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قراءة كتاب The Four Corners of the World

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‏اللغة: English
The Four Corners of the World

The Four Corners of the World

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 8

Meanwhile, Harry Vandeleur sat in an office, rubbed his hands, and put up the price of green paint. But, like most men upon whom good fortune has suddenly shone, he was not quite contented. He found his crumpled rose-leaf in the dingy aspect of the Government buildings and the President's house. They alone now reared fronts of dirty plaster and cracked stucco. I remember him leaning out of Juan Ballester's window and looking up and down with a discontented eye.

"Wants a coat of green paint, doesn't it?" he said with a sort of jocular eagerness.

Juan never even winked.

"There ought to be a distinction between this house and all the others," he said gravely. "The President is merely the butler of the citizens. They ought to know at a glance where they can find him."

Harry Vandeleur burst suddenly into a laugh. He was an impulsive youth, a regular bubble of high spirits.

"I am an ungrateful beast, and that's the truth," he said. "You have done a great deal for me, more than you know."

"Have I?" asked Juan Ballester drily.

"Yes," cried Harry Vandeleur, and out the story tumbled.

He was very anxious to marry Olivia Calavera--daughter, by the way, of Santiago Calavera, Ballester's Minister of the Interior--and Olivia Calavera was very anxious to marry him. Olivia was a dream. He, Harry Vandeleur, was a planter in a small way in Trinidad. Olivia and her father came from Trinidad. He had followed her from Trinidad, but Don Santiago, with a father's eye for worldly goods, had been obdurate. It was all very foolish and very young, and rather pleasant to listen to.

"Now, thanks to your Excellency," cried Harry, "I am an eligible suitor. I shall marry the Señorita Olivia."

"Is that so?" said Juan Ballester, with a polite congratulation. But there was just a suspicion of a note in his voice which made me lift my head sharply from the papers over which I was bending. It was impossible, of course--and yet he had drawled the words out in a slow, hard, quiet way which had startled me. I waited for developments, and they were not slow in coming.

"But before you marry," said Juan Ballester, "I want you to do me a service. I want you to go to London and negotiate a loan. I can trust you. Moreover, you will do the work more speedily than another, for you will be anxious to return."

With a friendly smile he took Harry Vandeleur by the arm and led him into his private study. Harry could not refuse. The mission was one of honour, and would heighten his importance in Don Santiago's eyes. He was, besides, under a considerable obligation to Ballester. He embarked accordingly at Las Cuevas, the port of call half an hour away from the city.

"Look after Olivia for me," he said, as we shook hands upon the deck of the steamer.

"I will do the best I can," I said, and I went down the gangway.

Harry Vandeleur travelled off to England. He was out of the way. Meanwhile, I stayed in Maldivia and waited for more developments. But this time they were not so quick in coming.


II


Ballester, like greater and lesser men, had his inconsistencies. Although he paid his private secretary with "opportunities" and bribed his friends with monopolies; although he had shamelessly rigged the elections, and paid as much of the country's finances as he dared into his private banking account; and although there was that little affair of the Opera House, he was genuinely and sincerely determined to give to the Republic a cast-iron Constitution. He had an overpowering faith in law and order--for other people.

We hammered out the Constitution day and night for another fortnight, and then Ballester gabbled it over to a Council of his Ministers. Not one of them could make head or tail of what he was reading, with the exception of Santiago Calavera, a foxy-faced old rascal with a white moustache, who sat with a hand curved about his ear and listened to every word. I had always wondered why Ballester had given him office at all. At one point he interrupted in a smooth, smiling voice:

"But, your Excellency, that is not legal."

"Legal or not legal," said the President with a snap, "it is going through, Señor Santiago"; and the Constitution was duly passed by a unanimous vote, and became the law of Maldivia.

That event took place a couple of months after Harry Vandeleur had sailed for England. I stretched my arms and looked about for relaxation. The Constitution was passed at six o'clock in the evening. There was to be a ball that night at the house of the British Minister. I made up my mind to go. For a certainty I should find Olivia there; and I was seized with remorse. For, in spite of my promise to Harry Vandeleur, I had hardly set eyes upon her during the last two months.

I saw her at ten o'clock. She was dancing--a thing she loved. She was dressed in a white frock of satin and lace, with a single rope of pearls about her throat, and she looked divinely happy. She was a girl of nineteen years, fairly tall, with black hair, a beautiful white face, and big, dark eyes which shone with kindness. She had the hand and foot of her race, and her dancing was rather a liquid movement of her whole supple body than a matter of her limbs. I watched her for a few moments from a corner. She had brains as well as beauty, and though she spoke with a pleading graciousness, at the back of it one was aware of a pride which would crack the moon. She worked, too, as few girls of her station work in the Republics of South America. For her father, from what I then thought to be no better than parsimony, used her as his secretary. As she swung by my corner for the second time she saw me and stopped.

"Señor Carlyon, it is two months since I have seen you," she said reproachfully.

"Señorita, it is only four hours since our brand new Constitution was passed into law, and already I am looking for you."

She shook her head.

"You have neglected me."

"I regret to notice," said I, "that my neglect has in no way impaired your health."

Olivia laughed. She had a taking laugh, and the blood mounted very prettily into her cheeks.

"I could hardly be ill," she said. "I had a letter to-day."

"Lucky man to write you letters," said I. "Let me read it, Señorita."

She drew back swiftly and her hand went to her bosom.

"Oh, it is there!" said I.

Again she laughed, but this time with a certain shyness, and the colour deepened on her cheeks.

"He sails to-day," said she.

"Then I have still three weeks," said I lightly. "Will you dance with me for the rest of the evening?"

"Certainly not," she answered with decision. "But after the fifth dance from now, you will find me, Señor Carlyon, here"; and turning again to her partner, she was caught up into the whirl of dancers.

After the fifth dance I returned to that corner of the ballroom. I found Olivia waiting. But it was an Olivia whom I did not know. The sparkle and the freshness had gone out of her; fear and not kindness shone in her eyes.

Her face lit up for a moment when she saw me, and she stepped eagerly forward.

"Quick!" she said. "Somewhere where we shall be alone!"

Her hand trembled upon my arm. She walked quickly from the room, smiling as she went. She led me along a corridor into the garden of the house, a place of palms and white magnolias on the very edge of the upper town. She went

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