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EL COMANDANTE TAKES A HAND
"Where are we?" queried Anthony, as he took in the surroundings.
"This is the prison, sar."
"Gee! I'm sick." Kirk lay back upon the platform and closed his eyes. "Did they hurt you much?"
"Oh yes. Very considerably."
"Sorry I got you into it, Allan, I never thought they'd be so cranky." Again he groaned. "I want a drink."
"Let me get it. Those Spiggoties will not give it to you."
Allan went to the door and called to the guard. An instant later he returned with a tin cup.
"I guess they knocked me out," Kirk said, dazedly. "I never was hit like that before--and jailed! Say! We must get out of her. Call the chief or the man in charge, will you? I can't speak the language."
"Please, sar, if you h'anger them they will beat us again."
"Beat! Not here?"
"Oh yes. They might kill us."
"They wouldn't do that!"
"A white man they killed lahst h'autumn, and several of my people have passed away in this prison. Nobody can 'ear nothing. Nobody knows what 'appens 'ere."
"Oh, well, they wouldn't dare touch us--I'm an American citizen. I'll notify the consul."
Roused at the mere suggestion. Kirk staggered to the door and shouted lustily. When no one answered, he shook the iron grating, whereupon a guard leisurely approached, and, after listening stolidly to his request, went back to his post at the other end of the hall. This time the American sent forth such an uproar that a man evidently corresponding in authority to a sergeant appeared with the command to be quiet.
"Let me out of here!" loudly demanded the prisoner. "I want the chief, or the alcalde, or somebody in charge. I want to know what I'm booked for, I want to telephone--TELEPHONE, don't you understand?--and arrange bail. Quick, now!"
But the officer merely frowned at him, obviously threatening a resort to force if this outburst did not cease at once.
"I tell you I want to get out," insisted Kirk. "I want to know what I'm charged with and have my friends get bail."
The man nodded his understanding and went away, but an hour passed and he did not return. Then another hour followed, and Anthony, who had now begun to feel the effect of his drubbing more keenly, renewed his clamor, with the result that a half-dozen policemen appeared, causing Allan to retreat to a corner and mumble prayers. From their demeanor it looked as though they were really bent upon mischief, but Kirk soon saw that an official had come in answer to his call. He felt less reassured when he perceived that the person in uniform who now stepped forward was the same upon whom he had turned the hose earlier in the evening.
This was a black-haired, black-eyed young fellow of, perhaps, thirty. While his skin was swarthy, even in this poor light it could be seen that he was of the real Castilian type and of a much better class than the others. He was slender and straight, his mouth small and decorated by a carefully pencilled little mustache, which was groomed to a needle sharpness. His hands and feet were as dainty as those of a woman. He was undeniably striking in appearance, and might have passed for handsome had it not been for the scowl that distorted his features.
"Eh! 'ere you are," he began, angrily.
"Yes; I want to get out, too. What does this treatment mean?"
The new-comer stepped toward the other occupant of the cell, at which Allan broke out in terror: "Don't you touch me. I'm a British object."
But it was evidently not the man's intention to offer any further indignity to his prisoners at that time. After scanning the Jamaican carefully, he issued an order to one of his men, who left the room.
"And I'm an American," Anthony declared. "You'll have to answer for this."
"Per'aps you don' know who I am. I am Ramon Alfarez, Comandante of Police, an' you dare' to t'row the water of the 'ose-wagon upon my person. Your gover'ment will settle for those insolt." His white teeth showed in a furious snarl.
"I don't give a damn who you are. I'll get bail or do whatever your law requires, but I want to get out and I want to get out now."
The commandant's eyes flashed as he asked, shortly. "W'at is your name?"
"Anthony. Your men tried to kill that boy, and when I wouldn't stand for it they beat me up."
"You strock me wit' the water of the 'ose-carriage," repeated the other. "You 'ave assault the dignity of my country."
"I didn't know who you were. I was helping to stop that fire when you butted in. Now, are you going to let me out, or do you want my people to pull this jail down around your ears?"
At this threat Senor Alfarez restrained his rage with an obvious effort. "You will reply to those outrage, senor."
"Sure, I'll reply. But in the mean time I want to telephone to the American consul. Look at this!" The young man held out his shaking, swollen wrists, upon which the blood was scarcely dry. "Look at it! Those runts of yours got handcuffs on me and then beat me up. I'm sick. So's that boy. We need a doctor."
Alfarez shook his head. "You resis' the police. Even in your country one mus' not do that. 'Ave I been there, I would keel you both, but I am 'aving a cheel at the moment from those stream of col' water."
"Will you take me to a telephone?"
"It is not permit."
"Will you notify Mr. Weeks?"
Receiving no reply to this request, Kirk broke out: "Well, then, what ARE you going to do? Let us stay here all night?"
"W'at is your bizness?"
"I haven't any."
"You don' work on the Canal?"
"No. I'm a tourist. My father is a big railroad man in the States. I'm telling you this so you'll know how to act."
"W'ere do you leeve--w'at 'otel?"
"I've been stopping with Mr. Weeks."
Senor Alfarez's attitude became somewhat less overbearing.
"In due time he will be notify of your outrage to my person," he announced.
The fellow who had left the room a moment before now reappeared, carrying a bucket of water and some towels, with which he directed Allan to remove the blood from his face and hands. When it came Kirk's turn, however, he objected.
"I think I'll wait until Weeks sees me," he said.
But Alfarez retorted, sharply: "It is not permit"; and, seeing that resistance would be useless, Kirk acquiesced as gracefully as he could, remarking as he did so:
"You'll have hard work washing off this, and this." He indicated the traces of the handcuffs and the gash in his scalp.
The commandant turned to his men and addressed them at some length, calling them to task, as Allan later informed his companion, for using their clubs in a manner to mark their prisoners so conspicuously. Then he followed them into the corridor, closing the grating behind him.
The hours passed, and daylight came with no word from the American consul. By this time the two prisoners were really in need of medical attention. Their contusions pained them severely. Kirk felt as if one or more of his ribs were broken, and his suffering, combined with hunger, prevented sleep. He became feverish and fretful, but his demands for communication with the outside world were calmly ignored, although he felt certain that his wishes were fully understood. When the morning had passed without his being arraigned for a hearing he grew alarmed. Evidently he had been flung into confinement and forgotten.
Eventually Kirk and Allan were given food, but still no one came to their relief. Apparently no message had been delivered. This treatment was so atrocious, so at variance with Anthony's ideas of his own importance, that he felt he must be suffering from nightmare. How dared they treat an American so, no matter what the charge? Why didn't they try him or give him a hearing? These insolent, overbearing Panamaniacs had no regard for law or humanity, and this was no longer a question of petty injustice; it was a grave infraction of civilized equity.
But the afternoon wore on without an encouraging sign, till Kirk began to think that Weeks had refused to intercede for him and intended to leave him to the mercies of his enemies. With difficulty he managed to convey to a guard his desire to notify some of the other Americans in the city, but as usual no heed was paid to his request.
It was considerably after dark when a visitor was at last admitted. He proved to be the English consul, whom Anthony had never met.
"What are you doing here?" the new-comer inquired. Then, when the facts had been laid before him, he exclaimed: "Why, I heard that a Jamaican negro had been arrested, but I heard nothing about mistreatment of a white man."
"Doesn't anybody know I'm here?"
"I'm sure no one does. Those heathens lied to you--they never communicated with Weeks or anybody. They're afraid. This is an old trick of theirs--man-handling a prisoner, then keeping him hidden until he recovers. If he doesn't recover they get out of it on some excuse or other, as best they can. Why, they killed a white sailor not long ago--just plain clubbed him to death without excuse, then asserted that he resisted arrest. They did the same to one of our negroes. He died in the jail before I got wind of it, and when I started an investigation they showed his signed statement declaring that he had not been abused at all, and had been given the kindest treatment. The matter isn't settled yet. It's infamous! Why, I had hard work to get in at all just now. But I'll have Allan here out in two hours or I'll know the reason. England protects her subjects, Mr. Anthony, and these people know it. If they don't come to time I'll have a gunboat in the harbor in twenty-four hours. Color doesn't amount to a damn with us, sir; it's the flag."
"I guess Uncle Sam is strong enough to command respect," said Anthony.
"Well, I know the circumstances now, and I'll go straight to Weeks. He can arrange your release without trouble. If you were an Englishman, I'd have you out in no time, and you'd collect handsome damages, too. This boy will."
True to the consul's prediction, a little later the Jamaican was led out of the cell, and from the fact that he was not brought back Kirk judged that the British intervention had been effectual. But it was not until the next morning, the second of his imprisonment, that the cell door opened once more, this time to admit the portly figure of John Weeks and the spruce person of Senor Ramon Alfarez.
"What's all this trouble about?" inquired the former in none too amiable a tone.
Kirk told his story as briefly and convincingly as he could. But when he had finished, the consul shook his head.
"I don't see what I can do for you," he said. "According to your own declaration you resisted a police officer. You'll have to take your medicine."
Alfarez nodded agreement. "Quite right!" said he. "He did terrible 'avoc with my men, t'ree of which is now on the 'ospital."
"But why don't they try me or let me get bail? I want to get out."
"You'll be tried as soon as they get around to it."
"Look here!" Kirk showed the marks his assailants had left upon him. "Will you stand for that? I've been here two nights now without medical attention." "How about that, Alfarez?"
The commandant shrugged his shoulders. "If he require a doctor, one shall be secure', but he is not severely injure.' I 'ave explain the frightful indignity to the honor of my person, yes? As for me, pooh! It is forget." He waved his hand gracefully and smiled sweetly upon his fat visitor. "It does not exist. But the brave soldiers of mine! Ah! Senor Wick, they lofe me, they cannot forget the honor of el comandante. So! When the prisoner is decide to insurrect, who can say those gallant soldier don' be too strong? Who can blame for making roff-'ouse?"
"I guess you ain't hurt much," said Weeks, eying his countryman coldly. "You didn't get any more than was coming to you."
"I won't stand for this," cried the prisoner, hotly. "The English consul got that nigger boy out, and I want you to do the same for me."
"You don't understand. I've got business interests in this country, and I can't dash about creating international issues every time an American gets locked up for disorderly conduct. How long do you think I'd last with these people if I did that?"
"Are you really afraid to do anything?" Kirk inquired, slowly. "Or is it because of our row?"
"Oh, there's nothing personal about it! I can't afford personal feelings in my position. Really, I don't see where you're so much abused. You assaulted a government officer and resisted arrest. If you got hurt it's your own fault. Of course I'll see that you have a fair trial."
The commandant spoke up with ingratiating politeness: "The prisoner say he is reech man's son. Now, of course, it is too bad he is injure' wit' the clob of the policeman; but those officer is ver' polite, senor, and if he is explain biffore--"
Weeks snorted indignantly. "He gave you that fairy tale, eh? He said his name was Anthony and his father was a railroad president, didn't he? Well, he imposed on me, too, but his name is Locke, and, as near as I can learn, he practically stowed away on the SANTA CRUZ."
"Ah-h!" The officer's eyes widened as he turned them upon his prisoner. "He is then a w'at you call tramp."
"All I know is, he stuck me for a lot of bills. I'll have to see that he gets fair treatment, I suppose, because he's an American, but that ends my duty."
"Is this the best you'll do for me?" Kirk inquired, as Weeks made ready to go.
"Will you tell some of the men at the Wayfarers that I'm here?"
"Oh, that won't do any good. You're in for it, Locke, so don't holler. I'll be on hand at your hearing."
"Will you cable my father?"
"At twenty-five cents a word? Hardly!" The speaker mopped his face, exclaiming: "There's no use of talking, I've got to get out in the air; it's too hot in here for me." Then he waddled out ahead of Senor Alfarez, who slammed the door behind him as he followed to escort his caller to the street.
But a half-hour later the commandant returned to the cell, and this time he brought with him a number of his little policemen, each armed with a club. Feeling some menace in their coming, Kirk, who had seated himself dejectedly, arose to ask: "What's coming off?"
Alfarez merely issued some directions in Spanish, and chain handcuffs were once more snapped upon the prisoner's wrists.
"So! you're going to hold my trial, eh?" cried Kirk.
But the other snarled: "Senor Locke, you 'ave force' the water of the 'ose-wagon upon my body for making the people laugh. Bueno! Now I shall laugh." He seated himself, then nodded at his men to begin.
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