Constance Dunlap/Chapter 3
THE GUN RUNNERS
"We'll land here, Mrs. Dunlap."
Ramon Santos, terror of the Washington State Department and of a half dozen consulates in New York, stuck a pin in a map of Central America spread out on a table before Constance.
"Insurrectos will meet us," he pursued, then added, "but we must have money, first, my dear Senora, plenty of money."
Dark of eye and skin, with black imperial and mustache, tall, straight as an arrow, Santos had risen and was now gazing down with rapt attention, not at the map, but at Constance herself.
Every curve of her face and wave of her hair, every line of her trim figure which her filmy gown seemed to accentuate rather than conceal added fire to his ardent glances.
He touched lightly another pin sticking in a little, almost microscopic island of the Caribbean.
"Our plan, it is simple," he continued with animation in spite of his foreign accent. "On this island a plant to print paper money, to coin silver. With that we shall land, pay our men as they flock to us, collect forces, seize cities, appropriate the customs. Once we start, it is easy."
Constance looked up quickly. "But that is counterfeiting," she exclaimed.
"No," rejoined Santos, "it is a war measure. We—the provisional government—merely coin our own money. Besides, it will not be done in this country. It will not come under your laws."
There was a magnetism about the man that fascinated her, as he stood watching the effect of his words. Instinctively she knew that it was not alone enthusiasm over his scheme that inspired his confidences.
"Though we are not counterfeiters," he went on, "we do not know what moment our opponents may set your Secret Service to destroy all our hopes. Besides, we must have money—now—to buy machinery, arms, ammunition. We must find some one," he lowered his voice, "who can persuade American bankers and merchants to take risks to gain valuable concessions in the new state."
Santos was talking rapidly and earnestly, urging his case on her.
"We are prepared," he hurried on confidentially, "to give you, Senora, half the money that you can raise for these purposes."
He paused and stood before her. He was certainly a handsome figure, this soldier of fortune, and he was at his best now.
Constance looked out of the window of her sitting room. This was a business proposition, not to be influenced by any sentiment.
She watched the lights moving up and down the river and bay. There were craft from the ends of the earth. She speculated on the romantic secrets hidden in liner and tramp. Surely they could scarcely be more romantic than the appeal Santos was making.
"Will you help us?" urged Santos, leaning further over the map to read her averted face.
In her loneliness after she had given up Murray Dodge, life in New York had seemed even more bitter to Constance than before. Yet the great city cast a spell over her, with its countless opportunities for adventure. She could not leave it, but had taken a suite in a quiet boarding house overlooking the bay from the Heights in Brooklyn.
One guest in particular had interested her. He was a Latin American, Ramon Santos. She noticed that he seldom appeared at breakfast or luncheon. But at dinner he often, ordered much as if it were seven o'clock in the morning instead of the evening. He was a mystery and mysteries interested her. Did he work all night and sleep all day? What was he doing?
She was astonished a few nights after her arrival to receive a call from the mysterious evening breakfaster.
"Pardon—I intrude," he began gracefully, presenting his card. "But I have heard how clever you are, Senora Dunlap. A friend, in an importing firm, has told me of you, a Mr. Dodge."
Constance was startled at the name. Murray had indeed written a little note expressing his entire confidence in Mr. Santos. Formal as it was, Constance thought she could read between the lines the same feeling toward her that he had expressed at their parting.
Santos gave her no time to live over the past.
"You see, Mrs. Dunlap," he explained, as he led up to the object of his visit, "the time has come to overthrow the régime in Central America—for a revolution which will bring together all the countries in a union like the old United States of Central America."
He had spread out the map on the table.
"Only," he added, "we would call the new state, Vespuccia."
"We?" queried Constance.
"Yes—my—colleagues-you call it in English! We have already a Junta with headquarters in an old loft on South Street, in New York."
Santos indicated the plan of campaign on the map.
"We shall strike a blow," he cried, bringing his fist down on the table as if the blow had already fallen, "that will paralyze the enemy at the very start!"
"Will you help us raise the money?" he repeated earnestly.
Constance had been inactive long enough. The appeal was romantic, almost irresistible. Besides—no, at the outset she put out of consideration any thought of the fascinating young soldier of fortune himself.
The spirit of defiance of law and custom was strong upon her. That was all.
"Yes," she replied, "I will help you."
Santos leaned over, and with a graceful gesture that she could not resent, raised her finger tips gallantly to his lips.
"Thank you," he said with, a courtly smile. "We have already won!"
The next day Ramon introduced her to the other members of the Junta. It was evident that he was in fact as well as name their leader, but they were not like the usual oily plotters of revolution who congregate about the round tables in dingy back rooms of South Street cafés, apportioning the gold lace, the offices, and the revenues among themselves. There was an "air" about them that was different.
"Let me present Captain Lee Gordon of the Arroyo," remarked Santos, coming to a stockily-built, sun-burned man with the unmistakable look of the Anglo-Saxon who has spent much time in the neighborhood of the tropical sun. "The Arroyo is the ship that is to carry the arms and the plant to the island—from Brooklyn. We choose Brooklyn because it is quieter over there—fewer people late at night on the streets."
Captain Gordon bowed, without taking his eyes off Constance.
"I am, like yourself, Mrs. Dunlap, a recent recruit," he explained. "It is a wonderful plan," he added enthusiastically. "We shall sweep the country with it."
He flicked off the ash of his inevitable cigarette, much as if it were the opposition of the governments they were to encounter.
It was evident that the Captain was much impressed by Constance. Yet she instinctively disliked the man. His cameraderie had something offensive about it, as contrasted with the deferential friendship of Santos.
With all her energy, however, Constance plunged directly into her work. Indeed, even at the start she was amazed to find that money for a revolution could be raised at all. She soon, found that it could be done more easily in New York than anywhere else in the world.
There seemed to be something about her that apparently appealed to those whom she went to see. She began to realize what a tremendous advantage a woman of the world had in presenting the case and convincing a speculator of the rich returns if the revolution should prove successful. More than that, she quickly learned that it was best to go alone, that it was she, quite as much as the promised concessions for tobacco, salt, telegraph, telephone monopolies, that loosed the purse strings.
Her first week's report of pledges ran into the thousands with a substantial immediate payment of real dollars.
"How did you do it?" asked Santos in undisguised admiration, as she was telling him one night of her success, in the dusty, cobwebbed little ship chandlery on South Street where the Junta headquarters had been established.
"Dollar diplomacy," she laughed, not displeased at his admiration. "We shall soon convert American dollars into Vespuccian bullets."
They were alone, and a week had made much difference in the fascinating friendship to Constance.
"Let me show you what I have done," Ramon confided. "Already, I have started together the 'counterfeiting plant,' as you call it."
Piece by piece, as he had been able to afford them, he had been ordering the presses, the stamping machine, and a little "reeding" or milling machine for the edges of the coins.
"The paper, the ink, and the bullion, we shall order now as we can," he explained, resting his head on his elbow at the table beside her. "Everything will be secured from firms which make mint supplies for foreign governments. A photo-engraver is now engaged on the work of copying the notes. He is making the plates by the photo-etching process—the same as that by which the real money plates are made. Then, too, there will be dies for the coins. Coined silver will be worth, twice the cost of the bullion to us. Why," he added eagerly, "a few more successful days, Senora, and we shall have even arms and ammunition."
A key turned in the door. Santos sprang to his feet. It was Gordon.
"Ah, good evening," the Captain greeted them. The fact that they had been talking so earnestly alone was not lost on him. "May I join the conspiracy?" he smiled. "What luck to-day? By the way, I have just heard of a consignment of a thousand rifles as good as new that can be bought for a song."
Santos, elated at the progress so far, told hastily of Constance's success. "Let us get an option on them for a few days," he cried.
"Good," agreed Gordon, "only," he added, shaking his finger playfully at Constance, as the three left the headquarters, "don't let the commander-in-chief monopolize all your time, Remember, we all need you now. Santos, that was an inspiration to get Mrs. Dunlap on our side."
Somehow she felt uncomfortable. She half imagined that a frown had flitted over Santos' face.
"Are you going to Brooklyn?" she asked him.
"No, we shall be working at the Junta late to-night," he replied, as they parted at the subway, he and Gordon to secure the option on the guns, she to plan for the morrow.
"I have made a good beginning," she congratulated herself, when, later in her rooms, she was going over the list of names of commission merchants who handled produce of South American countries.
There was a tap on the door.
Quickly, she shoved the list into the drawer of the table.
"A gentleman to see you, downstairs, ma'am," announced the maid.
As she pushed aside the portières, her heart gave a leap—it was Drummond.
"Mrs. Dunlap," began the wily detective, seeming to observe everything with eyes that seldom had the appearance of looking at anything, "I think you will recall that we have met before."
Constance bit her lip. "And why again?" she queried curtly.
"I am informed," he went on coolly ignoring her curtness, "that there is a guest in this house named Santos—Ramon Santos."
He said it in a half insinuating, half questioning tone.
"You might inquire of the landlady," replied Constance, now perfectly composed.
"Mrs. Dunlap," he burst forth, exasperated, "what is the use of beating about? Do you know the real character of this Santos!"
"It is a matter of perfect indifference," she returned.
"Then you do not think a warning from me worth troubling about?" demanded the detective.
Constance continued to stand as if to terminate the interview.
"I came here," continued the detective showing no evidence of taking the hint, "to make a proposition to you. Mrs. Dunlap, you are in bad again. But this time there is a chance for you to get out without risk. I—I think I may talk plainly? We understand each other!"
His manner had changed. Constance could not have described to herself the loathing she felt for the man as it suddenly flashed over her what he was after. If she had resented his familiarity before, it brought the stinging blood to her cheeks now to realize that he was actually seeking to persuade her to betray her friends.
"Do you want to know what I think?" she scorned, then without waiting added, "I think you are a crook—a blackmailer,—that's what I think of a private detective like you."
The defiance of the little woman amazed even Drummond. Instead of fear as of the pursued, Constance Dunlap showed all the boldness of the pursuer.
"You have got to stop this swindling," the detective raged, taking a step closer to her. "I know the bankers you have fooled. I know how much you have worked them for."
"Swindling?" she repeated coolly, in assumed surprise. "Who says I am swindling?"
"You know well enough what I mean—this revolution that is being planned to bring about the new state of Vespuccia, as your friends Santos and Gordon call it."
"Yes," he shouted, "Vespuccia—Santos—Gordon. And I'll go further. I'll tell you something you may not care to hear."
Drummond leaned over closer to her in his favorite bulldozing manner when he dealt with a woman. All the malevolence of the human bloodhound seemed concentrated in his look.
"Who forged those Carlton Realty checks?" he hissed. "Who played off the weakness of Dumont and Beverley against the clever thefts of Murray Dodge! Who is using a counterfeiter and a soldier of fortune and swindling honest American bankers and business men as no man crook—you seem to like that word—crook—could ever do?"
Constance met him calmly. "Oh," she laughed airily, "I suppose you mean to imply that it is I."
"I don't imply," he ground out, "I assert—accuse."
Constance shrugged her pretty shoulders.
"I want to tell you that I am employed by the Central American consulates in this city," blustered Drummond. "And I am waiting only for one thing. The moment an order is given for the withdrawal of that stuff from the little shop in South Street—you know what I mean—I am ready. I shall not be alone, then. You will have the power of the United States Secret Service to deal with, this time, my clever lady."
"Well, what of that?"
"There is this much of it. I warn you now against working with this Santos. He—you—can make no move that we do not know."
Why had Drummond come to see her? Constance was asking herself. The very insolence of the man seemed to arouse all the combativeness of her nature. The detective had thought to "throw a scare into" her. She turned suddenly and swept out of the room.
"I thank you for your kindness," she said icily. "It is unnecessary. Good-night."
In her own room she paced the floor nervously, now that the strain was off. Should she desert Santos and save herself? He had more need of her help now than ever before. She did not stop to analyze her own feelings. She knew he had been making love to her during the past week as only a Spaniard could. It fascinated her without blinding her. Yes, she would match her wits against this detective, clever though she knew he was. But Santos must be warned.
Santos and Gordon were alone when she burst in on them, breathlessly, an hour later at the Junta.
"What is the matter?" inquired Ramon quickly, placing a chair for her.
Gordon looked his admiration for the little woman, though he did not speak it. She saw him cast a sidewise glance at Santos and herself.
Though the three were friends, it was evident to her that Gordon did not trust Santos any further than the suspicious Anglo-Saxon trusts a foreigner usually when there is a woman in the case.
"The Secret Service!" exclaimed Constance. "I have just had a visit from a private detective employed by one of the consulates. They know too much. He has threatened to tell all to the Secret Service, has even had the effrontery to ask me to betray you."
"The scoundrel," burst out Santos impulsively.
"You are not frightened?" Gordon asked quickly.
"On the contrary, I expected something of the sort soon, but not from this man. I can meet him!"
"Good," exclaimed the Captain.
There was that in his voice that caused her to look at him quickly. Santos had noticed it, too, and a sullen scowl spread over his face.
Intuitively Constance read the two men before her. She had fled from one problem to a greater. Both Santos and Gordon were in love with her.
In the whirl of this new discovery, two things alone crowded all else from her mind. She must contrive to hold off Drummond until that part of the expedition which was ready could be got off. And she must play the jealous rivals against each other with such finesse as to keep them separated.
Far into the night after she had left the Junta she debated the question with herself. She could not turn back now. The attentions of Gordon were offensive. Yet she could have given no other reason than that she liked Santos the better. Yet what was Santos to her, after all? Once she had let herself go too far. She must be careful in this case. She must not allow this to be other than a business proposition.
The crisis for her came sooner than she had anticipated. It was the day after the visit of Drummond. She was waiting at the Junta alone for Santos when Gordon entered. She had dreaded just that. There was no mistaking the man.
"Mrs. Dunlap," began Gordon bending down close over her.
She was almost trembling with emotion, and he saw it.
"You can read me like a book," he hurried on, mistaking her feelings. "I can see that you know how much I think of you—how much I—"
"No, no," she implored. "Don't talk to me that way. Remember—there is work to do. After it is over—then—"
"Work!" he scorned. "What is the whole of Central America to me compared to you?"
"Captain Gordon!" she stood facing him. "You must not. Listen to me. You do not know—I—please, please leave me. Let me think."
She did not dare accept him; she could not reject him. It seemed that with an almost superhuman effort Gordon gripped himself. But he did not go.
Constance was distracted, what if Santos with his fiery nature should find Gordon talking to her alone? She must temporize.
"One week," she murmured. "When the Arroyo sails—that night—I shall give you my answer."
Gordon shot a peculiar glance at her—half doubt, half surprise. But she was gone. As she hurried unexpectedly out of the Junta she fancied she caught a glimpse of a familiar figure. It must have been Drummond. Every move at the Junta was being watched.
At the boarding house all night she waited. She must see Santos. Plan after plan whirled through her brain as the hours dragged.
It was not until almost morning that, seeing a light, he tapped cautiously at her door.
"You were not at the Junta to-night," he remarked.
There was something of jealousy in the tone.
"No. There is something I wanted to say to you where we should not be interrupted," she answered as he sat down.
A fold of her filmy house dress fluttered near him. Involuntarily he moved closer. His eyes met hers. She could feel the passions surging in the man beside her.
"I saw Drummond again, to-day," she began. "Captain Gordon—"
The intense look of hatred that blazed in the eyes of Santos frightened her. What might have happened if he instead of Gordon had met her at the Junta she could not have said. But now she must guard against it. It flashed over her that there was only one thing to be done.
She rose and laid her hand on his arm. As quickly the look changed. There was only one way to do it; she must make this man think they understood each other without saying so.
"You must get the counterfeiting plant down on the island—immediately—alone. Don't tell any of the others until it is there safely. You were going to send it down on the Arroyo next week. It must not go from New York at all. It must be shipped by rail, and then from New Orleans. You must—"
"But—Gordon?" His voice was hoarse.
She looked at Santos long and earnestly. "I will take care of him," she said in a tone that Santos could not mistake. "No—Ramon, no. After the revolution—perhaps—who shall say? But now—to work!"
It was with a sigh of relief that she sank to rest at last when he had gone. For the moment she had won.
Piece by piece, Santos and she secretly carried out the goods that had already been collected at the Junta, during the next few days. Without a word to a soul they were shipped south. The boxes and barrels remained in the musty shop, apparently undisturbed.
Next the order for the arms and ammunition was quietly diverted so that they, too, were on their way to New Orleans. Instead, cases resembling them were sent to the Junta headquarters. Drummond, least of all, must be allowed to think that there was any change in their plans.
While Santos was at work gathering the parts, the stamping machine, the press, the dies, the plates, and the rest of the counterfeiting plant which had not yet been delivered, Constance, during the hours that she was not collecting money from the concession-grabbers, haunted the Junta. There was every evidence of activity there as the week advanced.
She was between two fires, yet never had she enjoyed the tang of adventure more than now. It was a keen pleasure to feel that she was outwitting Drummond when, as some apparently insurmountable difficulty arose, she would overcome it. More delicate was it, however, to preserve the balance between Santos and Gordon. In fact it seemed that the more she sought to avoid Gordon, the more jealously did he pursue her. It was a tangled skein of romance and intrigue that Constance was weaving.
At last all was ready. It was the night before the departure of Santos for the south. Constance had decided on the last interview in her own rooms where the first had been.
"I shall go ahead preparing as if to ship the things on the Arroyo," she said. "Let me know by the code the moment you are ready."
Santos was looking at her, oblivious of everything else.
He reached over and took her hand. She knew this was the moment against which she had steeled herself.
"Come with me," he asked suddenly.
She could feel his breath, hotly, on her cheek.
It was the final struggle. If she let go of herself, all would be lost.
"No, Ramon," she said softly, but without withdrawing her hand. "It can never be—listen."
It was terrific, to hold in check a nature such as his.
"I went into this scheme for—for money. I have it. We have raised nearly forty thousand dollars. Twenty thousand you have given me as my share."
She paused. He was paying no attention to her words. His whole self was centered on her face.
"With me," she continued, half wearily withdrawing her hand as she assumed the part she had decided on for herself, "with me, Ramon, love is dead—dead. I have seen too much of the world. Nothing has any fascination for me now except excitement, money—"
He gently leaned over and recovered the hand that she had withdrawn. Quickly he raised it to his lips as he had done that first night.
"You are mine," he whispered, "not his."
She did not withdraw the hand this time.
For a moment the adventurers understood each other.
"Not his," he muttered fiercely as he threw his arms about her wildly, passionately.
"Nobody's," she panted as she gave one answering caress, then struggled from him.
She had conquered not only Ramon Santos but Constance Dunlap.
Early the next morning he was speeding southward over the clicking rails.
Every energy must be bent toward keeping the new scheme secret until it was carried out successfully. Not a hint must get to Drummond that there was any change in the activities of the Junta. As for the Junta itself, there was no one of those who believed implicitly in Santos whom Constance need fear, except Gordon. Gordon was the bête noire.
Two days passed and she was able to guard the secret, as well as to act as though nothing had happened. Santos had left a short note for the Junta telling them that he would be away for a short time putting the finishing touches on the purchase of the arms. The arrival of a cartload of cases at the Junta, which Constance arranged for herself, bore out the letter. Still, she waited anxiously for word from him.
The day set for the sailing of the Arroyo arrived and with it at last a telegram: "Buy corn, oats, wheat. Sell cotton."
It was the code, telling of the safe arrival of the rifles, cartridges and the counterfeiting plant in New Orleans, a little late, but safe. "Sell cotton," meant "I sail to-night."
On the way over to the Junta, she had noticed one of Drummond's shadows dogging her. She must do anything to keep the secret until that night.
She hurried into the dusty ship chandlery. There was Gordon.
"Good morning, Mrs. Dunlap," he cried. "You are just the person I am looking for. Where is Santos? Has the plan been changed?"
Constance thought she detected a shade of jealousy in the tone. At any rate, Gordon was more attentive than ever.
"I think he is in Bridgeport," she replied as casually as she could. "Your ship, you know, sails to-night. He has sent word to me to give orders that all the goods here at the Junta be ready to cart over by truck to Brooklyn. There has been no change. The papers are to be signed during the day and she is to be scheduled to sail late in the afternoon with the tide. Only, as you know, some pretext must delay you. You will hold her at the pier for us. He trusts all that to you as a master hand at framing such excuses that seem plausible."
Gordon leaned over closer to her. He was positively revolting to her in the rôle of admirer. But she must not offend him—yet.
"And my answer!" he asked.
There was something about him that made Constance almost draw away involuntarily.
"To-night—at the pier," she murmured forcing a smile.
Shortly after dark the teams started their lumbering way across the city and the bridge. Messengers, stationed on the way, were to report the safe progress of the trucks to Brooklyn.
Constance slipped away from the boarding-house, down through the deserted streets to the waterfront, leaving word at home that any message was to be sent by a trusty boy to the pier.
It was a foggy and misty night on the water, an ideal night for the gun-runner. She was relieved to learn that there had been not a hitch so far. Still, she reasoned, that was natural. Drummond, even if he had not been outwitted, would scarcely have spoiled the game until the last moment.
On the Arroyo every one was chafing. Below decks, the engineer and his assistants were seeing that the machinery was in perfect order. Men in the streets were posted to give Gordon warning of any danger.
In the river a tug was watching for a possible police boat. On the wharf the only footfalls were those of Gordon himself and an assistant from the Junta. It was dreary waiting, and Constance drew her coat more closely around her, as she shivered in the night wind and tried to brace herself against the unexpected.
At last the welcome muffled rumble of heavily laden carts disturbed the midnight silence of the street leading to the river.
At once a score of men sprang from the hold of the ship, as if by magic. One by one the cases were loaded. The men were working feverishly by the light of battle lanterns—big lamps with reflectors so placed as to throw the light exactly where it was needed and nowhere else. They were taking aboard the Arroyo dozens of coffin-like wooden cases, and bags and boxes, smaller and even heavier. Silently and swiftly they toiled.
It was risky work, too, at night and in the tense haste. There was a muttered exclamation—a heavy case had dropped! a man had gone down with a broken leg.
It was a common thing with the gun-runners. The crew of the Arroyo had expected it. The victim of such an accident could not be sent to a hospital ashore. He was carried, as gently as the rough hands could carry anything, to one side, where he lay silently waiting for the ship's surgeon who had been engaged for just such an emergency. Constance bent over and made the poor fellow as comfortable as she could. There was never a whimper from him, but he looked his gratitude.
Scarcely a fraction of a minute had been lost. The last cases were now being loaded. The tug crawled up and made fast. Already the empty trucks were vanishing in the misty darkness, one by one, as muffled as they came.
Suddenly lights flashed through the fog on the river.
There was a hurried tread of feet on the land from around the corner of a bleak, forbidding black warehouse.
They were surrounded. On one side was the police boat Patrol. On the other was Drummond. With both was the Secret Service. The surprise was complete.
Constance turned to Gordon. He was gone.
Before she could move, some one seized her.
"Where's Santos?" demanded a hoarse voice in her ear. She looked up to see Drummond.
She shut her lips tightly, secure in the secret that Ramon was at the moment or soon would be on the Gulf, out of reach.
Across in the fog she strained her eyes. Was that the familiar figure of Gordon moving in the dim light?
There he was, now,—with Drummond, the police, and the Secret Service. It was exactly as she had suspected to herself, and a smile played over her face.
All was excitement, shouts, muttered imprecations. Constance was the calmest in the crowd—deaf to even Drummond's "third degree."
They had begun to break open the boxes marked "salt" and "corn."
A loud exclamation above the sharp crunching of the axes escaped Gordon. "Damn them! They've put one across on us!"
The boxes of "salt" and "corn" contained—salt and corn.
Not a stock of a rifle, not a barrel, not a cartridge was in any of them as the axes crashed in one case after another.
A boy with a telegram emerged indiscreetly from the misty shadows. Drummond seized it, tore it open, and read, "Buy cotton."
It was the code: "I am off safely."
The double cross had worked. Constance was thinking, as she smiled to herself, of the money, her share, which she had hidden. There was not a scrap of tangible evidence against her, except what Santos had carried with him in the filibustering expedition already off from New Orleans. Her word would stand against that of all of the victims combined before any jury that could be empaneled.
"You thought I needed a warning," she cried, facing Drummond with eyes that flashed scorn at the skulking figure of Gordon behind him. "But the next time you employ a stool-pigeon to make love," she added, "reckon in that thing you detectives scorn—a woman's intuition."