Young Everett at last was a minister plenipotentiary. In London as third secretary he had splashed around in the rain to find the ambassador's carriage. In Rome as a second secretary he had served as a clearing-house for the Embassy's visiting-cards; and in Madrid as first secretary he had acted as interpreter for a minister who, though valuable as a national chairman, had much to learn of even his own language. But although surrounded by all the wonders and delights of Europe, although he walked, talked, wined, and dined with statesmen and court beauties, Everett was not happy. He was never his own master. Always he answered the button pressed by the man higher up. Always over him loomed his chief; always, for his diligence and zeal, his chief received credit.
As His Majesty's naval attache put it sympathetically, "Better be a top-side man on a sampan than First Luff on the Dreadnought.
Don't be another man's right hand. Be your own right hand."Accordingly when the State Department offered to make him minister to the Republic of Amapala, Everett gladly deserted the flesh-pots of Europe, and, on mule-back over trails in the living rock, through mountain torrents that had never known the shadow of a bridge, through swamp and jungle, rode sunburnt and saddle-sore into his inheritance.
When giving him his farewell instructions, the Secretary of State had not attempted to deceive him.
"Of all the smaller republics of Central America," he frankly told him, "Amapala is the least desirable, least civilized, least acceptable.
It offers an ambitious young diplomat no chance. But once a minister, always a minister. Having lifted you out of the secretary class we can't demote you. Your days of deciphering cablegrams are over, and if you don't die of fever, of boredom, or brandy, call us up in a year or two and we will see what we can do."Everett regarded the Secretary blankly.
"Has the department no interest in Amapala?" he begged. "Is there nothing you want there?""There is one thing we very much want," returned the Secretary, "but we can't get it. We want a treaty to extradite criminals."The young minister laughed confidently.
"Why!" he exclaimed, "that should be easy."
The Secretary smiled.
"You have our full permission to get it," he said. "This department,"he explained, "under three administrations has instructed four ministers to arrange such a treaty. The Bankers' Association wants it; the Merchants' Protective Alliance wants it. Amapala is the only place within striking distance of our country where a fugitive is safe.
It is the only place where a dishonest cashier, swindler, or felon can find refuge. Sometimes it seems almost as though when a man planned a crime he timed it exactly so as to catch the boat for Amapala. And, once there, we can't lay our hands on him; and, what's more, we can't lay our hands on the money he takes with him. I have no right to make a promise," said the great man, "but the day that treaty is signed you can sail for a legation in Europe. Do I make myself clear?""So clear, sir," cried Everett, laughing, "that if I don't arrange that treaty I will remain in Amapala until I do.""Four of your predecessors," remarked the Secretary, "made exactly the same promise, but none of them got us the treaty.""Probably none of them remained in Amapala, either," retorted Everett.
"Two did," corrected the Secretary; "as you ride into Camaguay you see their tombstones."Everett found the nine-day mule-ride from the coast to the capital arduous, but full of interest. After a week at his post he appreciated that until he left it and made the return journey nothing of equal interest was again likely to occur. For life in Camaguay, the capital of Amapala, proved to be one long, dreamless slumber. In the morning each of the inhabitants engaged in a struggle to get awake; after the second breakfast he ceased struggling, and for a siesta sank into his hammock. After dinner, at nine o'clock, he was prepared to sleep in earnest, and went to bed. The official life as explained to Everett by Garland, the American consul, was equally monotonous. When President Mendoza was not in the mountains deer-hunting, or suppressing a revolution, each Sunday he invited the American minister to dine at the palace. In return His Excellency expected once a week to be invited to breakfast with the minister. He preferred that the activities of that gentleman should go no further. Life in the diplomatic circle was even less strenuous. Everett was the doyen of the diplomatic corps because he was the only diplomat. All other countries were represented by consuls who were commission merchants and shopkeepers. They were delighted at having among them a minister plenipotentiary. When he took pity on them and invited them to tea, which invitations he delivered in person to each consul at the door of each shop, the entire diplomatic corps, as the consuls were pleased to describe themselves, put up the shutters, put on their official full-dress uniforms and arrived in a body.
The first week at his post Everett spent in reading the archives of the legation. They were most discouraging. He found that for the sixteen years prior to his arrival the only events reported to the department by his predecessors were revolutions and the refusals of successive presidents to consent to a treaty of extradition. On that point all Amapalans were in accord. Though overnight the government changed hands, though presidents gave way to dictators, and dictators to military governors, the national policy of Amapala continued to be "No extradition!" The ill success of those who had preceded him appalled Everett. He had promised himself by a brilliant assault to secure the treaty and claim the legation in Europe. But the record of sixteen years of failure caused him to alter his strategy. Instead of an attack he prepared for a siege.