The Fate of a Crown - L. Frank Baum - ebook

The Fate of a Crown ebook

L. Frank Baum

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Need an adventure story with plots and counterplots? Intrigue? A love interest? Politics? Murder? Follow our young American hero, Robert Harcliffe, as he goes on the adventure of his lifetime. A young man just out of college goes to Brazil as secretary of the prime mover in the revolution, and by so doing begins a series of adventures that run from tragic to comic, ending with the success of the conspiracy, a straightening out of many tangles, and the marriage of the hero to one of the most brilliant and beautiful conspirators. Written by the famous „Oz” author L. Frank Baum under the alias of Schuyler Staunton, „The Fate of a Crown” is a stirring novel of the events of a South American revolution against the monarchy at the turn of the 20th Century. It was Baum’s first novel for an adult readership.

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Liczba stron: 233

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Contents

CHAPTER I. THE BLUE ENVELOPE

CHAPTER II. VALCOUR

CHAPTER III. A GOOD REPUBLICAN

CHAPTER IV. THE CHIEFTAIN

CHAPTER V. MADAM IZABEL

CHAPTER VI. THE SECRET VAULT

CHAPTER VII. GENERAL FONSECA

CHAPTER VIII. A TERRIBLE CRIME

CHAPTER IX. THE MISSING FINGER

CHAPTER X. “FOR TO-MORROW WE DIE!”

CHAPTER XI. LESBA’S BRIGHT EYES

CHAPTER XII. THE MAN IN THE SHRUBBERY

CHAPTER XIII. DOM PEDRO DE ALCANTARA

CHAPTER XIV. THE MAN WITH THE RING

CHAPTER XV. A DANGEROUS MOMENT

CHAPTER XVI. TRAITOR TO THE CAUSE

CHAPTER XVII. THE TORCH OF REBELLION

CHAPTER XVIII. A NARROW ESCAPE

CHAPTER XIX. THE WAYSIDE INN

CHAPTER XX. “ARISE AND STRIKE!”

CHAPTER XXI. ONE MYSTERY SOLVED

CHAPTER XXII. THE DEATH SENTENCE

CHAPTER XXIII. AT THE ELEVENTH HOUR

CHAPTER XXIV. THE EMPEROR’S SPY

CHAPTER XXV. THE GIRL I LOVE

CHAPTER I. THE BLUE ENVELOPE

Leaning back in my chair, I smoked my morning cigar and watched Uncle Nelson open his mail. He had an old-fashioned way of doing this: holding the envelope in his left hand, clipping its right edge with his desk shears, and then removing the inclosure and carefully reading it before he returned it to its original envelope. Across one end he would make a memorandum of the contents, after which the letters were placed in a neat pile.

As I watched him methodically working, Uncle Nelson raised a large blue envelope, clipped its end, and read the inclosure with an appearance of unusual interest. Then, instead of adding it to the letters before him, he laid it aside; and a few minutes later reverted to it again, giving the letter a second careful perusal. Deeply musing, for a time he sat motionless in his chair. Then, arousing himself from his deep abstraction, he cast a fleeting glance in my direction and composedly resumed his task.

I knew Uncle Nelson’s habits so well that this affair of the blue envelope told me plainly the communication was of unusual importance. Yet the old gentleman calmly continued his work until every letter the mail contained was laid in a pile before him and fully docketed. With the last he suddenly swung around in his chair and faced me.

“Robert,” said he, “how would you like to go to Brazil?”

Lacking a ready answer to this blunt question I simply stared at him.

“De Pintra has written me,” he continued–“do you know of Dom Miguel de Pintra?” I shook my head. “He is one of the oldest customers of the house. His patronage assisted us in getting established. We are under deep obligations to de Pintra.”

“I do not remember seeing his name upon the books,” I said, thoughtfully.

“No; before you came into the firm he had retired from business–for he is a wealthy man. But I believe this retirement has been bad for him. His energetic nature would not allow him to remain idle, and he has of late substituted politics for business.”

“That is not so bad,” I remarked, lightly. “Some people make a business of politics, and often it proves a fairly successful one.”

My uncle nodded.

“Here in New Orleans, yes,” he acknowledged; “but things are vastly different in Brazil. I am sorry to say that Dom Miguel is a leader of the revolutionists.”

“Ah,” said I, impressed by his grave tone. And I added: “I have supposed that Dom Pedro is secure upon his throne, and personally beloved by his subjects.”

“He is doubtless secure enough,” returned Uncle Nelson, dryly, “but, although much respected by his people, there is, I believe, serious opposition to an imperial form of government. Rebellions have been numerous during his reign. Indeed, these people of Brazil seem rapidly becoming republicans in principle, and it is to establish a republican form of government that my friend de Pintra has placed himself at the head of a conspiracy.”

“Good for de Pintra!” I cried, heartily.

“No, no; it is bad,” he rejoined, with a frown. “There is always danger in opposing established monarchies, and in this case the Emperor of Brazil has the countenance of both Europe and America.”

As I ventured no reply to this he paused, and again regarded me earnestly.

“I believe you are the very person, Robert, I should send de Pintra. He wishes me to secure for him a secretary whom he may trust implicitly. At present, he writes me, he is surrounded by the emperor’s spies. Even the members of his own household may be induced to betray him. Indeed, I imagine my old friend in a very hot-bed of intrigue and danger. Yet he believes he could trust an American who has no partiality for monarchies and no inducement to sympathize with any party but his own. Will you go, Robert?”

The question, abrupt though it was, did not startle me. Those accustomed to meet Nelson Harcliffe’s moods must think quickly. Still, I hesitated.

“Can you spare me, Uncle?”

“Not very well,” he admitted. “You have relieved me of many of the tedious details of business since you came home from college. But, for de Pintra’s sake, I am not only willing you should go, but I ask you, as a personal favor, to hasten to Rio and serve my friend faithfully, protecting him, so far as you may be able, from the dangers he is facing. You will find him a charming fellow–a noble man, indeed–and he needs just such a loyal assistant as I believe you will prove. Will you go, Robert?”

Uncle Nelson’s sudden proposal gave me a thrill of eager interest best explained by that fascinating word “danger.” Five minutes before I would have smiled at the suggestion that I visit a foreign country on so quixotic an errand; but the situation was, after all, as simple as it was sudden in development, and my uncle’s earnest voice and eyes emphasized his request in no uncertain manner. Would I go? Would I, a young man on the threshold of life, with pulses readily responding to the suggestion of excitement and adventure, leave my humdrum existence in a mercantile establishment to mingle in the intrigues of a nation striving to cast off the shackles of a monarchy and become free and independent? My answer was assured.

Nevertheless, we Harcliffes are chary of exhibiting emotion. Any eagerness on my part would, I felt, have seriously displeased my reserved and deliberate uncle. Therefore I occupied several minutes in staring thoughtfully through the open window before I finally swung around in my chair and answered:

“Yes, Uncle, I will go.”

“Thank you,” said he, a flush of pleasure spreading over his fine old face. Then he turned again to the letter in the blue envelope. “The Castina sails on Wednesday, I see, and Dom Miguel wishes his new secretary to go on her. Therefore you must interview Captain Lertine at once, and arrange for passage.”

“Very well, sir.”

I took my hat, returned my uncle’s grave bow, and left the office.

CHAPTER II. VALCOUR

The Castina was a Brazilian trading-ship frequently employed by the firm of Harcliffe Brothers to transport merchandise from New Orleans to Rio de Janiero. I had formed a slight acquaintance with the master, Pedro Lertine, and was not surprised when he placed his own state-room at my disposal; for although the vessel usually carried passengers, the cabin accommodations were none of the best.

The Captain asked no questions concerning my voyage, contenting himself with the simple statement that he had often carried my father with him in the Castina in former years, and was now pleased to welcome the son aboard. He exhibited rare deference toward my uncle, Nelson Harcliffe, as the head of our firm, when the old gentleman came to the head of the levee to bid me good by; this Uncle Nelson did by means of a gentle pressure of my hand. I am told the Harcliffes are always remarkable for their reserve, and certainly the head of our house was an adept at repressing his emotions. Neither he nor my father, who had been his associate in founding the successful mercantile establishment, had ever cared to make any intimate friends; and for this reason the warmth of friendship evinced by Uncle Nelson in sending me on this peculiar mission to Dom Miguel de Pintra had caused me no little astonishment.

After his simple handshake my uncle walked back to his office, and I immediately boarded the Castina to look after the placing of my trunks. Before I had fairly settled myself in my cozy state-room we were under way and steaming down the river toward the open sea.

On deck I met a young gentleman of rather prepossessing personality who seemed quite willing to enter into conversation. He was a dark-eyed, handsome Brazilian, well dressed and of pleasing manners. His card bore the inscription, Manuel Cortes de Guarde. He expressed great delight at finding me able to speak his native tongue, and rendered himself so agreeable that we had soon established very cordial relations. He loved to talk, and I love to listen, especially when I am able to gather information by so doing, and de Guarde seemed to know Brazil perfectly, and to delight in describing it. I noticed that he never touched on politics, but from his general conversation I gleaned considerable knowledge of the country I was about to visit.

During dinner he chattered away continually in his soft Portuguese patois, and the other passengers, less than a dozen in number, seemed content to allow him to monopolize the conversation. I noticed that Captain Lertine treated de Guarde with fully as much consideration as he did me, while the other passengers he seemed to regard with haughty indifference. However, I made the acquaintance of several of my fellow-voyagers and found them both agreeable and intelligent.

I had promised myself a pleasant, quiet voyage to the shores of Brazil, but presently events began to happen with a rapidity that startled me. Indeed, it was not long before I received a plain intimation that I had embarked upon an adventure that might prove dangerous.

We were two days out, and the night fell close and warm. Finding my berth insufferably oppressive I arose about midnight, partially dressed, and went on deck to get whatever breeze might be stirring. It was certainly cooler than below, and reclining in the shadow beside a poop I had nearly succeeded in falling asleep when aroused by the voices of two men who approached and paused to lean over the taffrail. They proved to be Captain Lertine and de Guarde, and I was about to announce my presence when the mention of my own name caused me to hesitate.

“I cannot understand why you should suspect young Harcliffe,” the Captain said.

“Because, of all your passengers, he would be most fitted to act as de Pintra’s secretary,” was the reply. “And, moreover, he is a Harcliffe.”

“That’s just it, senhor,” declared the other; “he is a Harcliffe, and since his father’s death, one of the great firm of Harcliffe Brothers. It is absurd to think one of his position would go to Brazil to serve Miguel de Pintra.”

“Perhaps the adventure entices him,” returned de Guarde’s soft voice, in reflective tones. “He is but lately from college, and his uncle may wish him to know something of Brazil, where the greater part of the Harcliffe fortune has been made.”

“Deus Meo!” exclaimed the Captain; “but you seem to know everything about everybody, my dear Valcour! However, this suspicion of young Harcliffe is nonsense, I assure you. You must look elsewhere for the new secretary–provided, of course, he is on my ship.”

“Oh, he is doubtless on board,” answered de Guarde, with a low, confident laugh. “De Pintra’s letters asked that a man be sent on the first ship bound for Rio, and Nelson Harcliffe is known to act promptly in all business matters. Moreover, I have studied carefully the personality of each of your passengers, and none of them seems fitted for the post so perfectly as young Harcliffe himself. I assure you, my dear Lertine, that I am right. He can be going out for no other purpose than to assist de Pintra.”

The Captain whistled softly.

“Therefore?” he murmured.

“Therefore,” continued de Guarde, gravely, “it is my duty to prevent his reaching his destination.”

“You will have him arrested when we reach Rio?”

“Arrested? No, indeed. Those Americans at Washington become peevish if we arrest one of their citizens, however criminal he may be. The situation demands delicate treatment, and my orders are positive. Our new secretary for the revolution must not reach Rio.”

Again the Captain whistled–a vague melody with many false and uncertain notes. And the other remained silent.

Naturally I found the conversation most interesting, and no feeling of delicacy prevented my straining my ears to catch more of it. It was the Captain who broke the long silence.

“Nevertheless, my dear Valcour–”

“De Guarde, if you please.”

“Nevertheless, de Guarde, our Mr. Harcliffe may be innocent, and merely journeying to Brazil on business.”

“I propose to satisfy myself on that point. Great God, man! do you think I love this kind of work–even for the Emperor’s protection? But my master is just, though forced at times to act with seeming cruelty. I must be sure that Harcliffe is going to Brazil as secretary to the rebel leader, and you must aid me in determining the fact. When our man goes to breakfast in the morning I will examine his room for papers. The pass-key is on the bunch you gave me, I suppose?”

“Yes, it is there.”

“Very well. Join your passengers at breakfast, and should Mr. Harcliffe leave the table on any pretext, see that I am duly warned.”

“Certainly, senhor.”

“And now I am going to bed. Good night, Lertine.”

“Good night, de Guarde.”

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