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The Law Of Flight by A. E. W. Mason

 

I WAS in Colombia during a recent year. I travelled for a night up the Magdalena River to Calamar whence I was to take the train to Cartagena. On the big stern-wheel steamer I dined with my friend George Peacham, the Consul for the United States at Barranquilla; and, our conversation running upon the Central American Republics in several of which he had served, he told me the following story. I relate it to the best of my recollection in the words which he used.

II

The country of Ensenada has all the useful climates, tropical, sub-tropical and temperate. It is therefore a pasturage, a cornfield, an orchard and a plantation. It has more than its share of the world's liquid minerals and quite its share of the world's hard metals. It is therefore also an oilfield and a mine. It has the most accommodating rainfall that ever was known; a string of large cities; and a constitution and a code which, for moral uplift, leave all other written documents at the post. It has an Air Force with Aces, which is remarkable, since its Air Force has never yet been engaged in war. And it has Boy Scouts trained in the very spirit of the country, as may be judged from their parade-drill which, admirably performed, represents the execution of a comrade for treachery. And yet it breeds now and then a discontented intellectual. Against the names of such people there are naturally black marks.

My friend Anton de Hoyos, owner and editor of the daily newspaper La Libertad—ill-omened name!—was one of them. I was, therefore, not surprised to receive from him one evening a very urgent summons, written in a very shaky hand. I found his house in the wide Paseo, shuttered from the basement to the attic, so anxious were its inhabitants to escape attention. I rang the bell and the door swung open on the instant. Someone had been waiting for me behind the panels. The hall was as black as a cavern. But for the whine of the hinges I should not have noticed that the door had been opened.

"Will you come in, please, Senor Peacham?"

The voice came out of the darkness low and steady but desolate. I recognized it, of course. Otherwise I should not have stepped in so trustfully. It was the voice of old Concepcion Pardo who had been Anton's nurse and now ruled his widower's household with a flail. I heard her lock, bolt and chain the door behind me. Then she shuffled along the passage past me and at the end, beyond the stairs, she turned on one small light.

"Something grave has happened?" I asked foolishly.

Concepcion was a woman of vociferous outcries and the vocabulary of a Chatauqua lecturer, and it all meant nothing at all. Now she was dumb and her silence was tremendous. She raised both her hands above her head and shook them, and I could see by the feeble light that the tears were running down her wrinkled face. She climbed heavily up the stairs with me at her heels. I don't think that I have ever had so utter a sense of catastrophe. I had a ridiculous feeling that the big dark house was aching like a person in pain. I am sure that, except for Anton, old Concepcion and myself, it was empty.

Concepcion showed me into a fine painted room on the first floor and closed the door softly. The room was in the front of the house looking over the Paseo, and though only a single light burned by the bedside, the windows were shuttered and curtained so that not a gleam should escape. The heat of the room was stifling. Anton de Hoyos lay in a great satin-wood bed, his face flushed, the sweat in beads upon his forehead and his eyes glassy with fever—or fear.

"You are ill, Anton," I said, as I walked round the great bed to his side, and once more I despised myself for my banality. Everything I said was so far below the occasion.

"That is nothing," he said eagerly. "A chill and a touch of fever. I can travel safely enough."

It was a curious phrase for a sick man in bed to use. Why should he be in such haste to travel? And why should he be so anxious to convince me that he could travel?

I took his hand and sat down in the chair placed ready for me by the bed. I felt perfectly certain that I should only say something dreadfully silly and commonplace if I opened my mouth again. So I kept silent. Anton de Hoyos needed no button pushed to set him going.

"The Government has suppressed La Libertad today." Certainly La Libertad had not of late been admiring either the efficiency or the incorruptibility of the Government.

"Just for a day or two, no doubt, to teach you a lesson," I said, speaking lightly.

"No, for good," he answered; and I could no longer pretend to make little of his misfortune. For he revelled in the conduct of his newspaper, magnifying its influence, flaunting its independence, strutting upon an imaginary stage in dazzling armour whilst his wicked enemies quailed before him.

"Oh, come!" I protested. "That's too strong a measure even for those gentlemen."

Anton de Hoyos shook his head.

"I have been expecting it for a long while," he said with a quiet indifference which amazed me at first and then distressed me tremendously. For some shocking danger must needs be threatening him before he could count the loss of that daily battle of such small account.

"If it was only the paper that was to be suppressed—" he began, and suddenly he shivered to the soles of his feet and broke against his will into little whimperings. I was never so startled nor so distressed in my life. I had never seen fear so stark, so—so abject. "I have one friend amongst them who comes to me secretly," he continued, rubbing the back of his hand to and fro across his forehead with a curious restless gesture. "He tells me that to-morrow the President will contradict what I say about the corruption at the silver mines and will announce that he is sending me to them with an escort to protect me, so that I may discover the truth for myself."

In spite of myself I started back in my chair.

"Yes, you understand what the escort to protect me means," said Anton, and he turned his head away upon the pillow so that I should not see the quivering of his lips.

"The Ley Fuga," I said in a low voice.

That convenient simple law which gave any escort the right to shoot any prisoner on the pretence that he was trying to escape. Suppose that a public trial was coming on, which would provoke some awkward talk! You transfer the prisoner to a second prison, and on the way the law of flight takes its course. All the troublesome little revelations are avoided and the prisoner demonstrably guilty—otherwise he wouldn't have tried to run away. So with Anton de Hoyos shivering here in his bed. Despatched—and despatched is certainly the word—across the mountains to verify his statements, he proves by running away that he daren't face the facts, and he is protected from causing us any anxiety in the future by the Law of Flight. I could not find a hope in all this for Anton de Hoyos.

"There is one," he cried, breaking in upon my thoughts and startling me by his ability to read them. "Just one." He was leaning up on one elbow, his eyes fixed anxiously upon mine. "They don't know that I've been informed of their intentions. They won't move until after the President has made his pronouncement. And the Express for the frontier leaves at five o'clock in the morning."

"Yes," said I. "To-morrow's Sunday, certainly."

There was one through train a week which made the two-days' journey without a change or any halt for longer than half an hour.

"But I have no visa for your country on my passport," he went on timidly like someone asking an immense favour.

"That?" I exclaimed. "I can take your passport down to the office, visa it and bring it back to you now. But—" and I stopped, for he had fallen back upon his pillows, as though every trouble he had in the world was at an end.

For my part, I couldn't really see that he was much better off than before and no doubt my face once more showed my hopelessness.

"You are thinking of money," he said. "But I am in no anxiety about money. I have been sending money for some years into the United States. I have enough there to start a little printing business at Los Angeles. I shall give lessons in Spanish too. In time I hope to print a small newspaper"—and he ran off cheerfully into this and that speculation and project, making mention of his age, which was forty-three years, and painting all his future in the rosiest tints. Unfortunately, as events proved, I did not listen to these rather hysterical anticipations. I wasn't thinking about money at all, as he imagined. I was saying to myself:

"He will have two days in the train before he reaches the border. To-morrow during the morning it will be discovered that he has bolted. Either to-morrow night or the next day he will be picked off the train and for once the Law of Flight will be carried out upon a real fugitive."

I could hardly put the point so crudely to Anton de Hoyos, but I managed to convey it discreetly wrapped up. Anton, however, was not troubled at all by any anxiety upon those grounds.

"So long as I can reach the station, board the train and leave Ensenada City a mile or two behind me, with your visa upon my passport, I have no fear," he said. He tapped me upon the arm. "Paul Taylor guarantees me."

"Guarantee!" I growled, a little too roughly, no doubt. "There's a word for you! What does it mean? How can Paul Taylor guarantee anything?"

Anton just smiled indulgently. You and I working along recognized lines are bound to go wrong in forecasting what is likely to happen in those topsy-turvy countries. Anton de Hoyos knew exactly what he was talking about. The one person in Ensenada City who could get for you the solitary drawing-room on the solitary Pullman Car on the weekly Express, who could ensure that you would be treated throughout your journey like a Prince of the Blood Royal, was not the station-master nor the chief of the Booking Office in the town, nor even the Minister of the Railways, but just Paul Taylor, the negro porter of the American Club. He had been Pullman Car conductor on the Santa Fe Railway, thence he had moved south to the Ensenada State Railway; now if he came out of his porter's hutch at the Club and said, "Yes, sir, that goes,"—why, it went and it didn't cost you so very much either. It was always worth the price. So much I knew. But to guarantee the flight of a man whom the Administration proposed to kill—that was a strong order. However, Anton de Hoyos was satisfied. So I took his passport over to my office, stamped it and signed it and, making sure that I was not followed, I carried it back to the house in the Paseo. Anton clasped it to his breast with a look of exultation in his eyes, just like a hero on the Stage, clasping a reprieve in the shadow of the gallows.

But if Anton was satisfied, I wasn't. That word "guarantee" stuck in my throat. It's a ridiculous word, anyway. It's thrown about right and left, and people eat it, don't they? "Is this good whisky?" you ask, and the salesman stares at you as if you were an idiot. "Why, of course it is, it's guaranteed." "Will this watch go?" you inquire, having experience of watches which didn't. "Go?" says the shopman haughtily. "So-and-so's watches are guaranteed." And then your whisky lays you out and your watch stops for good on the second day.

I left the house in the Paseo as discontented as any intellectual. I walked down into the town and dropped into the American Club. Paul Taylor, six feet of broad-shouldered negro, stood in the doorway.

"Paul," said I in a low voice. "What of Senor Anton de Hoyos? He's a friend of mine."

Paul's face became one broad grin and two sets of white flashing teeth.

"That is all organized from the top to the bottom, yes, sir," said he.

And somehow I felt reassured. At all events he used a better phrase than guarantee. And also he was right. The train was searched twice on its way to the frontier, but the assistant in the kitchen, who was Anton de Hoyos, escaped a close inspection on both occasions. No doubt a reasonable sum of money had been paid. Anton settled down at Los Angeles and wrote me a letter full of gratitude. All the fine ideas of which he had told me and to which unfortunately I hadn't listened, were working out finely. He was full of confidence and, I thought, a trifle arrogant too. I couldn't help remembering the sick man shivering with terror under his bedclothes. For me, later in the year I was promoted from Vice-Consul to Consul and transferred to Marazan, the big town upon the border.

III

Anyone who knows Marazan will realize that a Consul's position there means time and overtime. The frontier neatly divides the long main street, the Calle Ensenada, into two halves, the southern side being the territory of Ensenada State; and a town which enables you to pass from one country into another by merely stepping across a tramline offers remarkable allurements to a certain type of people. The rabble of a continent washes to and fro in Marazan and I was kept busy. So busy that the Charles Landau Grand Opera Company had completed three weeks of its month's season before I even thought of taking a seat, passionately fond of music though I am. Others no less fond had been less remiss, so that when I did go to the box-office, the only stall which I could obtain was for the very last night—a gala performance at increased prices, the programme to consist of selections from the various operas of the Repertoire so that the chief singers might say farewell in their favourite characters.

The Square in front of the Opera House was on that last night as bright as day under the blaze of the great arc-lights and so crowded with onlookers running and pressing to stare into the windows of the motor-cars and the old-fashioned country carriages that every minute I expected some dreadful accident. Inside the auditorium there was a clack-clack of stalls being unfolded like continuous musketry, the women in their shimmering frocks were jewelled from their toes to their hair, and the young bloods had made the rare concession of white ties and swallow-tail coats. There was that atmosphere of suspense and excitement which makes a crowd neighbourly. Everybody was chattering and I soon learned that the great success of the season had been achieved by a young diva, Margarita Sabani, who had made her debut the year before in a minor part at the New York Metropolitan Opera House and was now trying her wings on tour in the great roles.

Then for a moment there was a sudden hush as a tall, good-looking, fair-haired young man appeared all alone in the big box on the first tier next to the stage. He flung his overcoat into one chair, his hat on to a second, stood for a few seconds surveying the crowded house like a lord and then seated himself with complete unconcern in the middle chair of the row. He was my ideal of an Englishman.

But he wasn't an Englishman at all. For the chatter burst out all around me, all the more voluble for that moment of restraint, and very quickly put me wise.

"That's Ignacio."

"Well, he was certain to be here."

A shriller voice rose high above the others.

"Of course. Ignacio has occupied that box alone every night that the Sabani has sung. My dear, they're outrageously in love."

"It's whispered that he's going to marry her."

"It's true. They tell me that his old father roars about the house like a bull all day, and declares that he'd rather see his son lying dead at his feet."

The shrill voice died away as the conductor took his place and under the magic of his wand, from the peons in the gallery to the notables in the stalls, the whole house was hushed. But I had my information up to date. Ignacio was the son of Herriberto Reyes, the millionaire landowner, who could boast an unbroken pedigree from a Spanish adventurer of the sixteenth century. Herriberto was seventy-five years of age now, vain of his wealth and proud of his blood, and I could quite imagine him bellowing about his finca over the contumacy of his son.

Very natural, no doubt, but I was heart and soul for Ignacio as soon as Margarita Sabani stepped out upon the stage. "Madame" of course she called herself, but she was little more than a girl, tall and slim with a face rather classic in its outlines, but redeemed from coldness by a smile which set the dimples playing in her cheeks and by an aura of happiness which enveloped her. The part which she had chosen was that of Cherubino in "The Marriage of Figaro." And when she took the stage, spruce and trim in her white satin coat and breeches and her scarlet-heeled shoes, she set the house on fire. All through the evening the audience had been waiting just for her and it rose at her with a roar like a great wave breaking upon a beach. She was obviously nervous, and as the applause continued, all of us at all events who were near to the orchestra read an appeal in her big dark eyes to let her get on with her scene before she broke down.

With her first note, however, her embarrassment vanished. She was in her part and her voice poured from her throat, clear and effortless and liquid like the song of a blackbird on your lawn on a summer's morning.

She was entrancing, and I wasn't surprised to see Ignacio Reyes strain forward over the ledge as though his soul were on the stage with her and only the shell of him in the box.

And that was the last time in her life that Margarita Sabani sang. Yes! Though she spoke, to be sure. Yes, she spoke two words. For after the curtain had been raised twenty times, after Ignacio, even, had left his box, she was called back once more. She stretched out her hands towards her friends, she cried on a note which soared like a flute above the uproar, "Arrivederci!"—and then clasping her hands over her face she ran headlong from the stage. As I mounted the winding staircase from the stalls, I saw Ignacio waiting halfway up at the little iron door which led on to the stage.

IV

The rare enjoyment of an evening like that was not to be frittered away by gossip in a cafe! I took it all home with me to bed. But at three o'clock in the morning I was waked up by a continuous ringing of my doorbell. I looked out of my window and saw the top of a man's hat and an arm stretched out to the button of the bell.

"What do you want?" I asked.

The man looked up. He was quite a stranger to me, but I could see by the light of a standard that under his open overcoat he was wearing evening dress.

"I am Charles Landau," he said.

"Of the Opera Company?" I inquired with that sort of foolish redundancy of which one never seems to rid oneself.

"Yes."

"I'll be down in a minute," said I.

Something dejected in the man's appearance and speech disturbed me. I slipped some clothes on over my pyjamas, let him in, took him into my little library and turned on the light. He was a small round Jewish man who somehow reminded me of an idol. But he was, on the other hand, intensely agitated which, after all, an idol cannot be.

"Margarita Sabani has disappeared," he said, standing in front of me, his short arms spread out, his brown gentle eyes actually abrim with tears.

I couldn't help smiling. The Opera tour was finished that night. I recollected now that some weeks ago I had stamped my visa on Ignacio Reyes' passport. This little man must look out for a new prima donna—that was all.

"It was to be expected," I returned. "But such things have happened no doubt before in your experience. They might, however, have left a word for you. That certainly was not polite."

"They!" he cried. "They!" and with a quite unintelligible relief. "Then, Mr. Peacham, you are in the secret. You don't know what I've been through."

He sat down and clasped his little hands upon his little paunch, the image of a man who has just had a troublesome big back tooth drawn.

"My dear Mr. Landau," said I, "I think you must be the only person in Marazan who is out of the secret. Why, Margarita Sabani and Ignacio Reyes—they are the great romance of the town. They have gone. Well, let us remember we were once young too, and not look for them."

Charles Landau did not move. But all the colour ebbed out of his face. It became a grey mask with a pair of eyes—in which horror glistened.

"Ignacio Reyes is now scouring Marazan for her. He has not spoken to her to-night. He has not seen her except upon the stage."

"But I saw him! He was standing at the iron door which leads on to the stage."

"Margarita had disappeared then."

"Disappeared? There wasn't time for her to disappear."

"Yes."

But it was impossible! A minute before she had been upon the stage decked out in the Court dress of a youth of the eighteenth century, buckles and ruffles and gold-embroidered coat, and she had vanished.

"No," said I violently. "I was born in Missouri. You must show me."

And Charles Landau showed me.

Margarita Sabani, in running off the stage, had found her dresser waiting in the wings with a light wrap of silver tissue. She had flung this over her shoulders and walked quickly to the opening at the back of the stage. In front of her was a short passage leading to a couple of swing doors beyond which were a tiny vestibule, the stage-door-keeper's hutch and the stage-door itself which gave on to a narrow street. On her right was the corridor leading to her dressing-room. At the angle of these passages and just as she was turning into the corridor she was stopped by the stage-door-keeper. He told her that Ignacio was at the stage-door and urgently wanted a word with her. She had seen Ignacio leave his box a moment or two before. She was certainly excited and indeed overcome by the enthusiasm of the audience. She could have expected no harm. So instead of going to her dressing-room she ran down the passage and between the swing doors.

The stage-door-keeper, a man named Garcia Pardo, crossed the stage to deliver a note to one of the company whose dressing-room was upon that side. When the door-keeper returned to his own place he found Margarita's dresser at the angle of the passages. She asked him where Madame Sabani was, since she had certainly not come to her dressing-room. Garcia Pardo replied:

"She went down through the swing doors. I'll find her."

He pushed open the swing doors and went through. The small vestibule was empty. He looked out of the stage-door. The street was empty, too, except for a sergeant of police. In a few minutes it would no doubt be occupied by autograph-hunters and such people as find a diversion in seeing their stage-favourites at close quarters. But they were still struggling out from the exits of the auditorium. Garcia Pardo crossed to the sergeant of police, described Margarita and asked whether he had seen her.

"I have seen nobody," the sergeant replied.

Garcia Pardo returned to the theatre and, according to his statement, was surprised to find Ignacio Reyes standing with Margarita's dresser at the angle of the passages. He had only a moment ago been admitted past the iron door in the proscenium wall.

"I never went round to the stage-door at all. You can't have seen me there," he cried to the door-keeper.

Pardo admitted that he had not seen Ignacio himself.

"A man whom I took to be a messenger of yours, Senor, came to me with word that you wished to see the senora at the stage-door the moment she left the stage."

During the last few moments alarm had been growing. It was now intense. The stage-manager and Charles Landau were sent for, the dressing-rooms were visited, the theatre searched. There was nowhere a sign of the girl, not even a shred from the silver tissue of her cloak.

"Margarita," Charles Landau concluded in a despairing voice, "ran off the stage and out of the world."

Frankly I was appalled. I didn't believe one word of Garcia Pardo's story and I knew this town of Marazan and its froth of bad people, thieves, gamblers, white-slavers and murderers.

"Ignacio Reyes says that his father has done it."

"Exactly," I answered.

That was my thought all along. The old man bellowing in his finca that he would see his son dead first, wouldn't stop at bellowing—not he. Herriberto Reyes was rich, he was powerful, and he wouldn't find the authorities squeamish if he wanted their help. He had had their help. Else how was it that the police sergeant had seen nobody? And what was he doing keeping watch in a little empty street, anyway?

I rose to my feet.

"Just wait here, Mr. Landau, until I have dressed myself decently. Then we'll go and wake up the Comandante. We may still be in time."

But the little man stopped me.

"You can't appear in this case officially, Consul. To attempt it would only mean trouble for you and very probably much humiliation. Margarita Sabani is not a citizen of the United States. She has nothing to do with the United States. She belongs to this country we are in—Ensenada. Her real name is Pilar de Hoyos."

I stood stupidly in front of Charles Landau, swaying, I think, a little on my feet, like a boxer in a ring who has received a blow which has jarred his wits out of him.

"Daughter of Anton de Hoyos?" I asked.

"Of Los Angeles," he returned.

"And Ignacio knew it?"

"No doubt!"

"And no doubt told his father."

Landau didn't answer, but it was certain. The De Hoyos blood was good Spanish blood like the Reyes. Ignacio was certain to have made the most of it to his father. And there, you see, was the dreadful business at last made clear. The rich Herriberto Reyes accommodated and the refugee Anton de Hoyos, the man with the black blot against his name, punished as no man was ever punished in this world. For the girl, young, lovely, adorably happy, snatched away at the moment of triumph into unspeakable horrors—not a thought! She was a pawn upon the chess-board. She didn't count.

The same shocking conviction had taken possession of the little Jewish impresario, too shocking for either of us to put into words. He sat and cried without shame, reproaching himself bitterly for crossing the border into Ensenada.

"Perhaps Ignacio has found her," I said, but I didn't believe it. Neither did Charles Landau.

"He promised to bring her here if he found her. He thought that you would somehow manage to shelter her," he said miserably.

He looked up at the clock upon the mantelshelf. "It is after four o'clock now. There is nothing to be done."

He got up on to his feet with a lamentable little gesture of submission. But I wasn't prepared to submit. A girl kidnapped in the middle of a town to satisfy an old man's pride of race and a Government's thirst for revenge—no! Such things mustn't be, couldn't be, shouldn't be.

"Wait a moment," I said.

I walked up and down the room and at last I got some glimpses of an expedient.

"I can interfere," I said. "The Cherubino dress belongs to you, doesn't it? It's your property. I can raise the whole question of Pilar de Hoyos' disappearance by means of that dress. Yes, I can."

"But not to-night," said Charles Landau; and that was true.

But I couldn't even raise it the next morning. For before ten o'clock the complete costume, neatly folded and packed, was delivered at the stage-door of the Opera House. Can you imagine anything more damnably, cruelly subtle than that? Anton de Hoyos was to know exactly what had happened. Pilar had now no clothes at all and there is only one sort of house where women don't need clothes.

Meanwhile Ignacio Reyes also had disappeared.

But four nights afterwards, at nine o'clock, I heard a cautious knocking upon the window of my library. I went at once to the door. Ignacio Reyes was on the step and another, a shorter and older man, stood behind him.

"Good God!" I exclaimed in a whisper. "Come in quickly."

The smaller man was Anton de Hoyos. I locked the door and took them into the library. Both men were haggard and unshaved, their clothes dishevelled and white with dust, their eyes red for want of sleep.

"You here!" I said to Anton, in consternation. "You are mad."

Anton waved my reproach aside. It wasn't worth an answer. And the last time I had seen this man he was shivering in terror under his bedclothes! Ignacio began to speak at once. I had only once seen him before and never had had a word with him. But he spoke as if we had parted company half an hour ago.

"We know where Margarita is now," he said. His voice was hoarse, his throat dry with the dust of his journey. I mixed him a highball and he threw back his head and took it down at a draught. Then he resumed in quick staccato sentences.

"I had no money, you see. I tried to borrow it that night. But everybody was afraid of my father. Our only chance was money. So I crossed the border before morning. Before I could be stopped. I had just enough money to carry me to Los Angeles."

"I collected six thousand dollars the evening he arrived," Anton interrupted. "I have five thousand still."

"Five thousand American dollars," Ignacio insisted. "They should be enough. For we have all the facts now. I left some friends behind to make inquiries. One man saw all that happened from a dark window opposite the stage-door but was afraid to open his mouth until to-night."

"But your dollars persuaded him," I said to Anton.

"Five hundred of them," he explained.

"This man," Ignacio resumed, "saw a closed motor-car without any lights turn into the street and stop just beyond the stage-door. The sergeant of police was standing on the opposite side of the road and took no notice. The stage-door-keeper was in the doorway and seemed to be on the lookout. Two men, neither of them in a uniform, got out of the car and one spoke to the door-keeper, who at once went back into the theatre. The two men left the door of the car open and planted themselves erect against the wall one on each side of the door, making themselves small. In a few minutes, a boy with a glittering cloak loose upon his shoulders ran out eagerly and looked disappointedly up the street. The two men sprang upon him from behind and the boy screamed like a woman—screamed once. For one of the men gagged him and bound his arms to his side, whilst the other stooped and tied his feet. The boy was flung into the car, the two men jumped in afterwards, and the car whipped out of the street in a flash. The police sergeant all this while had never moved. He was there, of course, to see fair play," said Ignacio, with the most mirthless smile that ever distorted a face. "The boy was Margarita."

"But the man who saw the attack couldn't have followed the car," I objected.

"No. Someone else saw the car stop, saw someone or something carried quickly into a house."

Ignacio named the street, a sordid little alley in the worst quarter of the town, and gave the number of the house, the notorious number which all over the world explains the business carried on behind the door. Then he sprang up.

"We are going now with our money to the Comandante."

Anton de Hoyos got up at the same time and reached for his hat.

"You too!" I exclaimed.

"Yes."

One look at his face showed the futility of any argument.

"Very well, then. I too," said I. "I can at all events ensure that you will see the Comandante."

The Comandante, however, showed not the slightest reluctance to receive us. We were taken into his office and within a few minutes he joined us, a big dark man with a heavy black moustache and quite charming manners.

"Senor Consul," he said, shaking me by the hand; "and Senor Ignacio, and—you have, I see, a friend with you.

"Anton de Hoyos," Anton himself said quietly.

The Comandante blinked. But in a moment he had recovered all his ease.

"There was a time, Senor, when you did not altogether approve of us. But that was all long ago," he said with a friendly wave of the hand. He bade us be seated and asked how he could serve us. I admired Ignacio immensely that night. He neither mentioned himself, nor his father, nor the witness at the dark window, nor the sergeant of police. He stated the fact of Pilar de Hoyos' disappearance and the address at which she was detained, and blamed no one but the rabble which a town like Marazan invites.

The Comandante listened with a grave and troubled face. At the end he said, "I will give an order," and he left the room abruptly. When he returned he said:

"This is a very abominable affair and it will be best for all of us, except Senor Peacham, who is in no way concerned, and for the young lady, that as little scandal as possible should be provoked. The order I gave was that the house should be quietly surrounded and no one allowed to leave or enter it. I shall see to that myself, and as soon as I am sure that every outlet is guarded, I will call for you two gentlemen at your hotel"—this, of course, to Ignacio and Anton—"and we will search the place together."

Ignacio leaned back in his chair with his eyes closed, and all the fatigue of the last four days took him into its possession. He who had told his dreadful story with the dispassion of a lawyer could now only falter out a few poorest words of thanks. Anton de Hoyos drew out his money-case. The big sheaf of yellow-back notes bulged from it.

"There will be expenses, Senor Coronel," he began, and the Comandante stopped him there.

"No, no, my friend, there will be no expenses. Put up that roll, and in half an hour at your hotel."

He conducted the two men to the door and as they went off turned anxiously to me.

"Senor Consul, such an affair could only happen, as Ignacio says, in a town like this where the rogues of all nations run for cover. I beg you not to blame us all."

I protested that I blamed no one. The Comandante shook me by the hand with an air of great relief and I left him to his preparations. I could do nothing more. I went back to my house—but I was a trifle uneasy. I didn't understand the Comandante refusing all that money. It didn't seem natural to me...

Ignacio and Anton never reached their hotel. They were intercepted by a Captain and a guard of soldiers, conducted to the barracks, stripped of everything but their clothes and hustled into a cell. At half-past twelve the Captain fetched them out. He had an order, he said, to transfer them to the little town of Cristobal forty miles away over the mountains. They were to start at once, without food and without blankets. There would be no need for either, you see. For this time the Law of Flight would function. They were taken in a carriage to the outskirts of the town and thence made to march. It was bitterly cold and as soon as morning broke the Captain halted them in the midst of a desolate country. It was the very spot to justify the Ley Fuga, for parallel with the road on which they were and only three hundred yards away ran the road on the other side of the frontier. Who wouldn't take a chance?

Ignacio did the moment the escort stopped, and was shot dead through the back before he had run twenty yards. Anton for his part did not move. He had no wish to live, but as the Captain's pistol swung round on him he turned sideways to the shot instinctively. The bullet tore through his clothes and ploughed the surface of his chest, stunning rather than wounding him. He fell to the ground and the Captain, stepping up to his feet fired again, this time at his head. But Anton's head was tilted back and again the bullet glanced, covering his face with a mask of blood but doing him no mortal hurt. When he came again to his senses the sun was up. He crawled painfully and slowly to the other road. He was just in time. For as he collapsed at the side of it he saw a fatigue party with spades approaching along the lower road from Marazan.

V

This is the story which George Peacham told me on the Magdalena River. I disembarked at Calamar and going by train to Cartagena, took a passage on one of the Fruit Steamers to New York. A year later business took me to Los Angeles and I met Anton de Hoyos. A deep scar ran straight up his forehead from just above the eyebrow and made a furrow in his thick white upstanding hair. He was still conducting his printing business and making quite a success of it. But he was a secret, broken man, very difficult to talk to, and his eyes seemed to brood always upon an irreparable horror.

 
 
 

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