Through the hot pulsing of the tropical
midnight, with its myriad throbbings of animal life,
came the sound of husky coughing, steadily growing
more distinct, until the two men seated on the outside
of the native hut, on a fallen tree, smoking and listening,
identified it as the voice of the Atlamalcan tugboat,
named for its owner, General Yozarro.
In the vivid moonlight, a dim mass assumed form up
the river, the sparks tumbling from its small smokestack
helping to locate the craft, which constituted the
navy of the little Tabascan republic. The puffing
grew louder, the throbbing of the screw, and the rush
of the foamy water from the bow struck the ear more
clearly, and the outlines of the craft were marked
as it rushed past, near the middle of the river, with
the starred, triangular flag of Atlamalco wiggling
from the staff which upreared itself like a needle
from the stern.
In the flood of illumination every
part of the vessel was plainly seen: the wheelhouse
and even the outlines of the captain at the wheel,
the upper deck, the gleam of the one cannon at the
front near the pile of wood, and the other at the
rear, as well as the forms of several men in sombreros
lounging here and there, as if playing the part of
sentinels, though there was no earthly call for any
service of that nature.
So distinct was everything, that Major
Starland saw the Captain reach upward, grasp a cord
and pull down. The hoarse throb of the steam
whistle awoke the echoes along shore and as it rolled
through the forests and jungles caused hundreds of
denizens of the solitude to wonder what sort of new
beast was coming among them.
Gradually the boat grew hazy and indistinct,
but the throbbing of the engine and the soft wash
of the current lingered long after the craft itself
had faded from view.
“It may be that President Yozarro
is afraid President Bambos will forget he has a navy,”
suggested the American.
“He does not mean to attack him, I am sure.”
“He has no cause for doing so,
which is generally the reason why these wasps sting
their neighbors. If they waited for a just cause
there would be eternal peace. Ah, my yacht is
not due for several days! I would it were here.”
“What would you do, Major?”
“Declare on the side of General
Bambos; I shouldn’t ask better sport than to
blow that crab out of the water.”
“Is General Bambos a better
friend of yours, Major, than General Yozarro?”
“I count neither as a friend,
but Yozarro has my sister as his guest, though she
has overstayed her time. I may be wrong, but I
am not convinced that she is a willing visitor.”
“He holds also the gunboat that
we saw pass but a short time ago.”
“And I have a yacht with a single
gun; with that my crew would make as short work of
the General Yozarro as we did with the Spanish
fleets at Manila and Santiago.”
Captain Guzman shrugged his shoulders
and smoked in silence.
“My boat will be here in two
or three days. Then I shall ask no help from
Bambos or any one else in this part of the world.”
“Why not wait, Major? Who
knows that if your sister is restored to you through
the help of General Bambos, you may not have to ask
General Yozarro to help you make him give her
It was a contingency of which Major
Starland had not thought. Prudence told him to
be patient till the coming of the Warrenia,
with her crew of a dozen men, beside the captain.
Three of the crew had fought against Spain and would
welcome a scrap with the Atlamalcan navy.
But the American was restless.
He carried a pretext for calling upon General Yozarro,
and his anxiety would not allow him to remain quiescent.
That night as he slept in the hammock which he had
brought from his boat and swung in front of the native
hut, he heard as in a dream, the puffing of the tug
on its return to Atlamalco. He did not rouse
himself to look at her, as she glided past in the moonlight,
but it was a great relief to know that she had gone
back. President Yozarro was so proud of his navy
that most of the voyages up and down the Rio Rubio
were taken for his personal pleasure. He would
be at home, therefore, on the morrow when his American
visitor presented himself.
And such was the case. The forenoon
was no more than half gone, when the small sailing
craft rounded to at the wharf in front of the native
town, and Major Starland leaped ashore. It was
agreed that Captain Guzman should await his return
to the pier. The alert American noted everything.
The tug seemed to be crouching beside the wharf, a
hundred feet distant, like a bull dog waiting for
some one to venture nigh enough for him to leap forward
and bury his fangs in his throat. But no steam
was up, and the war craft, like everything else, was
adrowse and sleeping.
The city of Atlamalco sprawled over
half a square mile, the most ancient dwellings being
made of adobe, squat of form and with only a single
story. The more pretentious were of a species
of bamboo, of large proportions, and, although divided
into a number of apartments, they too consisted of
but a single story, like most houses in an earthquake
country. They were of flimsy make, for the climate
was generally oppressive, and the narrow streets were
fitted only for the passage of footmen and animals
with their burdens. The swarthy, untidy inhabitants
are among the laziest on earth, for, where nature is
so lavish, the necessity for laborious toil is wanting.
The avenues leading to the wharf slope gently upward,
winding in and out, and mingling in seemingly inextricable
Pen cannot describe the vegetable
exuberance of this portion of South America.
Sugar, coffee, cocoa, rice, tobacco, maize, wheat,
ginger, mandioc, yams, sarsaparilla, and tropical
fruits beyond enumeration smother one another in the
fierce fight for life. The chief dependence of
the people is upon mandioc, manioc, or cassava, which
the natives accept as a direct gift from the prophet
Sune. This, however, is not the place to dwell
upon the endless variety of trees and the fauna and
flora of that extraordinary country.
Major Starland left his rifle in charge
of Captain Guzman, and, with his revolver at command,
strolled up the main street. The hottest part
of the day being near, few of the people were astir
or visible. Most of them were asleep within doors,
their siesta beginning before the mid-day meal and
lasting long afterward.
A single pony came stumbling forward
at the first turn of the street, so heaped over with
bundles that little more than his head, ears and front
legs below the knees were in sight. His driver,
swarthy, long-haired, and in sombrero, slouched at
the side of the animal, whacking his haunches now
and then, swearing at him in mongrel Spanish, to both
of which the brute paid no more heed than to the tiny
flies that nipped in vain at his armor-like hide.