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A round moon flooded the thickets with gold and inky shadows. The night was hot, poisonous with the scent of blossoms and of rotting tropic vegetation. It was that breathless, overpowering period between the seasons when the trades were fitful, before the rains had come. From the Caribbean rose the whisper of a dying surf, slower and fainter than the respirations of a sick man; in the north the bearded, wrinkled Haytian hills lifted their scowling faces. They were trackless, mysterious, darker even than the history of the island.
Beneath a thatched roof set upon four posts was a table, spread with food, and on it a candle burned steadily. No wind came out of the hot darkness; the flame rose straight and unwavering. Under a similar thatched shed, a short distance away, a group of soldiers were busy around a smoldering cook-fire. There were other huts inside the jungle clearing, through the dilapidated walls of which issued rays of light and men's voices.
Petithomme Laguerre, colonel of tirailleurs, in the army of the Republic, wiped the fat of a roasted pig from his lips with the back of his hand. Using his thumb-nail as a knife-blade, he loosened a splinter from the edge of the rickety wooden table, fashioned it into a toothpick, then laid himself back in a grass hammock. He had expected to find rum in the house of Julien Rameau, but either there had been none or his brave soldiers had happened upon it; at any rate, supper had been a dry meal—only one of several disappointments of the day. The sack of the village had not been at all satisfactory to the colonel; one yellow woman dead, a few prisoners, and some smoldering ruins—surely there was no profit in such business.
Reclining at ease, he allowed himself to admire his uniform, a splendid creation of blue and gold which had put him to much pains and expense. It had arrived from Port au Prince barely in time to be of service in the campaign. As for the shoes, they were not so satisfactory. Shoes of any sort, in fact, cramped Colonel Petithomme Laguerre's feet, and were refinements of fashion to which he had never fully accustomed himself. He wore them religiously, in public, for a colonel who would be a general must observe the niceties of military deportment, even in the Haytian army, but now he kicked them off and exposed his naked yellow soles gratefully.
On three sides of the clearing were thickets of guava and coffee trees, long since gone wild. A ruined wall along the beach road, a pair of bleaching gate-posts, a moldering house foundation, showed that this had once been the site of a considerable estate.
These mute testimonials to the glories of the French occupation are common in Hayti, but since the blacks rose under Toussaint l'Ouverture they have been steadily disappearing; the greedy fingers of the jungle have destroyed them bit by bit; what were once farms and gardens are now thickets and groves; in place of stately houses there are now nothing but miserable hovels. Cities of brick and stone have been replaced by squalid villages of board and corrugated iron, peopled by a shrill-voiced, quarreling race over which, in grim mockery, floats the banner of the Black Republic inscribed with the motto, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity."
Once Hayti was called the "Jewel of the Antilles" and boasted its "Little Paris of the West," but when the black men rose to power it became a place of evil reputation, a land behind a veil, where all things are possible and most things come to pass. In place of monastery bells there sounds the midnight mutter of voodoo drums; the priest has been succeeded by the "papaloi," the worship of the Virgin has changed to that of the serpent. Instead of the sacramental bread and wine men drink the blood of the white cock, and, so it is whispered, eat the flesh of "the goat without horns."
As he picked his teeth, Colonel Petithomme Laguerre turned his eyes to the right, peering idly into the shadows of a tamarind-tree, the branches of which overtopped the hut. Suspended from one of these was an inert shape, mottled with yellow patches where the moonbeams filtered through the leaves. It stirred, swayed, turned slowly, resolving itself into the figure of an old man. He was hanging by the wrists to a rawhide rope; his toes were lightly touching the earth.
"So! Now that Monsieur Rameau has had time to think, perhaps he will speak," said the colonel.
A sigh, it was scarcely a groan, answered.
"Miser that you are!" impatiently exclaimed the colonel. "Your money can do you no good now. Is it not better to part with it easily than to rot in a government prison? You understand, the jails are full; many mulattoes like you will be shot to make room."
"There is no—money," faintly came the voice of the prisoner. "My neighbors will tell you that I am poor."
Both men spoke in the creole patois of the island.
"Not much, perhaps, but a little, eh? Just a little, let us say."
"Why should I lie? There is none."
"Bah! It seems you are stubborn. Congo, bring the boy!" Laguerre spoke gruffly.
A man emerged from the shadows at the base of the tree and slouched forward. He was a negro soldier, and, with musket and machete, shuffled past the corner of the hut in the direction of the other houses, pausing as the colonel said:
"But wait! There is a girl, too, I believe."
"Yes, monsieur. The wife of Floréal."
"Good! Bring them both."
Some moments later imploring voices rose, a shrill entreaty in a woman's tones, then Congo and another tirailleur appeared; driving ahead of them a youth and a girl. The prisoners' arms were bound behind them, and although the girl was weeping, the boy said little. He stepped forward into the candle-light and stared defiantly at the blue-and-gold officer.
Floréal Rameau was a slim mulatto, perhaps twenty years old; his lips were thin and sensitive, his nose prominent, his eyes brilliant and fearless. They gleamed now with all the vindictiveness of a serpent, until that hanging figure in the shadows just outside turned slowly and a straying moonbeam lit the face of his father; then a new expression leaped into them. Floréal's chin fell, he swayed uncertainly upon his legs.
"Monsieur—what is this?" he said, faintly.
The girl cowered at his back.
"Your father persists in lying," explained Laguerre.
"What do you—wish him to say?"
"A little thing. His money can be of no further use to him."
"Money?" Floréal voiced the word vacantly. He turned to his wife, saying, "Monsieur le Colonel asks for money. We have none."
The girl nodded, her lips moved, but no sound issued; she also was staring, horror-stricken, into the shadows of the tamarind-tree. Her arms, bound as they were, threw the outlines of her ripe young bosom into prominent relief and showed her to be round and supple; she was lighter in color even than Floréal. A little scar just below her left eye stood out, dull brown, upon her yellow cheek.
Laguerre now saw her plainly for the first time, and shook off his indolence. He swung his legs from the hammock and sat up. Something in the intensity of his regard brought her gaze away from the figure of Papa Rameau. She saw a large, thick-necked, full-bodied black, of bold and brutal feature, whose determined eyes had become bloodshot from staring through dust and sun. He wore a mustache, and a little pointed woolly patch beneath his lower lip. Involuntarily the girl recoiled.
"Um-m! So!" The barefoot colonel rose and, stepping forward, took her face in his harsh palm, turning it up for scrutiny. His roving glance appraised her fully. "Your name is—"
"To be sure. Well then, my little Pierrine, you will tell me about this, eh?"
"I know nothing," she stammered. "Floréal speaks the truth, monsieur. What does it mean—all this? We are good people; we harm nobody. Every one here was happy until the—blacks rose. Then there was fighting and—this morning you came. It was terrible! Mamma Cleomélie is dead—the soldiers shot her. Why do you hang Papa Julien?"
Floréal broke in, hysterically: "Yes, monsieur, he is an old man. Punish me if you will, but my father—he is old. See! He is barely alive. These riches you speak about are imaginary. We have fields, cattle, a schooner; take them for the Republic, but, monsieur, my father has injured no one."
Petithomme Laguerre reseated himself in the hammock and swung himself idly, his bare soles scuffing the hard earthen floor; he continued to eye Pierrine.
Now that young Rameau had brought himself to beg, he fell to his knees and went on: "I swear to you that we are not traitors. Never have we spoken against the government. We are 'colored,' yes, but the black people love us. They loved Cleomélie, my mother, whom the soldiers shot. That was murder. Monsieur—she would have harmed nobody. She was only frightened." The suppliant's shoulders were heaving, his voice was choked by emotion. "She is unburied. I appeal to your kind heart to let us go and bury her. We will be your servants for life. You wish money. Good! We will find it for you. I will work, I will steal, I will kill for this money you wish—I swear it. But old Julien, he is dying there on the rope—"
Floréal raised his tortured eyes to the black face above him, then his babbling tongue fell silent and he rose, interposing his body between Pierrine and the colonel. It was evident that the latter had heard nothing whatever of the appeal, for he was still staring at the girl.
Floréal strained until the rawhide thongs cut into his wrists, his bare, yellow toes gripping the hard earth like the claws of a cat until he seemed about to spring. Once he turned his head, curiously, fearfully, toward his young wife, then his blazing glance swung back to his captor.
The silence roused Laguerre finally, and he rose. "Speak the truth," he commanded, roughly, "otherwise you shall see your father dance a bamboula while my soldiers drum on his ribs with the cocomacaque."
"He is feeble; his bones are brittle," said the son, thickly.
"As for you, my little Pierrine, you will come to my house; then, if these wicked men refuse to speak, perhaps you and I will reach an understanding." Laguerre grinned evilly.
"Monsieur—!" With a furious curse Floréal flung himself in the path of the black man; the wife retreated in speechless dismay.
Petithomme thrust young Rameau aside, crying, angrily: "You wish to live, eh? Well, then, the truth. Otherwise—"
"But—she? Pierrine?" panted Floréal, with a twist of his head in her direction.
"I may allow her to go free. Who can tell?" He led the girl out across the moonlit clearing and to the largest house in the group. He reappeared, making the door fast behind him, and returned, stretching himself in the hammock once more.
"Now, Congo," he ordered, "let us see who will speak first." Taking a pipe from his pocket, he filled it with the rank native tobacco and lighted it. The tirailleur he had addressed selected a four-foot club of the jointed cocomacaque wood, such as is used by the local police, and with it smote the suspended figure heavily. Old Julien groaned, his son cried out. The brutality proceeded with deliberation, the body of old Julien swung drunkenly, spinning, swaying, writhing in the moonlight.
Floréal shrank away. Retreating until his back was against the table, he clutched its edge with his numb fingers for support. He was young, he had seen little of the ferocious cruelty which characterized his countrymen; this was the first uprising against his color that he had witnessed. Every blow, which seemed directed at his own body, made him suffer until he became almost as senseless as the figure of his father.
His groping fingers finally touched the candle at his back; it was burning low, and the blaze bit at them. With the pain there came a thought, wild, fantastic; he shifted his position slightly until the flame licked at his bonds. Colonel Laguerre was in the shadow now, watching the torture with approval. Maximilien, the other soldier, rested unmoved upon his rifle. Floréal leaned backward, and shut his teeth; an agony ran through his veins. The odor of burning flesh rose faintly to his nostrils.
"Softly, Congo," directed the colonel, after a time. "Let him rest for a moment." Turning to the son he inquired, "Will you see him die rather than speak?"
Floréal nodded silently; his face was distorted and wet with sweat.
Laguerre rose with a curse. "Little pig! I will make your tongue wag if I have to place you between planks and saw you in twain. But you shall have time to think. Maximilien will guard you, and in the morning you will guide me to the hiding-place. Meanwhile we will let the old man hang. I have an appetite for pleasanter things than this." He turned toward the house in which Pierrine was hidden, whereat Floréal strained at his bonds, calling after him:
"Laguerre! She is my wife—by the Church! My wife."
Petithomme opened the door silently and disappeared.
"Humph! The colonel amuses himself while I tickle the sides of this yellow man," said Congo in some envy.
"I don't believe there is any money," Maximilien observed. "What? Am I right?" He turned inquiringly to Floréal, but the latter had regained his former position, and the candle-flame was licking at his wrists. "To be sure! This is a waste of time. Make an end of the old man, Congo, and I will take the boy back to his prison. It is late and I am sleepy."
The speaker approached his captive, his musket resting in the hollow of his arm, his machete hanging at his side. "So, now! Don't strain so bitterly," he laughed. "I tied those knots and they will not slip, for I have tied too many yellow men. To-morrow you will be shot, monsieur, and Pierrine will be a widow, so why curse the colonel if he cheats you by a few hours?"
Congo was examining his victim, and uttered an exclamation, at which Maximilien paused, with a hand upon Floréal's shoulder.
"Is he dead?"
"The club was heavier than I thought," answered Congo.
"He brought it upon himself. Well, the prison at Jacmel is full of colored people; this will leave room for one more—"
Maximilien's words suddenly failed him, his thoughts were abruptly halted, for he found that in some unaccountable manner young Rameau's hands had become free and that the machete at his own side was slipping from its sheath. The phenomenon was unbelievable, it paralyzed Maximilien's intellect during that momentary pause which is required to reconcile the inconceivable with the imminent. It is doubtful if the trooper fully realized what had befallen or that any danger threatened, for his mind was sluggish, and under Rameau's swift hands his soul had begun to tug at his body before his astonishment had disappeared. The blade rasped out of its scabbard, whistled through its course, and Maximilien lurched forward to his knees.
The sound of the blow, like that of an ax sunk into a rotten tree-trunk, surprised Congo. A shout burst from him; he raised the stout cudgel above his head, for Floréal was upon him like the blurred image out of a nightmare. The trooper shrieked affrightedly as the blade sheared through his shield and bit at his arm. He turned to flee, but his head was round and bare, and it danced before the oncoming Floréal. Rameau cleft it, as he had learned to open a green cocoanut, with one stroke. On the hard earth, Maximilien was scratching and kicking as if to drag himself out of the welter in which he lay.
Floréal cut down his father and received the limp figure in his arms. As he straightened it he heard a furious commotion from the camp-fire where the other tirailleurs were squatted. From the tail of his eye he saw that they were reaching for their weapons. He heard Laguerre shouting in the hut, then the crash of something overturned. As he rose from his father's body he heard a shot and saw the soldiers of the Republic charging him. They were between him and Pierrine. He hesitated, then slipped back into the shadow of the tamarind-tree, and out at the other side; his cotton garments flickered briefly through the moonlight, then the thicket swallowed him. His pursuers paused and emptied their guns blindly into the ink-black shadows where he had disappeared.
When Colonel Laguerre arrived upon the scene they were still loading and firing without aim, and he had some difficulty in restoring them to order. Blood they were accustomed to, but blood of their own letting. This was very different. This was a blow at the government, at their own established authority. Such an appalling loss of life seldom occurred to regular troops of the Republic; it was worse than a pitched battle with the Dominicans, and it excited the troopers terribly.
Perhaps he had been mistaken and there was no money, thought the colonel, as he returned to his quarters after a time. Of course the girl still remained, and he could soon force the truth from her, but she was the only source of information left now that Floréal had escaped, for Laguerre had noted carelessly that the body of Julien had hung too long. It was annoying to be deceived in this way, but perhaps the day had not been without some profit, after all, he mused.
The road to the Dominican frontier was rough and wild. All Hayti was aflame; every village was peopled by raging blacks who had risen against their lighter-hued brethren. Among the fugitives who slunk along the winding bridle-paths that once had been roads there was a mulatto youth of scarcely twenty, who carried a machete beneath his arm. In his eyes there was a lurking horror; his wrists were bound with rags torn from his cotton shirt; he spoke but seldom, and when he did it was to curse the name of Petithomme Laguerre.
Floréal took up his residence across the border. The countries had long been at war, so he found reason to change his name. He likewise changed his language, although that was not so easily accomplished, and then, since he had been born of the sea, he returned to it. But he could not bring himself to utterly forsake the island of his birth, for twice a year, when the seasons changed, when the trades died and the hot lands sent their odors reeking through the night, he felt a hungry yearning for Hayti. During these periods of lifeless heat his impulses ran wild; at these times his habits changed and he became violent, nocturnal. As he thought of Petithomme Laguerre he bit his wrists in an agony of recollection. Women shunned him, men said to one another:
"This Inocencio is a person of uncertain temper. He has a bad eye."
"Whence did he come?" others inquired. "He is not one of us."
"From Jamaica, or the Barbadoes, perhaps. He has much evil in him."
"And yet he makes no enemies."
"Um-m! A peculiar fellow. A man of passion—one can see it in his face."
Hayti had become quiet once more—as quiet as could be expected—and the former colonel of tirailleurs had prospered. He was now "General Petithomme Laguerre, Commandant of the Arrondissement of the South," and the echo of his name crept eastward along the coast, even to Azua.
The bitterness of this news finally sent Inocencio seaward in a barkentine, the business of which was not above suspicion. He cruised through the Virgin Islands, on around the Leewards and the Windwards, seeing something of the world and tasting of its wickedness. A year later, at Trinidad, he fell in with a Portuguese half-breed, captain of a schooner bound on hazardous business, and, inasmuch as high wages were promised, he shipped. Followed adventures of many sorts, during which Inocencio became a mate, but made no friends.
One night when the moon was full and the schooner lay becalmed there was drinking and gambling in the little cabin. It was the change of the seasons, before the rains had come; the air was close; the ship reeked with odors. Inocencio played like a demon, for his heart was fierce, and the cards befriended him. All night he and the Portuguese half-breed shuffled and dealt, drank rum, and cursed each other. When daylight came the schooner had changed hands.
Colon sits on the southern shore of the Caribbean, and through it drifts a current of traffic from many seas. It is like the riffle of a sluice or the catch-basin of a sewer, gathering all the sediment carried by the stream, and thither Captain Inocencio headed, drawn on the tide. It was at the time of the French fiasco, when De Lesseps's name was powerful, and when Colon was the wickedest, sickest city of the Western Hemisphere.
Into the harbor came Inocencio's schooner, pelting ahead of the stiff trade-winds that blew like the draught from an electric fan, and there the Haytian stayed, for in Colon he found work that suited him. There he heard the echo of tremendous undertakings; there he learned new rascalities, and met men from other lands who were homeless, like himself; there he tasted of the white man's wickedness, and beheld forms of corruption that were strange to him. The nights were ribald and the days were drear, for fever stalked the streets, but Inocencio was immune, and for the first time he enjoyed himself.
But he was solitary in his habits; the festering town, with its green-slimed sewers and its filthy streets, did not appeal to him, so he took up his abode on the shore of a little bay close behind, where a grove of palm-trees overhung a sandy beach. Just across a mangrove swamp at his back was the city; before him lay his schooner, her bowsprit pointing seaward. Day and night it pointed seaward, like a resolute finger; pointed toward Hayti and—Pierrine.
In time the mulatto acquired a reputation and gathered a crew of ruffians over whom he tyrannized. There were women in his camp, too, 'Bajans, Sant' Lucians, and wenches from the other isles, but neither they nor their powdered sisters along the back streets of Colon appealed to Inocencio very long, for sooner or later there always came to him the memory of a yellow girl with a scar beneath her eye, and thoughts of her brought pictures of a blue-and-gold negro colonel and an old man hanging by the wrists. Then it was that he felt a slow flame licking at his tendons, and his hatred blazed up so suddenly that the women fled from him, bearing marks of his fingers on their flesh.
Sometimes he sailed away and was gone for weeks. When he returned his crew told stories of aimless visits to the Haytian coast in which there appeared to be neither reason nor profit, since they neither took nor fetched a cargo. These journeys came at regular intervals, as if there arrived upon the hurrying trades a call that took him northward, just before the seasons changed.
His helpers retailed other gossip also, rumors of a coming revolution in the Republic, tales of the great general, Petithomme Laguerre, who had aims upon the Presidency. Inocencio's ears were open, and what he heard stirred his rage, but he was not a brilliant man, and his brain, unused to strategy, refused to counsel him. For five years he had studied the matter incessantly, nursing his hate and searching for a means to satisfy it. Then, as if born of the lightning, he saw his way.
He consulted a French clerk in the Canal offices, and between them they contrived a letter which ran as follows:
To His Excellency, General Petithomme Laguerre, Commandant of the Arrondissement of the South, Jacmel, Republic of Hayti.
General,—The bearer, Inocencio Ruiz, of Cartagena, master of the schooner Stella, will consult you upon a matter of extreme delicacy which concerns the sale of two hundred rifles. These arms, of latest model, were consigned to this port, but under the existing relations of amity between the French and Colombian governments they cannot be used. Knowing your patriotism and the zeal with which you safeguard the welfare of your country, the writer makes bold to offer these arms to you, as agent of the Haytian government, at a low figure. Captain Ruiz, a man of discretion, is empowered to discuss the matter with you at greater length.
In full appreciation of your supreme qualities as a soldier and statesman, it is with admiration that I salute you.Respectfully,
When the letter was finally read to Inocencio he nodded; but the French clerk said, doubtfully:
"This Laguerre is a man of force, I believe. I should not care to trifle with him in this way."
"I, too, am a man of force," said the mulatto.
"He is your enemy?"
"To the death."
The white man shook his head. "Danger lurks along the Haytian coast; many things happen there, for the people are barbarians. I should prefer to forgive this Petithomme rather than oppose him, even though he were my enemy."
Inocencio scowled. "When I die I shall have no enemies to forgive, for I shall have killed them all," he said, simply.
Jacmel lay white in the blazing sun as the Stella dropped anchor. The trades were failing, and the schooner drifted slowly under a full spread of canvas. Near where she came to rest lay a Haytian gunboat, ill-painted, ill-manned, ill-disciplined, and Inocencio regarded her with some concern, for her presence was a thing he had not counted upon. It argued either that Laguerre had won the support of her commander or that she had been sent by the government as a check upon his activities. In either event she was a menace.
A band was playing in the square, and there were many soldiers. Inocencio did not go ashore. Instead he sent the letter by a member of his crew, a giant 'Bajan whom he trusted, and with it he sent word that he hoped to meet His Excellency, General Laguerre, that evening at a certain drinking-place near the water-front.
The sailor returned at dusk with news that set his captain's eyes aglow. Jacmel was alive with troops; there had been a review that very afternoon and the populace had hailed the commandant as President. On all sides there was talk of revolution; the whole south country had enrolled beneath the banner of revolt. The gunboat was Laguerre's; all Hayti craved a change; the old familiar race cry had been raised and the mulattoes were in terror of another massacre. But the regular troops were badly armed and the perusal of Inocencio's letter had filled the general with joy.
Captain Ruiz was early at the meeting-place, but he waited patiently, drinking rum and listening to the chatter of the street. His Spanish accent, his identity as the master of the schooner in the offing, and, above all, his threatening eyes, won him a tolerance which the warlike blacks did not accord to Haytians of his color; therefore he was not molested. He soon confirmed his sailor's story; revolution was indeed in the air; the country was seething with unrest. Many houses already had been burned—sure token of an uprising. The soldiers had had a taste of pillage and persecution. The streets were thronged with them now; merchants were on guard before their shops; from every side came the sounds of revelry and quarreling.
Laguerre arrived, finally, a huge, forbidding man of martial bearing, and he was heralded by cheers. He was much older and infinitely prouder than when Inocencio had seen him. His uniform had been blue at that time, but now it was parrot-green; his epaulettes were broader, the golden braid and dangling loops were heavier, and he was fat from easy living. With age and power he had coarsened, but his eyes were still bloodshot and domineering.
"Captain Ruiz?" he inquired, pausing before the yellow man.
"Your Excellency!" Inocencio rose and saluted. The seaman's eyes were smoldering, but his lips were cold, for he felt the dread of recognition.
Time, it seemed, had dulled the sharp outlines of Laguerre's memory as it had changed the younger man's features, for he continued, unsuspectingly:
"You are the agent of Monsieur Leblanc, I believe."
"Good! Now these rifles—you have them near by?"
"Within gunshot, Excellency. They are in the harbor at this moment."
Laguerre's face lighted. "Ha! A man of business, this Leblanc. You will fix the price, as I understand it."
There followed a certain amount of bickering, during which the general allowed himself to be worsted. He agreed weakly to Inocencio's terms, having already decided to appropriate the God-sent cargo without payment. The latter had counted upon this, and, moreover, he had rightfully construed the light in those bloodshot eyes.
"Monsieur le Général must see these rifles for himself, to appreciate them, and he must count them, too, else how can he know that I am not deceiving him? We must observe caution, for there may be spies—" Inocencio spoke craftily.
"Pah! Spies? In Jacmel?"
"Nevertheless, there is a gunboat in the harbor and she flies the flag of the Republic. My skiff is waiting; we will slip out and back again—in an hour the inspection will be completed. You must see those rifles with your own eyes, Excellency. They are wonderful—the equal of any in the world; no troops can stand before them. They are magnificent."
"Come!" said Laguerre, rising.
"But alone!" Inocencio displayed a worthy circumspection. "This is hazardous business. That war-ship with the flag of the Republic—my employer is a man of reputation."
"Very well." Laguerre dismissed an aide who had remained at a distance during the interview, and together the two set out.
"You arrived barely in time, for we march to-morrow," said the general; "at least we march within the week. My defiance has gone forth. My country cries for her defender. There will be bloody doings, for I tell you the temper of the people is roused and they have no stomach for that tyrant at Port au Prince."
"Bloody doings!" Inocencio smiled admiringly upon his companion. "And who could cope with them better than yourself? You have a reputation, Excellency. The name of Petithomme Laguerre is known, even in my country."
"Indeed!" The black general's chest swelled.
"We have heroes of our own—men who have bathed in blood defending our rights—but our soldiers are only soldiers, they are not statesmen. We are not so fortunate as Hayti. We would welcome, we would idolize such a one. Would that we had him; would that we boasted a—Petithomme Laguerre."
The hearer was immensely gratified at this flattery and he straightened himself pompously, saying:
"But we are favored by God, we Haytians, and we have bred a race of giants. We have gained our proud position among the nations at the price of blood. Believe me, we are not ordinary men. Our soldiers are braver than lions, our armies are the admiration of the world, we have reached that level for which God created us. It requires strong hands to guide such a people. My country calls. I am her servant."
The moon was round and brilliant as they walked out upon the rotting wharf—all wharves in Hayti are decayed—the night had grown still, and through it came the gentle whisper of the tide, mingled with the babel from the town. Land odors combined with the pungent stench of the harbor in a scent which caused Inocencio's nostrils to quiver and memory to gnaw at him. He cast a worried look skyward, and in his ungodly soul prayed for wind, for a breeze, for a gentle zephyr which would put his vengeance in his hands.
He had dropped anchor well offshore, hence the row was long, but as they neared the Stella a breath came out of the open. It was hot, stifling, as if a furnace door had opened, and the yellow man smiled grimly into the night.
The crew were sleeping on the deck as the two came overside, but at sight of that glittering apparition of green and gold they rubbed their eyes open and stared in speechless amazement. They were reckless fellows, fit for any enterprise, but Inocencio had learned to keep a silent tongue, so they knew nothing of his present plans. They heard him saying:
"Into the cabin, Monsieur le Général, if you will be so good. It is dark, yes, but there will be a light presently, and then—a sight for any soldier's eyes! Something that will gladden the heart of any patriot!" They went below, leaving the sailors open-mouthed. "A miserable place, Excellency," came the soft voice, "but the Cause! For Hayti one would suffer—A match, if you will be so kind. The lamp is at your hand." The skylight glowed a faint yellow, then was brightly illuminated. "For Hayti one would endure—much."
There followed the sound of a blow, of a heavy fall, then a loud, ferocious cry, and a subdued scuffling, during which the crew stared at one another. The giant 'Bajan crept forward finally and was met by Inocencio, emerging from the cabin. The captain was smiling, and he carefully closed the hatch before he gave orders to make sail.
The breeze was faint, so the schooner gathered headway slowly, but as the lights of Jacmel and of the anchored gunboat faded out astern Inocencio sat upon the deck-house and drummed with his naked heels upon the cabin wall. He lit one cigarette after another, and the helmsman saw that he was laughing silently.
Dawn broke in an explosion of many colors. The sun rushed up out of the sea as if pursued; night fled, and in its place was a blistering day, full grown. The breeze had died, however, and the Stella wallowed in a glassy calm, her sails slatting, her booms creaking, her gear complaining to the drunken roll. The slow swells heeled her first to one side, then to the other, the decks grew burning hot; no faintest ripple stirred the undulating surface of the Caribbean. Afar, the Haytian hills wavered and danced through a veil of heat. The slender topmast described long measured arcs across the sky, like a schoolmaster's pointer; from its peak the halyards whipped and bellied.
"Captain!" The 'Bajan waited for recognition. "Captain!" Inocencio looked up finally. "There—toward Jacmel—there is smoke. See! We have been watching it."
The mulatto nodded.
"The smoke of a ship."
"Ah! A ship!" Inocencio smiled and the negro recoiled suddenly. All night long the master of the Stella had sat upon the deck-house, staring at the sea and smoking. At times he had laughed and whispered to some one whom the helmsman could not see, but this was the first time he had smiled at any member of his crew. In fact, it was the first time the sailor had ever seen him smile. The 'Bajan withdrew and went forward to consult with his fellows. They eyed their employer curiously, fearfully, for much had happened to alarm them, not the least of which had been a furious commotion from below. Frightful curses had issued from the cabin, threats which had caused their limbs to tremble, but they had affected the captain like soothing music. It was very strange. It caused the sailors to look with concern upon that thin, low streamer in the distance; it led them to go aft in a body finally and speak their minds.
"The smoke is growing larger," they declared, and Inocencio roused himself sufficiently to look. "It is the war-ship. We are pursued. Who is this big man below?"
"He is a—friend of mine, Petithomme Laguerre—"
"What did I tell you?" exclaimed the 'Bajan, breathlessly.
"What shall we do?" one of them inquired in a panic. "That smoke! The wind has forsaken us." He shuffled his bare feet uncomfortably. "We will be shot for this."
Inocencio tossed away his cigarette and rose; he lifted his eyes aloft. The slim topmast arrested his attention as it swept across the sky, and he watched it for a moment; then to the giant sailor he said: "You will find a new rope forward. Make it fast to the end of this halyard and run it through yonder block." He slid back the hatch and descended leisurely into the cabin.
Laguerre was sitting in a chair with his arms and legs securely bound, but he had succeeded in working considerable havoc with the furnishings of the place as well as with his splendid uniform. His lips foamed, his eyes protruded at sight of his captor; a trickle of blood from his scalp lent him a ferocious appearance.
Inocencio seated himself, and the two men stared at each other across the bare table.
Laguerre spoke first, his tongue thick, his voice hoarse from yelling. Inocencio listened with fixed, unwavering gaze.
"You tricked me neatly," the former raved. "You are a government spy, I presume. The government feared me. Well, then, it was bold work, but you will listen to what I say now. We will settle this matter quickly, you and I. I have money. You can name your price."
The hearer curled his thin lips. "So! You have money. You offer to buy your life. Old Julien had no money; he was poor."
Petithomme did not understand. "I am too powerful to remain in prison," he declared. "The President would not dare harm me; no man dares harm me; but I am willing to pay you—"
"All Hayti could not buy your life, Laguerre!"
Some tone of voice, some haunting familiarity of feature, set the prisoner's memory to groping blindly. At last he inquired, "Who are you?"
"I am Floréal."
The name meant nothing. Laguerre's life was black; many Floréals had figured in it.
"You do not remember me?"
"N-no, and yet—"
"Perhaps you will remember another—a woman. She had a scar, just here." The speaker laid a tobacco-stained finger upon his left cheek-bone, and Laguerre noticed for the first time that the wrist beneath it was maimed as from a burn. "It was a little scar and it was brown, in the candle-light. She was young and round and her body was soft—" The mulatto's lean face was suddenly distorted in a horrible grimace which he intended for a smile. "She was my wife, Laguerre, by the Church, and you took her. She died, but she had a child—your child."
The huge black figure shrank into its green-and-gold panoply, the bloodshot eyes rested upon Inocencio with a look of terrified recognition.
"I have no children, Laguerre; no wife; no home! I am poor and you have become great. There was an old man whom you stretched by the wrists, in the moonlight. Do you remember him? And the old woman, my mother, whom one of your soldiers shot? Maximilien did it, but I killed him and Congo! And now there is only you."
"That was—long ago." The prisoner rolled his eyes desperately; his voice was uncertain as he whined, "I am rich—richer than anybody knows."
"Others had more money than we, eh?"
The general nodded.
"Pierrine is dead, and you would have been the President. It is well that I came in time." Again Captain Ruiz smiled, and the corpulent soldier was shaken loosely as by an invisible hand. "Come now! Your friends are approaching and I must prepare you to greet them."
He untied the knots at Laguerre's ankles, then motioned him toward the cabin door.
That streamer of smoke had grown; it was a black smudge against the sky when the two gained the deck, and at sight of it the general shouted:
"My ship! The gunboat! Ho! If harm comes to me—"
Inocencio took one end of the new rope which had been run through the block at the masthead, and knotted it about his prisoner's wrists, then with his knife he severed the other bonds.
"Give way!" he ordered.
The crew held back, at which he turned upon them so savagely that they hastened to obey. They put their weight upon the line; Laguerre's arms were whisked above his head, he felt his feet leave the deck. He was dumb with surprise, choked with rage at this indignity, but he did not understand its significance.
"Up with him! In a rush!" cried the captain, and hand over hand the sailors hauled in, while upward in a series of jerks went Petithomme Laguerre. The schooner listed and he swung outward; he tried to entwine his legs in the shrouds, but failed, and he continued to rise until his feet had cleared the crosstree.
"Make fast!" Inocencio ordered.
Laguerre was hanging like a huge plumbob now, and as the schooner heeled to starboard he swung out, farther and farther, until there was nothing beneath him but the glassy sea. He screamed at this, and kicked and capered; the slender topmast sprung to his antics. Then the vessel righted herself, and as she did so the man at the rope's end began a swift and fearful journey. Not until that instant did his fate become apparent to him, but when he saw what was in store for him he ceased to cry out. He fixed his eyes upon the mast toward which the weight of his body propelled him, he drew himself upward by his arms, he flung out his legs to break the impact. The Stella lifted by the bow and he cleared the spar by a few inches. Onward he rushed, to the pause that marked the limit of his flight to port, then slowly, but with increasing swiftness, he began his return journey. Again he resisted furiously and again his body missed the mast, all but one shoulder, which brushed lightly in passing and served to spin him like a top. The measured slowness of that oscillation added to its horror; with every escape the victim's strength decreased, his fear grew, and the end approached. It was a game of chance played by the hand of the sea. Under him the deck appeared and disappeared at regular intervals, the rope cut into his wrists, the slim spar sprung to his efforts. In the distance was a charcoal smear which grew blacker.
After a time Laguerre heard Inocencio counting, and saw his upturned face.
"Ha! Very close, Monsieur le Général, but we will try once again. Ship's timber is not so hard as cocomacaque, but sufficiently hard, nevertheless. And the rope bites, eh? But there was old Julien—What? Again? You were always lucky. His flesh was cold and his bones brittle, yet he did not kick like you. If Pierrine were here to see this! What a sight—the liberator of his country—God's blood, Laguerre! The sea is with you! That makes five times. But you are tiring, I see. What a sight for her—the hero of a hundred battles dangling like a strangled parrot. It is not so hard to die, monsieur, it—Ah-h!"
A cry of horror arose from the crew who had gathered forward, for Petithomme Laguerre, dizzied with spinning, had finally fetched up with a crash against the mast. He ricocheted, the swing of the pendulum became irregular for a time or two, then the roll of the vessel set it going again. Time after time he missed destruction by a hair's-breadth, while the voice from below gibed at him, then once more there came the sound of a blow, dull, yet loud, and of a character to make the hearers shudder. The victim struggled less violently; he no longer drew his weight upward like a gymnast. But he was a man of great vitality; his bones were heavy and thickly padded with flesh, therefore they broke one by one, and death came to him slowly. The sea played with him maliciously, saving him repeatedly, only to thresh him the harder when it had tired of its sport. It was a long time before the restless Caribbean had reduced him to pulp, a spineless, boneless thing of putty which danced to the spring of the resilient spruce.
They let him down finally and slid him into the oily waters, overside, but the breeze refused to come and the Stella continued to wallow drunkenly. The sky was glittering, the pitch was oozing from the deck, in the distance the Haytian mountains scowled through the shimmer.
Inocencio turned toward the approaching gunboat, which was very close by now, a rusty, ill-painted, ill-manned tub. Her blunt nose broke the swells into foam, from her peak depended the banner of the Black Republic, symbolic of the motto, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity." The captain of the Stella rolled and lit a cigarette, then seated himself upon the cabin roof to wait. And as he waited he drummed with his naked heels and smiled, for he was satisfied.
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