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The Miracle of Las Palmas by Richard Harding Davis

 

This is the story of a gallant officer who loved his profession, his regiment, his country, but above all, whiskey; of his miraculous conversion to total abstinence, and of the humble instrument that worked the miracle. At the time it was worked, a battalion of the Thirty-third Infantry had been left behind to guard the Zone, and was occupying impromptu barracks on the hill above Las Palmas. That was when Las Palmas was one of the four thousand stations along the forty miles of the Panama Railroad. When the railroad was "reconstructed" the name of Las Palmas did not appear on the new time-table, and when this story appears Las Palmas will be eighty feet under water. So if any one wishes to dispute the miracle he will have to conduct his investigation in a diving-bell.

On this particular evening young Major Aintree, in command of the battalion, had gone up the line to Panama to dine at the Hotel Tivoli, and had dined well. To prevent his doing this a paternal government had ordered that at the Tivoli no alcoholic liquors may be sold; but only two hundred yards from the hotel, outside the zone of temperance, lies Panama and Angelina's, and during the dinner, between the Tivoli and Angelina's, the Jamaican waiter-boys ran relay races.

After the dinner, the Jamaican waiter-boys proving too slow, the dinner-party in a body adjourned to Angelina's, and when later, Major Aintree moved across the street to the night train to Las Palmas, he moved unsteadily.

Young Standish of the Canal Zone police, who, though but twenty- six, was a full corporal, was for that night on duty as "train guard," and was waiting at the rear steps of the last car. As Aintree approached the steps he saw indistinctly a boyish figure in khaki, and, mistaking it for one of his own men, he clasped the handrail for support, and halted frowning.

Observing the condition of the officer the policeman also frowned, but in deference to the uniform, slowly and with reluctance raised his hand to his sombrero. The reluctance was more apparent than the salute. It was less of a salute than an impertinence.

Partly out of regard for his rank, partly from temper, chiefly from whiskey, Aintree saw scarlet.

"When you s'lute your s'perior officer," he shouted, "you s'lute him quick. You unnerstan', you s'lute him quick! S'lute me again," he commanded, "and s'lute me damn quick."

Standish remained motionless. As is the habit of policemen over all the world, his thumbs were stuck in his belt. He answered without offense, in tones matter-of-fact and calm.

"You are not my superior officer," he said.

It was the calmness that irritated Aintree. His eyes sought for the infantryman's cap and found a sombrero.

"You damned leatherneck," he began, "I'll report--"

"I'm not a marine, either," interrupted Standish. "I'm a policeman. Move on," he ordered, "you're keeping these people waiting."

Others of the dinner-party formed a flying wedge around Aintree and crowded him up the steps and into a seat and sat upon him. Ten minutes later, when Standish made his rounds of the cars, Aintree saw him approaching. He had a vague recollection that he had been insulted, and by a policeman.

"You!" he called, and so loudly that all in the car turned, "I'm going to report you, going to report you for insolence. What's your name?"

Looking neither at Aintree nor at the faces turned toward him, Standish replied as though Aintree had asked him what time it was.

"Standish," he said, "corporal, shield number 226, on train guard." He continued down the aisle.

"I'll remember you," Aintree shouted.

But in the hot, glaring dawn of the morning after, Aintree forgot. It was Standish who remembered.

The men of the Zone police are hand-picked. They have been soldiers, marines, cowboys, sheriffs, "Black Hussars" of the Pennsylvania State constabulary, rough riders with Roosevelt, mounted police in Canada, irregular horse in South Africa; they form one of the best-organized, best-disciplined, most efficient, most picturesque semi-military bodies in the world. Standish joined them from the Philippine constabulary in which he had been a second lieutenant. There are several like him in the Zone police, and in England they would be called gentlemen rankers. On the Isthmus, because of his youth, his fellow policemen called Standish "Kid." And smart as each of them was, each of them admitted the Kid wore his uniform with a difference. With him it always looked as though it had come freshly ironed from the Colon laundry; his leather leggings shone like meerschaum pipes; the brim of his sombrero rested impudently on the bridge of his nose.

"He's been an officer," they used to say in extenuation. "You can tell when he salutes. He shows the back of his hand." Secretly, they were proud of him. Standish came of a long chain of soldiers, and that the weakest link in the chain had proved to be himself was a sorrow no one else but himself could fathom. Since he was three years old he had been trained to be a soldier, as carefully, with the same singleness of purpose, as the crown prince is trained to be a king. And when, after three happy, glorious years at West Point, he was found not clever enough to pass the examinations and was dropped, he did not curse the gods and die, but began again to work his way up. He was determined he still would wear shoulder-straps. He owed it to his ancestors. It was the tradition of his family, the one thing he wanted; it was his religion. He would get into the army even if by the side door, if only after many years of rough and patient service. He knew that some day, through his record, through the opportunity of a war, he would come into his inheritance. Meanwhile he officered his soul, disciplined his body, and daily tried to learn the lesson that he who hopes to control others must first control himself.

He allowed himself but one dissipation, one excess. That was to hate Major Aintree, commanding the Thirty-third Infantry. Of all the world could give, Aintree possessed everything that Standish considered the most to be desired. He was a graduate of West Point, he had seen service in Cuba, in the Boxer business, and in the Philippines. For an act of conspicuous courage at Batangas, he had received the medal of honor. He had had the luck of the devil. Wherever he held command turned out to be the place where things broke loose. And Aintree always attacked and routed them, always was the man on the job. It was his name that appeared in the newspapers, it was his name that headed the list of the junior officers mentioned for distinguished conduct. Standish had followed his career with an admiration and a joy that was without taint of envy or detraction. He gloried in Aintree, he delighted to know the army held such a man. He was grateful to Aintree for upholding the traditions of a profession to which he himself gave all the devotion of a fanatic. He made a god of him. This was the attitude of mind toward Aintree before he came to the Isthmus. Up to that time he had never seen his idol. Aintree had been only a name signed to brilliant articles in the service magazines, a man of whom those who had served with him or under him, when asked concerning him, spoke with loyalty and awe, the man the newspapers called "the hero of Batangas." And when at last he saw his hero, he believed his worship was justified. For Aintree looked the part. He was built like a greyhound with the shoulders of a stevedore. His chin was as projecting, and as hard, as the pointed end of a flat-iron. His every movement showed physical fitness, and his every glance and tone a confidence in himself that approached insolence. He was thirty- eight, twelve years older than the youth who had failed to make his commission, and who, as Aintree strode past, looked after him with wistful, hero-worshipping eyes. The revulsion, when it came, was extreme. The hero-worship gave way to contempt, to indignant condemnation, in which there was no pity, no excuse. That one upon whom so much had been lavished, who for himself had accomplished such good things, should bring disgrace upon his profession, should by his example demoralize his men, should risk losing all he had attained, all that had been given, was intolerable. When Standish learned his hero was a drunkard, when day after day Aintree furnished visible evidences of that fact, Standish felt Aintree had betrayed him and the army and the government that had educated, trained, clothed, and fed him. He regarded Aintree as worse than Benedict Arnold, because Arnold had turned traitor for power and money; Aintree was a traitor through mere weakness, because he could not say "no" to a bottle.

Only in secret Standish railed against Aintree. When his brother policemen gossiped and jested about him, out of loyalty to the army he remained silent. But in his heart he could not forgive. The man he had so generously envied, the man after whose career he had wished to model his own, had voluntarily stepped from his pedestal and made a swine of himself. And not only could he not forgive, but as day after day Aintree furnished fresh food for his indignation he felt a fierce desire to punish.

Meanwhile, of the conduct of Aintree, men older and wiser, if less intolerant than Standish, were beginning to take notice. It was after a dinner on Ancon Hill, and the women had left the men to themselves. They were the men who were placing the Panama Canal on the map. They were officers of the army who for five years had not worn a uniform. But for five years they had been at war with an enemy that never slept. Daily they had engaged in battle with mountains, rivers, swamps, two oceans, and disease. Where Aintree commanded five hundred soldiers, they commanded a body of men better drilled, better disciplined, and in number half as many as those who formed the entire army of the United States. The mind of each was occupied with a world problem. They thought and talked in millions --of millions of cubic yards of dirt, of millions of barrels of cement, of millions of tons of steel, of hundreds of millions of dollars, of which latter each received enough to keep himself and his family just beyond the reach of necessity. To these men with the world waiting upon the outcome of their endeavor, with responsibilities that never relaxed, Aintree's behavior was an incident, an annoyance of less importance than an overturned dirt train that for five minutes dared to block the completion of their work. But they were human and loyal to the army, and in such an infrequent moment as this, over the coffee and cigars, they could afford to remember the junior officer, to feel sorry for him, for the sake of the army, to save him from himself.

"He takes his orders direct from the War Department," said the chief. "I've no authority over him. If he'd been one of my workmen I'd have shipped him north three months ago."

"That's it," said the surgeon, "he's not a workman. He has nothing to do, and idleness is the curse of the army. And in this climate--"

"Nothing to do!" snorted the civil administrator. "Keeping his men in hand is what he has to do! They're running amuck all over Panama, getting into fights with the Spiggoty police, bringing the uniform into contempt. As for the climate, it's the same climate for all of us. Look at Butler's marines and Barber's Zone police. The climate hasn't hurt them. They're as smart men as ever wore khaki. It's not the climate or lack of work that ails the Thirty- third, it's their commanding officer. 'So the colonel, so the regiment.' That's as old as the hills. Until Aintree takes a brace, his men won't. Some one ought to talk to him. It's a shame to see a fine fellow like that going to the dogs because no one has the courage to tell him the truth."

The chief smiled mockingly.

"Then why don't you?" he asked.

"I'm a civilian," protested the administrator. "If I told him he was going to the dogs he'd tell me to go to the devil. No, one of you army men must do it. He'll listen to you."

Young Captain Haldane of the cavalry was at the table; he was visiting Panama on leave as a tourist. The chief turned to him.

"Haldane's the man," he said. "You're his friend and you're his junior in rank, so what you say won't sound official. Tell him people are talking; tell him it won't be long before they'll be talking in Washington. Scare him!"

The captain of cavalry smiled dubiously.

"Aintree's a hard man to scare," he said. "But if it's as bad as you all seem to think, I'll risk it. But, why is it," he complained, "that whenever a man has to be told anything particularly unpleasant they always pick on his best friend to tell him? It makes them both miserable. Why not let his bitterest enemy try it? The enemy at least would have a fine time."

"Because," said the chief, "Aintree hasn't an enemy in the world- except Aintree." The next morning, as he had promised, Haldane called upon his friend. When he arrived at Las Palmas, although the morning was well advanced toward noon, he found Aintree still under his mosquito bars and awake only to command a drink. The situation furnished Haldane with his text. He expressed his opinion of any individual, friend or no friend, officer or civilian, who on the Zone, where all men begin work at sunrise, could be found at noon still in his pajamas and preparing to face the duties of the day on an absinth cocktail. He said further that since he had arrived on the isthmus he had heard only of Aintree's misconduct, that soon the War Department would hear of it, that Aintree would lose his commission, would break the backbone of a splendid career.

"It's a friend talking," continued Haldane, "and you know it! It's because I am your friend that I've risked losing your friendship! And, whether you like it or not, it's the truth. You're going down-hill, going fast, going like a motor-bus running away, and unless you put on the brakes you'll smash!"

Aintree was not even annoyed.

"That's good advice for the right man," he granted, "but why waste it on me? I can do things other men can't. I can stop drinking this minute, and it will mean so little to me that I won't know I've stopped."

"Then stop," said Haldane.

"Why?" demanded Aintree. "I like it. Why should I stop anything I like? Because a lot of old women are gossiping? Because old men who can't drink green mint without dancing turkey-trots think I'm going to the devil because I can drink whiskey? I'm not afraid of whiskey," he laughed tolerantly. "It amuses me, that's all it does to me; it amuses me." He pulled back the coat of his pajamas and showed his giant chest and shoulder. With his fist he struck his bare flesh and it glowed instantly a healthy, splendid pink.

"See that!" commanded Aintree. "If there's a man on the isthmus in any better physical shape than I am, I'll--" He interrupted himself to begin again eagerly. "I'll make you a sporting proposition," he announced "I'll fight any man on the isthmus ten rounds-- no matter who he is, a wop laborer, shovel man, Barbadian nigger, marine, anybody--and if he can knock me out I'll stop drinking. You see," he explained patiently, "I'm no mollycoddle or jelly-fish. I can afford a headache. And besides, it's my own head. If I don't give anybody else a headache, I don't see that it's anybody else's damned business."

"But you do," retorted Haldane steadily. "You're giving your own men worse than a headache, you're setting them a rotten example, you're giving the Thirty-third a bad name-"

Aintree vaulted off his cot and shook his fist at his friend. "You can't say that to me," he cried.

"I do say it," protested Haldane. "When you were in Manila your men were models; here they're unshaven, sloppy, undisciplined. They look like bell-hops. And it's your fault. And everybody thinks so."

Slowly and carefully Aintree snapped his fingers.

"And you can tell everybody, from me," he cried, "that's all I care what they think! And now," he continued, smiling hospitably, "let me congratulate you on your success as a missionary, and, to show you there's not a trace of hard feeling, we will have a drink."

Informally Haldane reported back to the commission, and the wife of one of them must have talked, for it was soon known that a brother officer had appealed to Aintree to reform, and Aintree had refused to listen.

When she heard this, Grace Carter, the wife of Major Carter, one of the surgeons at the Ancon Hospital, was greatly perturbed. Aintree was engaged to be married to Helen Scott, who was her best friend and who was arriving by the next steamer to spend the winter. When she had Helen safely under her roof, Mrs. Carter had planned to marry off the young couple out of hand on the isthmus. But she had begun to wonder if it would not be better they should delay, or best that they should never marry.

"The awakening is going to be a terrible blow to Helen," she said to her husband. "She is so proud of him."

"On the contrary," he protested, "it will be the awakening of Aintree--if Helen will stand for the way he's acting, she is not the girl I know. And when he finds she won't, and that he may lose her, he'll pull up short. He's talked Helen to me night after night until he's bored me so I could strangle him. He cares more for her than he does for anything, for the army, or for himself, and that's saying a great deal. One word from her will be enough."

Helen spoke the word three weeks after she arrived. It had not been necessary to tell her of the manner in which her lover was misconducting himself. At various dinners given in their honor he had made a nuisance of himself; on another occasion, while in uniform, he had created a scene in the dining-room of the Tivoli under the prying eyes of three hundred seeing-the-Canal tourists; and one night he had so badly beaten up a cabman who had laughed at his condition that the man went to the hospital. Major Carter, largely with money, had healed the injuries of the cabman, but Helen, who had witnessed the assault, had suffered an injury that money could not heal.

She sent for Aintree, and at the home of her friend delivered her ultimatum.

"I hit him because he was offensive to you," said Aintree. "That's why I hit him. If I'd not had a drink in a year, I'd have hit him just as quick and just as hard."

"Can't you see," said the girl, "that in being not yourself when I was in your care you were much more insulting to me than any cabman could possibly be? When you are like that you have no respect for me, or for yourself. Part of my pride in you is that you are so strong, that you control yourself, that common pleasures never get a hold on you. If you couldn't control your temper I wouldn't blame you, because you've a villainous temper and you were born with it. But you weren't born with a taste for liquor. None of your people drank. You never drank until you went into the army. If I were a man," declared the girl, "I'd be ashamed to admit anything was stronger than I was. You never let pain beat you. I've seen you play polo with a broken arm, but in this you give pain to others, you shame and humiliate the one you pretend to love, just because you are weak, just because you can't say 'no.'"

Aintree laughed angrily.

"Drink has no hold on me," he protested. "It affects me as much as the lights and the music affect a girl at her first dance, and no more. But, if you ask me to stop--"

"I do not!" said the girl. "If you stop, you'll stop not because I have any influence over you, but because you don't need my influence. If it's wrong, if it's hurting you, if it's taking away your usefulness and your power for good, that's why you'll stop. Not because a girl begs you. Or you're not the man I think you."

Aintree retorted warmly. "I'm enough of a man for this," he protested: "I'm enough of a man not to confess I can't drink without making a beast of myself. It's easy not to drink at all. But to stop altogether is a confession of weakness. I'd look on my doing that as cowardly. I give you my word--not that I'll swear off, that I'll never do--but I promise you you'll have no further reason to be what you call humiliated, or ashamed. You have my word for it."

A week later Aintree rode his pony into a railway cutting and rolled with it to the tracks below, and, if at the time he had not been extremely drunk, would have been killed. The pony, being quite sober, broke a leg and was destroyed.

When word of this came to Helen she was too sick at heart to see Aintree, and by others it was made known to him that on the first steamer Miss Scott would return North. Aintree knew why she was going, knew she had lost faith and patience, knew the woman he loved had broken with him and put him out of her life. Appalled at this calamity, he proceeded to get drunk in earnest.

The night was very hot and the humidity very heavy, and at Las Palmas inside the bungalow that served as a police-station the lamps on either side of the lieutenant's desk burned like tiny furnaces. Between them, panting in the moist heat and with the sweat from his forehead and hand dripping upon an otherwise immaculate report, sat Standish. Two weeks before, the chief had made him one of his six lieutenants. With the force the promotion had been most popular.

Since his promotion Standish had been in charge of the police- station at Las Palmas and daily had seen Aintree as, on his way down the hill from the barracks to the railroad, the hero of Batangas passed the door of the station-house. Also, on the morning Aintree had jumped his horse over the embankment, Standish had seen him carried up the hill on a stretcher. At the sight the lieutenant of police had taken from his pocket a notebook, and on a flyleaf made a cross. On the flyleaf were many other dates and opposite each a cross. It was Aintree's record and as the number of black crosses grew, the greater had grown the resentment of Standish, the more greatly it had increased his anger against the man who had put this affront upon the army, the greater became his desire to punish.

In police circles the night had been quiet, the cells in the yard were empty, the telephone at his elbow had remained silent, and Standish, alone in the station-house, had employed himself in cramming "Moss's Manual for Subalterns." He found it a fascinating exercise. The hope that soon he might himself be a subaltern always burned brightly, and to be prepared seemed to make the coming of that day more certain. It was ten o'clock and Las Palmas lay sunk in slumber, and after the down train which was now due had passed, there was nothing likely to disturb her slumber until at sunrise the great army of dirt-diggers with shrieks of whistles, with roars of dynamite, with the rumbling of dirt-trains and steam-shovels, again sprang to the attack. Down the hill, a hundred yards below Standish, the night train halted at the station, with creakings and groanings continued toward Colon, and again Las Palmas returned to sleep.

And, then, quickly and viciously, like the crack of a mule-whip, came the reports of a pistol; and once more the hot and dripping silence.

On post at the railroad-station, whence the shots came, was Meehan, one of the Zone police, an ex-sergeant of marines. On top of the hill, outside the infantry barracks, was another policeman, Bullard, once a cowboy.

Standish ran to the veranda and heard the pebbles scattering as Bullard leaped down the hill, and when, in the light from the open door, he passed, the lieutenant shouted at him to find Meehan and report back. Then the desk telephone rang, and Standish returned to his chair.

"This is Meehan," said a voice. "Those shots just now were fired by Major Aintree. He came down on the night train and jumped off after the train was pulling out and stumbled into a negro, and fell. He's been drinking and he swore the nigger pushed him; and the man called Aintree a liar. Aintree pulled his gun and the nigger ran. Aintree fired twice; then I got to him and knocked the gun out of his hand with my nightstick."

There was a pause. Until he was sure his voice would be steady and official, the boy lieutenant did not speak.

"Did he hit the negro?" he asked.

"I don't know," Meehan answered. "The man jumped for the darkest spot he could find." The voice of Meehan lost its professional calm and became personal and aggrieved.

"Aintree's on his way to see you now, lieutenant. He's going to report me."

"For what?"

The voice over the telephone rose indignantly.

"For knocking the gun out of his hand. He says it's an assault. He's going to break me!"

Standish made no comment.

"Report here," he ordered.

He heard Bullard hurrying up the hill and met him at the foot of the steps.

"There's a nigger," began Bullard, "lying under some bushes--"

"Hush!" commanded Standish.

From the path below came the sound of footsteps approaching unsteadily, and the voice of a man swearing and muttering to himself. Standish pulled the ex-cowboy into the shadow of the darkness and spoke in eager whispers.

"You understand," he concluded, "you will not report until you see me pick up a cigar from the desk and light it. You will wait out here in the darkness. When you see me light the cigar, you will come in and report."

The cowboy policeman nodded, but without enthusiasm. "I understand, lieutenant," he said, "but," he shook his head doubtfully, "it sizes up to me like what those police up in New York call a 'frame-up.'"

Standish exclaimed impatiently.

"It's not my frame-up!" he said. "The man's framed himself up. All I'm going to do is to nail him to the wall!"

Standish had only time to return to his desk when Aintree stumbled up the path and into the station-house. He was "fighting drunk," ugly, offensive, all but incoherent with anger.

"You in charge?" he demanded. He did not wait for an answer. "I've been 'saulted!" he shouted. "'Saulted by one of your damned policemen. He struck me--struck me when I was protecting myself. He had a nigger with him. First the nigger tripped me; then, when I tried to protect myself, this thug of yours hits me, clubs me, you unnerstan', clubs me! I want him--"

He was interrupted by the entrance of Meehan, who moved into the light from the lamps and saluted his lieutenant.

"That's the man!" roared Aintree. The sight of Meehan whipped him into greater fury.

"I want that man broke. I want to see you strip his shield off him--now, you unnerstan', now--for 'saulting me, for 'saulting an officer in the United States army. And, if you don't," he threw himself into a position of the prize-ring, "I'll beat him up and you, too." Through want of breath, he stopped, and panted. Again his voice broke forth hysterically. "I'm not afraid of your damned night-sticks," he taunted. "I got five hundred men on top this hill, all I've got to do is to say the word, and they'll rough-house this place and throw it into the cut--and you with it."

Standish rose to his feet, and across the desk looked steadily at Aintree. To Aintree the steadiness of his eyes and the quietness of his voice were an added aggravation.

"Suppose you did," said Standish, "that would not save you."

"From what?" roared Aintree. "Think I'm afraid of your night- sticks?"

"From arrest!"

"Arrest me!" yelled Aintree. "Do you know who's talking to you? Do you know who I am? I'm Major Aintree, damn you, commanding the infantry. An' I'm here to charge that thug--"

"You are here because you are under arrest," said Standish. "You are arrested for threatening the police, drunkenness, and assaulting a citizen with intent to kill--" The voice of the young man turned shrill and rasping. "And if the man should die--"

Aintree burst into a bellow of mocking laughter.

Standish struck the desk with his open palm.

"Silence!" he commanded.

"Silence to me!" roared Aintree, "you impertinent pup!" He flung himself forward, shaking his fist. "I'm Major Aintree. I'm your superior officer. I'm an officer an' a gentleman--"

"You are not!" replied Standish. "You are a drunken loafer!"

Aintree could not break the silence. Amazement, rage, stupefaction held him in incredulous wonder. Even Meehan moved uneasily. Between the officer commanding the infantry and an officer of police, he feared the lieutenant would not survive.

But he heard the voice of his lieutenant continuing, evenly, coldly, like the voice of a judge delivering sentence.

"You are a drunken loafer," repeated the boy. "And you know it. And I mean that to-morrow morning every one on the Zone shall know it. And I mean to-morrow night every one in the States shall know it. You've killed a man, or tried to, and I'm going to break you." With his arm he pointed to Meehan. "Break that man?" he demanded. "For doing his duty, for trying to stop a murder? Strip him of his shield?" The boy laughed savagely. "It's you I am going to strip, Aintree," he cried, "you 'hero of Batangas'; I'm going to strip you naked. I'm going to 'cut the buttons off your coat, and tear the stripes away.' I'm going to degrade you and disgrace you, and drive you out of the army!" He threw his note-book on the table. "There's your dossier, Aintree," he said. "For three months you've been drunk, and there's your record. The police got it for me; it's written there with dates and the names of witnesses. I'll swear to it. I've been after you to get you, and I've got you. With that book, with what you did to-night, you'll leave the army. You may resign, you may be court-martialled, you may be hung. I don't give a damn what they do to you, but you will leave the army!"

He turned to Meehan, and with a jerk of the hand signified Aintree.

"Put him in a cell," he said. "If he resists--"

Aintree gave no sign of resisting. He stood motionless, his arms hanging limp, his eyes protruding. The liquor had died in him, and his anger had turned chill. He tried to moisten his lips to speak, but his throat was baked, and no sound issued. He tried to focus his eyes upon the menacing little figure behind the desk, but between the two lamps it swayed, and shrank and swelled. Of one thing only was he sure, that some grave disaster had overtaken him, something that when he came fully to his senses still would overwhelm him, something he could not conquer with his fists. His brain, even befuddled as it was, told him he had been caught by the heels, that he was in a trap, that smashing this boy who threatened him could not set him free. He recognized, and it was this knowledge that stirred him with alarm, that this was no ordinary officer of justice, but a personal enemy, an avenging spirit who, for some unknown reason, had spread a trap; who, for some private purpose of revenge, would drag him down.

Frowning painfully, he waved Meehan from him.

"Wait," he commanded. "I don' unnerstan'. What good's it goin' to do you to lock me up an' disgrace me? What harm have I done you? Who asked you to run the army, anyway? Who are you?"

"My name is Standish," said the lieutenant. "My father was colonel of the Thirty-third when you first joined it from the Academy."

Aintree exclaimed with surprise and enlightenment. He broke into hurried speech, but Standish cut him short.

"And General Standish of the Mexican War," he continued, "was my grandfather. Since Washington all my people have been officers of the regular army, and I'd been one, too, if I'd been bright enough. That's why I respect the army. That's why I'm going to throw you out of it. You've done harm fifty men as good as you can't undo. You've made drunkards of a whole battalion. You've taught boys who looked up to you, as I looked up to you once, to laugh at discipline, to make swine of themselves. You've set them an example. I'm going to make an example of you. That's all there is to this. I've got no grudge against you. I'm not vindictive; I'm sorry for you. But," he paused and pointed his hand at Aintree as though it held a gun, "you are going to leave the army!"

Like a man coming out of an ugly dream, Aintree opened and shut his eyes, shivered, and stretched his great muscles. They watched him with an effort of the will force himself back to consciousness. When again he spoke, his tone was sane.

"See here, Standish," he began, "I'll not beg of you or any man. I only ask you to think what you're doing. This means my finish. If you force this through to-night it means court-martial, it means I lose my commission, I lose--lose things you know nothing about. And, if I've got a record for drinking, I've got a record for other things, too. Don't forget that!"

Standish shook his head. "I didn't forget it," he said.

"Well, suppose I did," demanded Aintree. "Suppose I did go on the loose, just to pass the time, just because I'm sick of this damned ditch? Is it fair to wipe out all that went before, for that? I'm the youngest major in the army, I served in three campaigns, I'm a medal-of-honor man, I've got a career ahead of me, and--and I'm going to be married. If you give me a chance-"

Standish struck the table with his fist.

"I will give you a chance," he cried. "If you'll give your word to this man and to me, that, so help you God, you'll never drink again--I'll let you go."

If what Standish proposed had been something base, Aintree could not have accepted it with more contempt.

"I'll see you in hell first," he said.

As though the interview was at an end, Standish dropped into his chair and leaning forward, from the table picked up a cigar. As he lit it, he motioned Meehan toward his prisoner, but before the policeman could advance the sound of footsteps halted him.

Bullard, his eyes filled with concern, leaped up the steps, and ran to the desk.

"Lieutenant!" he stammered, "that man--the nigger that officer shot--he's dead!"

Aintree gave a gasp that was partly a groan, partly a cry of protest, and Bullard, as though for the first time aware of his presence, sprang back to the open door and placed himself between it and Aintree.

"It's murder!" he said.

None of the three men spoke; and when Meehan crossed to where Aintree stood, staring fearfully at nothing, he had only to touch his sleeve, and Aintree, still staring, fell into step beside him.

From the yard outside Standish heard the iron door of the cell swing shut, heard the key grate in the lock, and the footsteps of Meehan returning.

Meehan laid the key upon the desk, and with Bullard stood at attention, waiting.

"Give him time," whispered Standish. "Let it sink in!"

At the end of half an hour Standish heard Aintree calling, and, with Meehan carrying a lantern, stepped into the yard and stopped at the cell door.

Aintree was quite sober. His face was set and white, his voice was dull with suffering. He stood erect, clasping the bars in his hands.

"Standish," he said, "you gave me a chance a while ago, and I refused it. I was rough about it. I'm sorry. It made me hot because I thought you were forcing my hand, blackmailing me into doing something I ought to do as a free agent. Now, I am a free agent. You couldn't give me a chance now, you couldn't let me go now, not if I swore on a thousand Bibles. I don't know what they'll give me--Leavenworth for life, or hanging, or just dismissal. But, you've got what you wanted--I'm leaving the army!" Between the bars he stretched out his arms and held a hand toward Meehan and Standish. In the same dull, numbed voice he continued.

"So, now," he went on, "that I've nothing to gain by it, I want to swear to you and to this man here, that whether I hang, or go to jail, or am turned loose, I will never, so help me God, take another drink."

Standish was holding the hand of the man who once had been his hero. He clutched it tight.

"Aintree," he cried, "suppose I could work a miracle; suppose I've played a trick on you, to show you your danger, to show you what might come to you any day--does that oath still stand?"

The hand that held his ground the bones together.

"I've given my word!" cried Aintree. "For the love of God, don't torture me. Is the man alive?"

As Standish swung open the cell door, the hero of Batangas, he who could thrash any man on the isthmus, crumpled up like a child upon his shoulder.

And Meehan, as he ran for water, shouted joyfully.

"That nigger," he called to Bullard, "can go home now. The lieutenant don't want him no more. "

 
 
 

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