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Kirk was roused from a heavy, senseless slumber the next morning by a vigorous rapping at his door. He lay still for a time, vaguely resentful of the noise, then glanced at his watch, and found, with a shock, that it was quite late. Realizing only that he was due at the office, he leaped out of bed. He opened the door and Runnels rushed in.
"Have you heard?"
"I heard your infernal pounding; that's what woke me up."
Runnels calmed his excitement, which Kirk now observed was intense.
"Where did you go after I left you last night?"
"I came here, of course." As the memory of the previous night swept over him he scowled.
"Did you stay here?"
"No. I went out again, and was out nearly all night trying to walk it off."
Runnels' face blanched, and he drew back.
"Then of course you know?"
"About Cortlandt. He's dead!"
It was Kirk's turn to start and grow pale. The last cobweb was swept from his brain, and he gasped:
"DEAD! When? Where? How did it happen?"
"Nobody knows just how. He was found on the sea-wall near Alfarez' house, shot."
"Shot! Good Lord!"
"It happened some time early this morning, and the whole city is talking about it. I came to you the first thing."
"We'd better hurry down there. Mrs. Cortlandt must be all broken up." Kirk began to dress hastily, but paused as his friend stammered:
"Wait! I--I--let's understand each other first. I met Wade just now. The news has rattled him, and he's been talking."
"What do you mean?"
"Did you see Cortlandt again after I left you?" Runnels swallowed hard.
Kirk whirled about and faced him. "Great heavens! No! See here, that idea is ridiculous."
Runnels sank weakly into a chair and mopped his face. "I'm glad to hear you say that. It frightened me just the same, for I remembered you acted so queerly when I left you, and Wade seemed to think, perhaps--When you said you'd gone out again, it knocked me flat, understand?"
"I can prove where I was, for Allan was with me. I couldn't sleep, so I tried to walk off my excitement. No, no. I couldn't do a thing like that. I thought last night that I could, but--I couldn't, really."
"I'm afraid Wade will tell all about the party if we don't stop him."
"Then we'd better hunt him up." Kirk resumed his dressing, while Runnels consulted his watch.
"No. 5 is due in twenty minutes. We'll probably find him at the office."
Together they hastened to the railroad building, Runnels telling all he knew of the tragedy as they went along. Cortlandt's body, it seemed, had been found about daylight by a Spiggoty policeman, who had identified it. Becoming panic-stricken at the importance of his discovery, he had sounded the alarm, then reported directly to the Governor, whose house was close by. It was General Alfarez himself who had informed Mrs. Cortlandt over the telephone of her husband's death. The whole city was alive with the news, the police were buzzing like bees. Rumors of suicide, murder, robbery were about, but no one seemed to know anything definite. Colonel Jolson in his motor-car had just come from Culebra, and Colonel Bland was on No. 5 from Gatun, hence Runnels' desire to be at the station.
"It was suicide," Kirk averred, with conviction. "The man was insane last night, and that accounts for what he said about me. He's been sick for a long time."
"If those boys will only keep their mouths shut!" Runnels said, anxiously. "There's no telling what these Spiggoties might do if they heard about that row."
"Cortlandt was an American."
"But it happened in Panama, and it would be their affair."
Although it was Sunday, the four young fellows who had taken part in the entertainment on the night before had gathered in the office, and at the appearance of Runnels greeted him eagerly. Toward Kirk, however, they maintained a disheartening constraint.
The Acting Superintendent began to caution them tersely.
"Boys, there's no use to tell you that we must keep still about what happened last night. Kirk thinks Cortlandt's mind was unbalanced; but whether it was or not, he left a widow, and what went on at that supper must never leak out."
"Why do you think he was crazy?" Wade inquired.
"His actions last night would show it," Kirk answered. "The man must have been out of his mind to believe or to say such a thing."
"You mean, then, that he shot himself?"
"I don't agree with you. I've seen crazy people, but he was as sane as any of us. And I don't believe in secrecy, either. I think we ought to be entirely frank about the matter. The truth never hurt anybody."
"It's a bad business," said Runnels, "and it's something I for one don't want to be mixed up in. I've heard rumors already about some sort of a quarrel at our party, so I'm afraid you fellows have been talking."
Wade acknowledged it recklessly. "Yes, I'll answer for my part, and I'm not going to make any promise of secrecy, either. If that affair had anything to do with Steve Cortlandt's death, it ought to be known, so the man who did it can be made to answer."
Into the office behind them came Ramon Alfarez and two Panamanian policemen, one evidently a sergeant.
"Eh, there you are!" Alfarez cried, as he caught sight of Kirk. Then he said something in Spanish to the sergeant, who advanced and laid hands upon the American. "You are arrest'."
"Gentlemen, you will be so kind as to geeve the names, yes? The jodge will desire to make inquiries regarding those sopper to Senor Cortlan' las' night."
"What am I arrested for?" Kirk demanded.
"Come! You are arrest'. That is enough."
At that moment the building began to shake and reverberate, as No. 5 rolled in from Colon, bearing John Weeks, American Consul, and Mr. Williams, of St. Louis, in one of the forward coaches. As the two hurried out through the turnstiles, they found the street blocked by a considerable crowd, evidently interested in something quite apart from the arrival of the morning train. But before they could learn the cause, out from the near-by building came Ramon Alfarez, accompanied by several policemen and a group of railroad employes, among whom was Kirk Anthony.
"There he is!" wheezed the consul, clutching at his companion's arm. "Get him now, before his friends." But Williams had been even quicker of eye than his fat guide, and was plunging through the crowd toward his quarry. He thrust the policemen and the curious onlookers aside and, laying hold of Anthony, cried in triumph:
"Well, Mr. Jefferson Locke, I want you."
"Hello, Williams! You got around finally, didn't you?" Kirk smiled at him.
A little man in blue uniform was attempting to take the prisoner in charge, but the detective disregarded him.
"It won't do you any good to resist," he went on. "I've come to get you."
Runnels elbowed his way forward with a question.
"Oh, I've got a warrant for him," Williams declared. "What for? Well, for one thing he embezzled eighty thousand dollars, and I'm going to take him back."
"Eh? W'at is this?" Alfarez bustled into the conversation. "Embezzle? He is then a t'ief?"
"Exactly. If you're the inspector I'll ask you to make this arrest for me. I believe we're on foreign ground."
"That's right, Alfarez," came the voice of John Weeks, anxious to have a word in the affair. "I'll vouch for Mr. Williams. This chap is a smooth one, but his name isn't Anthony at all, nor Locke, either; it's Wellar; and he's wanted for other things besides embezzlement." Turning his triumphant little red eyes upon the prisoner, he puffed, "Got you, didn't we?"
"I regret you 'ave arrive' so late," smirked Alfarez. "The gentleman is already arrest' for the murder of Senor Cortlan'. He will first answer to that, I assure you."
Kirk nodded. "Too bad, Williams! I'm sorry you didn't come last night."
They went on down the street, leaving the detective staring and Weeks open-mouthed.
"Cortlandt murdered!" the consul gasped. "Lord! And to think I nourished that viper at my breast."
Williams wheeled and cursed the fat man furiously. It was during the lunch-hour that Ramon Alfarez called at the Garavel home, finding the banker and his daughter still loitering over their midday meal and discussing the topic that had electrified the whole city.
"Ah, Ramon!" the old gentleman began, eagerly. "Be seated and tell us quickly the latest news. A terrible thing, was it not, this death of our good friend? I have been to see his unfortunate widow, but even yet I cannot believe it to be true."
"Yes. A terrible thing! It was only last night that we saw him well and happy."
Although Alfarez was trembling with eagerness to tell his news, he also meant to extract the greatest possible satisfaction from it, and now bent an inquiring glance upon Gertrudis. His look turned to one of malicious triumph as he saw that he was, indeed, the first to bring the tidings of Anthony's arrest; for the girl's acceptance of his suit had by no means wiped out the memory of her momentary preference for his rival, and he had hastened hither straight from the police barracks, delighting in the chance to make her suffer.
"So fine a man," the father was saying. "He was, indeed, my good friend. It is shocking."
"Yes, and to think he should have been killed in this cowardly manner!"
"Killed! Is it believed that he was murdered? Caramba! I supposed he had shot himself. That was the gossip an hour ago." Garavel was deeply affected, and motioned for the dishes in front of him to be removed.
Ramon nodded. "There are suspicious circumstances, it seems. Last night, after the ball, he had a serious quarrel--one of those American fights, almost. That much is known."
Gertrudis, who had remained silent until now, her dark eyes clouded with distress, said, sympathetically:
"And the poor lady! She must suffer terribly."
"Ah, perhaps! One cannot always tell!" Ramon shrugged and smiled.
"What do you mean?" cried Garavel. "This quarrel you speak of? Continue, Ramon, I am consumed with eagerness."
"Upon leaving the Tivoli last night, Senor Cortlan' dined with six of his friends at the Central. There was drinking. The waiters have been questioned; also, one of the men who was present has recounted to me what occurred. It seems that for a long time Senor Cortlan' has been jealous of his wife."
"Impossible! Jealous? My dear Ramon, an admirable lady."
"I--I shall leave you, perhaps?" questioned Gertrudis, modestly, as she rose, but Ramon exclaimed:
"No, no! By all means remain. I have remarkable things to disclose, amazing news that will interest you. There was a serious altercation, and Senor Cortlan' openly accused his enemy before all the others. It was most dramatic, it was terrible! There was a scene of violence, the other man made threats."
Garavel breathed an incredulous exclamation.
"Ah, but wait! It was Senor Cortlan's best friend, too, the man for whom he had accomplished many favors whom he accused." He noted with mingled anger and satisfaction the pallor that was creeping into the girl's cheeks. "You would never guess. It was--I hesitate, and yet you are bound to learn, my dear friends, it was this Ant'ony."
His moment had indeed been worth waiting for. It even went far to atone for the sense of injury under which he smarted; for the banker was stricken speechless, and his daughter went deathly white. Her eyes began to fill with horror.
Garavel was the first to recover himself. "Infamous! It is unbelievable! The wretch, then, had betrayed his friend."
"He is indeed a villain. That much I have always known."
"It is a lie!" said the girl, quietly. She had risen and was standing straight, a tragic little figure.
"Gertrudis!" her father admonished. "You hear what Ramon has said."
"Yes!" said Ramon. "He deceived Senor Cortlan' very nicely; it had been going on for months."
"It is a lie!" she repeated. "He loved no one but me."
"Gertrudis!" The banker was shocked beyond measure at what he considered his daughter's jealousy. "Those are not nice words. He told you so, yes; but if he would betray his best friend, he would deceive you also. It was our great good-fortune to be done with him in time. You will see now that I did well in sending him off-- eh, Chiquita?"
"No! I do not believe you."
Ramon had not counted upon such a spirit, and, his anger getting the better of him, he sneered: "I should not have spoken. I did not know you still care."
"She does not care," Garavel declared, loudly.
"Ah, but I do. I love him very dearly."
The two men were upon their feet in an instant, staring at her, the elder in amazement, the younger with rage and resentment blazing from his countenance.
"Silence!" thundered the banker. "Yonder stands your affianced husband."
"It is a mistake--" she persisted, gently.
"No, no, no! There is no mistake," chattered Ramon. "Those other men have told all, and your Ant'ony is now in the Carcel under guard. It was I who saw to his arrest." The slender figure swayed, a tiny olive hand fluttered to her breast.
"Ramon, you must not heed her, she is upset. This is but a girl's foolish fancy, and it will pass. The man was handsome, and he cast a spell over her."
"Nor is that all," Ramon ran on, excitedly. "He is not at all the man he pretended to be, even his name is false. This morning there arrived an American officer of police to arrest him on other charges. He is a thief, it seems, having stolen eighty thousand dollars 'gold' from his employers. Oh, there is no mistake. Within the hour I have been talking with this detective, and he has the papers of proof. It will be in the newspapers, every one will know shortly. Last night, when Senor Cortlan' made his accusation, there was a frightful quarrel, and Ant'ony swore to kill him. At dawn the poor husband is found shot on the sea wall. Is not that enough?"
"It is indeed!" gasped the father. "You see, then, my child, from what you were saved. This should be a day of thanksgiving to you as it is to me. For this deliverance I shall erect a cross of stone on the hill by our house, so that all our lives we may offer a prayer when our eyes rest upon it. Come, now, it is Ramon who has unmasked this person. Have you no thanks to give him?"
"But it is not true," maintained the girl, simply, and her eyes were as steady as altar flames.
"Eh? Well! He is in the barracks at this moment," snarled Ramon, "and there he shall remain, I promise you, until he goes to Chiriqui or--"
Gertrudis turned to her father.
"Take me to him, please. I must go at once to the Carcel."
But he only answered her with a stare of amazement. "Go!" he murmured, after an instant. "Have I lost my senses?" He began to summon his indignation for a terrific outburst.
"Yes, I must go, for he is my husband. We were wed last night."
There was a moment of absolute silence, during which the clatter of a passing coach sounded loudly in the room. Then--
"Mother of God!" the banker ejaculated, hoarsely, and sank into the seat from which he had arisen. Ramon was staring from one to the other, his head turning jerkily.
The girl raised her face proudly. "Yes! I am his wife, although I had not expected to tell you so soon; therefore, you see I must go to him quickly, or he will think I believe these lies."
"You are mad! Do you know what you are saying?"
"Oh yes. The judge from Colon married us during the dance. I would have liked a church wedding; but that will come later. The Senor Ronnels and his wife were there also, and they will tell you. It made me very happy. You see, I prayed the Virgin that I might be happy, and she heard. Oh, I offered so many prayers, and all last night I lay awake giving thanks for my great happiness, which even yet I cannot believe." Her face was transfigured by a look that left the two men no choice but to believe.
"A civil marriage!" stammered Ramen.
"A civil marriage, indeed!" said Garavel, in a choking voice. "So that is where you were when I believed you to be dancing!" He burst forth violently, pounding the table with his clenched fist until the dishes danced, his brilliant black eyes flashing beneath their thatch of white. "But I will not have it, understand! You are betrothed. You have given your word to Ramon."
"Ah, but I never loved him. You compelled me to consent, because you said you could not be President unless I married him. And that was not so. Ramon deceived you. Now it is all right. You will be President, and I can be happy."
Ramon's suspicion kindled on the instant. He turned upon the banker. "So! I begin to see! That was a trick, then, to betray my father."
"But wait!" Gertrudis exclaimed, sharply. "Did you not trick us also? Did you not use the General, your father, to make me give up the man I love? Which of us, then, is the better?"
Andres Garavel spoke threateningly, menacingly, to his daughter. "Enough! Our word was given, and you have broken it! You have brought disgrace to our name. Can a Garavel be President of the Republic with his daughter wed to a murderer?"
"He is not that!"
"It was no marriage, and it will not stand. I will have it annulled. Such things are easily done, Ramon. She is no wife. The man was a criminal, a fugitive, even when he forced her to marry--"
"No, no! You cannot do that. It was I who asked him to marry me." The girl lied tremulously, panic-stricken at the threat. "Before God, I am his wife!" she maintained. "And if this marriage has a flaw, then I will stand beside the prison gates and remarry him as he comes forth."
"He will not come forth," Ramon declared, harshly.
"Oh yes! And now will you take me to him?"
"NO!" her father bellowed. "You are my daughter, you are under my roof, and here you shall stay until you give up this madness and this man."
"That I can never do," she retorted, proudly. "You see, I am not all Spanish, I have in me also the blood of his people, and that makes me steadfast. I could not doubt him if I wished."
"I forbid you to go near him. Come! Do you promise?" She inclined her dark head. "I must learn more of this affair at once. You will find your senses, miss, or if you do not you will spend your life in meditation and prayer--that much I promise you."
"I do not wish to enter a convent," she said, with white lips. "I wish to be happy. When Keerk is free I shall go to him. Now, if you please, I--think I shall go away." She turned and went out of the big high-ceilinged room, and not until she had reached the hall did her feet waver or her head droop.
When the two men were alone, Garavel said, brokenly: "She is the first to bring disgrace upon our name. Is there absolute proof that the man is guilty, Ramon?"
"Proof?" Alfarez turned dazed eyes from the door through which Gertrudis had gone. "Proof? I believe so. I have not thought much of the matter as yet, but--I think there will be proof in plenty. Oh yes!"
"Come then. I must go to see him. Perhaps--oh, God! Perhaps what? My head is afire, my heart is broken for you, my poor boy."
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