A.C. Gunter: Baron Montez of Panama and Paris

A.C. Gunter’s Baron Montez: 21. After Her!

As the title suggests, this chapter, the last in Book Three has a sense of haste and urgency about it. Louise has to navigate a series of diverse interactions and does so skillfully and with a will, including another encounter with Domingo in which she deftly uses his own vernacular to deflect him from the truth. The previous night’s episode with a drunk Domingo has wrought a profound change in Louise. She appears now as self-realized, confident and independent in her thought and actions, acting some contemporary female readers might say, like a driven man.

Harry is recovering and is well enough to read the cable he has received. The situation is becoming desperate for young Jessie as Harry’s brother has started wedding arrangements. We come to appreciate that Harry is thicker than we thought when it comes to Louise’s feelings toward him, and is only enlightened by his friend Bovee’s observations. Despite Louise’s explanations as to what has occurred and that she has to act immediately, Harry is still too ill to do anything and seeks her promise to wait until he is well. This is expressed in dialogue that is attributed, not to Harry, but to ‘the man’, the intimation being that this is ‘what a typical male might say’. Louise has other ideas. Louise has been put in an invidious situation but she responds well, with new adventurous vigor invested with her desire for vengeance. Louise has a mission.

In an ‘impressive’ meeting with Aguilla, Louise is informed that Montez and himself sold their shares in the Canal Interoceanic in the first four months of 1881. This is when the shares would have been at their most inflated value. December 7th, the previous year having seen the first share offering of the company. The stock issue of 600,000 shares at 500 francs each had been heavily promoted—there were picnics and conferences hosted by De Lesseps, hot-air balloons streaming advertisements, handbills issued with grocery purchases, offers of a silver medal to those who were assigned five shares or more.

The Panama Canal: having fled France to escape the results of his mismanagement of the canal’s financing, Dr Cornelius Herz escapes extradition on the ground that he has a terminal illness, and lives happily in Bournemouth for fifteen years. Satirical watercolour drawing by H.S. Robert, ca. 1897. See n. Chapter 18.

In addition, the press had been bribed with a million and a half francs, so that all the leading journals lauded the project. The enterprise took hold in the hearts of the French people and 100,000 citizens subscribed for the 1,206,609 shares on offer, 80,000 of these being small investors. As the share issue was seriously oversubscribed, many people were left still hungry to be a part of the great French enterprise (Parker, p. 97-98). Such a person was Gunter’s character Sebastien LeFort, the Parisian glovemaker, who was desperate not to miss out on the once in a lifetime opportunity. This saw enormous speculation on the Bourse for shares, of which obviously, Montez has taken full advantage. Though it is difficult to determine what exactly the functions of Montez, Aguilla et Cie have been since that time, requiring an office in Panama and the employment of three clerks, Aguilla is seriously rattled at the prospect of Montez getting his hands on the company books.

The chapter is designed to initialize action that will stimulate the reader to anticipate Book 4. With Louise’s departure, Gunter has spawned a parallel narrative stream, which he will utilize in a future chapter. This method permits the author to condense time, skip unnecessary description, and instill curiosity in the reader afresh as the story progresses. Gunter concentrates on only one long sea voyage, and return to Paris, aptly filled with Harry’s convalescence. Once more our narrator cannot contain his excitement and uses upper-case letters to entice readers onward with great expectations.


CHAPTER 21

AFTER HER!

Some little time after this, the girl lying half swooning over her typewriter, by an effort, forces her mind to its work once more, and taking the awful dictation with her, goes tremblingly out of the building, and is happy to find herself in the streets, with people moving about.

This terrible tale has affected her nerves, and she shudders, turning corners, even on the open streets of Panama, for she sees the Macagua snake in her imagination, and a woman crazy with despair holding it on high, pursuing the shrieking Montez in the hut, careless as to which one it gives death. But the very horror of the tragedy ultimately gives her strength. She thinks of the cruel fate of Alice Ripley, and determines to avenge it, and this nerves her to do things Louise Minturn could hardly have brought herself to do, until Domingo the ex-pirate had told his awful story to her shuddering ears.

Young Fer-de-lance (Bothrops Asper), Photo by Hugo Brightling on Unsplash

She is so excited, that she fears her agitation may communicate itself to the invalid. She knows this night she is no fit nurse for anyone.

So she sends a message to the young American, Bovee, in whose room Harry Larchmont still lies; and, receiving word that the invalid is doing very well, remains at home and goes to bed herself.

The next morning she awakes her usual self; for youth and hope give brightness to the eyes and elasticity to the step of this fair young maiden—even in this sickly town of Panama—now that Harry Larchmont is getting well.

She comes into the sickroom quite cheerily this morning, and is very happy, for the patient is much better. A moment after, the doctor, who is present also, says to her inquiring glance: “Yes, you can give him the cablegram now.”

This she does, and is sorry for it.

Glancing at it, the sick man utters a faint cry, and tries to struggle up in his bed.

“What’s the matter?” whispers the doctor, seizing him.

“My brother!” shouts Larchmont, agitation giving him for a moment strength. “My heaven! He is wax in Montez’ hands! I must go to Paris at once, or he will marry her to that villain before I get there! It’s—it’s a cable from Jessie.”

These words put a knife in Louise Minturn’s heart.

After a little, when the doctor has quieted the patient, telling him he will soon be able to travel, she mutters: “I must go!” And despite Harry’s pleadings for more of her society, falters from the room to her office labors at Montez, Aguilla et Cie., murmuring to herself in broken voice: “How anxious he is to get back to theside of his love—the girl in Paris! All he fears is that he will lose her!”

At the office she contrives to get through her work, which is very little just now, though Aguilla says : “In a few minutes I will have something to say to you!”

She is at her typewriter. Suddenly she shudders; Domingo stands before her.

The wine has left him now, and he says insinuatingly, a cunning gleam in his eyes: “What did I do last night? Did you see me? Did the old drunkard swear to any wild tale, eh, muchacha bonita?”

The girl, steadying herself, replies: “No, though you might have—you had a letter to write, old Domingo—only you were a little overcome with wine—too much to speak it to the air. If you will tell it to me now, I will put it down for you.”

“Oh, I told you nothing—that was well! Never believe the stories of the drunkard!” he chuckles. “But I have a letter to write to mi amigo, Baron Montez—one he will not bless you for sending.”

And he dictates one to her, of a threatening kind, in case he shall lose his gold that he has saved during his many years, and be left in his old age without money to buy for him the pleasures of life. This finished, he snarls: “Send that to Montez with the compliments of Domingo of Porto Bello!” and goes off to the wine shop, for there is still some money in his pockets.

Thinking over the matter, Louise is glad she has given him no hint of his revelation. Domingo drunk, and Domingo sober, are two different creatures. Domingo drunk will babble his awful tale into her pretty ears: Domingo sober will cut her white throat for telling it.

A moment after, she hears something from Aguilla that expels for the moment all thought of the ex-pirate from her mind.

He leads her cautiously into his private office, and says: “This that I tell you is a secret. I have been kind to you, while you have been here, have I not?” and pats her hand as if to beg a favor.

“Yes,” answers Louise, “very kind and considerate, and I thank you for it.”

“Then in my extremity, remember it! You are the only one I can trust to do this thing. My clerks here are either those who might betray me, or have not that certainty of character that is necessary in this delicate mission.”

“What do you wish?” asks the girl, nervously; for his manner is impressive.

“This! and remember—I am placing my fortune in your hands—the fortune of my family that I have worked all these years to gain! I want you to prevent my partner, Baron Montez”—here his voice grows very low—“from ruining me!

“Ruining you?”

“Sh—sh! Not so loud! Yes. What he has done here, to those about him, makes me know I am not safe in his hands. I fear he will destroy the ledgers of our firm in Paris, because those ledgers show that I am rich—not as he is—but still enough. There is but one chance for me. You must go to Paris!”

“To Paris!” gasps Louise, then thinking of the invalid still pale and weak and needing her nursing, she mutters, “Impossible!”

“Imperative!” answers Aguilla. “You must leave tonight!”

“But my patient?”

“Leave him here. He is out of danger, I am not. My salvation depends on your acting for me—in time! I shall give you tickets for the fast steamer leaving Colon tomorrow morning, to connect at St. Thomas with the English line for Southampton. The British ship calls at Cherbourg. From there go to Paris, immediately! At the office of Montez, Aguilla et Cie., deliver to the gentleman in charge, Monsieur Gascoigne, my written order for you to examine the ledgers of the firm, and take off certain reports therefrom.”

“But,” stammers Louise, “Montez is there. If he means to do what you fear, he will refuse!”

“Montez is not in Paris! He did not go there direct. He will stop two weeks in New York—that is our chance! You will get there, probably, a week before him! In that time you must take a record of the ledgers for the first four months of 1881. That was the time when we sold out most of our stock and got clear of Canal Interoceanic. Have your excerpts attested by Monsieur Gascoigne before a notary. Then if Montez destroys the books or loses the books—or they fly away into the air, I am safe—I have the records!—he cannot rob me!”

“But why not go yourself?”

“At this moment it is impossible! My wife and child are sick—perhaps dying—I cannot leave them! There is no time but now! I must trust to you! Will you do it?”

“Yes, if possible!” cries Louise, a sudden wild thought in her brain. “I will tell you in an hour!”

“Very well! If you will not go, I must try and get someone else, though I know of none who would do as well!” murmurs Aguilla.

Then the girl flies off to the bedside of Harry Larchmont.

“What does the doctor say about your going to Paris?” she asks hurriedly.

“Not for a week yet—at best!”

“Then I will go to Paris for you!”

“You? How will you prevent Baron Montez marrying Jessie Severn?” and the invalid stabs his nurse again.

“Do you suppose you could control my brother?” he goes on reflectively, “who is now either fool or imbecile, in Paris?”

“No, but I can do something else for you!” murmurs the girl, whose lips tremble at the mention of Miss Severn’s name. “You told me once, you wanted the secrets of Baron Montez. What secret do you want most?”

“The most important to me,” murmurs Larchmont, “would be the real or true record of his transactions with my brother. The statements he has furnished Frank, I have looked over; they are incomprehensible, involved, vague. I do not believe them true!”

“I will betray them to you!”

“Impossible!”

“I will betray Baron Montez to you! I will use my confidential position to destroy him!” cries Louise, her face excited.

“Oh, no!” answers the man. “You told me your business honor would prevent your doing that!” Then he falters: “Not even to save me a fortune or my brother his honor, will I permit you to do what you may one day blush for!”

“My business honor is to business men—not monsters, murderers, and bandits!” answers the girl, the light of passion coming into her eyes. “I will destroy this man as he has destroyed those of my blood—remorselessly as he did them!” and she tells him the story of Domingo, the ex-pirate, and the mission that Aguilla would give her in Paris.

But he whispers: “No! no! Montez would kill you, if you brought danger upon him! For my sake, do not go!” and kisses his nurse’s hand, murmuring “Promise!”

“I must go!”

“Not till I go with you. Promise!”

But she does not understand, and breaks away from him; but lingers at the door and kisses her hand to him, though her face says farewell.

From Harry’s side she flies back to Aguilla and says: “I accept. I will do what you wish, faithfully and truly!”

“Then I have hope!” answers the Frenchman, and chuckles in his bourgeois way “I knew you would! You are a true girl! I have had everything prepared! Here are your tickets to Paris, complete in every particular. Here is money for your expenses!” And he gives her more gold than she has ever had in one lump in her life before. “Spare no expense. This letter to the firm will give you the opportunities you want, if you get to Paris before Montez—that is the vital point!”

Then she suddenly says: “Where shall I stay in Paris? A young lady alone, I am told, is very unpleasantly situated.”

“I will give you a letter to a friend of mine, a man of family,” answers Aguilla. Writing this last and handing it to her, he gives her another thrill—for he says: “You must leave this afternoon!”

“This afternoon?” ejaculates Louise.

“In two hours! The steamer leaves Colon tomorrow morning, and time is vital!”

“Then get a carriage for me,” answers Miss Minturn, who having once made decision carries it to the end. This being done she flies to the house of Martinez the notary, and astonishes them all. She says she is going away.

 “Next month?”

“No, now!”

“Now? Sanctus Dominus!” And the Spanish family, not accustomed to haste, jabber excitedly about her as she packs her trunk. Feeling she has not strength to say good-by to the man for whose sake she is really going, Louise scribbles a hasty note of farewell to Harry Larchmont; and even while writing it, Aguilla has come for her with a carriage—he is in such a hurry.

The two drive down to the railroad, the Frenchman repeating his instructions as he puts her on the train.

Then Louise Minturn, as the cars run out of Panama, the excitement of departure leaving her, falters: “Who would have thought it this morning? I am going to Paris to fight Harry’s battle—to win his love for him—to win her fortune back!”

Her lovely eyes cannot see for the tears, and she murmurs: “God help me! The happier I make him, the more unhappy I make myself! I wonder if he will ever know?” Then determination coming to her, she cries: “I pray God not!”

Vampire (orig. Love and Pain), 1893, Edvard Munch

That evening a little note is brought to Harry Larchmont, as he lies in his cot, in the town of Panama, and he mutters: “Louise has broken her promise! She has left me! She has gone where danger and death may come upon her!”

“Calm yourself, Harry!” says his friend Bovee; “she has only gone to Paris, and Paris is not fatal to all pretty women.”

“But you don’t know—he may kill her!”

“He—who?”

“Baron Montez!”

At this his friend looks curiously at him, and thinks he is raving again; so curiously that Harry says: “You need not fear. My head is as sane as yours, only—God help me! She has left me!”

“Oh, you’re convalescent now—you can get along without your nurse!” laughs Bovee.

Not when I love her!” answers Larchmont. “Love her with my heart and my soul!”

“Then,” says Bovee, after a pause of astonishment: “I can give you better medicine than the doctor—the best medicine in the world!”

“What’s that?”

“She loves you!”

“My God! What makes you think?”

“She’s awfully jealous of that little girl in Paris—and between ourselves you’ve given her very good reason in your delirium ravings.”

“Jealous of Jessie? Ha! ha! Ho! ho! The darling!—jealous of my brother’s little ward! This is lovely; this is funny! This is delightful,” laughs the invalid.

“You wouldn’t laugh if you’d seen her look at you when you were raving about the other girl,” mutters Bovee who is an observer.

“I brought tears to her?” murmurs Harry.

“Yes!”

“Then as God’s above me, those tears shall be her last!”

“All right! To keep your oath pull yourself together, get well, and we’ll ship you off to Paris after her!” answers his friend.

Which Mr. Larchmont does, and a week after Miss Minturn has sailed from Colon, Harry reaches that place, to follow her to Paris. He is much stronger now, and the sea-breeze adds to his strength, day by day, as he sails to cooler climes.

He carries with him something that keeps his mind occupied during the voyage.

As he is leaving Panama, right at the depot, Mrs. Winterburn catches him. She cries eagerly, for the locomotive has already whistled: “Here’s something my husband says belongs to Louise;” and gives him the beautiful string of pearls found in the powder canister. “And here’s something Miss Minturn left in the hurry of bolting. It’s a book of writing: she had only an hour to pack, and forgot it.” With this Susie presses into Larchmont’s hand a large manuscript volume.

“Great goodness! It’s her diary!” he gasps, gazing at the outside of it, and would give it back to Mrs. Winterburn, but the train is already moving, for a curiosity has come upon him of which he is afraid.

But he locks the book up in his trunk, and fights with himself, saying: “No, no. I’ll not—read this—if I die of wanting.” But one day as he moves it, gazing at it with longing eyes, some things fall out of it.

With a cry of love and joy he picks them up and look ing on them mutters: “These are mine—they were mine before they were hers.” And goes about happy but expectant. They are his bunch of violets and card of the blizzard.

And so, coming into Paris, about six o’clock in the evening, of an early June day, Harry Larchmont is pretty much his old self again, though his face is still pale, and there is a very anxious expression in his eyes.

Driving up to the hotel of his brother in the Boulevard Malesherbes, near the Park Monceau, he is let in by Robert the old-time servitor, with exclamations of delight and welcome, and finds something that astounds him—that something that often comes to us—the great—the UNEXPECTED!


Notes and Reference

  • muchacha bonita: pretty girl

Parker, M. Hell’s Gorge: The Battle to Build the Panama Canal (London: Arrow Books, 2007).

This edition © 2021 Furin Chime, Brian Armour

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