AHEAD OF THE ARMY
AHEAD OF THE ARMY
by W. O. STODDARD
AUTHOR OF "THE ERRAND BOY OF ANDREW JACKSON," "JACK MORGAN," "THE NOANK'S LOG," ETC.
ILLUSTRATED BY C. CHASE EMERSON
BOSTON LOTHROP PUBLISHING COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1903, by LOTHROP PUBLISHING COMPANY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published June, 1903
Lest any one should suspect exaggeration in the pictures of Mexican affairs in the old time, which are presented by Senor Carfora, it may be well to offer a few facts by way of explanation. During sixty-three years of the national life of the Republic of Mexico, from the establishment of its independence in 1821 to the year 1884, nearly all of its successive changes of government were accompanied by more or less violence and bloodshed. There have been fifty-five Mexican Presidents; at one revolutionary period, four within three months, and to this list must be added two emperors and one regency. Both of the emperors were shot, so were several of the Presidents, and nearly all of the others incurred the penalty of banishment. How this came to be so will possibly be better understood by the young Americans who will kindly travel with Senor Carfora and his generals and his two armies, commanded for him by General Scott and General Santa Anna. It is the wish of the author that all his young friends may cultivate a deeper and kinder interest in the wonderful land of Anahuac and its people. The now peaceful and rapidly improving republic of the South is, in fact, only a kind of younger brother of the United States. Mexico has no more sincere well-wisher than
William O. Stoddard.
Far-away Guns 11 The Race of the Goshawk 22 The Fortune of War 47 Completely Stranded 69 The Work of the Norther 84 Forward, March 99 The Land of the Montezumas 119 Out of the Tierra Caliente 136 Leaving the Hacienda 157 Pictures of the Past 167 Ned's News 181 A Storm Coming 193 The Revolution 207 The Despatch-bearer 221 Under Fire 240 General Scott and His Army 254 The Mountain Passes 267 Senor Carfora Trapped 281 The Stars and Stripes in Tenochtitlan 294
It was severe work, but it was done with eager enthusiasm Frontispiece "Do you see that? What does it mean?" 30 "We have orders to take care of you" 114 Ned saw a long, bright blade of a lance pointed at his bosom 286
AHEAD OF THE ARMY
"Boom! Boom! Boom!"
The long surges of the Gulf of Mexico were beating heavily upon the sandy beach of Point Isabel, but the dull and boding sounds were not the roar of the surf. There came a long silence, and then another boom. Each in succession entered the white tents of the American army on the upland, carrying with it a message of especial importance to all who were within. It was also of more importance to the whole world than any man who heard it could then have imagined. It spoke to the sentries at their posts, and compelled them to turn and listen. It halted all patrolling and scouting parties, making them stand still to utter sudden exclamations. More than one mounted officer reined in his horse to hear, and then wheeled to spur away toward the tent of General Zachary Taylor, commanding the forces of the United States upon the Rio Grande.
In one small tent, in the camp of the Seventh Infantry, the first boom stirred up a young man who had been sleeping, and he may have been dreaming of home. He was in the uniform of a second lieutenant, and in one respect he was exactly like all the other younger officers and most of the men of that army, for never before had they heard the sound of a hostile cannon. War was new to them, and they were not aware how many of them were now entering a preparatory school in which they were to be trained for service in a war of vastly greater proportions and for the command of its contending armies, on either side.
Up sprang the young lieutenant and stepped to the door of his tent. He was short, strongly built, and his alert, vigorous movements indicated unusual nerve, vitality, and muscular strength.
"Grant, my boy," he muttered to himself, "that comes from the fort! The Mexicans are attacking! It's more than twenty miles away. I didn't know you could hear guns as far as that, but the wind's in the right direction. Hurrah! The war has begun!"
He was only half right. The war had been begun long years before by aggressive American settlers in the Spanish-Mexican State of Texas. Now, at last, the United States had taken up the same old conflict, and only about half of the American people at all approved of it.
Grant did not linger in front of his tent. He walked rapidly away to where stood a group of officers, hardly any of them older than himself.
"Meade," he demanded of one of them, "what do you think of that?"
"I think I don't know how long that half-finished fort can hold out," responded Lieutenant Meade, and half a dozen other voices instantly agreed with him as to the perils surrounding the small besieged garrison.
It was hardly possible, they said, that it could hold out until the arrival of the main army. This, too, would have to fight all the way against superior numbers, but that was a thing which it could do, and they were all wild with eagerness to be on the march, in answer to the summons of those far-away guns.
There were no railroads to speak of, and only the first small beginnings of telegraphs in the year 1846. The news of the first fighting would therefore be slow in reaching the President and Congress at Washington, so that they might lawfully make what is called a formal declaration of war. Much had already been taken for granted, but the American government was at that hour anxiously leaning southward and listening for the expected roar of Mexican cannon. It came, as rapidly as General Taylor could send it. A swift despatch-boat, with all her canvas up, went speeding across the gulf to New Orleans. Thence, in the hands of special couriers, it would gallop all the remaining distance. Meantime, the struggle at the Rio Grande frontier would continue, just as if all the legal arrangements had been made, but it would be weeks before Europe could be advised of what was going on. All this, too, when this fight over the annexation of Texas was about to lift the Republic into a foremost place among the nations. It was to give her all the Pacific coast which she now has, except Oregon and Alaska, with the gold of California and the silver of the mountains. Among its consequences were to be the terrible Civil War, the abolition of slavery, the acquisition of the Sandwich Islands, and many another vast change in the history of our country and in that of these very European nations which were then ignorantly sitting still and thinking little about it, because they had no ocean cable telegraphs to outrun the swift clipper ships.
There were couriers racing inland in all directions to tell the people of Mexico, also, that war had come, but the despatches of the general commanding their forces on the Texas border were carried by a swift schooner from Matamoras, on the coast, directly to Vera Cruz. A messenger from that port had before him a gallop of only two hundred and sixty miles to the city of Mexico. President Paredes, therefore, had full information of the attack on the American fort sooner than did President Polk by a number of very important days.
These were bright May days, and during all of them there were other things going on which had a direct relation to the cannon-firing and the siege. For instance, all the commerce between Mexico and the rest of the world was deeply interested, and so were all the warships of the United States, which were prepared to interfere with that commerce pretty soon, and shut it off. There were merchant vessels at sea to whose captains and owners it was a serious question whether or not cruisers carrying the Stars and Stripes would permit them to reach their intended port and deliver their cargoes. Whatever may have been the case with all the rest of these vessels, one of them in particular appeared to be rushing along in a great hurry at the very hour when Lieutenant Grant woke up so suddenly and walked out of his tent.
She carried an American flag, somewhat tattered, and she was spreading quite as much canvas as a prudent skipper might have considered safe under the strong gale that was blowing. She was bark-rigged, of about four hundred tons burden, and was headed westward in the Nicholas Channel, off the northerly coast of the Island of Cuba. There was a high sea running, but the ship stood up well, and the few men who were on deck could get about easily. Even a boy of apparently not over seventeen, who came to a halt near the mainmast, managed to keep his balance with some help from a rope. That he did so was a credit to him, and it helped to give him a sailor-like and jaunty air. So did his blue trousers, blue flannel shirt with a wide collar, and the sidewise pitch of his tarpaulin hat. He might as well have remarked aloud that he was one of those boys who are up to almost anything, and who think small potatoes of a mere storm at sea. Near him, however, stood a pair of men, either of whom might have felt as much at home under another flag than the one which was now fluttering its damaged bunting above them. The shorter of the two was a very dark-faced gentleman of perhaps forty, with piercing black eyes. In spite of his civilian dress, he wore an expression that was decidedly warlike, or soldierly.
"Captain Kemp," he said to his companion, "will you be good enough to tell me why we are in the Nicholas Channel?"
"No, Senor Zuroaga," growled the large-framed, roughly rigged and grim-looking sailor. "I'm cap'n o' this ship, and I don't give explanations. We've had gales on gales since we left port. One course is as good as another, if you're not losing distance. We'll reach Vera Cruz now three or four days sooner than we reckoned. All those war insurance risks were paid for for nothing."
"I'm not so sure of that," was slowly and thoughtfully responded. "Not if one of Uncle Sam's officers should get a look into the hold of this ship."
"You're a Mexican, anyhow," said Captain Kemp, surlily. "You know enough to keep your mouth shut. You don't really have to know anything about the cargo. Besides, it was peace when we sailed. We shall make a safe landing,—if nothing happens on the way."
"Captain," said the Mexican, "it does not take long to make a declaration of war when both sides are determined to have one."
"You're wrong there, Senor Zuroaga," replied the captain, emphatically. "Mexico doesn't want a brush with the States. She isn't strong enough. The Yankees can whip her out of Texas any day."
"That is not the point at all," replied Zuroaga, sadly. "The fact is, the Texan Yankees want a war for revenge, and the American party in power would like to annex a great deal more than Texas. President Paredes needs a war to keep himself in power and help him put on a crown. Old Santa Anna wants a war to give him a chance to return from exile and get control of the army. If we ever do reach Vera Cruz, we shall hear of fighting when we get there."
"Perhaps," said the captain, "but it will be only a short war, and at the end of it the United States will have stolen Texas."
"No, senor," said Zuroaga, with a fierce flash in his eyes. "All educated Mexicans believe that Texas or any other of the old Spanish provinces has a right to set up for itself. Almost every State has actually tried it. We have had revolution after revolution."
"Anarchy after anarchy!" growled the captain. "Such a nation as that needs a king of some kind, or else the strong hand of either England or France or the United States."
"Mexico! A nation!" exclaimed Senor Zuroaga, after a moment of silence. "We are not a nation yet. Within our boundaries there are several millions of ignorant Indians, peons, rancheros and the like, that are owned rather than ruled by a few scores of rich landholders who represent the old Spanish military grants. Just now President Paredes is able to overawe as many of these chiefs as he and others have not murdered. So he is President, or whatever else he may choose to call himself. The mere title is nothing, for the people do not know the difference between one and another. Now, Captain Kemp, one sure thing is that the Yankees have taken Texas and mean to keep it. They will fight for it. One other sure thing is that General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna will come back if he can, to carry on that war and supersede Paredes. If he does so, there is danger ahead for some men. He will settle with all his old enemies, and he loves bloodshed for its own sake. When he cannot be killing men, he will sit in a cockpit all day, just for the pleasure of seeing the birds slaughtering one another. I believe he had my own father shot quite as much for love of murder as for the opportunity it gave him for confiscating our family estates in Oaxaca."
"You seem to have enough to hate him for, anyhow, and I don't blame you," replied the captain, as he turned away to give some orders to the sailors, and all the while the boy who stood near them had been listening.
"Well, Ned Crawford," he muttered to himself, "that's it, is it? Father didn't seem to believe there would be any war. He said there would be plenty of time, anyhow, for this old Goshawk bark to make the round trip to New York by way of Vera Cruz."
A great lurch of the ship nearly swung him off his feet just then, and he was holding on very firmly to his rope when he added:
"He said I'd learn a great deal all the way, and I shouldn't wonder if I'm learning something new just now. What do they mean by that dangerous cargo in the hold, and our being captured by American ships of war? That's a thing father didn't know anything about. I guess I can see how it is, though. Captain Kemp isn't an American, and he'd do almost anything to make money. Anything honest, I mean. How it does blow! Well, let her blow! Father said he was putting me into a first-rate commercial school, and here I am right in the middle of it."
Ned was indeed at school, and he seemed likely to have unexpected teachers, but so is every other wide-awake young fellow, just like Ulysses Grant and his crowd of young associates in their hot weather war school over there on the Texas border.
Senor Zuroaga also had now walked away, and Ned was left to hold by his rope, looking out upon the tossing sea and wondering more and more what sort of adventures he and the Goshawk might be so swiftly racing on into.
THE RACE OF THE GOSHAWK
A long day had passed and a dark night had come. The air of it was hot and sultry over all the regions around the Gulf of Mexico. Something appeared to be weighing it down, as if it might be loaded with the great events which were about to come.
It was gloomy enough at and around the besieged American fort on the Texas side of the Rio Grande, but every now and then the darkness and the silence were broken by the flashes and thunders of the Mexican artillery, and the responses of the cannon of the bravely defended fortress. This was already partly in ruins, and the besiegers had good reasons for their expectation that in due season they were to see the Stars and Stripes come down from the shattered rampart. It did not seem to them at all possible that the small force under General Taylor, twenty miles away at the seaside, could cut through overwhelming numbers to the relief of the garrison.
It was just as dark in the American camp on the coast, but there were many campfires burning, and by the light of these and numberless lanterns there were busy preparations making for the forward march, which was to begin in the morning. There was an immense amount of anxiety in the minds of all the Americans who were getting ready, but it was only on account of the fort and garrison, for that little army had a remarkable degree of confidence in its own fighting capacity.
It is never as dark on the land, apparently, as it is at sea, where even the lights hung out by a ship seem to make all things darker, except the white crests of the billows. One ship's lantern, however, was so hung that it threw down a dim light upon a pair who were sitting on the deck near the stern.
"Senor Zuroaga," said one of them, "I wish it was daylight."
"So do I," responded his companion, with hardly a trace of foreign accent. "The storm's nearly over, but I had so much on my mind that I could not sleep. The fact is, I came up to try and make up my mind where we are. I must reach Vera Cruz before Santa Anna does, if I can. If I do not, I may be shot after landing. I shall be safer, too, after President Paredes has marched with his army for the Rio Grande. So I hope for war. Anyhow, the commander at Vera Cruz is a friend of mine."
"I guess I understand," said Ned. "I heard what you said about the way things are going. But what did you mean about our being in the Nicholas Channel? What has that got to do with it?"
"Talk Spanish!" replied the senor, with whom the boy appeared to be upon good terms. "I do not want any of those sailors to understand me, though I'm very glad that you can. How did that happen?"
"Well," said Ned, "father's been all his life in the Cuban and Mexican trade, and I'm to grow up into it. I can't remember just when they began to teach me Spanish. I was thinking about the war, though. If it's coming, I want to see some of the fighting."
"You may see more than you will like," said his friend in his own tongue. "Now, as to where we are, remember your geography."
"I can remember every map in it," said Ned, confidently.
"Good!" said the senor. "Now! You know that the Gulf Stream runs along the coast of Florida. Our road from Liverpool to the gulf was to have taken us by that way. Instead of that, we came around below the Bahama Islands, and here we are off the north coast of Cuba. Captain Kemp's reason is that there might be too many American cruisers along the Florida coast, and he does not care to be stopped by one of them, if the war has already begun. We would not be allowed to go any further."
"I see," said Ned. "Of course not. They would stop us, to keep us from being captured by the Mexicans when we got to Vera Cruz."
"Not exactly," said the senor, half laughing, "but it might cost your father and his partners their ship and cargo. That is the secret the sailors are not to know. Away up northward there, a hundred miles or so, are the Florida Keys, and among them is the United States naval station at Key West. There are ships of war there, and Captain Kemp will not sail any nearer to them than he can help. Ned, did you have any idea that you were sitting over a Mexican powder-magazine?"
"No!" exclaimed Ned. "What on earth do you mean?"
"I think I had better tell you," said the senor. "I half suspected it before we sailed, and I learned the whole truth afterward. The New York and Liverpool firm that your father belongs to sent on board an honest and peaceable cargo, but there was a good deal of room left in the hold, and the captain filled it up with cannon-balls, musket-bullets, and gunpowder from the English agents of no less a man than General Santa Anna himself. It is all for his army, whenever he gets one, but it goes first to the castle of San Juan de Ulua, at Vera Cruz. If war has been declared, or if it has in any way begun, the whole thing is what they call contraband of war, and the Goshawk is liable to be captured and confiscated."
"Phew!" whistled Ned. "Wonder how father'd like that! Anyhow, we don't know there's any war."
"We'd be in trouble anyhow," said the senor. "But we are all in the dark about it. We have been over three weeks on the way, and all the war news we had when we started was nearly a month old. We can only guess what has been going on. Here we are, though, in a storm that is driving us along first-rate into the Gulf of Mexico. We may be four days' sail from Vera Cruz in a bee-line, and the Goshawk is a racer, but we may not be able to make a straight course. Well, well, the captain will keep on all the canvas that's safe, and we may get there. Hullo! the day is beginning to dawn. Now our real danger begins."
He said no more, and Ned walked forward with something altogether new on his mind. An American boy, crammed full of patriotism, and wishing that he were in General Taylor's army, he was, nevertheless, by no fault of his own, one of the crew of a ship which was carrying ammunition to the enemy. He almost felt as if he were fighting his own country, and it made him sick. He had an idea, moreover, that Senor Zuroaga was only half willing to help his old enemy Santa Anna.
"I don't care if Captain Kemp is an Englishman," he said to himself, "he had no business to run father and his partners into such a scrape."
That might be so, and perhaps neither Kemp, nor Zuroaga, nor even Ned himself, knew all about the laws of war which govern such cases, but just then there flashed across his mind a very dismal suggestion, as he stared down at the deck he stood on.
"What," he asked himself, "if any accident should touch off those barrels of powder down there? Why, we'd all be blown sky-high and nobody'd ever know what had become of us. There'd be nothing but chips left."
He tried not to think about that, and went below to get his breakfast, while Captain Kemp ordered his sailors to send up another sail, remarking to Senor Zuroaga:
"We must make the most we can of this wind. Every hour counts now. I'll take the Goshawk to Vera Cruz, or I'll run her under water."
"Have you any idea where we are just now?" asked the senor.
"Well on into the gulf," said the captain, cheerfully. "We made a splendid run in the night, thanks to the gale. I hope it will blow on, and I think there is no danger of our being overhauled until we are off the Mexican coast. I wish, though, that I knew whether or not the war has actually been declared."
"The declaration isn't everything," replied the senor. "If there has been any fighting at all, American cruisers have a right, after that, to question ships bound for a hostile port, and to stop and seize all contraband of war. After goods are once seized, it isn't easy to get them back again."
"Sail ho!" came down from aloft at that moment.
"Where away?" called back the captain.
"Northerly, sir. Looks like a shark, sir."
"Can you make out her flag?" was inquired, almost anxiously.
The man on the lookout plied his telescope a full half-minute before he responded:
"Stars and Stripes, sir. Sloop-o'-war, sir. She's changin' her course, and she's makin' for us, I reckon."
"Let her head!" growled the captain. "This bark'll bear more sail. Hoist away there, men. Let her have it! Senor, there's one thing I'll do right off. It may be our best chance if she should overhaul us."
He did not explain his meaning just then, but another sail went up and something else came down. In a few minutes more, when Ned came on deck again, he suddenly felt worse than ever. Not long before, when the sun was rising, he had been on an American ship, with the flag of his country flying above him, but now his first glance aloft drew from him a loud exclamation, for he found that while below he had apparently been turned into an Englishman, and away up yonder the gale was playing with the Red Cross banner of the British Empire. He stared at it for a moment, and then he made an excited rush for Senor Zuroaga. He might have reached him sooner, but for a lurch of the Goshawk, which sent him sprawling full length upon the deck. It did not hurt him much, however, and as soon as he was on his feet, he blurted out, angrily:
"Senor! I say! Do you see that? What does it mean?"
The Mexican laughed aloud, but not only Ned Crawford but several of the sailors were eyeing that unexpected bunting with red and angry faces. They also were Americans, and they had national prejudices.
"You don't like the British flag, eh?" he said. "I do, then, just now. An American cruiser would not fire a shot at that flag half so quick as it would at your own."
"Why wouldn't she?" asked Ned.
"Because," said the senor, a little dryly, "the American skipper hasn't any British navy behind him, ready to take the matter up. It's a protection in case we can't outrun that sloop-of-war. The men won't care a cent, as soon as they know it's only a sea dodge to get into port with."
Sailor-like, they were indeed easily satisfied with whatever the captain chose to tell them, and on went the Goshawk as a British craft, but she was nevertheless carrying supplies to the Mexican army.
Senor Zuroaga had brought up a double spy-glass of his own, and, after studying the stranger through it, he handed it to Ned, remarking:
"Take a look at her. She's a beauty. She is drawing nearer on this tack, but nobody knows yet whether she can outrun us or not."
Ned took the glass with an unexpected feeling growing within him that he hoped she could not do so. He did not wish to be caught on board a British vessel taking powder and shot to kill Americans with. As he put the glass to his eyes, however, the sloop-of-war appeared to have suddenly come nearer. It was as if the Goshawk were already within reach of her guns, and she became a dangerous thing to look at. She was not, as yet, under any great press of canvas, for her commander may not have imagined that any merchant vessel would try to get away from him. There were two things, however, about which nobody on board the Goshawk was thinking. The first was that, while the American ship-of-war captain had not heard the firing at the fort on the Rio Grande, he was under a strong impression that war had been declared. The other thing came out in a remark which he made to a junior officer standing by him.
"It won't do!" he declared, emphatically. "I don't at all like that change of flags. It means mischief. There is something suspicious about that craft. We must bring her to, and find out what's the matter with her."
The distance between the two vessels was still too great for anything but a few signals, to which Captain Kemp responded with others which may have been of his own invention, for the signal officer on board the Yankee cruiser could make nothing of them. The Goshhawk, moreover, did not shorten sail, and her steersman kept her away several points more southerly, instead of bringing her course nearer to that of the cruiser.
"I see!" said her captain, as he watched the change. "She means to get away from us. It won't do. As soon as we are within range, I'll give her a gun. She may be a Mexican privateer, for all I know."
At all events, under the circumstances, as he thought, the change of flags had made it his duty to inquire into her character, and he decided to do so, even if, as he said, he should have to send one shot ahead of her and then a dozen into her.
There is something wonderfully exciting about a race of any kind. Men will make use of anything, from a donkey to a steamboat, to engineer a trial of speed and endurance. Then they will stand around and watch the running, as if the future welfare of the human race depended upon the result. Even the Goshhawk sailors, who had previously grumbled at the British flag above them, were entirely reconciled to the situation, now that it included the interesting question whether or not their swift bark could show her heels to the cruiser. They were very much in doubt about it, for the ships of the American navy had a high and well-earned reputation as chasers. They might have been somewhat encouraged if they had known that the Portsmouth, sloop-of-war, had been at sea a long time without going into any dock to have her bottom scraped clean of its accumulated barnacles. She was by no means in the best of training for a marine race-course.
An hour went by and then another. The two vessels were now running on almost parallel lines, so that any attempt of the sloop to draw nearer cost her just so much of chasing distance. It might be that they were, in fact, nearly matched, now that the wind had lulled a little, and both of them were able to send up more canvas without too much risk of having their sticks blown out of them. It looked like it, but the Yankee captain had yet another idea in his sagacious head.
"Let her keep on," he said. "The old Kennebec is out there, somewhere westerly, not far away. That vagabond may find himself under heavier guns than ours before sunset. Lieutenant, give him a gun."
"Ay, ay, sir!" came back, and in a moment more there was a flash and a report at the bow of the Portsmouth.
Both range and distance had been well calculated, for an iron messenger, ordering the Goshhawk to heave to, fell into the water within a hundred yards of her stern.
"That's near enough for the present," said the American commander, but Captain Kemp exclaimed, in astonishment:
"They are firing on the British flag, are they? Then there is something up that we don't know anything about. We must get away at all risks."
They were not doing so just now, although another change of course and a strong puff of the gale carried the Goshhawk further out of range. The fact was that her pursuer did not feel quite ready to land shot on board of her, believing that he was doing well enough and that his prize would surely be taken sooner or later. Besides, if she were, indeed, to become a prize, no sound-minded sea-captain could be willing to shoot away her selling value or that of her cargo.
Noon came, and there did not appear to be any important change in the relative positions of the two ships. At times, indeed, the Goshhawk had gained a quarter-mile or so, but only to lose it again, as is apt to be the case in ocean races. She was not at all tired, however, and both of the contestants had all the wind they needed.
Two hours more went slowly by, and Captain Kemp began to exhibit signs of uneasiness at the unexpected persistence with which he was followed.
"What on earth can be the matter?" he remarked, aloud. "I'd have thought she'd get tired of it before this—"
"Captain!" sharply interrupted Zuroaga, standing at his elbow, glass in hand. "Another sail! Off there, southerly. Seems to be a full-rigged ship. What are we to do now?"
"Keep on!" roared the captain, and then he turned to respond to a similar piece of unpleasant information which came down from the lookout.
"We'll soon know what she is," he remarked, but not as if he very much wished to do so. "What I'd like to do would be to sail on into the darkest kind of a rainy night. That's our chance, if we can get it."
It might be, but at that very moment the commander of the Portsmouth was asserting to his first lieutenant:
"There comes the Kennebec, my boy. We'll have this fellow now. We'll teach him not to play tricks with national flags and man-o'-war signals."
The race across the Gulf of Mexico was now putting on new and interesting features, but Ned Crawford, posted well forward to watch the course of events and what might have been called the race-course, sagely remarked:
"I don't know that two horses can run any faster than one can. We are as far ahead as ever we were."
That would have been of more importance if the newcomer had not been so much to the southward and westward, rather than behind them. She was, of course, several miles nearer to the Goshhawk than she was to the Portsmouth, and neither of these had as yet been able to make out her flag with certainty. That she was a full-rigged ship was sure enough, and if Ned had been upon her deck instead of upon his own, he would have discovered that she was heavily armed and in apple-pie order. At this very moment a burly officer upon her quarter-deck was roaring, angrily, in response to some information which had been given him:
"What's that? A British ship chased by a Yankee cruiser? Lieutenant, I think the Falcon'll take a look at that. These Yankees are getting too bumptious altogether. It's as if they thought they owned the gulf! Put her head two points north'ard. Humph! It's about time they had a lesson."
There had been some temporary trouble with the flag of the Falcon, but it had now been cleared of its tangle, and was swinging out free. It was of larger size than the British bunting displayed by the Goshawk. It was only a few minutes, therefore, before Captain Kemp had a fresh trouble on his mind, for his telescope had told him the meaning of that flag.
"Worse than ever!" he exclaimed. "She'd make us heave to and show our papers. Then she'd hand us right over, and no help for it. No, sir! Our only way is to scud from both of them. Some of our English frigates are slow goers, and this may be one of that kind."
He was in less immediate peril, perhaps, because of the determination of the angry British captain to speak to the Yankee first, and demand an explanation of this extraordinary affair. This it was his plain duty to do, and the attempt to do it would shortly put him and all his guns between the Portsmouth and the Goshhawk. This operation was going on at the end of another hour, when Captain Kemp's lookout shouted down to him:
"Sail ho, sir! 'Bout a mile ahead o' the British frigate. Can't quite make her out yet, sir."
"I declare!" groaned the captain. "This 'ere's getting kind o' thick!"
The weather also was getting thicker, and all three of the racers were shortly under a prudent necessity for reducing their excessive spreads of canvas. The first mate of the Goshhawk had even been compelled to expostulate with his overexcited skipper.
"Some of it's got to come down, sir," he asserted. "If we was to lose a spar, we're gone, sure as guns!"
"In with it, then," said the captain. "I wish both of 'em 'd knock out a stick or two. It'd be a good thing for us."
At all events, a lame horse is not likely to win a race, and the Goshhawk was doing as well as were either of the others.
Under such circumstances, it was not long before the Falcon and the Portsmouth were within speaking-trumpet distance of each other, both of them losing half a mile to the Goshhawk while they were getting together. Rapid and loud-voiced indeed were the explanations which passed between the two commanders. At the end of them, the wrath of the Englishman was turned entirely against the culprit bark, which had trifled with his flag.
"We must take her, sir!" he shouted. "She's a loose fish o' some kind."
It was while this conversation was going on that Senor Zuroaga, after long and careful observations, reported to Captain Kemp concerning the far-away stranger to the westward.
"She is a Frenchman, beyond a doubt. Are all the nations making a naval rendezvous in the Gulf of Mexico?"
"Nothing extraordinary," said the captain. "But they're all more'n usually on the watch, on account o' the war, if it's coming."
It was precisely so. War surely brings disturbance and losses to others besides those who are directly engaged in it, and all the nations having commercial relations with Mexico were expecting their cruisers in the gulf to act as a kind of sea police. Moreover, a larger force than usual would probably be on hand and wide awake.
The day was going fast, and the weather promised to shorten it. Ned was now wearing an oilskin, for he would not have allowed any amount of rain to have driven him below. He and all the rest on board the Goshhawk were aware that their pursuers were again beginning to gain on them perceptibly. It was a slow process, but it was likely to be a sure one, for the men-of-war could do better sailing in a heavy sea and under shortened canvas than could a loaded vessel like the saucy merchant bark.
"I'm afraid they'll catch us!" groaned Ned. "I s'pose they could make us all prisoners of war,—if there is any war. Oh, I wish all that powder and shot had been thrown overboard!"
It did not look, just now, as if the Mexican army would ever get any benefit from it, for even the French stranger to leeward seemed to be putting on an air of having evil intentions. Captain Kemp had made her out to be a corvette of moderate size, perhaps a sixteen-gun ship, and she would be quite likely to co-operate with the police boats of England and America in arresting any suspicious wanderer in those troubled waters.
Darker grew the gloom and a light mist came sweeping over the sea. Both pursuers and pursued began to swing out lights, and before long the mate of the Goshhawk came to Captain Kemp to inquire, in a puzzled way:
"I say, Cap'n, what on earth do you do that for? It'll help 'em to foller us, and lose us all the benefit o' the dark."
"No, it won't," growled the captain. "You wait and see. I've sighted one more light, off there ahead of us, and I'm going to make it do something for the Goshhawk. Those other chaps can't see it yet."
"What in all the world can he be up to?" thought Ned, as he listened, but the cunning skipper of the bark had all his wits about him.
The lookouts of the men-of-war had indeed been taking note thus far of only their own lanterns and the glimmer on their intended prize. They may even have wondered, as did her own mate, why she should aid them in keeping track of her. At all events, they had little doubt of having her under their guns before morning. Senor Zuroaga himself sat curled up under his waterproof well aft, and now and then he appeared to be chuckling, as if he knew something which amused him. Half an hour later, when all the lights of the Goshhawk suddenly went out, he actually broke into a ringing laugh. Her course was changed to almost due north at that very moment. This would bring her across the track of the Portsmouth and within a mile of that dangerous cruiser's bow guns. They might not be quite so dangerous, however, if her gunners should be unable to see a mark at that distance through the mist. The fifth light, dead ahead, now became itself only the fourth, and it was immediately the sole attraction for the watchers in the rigging of the several war police-boats. This stranger was going westwardly, at a fair rate of speed, and its light was exceptionally brilliant. In fact, it grew more and more so during an anxious thirty minutes that followed, but it was the French corvette which first came within hailing distance, to receive an answer in angry Portuguese, which the French officers could not make head or tail of. Even after receiving further communications in broken Portuguese-Spanish, all they could do was to compel the Brazilian schooner, Gonzaga, laden with honest coffee from Rio for New Orleans, to heave to as best she might until the next arrival came within hail. This proved to be the British frigate, and her disappointed captain at once pretty sharply explained to the Frenchmen the difference between a two-master from Rio and a British-Yankee runaway bark from nobody knew where. Then came sweeping along the gallant Portsmouth, and there was need for additional conversation all around. Some of it was of an exceedingly discontented character, although the several captains were doing their best to be polite to each other, whatever derogatory remarks they might feel disposed to make concerning the craft which was carrying Ned Crawford and his badly wounded patriotism.
Far away to the northwest, hidden by the darkness, the Goshhawk was all this while flying along, getting into greater safety with every knot she was making, and Captain Kemp remarked to Ned:
"My boy, your father won't lose a cent, after all—not unless we find Vera Cruz blockaded. But our danger isn't all over yet, and it's well for us that we've slipped out of this part of it."
"Captain Kemp!" exclaimed Ned, "I believe father'd be willing to lose something, rather than have the Mexicans get that ammunition."
"Very likely he would," laughed the captain, "but I'm an Englishman, and I don't care. What's more, I'm like a great many Americans. Millions of them believe that the Mexicans are in the right in this matter."
That was a thing which nobody could deny, and Ned was silenced so far as the captain's sense of national duty was concerned.
Hundreds of miles to the westward, at that early hour of the evening, far beyond the path of the storm which had been sweeping the eastern and southern waters of the gulf, the American army, under General Taylor, lay bivouacked. It was several miles nearer the besieged fort than it had been in the morning, for this was the 8th of May. There had been sharp fighting at intervals since the middle of the forenoon, beginning at a place called Palo Alto, or "The Tall Trees," and the Mexicans had been driven back with loss. Any cannonading at the fort could be heard more plainly now, and it was certain that it had not yet surrendered.
Near the centre of the lines occupied by the Seventh Regiment, a young officer sat upon the grass. He held in one hand a piece of army bread, from which he now and then took a bite, but he was evidently absorbed in thought. He took off his hat at last and stared out into the gloom.
"The Mexican army is out there somewhere," he remarked, slowly. "We are likely to have another brush with them to-morrow. Well! this is real war. I've seen my first battle, and I know just how a fellow feels under fire. I wasn't at all sure how it would be, but I know now. He doesn't feel first-rate, by any means. Those fellows that say they like it are all humbugs. I've seen my first man killed by a cannon-ball. Poor Page! Poor Ringgold! More of us are to go down to-morrow. Who will it be?"
Very possibly, the list of American slain would contain the announcement that a mere second lieutenant, named Ulysses S. Grant, had been struck by a chance shot from one of the Mexican batteries.
THE FORTUNE OF WAR
The morning of the 9th of May dawned brightly on the ocean and on the shore. There was a heavy sea running on the Gulf of Mexico, but the wind that was blowing was little more than a ten-knot breeze. Before this, at distances of a few miles from each other, a trio of armed vessels, representing three of the great powers of the world, were dashing along under full sail, as if they were in a hurry. They were so, for they all were searching hungrily after a double-flagged bark, which they had caught the day before, but which had managed to escape from them in the night. She had done it mysteriously and impudently. Instead of her, there now toiled along, away behind them, a dingy-looking Brazilian coffee schooner, the skipper of which did not conceal his satisfaction over the idea that he had unintentionally aided some other sailor—he did not care who—to get away from all those war-sharks. Well to the westward, with every sail spread that she could carry, the Goshhawk sped along in apparent safety, but she was once more carrying the American flag, and Ned Crawford, busy below at his breakfast, felt a great deal easier in his patriotic mind. He could almost forget, for the moment, that he was taking a cargo of the worst kind of contraband of war goods to the armies of the enemies of his country. He was shortly on deck again, to be heartily greeted by Captain Kemp with:
"Hullo, my boy, where are all your ships of war?"
Ned took a long, sweeping glance around the horizon, and replied:
"It looks as if we'd lost 'em."
"We've done it!" chuckled the captain. "I think we'll not see any more of that lot. We made a fine run in the night, and we may be within three days' sail of Vera Cruz. But that depends a great deal on the wind and on our luck in keeping out of difficulties."
The captain turned away to his duties, and Ned went forward among the sailors. He could always manage to have good chats with them, and they were especially ready just now to discuss the war and their chances for running against more cruisers. Ned did not count as one of them exactly, but he was not to be looked down upon as a mere passenger. His father had sent him out as a kind of honorary supercargo, or ship's clerk, in the hope that he might learn something which would be of use to him when he should grow up into a full-sized merchant. Perhaps he had already found out a number of things upon which his father had not calculated when he said good-by to him. He was about to learn some other things which were not upon the ship's books, for he had reached the heel of the bowsprit, where Senor Zuroaga was standing, gazing dreamily westward.
"Good morning, senor!" said Ned. "We did get away."
"I don't know how good a morning it is for me," replied the dark-faced Mexican, wearily. "I may have only three or four days to wait before I shall know whether or not I am to be shot at Vera Cruz by order of his Excellency, President Paredes. My best chance is that he cannot know that I am coming. After I get ashore, my life may very soon depend upon his being beaten out of power by the armies of the United States."
"It couldn't be so in any other country," said Ned. "What have you ever done against him?"
"I won't say just now," replied the senor, "but he knows that I am his enemy. So I am of Santa Anna, if he is to get back. He murdered my father and confiscated our property in Oaxaca. Do you know where that is?"
"No," said Ned; "I don't know anything about the States of Mexico. It's hard enough to keep track of the United States. They make a new one every few weeks. They may have let in half a dozen while we've been at sea."
"No," said Zuroaga, "but they've tightened their grip on Texas, and I hope they'll hold on hard, if only to keep Paredes and Santa Anna from murdering all the best men in it. Well, Oaxaca lies due south of the State of Vera Cruz, and I can escape into it if I have half a chance. I'd be safe then, for I have plenty of friends there. We have owned huge tracts of land in Oaxaca ever since the Spaniards conquered Mexico."
"How did your folks get so much of it?" inquired Ned.
"I'll tell you," said the senor, proudly, and with a fiery flash in his coal-black eyes. "A man by the name of Hernando Cortes really conquered Mexico, without much help from the King of Spain. The king made a great deal of him for it, at first. He made him a marquis, which was a great thing in those days, whatever it is now. He also gave him a royal grant of some of the land he had won for Spain. This land was the valley of the Tehuantepec River, that empties into the Pacific Ocean near the eastern boundary of Oaxaca. So his title was Marquis del Valle, and his descendants hold a great deal of that land to this day. I am one of them,—one of the Marquisanas, as they call us. I am a direct descendant of Hernando Cortes, and that isn't all. One of my ancestors married an Aztec princess, and so I am also descended from the Montezumas, who were emperors of Mexico before the Spaniards came. I'm an Indian on one side, and I've more than one good reason for hating a Spaniard and a tyrant."
Ned Crawford had read the story of the conquest of Mexico, like a great many other American boys. That is, he had read it as if it had been a tip-top novel rather than a reality. He had admired Hernando Cortes, as a hero of fiction, but here he was, now, actually talking with one of the hero's great-great-grandchildren, who was also, after a fashion, one of the Montezumas. It was like a short chapter out of some other novel, with the night race of the Goshhawk thrown in by way of variation. He was thinking about it, however, rather than asking questions, and the senor went on:
"It's a rich, beautiful country, all that eastern part of Oaxaca. There are splendid mountains and great forests of mahogany, rosewood, and pine. Through it runs the Coatzacoalcos River, northerly, to the gulf. Along the rivers and through the mountain passes, there is an old road that Cortes himself made to lead his little army across to the Pacific."
"I'd like to go over on it!" exclaimed Ned. "I guess I will, some day. I want to know all about Mexico."
He made up his mind, from what his companion went on to tell him, that there would be a great deal worth seeing, but at that time nobody was dreaming how many Americans, older and younger, were soon to travel over the old Cortes road. California was to be annexed, as well as Texas, and before Ned Crawford would be old enough to cast his first vote, there was to be a great tide of eager gold hunters pouring along what was called the Tehuantepec route to the placers and diggings.
The days of California gold mining had not yet come, and while Ned and the senor talked on about the terrible history of Mexico, with its factions, its bloody revenges, its pronunciamentos, and its fruitless revolutions, the Goshhawk sailed swiftly along toward Vera Cruz and the powder-needing garrison of the castle of San Juan de Ulua.
Whether or not the war had actually begun was still a puzzling question in the mind of Captain Kemp, but he would have had no doubt whatever if he had been with General Taylor and his remarkable gathering of young students of the art of war. They all obtained several important lessons that day. One of these was that it is both difficult and dangerous for an advancing army to push on through dense bushes and high grass in hot weather, with Mexican lancers ready to pounce upon them among the lanes of the chaparral. It was found, not only before but after the short, sharp collision with the Mexican forces at Resaca de la Palma that a number of valuable lives had been lost in the bushy wilderness.
The American army moved slowly forward, and before nightfall the long lines of its blue uniforms went over the prairie rolls in full sight of the fort. The Stars and Stripes were still flying above the badly damaged ramparts, and cheer after cheer went up from thousands of throats, including those of the rescued garrison. They had not really lost many men, killed or wounded, but among the killed was their commander, Major Brown, after whom the fort was now named. In later years, a town grew up around the site of the frontier fortress, and it is called Brownsville. General Taylor's men had triumphantly cut their way through the difficult twenty miles from the sea to the siege, but perhaps any individual hero among them might have safely quoted the wise remark of Lieutenant Grant, as he looked at the fort and recalled his exploits of the day.
"Well, after all," he said to himself, "I don't know but what the battle of Resaca de la Palma would have been won just as well if I had not been there."
Long years afterward, it was to be said of a number of other battles that they would not have been won just as well if he had not been there to win them, and the same would be equally true of several of his young companions, as inexperienced as himself, and as ignorant of the great things before them in the far future.
Their army went into camp near the fort; and the Mexican forces, for the greater part, were believed to have retreated across the Rio Grande.
It is said that after every storm there comes a calm, but it was not a pleasant calm in the neighborhood of the American camp. There were all the while strong parties of Mexican lancers hovering around in all directions, on the lookout for imprudent stragglers, and a sharp watch had to be kept to guard against sudden dashes at the outposts, for the "rancheros," as the Mexican horsemen were called, were both well-mounted and enterprising. There was yet another kind of calm of a curious character. General Taylor absolutely did not know what to do next, and he could not know until after he should hear from the President what the statesmen in Congress had decided. Beyond a doubt, war was going on right here, but there was a dispute as to the nature of it and as to what was to be done with it. The Mexican geographers claimed that the southern boundary of Texas, even if it had been legally annexed to the United States, was at the Nueces River, and that all their country south of that line was still their own. According to them, therefore, General Taylor's army was not in Texas at all, but in Mexico. On the other hand, the American geographers placed the boundary at the Rio Grande, many miles south of the Nueces, and claimed that the forces defeated by General Taylor had invaded the United States. If both parties were right, then it might have been said that all that land between the rivers did not belong to anybody until the title to it should be settled by a military court and gunpowder arguments. That was really the way in which it was finally settled, and there is now no more dispute about it. History tells us that so have all the great national land titles of the world been argued and determined.
There was what some people call a waiting spell, and all things on sea or land might be spoken of as feverishly quiet for a day or two. In the afternoon of the third day, however, there was a sort of change in the weather at one spot away out on the gulf. There was not a cloud in the sky, indeed, and the Goshhawk was skimming along under full sail so steadily that part of her crew had nothing better to do than to lie around on the deck, and feel satisfied that the breeze was so very good. In the same manner, the American soldiers in the neighborhood of Fort Brown were lying around in and out of their tents, and wishing that they had more shade to protect them from the hot sun of Texas or Mexico, whichever it might be. At that hour, however, there arrived upon the Goshhawk a bit of unexpected news which awakened everybody, for the man at the lookout announced, excitedly:
"Schooner under Mexican flag, sir! Well away to loo'ard. Looks as if she might come pretty nigh us."
"Just the thing I wanted!" shouted Captain Kemp, springing to his feet. "We'll bear away for her. Up with the British flag, too. She'd shy the Stars and Stripes. They wouldn't tell us what the news is, either."
Once more, therefore, the Goshhawk became an Englishman, and her chase after the latest news did not have to be a long one. Not many minutes later, the two vessels were within hailing distance, and the stranger spoke first, in a tone of evident anxiety:
"What ship is that?"
"Goshhawk, from Liverpool to Vera Cruz, with supplies for the Castle of San Juan de Ulua. What ship is that?"
"Schooner Tampico, from Havana to Matamoras, with supplies for General Ampudia," came much more cheerfully back. "We had to run away from Matamoras in ballast to escape the gringos. Their cruisers are around like hawks. You won't get to Vera Cruz if they can help it."
Captain Kemp already knew something about the reckless ways of men-of-war, but he did not say so. He merely responded:
"Is that so? How about the war? We've no news at all."
"War?" shouted the Mexican skipper, triumphantly. "Why, there have been three great battles already. We have whipped the Americans! General Taylor is surrounded, and will have to surrender. So will the fort on the Rio Grande. We shall drive the gringos out of Texas. I did not know until now that you British were going to help us."
There could be no further conversation, for the Goshhawk was sweeping on out of hearing, but Ned Crawford exclaimed, indignantly:
"Our army defeated? How can that be? I don't believe it!"
Everybody on deck could hear the captain when he laughingly responded:
"The victories were won in that fellow's head, most likely. He was on board his schooner at Matamoras, and he didn't see it done. All he knows is that the war is really begun. It takes a long time, men, to make either an American or a British army think of surrendering. We shall hear a good deal more about those battles one of these days. I'd like to read the newspaper reports, though, on both sides."
"They would be good fun," dryly remarked Senor Zuroaga. "There is nobody on earth that can win victories like a newspaper editor."
"Hullo!" suddenly exclaimed Ned. "Something's the matter with the captain! Did you hear that?"
There was quite enough to hear. A long, loud hail that came down from the rigging was followed by almost a yell from Captain Kemp.
"We're chased again!" he said. "Thank God, she's astern! Men, we're in for it! Now for Vera Cruz or a prison! I'm ready!"
Rapid orders went out, but hardly anything more could be done to increase the speed of the ship. In fact, the lookout must almost have taken it for granted that the strange sail away off yonder belonged to a United States cruiser. Very likely it did, but it would have to draw a good deal nearer before there could be any absolute certainty. In the meantime, all on board the Goshhawk might attend to whatever duties they had, and discuss the remarkable tidings brought by the Mexican schooner. While doing so, they could hardly have guessed correctly what was doing and saying on board the other vessel which had caused their anxiety. She was, indeed, a man-of-war, and she had received from a returning army transport ship a whole lot of fresh news from General Taylor's army, by way of Point Isabel on the coast, where he had been encamped. Something like this had been shouted across the water by an enthusiastic officer of the transport:
"Awful fightin'! Half a dozen battles! Taylor's whipped the Greasers into smithereens! He's goin' to march right on into Mexico. I don't keer if Uncle Sam annexes the hull half-Spanish outfit. I'm goin' in for one o' them there big silver mines, if we do. Hurrah for Gineral Taylor!"
A chorus of ringing cheers had answered that, but here, also, there were men of experience ready to question the entire accuracy of such tremendous war news. The one thing, however, which was brought out clearly to the mind of a naval commander was his greatly increased duty of watchfulness to prevent any kind of munitions of war from reaching the Mexican ports. That was the reason why he was now following at his best speed what might after all prove to be an entirely innocent trader. He even went below to consider the matter, and it was a full hour later when the officer in charge of the deck came hastily down to tell him:
"Same fellow we chased before, sir. I've made him out. He's under British colors again. Are we to chase?"
"Chase, sir?" roared the captain. "Of course we must chase! We know what it means now. The old Portsmouth must catch that rascal this time. I'll come on deck."
Just as good glasses as those on board of her had been watching her during that hour of swift sailing, and Captain Kemp was even now lowering his telescope with what sounded like a sigh of relief.
"Mate," he said, "it's the same sloop that followed us before. It makes me feel better. We know what's about the best she can do. If this wind holds, I think we can fetch Vera Cruz at nightfall. No one Yankee'd dare to follow us under the guns of San Juan de Ulua."
"I reckon not," slowly responded the mate of the Goshhawk, "but we don't need to get under that chap's bow-chasers, either."
"No," said Captain Kemp, "but I'll risk a shot or two."
Ned Crawford heard him, for he had been following him pretty closely, to know what was coming.
"I don't know," he was thinking, "how far one o' those cannon of hers'll carry. I don't believe, either, that they can hit a mark that is plunging along as we are. It'd be worse than shooting at a bird on the wing. Still, it's kind of awful to be shot at by our own people."
The sailors of the Goshhawk were also thinking, and they were beginning to look at one another very doubtfully. Not only were they Americans, most of them, but they had not shipped for any such business as this, and they did not fancy the idea of being killed for nothing. Moreover, Ned himself heard one of them muttering:
"There's an ugly look to this thing. If a shot from that cruiser were to strike us amidships, we'd all be blown into the air."
Decidedly that was not a pleasant thing to think of. Neither was there any great amount of comfort in a suggestion made by another of the men:
"Well, we'd never know what hurt us. We must keep out o' range."
Not long afterward there was a flash at one of the bow-ports of the cruiser. The report which followed was a peremptory order to heave to, under penalty of consequences. The gun was shotted, and a great many eyes watched anxiously for the dipping of that well-aimed ball of iron. It skipped from crest to crest of several waves before it sank, and then Captain Kemp shouted:
"All right, men! Half a mile short! We shall get there. The coast's in full sight now, and we've less than five miles to run."
"Ay, ay, sir!" came back from them, half cheerfully, but one voice was heard to grumble:
"It's all right, is it? Well, if it wasn't for that half-mile o' shortage, there'd be a mutinee-e on board o' this ship. I'd start it. I ain't a-goin' to get myself knocked on the head by Uncle Sam's own men."
There would very likely have been a mutiny, even as it was, if there had now been time for it to take shape. Thus far, the excitement of the chase had been in the captain's favor, but the seamen would have been legally justified in resisting him and bringing the ship to. His authority would have ceased, for he had no right to compel them to break the law or to run the risk of a broadside from a man-of-war.
Nearer, nearer, nearer, came both the dim outline of the Mexican coast and the white sails of the pursuing Portsmouth. Louder and more ominous grew the but half-suppressed murmurs of the sailors, but Captain Kemp's face was now wearing a hard, set look, and he was known to be a dangerous man to deal with. Something, which looked like the handle of a pistol, stuck out of one of his side pockets, and his fingers wandered to it now and then, as if he might be turning over in his mind the possibility of soon having to shoot a mutineer. Ned was staring anxiously back at the Yankee cruiser at the moment when his shoulder was gripped hard, and Senor Zuroaga almost whirled him around, exclaiming:
"Look! Look yonder! That's the Castle of San Juan de Ulua! Oh, but don't I wish it were a half-mile nearer! Hear that firing?"
The guns of the Portsmouth were indeed sounding at regular intervals, and she was evidently almost within range. She was also, however, well within the prescribed distance line which a hostile cruiser may not pass without being regarded as making the attack herself. Beyond a doubt, too, there must have been observers at the fort, who were already watching the operations of the two approaching vessels. Minutes passed, which were counted by Ned with a heart that beat so he almost thought he could hear it.
"I think we are safe now," began the senor, but he had been looking at the fort, and there was one important fact of which he was not aware.
Only a couple of minutes earlier, the captain of the Portsmouth had shouted angrily to his first lieutenant:
"No, sir! I will not let her get away. I will take her or sink her! Out with that starboard battery, and let them have it!"
Around swung the sloop, like the perfect naval machine that she was, and there quickly followed the reports of several guns at once. It was not a full broadside, but there was enough of it to have sunk the Goshhawk, if the iron thrown had struck her at or near the water-line. None of it did so, but the next exclamation of Senor Zuroaga was one of utter dismay, for the foremast of the bark had been cut off at the cap and there was a vast rent in her mainsail. Down tumbled a mass of spars and rigging, forward, and the ship could no longer obey her helm.
"All hands cut away wreckage!" shouted Captain Kemp. "We're all right. She won't dare come any nearer. Hurrah!"
It was a deep, thunderous roar from the castle which had called out that apparently untimely hurrah. It was the voice of a 64-pounder gun from the nearest rampart, and the shot it sent fell within ten feet of the Portsmouth's bows.
"Hullo!" exclaimed her captain, more angrily than ever. "We've run in almost to pointblank range of those heavy guns. About! About! Lieutenant, we must get out of this."
"All right, sir," was anxiously responded. "It isn't worth while to risk any more shot of that size—not for all there's likely to be under the hatches of that wretched bark. I think we barked her, anyhow."
He may have meant that for a kind of small joke, but she had been worse hurt than he could know, for one 32-pounder shot had shattered her stern, barely missing her sternpost and rudder gearing, and she was no longer the trim and seaworthy vessel that she had been. One more heavy gun had sounded from the seaward battery of the castle, but her garrison had been in a genuinely Mexican condition of unreadiness, and it was several minutes before they could bring up more ammunition and make further use of their really excellent artillery. During those minutes, the Portsmouth had ample opportunity given her to swing around and sweep swiftly out of danger. She had barely escaped paying dearly for her pursuit of the Goshawk. Her satisfaction, however, consisted only in part of the damage she had done to the bark, for, in getting around, she had let drive her entire larboard broadside. It was a waste of ammunition, certainly, but no Yankee man-of-war commander would ever have forgiven himself if he had failed to make a good reply to a shot from the Castle of San Juan de Ulua. Moreover, the sloop's gunners were ready to swear solemnly that every ball they had sent had hit the fort.
The excitement on board the Goshhawk had been at fever heat, but it was now diminishing rapidly, for she did not contain a man who was not well pleased to see the Portsmouth give the matter up. All signs of mutiny disappeared, of course, for there was no more duty of a military character to be required of the men. The bark was soon set free of her wreckage, and prepared to make her way in still further, under the protection of the fort batteries. Captain Kemp was too busy for any kind of conversation, and Senor Zuroaga came aft, to where Ned was curiously studying the work of the 32-pound shot at the stern. The senor leaned over the side and did the same for a long moment before he remarked:
"We have had a narrow escape. A few feet lower, and that shot would have let the water in. Fifty feet forward, and it would have touched off the gunpowder. As it is, our voyage is ended, and I shall know, in an hour or two, whether or not I am to be shot in the morning."
"There don't seem to be any Mexican warships in the harbor," said Ned to the senor, as they looked landward from the deck of their badly mauled bark. "There isn't one in sight to come out after that sloop."
"There are two good reasons for it," growled the senor, gloomily. "One is that there isn't any harbor here. Nothing but an open roadstead, exposed to all the storms that come, so that to anchor off Vera Cruz is to run a fair chance of being wrecked. The other is that my unfortunate country has no navy. There isn't a Mexican vessel afloat that would care to go out after a Yankee man-of-war. We are not yet a nation, and I'm half-afraid we never will be. This war may do something for us. There they come! I shall know very soon now."
As he spoke, he pointed at several boats which were pulling out toward the Goshawk. Some of them appeared to come from the wharves of the city, but one, which was nearer, was evidently from the castle, and it was in this that the senor took the deepest interest. Besides its half-dozen of oarsmen, it contained a tall man in a gorgeous uniform, and it was only a minute or so before Zuroaga exclaimed:
"Yes, that is Colonel Guerra himself. I am glad he is all alone!"
The bark was now drifting pretty rapidly landward, under such canvas as she had left, and the Portsmouth was safely out of range of the Mexican guns, which were throwing away an occasional shot at her. She had not been touched by one of them, and she had the honor of being the first United States ship to try her batteries upon the renowned old Spanish fortress. It was, indeed, a well-built fortification, and it carried many guns, most of which had been brought over long ago from the foundries of old Spain. It did not stand upon the main shore, but on an island about half a mile out, and it therefore seemed unassailable, except from the sea or by heavy siege-guns on the shore. It had been one of the last places surrendered when the Spanish government reluctantly gave up Mexico. From that day onward, in each of the successive revolutions, it had been a first object with each new tyrant of the nominal republic or empire to get control of the fortress, which dominated nearly all of the commerce of Mexico with the outer world. At the present time, it was commanded by an officer whom President Paredes believed that he could trust—or he would have shot him. This, of course, was the main reason for the dark doubts of Senor Zuroaga. On the other hand, it might be taken into account that any prominent Mexican officer, like Colonel Guerra, would be willing to strengthen himself for such political changes as were entirely likely to come. For the sake of old friendship and family ties, for instance, he might be even desirous of binding to his own interests a man who was known to have a large number of personal adherents in the important State of Oaxaca.
That very man stood aft upon the deck of the Goshhawk when the boat of Colonel Guerra touched her side, but he did not at once come forward to extend a greeting. That ceremony was performed sufficiently well by Captain Kemp, and the responses of the castle commander were to the last degree enthusiastic. According to him, indeed, the fort could not have held out against a siege for a week without the powder in the hold of the bark. Therefore, it might be that not much of it was likely to be distributed among the other forces of Mexico. The captain had many things to say, but before long Colonel Guerra walked slowly aft without anybody following him. He may have merely desired to look over the side and examine the injuries inflicted by the shot of the Portsmouth, for that was the first thing he did, without so much as appearing to recognize any human being in the neighborhood. One of the two persons who were there, however, drew slowly near him, and, as he did so, he heard the colonel mutter, in a very low tone:
"My dear friend, you have done well to bring me the powder. Thank you for your devotion to me and to Santa Anna, but you are in deadly peril. The orders of Paredes are out against you. General Morales, whom Paredes trusts, will soon be here to supersede me, but he will really come to hold this place for our general when he returns from exile. Consider that I do not know that you are here, for my next in command is a spy on me. This ship will never put to sea again. The captain and crew will be cared for, but that gringo boy is not safe, now that there has been bloodshed on the Rio Grande. Take him with you to the house of your cousin, Colonel Tassara, in the lower part of the city. Then get away to Oaxaca as soon as you can. President Paredes is still in the city of Mexico, and he will not go to take command of the army in the north for some time. You and I believe, of course, that he is really gathering it to have it led by our one-legged hero, Santa Anna. Paredes, however, suspects that a revolution is springing up under him, and he is watching for it. Of course, for that reason, he would shoot you at once as a returned conspirator against him. As for that matter, be careful how you land, for there are many spies. No doubt you can go where you please, after you get back among your own people. Farewell, but do not speak to me."
He turned and strolled carelessly away, and the senor bowed his head for a moment, as if in deep thought, while Ned Crawford was aware of an entirely new idea, which had crept into his mind as he had listened to the warning utterances of Colonel Guerra.
"I declare!" he said to himself, "he believes that Senor Zuroaga brought the powder, and he didn't. He believes that the senor is going in for old Santa Anna, and he isn't. He believes that the senor and I are enemies of Paredes, and so we are. I am! I hope that he'll be beaten out of his boots by General Taylor, and then upset by the new revolution. I guess he's right, though, about this ship, and I must find out how I can send a letter home. I want father and mother to know all about this business. Go ashore and hide? I'm ready for that, but I'd like to get a good look at the old city somehow."
Ned had been laboring under many perplexities and a great deal of depression of spirits during several days, but now he felt a kind of exhilarating fever creeping all over him, and at first he did not know exactly what it might be. When his father had taken him with him across the Atlantic,—it seemed so long ago now,—he had gone eagerly enough, and he had had a grand time looking at Liverpool and London. It had been a rare treat for a youngster who had but recently passed up from a grammar school into the counting-room of a New York shipping-house. After that, when he had been sent on this trip, to make his voyage home by way of Mexico, he had considered himself exceedingly lucky. But what was all that in comparison with this in the way of strange and wild adventure? Why, he had sailed through a naval engagement, cannonading and all, and right on out of that into a full-grown war and a half-grown revolution. The thrill which went over him was, therefore, the adventure fever. Something like this fever, in the veins of all sorts of men, young and old, has made the world what it is, discovering its new countries, its new sciences, its new institutions, and leading it forward and upward out of its old-time dullness and barbarism. So Ned stood straighter and felt older and had a pair of very brave, bright eyes when he walked forward to try and have a few words with Captain Kemp.
"Captain," he asked, "when can I go ashore?"
"Not quite yet," said the captain. "Don't bother me now. Of course, the ammunition for the castle goes out first. Then all the rest of the cargo must go ashore as fast as it can, and you are bound to attend to that. I'm glad that all of it is apparently on English account, and not for the American part of the concern. That makes all things easy. I hardly know what to do with the ship, though. We can't repair her here."
That was evidently the disadvantage of having a vessel get out of order in a place where there were no good dockyards. As for the unlading, there were already "lighter" barges on their way from the fort, and others, no doubt, would soon be on hand from the city. Haste was the main object, under the circumstances, and the entire work would be rapidly accomplished.
Zuroaga went below, and Ned followed him, for there was nothing more that he could do on deck just then.
"Senor," he asked, as soon as they were in the cabin, "how can I send a letter home? I don't know exactly what to say, either."
"Say anything you please," replied the senor. "Your letter will go by the mail of the English consul, and the mails for England will not be meddled with by the Mexican authorities."
"I'll sit right down and begin one," said Ned, but the senor interrupted him very soberly with:
"One word before you begin, please. I know you overheard what Colonel Guerra said to me. You and I must get on shore as soon as we can, and it will not do for either of us to remain in Vera Cruz. I have decided that I must take you with me to Oaxaca."
"Well," hesitated Ned, "I understand that you must go, but what am I in danger of if I should stay here?"
"Edward, my dear fellow," said the senor, "I will tell you, and you had better put it into your letter. First, you just wait and see what becomes of the Goshhawk. She will never sail out of the Gulf of Mexico again. The captain and crew will get away as best they can, and I can't tell how long it will be before they can do it. Meantime, you would be around on shore, and you would be known for a Yankee, a gringo. That might mean danger for you from any evil-minded Mexican. Some of this coast population are worse than savages, and they all carry knives. You'd never know who hurt you."
"That's awful!" exclaimed Ned. "I never thought of that."
"There is another reason," calmly continued the senor, "for your not lingering down here in the tierra caliente—the hot country—any later in the season. It is the yellow fever, and that is pretty sure to show itself before long. It takes people from the north quicker, a good deal, than it does those who were born here. I have even heard that there is a rumor of some cases occurring already. Your father is an old friend of mine, and he would never forgive me if I were to permit you to be exposed to it, when you can so easily get away into the uplands, where it is never heard of. Be a good clerk now, and attend to your cargo, and be glad that it hasn't been sent to the bottom of the gulf."
Ned had been thinking of that pretty seriously, and he sat down to write his home letter, well pleased that he had nothing to do with the unloading of the contraband of war part of the cargo. With reference to that, moreover, he had learned from Zuroaga that a Mexican post-commander of the rank of Colonel Guerra was a kind of local military dictator. Only so much of the ammunition as he might see fit to send would ever find its way into any other hands than his own. The senor had added that it was almost the same with whatever customs duties were collected by the civil officers of the port, with the one drawback that a dishonest army collector, if discovered, might possibly get himself shot as a kind of supposable revolutionist, stealing the profits of the others.
The lighter barges were now swarming around the bark, and a hundred busy workmen were doing their best, quite patriotically, for the guns and gunners of the castle. It was easy to see that the American sailors did not fancy that job, and were willing to keep out of it. So they sauntered around, attending to a few ship's duties here and there, while now and then one or another of them might have been heard to grumble his unwillingness to ever again go to sea under an English captain. The truth was that they had excellent reasons for discontent concerning the scrape into which they had been led, and they were well aware that they had not yet by any means seen the end of it. Almost the best they could hope for was that they were to be sent back to some country of Europe, on some ship or other which had not yet arrived at Vera Cruz, and which might not sail away with them on board for a number of weeks to come. Any man among them was now almost willing to have had the Portsmouth sink the Goshhawk.
Heavy shot may be craned over into boats, and kegs or barrels of gunpowder may be let down tenderly, gently, as well by moonlight and lantern-light as by any other. Therefore, the coming on of night did not interfere with the landing processes. Moreover, any amount of sleep may be performed by a healthy boy in a battered ship lying safely at anchor. So Ned made up, more or less, for the sleep he had lost during the long race of the Goshhawk, and it was not early when he came on deck the next morning. When he did so, he found his duties as nominal supercargo cut out for him, and Captain Kemp appeared to be especially anxious that a son of one of the owners should supervise whatever was to be done with the peaceable part of his cargo. He even explained to Ned that he might yet be called upon in some law court to testify to the honest accuracy of all the papers he was now to sign.
"It'll take about two days more," he told him, "and you mustn't go ashore till the ship's empty. The American consul hasn't taken his passports yet, but he expects to get away soon, somehow or other. Most likely, he'll be taken off by a ship of war. So, perhaps, will other Americans. You might wait and get away then, if you think best, but you can't hope to ever go on this ship."
Ned had an increasingly strong feeling that he did not now care to go on that or any other craft of war or peace. He would much rather go to Oaxaca than to New York, and he felt more sure than ever that his father would not wish him to run any risk of the dreadful yellow fever. So he worked on industriously, learning a great deal concerning the processes required in getting a cargo out of a ship. During several hours, he was so occupied that he almost forgot the existence of his Mexican friend, but he was dimly aware that a small rowboat had come to the off-shore side of the ship, and had shortly pulled away without any interference on the part of the officials, military or civil. Perhaps she was understood to have come there by order of Colonel Guerra. Toward nightfall, however, that boat came again, as she did before, not running in among the barges, but seeming to avoid them. There were five men in her, and one of them stood up to say to a sailor at the rail:
"I wish to see young Senor Carfora. Is he on board?"
"Hullo!" thought Ned. "That's the Spanish name Senor Zuroaga told me I was to go by." Then he sang out aloud, as he hurried across the deck, "Here I am. What do you want of me?"
"Lean over and talk low," responded the man in the boat, but the one sailor near them did not understand a word of Spanish, and he might suppose, if he wished to do so, that it was something about the cargo. Ned himself listened eagerly, while the speaker went on: "I am Colonel Tassara. Senor Zuroaga must not come to the ship again. I will be here to-morrow evening. May I be assured that you will then be ready to come to my house?"
"Tell him of course you will!" said a voice behind Ned, peremptorily, and it was Captain Kemp who had come over for a few words with Tassara.
"I'll be ready, colonel," said Ned, when his turn came to speak, and the boat pulled away, leaving him and the captain by themselves.
"It's a good arrangement for you, my boy," said the captain. "Unless I am mistaken, though, there are signs of the worst kind of a northeasterly storm. This is a dangerous anchorage for that sort of thing. I don't think I shall risk having too many men on board when the norther gets here. The cargo will be all out, and the ship's well insured. The American consul doesn't know a thing about the ammunition or the running away from the cruisers. He has enough else on his hands just now."
Ned did not care a great deal about that, but he was more than ever in a hurry to see the end of his supercargo business. The fact was that an air of something like mystery appeared to be gathering around him, and there is a tremendous fascination in anything mysterious. What if he were now getting right in behind the war, after a fashion, and at the same time into the darkest kind of revolution or rebellion against the power of President Paredes, in company with that wonderful adventurer, General Santa Anna, and all the desperate characters of Mexico?
THE WORK OF THE NORTHER
During the rest of that day and the earlier part of the next the weather continued fairly good, and the unloading went steadily on. In the many intervals of his duties, Ned tried hard to drive his mental fever away, and amused himself as best he might. The city itself was worth looking at, with its tiers of streets rising one above another from the shore. He saw several churches, and some of them were large, with massive towers and steeples.
"The Mexicans must have been richer than they are now," he said to himself, "when those things were built. They cost piles of money."
He had no idea how rich a country it is, or how much richer it might be, if its wonderful natural resources were to be made the most of. As for the city, he had heard that Vera Cruz contained about seven or eight thousand people, besides its military garrison, its foreigners, and a continually varying mob of transient visitors from the interior. Zuroaga had told him, moreover, that it was from the latter that any gringo like himself would be in danger of violence. They were a vindictive, bloodthirsty class of men, most of them, for they retained undiminished the peculiar characteristics of their Indian ancestors.
"I don't care to run against any of them," thought Ned. "I don't like this tierra caliente country, anyhow. It's too hot to live in."
Then he thought a great deal of the wonderful land of forests and mountains which lay beyond the fever-haunted lowlands, and he longed more and more for a good look at the empire which Hernando Cortes won from the old Montezumas and their bloody war-god, Huitzilopochtli.
In the afternoon of the second day the sky was manifestly putting on a threatening aspect. The wind began to rise and the sea began to roughen. The men discharging the cargo hastened their work, and it was evident that the last of the lighter barges would soon be setting out for the shore. Ned was staring at them and recalling all the yarns he had heard concerning the destructive power of a gulf "norther," when Captain Kemp came walking slowly toward him, with a face which appeared to express no sort of unusual concern for anything in the world. Nevertheless, he said:
"Get ready now, Ned, as sharp as you can. There comes your boat. I shall send some papers by the colonel. Senor Zuroaga's luggage all went on shore yesterday. I think some other men will have to be looking out for themselves before long. If the Goshhawk should drag her anchors and go ashore, I hope there won't be too much sea running for good boats to live in."
"I'm all ready now!" exclaimed Ned, as he sprang away, but he went with a curious question rising in his mind: "What if a cable were more'n half cut through? Wouldn't it be likely to break and let go of an anchor, if it were pulled at too hard by a gale of wind? I don't really know anything about it, but Senor Zuroaga thinks that Captain Kemp is a curious man to deal with. Father thinks that he is a good sailor, too."
All the wardrobe that Ned had on board was easily contained in a waterproof satchel of moderate size, and he was half-glad now that there was no more of it, it went so quickly over into the large yawl that was waiting alongside when he returned on deck. It was a four-oared boat, and Colonel Tassara, at the stern, beckoned to him without speaking, as if he might have reasons for silence as well as haste.
"In with you, Ned," said Captain Kemp. "I'll try to see you within a day or two. Take good care of yourself. Good day, colonel."
The Mexican officer only bowed, and in a moment more the yawl was fighting her difficult way over the rapidly increasing waves, for the first strength of the norther had really come, and there might soon be a great deal more of it,—for the benefit of the Goshhawk.
"There!" muttered Captain Kemp, as he saw them depart, "I haven't more than a good boat's crew left on board. We'll take to the life-boat as soon as the cable parts. There isn't any use in trying to save this bark under all the circumstances. I've done my duty. I couldn't have calculated on heavy shot first, and then for a whole gang of cruisers watching for me off the coast. This 'ere norther, too! Well, I didn't make the war, and I don't see that I ought to lose any money by it. I won't, either."
Whatever was his exact meaning, the mate and four other men who remained evidently agreed with him, from what they were shortly saying to one another. It might also have been taken note of by a careful observer that the mate was a Scotchman, and that the four others were all from Liverpool. Whoever had put so much contraband of war on board the Goshhawk had not entrusted it entirely to the eccentricities of a lot of out-and-out American sailors, with peculiar notions concerning their flag.
On went Colonel Tassara's yawl, and it was not likely to meet any other boat that evening. As the rollers increased in size momentarily, Ned began to have doubts as to whether such a boat had any reasonable hope of reaching the shore. It was now pitch-dark also, and he could but feel that his adventures in Mexico were beginning in a remarkably unpleasant manner. The landing could not have been made at any place along the beach, where the surf was breaking so dangerously, and it looked almost as perilous to approach the piers and wharves.
"How on earth are we to do it?" exclaimed Ned, in English, but no answer came from the hard-breathing rowers.
Colonel Tassara seemed now to be steering a southerly course, instead of directly landward, and Ned calculated that this would carry them past all of the usual landing-places. It also gave them narrow escapes from rolling over and over in the troughs between several high waves. On the whole, therefore, it was a pretty rough boating excursion, but it was not a long one. It did take them almost past the city front, and at last Ned thought he saw a long, black shadow reaching out at the boat. It was better than a shadow, for it was a long wooden pier, old enough to have been built by Cortes himself. The waves were breaking clean over it, but, at the same time, it was breaking them, so that around in the lee of it the water was less boisterous, and the yawl might reach the beach in safety. There was no wharf, but all Ned cared for was that he saw no surf, and he felt better than he had at any moment since leaving the Goshhawk. It was the same, for they said so, emphatically, with the boatmen and Colonel Tassara.
"One of the men will take your bag," said the colonel to Ned, as soon as they were out on shore. "We will go right along to my house, and we shall hardly meet anybody just now. I'm glad of that. Santa Maria, how dark it is getting! This will be the worst kind of norther."
A couple of lanterns had been taken from the boat. They had previously been lighted by the colonel with much difficulty, and without them it would have been impossible to follow the stony, grassy pathway by which Ned Crawford made his first invasion of the Mexican territory. He did not now feel like annexing any of it, although Mexican patriots asserted that their title to Vera Cruz or the city of Mexico itself was no better than their right to Texas. His gloomy march was a short one, and only a few shadowy, unrecognized human beings passed him on the way.
The party came to a halt before a one-story stone dwelling, with a long piazza in front of it, close to the weedy sidewalk of a crooked and straggling street. It was apparent that this was not in the aristocratic quarter of the city, if it had one. A door in the middle of the house swung open as they arrived, and the boatman who carried Ned's bag put it down on the threshold. The lanterns went away with him and his fellow rowers, but other lights made their appearance quickly,—after the door had closed behind Ned and Colonel Tassara. Not one of the boat's crew had obtained a peep into the house, or had seen any of its occupants. Ned was now aware that he had entered a broad hall-like passageway, which appeared to run through the house, and to have several doors on each side. One of these doors had opened to let the new light in, and through it also came Senor Zuroaga, two other men, and a young girl, who at once threw her arms around the neck of Colonel Tassara.
"O father!" she exclaimed, "I am so glad! Mother and I were so frightened! We were afraid you would be drowned."
"My dear little daughter," he responded, sadly, "I fear there will be more than one lot of poor fellows drowned to-night. This storm is fearful!"
It seemed, in fact, to be getting worse every minute, and Ned was thinking of the Goshhawk and the state of her cable, even while he was being introduced to the pretty Senorita Felicia Tassara, and then to her mother, a stately woman, who came to meet her husband without condescending to say how badly she had been alarmed on his account.
"She's just about the proudest-looking woman I ever saw," thought Ned, for, although she welcomed him politely, she at once made him aware that she did not consider him of any importance whatever. He was only a young gringo, from nobody knew where, and she was a Mexican lady of high rank, who hated Americans of all sorts.
Ned's only really hearty greeting came from Senor Zuroaga, who seemed to him, under the circumstances, like an old friend.
"Carfora, my dear fellow," he said, "you and the colonel must come in to your supper——"
"Why, senor," expostulated Ned, "I'm wet through, and so is he."
"I declare!" exclaimed Zuroaga. "What's in my head that I should overlook that? You must change your rig. Come this way with me."
Ned followed him, bag in hand, through a narrow passage which opened at the right, and they went on almost to the end of it. The room which they then entered was only seven feet wide, but it was three times as long, and it was oddly furnished. Instead of a bedstead, a handsome hammock, with blankets, sheets, and a pillow in it, hung at one side, and the high window was provided with mosquito nettings. There was no carpet on the floor, but this was clean, and a good enough dressing-bureau stood at the further end of the room. Before the mirror of this, the senor set down the lamp he had been carrying, and said to Ned:
"My dear Carfora, I have explained to the haughty senora that you are the son of an American merchant, and of a good family, so that she will not really treat you like a common person. She is descended from the oldest families of Spain, and there is no republicanism in her. The sooner you are ready, the better. I will be back in five minutes."
Open came the bag, but the best Ned could do in the way of style was a very neat blue suit. What he would have called the swallow-tails, which Senora Tassara might have expected as the dinner dress of a more important guest, could hardly be required of a young fellow just escaped from a norther. As soon as he felt that he had done his best, he turned toward the door, but it opened to let in Senor Zuroaga in full regulation dinner costume. How he could have put it on so quickly puzzled Ned, but he asked no questions. It was quite possible, however, that even the descendant of Cortes and the Montezumas was a little bit in awe of the matronly descendant of the ancient Spanish grandees. She might be a powerful personage in more ways than one. At all events, Ned was led out to the central hall and across it, to where an uncommonly wide door stood open, letting out a flood of illumination.