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The Smooth-Bore Hermanos

by Carl Henry

THE bullet went out through the open window at my elbow and doubtless it startled the fish at the top of the water in the moonlight out there in the Bay of Panama.

The smoke floated up from the muzzle of the Mannleicher till it struck the ceiling of Jimmie Hope's lounging-den and then it umbrellaed out till it mingled with dense blue vapor ascending from the cigars and cigarettes of the twenty adventurers, filibusters, beachcombers and other human rag-tags and bob-tails gathered in the place.

Not a man stirred. No one said anything. Bob Cespinoza, playing chess with Goldtooth Naegel, advanced the queen, after glancing up. Yet they say the tropics get your nerves.

The man who held the Mannleicher that had let out the splurging roar was a bit unsteady on his legs and was very white as he looked around expecting some one to fall, but he was an Englishman arrived that day. He handed the piece he had accidentally discharged to Jimmie Hope, who had been showing him his collection, bits from various revolutions he had had a hand in, and Jimmie, instead of hanging it up once more, looked at it with a grim smile and passed his cognac bottle to the Englishman, saying to me half-dolefully, half-quizzically:

"If that had killed you, Captain, it would have been the biggest joke in Panama."

"Oh, it would, would it?" said I.

"How's that, Jimmie?" asked one of the boys.

Jimmie Hope leaned back against the table, drew up one knee and broke the piece, then held it up to the light.

"See what it is? Smooth as the cheek of a Yucateco baby. An old-fashioned Belgian nigger-killer, mighty nearly open at both ends. That old smooth-bore has been through one war, a coup d'etat with some shooting, and several other occasions when it might have been used, and yet, never dreaming it was loaded, I hung it up there with the very load in it that I put in it twelve years ago—see the copper shell and that nick on the welt—when I first handed it to one of the Smooth-bore Hermanos."

"Haw-haw-he-he! I seen them guys," laughed McTighe. "Say, was that you that had 'em, Jimmie? I'd like to hear the straight of it."

"Well, they are so tangled up with the history of a president or two still kicking that you fellows won't mind if I skip a name now and then. I landed in New York by way of Antwerp one day with forty-two cases of Mausers and all that goes with them down in the pelvic regions of the same ship that brought me. They were invoiced as 'angles,' meaning small structural steel parts, and they were sure enough structural when we got through with them—the best republic-builders I ever saw.

"I got them through customs and over to Brooklyn to storage alongside the Erie Basin where a schooner by the name of the Fortuna lay freshly scraped and dressed as if for a wedding. General Mena-Mena—the fellow that ran Carteret through for writing 'Tekel-Upharsin' after his name on the register of the Hotel du Monde in Paris—had given me the $50,000 gold in Havana to do the work with and he was to have the schooner and men ready. I did not know who was the candidate and would not know till Willemstadt.

"IT WAS a January night and cold and wet. The men came aboard in fives and sixes up to the number of ninety, nearly all recruits off the park benches, and about midnight we were ready to ease out into the stream. I had given orders to let go, when I heard voices up the dock and running feet.

"Everybody was below. All lights were out and I jumped to the plank, a machete in my hand.

"'Stop! Abie, stop! Please don't make it!' I heard some one say out of breath. From the sounds there was one man chasing another down the dock.

"'I vill make it! Vy not?' answered the first man.

"Then the second man caught him and tried to hold him.

"'Let me go, Joey, I have got to make it a soocide!'

"'Please not to do it, Abie!'

"But Abie jumped and pulled Joey with him. Instead of hitting the water they landed about eight feet down on the tarpaulins, lines and bitts of the port quarter of the Fortuna and, kicking and fighting, rolled over and over on the deck.

"The mate did the proper thing. He threw a tarpaulin over them to smother the noise and dropped them down the hatch. It sounded too much like a piece of shanghai to suit a quiet, home-loving filibuster like me. A fuss like that would have brought a watchman or a policeman in no time. I did not have any time to investigate just then and it was only when we were safe beyond Scotland light, about daylight, that I went below to see who our two recruits were.

"I don't often get a good laugh, but I did that morning. Still half rolled in the tarpaulin, they were fast in each other's arms, asleep like the babes in the wood. Nature had been too strong for all their fears, but to avoid being stolen away from each other they had tied their suspenders together in impossible knots.

"'Here you, wake up!' I yelled at them, tickling their noses wit...

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