At the head of the insurgent party appeared that Hector and learned
Theban of the southern republics, Don Sabas Placido. A traveller,
a soldier, a poet, a scientist, a statesman and a connoisseur--the
wonder was that he could content himself with the petty, remote life
of his native country.
"It is a whim of Placido's," said a friend who knew him well,
"to take up political intrigue. It is not otherwise than as if he
had come upon a new tempo in music, a new bacillus in the air, a new
scent, or rhyme, or explosive. He will squeeze this revolution dry
of sensations, and a week afterward will forget it, skimming the seas
of the world in his brigantine to add to his already world-famous
collections. Collections of what? ~Por Dios~! of everything from
postage stamps to prehistoric stone idols."
But, for a mere dilettante, the aesthetic Placido seemed to be
creating a lively row. The people admired him; they were fascinated
by his brilliancy and flattered by his taking an interest in so small
a thing as his native country. They rallied to the call of his
lieutenants in the capital, where (somewhat contrary to arrangements)
the army remained faithful to the government. There was also lively
skirmishing in the coast towns. It was rumored that the revolution
was aided by the Vesuvius Fruit Company, the power that forever stood
with chiding smile and uplifted finger to keep Anchuria in the class
of good children. Two of its steamers, the ~Traveler~ and the
~Salvador~, were known to have conveyed insurgent troops from point
to point along the coast.
As yet there had been no actual uprising in Coralio. Military law
prevailed, and the ferment was bottled for the time. And then came
the word that everywhere the revolutionists were encountering defeat.
In the capital the president's forces triumphed; and there was a rumor
that the leaders of the revolt had been forced to fly, hotly pursued.
In the little telegraph office at Coralio there was always
a gathering of officials and loyal citizens, awaiting news from
the seat of government. One morning the telegraph key began clicking,
and presently the operator called, loudly: "One telegram for
~el Almirante~, Don Senor Felipe Carrera!"
There was a shuffling sound, a great rattling of tin scabbard, and
the admiral, prompt at his spot of waiting, leaped across the room
to receive it.
The message was handed to him. Slowly spelling it out, he found it
to be his first official order--thus running:
"Proceed immediately with your vessel to mouth of Rio Ruiz;
transport beef and provisions to barracks at Alforan.
Small glory, to be sure, in this, his country's first call. But
it had called, and joy surged in the admiral's breast. He drew his
cutlass belt to another buckle hole, roused his dozing crew, and in
a quarter of an hour ~El Nacional~ was tacking swiftly down coast in
a stiff landward breeze.
The Rio Ruiz is a small river, emptying into the sea ten miles below
Coralio. That portion of the coast is wild and solitary. Through
a gorge in the Cordilleras rushes the Rio Ruiz, cold and bubbling,
to glide at last, with breadth and leisure, through an alluvial morass
into the sea.
In two hours ~El Nacional~ entered the river's mouth. The banks
were crowded with a disposition of formidable trees. The sumptuous
undergrowth of the tropics overflowed the land, and drowned itself
in the fallow waters.
Silently the sloop entered there, and met a deeper silence. Brilliant
with greens and ochres and floral, scarlets, the umbrageous mouth
of the Rio Ruiz furnished no sound or movement save of the sea-going
water as it purled against the prow of the vessel. Small chance there
seemed of wresting beef or provisions from that empty solitude.
The admiral decided to cast anchor, and, at the chain's rattle,
the forest was stimulated to instant and resounding uproar. The mouth
of the Rio Ruiz had only been taking a morning nap. Parrots and
baboons screeched and barked in the trees; a whirring and a hissing
and a booming marked the awakening of animal life; a dark blue bulk
was visible for an instant, as a startled tapir fought his way through
The navy, under orders, hung in the mouth of the little river for
hours. The crew served the dinner of shark's fin soup, plantains,
crab gumbo and sour wine. The admiral, with a three-foot telescope,
closely scanned the impervious foliage fifty yards away.
It was nearly sunset when a reverberating "hal-lo-o-o!" came from
the forest to their left. It was answered; and three men, mounted
upon mules, crashed through the tropic tangle to within a dozen yards
of the river's bank. There they dismounted; and one, unbuckling
his belt, struck each mule a violent blow with his sword scabbard,
so that they, with a fling of heels, dashed back again into
Those were strange-looking men to be conveying beef and provisions.
One was a large and exceedingly active man, of striking presence. He
was of the purest Spanish type, with curling, gray-besprinkled, dark
hair, blue, sparkling eyes, and the pronounced air of a ~caballero
grande~. The other two were small, brown-faced men, wearing white
military uniforms, high riding boots and swords. The clothes of all
were drenched, bespattered and rent by the thicket. Some stress of
circumstance must have driven them, ~diable a quatre~, through flood,
mire and jungle.
"~O-he! Senor Almirante~," called the large man. "Send to us your
The dory was lowered, and Felipe, with one of the Caribs, rowed toward
the left bank.
The large man stood near the water's brink, waist deep in the curling
vines. As he gazed upon the scarecrow figure in the stern of the dory
a sprightly interest beamed upon his mobile face.
Months of wageless and thankless service had dimmed the admiral's
splendor. His red trousers were patched and ragged. Most of the
bright buttons and yellow braid were gone from his jacket. The visor
of his cap was torn, and depended almost to his eyes. The admiral's
feet were bare.
"Dear Admiral," cried the large man, and his voice was like a blast
from a horn, "I kiss your hands. I knew we could build upon your
fidelity. You had our despatch--from General Martinez. A little
nearer with your boat, dear Admiral. Upon these devils of shifting
vines we stand with the smallest security."
Felipe regarded him with a stolid face.
"Provisions and beef for the barracks at Alforan," he quoted.
"No fault of the butchers, ~Almirante mio~, that the beef awaits you
not. But you are come in time to save the cattle. Get us aboard your
vessel, senor, at once. You first, ~caballeros--a priesa!~ Come back
for me. The boat is too small."
The dory conveyed the two officers to the sloop, and returned for
the large man.
"Have you so gross a thing as food, good Admiral?" he cried, when
aboard. "And, perhaps, coffee? Beef and provisions! ~Nombre de
Dios!~ a little longer and we could have eaten one of those mules that
you, Colonel Rafael, saluted so feelingly with your sword scabbard at
parting. Let us have food; and then we will sail--for the barracks
The Caribs prepared a meal, to which the three passengers of ~El
Nacional~ set themselves with famished delight. About sunset, as was
its custom, the breeze veered and swept back from the mountains, cool
and steady, bringing a taste of the stagnant lagoons and mangrove
swamps that guttered the lowlands. The mainsail of the sloop was
hoisted and swelled to it, and at that moment they heard shouts and
a waxing clamor from the bosky profundities of the shore.
"The butchers, my dear Admiral," said the large man, smiling, "too
late for the slaughter."
Further than his orders to his crew, the admiral was saying nothing.
The topsail and jib were spread, and the sloop elided out of the
estuary. The large man and his companions had bestowed themselves
with what comfort they could about the bare deck. Belike, the thing
big in their minds had been their departure from that critical shore;
and now that the hazard was so far reduced their thoughts were loosed
to the consideration of further deliverance. But when they saw the
sloop turn and fly up coast again they relaxed, satisfied with the
course the admiral had taken.
The large man sat at ease, his spirited blue eye engaged in
the contemplation of the navy's commander. He was trying to estimate
this sombre and fantastic lad, whose impenetrable stolidity puzzled
him. Himself a fugitive, his life sought, and chafing under the smart
of defeat and failure, it was characteristic of him to transfer
instantly his interest to the study of a thing new to him. It was
like him, too, to have conceived and risked all upon this last
desperate and madcap scheme--this message to a poor, crazed ~fanatico~
cruising about with his grotesque uniform and his farcical title.
But his companions had been at their wits' end; escape had seemed
incredible; and now he was pleased with the success of the plan they
had called crack-brained and precarious.
The brief, tropic twilight seemed to slide swiftly into the pearly
splendor of a moonlit night. And now the lights of Coralio appeared,
distributed against the darkening shore to their right. The admiral
stood, silent, at the tiller; the Caribs, like black panthers, held
the sheets, leaping noiselessly at his short commands. The three
passengers were watching intently the sea before them, and when at
length they came in sight of the bulk of a steamer lying a mile out
from the town, with her lights radiating deep into the water, they
held a sudden voluble and close-headed converse. The sloop was
speeding as if to strike midway between ship and shore.
The large man suddenly separated from his companions and approached
the scarecrow at the helm.
"My dear Admiral," he said, "the government has been exceedingly
remiss. I feel all the shame for it that only its ignorance of your
devoted service has prevented it from sustaining. An inexcusable
oversight has been made. A vessel, a uniform and a crew worthy
of your fidelity shall be furnished you. But just now, dear Admiral,
there is business of moment afoot. The steamer lying there is the
~Salvador~. I and my friends desire to be conveyed to her, where we
are sent on the government's business. Do us the favor to shape your
Without replying, the admiral gave a sharp command, and put the tiller
hard to port. ~El Nacional~ swerved, and headed straight as an
arrow's course for the shore.
"Do me the favor," said the large man, a trifle restively,
"to acknowledge, at least, that you catch the sound of my words."
It was possible that the fellow might be lacking in senses as well
The admiral emitted a croaking, harsh laugh, and spake.
"They will stand you," he said, "with your face to a wall and shoot
you dead. That is the way they kill traitors. I knew you when you
stepped into my boat. I have seen your picture in a book. You are
Sabas Placido, traitor to your country. With your face to a wall.
So, you will die. I am the admiral, and I will take you to them.
With your face to a wall. Yes."
Don Sabas half turned and waved his hand, with a ringing laugh,
toward his fellow fugitives. "To you, ~caballeros~, I have related
the history of that session when we issued that 0! so ridiculous
commission. Of a truth our jest has been turned against us. Behold
the Frankenstein's monster we have created!"
Don Sabas glanced toward the shore. The lights of Coralio were
drawing near. He could see the beach, the warehouse of the ~Bodega
Nacional~, the long, low ~cuartel~ occupied by the soldiers, and
behind that, gleaming in the moonlight, a stretch of high adobe wall.
He had seen men stood with their faces to that wall and shot dead.
Again he addressed the extravagant figure at the helm.
"It is true," he said, "that I am fleeing the country. But, receive
the assurance that I care very little for that. Courts and camps
everywhere are open to Sabas Placido. ~Vaya!~ what is this molehill
of a republic--this pig's head of a country--to a man like me? I am
a ~paisano~ of everywhere. In Rome, in London, in Paris, in Vienna,
you will hear them say: 'Welcome back, Don Sabas.' Come!--~tonto~--
baboon of a boy--admiral, whatever you call yourself, turn your boat.
Put us on board the ~Salvador~, and here is your pay--five hundred
pesos in money of the ~Estados Unidos~--more than your lying
government will pay you in twenty years."
Don Sabas pressed a plump purse against the youth's hand. The admiral
gave no heed to the words or the movement. Braced against the helm,
he was holding the sloop dead on her shoreward course. His dull face
was lit almost to intelligence by some inward conceit that seemed to
afford him joy, and found utterance in another parrot-like cackle.
"That is why they do it," he said--"so that you will not see the guns.
They fire--boom!--and you fall dead. With your face to the wall.
The admiral called a sudden order to his crew. The lithe, silent
Caribs made fast the sheets they held, and slipped down the hatchway
into the hold of the sloop. When the last one had disappeared, Don
Sabas, like a big, brown leopard, leaped forward, closed and fastened
the hatch and stood, smiling.
"No rifles, if you please, dear admiral," he said. "It was a whimsey
of mine once to compile a dictionary of the Carib ~lengua~. So,
I understood your order. Perhaps now you will--"
He cut short his words, for he heard the dull "swish" of iron scraping
along tin. The admiral had drawn the cutlass of Pedro Lafitte,
and was darting upon him. The blade descended, and it was only by
a display of surprising agility that the large man escaped, with only
a bruised shoulder, the glancing weapon. He was drawing his pistol
as he sprang, and the next instant he shot the admiral down.
Don Sabas stooped over him, and rose again.
"In the heart," he said briefly. "~Senores~, the navy is abolished."
Colonel Rafael sprang to the helm, and the other officer hastened to
loose the mainsail sheets. The boom swung round; ~El Nacional~ veered
and began to tack industriously for the ~Salvador~.
"Strike that flag, senor," called Colonel Rafael. "Our friends on
the steamer will wonder why we are sailing under it."
"Well said," cried Don Sabas. Advancing to the mast he lowered the
flag to the deck, where lay its too loyal supporter. Thus ended the
Minister of War's little piece of after-dinner drollery, and by the
same hand that began it.
Suddenly Don Sabas gave a great cry of joy, and ran down the slanting
deck to the side of Colonel Rafael. Across his arm he carried the
flag of the extinguished navy.
"~Mire! mire! senor. Ah, ~Dios!~ Already can I hear that great bear
of an Oestreicher~ shout, ~'Du hast mein herz gebrochen!' Mire!~
Of my friend, Herr Grunitz, of Vienna, you have heard me relate.
That man has travelled to Ceylon for an orchid--to Patagonia for
a headdress --to Benares for a slipper--to Mozambique for a spearhead
to add to his famous collections. Thou knowest, also, ~amigo~ Rafael,
that I have been a gatherer of curios. My collection of battle flags
of the world's navies was the most complete in existence until last
year. Then Herr Grunitz secured two, 0! such rare specimens. One
of a Barberry state, and one of the Makarooroos, a tribe on the west
coast of Africa. I have not those, but they can be procured. But
this flag, senor--do you know what it is? Name of God! do you know?
See that red cross upon the blue and white ground! You never saw
it before? ~Seguramente no~. It is the naval flag of your country.
~Mire!~ This rotten tub we stand upon is its navy--that dead cockatoo
lying there was its commander--that stroke of cutlass and single
pistol shot a sea battle. All a piece of absurd foolery, I grant you
--but authentic. There has never been another flag like this, and
there never will be another. No. It is unique in the whole world.
Yes. Think of what that means to a collector of flags! Do you know,
~Coronel mio~, how many golden crowns Herr Grunitz would give for this
flag? Ten thousand, likely. Well, a hundred thousand would not buy
it. Beautiful flag! Only flag! Little devil of a most heaven-born
flag! ~O'he!~ old grumbler beyond the ocean. Wait till Don Sabas
comes again to the Konigin Strasse. He will let you kneel and touch
the folds of it with one finger. ~O-he!~ old spectacled ransacker
of the world!"
Forgotten was the impotent revolution, the danger, the loss, the gall
of defeat. Possessed solely by the inordinate and unparalleled
passion of the collector, he strode up and down the little deck,
clasping to his breast with one hand the paragon of a flag. He
snapped his fingers triumphantly toward the east. He shouted the
paean to his prize in trumpet tones, as though he would make old
Grunitz hear in his musty den beyond the sea.
They were waiting, on the ~Salvador~, to welcome them. The sloop came
close alongside the steamer where her sides were sliced almost to the
lower deck for the loading of fruit. The sailors of the ~Salvador~
grappled and held her there.
Captain McLeod leaned over the side.
"Well, ~senor~, the jig is up, I'm told."
"The jig is up?" Don Sabas looked perplexed for a moment. "That
revolution--ah, yes!" With a shrug of his shoulders he dismissed
The captain learned of the escape and the imprisoned crew.
"Caribs!" he said; "no harm in them." He slipped down into the sloop
and kicked loose the hasp of the hatch. The black fellows came
tumbling up, sweating but grinning.
"Hey! black boys!" said the captain, in a dialect of his own; "you
sabe, catchy boat and vamos back same place quick."
They saw him point to themselves, the sloop and Coralio. "Yas, yas!"
they cried, with broader grins and many nods.
The four--Don Sabas, the two officers and the captain--moved to quit
the sloop. Don Sabas lagged a little behind, looking at the still
form of the late admiral, sprawled in his paltry trappings.
"~Pobrecito loco~," he said softly.
He was a brilliant cosmopolite and a ~cognoscente~ of high rank;
but, after all, he was of the same race and blood and instinct as
this people. Even as the simple ~paisanos~ of Coralio had said it,
so said Don Sabas. Without a smile, he looked, and said, "The poor
little crazed one!"
Stooping he raised the limp shoulders, drew the priceless and
induplicable flag under them and over the breast, pinning it there
with the diamond star of the Order of San Carlos that he took from
the collar of his own coat.
He followed after the others, and stood with them upon the deck of
the ~Salvador~. The sailors that steadied ~El Nacional~ shoved her
off. The jabbering Caribs hauled away at the rigging; the sloop
headed for the shore.
And Herr Grunitz's collection of naval flags was still the finest
in the world.