of the one weak spot discoverable in the defenses of our redoubtable opponent, his Excellency the President of Aureataland.  No doubt the reader’s eye has before now detected the joint in that great man’s armor at which we directed our missile.  As a lover, I grudged the employment of the signorina in this service; as a politician, I was proud of the device; as a human being, I recognized, what we are very ready to recognize, that it did not become me to refuse to work with such instruments as appeared to be put into my hands.

But whatever may be the verdict of moralists on our device, events proved its wisdom.  The President had no cause to suspect a trap; therefore, like a sensible man, he chose to spend the evening with the signorina rather than with his gallant officers.  With equally good taste, he elected to spend it tete-a-tete with her, when she gave him the opportunity.  In our subsequent conversations, the signorina was not communicative as to how the early hours of the evening passed.  She preferred to begin her narrative from the point when their solitude was interrupted.  As I rely on her account and that of the colonel for this part of my story, I am compelled to make my start from the same moment.  It appears that at a few minutes past eleven o’clock, when the President was peacefully smoking a cigar and listening to the conversation of his fair guest (whom he had galvanized into an affected liveliness by alarming remarks on her apparent preoccupation), there fell upon his ear the sound of a loud knocking at the door.  Dinner had been served in a small room at the back of the house, and the President could not command a view of the knocker without going out on to the veranda, which ran all round the house, and walking round to the front.  When the knock was heard, the signorina started up.

“Don’t disturb yourself, pray,” said his Excellency, politely.  “I gave special instructions that I was visible to no one this evening.  But I was wondering whether it could be Johnny Carr.  I want to speak to him for a moment, and I’ll just go round outside and see if it is.”

As he spoke, a discreet tap was heard at the door.

“Yes?” said the President.

“Mr. Carr is at the door and particularly wants to see your Excellency.  An urgent matter, he says.”

“Tell him I’ll come round and speak to him from the veranda,” replied the President.

He turned to the window, and threw it open to step out.

Let me tell what followed in the signorina’s words.

“Just then we heard a sound of a number of horses galloping up.  The President stopped and said: 

“‘Hallo! what’s up?’

“Then there was a shout and a volley of shots, and I heard the colonel’s voice cry: 

“‘Down with your arms; down, I say, or you’re dead men.’

“The President stepped quickly across the room to his escritoire, took up his revolver, went back to the window, passed through it, and without a word disappeared.  I could not hear even the sound of his foot on the veranda.

“I heard one more shot ­then a rush of men to the door, and the colonel burst in, with sword and revolver in his hands, and followed by ten or a dozen men.

“I ran to him, terrified, and cried: 

“‘Oh, is anyone hurt?’

“He took no notice, but asked hastily: 

“‘Where is he?’

“I pointed to the veranda, and gasped: 

“‘He went out there.’  Then I turned to one of the men and said again: 

“‘Is anyone hurt?’

“‘Only Mr. Carr,’ he replied.  ’The rest of ’em were a precious sight too careful of themselves.’

“‘And is he killed?’

“‘Don’t think he’s dead, miss,’ he said; ’but he’s hurt badly.”

“As I turned again, I saw the President standing quite calmly in the window.  When the colonel saw him he raised his revolver and said: 

“‘Do you yield, General Whittingham?  We are twelve to one.’

“As he spoke, every man covered the President with his aim.  The latter stood facing the twelve revolvers, his own weapon hanging loosely in his left hand.  Then, smiling, he said a little bitterly: 

“’Heroics are not in my line, McGregor.  I suppose this is a popular rising ­that is to say, you have bribed my men, murdered my best friend, and beguiled me with the lures of that ­’

“I could not bear the words that hung on his lips, and with a sob I fell on a sofa and hid my face.

“‘Well, we mustn’t use hard names,’ he went on, in a gentler tone.  ’We are all as God made us.  I give in,’ and, throwing down his weapon, he asked, ‘Have you quite killed Carr?’

“‘I don’t know,’ said the colonel, implying plainly that he did not care either.

“‘I suppose it was you that shot him?’

“The colonel nodded.

“The President yawned, and looked at his watch.

“‘As I have no part in to-night’s performance,’ said he, ’I presume I am at liberty to go to bed?’

“The colonel said shortly: 

“‘Where’s the bedroom?’

“‘In there,’ said the President, waving his hand to a door facing that by which the colonel had entered.

“‘Permit me,’ said the latter.  He went in, no doubt to see if there were any other egress.  Returning shortly he said: 

“‘My men must stay here, and you must leave the door open.’

“‘I have no objection,’ said the President.  ’No doubt they will respect my modesty.’

“’Two of you stay in this room.  Two of you keep watch in the veranda, one at this window, the other at the bedroom window.  I shall put three more sentries outside.  General Whittingham is not to leave this room.  If you hear or see anything going on in there, go in and put him under restraint.  Otherwise treat him with respect.’

“‘I thank you for your civility,’ said the President, ’also for the compliment implied in these precautions.  Is it over this matter of the debt that your patriotism has drawn you into revolt?’

“‘I see no use in discussing public affairs at this moment,’ the colonel replied.  ’And my presence is required elsewhere.  I regret that I cannot relieve you of the presence of these men, but I do not feel I should be justified in accepting your parole.’

“The President did not seem to be angered at this insult.

“‘I have not offered it,’ he said simply.  ’It is better you should take your own measures.  Need I detain you, colonel?’

“The colonel did not answer him, but turned to me and said: 

“‘Signorina Nugent, we wait only for you, and time is precious.’

“‘I will follow you in a moment,’ I said, with my head still among the cushions.

“‘No, come now,’ he commanded.

“Looking up, I saw a smile on the President’s face.  As I rose reluctantly, he also got up from the chair into which he had flung himself, and stopped me with a gesture.  I was terribly afraid that he was going to say something hard to me, but his voice only expressed a sort of amused pity.

“‘The money, was it, signorina?’ he said.  ’Young people and beautiful people should not be mercenary.  Poor child! you had better have stood by me.’

“I answered him nothing, but went out with the colonel, leaving him seated again in his chair, surveying with some apparent amusement the two threatening sentries who stood at the door.  The colonel hurried me out of the house, saying: 

“’We must ride to the barracks.  If the news gets there before us, they may cut up rough.  You go home.  Your work is done.’

“So they mounted and rode away, leaving me in the road.  There were no signs of any struggle, except the door hanging loose on its hinges, and a drop or two of blood on the steps where they had shot poor Johnny Carr.  I went straight home, and what happened in the next few hours at the Golden House I don’t know, and, knowing how I left the President, I cannot explain.  I went home, and cried till I thought my heart would break.”

Thus far the signorina.  I must beg to call special attention to the closing lines of her narrative.  But before I relate the very startling occurrence to which she refers, we must return to the barracks, where, it will be remembered, matters were in a rather critical condition.  When the officers saw their messroom suddenly filled with armed men, and heard the alarming order issued by the colonel, their attention was effectually diverted from me.  They crowded together on one side of the table, facing the colonel and his men on the other.  Assisted by the two men sent to my aid, I seized the opportunity to push my way through them and range myself by the side of my leader.  After a moment’s pause the colonel began: 

“The last thing we should desire, gentlemen,” he said, “is to resort to force.  But the time for explanation is short.  The people of Aureataland have at last risen against the tyranny they have so long endured.  General Whittingham has proved a traitor to the cause of freedom; he won his position in the name of liberty; he has used it to destroy liberty.  The voice of the people has declared him to have forfeited his high office.  The people have placed in my hand the sword of vengeance.  Armed with this mighty sanction, I have appealed to the army.  The army has proved true to its traditions ­true to its character of the protector, not the oppressor, of the people.  Gentlemen, will you who lead the army take your proper place?”

There was no reply to this moving appeal.  He advanced closer to them, and went on: 

“There is no middle way.  You are patriots or traitors ­friends of liberty or friends of tyranny.  I stand here to offer you either a traitor’s death, or, if you will, life, honor, and the satisfaction of all your just claims.  Do you mistrust the people?  I, as their representative, here offer you every just due the people owes you ­debts which had long been paid but for the greed of that great traitor.”

As he said this he took from his men some bags of money, and threw them on the table with a loud chink.  Major DeChair glanced at the bags, and glanced at his comrades, and said: 

“In the cause of liberty God forbid we should be behind.  Down with the tyrant!”

And all the pack yelped in chorus!

“Then, gentlemen, to the head of your men,” said the colonel, and going to the window, he cried to the throng: 

“Men, your noble officers are with us.”

A cheer answered him.  I wiped my forehead, and said to myself, “That’s well over.”

I will not weary the reader with our further proceedings.  Suffice it to say we marshaled our host and marched down to the Piazza.  The news had spread by now, and in the dimly breaking morning light we saw the Square full of people ­men, women, and children.  As we marched in there was a cheer, not very hearty ­a cheer propitiatory, for they did not know what we meant to do.  The colonel made them a brief speech, promising peace, security, liberty, plenty, and all the goods of heaven.  In a few stern words he cautioned them against “treachery,” and announced that any rebellion against the Provisional Government would meet with swift punishment.  Then he posted his army in companies, to keep watch till all was quiet.  And at last he said: 

“Now, Martin, come back to the Golden House, and let’s put that fellow in a safe place.”

“Yes,” said I; “and have a look for the money.”  For really, in the excitement, it seemed as if there was a danger of the most important thing of all being forgotten.

The dawn was now far advanced, and as we left the Piazza, we could see the Golden House at the other end of the avenue.  All looked quiet, and the sentries were gently pacing to and fro.  Drawing nearer, we saw two or three of the President’s servants busied about their ordinary tasks.  One woman was already deleting Johnny Carr’s life-blood with a mop and a pail of water; and a carpenter was at work repairing the front-door.  Standing by it was the doctor’s brougham.

“Come to see Carr, I suppose,” said I.

Leaving our horses to the care of the men who were with us we entered the house.  Just inside we met the doctor himself.  He was a shrewd little fellow, named Anderson, generally popular and, though a personal friend of the President’s, not openly identified with either political party.

“I have a request to make to you, sir,” he said to McGregor, “about Mr. Carr.”

“Well, is he dead?” said the colonel.  “If he is, he’s got only himself to thank for it.”

The doctor wisely declined to discuss this question, and confined himself to stating that Johnny was not dead.  On the contrary, he was going on nicely.

“But,” he went on, “quiet is essential, and I want to take him to my house, out of the racket.  No doubt it is pretty quiet here now, but ­”

The colonel interrupted: 

“Will he give his parole not to escape?”

“My dear sir,” said the doctor, “the man couldn’t move to save his life ­and he’s asleep now.”

“You must wake him up to move him, I suppose,” said the colonel.  “But you may take him.  Let me know when he’s well enough to see me.  Meanwhile I hold you responsible for his good behavior.”

“Certainly,” said the doctor.  “I am content to be responsible for Mr. Carr.”

“All right; take him and get out.  Now for Whittingham!”

“Hadn’t we better get the money first?” said I.

“Damn the money!” he replied.  “But I tell you what ­I must have a bit of food.  I’ve tasted nothing for twelve hours.”

One of the servants hearing him, said: 

“Breakfast can be served in a moment, sir.”  And he ushered us into the large dining room, where we soon had an excellent meal.

When we had got through most of it, I broke the silence by asking: 

“What are you going to do with him?”

“I should like to shoot him,” said the colonel.

“On what charge?”

“Treachery,” he replied.

I smiled.

“That would hardly do, would it?”

“Well, then, embezzlement of public funds.”

We had a little talk about the President’s destiny, and I tried to persuade the colonel to milder measures.  In fact, I was determined to prevent such a murder if I could without ruin to myself.

“Well, we’ll consider it when we’ve seen him,” said the colonel, rising and lighting a cigarette.  “By Jove! we’ve wasted an hour breakfasting ­it’s seven o’clock.”

I followed him along the passage, and we entered the little room where we had left the President.  The sentries were still there, each seated in an armchair.  They were not asleep, but looked a little drowsy.

“All right?” said the colonel.

“Yes, Excellency,” said one of them.  “He is in there in bed.”

He went into the inner room and began to undo the shutters, letting in the early sun.

We passed through the half-opened door and saw a peaceful figure lying in the bed, whence proceeded a gentle snore.

“Good nerve, hasn’t he?” said the colonel.

“Yes; but what a queer night-cap!” I said, for the President’s head was swathed in white linen.

The colonel strode quickly up to the bed.

“Done, by hell!” he cried.  “It’s Johnny Carr!”

It was true; there lay Johnny.  His Excellency was nowhere to be seen.

The colonel shook Johnny roughly by the arm.  The latter opened his eyes and said sleepily: 

“Steady there.  Kindly remember I’m a trifle fragile.”

“What’s this infernal plot?  Where’s Whittingham?”

“Ah, it’s McGregor,” said Johnny, with a bland smile, “and Martin.  How are you, old fellow?  Some beast’s hit me on the head.”

“Where’s Whittingham?” reiterated the colonel, savagely shaking Johnny’s arm.

“Gently!” said I; “after all, he’s a sick man.”

The colonel dropped the arm with a muttered oath, and Johnny said, sweetly: 

“Quits, isn’t it, colonel?”

The colonel turned from him, and said to his men sternly: 

“Have you had any hand in this?”

They protested vehemently that they were as astonished as we were; and so they were, unless they acted consummately.  They denied that anyone had entered the outer room or that any sound had proceeded from the inner.  They swore they had kept vigilant watch, and must have seen an intruder.  Both the men inside were the colonel’s personal servants, and he believed their honesty; but what of their vigilance?

Carr heard him sternly questioning them, on which he said: 

“Those chaps aren’t to blame, colonel.  I didn’t come in that way.  If you’ll take a look behind the bed, you’ll see another door.  They brought me in there.  I was rather queer and only half knew what was up.”

We looked and saw a door where he said.  Pushing the bed aside, we opened it, and found ourselves on the back staircase of the premises.  Clearly the President had noiselessly opened this door and got out.  But how had Carr got in without noise?

The sentry came up, and said: 

“Every five minutes, sir, I looked and saw him on the bed.  He lay for the first hour in his clothes.  The next look, he was undressed.  It struck me he’d been pretty quick and quiet about it, but I thought no more.”

“Depend upon it, the dressed man was the President, the undressed man Carr!  When was that?”

“About half-past two, sir; just after the doctor came.”

“The doctor!” we cried.

“Yes, sir; Dr. Anderson.”

“You never told me he had been here.”

“He never went into the President’s ­into General Whittingham’s room, sir; but he came in here for five minutes, to get some brandy, and stood talking with us for a time.  Half an hour after he came in for some more.”

We began to see how it was done.  That wretched little doctor was in the plot.  Somehow or other he had communicated with the President; probably he knew of the door.  Then, I fancied, they must have worked something in this way.  The doctor comes in to distract the sentries, while his Excellency moves the bed.  Finding that they took a look every five minutes, he told the President.  Then he went and got Johnny Carr ready.  Returning, he takes the President’s place on the bed, and in that character undergoes an inspection.  The moment this is over, he leaps up and goes out.  Between them they bring in Carr, put him into bed, and slip out through the narrow space of open door behind the bedstead.  When all was done, the doctor had come back to see if any suspicion had been aroused.

“I have it now!” cried the colonel.  “That infernal doctor’s done us both.  He couldn’t get Whittingham out of the house without leave, so he’s taken him as Carr!  Swindled me into giving my leave.  Ah, look out, if we meet, Mr. Doctor!”

We rushed out of the house and found this conjecture was true.  The man who purported to be Carr had been carried out, enveloped in blankets, just as we sat down to breakfast; the doctor had put him into the carriage, followed himself, and driven rapidly away.

“Which way did they go?”

“Toward the harbor, sir,” the sentry replied.

The harbor could be reached in twenty minutes’ fast driving.  Without a word the colonel sprang on his horse; I imitated him, and we galloped as hard as we could, everyone making way before our furious charge.  Alas! we were too late.  As we drew rein on the quay we saw, half a mile out to sea and sailing before a stiff breeze, Johnny Carr’s little yacht, with the Aureataland flag floating defiantly at her masthead.

We gazed at it blankly, with never a word to say, and turned our horses’ heads.  Our attention was attracted by a small group of men standing round the storm-signal post.  As we rode up, they hastily scattered, and we saw pinned to the post a sheet of note-paper.  Thereupon was written in a well-known hand: 

“I, Marcus W. Whittingham, President of the Republic of Aureataland, hereby offer a REWARD of FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS and a FREE PARDON to any person or persons assisting in the CAPTURE, ALIVE or DEAD, of GEORGE MCGREGOR (late Colonel in the Aureataland Army) and JOHN MARTIN, Bank Manager, and I do further proclaim the said George McGregor and John Martin to be traitors and rebels against the Republic, and do pronounce their lives forfeited.  Which sentence let every loyal citizen observe at his peril.

  “MARCUS W. WHITTINGHAM,

  “President.”

Truly, this was pleasant!