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A LAST APPEAL
That was not a pleasant interview for Anthony. His surroundings were not such as to lend him assurance, and Garavel's grief at his daughter's disgrace was really distressing. Moreover, the unequivocal threat to annul the marriage filled him with alarm. His only consolation came from the fact that Gertrudis had made known the truth without the slightest hesitation. That showed that she was loyal, at any rate. Kirk tried to assure his caller that he would have no trouble in proving his innocence, but Garavel seemed very little concerned with that phase of the affair, and continued to bewail the dishonor that had fallen upon his name.
Kirk's pride arose at this, and he exclaimed with some heat:
"My dear Mr. Garavel, if you are so blamed sure that I did all these things, why did you come to see me?"
"It was to learn if she spoke the truth."
"Oh, we're married, right enough. And you'll have some difficulty in breaking it up before I get out."
"You expect, then, to prove your innocence easily?"
"But I hear there are other serious charges."
"It is quite the same with them."
"But--suppose you should not clear yourself of this--murder--would you wish to drag down my daughter's name?"
"Of course not."
"I understand you have not spoken of this marriage. Perhaps you might consent to remain silent. If by any chance you should be convicted of guilt, what satisfaction could you derive from injuring me and mine?"
"None at all, sir."
"I am rich," Garavel went on, meaningly. "If you are acquitted, I might, perhaps, arrange amply for your future--upon conditions."
"In other words, if I am to be hanged or shot or whatever it is they do to people down here, you'll expect me to keep my mouth shut on general principles, and if I'm acquitted you'll pay me well to disappear. Is that it? Well, there is some family pride to that." He laughed lightly.
"My political future may depend upon it."
"If I can help you in that way I'll gladly keep silent as long as you wish, but I don't think I care to make any further terms."
"Make sure of this," snapped the father, "your marriage will be annulled, no matter what you prove or fail to prove. Already Chiquita is repentant, and I shall not rest until she is free. You have done me a great injury, and I shall not forget it."
On the following morning the leading American attorney of the city called at the jail, announcing that he had been retained as counsel, but refusing to tell who had employed him. Supposing, of course, that he had been sent by friends who wished no publicity in the matter, Kirk did not press him for information. Together they outlined their defence as best they could. With characteristic optimism, Kirk insisted upon treating the charge against him as of little consequence, and it was not until he had undergone his preliminary hearing that he fully realized the gravity of his situation.
To his unspeakable indignation, the officer who had discovered Cortlandt's body swore that he had seen the deceased pass him shortly before the time of his death, evidently taking a walk along the water's edge for relief from the heat, and that immediately afterward--perhaps a minute or so--the prisoner had also passed, going in the same direction! There was a street light close by, he said, and there could be no possible mistake as to Anthony's identity. A few moments later there had been a pistol- shot, muffled, but unmistakable, and the policeman had hastened in the direction from which it came. The prisoner had appeared suddenly out of the darkness and hurried past. In the politest manner possible, the witness declared, he had questioned him regarding the shot, but Mr. Anthony had neither stopped nor answered; on the contrary, he had broken into a run. The officer had considered this strange behavior, but, being at all times most respectful toward Americans, he had made no effort to detain him. Passing on, he had found the body of the dead man. A revolver was beside it. It was shocking! It had quite upset the witness. He had blown his whistle, and seeing a light in the Governor's mansion close by had called there for assistance. Soon afterward another officer had arrived upon the scene.
When this amazing testimony was translated to Kirk he was astounded; but his indignation was as nothing to that which swept over him when a servant in the Alfarez household swore to having actually witnessed the murder.
This fellow declared that he had been troubled greatly with a toothache. Toward morning of the night in question, too restless for sleep, he had gone out upon the sea wall. Even now, his face was swollen, and he made a determined effort to show the court the particular tooth which had made him an unwilling beholder of the tragedy. Overcome by exhaustion, he had fallen asleep after a time, and he was awakened by the sounds of a quarrel. On opening his eyes, he saw two Americans, one of whom was Senor Cortlandt, and the other Kirk Anthony. Being utterly ignorant of their language, he had no means of knowing what was said, nor did he consider the altercation serious until the large man shot the Senor Cortlandt. Then, being terror-stricken at what he had beheld, he had run away, entirely forgetting his toothache, which, by the grace of God, was quite gone. That was all he knew of the matter. He recognized Anthony as the man who had done the shooting. He was troubled greatly with toothaches.
It all seemed like some grotesque, practical joke, and Kirk at first could not believe that the evidence of these witnesses could have weight. But he soon became convinced that this was no laughing matter. Since they had perjured themselves so readily, it was evident that some determined influence was back of them, and how far that influence might carry it was hard to tell. The reason for it was all very simple, of course, and yet he was at a loss how to combat it. Wade was called next and told the story of that damning incident at the supper-party, being corroborated by the others. Then there were several witnesses who swore to inconsequent things, such as waiters at the Hotel Central, and the doctor who had examined Cortlandt.
For once in his careless life the young man realized that he was face to face with something bigger and stronger than his own determination, and it daunted him. He began to see that he had underestimated these foreigners, for it seemed an easy matter to convict an innocent man in these Central American courts. He recalled certain ridiculous stories of Spanish justice which he had laughed at; he remembered Mrs. Cortlandt's vivid tale of an execution she had once beheld in the court-yard of Chiriqui prison; and suddenly he decided to cable for Darwin K. Anthony-- the one man who was strong enough to save him.
When it came time for him to speak, he told a straight story about his own actions on that night, and he was corroborated by Allan; but he knew that their words had little weight against that other testimony. Of course, he was remanded for trial, and that night the newspapers of the city were crowded with columns of sensational reading-matter bearing upon the crime.
Anson, the lawyer, gave him a ray of encouragement as he left.
"Don't go too much on this hearing," he said. "I think we'll pull you out all right."
"You THINK! I dare say Ramon Alfarez can get a dozen men to perjure themselves as easily as he got those two."
"Exactly. But I have a little coup that I intend to spring at the right moment."
"For Heaven's sake, tell me what it is."
"I'm sorry, but I can't just yet. In the first place, one must handle these people exactly right or they explode."
"But give me an idea at least. I'm really interested in the outcome of this case, you know."
Anson smiled. "Of course you are, and I'll tell you as soon as I can, but not now."
"These Spiggoties would enjoy standing me up against a wall with my head in a rag--they'd make it a holiday and ring all the bells in town."
"I can't assure you that it isn't serious," Anson acknowledged, gravely, "for it is--any time an American goes to court in this country it is serious--but that doesn't mean that we'll lose."
"You may be a good lawyer," said Kirk, ruefully, "but you're a blamed poor comforter. I--I wish my dad was here; he'd fix it. He wouldn't let 'em convict me. He's great, my dad is. He can swear-- like the devil." His voice caught, and his eyes were unusually bright as he turned away to hide his emotions. "I like him better than any man I've ever met, Anson. And you watch him come when he hears I'm in trouble."
He wrote a lengthy cablegram, which the lawyer, with a peculiar smile, agreed to despatch at once. He spent a sleepless night. In the morning a message came signed by Copley--Kirk's heart leaped at the familiar name--saying that Darwin K. Anthony had left Albany for the West on Sunday night, and could not be located for a few days.
"He was never gone when I needed money," the son mused. "He'll be worried when he hears about this, and he has enough to worry him as it is. I'm mighty sorry, but--I simply must have him."
Anson brought in the day's papers, which alluded, as usual, to Cortlandt's death as a murder, and printed their customary sensational stories, even to a rehash of all that had occurred at the stag supper. This in particular made Kirk writhe, knowing as he did that it would reach the eyes of his newly made wife. He also wondered vaguely how Edith Cortlandt was bearing up under all this notoriety. The lawyer brought the further news that Allan was in captivity as an accessory to the crime, and that henceforth Kirk need expect but few visitors. Somebody--probably Ramon Alfarez--had induced the officials to treat their prisoner with special severity.
During the days which followed, Kirk suffered more than he chose to confess even to his attorney. In the first place, it was hard to be denied all knowledge of what was going on--Anson would tell him little, except that he was working every day--and, then, too, the long hours of solitude gnawed at his self-control. Runnels managed to see him once or twice, reporting that, so far as he could learn, Chiquita had disappeared. He took a message from Kirk to her, but brought back word that he could not deliver it. Kirk wondered if she could really believe those frightful half-complete newspaper accounts, or if she had been unable to withstand the combined weight of her whole family, and had given up. It was almost too much to hope that a girl reared as she had been could keep her mind unpoisoned, with all those lying tongues about her. And, besides, she had the Spanish ideas of morality, which would make the actions of which he was accused seem doubly shocking. The more he speculated upon the cause of her silence, the wilder grew his fancies, until it became a positive torture to think of her at all. Instead, his thoughts turned to Edith Cortlandt in a curiously uninterested way. Her attitude was a problem. Perhaps she would leave him to his fate. Reviewing the circumstances coldly, he could hardly blame her.
It was on Sunday, a week after his arrest, that she came to him. He was surprised to see the ravages that this short time had made in her, for she was pale and drawn and weary-looking, as if from sleeplessness. Strange to say, these marks of suffering did not detract from her appearance, but rather enhanced her poise and distinction. She was not even veiled. On the contrary, she had driven openly to the police barracks, and ordered her coachman to wait in the street outside, then demanded to be shown to Anthony's cell.
"I'm awfully glad to see you, Mrs. Cortlandt," he said, as she extended her hand. "But do you think it was wise for you to come?"
She shrugged. "People can say no more than they have already said. My name is on every tongue, and a little more gossip can make matters no worse. I had to come. I just couldn't stay away. I wonder if you can realize what I have been through."
"It must have been terrible," he said, gently.
"Yes, I have paid. It seems to me that I have paid for everything I ever did. Those newspaper stories nearly killed me, but it wasn't that so much as the thought that you were suffering for my acts."
"I'm very sorry. You never thought for a moment that I did what they claim?"
"No, no! It has all been a mistake from the first. I was sure of that."
"You heard what those two men testified?"
"Bah! That is Ramon Alfarez--but he can do nothing."
"Nothing! I don't call a week in the Bastile 'nothing.' Why, he has perjured two witnesses already, and I dare say he'll have the whole native population swearing against me when the trial comes up."
"Never mind. I have had no time to do anything as yet. There were --so many things to be attended to." She shuddered and sank down upon the edge of his cot. "Stephen had a great many friends in various parts of the world; I have been swamped with cablegrams."
"If my dad were here he'd have me free in a jiffy; he can do anything."
"I don't think we'll need him," she said, in a way that comforted him somehow, though the feeling shamed him. She laid a soft hand upon his arm, and, looking up eagerly into his face, exclaimed: "You will forgive me for what I said that night at the hotel, won't you? I didn't really mean to injure you, Kirk, but I was half hysterical. I had suffered so these last few months that I was ready to do anything. I was torn by two great desires, one to remain what I am and have always been, and the other--well, the other was the stronger, or would have been if you had allowed it. I never dreamed there was a way out of my misery, a way so close at hand; but somehow even before General Alfarez' voice on the 'phone told me what had happened, I knew, and I--I felt--"
"I know you had a great deal to put up with," he said, "but for both our sakes I wish it had come in some other way."
"Oh, I don't care," she cried, recklessly. "The one thing I can grasp in all this turmoil, the one thing that rings in my ears every moment, is that I am free, FREE! That is all that matters to me. You showed your loyalty to Stephen more than once, and, though your scruples angered me, I honor you for them now. I can see, too, that you had no choice but to put me off even that night of the dance. But my chains are broken, and it is all different now."
"Your husband's death can make no difference with us, Mrs. Cortlandt," he said, gravely.
"We have talked openly before, and there is no need to do otherwise now. You mean by that that you don't care for me, but I know better. I believe there is a love so strong that it must find an answer. Although you may not care for me now as you care for-- some one else--I KNOW that I can make you forget her and put me in her place. I know men, and I know you. I came here prepared to be honest--shameless, if you like. I am young, I have money, I have power; I work for the love of doing things, and you are learning to do the same. I can help you, oh, so much! We can win happiness together just as easily as we can win material success, and that is ours now for the asking. It dazzles me to think of it, Kirk. It is like a glimpse of paradise, and I can show it all to you." She was bending forward, her lips parted, the color gleaming in her cheeks, her whole face transformed by a passionate eagerness.
"Wait!" he said, harshly. "You force me to break my word. I don't want to tell you this, but--I am married."
She rose slowly, her eyes fixed in bewilderment upon his, her hand clutching at his sleeve.
"You--never told me that! It was some mad college prank, I suppose."
"No, no. I married Gertrudis Garavel that night at the Tivoli."
"Oh, that can't be. That was the night of the dance."
"It is quite true."
Mrs. Cortlandt stared about the squalid cell dully.
"Miss Garavel! Why didn't you tell me? Why isn't she here? Why does she leave you alone? No, no! You hardly know each other. Why, she's not old enough to know her own mind--"
"But I know my mind, and I love her."
Her white hands strained at each other as she steadied her shaking voice. "Love!" she cried. "You don't know what love means, nor does she. She CAN'T know, or she'd be here, she'd have this prison torn block from block."
"I suppose her father would not let her come," said Kirk, slowly, but Edith did not seem to hear him. The realization of her broken hopes was coming home to her poignantly.
"My happiness!" she exclaimed. "I have been unhappy so long! And I seemed to see it just within my reach. Oh, Kirk, she thinks you are guilty, she hasn't faith."
"You have no right to say that."
"See! I came to you when I was married and asked you to take me; I'll do the same with you now."
"You don't know what you're saying. You're hysterical, Mrs. Cortlandt. I love Gertrudis so deeply that there's no room in me for anything else, and never will be. Heaven only knows what they have made her believe about me, but I don't care; I'll upset this little plot of Alfarez's, and when she learns the truth she will come back again."
"This little plot!" Edith cried, in distraction. "And I suppose you wish me to give you back to her?"
They confronted each other a moment in silence.
"But I won't help her," she went on. "I'm not that sort. I'm a selfish woman. I've always been selfish because I've never had anybody to work for. But I have it in me to be generous."
"I'm sorry," he said. "You have suffered, I know. Don't trouble any more about me--please."
She stared at him defiantly, although her whole frame was shaking as if from an ague.
"Oh, I'd rather face the gallows as you face it than what is before me, and I'm not sure I could help you, after all. You are in Latin America now, remember, and your enemies are strong."
"I am Darwin K. Anthony's son," he protested. "He won't allow it."
"Bah! He is an American, and these are Spanish people. You have seen how they like us, and you have seen what Alfarez can do. He's rich, and he'll perjure more witnesses, he'll manipulate the court with his money. Yes, and I'd rather he succeeded than see you--No, no! What am I saying? L-let me go; let me get away from here!" She broke down, and went sobbing out into the corridor. The iron door clanged to behind her.
On the same afternoon, Mr. Clifford, accompanied by Anson, the lawyer, took the 3.20 train for Colon. As soon as he arrived, he called up Colonel Jolson, to request that the Commissioner's motor-car should, without fail, await him at ten o'clock sharp on the next morning, with an open track ahead of it. Strangely enough, the Colonel agreed very readily.
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