THE CAPTURE OF PAPA GATO
THIS is to explain how young Theodore Pinney, after his meteoric début in the P. I. constabulary—consisting in nothing less than the capture of Papa Gato, fierce bandelero, who for years had terrorised the region of the Taal—squatted into a fat civilian job and forsook all dreams of glory. And it's not at all about young Pinney, but mostly about his mother, the widow.
"The widow;"—by that short, somewhat ominous and not too respectful cognomen she was known by all the bureau—the educational, of course—from superintendent to lowest clerk; and throughout the archipelago by men departmental and non-departmental. This name, based on fact, like most things based on fact, was a lying thing. Close your eyes and say "widow"; the vision is of something subtle, arch and tantalising—lustrous eyes, comely form (somewhat pudgy), kittenish ways. But she was long and lean and angular; her bosom was arid and her tongue triple-forked. "Old-maid" would have expressed her infinitely better; but there was the fact, the stubborn fact, which manifested itself with slight provocation by a grim tightening of the thin lips, and the phrase—proverbial now throughout the P. I.'s—"Mr. Pinney, well, the less said about him the better. He was a handsome man, but he was a wicked man"—the "handsome" being pronounced with a rising inflection, and the antithetic adjective with a drop into tenebrous basso-profundo.
Of Pinneythis is all we ever knew, although in departmental circles he was a subject fertile of delicious speculation. That to be wicked he had had ample temptation, knowing the widow, we cheerfully granted; but what chance he ever had had to succumb, knowing the widow, we could not imagine. Of Pinney we knew still less, nothing at all, in fact, what little there was being the property of the postal authorities and consisting of records of money orders sent monthly by the widow to a well known western college town. But of the widow herself, good Lord, we knew only too much.
For she was a terror and a pest. From the day she placed her number tens upon Philippine soil the islands knew no peace. The educational department became a nightmare, and clamour filled all the others. She had a passion for "little trips"—and her will was adamant and her tongue a visitation. They all knew her. Her appearance at the Civil Hospital heralded the disappearance of the resident chief. "Give her what she wants, anything she wants," he yelled at his clerk, as he exited. And when she sallied out for fresh conquest she held under her arm a certificate of ill-health. At the educational bureau the superintendent saw her coming. Out he sprang, through door or window. "Give her what she wants," his parting wail floated to the clerk. And so, with a glance at the medical certificate, and a few timid questions as a matter of form, he made out Document No. II—sick-leave on full pay. A few minutes later the major of the army transport service found the outer world urgently calling, and as he dodged the widow on the stairway, "My clerk, madam, has orders to give you what you wish," he murmured, tense with an immense hurry. And the clerk provided; and a few days later the widow wandered aboard some inter-island transport, made law to the quartermaster, terrorised the steward, possessed herself of the best cabin, anchored her chair in the most desirable deck space—and off she sailed on one of her adorable little voyages. From Aparri to Bohol, through Vigan, Ilo-Ilo, Cebu, Dumaguete, and Zamboangua, she was known, her clamour had resounded, for transportation, for commissary privileges, for bull-carts, cargadores, and military escorts.
One day, though, she decided to settle down.
She caught the superintendent at his desk and asked him for a provincial post. The superintendent saw his main chance staring him in the face. He was an intelligent and discreet man, so he did not decide hastily. For a whole afternoon he pored diligently over a map of the archipelago. Finally he settled on Taal, in the volcanic region of Luzon. It was just at the end of the dry season; he calculated that she could just get there. Then the rains would begin—and the roads were without bottom. Besides, there was Papa Gato ambuscaded somewhere upon the flanks of the great volcano surmounting the pueblo. Many things can happen in six months. The superintendent was not an imaginative man; but that day he certainly smiled to visions.
So, with a last array of reclamas—transportation, carts, provisions, military escorts—the widow, her worldly goods upon a carabao-drawn carro, herself in a shaky quilesa, set out toward her Palestine. And the rains began and shut her off behind their impenetrable curtain.
From her isolation, after a while, news began to filter, vague, insufficient, broken, like the irritating snatches of a telegraph line out of order; first the regular official reports, secondly popular rumour. She had evidently taken hold. The monthly reports showed the school attendance of Taal rising by leaps and bounds to astonishing totals. Rumour, however, corrected in some degree the superintendent's satisfaction. It appeared that this remarkable increase was largely due to her personal herding of batas with the aid of a big baston. Once, it seemed, she made a regrettable slip, took one of the leading citizens of the pueblo for a little boy, and, he proving recalcitrant, cracked his crown with her persuader ere she had discovered her mistake. This caused some trouble to the central office, but, as the superintendent remarked to the Secretary of Education, "One cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs, and he (the leading citizen, evidently) was a bad one, anyway." Pompously couched recriminations, also, came from the Taal municipality. It was claimed that she had taken upon herself the collection of taxes, that she levied thereon five per cent. for school purposes, that she had deposed the treasurer and had appointed one of her own, who happened to be her muchacho, so that the books and funds were securely locked up in her stout camphor-wood chest. But as the town officials were suspected of sundry peculations, the new system was regarded as somewhat of an improvement. Besides, at that time she was absolutely invaluable with a contribution to The Philippine Teacher (the superintendent's special hobby) upon the "Model Nipa Home," an article embellished with diagrams and elevations and cross-sections. A few weeks later, it is true, there came from Mr. Rued, a constabulary second-class inspector, stationed in Taal, a most virulent protest about the burning of some two hundred shacks that happened to conform only too distantly with the ideal "Model Nipa Home." Mr. Rued, being a mild man, thought this method of civic improvement too strenuous. With this, his chief in Manila thoroughly agreed, and, leaving him full discretion as to methods, ordered him to take all necessary measures—which command, mysteriously enough, remained forever without answer.
It was just about this time that Papa Gato, living in idyllic ease in his impenetrable bosques up the sides of the Taal, began to feel that vague but imperious self-dissatisfaction which is the peculiar appanage of us unfortunate humans—the inward command to work. The Mexican pesos of his last raid were becoming deplorably few, his store of palay was low, and the contributions of the villagers spoke of failing memories. It was time for another raid.
But this time, with his more earthy preoccupations there mingled blue-hazed dreams. Gato, in spite of a real practical genius, often proven by the ingenuity of his methods of extracting from recalcitrants information as to the whereabouts of their hidden wealth, Papa Gato was sentimental. Even before the revolution, whose impassioned call had led him into a mode of life from which he had never been able to free himself, even when a humble in Manila, he had been a dreamer. And now, Pope spiritually—this for the benefit of the rural population, but treated by his own camp followers with large, American-imported winks—king administratively, Marescal de Campo militarily, this deplorable trait was still with him. The life of an outlaw, even in the Philippines, has its disadvantages. Gato's particular disadvantage, which he now set himself to nullify, was this: he had never seen an American woman. He had never seen one of those golden-haired maestras, which the American nation (with that inconsistency which prompts them to shoot—alternately and with equal firmness, precision, and dispatch—lead and book learning into his people) sends to far pueblos like angelic visitations. But there was one in Taal. He had heard that she was wonderful (it speaks eloquently of his sentimentalism that he had never sought to find out in what she was wonderful; his imagination immediately made her so in the mode that he would have her so—stately, golden-haired and seraphic). So it was that Taal was chosen as the field of his next exploit.
With his usual courteous foresight, he sent into the town an announcement of his intention to capture the treasury and the maestra. This was his regular mode of procedure, and not so fatuous as it may appear. It had the double effect of warning his friends—he had many in all places—and of paralysing his enemies. This time, however, he was surprised with an official answer from the municipal council, sitting in executive session. This answer was three varas long and redundant with rhetoric; but reduced to plain and precise English it might well be set down thus:
"For God's sake, take her away, and you can have the money, too."
This alacrity seemed to him highly suspicious, so, with strategic cunning, he decided to hold camp with his main force, and to send off his brigadier-general, Gomez, with a force of two lieutenant-generals, five colonels, ten majors, twenty captains, and a few lieutenants for the more facile work in Taal.
Thus it was that, soon after, the good people of Taal were aroused at sun-up by a ragged burst of musketry, a hullaballoo of yells and beating tom-toms, and the crackling of burning nipa. They were prepared for such a contingency, however; and when, after this little preliminary demonstration, Gomez's disreputables burst along the main street, they met a reception that halted them in uneasy distrust.
For out of all the houses, humble balay or grand casa, the populace was pouring holiday-decked, faces shining with welcome—man, woman, and child, tao and distinguido, all ranks, all sexes, all ages. White linen, shimmering jusis, diaphanous piñas united in fiesta colouring. Peace and rejoicing, a mild, ecstatic expectation, reigned upon all the faces; the niños and niñas especially were full of a goatlike hilarity and tumbled on the green amid the tulisanes, upsetting majors and colonels indiscriminately. And—could it be—was he blind?—no, it was true, indubitably true; before Gomez's eyes, in front of the Casa Popular and spanning the main street, a graceful bamboo arch of triumph rose against the pink dawn. And across the top, in six-foot letters of bejuca, was the following inscription:
To the Liberator of the Pueblo—the Inhabitants of Grateful Taal.
But out of the Casa Popular the municipal band was emerging in joyful blare, and Gomez had just time to compose himself into the pose of his new rôle before he was greeted by the presidente, dressed in church-day black, his head covered with the derby of ceremony. After a short exchange of courtesies, the band wheeled, the presidente placed himself at its head, Gomez at the head of his own troops, and presidente, band, tulisanes, and populace started down the street. "To the maestra!" shouted the presidente, with a heroic gesture. "To the maestra!" echoed Gomez. "To the maestra!" roared the tulisanes. "To the maestra!" yelled the populace, squeaked the women, piped the niños and niñas. And pell-mell they flowed beneath the arch.
Before the original Model Nipa Home the band halted and with an ominous snort came to silence. A hush fell over the assembled multitude. One of the shutters of the Model Home slid back; a lean, yellow arm, at the end of which dangled a steaming coffeepot, pushed out of the opening. Suddenly the coffeepot parabolaed through the air and landed upon the presidente's ceremonial derby.
"Caramba!" roared that official, suffocated and scalded; and he beat a hasty retreat into the hoi-polloi. The mysterious arm mysteriously disappeared. Forming a cordon of lieutenants about the Model Home, Gomez and three of his colonels mounted the stairs and beat down the light bamboo door.
But behind the door stood the formidable widow. Long and gaunt, in her morning wrapper, her be-frilled nightcap askew upon her head, her horn spectacles trembling with indignation at the end of her aquiline nose, she confronted them, a figure of righteous fury. Behind her was a well-constructed pyramid of utensils, from which she drew with promptness and discernment. In a jiffy the nearest colonel was helmeted down to the chin with a big iron kettle, the second was sneezing to death under a stream of tabasco sauce, while Gomez himself was retreating beneath the tom-tom din of an empty coal-oil can, plied with vigorous repetition upon his cranium.
Right here, however, the widow was led off into a common enough strategic mistake. Instead of turning her victorious energy upon the vacillating troop outside, she allowed herself to be hypnotised by the already thoroughly conquered. At the head of the stairs, pirouetting madly and roaring like a bull, was the be-kettled colonel, and upon him she turned her batteries. It was a wonderful exhibition. Things culinary flew through the air—three saucepans, a rolling-pin, a grill, a teapot, a pile of tin plates. Then came canned goods: tomatoes, pears, peaches; beef, roast and corned; mutton, chicken, hare, pork, peas, maize, string beans; jellies: apple, currant, lemon, cherry; jams: apricot, peach, grape, plum, lychee. Two hams and a small sack of flour came as an interregnum. Blind, deaf, helpless, the poor colonel swayed, doubled up, whirred, thrashed his arms beneath the avalanche. Resonant whang-angs of his headgear announced particularly brilliant shots; dull thuds more vital ones. At last, with a parting shower of little potted cheeses, the widow's ammunition ran out. She folded her arms, drew herself up to her full height, and, her eyes shining humorously beneath her shaggy brows, "Well, boys," she asked, "what is it you want?"
Gomez was coming up the stairs again, under safe escort.
"We are ladrones, madam," he explained, politely. "We want—we want——" he stammered, uneasy, before that great dominating figure. "We want—ah—the dinero, the money——" he stopped, then with a vague apologetic shrug of his shoulders: "the dinero, and you."
"Ah?" sang the widow, sardonically, "you want me, do you?"
Gomez hesitated. He was not at all sure about that. But his orders were imperative.
"Papa Gato wants you," he said, with more precision.
"Ah—it's your papa wants me, is it? Very well——" her lips tightened into a line ominously straight—"he shall have me; oh, yes, indeed!"
Thus it was that an hour later the widow, erect and tense in a carro drawn by a pacific carabao, surrounded by an escort of tulisanes with the grave and preoccupied air of people bearing a case of dynamite, followed by the holiday-decked populace and the delirious blare and roar of the band, passed along the main street, by the Casa Popular, beneath the triumphal arch, to the outskirts of the pueblo, and on into the open country.
The band, marking time with the populace on the edge of the town, which they were not to leave, was playing "Hail the Deliverer, Hail!"
Long and in detail will Major General Gomez remember (he has now ample leisure for such exercises of memory between the four walls of a place called Bilibid) that march back to camp. And his bringing it to a successful termination will always stand as his most serious claim to military glory.
It was not that the train was cumbersome. It consisted, in fact, only of three carros, the first one containing the widow, the second the camphor-wood chest, inside of which was the town treasury, and the third, Mr. Rued, second-class inspector Philippine constabulary—a roaring mad inspector, it might be added, and tied up like a sausage. He had been surprised in bed; the ignominy of his taking was deep in his soul, and found vent in a stream of expressions Biblical and strenuous and not at all complimentary to his captors.
No, the widow was the matter.
It was that curious performance of Mr. Rued which caused the first outbreak. After listening meditatively for some ten minutes, the widow suddenly realised that here was something highly improper.
"Colonel," she cried, rising in her cart like a jack-in-the-box, "you will please place more distance between me and that blasphemous person yonder."
There was a pause in the procession. New intervals were tried. But the widow's carabao was slow, and the inspector's, possibly impressed by the fervent soliloquy going on behind him, persisted in coming up within earshot.
"Captain, I refuse to continue under the present conditions," ultimatumed the widow. And, springing out of her cart, she squatted resolutely in the centre of the road and refused to budge.
A happy inspiration came to Gomez. He appealed to the inspector's chivalry.
The inspector was cooling a bit by this time, and he was a man of some intelligence.
"You cut that rope that holds me like a chicken," he said, "and I'll parleyvoo."
Gomez cut the rope, and the inspector agreed to keep his feelings unexpressed.
The procession moved on. The carabaos laboured, the carros creaked and groaned and wailed. The sun mounted, more biting every moment. The ladrones lit cigarettes and shuffled along the road. The widow dozed.
A more pronounced lurch of her cart suddenly awakened her, and again her clamour was resounding in the heated silence.
Again it was the unlucky inspector. His cart had crept up little by little, till close to the widow's, and her eyes had opened upon the fact that he was not properly clad. Now, such a thing at times is excusable. It isn't your fault if a band of pestiferous ladrones pounce upon you in the morning and whisk you out in your pajamas.
"Sergeant," shrilled the widow (with concern Gomez noticed that each time she addressed him it was with a diminution of title). "Sergeant, dress that man!"
Gomez demurred. Again the widow sprang from her cart and sat in the road. Again the train was blocked.
"I will not budge till you have clothed that man," the widow declared. "I insist upon a pair of trousers."
There was a hurried questioning of the band, a general denegation, and Gomez returned, discouraged.
"Señora, no hay pantalones," he announced.
"Give him one of your own men's," she commanded briefly.
Again the troop, drawn up in line, was questioned, but still more vehement were the denegations. It was not that they needed them so much for covering, those precious pantaloons; they were full of holes and covered little; but they were all more or less be-striped, and the men very properly refused to part with their insignia of rank. The inspector, also, was interested. After a careful inspection, a horror at the thought of placing against his skin such garments as were displayed before him made his hair rise on end. Diplomatically he suggested to the widow that a transfer would only add to the shame of the situation, for it would leave one of the ladrones with nothing on at all, while he, at least—
But he had pronounced his own doom. "I'll fix you," said the widow briefly. Untying the bundle of clothes she carried, she drew out a skirt, a short khaki walking-skirt, and after an insufficient smoothing of creases with the palm of her hand, she threw it at Gomez. "Put that on him, my man," she said.
But the inspector protested. He, too, got down from his cart and squatted upon the road. And there they sat in the middle of the road, each behind his cart, the military man and the school-teacher, in a grim, silent battle of wills. And there was little hope of either ever yielding, for, really, they were not especially interested in the progress of the caravan. Gomez was, and at length he lost patience. There was a terrific struggle, twenty colonels bit the dust beneath the sledge-hammering of the desperate inspector's fist; but numbers prevailed at last, and again Mr. Rued was in his cart, trussed up like a pig for the market, and, flaccid about his legs, the unspeakable garment. But his cart had to be left far in the rear, for he evidently considered himself released from his former promise.
And the procession moved on. There were minor obstacles. Once, the widow lost her glove and the command had to scatter back upon the road for a full half-hour of microscopic search till she found that it had miraculously caught on the axle of her cart. At the barrio where they stopped for the midday rest, she sent back six distinct messes of eggs to the presidente's kitchen and finally invaded it herself, till the muchachos, beneath the severity of her eyes, had evolved some turnovers satisfactory to her esthetic soul. And little by little, her bitter will was imposing itself more heavily upon the column. Colonels became muchachos and generals valets. When they stopped that night at Talisay, the best house of the pueblo was placed at her disposal; the presidente hustled at her orders, the kitchen was in panic, the household terrorised. Somewhat softened by her undeniable success, she sent for the inspector, who was brought to her, betrussed and beskirted. The long ride in the sun with his elbows together upon his spine had weakened him somewhat, and his remonstrances had sunk to unintelligible mumblings. Graciously she cut off his cords, and as he stood swaying before her, "Well," she said; "aren't you ashamed of yourself, young man? Think of your mother; how would she have felt had she heard you a while ago——"
A last spark of defiance flared in the indomitable man. "My mother wasn't an old-maid she-cat," he muttered. But instinctively, in spite of his courage, his voice had sunk too low to be heard.
"I have a son," began the widow, again. "He——"
"Lordie, but I'd like to see the little nincompoop!" said the inspector.
But the widow was unshakable in her good humour. She ordered a room prepared for Mr. Rued, and later sent him a cup of tea of her own brew, which he promptly threw into the face of the astonished muchacho.
They started again at sun-up. They left the road and filed along a narrow and steep trail. The widow insisted upon a chaise. One was improvised out of bamboo; and thus, as the shadows of night crept up the flanks of Taal, she made her triumphal entry into camp upon the shoulders of the four strongest colonels.
Papa Gato had watched the procession winding up to him through the high fern, but as it neared a sudden timidity sent him back to his hut. Gomez found him there, in great indecision, alternately twirling his little moustache and rearranging upon his breast the seventeen medals he had decreed upon himself for extraordinary valour.
"Greetings!" he said, with a forced air of decision. "Have you been successful?"
Gomez took off his sombrero and mopped his brow. "I have her—and the dinero—and a constabulary inspector," he answered evasively.
"And she is here!" whispered Gato with emotion. "I suppose I should go greet her."
"Sure!" said Gomez detachedly; "go on to her; I am tired, I'll wait here."
And throwing himself upon the cot, he turned his face to the wall.
But as his chief left the cabin, he sprang up like one possessed, rushed to the door and peered maliciously outside.
Indistinct in the gloaming, a feminine form could be descried, regally erect, upon the high-borne chaise. Gato approached with beating heart.
"Do not fear, señorita; we shall not harm you," he said softly. "You are our guest; the house is yours——"
He was very near now.
"The house is yours, and——"
There was a sudden movement of the enigmatic figure upon the chaise. A furious slap sent his sombrero whirling to the ground.
"You boorish little boy, you," rasped the voice of the widow; "you little brute! What do you mean, what do you mean by standing with your hat on, before an American lady!"
"Gomez," said Papa Gato disconsolately; "Gomez, I can't stand it any longer!"
This was in the commandante's hut, during the burning hours of the siesta, and ten days after the arrival of the widow. Gato and Gomez were lying stomachs down upon a petate in attitudes of limp discouragement.
"It's pretty bad," murmured Gomez meditatively.
"We're up against it," went on Gato (all this took place in Tagalog, but is translated into equivalent English).
"We sure are," echoed Gomez sombrely.
There was a long, pained silence.
"Gomez," whined Gato, "I haven't a pulgada of authority left!"
"You certainly haven't," said Gomez, a certain appreciation brightening his manner.
"And you have less!" went on Gato.
"The she-cat!" spit out Gomez, all appreciation gone.
"She bosses the camp!"
"She sure does."
"We have to eat at tables now."
"And say grace."
"With our faces in our plates."
"We have school every day," went on Gato, sinking deeper and deeper into despair.
"Do we; well, I guess! 'Do you ssee dde hhett? Yiss, I ssee dde hhett. How menny hhetts do you ssee? I ssee ttin hhetts. Oh, look at de moon, she is shining up there. I loof de name of Wash-ing-ton, I loof my coon-tree, too'—ah, it makes me sick!" And Gomez spit upon the ground.
"Gomez, Gomez; we must do something!"
"Gomez"—hopefully—"let's chop off her head!"
"Good Lord, Gomez; don't you think, with my best bolo, very well sharpened, if we hit hard, very hard, that maybe——"
"That's not it. Remember the speech she made to us the first day:
"'Keep that in your heathen minds. I'm an American woman, an American woman, remember! That means I am sacred, sacred! If you harm me, if you as much as touch one of my hairs——'"
"But she has only two or three, Gomez!"
"Don't interrupt me—'If you as much as touch one of my hairs, you know what will happen. The American soldiers will come after you. Not the scouts, not the constabulary, but the American soldiers. They will follow you like hounds, ten thousand, a hundred thousand of them, if necessary. They will never let you rest. They will avenge me—well, you know the American soldier, my friends. Don't get him mad. I am the American woman; I am sacred!'"
"But, Gomez; do you think that is all true?"
"It is; I know."
"But, Gomez; the Americans, they are not fools. They can see. They must know that she is old like my grandmother, that she is seven feet tall, that she takes out her teeth at night, that——"
"It doesn't matter; she's an American woman."
"Ah, these Americans; what a singular people!"
A long contemplative silence.
"Gomez, Gomez"—with sudden inspiration—"let's poison her!"
"Now you're talking like a babe; there's the same objection."
"Oh!"—more silent despair.
"Gomez, let's take her back, back to Taal!"
"Umph—what do you think the Taal people would do to us?"
"Madre de Dios, Gomez, is there no way, none at all?"
"None I can see."
"Then let me die!"
But hope in human breast is indestructible. It was Gomez who, after all, found the solution.
"We'll take her to some other town, some town where she is not known, absolutely not known," he proposed in rapt accents.
"Bagum-Bagum!" exclaimed Gato, rising to his feet; "there's ten thousand pesos in the treasury!"
"We'll raid the town and leave her there!"
"But say, there 're some constabulary there; do you know how many?"
"No, I don't know. But the constabulary inspector knows."
"She's freed him, too!"—Gato flew from the immediate consideration of practical things to a bitter recapitulation of wrongs. "He walks around the camp as if he owned it. And she gave him my best pantaloons, those with the gold stripes——"
"Never mind," said Gomez soothingly; "we'll question him to-morrow."
So it was that, upon getting up, a little later than usual, the next morning, the widow found the door of her hut locked from the outside. As has already appeared, the widow was a person of considerable executive ability. She wasted no time in idle recrimination, but promptly kicked, through the nipa wall, a hole out of which she emerged, fresh, vigorous, and unruffled.
An interesting scene met her interrogative eye. In the centre of the clearing a tripod had been constructed out of three great pieces of green bamboo. And even as she looked a man was tying a supple liana to the apex, while another worker tied a slip knot to the loose extremity. Then a little fire of twigs was started beneath.
"Umph," grunted the widow; "I wonder what these heathen think they're going to cook."
She was not left guessing long. Out of one of the huts, again bound hand and foot, Mr. Rued was being carried by six stalwarts. He was strangely silent. And his face was pale and tense. He was borne to the tripod; the loose end of the liana was passed in a slip knot around his body, a little below the waist, then—one, two, three—the carriers suddenly let go, and the inspector, dangling at the end of the liana, swung neatly, head downward, over the little fire.
Papa Gato sauntered up close, "And now, will you tell us how many men there are in Bagum-Bagum?" he asked suavely.
The inspector did not answer. His face was very red and his jaws were very salient. A few dry twigs were placed upon the fire, which sprang up, crackling. There was a faint smell of burning hair.
Something like a beskirted cyclone whirred into the circle. Biff—bang; two kicks scattered the little fire to the four winds. Zip—the liana was cut with a big jackknife, and the widow, gurgling and choking, was bending over the luckless Mr. Rued. "You poor dear," she gulped; "you poor baby"—and she pressed him to her arid bosom. "Here, water, you heathen, water!"
But the inspector, very much alive, was struggling to get loose; and her glance, falling upon Papa Gato, watching the strange performance with wonder-dilated eyes, suddenly changed the nature of her emotion. "You devil!" she shrieked, and she sprang to her feet; "You fiend!"—and she started toward him.
To Papa Gato's eternal credit be it said that he held his ground for several distinct seconds. But the vision of vengeance bearing down upon him was more than mortal man could bear. He broke one step, hesitated, then all his courage oozing out of him suddenly, he turned deliberately and ran. Once around the clearing he loped, the sound of flapping skirts ominous in his ears; then a second time, for the widow had picked up a stick, and with mechanical precision it was rising and falling only a few inches behind his head; a third lap he began, and by that time all the dogs of the camp had joined the chase in tumultuous glee. And it was a strange sight, up in that lonely clearing, surrounded on all sides by an impenetrable and poisonous vegetation, beneath the shadow of Taal, brooding and sinister with its black banner of vapours, in the hollow silence of high altitudes, that man running in sober earnest, with an immense concentration of his simple purpose, and behind him that incredible woman, flashing-eyed, hook-nosed, her garments to the wind, seemingly gliding over the high grass, a gigantic and fearful witch, riding a broomstick. In the centre, from a few dying embers, a little smoke rose, and about that were grouped the tulisanes, in frozen attitudes, like a bronze bas-relief, and they looked at their running chief, at the pursuing woman, without a gesture, without a cry, without the single flapping of an eyelid. And behind the nightmare couple ran the dogs, the curs of the camp, snarling and laughing and gurgling like a pack of hyenas.
To this preoccupation of man and dog may be ascribed the ensuing catastrophe. For suddenly, close, so close that the vibration of it could be felt, but muffled in the impenetrability of the jungle, a shot rang out. This was followed by a crepitating volley; a buzz of lead passed overhead. Silently, with a minimum of movement, the ladrones, as if at a preconceived signal, slid across the clearing and into the wilderness beyond. Just at that psychological moment, the widow caught up with Gato. Calmly, dexterously, as one spanks a child, she upset him, face down, and resolutely sat upon him. Then, readjusting her skirts about her limbs and her spectacles upon her nose, she grimly waited.
Shouts came to her ears, a hewing and hacking of bushes, a crackling of bamboo. Vague brown spots appeared against the metallic green foliage; they massed, detached themselves and burst into the clearing—a detachment of constabulary. At their head, charging furiously, was a lieutenant, slender and boyish, in accoutrement ridiculously new. He was enjoying himself immensely. A fine ardour was in his face; his cap was off, his hair streaming in the wind; he held a naked sword extended up and forward in statuesque gesture. Across the clearing he came, straight as a bee; his eyes flashing, his nostrils distended, all a-thrill with military glory.
And suddenly he was nose to nose with the widow, who had slowly risen and now confronted him majestically, her foot upon the luckless Papa Gato. An extraordinary change came over the young warrior. His martial excitement, his keen zest, his bravado collapsed; his sword dropped till its point touched the ground; his flaming uniform took on cringing folds.
"Mamma!" he cried, a little wistfully.
"Boy," shouted the widow; "boy, what are you doing here! Quick, give me this"—she snatched the sword from his hand—"that also"—she whisked the revolver out of his holster. "Oh, that child, that child," she wailed. Out in the jungle there were cries, hollow and muffled in the crape of vegetation; a few shots rang, dull as if underground. Three or four bullets whirred overhead.
"Down! Down!" cried the widow; "down, boy"—and her iron claw sank into his shoulder, bearing him down, and unresistingly he fell upon the luckless Gato. "That's right, sit on him," the widow whispered hoarsely; "and don't you move, don't you budge. My God, if only I can get you out of this——" She turned toward the jungle, straight to her full height, a strange, inflexible figure with the sabre in her right hand, the revolver in her left; a heroic figure, really, keeping guard there upon her boy, her son, her baby, her treasure in life; the object upon which had flowed all her wealth of love, of tenderness, leaving her, soul and body, arid and sterile and bitter and awesome.
In the depths toward which she peered with watchful eyes, a vague, mysterious tumult was taking place, lost, devoured in the brooding silence about it. It came in multitudinous attenuated noises, like a ventriloquist performance; murmurs rose from the ground at her feet, wails sighed overhead.
Her back to her son, tensely keeping guard, she was questioning feverishly.
"Oh, why did you come? How could you, how could you! Without telling me. This country is not fit for you. And the constabulary! How could you, how could you!"
He answered her as well as he could. Really, he would have preferred to be out there, with his men in the jungle. But he was subjugated. The training of his childhood had fallen back upon him like an unshakable harness. So he remained, seated upon Papa Gato, answering hysterical questions.
Really, it was a pretty bit of coincidence—the young man, suddenly boiling with desire to do, leaving his college, taking a commission in the Philippine constabulary, arriving over the sea just in time to learn of his mother's capture, begging for a place in the rescuing party, then, in feverish impatience, distancing with his detachment all the others——
From the depths of the jungle, piercing above the muffled tumult, there came a great, clear cry. Then there was absolute silence. A fly buzzed about the group. A squad of constabulary men, soiled, bloody, and dishevelled, carrying a bound prisoner, broke into the clearing. Another—the affair was over.
The sword fell with a clang from the widow's hand; the revolver rolled after it; and then, stiffly, with extraordinary dignity, she slowly fell into the arms of her son. The widow had fainted.
But it was a weakness that was but momentary. By the time that civilisation was reached, she was again in possession of all her faculties. Thus it was that young Pinney sat down, and, beneath the rigid shadow of her dominating presence, filled out a blank form of resignation for the benefit of the chief in Manila; and thus it is that he now catches flies in the drowsy office of one of the "snap" departments, while the widow spanks young hopefuls in the Manila normal school.