Money MazeShort Story by O Henry
The new administration of Anchuria entered upon its duties and privileges with enthusiasm. Its first act was to send an agent to Coralio with imperative orders to recover, if possible, the sum of money ravished from the treasury by the ill-fated Miraflores.
Colonel Emilio Falcon, the private secretary of Losada, the new president, was despatched from the capital upon this important mission.
The position of private secretary to a tropical president is a responsible one. He must be a diplomat, a spy, a ruler of men, a body-guard to his chief, and a smeller-out of plots and nascent revolutions. Often he is the power behind the throne, the dictator of policy; and a president chooses him with a dozen times the care with which he selects a matrimonial mate.
Colonel Falcon, a handsome and urbane gentleman of Castilian courtesy and debonnaire manners, came to Coralio with the task before him of striking upon the cold trail of the lost money. There he conferred with the military authorities, who had received instructions to cooperate with him in the search.
Colonel Falcon established his headquarters in one of the rooms of the Casa Morena. Here for a week he held informal sittings--much as if he were a kind of unified grand jury--and summoned before him all those whose testimony might illumine the financial tragedy that had accompanied the less momentous one of the late president's death.
Two or three who were thus examined, among whom was the barber Esteban, declared that they had identified the body of the president before its burial.
"Of a truth," testified Esteban before the mighty secretary, "it was he, the president. Consider!--how could I shave a man and not see his face? He sent for me to shave him in a small house. He had a beard very black and thick. Had I ever seen the president before? Why not? I saw him once ride forth in a carriage from the ~vapor~ in Solitas. When I shaved him he gave me a gold piece, and said there was to be no talk. But I am a Liberal--I am devoted to my country--and I spake of these things to Senor Goodwin."
"It is known," said Colonel Falcon, smoothly, "that the late President took with him an American leather valise, containing a large amount of money. Did you see that?"
"~De veras~--no," Esteban answered. "The light in the little house was but a small lamp by which I could scarcely see to shave the President. Such a thing there may have been, but I did not see it. No. Also in the room was a young lady--a senorita of much beauty-- that I could see even in so small a light. But the money, senor, or the thing in which it was carried--that I did not see."
The ~comandante~ and other officers gave testimony that they had been awakened and alarmed by the noise of a pistol-shot in the Hotel de los Extranjeros. Hurrying thither to protect the peace and dignity of the republic, they found a man lying dead, with a pistol clutched in his hand. Beside him was a young woman, weeping sorely. Senor Goodwin was also in the room when they entered it. But of the valise of money they saw nothing.
Madame Timotea Ortiz, the proprietress of the hotel in which the game of Fox-in-the-Morning had been played out, told of the coming of the two guests to her house.
"To my house they came," said she--"one ~senor~ not quite old, and one ~senorita~ of sufficient handsomeness. They desired not to eat or to drink--not even of my ~aguardiente~, which is the best. To their rooms they ascended--~Numero Nueve~ and ~Numero Diez~. Later came Senor Goodwin, who ascended to speak with them. Then I heard a great noise like that of a ~canon~, and they said that the ~pobre Presidente~ had shot himself. ~Esta bueno~. I saw nothing of money or of the thing you call ~veliz~ that you say he carried it in."
Colonel Falcon soon came to the reasonable conclusion that if any one in Coralio could furnish a clue to the vanished money, Frank Goodwin must be the man. But the wise secretary pursued a different course in seeking information from the American. Goodwin was a powerful friend to the new administration, and one who was not to be carelessly dealt with in respect to either his honesty or his courage. Even the private secretary of His Excellency hesitated to have this rubber prince and mahogany baron haled before him as a common citizen of Anchuria. So he sent Goodwin a flowery epistle, each word-petal dripping with honey, requesting the favor of an interview. Goodwin replied with an invitation to dinner at his own house.
Before the hour named the American walked over to the Casa Morena, and greeted his guest frankly and friendly. Then the two strolled, in the cool of the afternoon, to Goodwin's home in the environs.
The American left Colonel Falcon in a big, cool, shadowed room with a floor of inlaid and polished woods that any millionaire in the States Would have envied, excusing himself for a few minutes. He crossed a ~patio~, shaded with deftly arranged awnings and plants, and entered a long room looking upon the sea in the opposite wing of the house. The broad jalousies were opened wide, and the ocean breeze flowed in through the room, an invisible current of coolness and health. Goodwin's wife sat near one of the windows, making a water-color sketch of the afternoon seascape.
Here was a woman who looked to be happy. And more--she looked to be content. Had a poet been inspired to pen just similes concerning her favor, he would have likened her full, clear eyes, with their white-encircled, gray irises, to moonflowers. With none of the goddesses whose traditional charms have become coldly classic would the discerning rhymester have compared her. She was purely Paradisaic, not Olympian. If you can imagine Eve, after the eviction, beguiling the flaming warriors and serenely reentering the Garden, you will have her. Just so human, and still so harmonious with Eden seemed Mrs. Goodwin.
When her husband entered she looked up, and her lips curved and parted; her eyelids fluttered twice or thrice--a movement remindful (Proesy forgive us!) of the tail-wagging of a faithful dog--and a little ripple went through her like the commotion set up in a weeping willow by a puff of wind. Thus she ever acknowledged his coming, were it twenty times a day. If they who sometimes sat over their wine in Coralio, reshaping old, diverting stories of the madcap career of Isabel Guilbert, could have seen the wife of Frank Goodwin that afternoon in the estimable aura of her happy wifehood, they might have disbelieved, or have agreed to forget, those graphic annals of the life of the one for whom their president gave up his country and his honor.
"I have brought a guest to dinner," said Goodwin. "One Colonel Falcon, from San Mateo. He is come on government business. I do not think you will care to see him, so I prescribe for you one of those convenient and indisputable feminine headaches."
"He has come to inquire about the lost money, has he not?" asked Mrs. Goodwin, going on with her sketch.
"A good guess!" acknowledged Goodwin. "He has been holding an inquisition among the natives for three days. I am next on his list of witnesses, but as he feels shy about dragging one of Uncle Sam's subjects before him, he consents to give it the outward appearance of a social function. He will apply the torture over my own wine and provender."
"Has he found any one who saw the valise of money?"
"Not a soul. Even Madama Ortiz, whose eyes are so sharp for the sight of a revenue official, does not remember that there was any baggage."
Mrs. Goodwin laid down her brush and sighed.
"I am so sorry, Frank," she said, "that they are giving you so much trouble about the money. But we can't let them know about it, can we?"
"Not without doing our intelligence a great injustice," said Goodwin, with a smile and a shrug that he had picked up from the natives. "~Americano~, though I am, they would have me in the ~calaboza~ in half an hour if they knew we had appropriated that valise. No; we must appear as ignorant about the money as the other ignoramuses in Coralio."
"Do you think that this man they have sent suspects you?" she asked, with a little pucker of her brows. "He'd better not," said the American, carelessly. "It's lucky that no one caught a sight of the valise except myself. As I was in the rooms when the shot was fired, it is not surprising that they should want to investigate my part in the affair rather closely. But there's no cause for alarm. This colonel is down on the list of events for a good dinner, with a dessert of American 'bluff' that will end the matter, I think."
Mrs. Goodwin rose and walked to the window. Goodwin followed and stood by her side. She leaned to him, and rested in the protection of his strength, as she had always rested since that dark night on which he had first made himself her tower of refuge. Thus they stood for a little while.
Straight through the lavish growth of tropical branch and leaf and vine that confronted them had been cunningly trimmed a vista, that ended at the cleared environs of Coralio, on the banks of the mangrove swamp. At the other end of the aerial tunnel they could see the grave and wooden headpiece that bore the name of the unhappy President Miraflores. From this window when the rains forbade the open, and from the green and shady slopes of Goodwin's fruitful lands when the skies were smiling, his wife was wont to look upon that grave with a gentle sadness that was now scarcely a mar to her happiness.
"I loved him so, Frank!" she said, "even after that terrible flight and its awful ending. And you have been so good to me, and have made me so happy. It has all grown into such a strange puzzle. If they were to find out that we got the money do you think they would force you to make the amount good to the government?"
"They would undoubtedly try," answered Goodwin. "You are right about its being a puzzle. And it must remain a puzzle to Falcon and all his countrymen until it solves itself. You and I, who know more than any one else, only know half of the solution. We must not let even a hint about this money get abroad. Let them come to the theory that the president concealed it in the mountains during his journey, or that he found means to ship it out of the country before he reached Coralio. I don't think that Falcon suspects me. He is making a closer investigation, according to his orders, but he will find out nothing."
Thus they spake together. Had any one overheard or overseen them as they discussed the lost funds of Anchuria there would have been a second puzzle presented. For upon the faces and in the bearing of each of them was visible (if countenances are to be believed) Saxon honesty and pride and honorable thoughts. In Goodwin's steady eye and firm lineaments, molded into material shape by the inward spirit of kindness and generosity and courage, there was nothing reconcilable with his words.
As for his wife, physiognomy championed her even in the face of their accusive talk. Nobility was in her guise; purity was in her glance. The devotion that she manifested had not even the appearance of that feeling that now and then inspires a woman to share the guilt of her partner out of the pathetic greatness other love. No, there was a discrepancy here between what the eye would have seen and the ear have heard.
Dinner was served to Goodwin and his guest in the patio, under cool foliage and flowers. The American begged the illustrious secretary to excuse the absence of Mrs. Goodwin, who was suffering, he said, from a headache brought on by a slight ~calentura~.
After the meal they lingered, according to the custom, over their coffee and cigars. Colonel Falcon, with true Castilian delicacy, waited for his host to open the question that they had met to discuss. He had not long to wait. As soon as the cigars were lighted, the American cleared the way by inquiring whether the secretary's investigations in the town had furnished him with any clue to the lost funds.
"I have found no one yet," admitted Colonel Falcon, "who even had sight of the valise or the money. Yet I have persisted. It has been proven in the capital that President Miraflores set out from San Mateo with one hundred thousand dollars belonging to the government, accompanied by Senorita Isabel Guilbert, the opera singer. The Government, officially and personally, is loathe to believe," concluded Colonel Falcon, with a smile, "that our late President's tastes would have permitted him to abandon on the route, as excess baggage, either of the desirable articles with which his flight was burdened."
"I suppose you would like to hear what I have to say about the affair," said Goodwin, coming directly to the point. "It will not require many words."
"On that night, with others of our friends here, I was keeping a lookout for the president, having been notified of his flight by a telegram in our national cipher from Englehart, one of our leaders in the capital. About ten o'clock that night I saw a man and a woman hurrying along the streets. They went to the Hotel de los Extranjeros, and engaged rooms. I followed them upstairs, leaving Esteban, who had come up, to watch outside. The barber had told me that he had shaved the beard from the president's face that night; therefore I was prepared, when I entered the rooms, to find him with a smooth face. When I apprehended him in the name of the people he drew a pistol and shot himself instantly. In a few minutes many officers and citizens were on the spot. I suppose you have been informed of the subsequent facts."
Goodwin paused. Losada's agent maintained an attitude of waiting, as if he expected a continuance.
"And now," went on the American, looking steadily into the eyes of the other man, and giving each word a deliberate emphasis, "you will oblige me by attending carefully to what I have to add. I saw no valise or receptacle of any kind, or any money belonging to the Republic of Anchuria. If President Miraflores decamped with any funds belonging to the treasury of this country, or to himself, or to any one else, I saw no trace of it in the house or elsewhere, at that time or at any other. Does that statement cover the ground of the inquiry you wished to make of me?"
Colonel Falcon bowed, and described a fluent curve with his cigar. His duty was performed. Goodwin was not to be disputed. He was a loyal supporter of the government, and enjoyed the full confidence of the new president. His rectitude had been the capital that had brought him fortune in Anchuria, just as it had formed the lucrative "graft" of Mellinger, the secretary of Miraflores.
"I thank you, ~Senor~ Goodwin, " said Falcon, "for speaking plainly. But, ~Senor~ Goodwin, I am instructed to pursue every clue that presents itself in this matter. There is one that I have not yet touched upon. Our friends in France, senor, have a saying, '~Cherchez la femme~,' when there is a mystery without a clue. But here we do not have to search. The woman who accompanied the late President in his flight must surely--"
"I must interrupt you there," interposed Goodwin. "It is true that when I entered the hotel for the purpose of intercepting President Miraflores I found a lady there. I must beg of you to remember that that lady is now my wife. I speak for her as I do for myself. She knows nothing of the fate of the valise or of the money that you are seeking. You will say to his excellency that I guarantee her innocence. I do not need to add to you, Colonel Falcon, that I do not care to have her questioned or disturbed."
Colonel Falcon bowed again.
"~Por supuesto~, no!" he cried. And to indicate that the inquiry was ended he added: "And now, senor, let me beg of you to show me that sea view from your galeria of which you spoke. I am a lover of the sea."
In the early evening Goodwin walked back to the town with his guest, leaving him at the corner of the Calle Grande. As he was returning homeward one "Beelzebub" Blythe, with the air of a courtier and the outward aspect of a scarecrow, pounced upon him hopefully from the door of a ~pulperia~.
Blythe had been re-christened "Beelzebub" as an acknowledgement of the greatness of his fall. Once in some distant Paradise Lost, he had foregathered with the angels of the earth. But Fate had hurled him headlong down to the tropics, where flamed in his bosom a fire that was seldom quenched. In Coralio they called him a beach-comber; but he was, in reality, a categorical idealist who strove to anamorphosize the dull verities of life by the means of brandy and rum. As Beelzebub, himself, might have held in his clutch with unwitting tenacity his harp or crown during his tremendous fall, so his namesake had clung to his gold-rimmed eyeglasses as the only souvenir of his lost estate. These he wore with impressiveness and distinction while he combed beaches and extracted toll from his friends. By some mysterious means he kept his drink-reddened face always smoothly shaven. For the rest he sponged gracefully upon whomsoever he could for enough to keep him pretty drunk, and sheltered from the rains and night dews.
"Hallo, Goodwin!" called the derelict, airily. "I was hoping I'd strike you. I wanted to see you particularly. Suppose we go where we can talk. Of course you know there's a chap down here looking up the money old Miraflores lost."
"Yes," said Goodwin, "I've been talking with him. Let's go into Espada's place. I can spare you ten minutes."
They went into the ~pulperia~ and sat at a little table upon stools with rawhide tops.
"Have a drink?" said Goodwin.
"They can't bring it too quickly," said Blythe. "I've been in a drought ever since morning. Hi!--~muchacho!--el aguardiente por aca~."
"Now, what do you want to see me about?" asked Goodwin, when the drinks were before them.
"Confound it, old man," drawled Blythe, "why do you spoil a golden moment like this with business? I wanted to see you--well, this has the preference." He gulped down his brandy, and gazed longingly into the empty glass.
"Have another?" suggested Goodwin.
"Between gentlemen," said the fallen angel, "I don't quite like your use of that word 'another.' It isn't quite delicate. But the concrete idea that the word represents is not displeasing."
The glasses were refilled. Blythe sipped blissfully from his, as he began to enter the state of a true idealist.
"I must trot along in a minute or two," hinted Goodwin. "Was there anything in particular?"
Blythe did not reply at once.
"Old Losada would make it a hot country," he remarked at length, "for the man who swiped that gripsack of treasury boodle, don't you think?"
"Undoubtedly, he would," agreed Goodwin calmly, as he rose leisurely to his feet. "I'll be running over to the house, now old man. Mrs. Goodwin is alone. There was nothing important you had to say, was there?"
"That's all," said Blythe. "Unless you wouldn't mind sending in another drink from the bar as you go out. Old Espada has closed my account to profit and loss. And pay for the lot, will you, like a good fellow?"
"All right," said Goodwin. "~Buenas noches~."
"Beezlebub" Blythe lingered over his cups, polishing his eyeglasses with a disreputable handkerchief.
"I thought I could do it, but I couldn't," he muttered to himself after a time. "A gentleman can't blackmail the man that he drinks with."