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The Snob

By Agnes Boulton

I-III     IV-VI

IV

Hokeville intrigued me by its very lack of all possible interest. The long, wide, dusty street, lined with faded shops and shaded by dingy trees which shed, one by one, their parched and colourless leaves—it was even worse than I had expected.

I could not bring myself to register in the only hotel. Time enough for that later. I left my suitcase at the station in charge of the weary telegrapher, and wandered up the main street. Funny, how little one's careful plans sometimes matter? I had intended very cautiously, and only after looking around, to put out my feelers about Clive. But I found myself at the post-office window asking the leisurely clerk:

"Do you know anyone hereabout by the name of Auchincloss?”

No, he said quite politely, he didn’t; but when I began earnestly: "A few years back—" he dismissed me with a bored and curt "No one of that name here."

I went with irritation out into the street. Of course not! I was a fool! I found myself walking along that dreary street, away from the station—away, I suppose, because if I went back I'd have to decide about that bag.

I couldn't make up my mind what I wanted to do. Clive Auchincloss and this flat, commonplace town were boiling together in my mind. What had they in common? I could not guess. And yet—ah, yes, they had! I felt it, but I could not reach it with my mind. The street, growing narrower and sandier now, seemed to whisper to me some significant secret . . .

The houses straggled less closely along the road, which now turned westward. The mediocrity of the place was losing itself in the small, barren fields between the houses, in a more discarded, less commercial air. I was coming in now on the old, original town from which all the families of energy had moved away, a settlement of pines and sand.

A little farther on I found one of those old, brown country stores. Over a dusty glass case of penny candies I asked the ancient storekeeper for cigarettes. He fumbled around for a long time in another case, eyeing me meanwhile, and when, while paying him, I casually asked: "Do you remember ever hearing the name of Auchincloss hereabout ?" he paused, still holding my package of cigarettes, and let the question, which apparently startled him, sink into his old bones.

I saw at once that he knew something.

"Auchincloss?" I repeated.

His gaze turned to shrewdness.

"Why, y-yes," he quavered. "Be you th' lawyer

There was a greedy, malignant pleasure in his question. In spite of what his remark did to me I managed to keep quite casual.

"I just wanted to know," I said ingratiatingly. "You know everything that goes on hereabout, I suppose?"

I saw at once that I had made a fatal mistake.

He glared at me and shut his lipless mouth together.

"You better go up t' Liz Tate's for your information!" he growled, and turned back to a deliberate fumbling.

I went out of the store, holding firmly in my startled mind that name, Liz Tate. Strange ideas, melodramatic—ah, the human mind is melodramatic at the slightest excuse!—lurid, exciting, possessed me. I said almost aloud: "Well, it was worth coming!" And looking back I saw that the old man had followed me out of the store and was staring after me . . .

Two youths in the yard of a small house across the road were my objective. "Can you tell me where Liz Tate lives?" As I went on toward the more desolate part of the settlement I reflected on their snickering, malicious attitude. Just because I was a stranger—someone different from themselves. And I found myself somehow thinking of Clive in connection with them—those hard, insulting little morons, the backwash of early settlers.

The road had become sandy between disconsolate pines, dreary clearings and hopeless-looking houses. The thin, late afternoon spread along the ground and through the trees, and in the air was the sad and delightful odour of autumn. The second turning to the right . . . for Liz Tate's.

My eyes were suddenly caught by the overgrown ruins of what had once evidently been a large building. It was back from the road; the vestiges of a sweeping driveway could still be seen, edged by an aimless growth of shrubs and small trees. The cellars still remained—huge cellars.

I paused. An odd sight in this Jersey wilderness! I was aware of a curious tightening of the skin, and I knew that somehow this building in ruins, perhaps destroyed by fire, had connected itself in my mind with Clive. I was entirely at sea by this time. I went on toward the second turning to the right, to the home of Liz Tate.

The house was back off the road in a bare, sandy yard. The shades were down. Standing on the little front porch—there were old tomato cans, dozens of them, filled with earth, piled there—I could see beyond some sunlit pines the whole shining expanse of the sky; and as I rapped on the flaking paint of the door a sudden, tremendous sense of the insignificance of human lives and human hopes caught me. At that moment the door pulled back jerkily, and I faced an untidy middle-aged woman, who cautiously held to the doorhandle, so that I saw only part of her.

"Did y' knock?" she asked suspiciously.
 

I felt that unless I immediately placated her the door would be shut in my face.

"How d'you do?" I said impressively and very pleasantly. "I came to see a—a Mrs. Tate."

"If you're the new insurance man—she began pugnaciously, closing the door a little.

"Oh, no, I'm not, certainly!" I told her hurriedly. "They sent me up here from the store—about someone"—I felt that the mention of the name would now be the only thing—Auchincloss . . ."

There was a moment of stillness.

Then: "Oh!" she said in a suddenly breathless voice.

She opened the door a bit more and looked at me; I saw that her flabby, colourless face was oddly agitated. She was stout and formless and very dirty.

"I just wanted to inquire," I went on. "It's important. Could you spare me a few minutes?”

"Well, y' better come in," she replied grudgingly.

I saw that in spite of her agitation she was not going to change her attitude, that her breathlessness was of the moment only.

"You better wait here a moment," she ordered after I had stepped inside, and as she spoke she closed two doors leading into other rooms into which she evidently did not wish me to see. Then she disappeared in the rear, leaving me in a small entry.

I was dismayed at the bad odour in the house, and at suddenly being shut up in this small space. Through the walls I could hear lowered voices speaking hurriedly, and chairs being moved about. Then the woman reappeared and beckoned to me.

The kitchen into which I stepped seemed light after the dimness of the entry. It was a large room, sloppy and dirty like the woman, but showing signs of having been hurriedly straightened up. On the greasy stove in the corner stood unwashed pots and kettles; and here were more unwashed dishes piled beneath the sink. The curtains hung ragged and gray with dirt; and on the littered window ledge one spindly geranium perished for lack of water.

"Sit down," said the woman, still faintly aggressive, pointing to a chair. But she was trying to be more pleasant o me. In the clearer light of the kitchen she stood revealed, a heavy, inert mass of flesh beneath uncommonly dirty clothes. And yet—she might once have been pretty. It was the expression of her face that sickened me—the fixed stare of avaricious greediness with which she watched me. It was as though through all her stodgy years she lad cherished some hope of deliverance from this life of hers—some hope that had died a thousand deaths and that now sprang to life renewed.

I felt a little mad. What had all this to do with Clive? Why was I here? Then her words threw me into a sort of panic.

"You looking for Clivie? He's gone th' city. He'll be back."

She eyed me with a slight return of her aggressiveness and repeated:

"He'll be back before long."

I couldn't bear her greedy eyes and looked down, only to see the lines of dirt in the fat creasings of her throat. I wasn't surprised at her next words—it was as if I knew already. "I'm his mother. I suppose you know that?”

In the slight pause that followed I did look back at her face. Something in my gaze disconcerted her. She assumed a virtuous and slightly defiant air—by tightening her lips and drawing together somehow her loose sloppiness. She saw that I was taken aback.

"I thought that ol' Bird 'ad told you down to th' store."

I shook my head weakly.

"It was a long time ago!" she said defiantly. "Thirty years nearly!”

"Yes, of course!" I stammered.

She went on without heeding me, with the manner of wishing to get this part of the affair over with and down to more important things: "I was only a young, innercent thing."

How she must have lingered, during those dingy years, over that word—innocent!

"Innercent!" she repeated.

She was watching me.

"After he died I read them letters he used to keep from me so careful—th' letters from his folks back in England. . . . I wisht I read 'em while he was alive! Him tellin' me day and night that I was th' reason of his not bein' able to go back to his family!"

She paused, scratching at the hair behind her ear. "He'd been kicked out o' th' English Army out in India, that was what was th' matter with him. An' all along o' livin' with a nigger woman out there. . . ."

An expression, absent and peculiar, lay for a moment on her face. "He was low, that's what—he liked to be low." And in the movement of her head as she threw off her unpleasant memories, I thought I saw something of Clive.

He was their son; but the tragedy was that he was not their son: in him had lived again the best of his father's race—uselessly.

"How old was Clive when his father died?" I asked.

"Four," she said sharply.

Then her mind leaped greedily ahead.

"I oughta got something from his family a long time before this!" she said with anger.

It was as though her torpid life stared her in the face.

"You might say as it's almost too late now!" she added bitterly. "When Clivie was eight years old and begun needin' things I wrote 'em a letter—an' I made Clivie write 'em a p.s. He was always bright. He could read an' write then . . . an' he was wonderful at figgers. But no answer come." Her face darkened.

"I usta send Clivie down to th' post-office every mail—expectin'! I oughter got something long before this—" she repeated—"takin' th' Major in and nursing him when he was sick, an' then havin' to bring up his brat!”

Just then the outer door opened, and a man, an uncouth, witless-looking creature with a leering grin, stepped into the kitchen. She paid no attention to him; he edged between the stove and the wall and stood listening and grinning.

"Clivie was an awful hard young one to bring up," she went on. "O' course th' other kids hollered after him—how was I to stop it? But he got so as I couldn't beat him into goin' to school—or down to th' store even. . . . Then he'd go sneakin' up to th' attic where his father's old trunk was, full of books and such, and never be round when I wanted him."

She paused. Even now she looked back on that son of hers with suspicion and dislike. "Then he run away—when he was fifteen. Said he'd never come back, an' took most all of his father's things with him." She suddenly felt that she had gone too far. "But he'll be back soon—any day. I'm expectin' him."

"Is he th' lawyer, Liz?" croaked the man behind the stove.

She turned on him.

"Shet your trap!" she said fiercely, and he subsided.

She looked at me again. "So you see how things has been?”

"But I ought to tell you," I said, rising nervously, "that I am not the lawyer."

She got up also, angry consternation mottling her face with red.

"You're a friend of the family's then?" she shrilled.

I tried to explain. But she knew that it was useless—that I had nothing to do with the money she had been hoping for for so long—that her dreams must this time die the death.

"You ain’t? Well, what are you doin' here, poking into my business? Some rotten summer visitor from Hokeville, ain't you, heard about the Major an' tryin' to see what you kin find out . . .! Who sent you up here? Old Bird, eh? I'll fix him. He's just been sued for slander, and he'll be sued again. . . . But I've dealt with your sort before!"

The rest is too ignominious. I was chased! I went backward, of course, facing her, and her angry, fat, raised arms—and behind her, laughing hysterically, the man. My God! When I got outside, away from her vituperations! What a woman!

V

I went back along the way I had come. I did not notice now the pines, the sand, the hopeless dwellings. A curious past was weaving itself in my mind; that dirty woman, years ago; sloppy even then, but young. . . . A little boy, who discovered the truth one day. . . . And the trunk up in the garret. . . . The books. . . . The whippings. . . . The waiting at the post-office for a letter that never came. . . . The boys that called after him. I remembered the boys of whom I had asked the way. I pictured him coming back from the village after a conflict with a mob of such boys. Mob! No wonder he hated all that mob stood for. He would have liked to have been superior to them. Do human beings make a goal of that which, denied them, has caused them suffering and humiliation? A tremendous pity overcame me. Sentimental—perhaps!

I passed the cellars of the large building that had been destroyed by fire—and smiled at the thought that only half an hour before I had romanced those ruins into some connection with Clive. . . . And I thought of his father. I recalled Liz Tate's spare words about him; and I felt that in this little settlement he must have become a legend, and in every one of these houses which he had so often passed they told some story of him.

The old storekeeper was outside his store.

"How'd things go?" he cried as I came up. A cunning curiosity gleamed in his eyes.

I determined to make him pay for the information he wanted.

"Oh—pretty well!" And I looked at knowingly.

He trembled in anticipation—really trembled.

"Found 'er all right, eh?"

I told him that I had, and let my tone convey that what I had found was a great pity.

"Well, she allers was slack," he said, and spat. "Th' hull fambly was slack. Did y' see th' feller she's got living up there with her now?"

I fixed him with a confidential eye.

"Of course she wouldn't say much," I began. "Naturally!" Then: "Do you remember much about it?"

The memory of the recent suit for slander must have stirred him, for he looked at me suspiciously.

"Well, I can't tell you no more than common truth," he said cautiously— "what they'd all tell you any place in Hokeville these past twenty years. But 't ain't so much after all," he added, as if thinking longingly of newer, juicier scandals.

I borrowed a match. "How did he come to live here in the first place?"

"'Twas after th' fire—" He broke off: "Did y' notice up the road th' cellars of a buildin'—where there'd been a fire?"

I nodded. Had my first impression been right?"

"Th' Pine Tree Inn burnt down there thirty years ago this summer. Great big hotel. They thot 'twould make mint o' money back here in th' pines."

A passing buggy claimed his attention for a minute. (So the ruins had been nothing more sinister than a summer hotel. Ridiculous that I hadn't thought of that.)

He went on:

"It caught fire one night and burnt up. They was a crowd of summer folks stopping there, and th' next morning they all had to go—there wasn't no place for them to stop. All but him. He went over an' got board with th' Tates. Told 'em th' pines was doin' him so much good that he couldn't afford to leave. He hadn't no money—that was th' trouble. But he kept tellin' Mrs. Tate that he was goin' to get money from his family in England. But none come!" the old man added with great scorn. "An' first thing, he was in with Liz and she goin' to have a young one. After that Liz an' her ma kept him goin'."

"Poor fellow!" I said with an air of knowledge.

He looked at me curiously.

"Be you th' lawyer?”

"Not exactly," I answered. "I'm a friend."

"She's been expectin' a lawyer t' come an' give her a lot o' money ever since he died. She's been settin' up there in all her dirt, thinkin' how she was goin' to lord it over th' rest of us some day. Ha-ha !" he croaked gloomily. "But what'd she do with it? Slack, that's what she is."

"Did people like him?" I ventured.

"Oh, all righty! He come down pretty low, though, afore he died. D'ye know what?”—and he chuckled : "He usta go marching along th' road every day, gettin' th' air, he called it, wearin' an old pair of woolen underdrawers around his neck fer muffler, with th' legs tied up under his chin!"

The old man shook all over at this memory. "Did y' ever hear o' anything like that, eh? Walkin' along like a soldier, swingin' an old pine stick!"

A woman arrived and went into the store.

"Is she and Clivie goin' to get th' money, eh?" he shot at me.

And all at once I remembered that I had never told Liz Tate of her son's death.

A perverse inspiration seized me—whom she had called a rotten summer visitor. I opened my pocketbook and found the clipping of his death.

"You must be the bearer of the news," I said solemnly. I didn't have the heart to tell her."

I handed him the clipping. "Give her this."

He took it, vaguely looking at the printed lines, and I saw that he couldn't read without glasses—perhaps not at all.

"He died a great man!" I said impressively. "Hokeville should be proud of him—its only hero."

Inside the woman rapped impatiently on the glass case.

The old man stared at me, amazed. "He's dead?"

I nodded, pointing to the paper: "I have told you, he died a great man."

I turned away after an abrupt salute to the old man and walked rapidly off. I could feel his eyes following me. As I went back along the small street I felt myself accompanied by the ghost of the Major of the photograph, grown old and thin, wearing his underdrawers as a muffler round his neck, ruined by his taste for the low, but for all that stepping beside me with a military stride and a fine swing to his primitive cane. . . .

VI

It must have been three weeks later that I found a stranger waiting for me on my return from the office. He stood up as I entered, a round, tough, horny little man in cheap clothes, and regarded me with an awkward stare. "Mr. Williams?" I told him that I was. He ran his fingers round the inside of his collar and really blushed.

"I've come all the way from Vereguay," he said, with the air of hinting that I might have made him more welcome. "I sent you the trunk and wrote you—yes."

From Vereguay!

Again the stirring sense of impending excitement caught me. After my trip to Hokeville I no longer felt that it would be given to me to know the secret of his death; the secret of his birth was enough. What was it that had brought a significant ending to his thwarted life? Now I was to know. They had come all the way . . . But I was wrong. Mr. Small was here on a business trip only. He wished to be entertained—shown the ropes.

"Just so as to know what to do with my money," he said; adding that he had never been before to New York. "I'm here for the new government, buying; they're paying me well. And then I thought you'd like to hear about him—Auchincloss."

The name lingered in the air without comment from either of us while I went through the amenities. I would be glad to put him wise—tell him all the amusing places. And meantime, would he join me in some excellent Scotch?

A smile and a look of relief answered this: you bet he would!

"I'm anxious to hear the details of Auchincloss' death," I added.

He sat down, and as I poured out the whisky he explained that that was, of course, one of his reasons for looking me up.

"You don't get nothing from the papers!" he cried, at the same time sizing up my room. "It's a good thing we found your address, Mr. Williams. Yes. He wanted all his stuff burned. But his folks should have it. Don't you think so?”

He must have noticed my abstracted gaze, for he paused. I was thinking of that mother of Clive's back in Jersey. I replied that indeed he'd been right—wondering if from this hard, ordinary man I could get something more than the facts. I offered him a cigar. He began explaining about the revolution—the numerous revolutions in Vereguay.

"The new government's all right—a republican, working-class rule. I wrote you that they was putting up a statue to our friend?”

"You knew him well?" I asked curtly.

He made an offhand gesture. "Sure —pretty well."

It seemed that my visitor had boarded with a certain Señora Santos—the very place that Clive had chosen on arriving at the strange town.

"He never said nothing to nobody," Mr. Small went on, "but we all knew was looking for a job. We never took to him. Not that we'd bother to dislike him—there was too much else going on."

"You didn't like him, then?" I asked abruptly.

He seemed to hesitate. "No, I guess we didn't. When he first come there was a sort of guerilla warfare going on among the peons. He let us see somehow—without saying nothing—that he was, well, contemptuous. D'you see?"

He had taken another and larger drink of whiskey and I noticed a slight burning on his cheekbones. For a moment he seemed lost completely in the past. He drew a deep breath.

"You ought to see that old house of Señora Santos!" he said. "It's outside of town, on the road to the mines. The mulepacks with th' silver passes by there once a week. It was there it all happened—everything!”

 He looked about my room with a certain scorn.

"You ought to see that house—earth floors—"

"I felt that he wanted tremendously to give me a vivid picture of the place, but that it became confused before his efforts to put it into words.

"And she—there's a woman! A real revolutionist! But she takes in boarders—like him, for instance."

He paused; a peculiar, embarrassed look came into his eyes.

"Sometimes I don't know what to think about him"—he said—"and that's the truth!”

"What happened?" I asked.

He appeared to pull himself together.

"He was a great man!" he said firmly. "A hero! He became converted to the cause at the last—yes. He died for us—yes, sir. If he had not given up his life old Batiste Tornos would still be choking the life out of Vereguay."

"You speak of us—" I ventured. "You mean you—"

"I mean that I, I"—his small eyes glowed—"was one of the Eight. . . . Why was Señora Santos' house famous? Because we met there every night in her back room, behind the kitchen. For over a year we planned everything—and little by little the workers in the mines became prepared."

Suddenly he rose to his feet.

"Three times we were ready to make the attack! Three times something went wrong at the last moment! And this ugly peon—yes, sir, he was nothing but a peon himself—this Batiste Tornos holdin' the whole country in his dirty pig's hands, playing the mining interests, sweatin' the life's blood out of the very people he come up from. Dictator—that was the right name for him. But a beggar on horseback, Mr. Williams!" he snorted. "As I was saying, three times already something had went wrong. They were beginning to lose faith in us."

"Finally Auchincloss became interested—joined you?" I asked.

He looked at me with scorn.

"He?' D'you think we'd let a stranger in? My God! I've lived there twenty years. I guess we was always a little suspicious of him anyways," he forced himself to add. "Did y' know that he was going to superintend some inland rancho for a rich old Spaniard? But he lost the job—his friend died"

I nodded. But Mr. Small was not looking at me. In his absent eye was concentrated some excitement of the past.

"I won't forget that night!" he said, and shook his head.

"Well, what happened?" I asked impatiently.

He frowned.

"If I could only make you see how important it was that nothing go wrong that time!" he said. "If anything had slipped they'd have sunk back for good into the old rut. They wouldn't have cared. There'd have been no revolution. Everything was ready. The peons was armed. The whole thing lay quiet for the signal to all together"—he made a movement like a conductor with his baton—"all together rise!”

"It must have been exciting!" I murmured inadequately.

He paid no attention.

"The time was set for July 15th—at noon. At night they suspect—they guard everything. Everything's fine. It can be done—if the Government don't find out somehow beforehand. If they do—the game's up!”

He made a sweeping gesture.

"And Auchincloss knew nothing of all this?" I said after a silence.

"No—he didn't. Can I have another drink? Thanks. But he must have been in sympathy, a love for humanity," he explained in a slightly soap-box manner.

I smiled—and felt bewildered.

"Well, what happened?”

Mr. Small insisted before he go on that I understand how very important it was that the whole thing be kept a secret. I assured him that I did.

"Well, then," he said, "this is the dope. We had a last meeting the night of the fourteenth at Señora Santos' house. We was all there—the eight of us." He told me the names of his comrades. "Somehow, we hadn't been there more than half an hour when we begun to get nervous. Seems as if we felt there was someone outside, spyin'. . . . Señora Santos had gone up to see her sister, who was dying; but one of the fellows, Mestalla, who boarded there, too, he suggested that we go up to his room. We felt that we'd be safer there."

He paused.

"I wish you could have been in that room with us!" he cried suddenly. "Hot! Eight of us . . . on the bed . . . on the floor . . . the windows closed. But we stood it because we thought that we was safe, see?"

He got up, and, crossing the room, opened the window.

"I'm coming to your friend now," he said, returning. I saw that his forehead was covered with perspiration. "Everything happens now—quick." He sat down. "Mestalla, he was a great talker, let himself go. He stood in the middle of the room and made a speech that I'll never forget, sir! He speaks of the revolution that breaks tomorrow on the stroke of noon, he tells us all over again what parts we play; and then he goes on and talks of the time when the people would all be free and equal and own everything themselves. It was great. 'In that flowery land of the future!' I remember he winds up. And he stands there with one hand outstretched, watching us admire him. . . . It was then we heard someone in the next room—and the wall was like paper."

Mr. Small, after a pause, turned on me abruptly: "Have you ever heard a man spit, sir?”

Before I could command any sort of an answer he went on:

"That's what we heard—a man spit. It had a terrible funny effect on us, Mr. Williams. Spittin's meant contempt through all the ages, I guess. And that's how we felt—as though someone back of that wall had been listening to everything and then spit—on us. It was—queer."

"Eight men jumps to their feet and to the door in just one leap. Spy! I pulled the door open and we crammed into the passage. The door to the next room was locked. I knocked while the men stood waiting. It was a minute before the key turns and Auchincloss looks out. He was pale.

"'You heard everything, eh?' Mestalla asks him.

"'You talked enough!' says Auchincloss. He said it as though he had no use for the lot of us, Mr. Williams! Yes, sir!"

Small narrowed his heated eyes at me.

"I can't understand it, sir. If he'd only let us know! When he said that there was a sound come from the men half grunt, half growl. There was only one thing for us to do, y' see, Mr. Williams. We couldn't take a chance"

"You killed him?" I asked.

Small raised his hand.

"We would have. But at that very second—while we stood there with that one thought in our minds—there were yells, crashes, shots! The Government soldiers had sneaked in on us—made a raid. Someone overturned the lamp. Did you ever hear men fightin' in the dark, groaning and cursing and crying?" Small stood up. "Then windows began to crash. Men jumped. I jumped. They had soldiers stationed outside, but some of us got away—we knew the place better than they did." He sat down again abruptly. "Yes—old Tornos had suspected something—felt it in his bones likely—and made a raid. They'd had their eye on the Señora Santos' casa for some time. They got four of us—two in the room, two outside as they were making their escape. Killed outright." He mentioned four names with a sort of hardness. "The rest of us got away." He showed me a scarred hand. "I don't know as I tell it like much—that row."

"But how about Auchincloss?" I asked.

"I'm coming to that," he went on. "An hour later the four of us that was left met in a little hut near the mines—as we had agreed to do if anything went wrong. And that was what we asked each other—had he been killed? We could only curse ourselves for not having seen to it. He'd heard everything, probably—the day, the hour—where the munitions were hidden."

I sat without a word during the pause that followed.

"About two o'clock that night one of our spies came in," Mr. Small continued, "with the news that the Americano was alive. He had been led from the Señora Santos' house handcuffed, between two soldiers. Yes, sir. We looked at each other and groaned. We didn't know what to think. Some had thought he was a spy. Now they saw he wasn't. But it would make no difference. He would tell them all he had overheard and then they would let him go."

His hand stopped half way to a drink that I had poured for him.

"Why didn't he tell?" he asked himself in a puzzled voice. "I can't see why. 'Twasn't even as if we'd let him know and he'd felt in honour bound that he oughtn't to tell. No. We'd been going to do for him. Do you see why not?" he asked me suddenly.

I couldn't help smiling—in vino veritas.

"You'll have to tell me more about it, Mr. Small."

"More? The revolution was a success, wasn't it?" He looked at me aggressively. "At noon the next day—caramba! It went like a breeze."

"But he—?" I said impatiently.

Mr. Small had his drink.

"He had died rather than tell 'em anything," he said. "At sunrise. We heard the rattle of the rifles up on the mountainside. We didn't know what it meant. But a little later a whisper—an excitement—went through all the countryside." He lifted his hand. "Tornos had shot him as a revolutionist. He had given his life. By nine o'clock that morning everything had quieted. Batiste Tornos thought it was all over—that he had thrown a scare into us—that it had been nothing important anyway. But every dam' peon, Mr. Williams, was up, flaming! And the rumour spread of how they'd tortured him."

He paused and frowned, gazing at his boots as at some unpleasant sight.

"When the two days' fighting was over we found his body in the courtyard full of bullets," he went on. "They'd tortured him all right—we could see that. Yes. We buried him the next day. A real funeral! Men wept, sir! There was a silk banner carried before the coffin, LIBERATOR OF THE OPPRESSED. The women had embroidered it. And there will be a statue of bronze in the Plaza."

A silence followed the great gesture of his words. Mr. Small looked at the decanter, hesitated, and stared again at his boots. I wondered if he had finished his story; I was thwarted, uneasy, up in the air. A dramatic tale; a flourish of blood and glory against the hot background of a little republic; but what of Clive?

"Does no one know how he acted—what he said?" I exclaimed.

Mr. Small raised his eyes. "Yes. One of us—a revolutionist—was a member of the guard that brought him before Tornos."

He reached out, unable to resist the decanter, and poured himself another drink. I felt a faint hope.

"Did he seem frightened?"

Small smiled with scorn.

"He—no! When they brought him in, handcuffed, Tornos laughed in his face. Tornos had a way of sticking his greasy face right into yours and breathing on you—a little trick of his.

"'American troublemaker, you shall eat out of my hands before dawn!' he says. He thought Auchincloss was one of us. Any little scene like this was Tornos' meat. But Auchincloss draws himself up and says: 'I will not explain anything.' Tornos gets red behind the ears when he hears that. He comes up close to Auchincloss and sticks his face into his and breathes on him. 'You won't, eh?' he whispers — and gives a smile that would sicken anybody. Then he turns to the guards. 'Downstairs with him!'" Mr. Small made a gesture. "Old Tornos wouldn't stand for anyone talking to him like that."

"Horrible!" I murmured.

"Yes," said Mr. Small. "Can you imagine him acting like that to men that had him in their power? He meant what he said, too. He never spoke another word—no, not a word. They kept at him all night. And Tornos watchin'—getting his revenge. (Well, we done for him next day!) They say that when they took Auchincloss out at sunrise to be shot they gave him a last chance. But he didn't even notice it."

Mr. Small leaned his head reflectively on his hand. After a moment he yawned.

"It's queer . . ." he said. "He must have gotten hold of some of our propaganda. And yet . . ."

As I said nothing, he rose. He looked sleepy.

"I am going to send you a photograph of that statue!" he said, and glanced about for his hat.

*     *     *

Five minutes later I returned to my room after having taken him down to the door. An odour of stale cigarettes and whiskey hung in the air; I went across to the window and opened it and stood breathing in the coolness of the night. I recalled how Clive had stood one evening and looked down into the street and despised it and the passing people. But out in Vereguay a whole people thought that he had died for them. He hated them; and he had died a martyr for his hatred. He was too contemptuous to bother explaining. He had sacrificed his life to preserve that attitude of his.

After all, I reflected, such an attitude is not a fine one—one might even say that he had died the supreme snob. But is there not fineness in being possessed by one idea and dying for it? And I saw him again, bitter and despairing, a weak, impotent soul striving for something beyond himself, and, in his own way, succeeding.

The Smart Set, June, 1921

 

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