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A BEAT ON EL CORREO
BY WALTER ADOLF ROBERTS
ON LUIS ROMERO pushed back the papers on his desk and turned ponderously to face the young man who was seated at his elbow.
"No, Caballero," "It cannot be. Can you not see it for yourself? You are an American -I am a Puerto Rican. Inez should marry one of her own people. But, I could pass that by were it not for the newspaper. Your business day by day is to oppose me, to get-what do you call them, the 'beats?" How can you think that Inez could become the wife of a man who is paid to damage her father's business ?"
"But, Senor," protested the young man, dismayed, "how can I do El Correo any harm? The Gatherer is an American newspaper; yours is printed in Spanish. We have a different class of readers. The news that I report is read only by the American residents."
His eyes were cast moodily down, and he missed the twinkle that for a moment lit those of Don Luis.
"Ah, bueno, Senor Grant, but you Americanos, you are teaching my people your language. It will not be long before our own children forget their father's tongue. But I will say no more. You have been in San Juan three months, is it not? As yet you have not had much time to injure El Correo. Within a month I will see you again and then we will decide the matter. It is useless to say more. Adios, adios! See, I bear you no ill-will. Here is my hand."
Grant was at first inclined to ignore what he regarded as a piece of hypocrisy, but thinking better of it, he took Romero's hand, and drawing himself up very stiff and erect, walked out into the street.
It was with reflections that were none the pleasantest that he went about his work for the remainder of that day. Was ever a man called upon to endure such in-justice as this, he brooded. He loved Inez and Inez loved him. His people at home were wealthy; he was chief reporter on The Gatherer, and well able to support a wife. Surely in this languid Southern land the last thing he could have expected to encounter was a commercialism demanding more than this. Yet from Don Luis had come what amounted to a demand that he desert the life's work he had adopted and turn, he supposed, to planting, or anything else that would be certain not to harm the circulation of El Correo. He might marry Inez and take his wife home; but no, Inez had told him that she could never stand the Northern winter. They would have to find some other way.
But from Inez, when he broached the matter that evening, he received small encouragement.
She had stolen out to meet him in their old trysting place, a garden seat that was almost hidden by clinging white jasmine, and was so deep in the shadow of a blossom-laden orange tree that the eyes of even the keenest of duenas could be trusted to pass it by unnoticed.
"Vida mia," he whispered in reply to the thousand sweet Spanish names she had murmured with lips against his ear. "You will not let anything come between us, little one! But what will you say when I tell you that your father has refused his blessing?"
She drew back slightly from him, and with head on hand listened to the recital of the morning's events.
Then her laugh rang out musical and clear.
"That is not much," she answered him. "We will not cease to love, but we will wait the month and then we will see.
Is not that what you say: 'We will see?" Nor could he get from her another word of encouragement though their little tendernesses lasted long into the quiet West Indian night.
"She does not understand," Grant told himself bitterly. "She thinks that I will give up my work, but that I will never do. We can find some other way."
It was two days later that McPherson, the Scotch editor, gave the young reporter the most important assignment that had come his way since his conversation with Don Luis. At Madreluna, a town in the mountains seventy miles away, there was a mass meeting to be held in connection with the nomination of a delegate to Congress.
It was Saturday, and Grant had barely the time to catch the last train that would run to Madreluna until the following Monday. In the car with him he found Diego Romero, a nephew of his prospective father-in-law, who wrote for El Correo, and who had been sent to report the mass meeting for the Spanish newspaper. Professionally they knew each other, and it was not long before they were fraternizing over a couple of black native brevas.
"So El Correo does not intend to be left this time," remarked Grant.
"No, but this is easy. There is no 'beat' for either of us in this, amigo. The people of Madreluna are not very original. They will probably clamor for Francisco Vaz. He is what you call a safe politician. Garcia has no chance, and even if they do the unexpected and swing over to the negro Alvarez, the best we can get in tomorrow's paper will be a telegram." "I suppose so. There is not the opportunity in this that there was in the murder case at Ponce, eh?"
Romero flushed with chagrin as he remembered the defeat he had suffered a month before when Grant had succeeded in obtaining for The Gatherer the details of the most sensational murder that had been committed in years. He had sought those details himself, but had failed miserably and had called down on his head the full vials of his uncle's wrath.
"Very well," he said irritably. "You do not choose to forget old stories. It is true. I have a score against you and I am
willing to wager fifty dollars that I'll go a long way towards wiping it out to-day. If I do not have the better story of the two in print on Tuesday morning I'll acknowledge you to be my superior with pleasure. Is that a bet?”
"Done!" cried Grant, and as the puffing, sweating locomotive drew up at the Madreluna station they shook hands over it, and with a new interest created, stepped out on to the platform.
In the town hall that afternoon they sat together at the reporters' table and lis-tened to the fiery eloquence of the local politicians. The negroes far outnum
bered the whites in this mountain district, but they were inclined to be submissive. Spanish rule had not been of the kind to teach them that their votes had much weight, and the endorsement of the white planter Vaz seemed certain. As the afernoon wore on, however, a negro lawyer rose to address the house. He was persuasive of tongue, and in a short time had the attention of the colored voters attracted to his programme. He recommended the endorsement of Alvarez"the only man who could faithfully represent a community like their's in the great forum of the nation." The proceedings began to look exciting, and the reporters saw visions of a half page story in place of the single column they had anticipated, for even the endorsement of a negro would cause a big flutter in the island. Half an hour later the mass meeting recommended the candidacy of Alvarez by a large majority.
Shoulder to shoulder Grant and Romero pushed their way through the crowd towards the telegraph station. Every journalistic instinct in the former was aroused -the memory of the old days in New York came back to him, and with every nerve a-tingle he swore under his breath that he would score a "beat" on El Correo that would make every newspaper reader in Puerto Rico sit up and take notice. Ah, if he were only on Park Row now! He felt that it would be easy to have an extra in the hands of the newsboys before the sleepy West Indian had finished writing his introduction. But here in Madreluna, what could he do? They would wire practically the same news back to San Juan, and for full de
tails the public would have to wait until Tuesday morning. The last train had left for the capital hours ago, nor would there be another before Monday.
Suddenly, however, an inspiration came to him. It was the sight of Romero lounging towards the hotel after they had despatched their messages that offended his sense of the fitness of things to the endurance limit.
"Does that fellow deserve to be called a reporter?" he asked himself indignantly. He would doubtless take a siesta until supper time, sleep until ten o'clock the next morning, write his report some time during the day, and kill the time with cocktails and cigars while he waited for the morning train. Surely there was some way of getting to San Juan first! Yes, by thunder, he had it. It was seventy miles over a rough road, but men had ridden that distance on horseback before, and why could not he?
His mind once made up, Grant laid his plans craftily. Passing Romero in the hall, he hailed the West Indian pleasantly.
"Hola, Amigo! I am going upstairs to write. You know my plan. I never wait until the first impression has had time to wear off."
"Bueno, bueno! I will wait until tomorrow. Where is the hurry? Sleep the night, say I, over even the smallest matter."
At supper, however, Grant again accosted his rival. The closely written report lay against his breast, but he blandly remarked:
"The afternoon was too warm, and I did no work. I shall not be able to play cards with you to-night, as I shall remain in my room and get my story ready." Romero protested. He had looked forward to a quiet evening over the cards, and failed to appreciate the American's uncalled-for energy. Grant, however, was obdurate and retraced his steps to his room, leaving strict injunctions with the hotel attendants that he should not be disturbed before the next morning.
It was while he made his final preparations that a new aspect of the case presented itself. What would the editor of El Correo say when he found his paper so badly left behind, and all on account of the man who sought his daughter's hand.
Would not his chances of winning Inez be ruined forever? Grant's resolution was shaken. For the space of a few minutes the lover and the reporter struggled for supremacy in his mind. The result was a victory for the latter accompanied by a concession to the former. He would ride to San Juan with his story, and Inez, why Inez would admire his dash so much that she would marry him with or without her father's consent.
A quarter of an hour later Grant slipped out of the hotel and made his way to a livery stable at the further end of the town. Here he hired a mountain pony that could be depended upon for endur
The southern moonlight shone softly down upon him as he rode out of Madreluna. He went slowly at first, for the roads were bad and he had twenty miles to cover before he would leave the mountains behind him and settle down to the fifty miles 'cross country dash that would bring him to San Juan. The road was crowded with parties of native men and women returning from the mass meeting or from the weekly market that is a feature of all the smaller Puerto Rican towns. They were chatting merrily, and never failed to hail him a pleasant "Buenas Noches" as he passed. Later the travelers he met were more silent. The solemnity of the tropical night had exerted its influence upon them, and the only sounds that passed their lips were an occasional Spanish strain, sung quaveringly to keep away the ghosts.
At Santa Catalina, a little village on the shoulder of the mountain range, he stopped and rested his horse. The main building was a retail store, in which one could obtain any small need from a drink of rum to a pair of shoe-laces. Grant did not leave the saddle, but drew up in front of the store and sat there with the reins hanging loose on his mount's neck. Horse and man and building were buried deep in the shadow of a clump of bananas. The broad leaves swished slowly from side to side, and ever and anon a moonbeam struck down upon them, danced unsteadily from side to side and disappeared. From every direction came the croaking of a multitude of tree-frogs, varied now and then by the hoot of an owl or the
shrill screeching of a cricket.
The proprietor of the store lounged to the door and opened it. Grant hailed him and enquired if he were on the right road to San Juan.
"The road to San Juan!" exclaimed the man, astonished. "Yes, but does the Senor ride to San Juan tonight? Does he know that it is more than fifty miles away?"
"Yes, he knows it," bantered the reporter gaily. "He has promised an adorable Senorita who lives on the Calle de Buena Esperanza that he will kiss her before the sunlight has dried the dew tomorrow morning."
"Of a truth, the Gringo is mad!" muttered the philosopher of the hills solemnly. "That one should ride fifty miles. to please a foolish girl! There are kisses to be had in Santa Catalina, Senor."
"There are none I would exchange for the one I seek," shouted Grant, as he dug his spurs into his horse's flank and rode
He did not draw rein again until the last slope had been descended, and in the brilliant moonlight he saw the savannahs rolling away into the distance.
It was then past midnight, and for the sake of horse and rider he decided to break the journey for an hour or two. Some twenty feet from the side of the road an enormous silk cotton tree reared its head into the sky. Between its buttressed roots he knew he would find shelter, so making his way to the spot, he hobbled his horse and threw himself down on the ground to sleep.
Three hours later he awoke, re-saddled and pursued his way.
The air smote keen and fresh on his face. A breath of life, of youth, in these clear morning hours greeted every sense. It was magnificent, exhilarating, as mile after mile he sped on. The sun rose and shone brilliantly down upon the fields of sugar cane that flanked the road either side. Behind him lay the mountains, great masses of blue against the sky.
As the day crept on, the dew that had lain heavily on the grass evaporated, and the heat rose upwards as fiercely as it beat down from the cloudless sky. Horse and man drooped visibly. But only thirty thirty miles had been covered. There were
forty miles more to go, and he must have ten miles more behind him before could afford to change his mount.
At a little wayside tavern he at length paused for the double purpose of eating and obtaining a new horse. The former was easy of accomplishment, but the latter delayed the reporter longer than he had anticipated. The proprietor had a horse, but he was not willing to hire it out. He might never see it again, he averred. Who could tell what a crazy Americano would do, who rode towards San Juan this hot Sunday morning when he should be attending Mass. The sight of ten good American dollars, however, overcame his reluctance. That, anyway, was nearly half the value of his shaky steed. So he transferred the saddle from the weary pony and Grant rode swiftly on.
The sun was still high in the sky when he galloped over the San Antonio Bridge into San Juan. Down the street he sped, scattering the crowds of dirty beggars and half-naked children, until at length he drew rein before the office of The Gath
McPherson, the Scotch editor, was lolling back before a window as Grant dashed in. His lips parted in an exclamation of surprise, but the young man, drawing the report from his breast pocket, threw it on the desk and spoke first.
"We beat El Correo by a day," he cried. "Diego Romero is still in Madreluna, and cannot get ahead of us now."
A slow smile passed over McPherson's face.
"Young man," he said, with eyes that twinkled humorously, "I did no' tell ye to be here on the Sabbath day. Our friends in San Juan would no' have been deesappointed."
"I learned my business on Park Row, sir," answered Grant, simply.
isfaction that Grant covered his daily his daily route in search of news. His heart, however, experienced a strange sensation of instability when a few days later he encountered Don Luis in the vicinity of the office of El Correo. He had met Inez secretly, of course, and had enjoyed to the full the sweet mead of praise and admiration to which he had looked forward from the first as his greatest reward. But an encounter with inamorata's father he somehow wished to avoid.
He turned to make his escape, but Don Luis perceived him, and with an elaborate salute so clearly indicated a desire to speak with him that Grant found himself obliged to cross the Calle with the best grace possible, and walk with Romero towards the latter's office.
"Did you know," said the editor, easily, "that Diego writes no more for El Correo ?"
"I am sorry to hear it. We wagered fifty dollars on that little affair at Madreluna, but I did not mean to compass his ruin."
"He compassed his own ruin. Do you think, Senor, that I too could not have ridden to San Juan, or that I could not
have suggested to my esteemed relative that he should do the same? But no, El Correo needed an assistant editor and I a son-in-law. There were two applicants for the latter position and but one for the former. But, to myself I said: 'He who gets one gets both.' What do you say, you Americanos-'Let the best man win?' Well, Puerto Rico is American now. That will do for all of us."
Grant flushed with rage as he learned for the first time of the rival he had had in Diego Romero for the hand of Inez. Then, as he realized the full meaning of Don Luis's words, he turned and faced the latter.
"But I-I," he stammered, "I did that for which you most condemned me. You cannot think me capable of helping you on El Correo."
"Your knowledge of Spanish, Senor, is excellent, for an American. That I always knew, but I did not know of what else you were capable. I do not think you will want to "beat" El Correo another time; and Inez, well, I will reconsider what I said about waiting for a month before deciding. Inez is old enough to decide for herself."
TWILIGHT IN THE HILLS
BY MARY J. ELMENDORF
Like sudden shadows from a summer cloud
An elemental strength, sweeping my view,