Stories by American Authors
PANCHA BY T. A. JANVIER
THE ABLEST MAN IN THE WORLD BY E. P. MITCHELL
YOUNG MOLL'S PEEVY BY C. A. STEPHENS
MANMAT'HA BY CHARLES DE KAY
A DARING FICTION BY H. H. BOYESEN
THE STORY OF TWO LIVES BY JULIA SCHAYER
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1896
COPYRIGHT, 1884, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
The Stories in this Volume are protected by copyright, and are printed here by authority of the authors or their representatives.
PANCHA: A STORY OF MONTEREY.
BY T. A. JANVIER.
Century Magazine, September, 1884.
When the Conde de Monterey, being then Viceroy of this gracious realm of New Spain, sent his viceregal commissioners, attended by holy priests, up into the northern country to choose a site for an outpost city, there was found no spot more beautiful, none more worthy to be crowned, than this where the city of Monterey stands to-day. And so the commissioners halted beside the noble spring, the ojo de agua, that gushes out from its tangle of white pebbles in what now is the very heart of the town; and the priests set up the sacred cross and sang a sweet song of praise and thankfulness to the good God who had so well guided them to where they would be; and the colonists entered in and possessed the land.
This all happened upon a fair day now close upon three hundred years gone by. From century to century the city has grown, yet always in accord with the lines established by its founders. The houses a-building now are as the houses built three hundred years ago; and, going yet farther into the past, as the houses which were built by the Moors when they came into the Gothic peninsula, bringing with them the life and customs of a land that even then was old. So it has come to pass that the traveler who sojourns here—having happily left behind him on the farther side of the Rio Grande the bustle and confusion and hurtful toil of this overpowering nineteenth century—very well can believe himself transported back to that blessed time and country in which the picturesque was ranked above the practical, and in which not the least of human virtues was the virtue of repose.
Very beautiful is the site of Monterey: its noble flanking mountains, the Silla and the Mitras, are east and west of it; its grand rampart, the Sierra Madre, sweeps majestically from flank to flank to the southward, and its outlying breastwork, a range of far-away blue peaks, is seen mistily off in the north. And the city is in keeping with its setting. The quaint, mysterious houses, inclosing sunny gardens and tree-planted court-yards; the great cathedral where, in the dusk of evening, at vespers, one may see each night new wonders, Rembrandt-like, beautiful, in light and shade; the church of St. Francis, and the old ruined church beside it—built, first of all, in honor of the saint who had guided the Viceroy's commissioners so well; the bowery plaza, with the great dolphin-fountain in its centre, and the plazuelas, also with fountains and tree-clad; the narrow streets; the old-time market-place, alive with groups of buyers and sellers fit to make glad a painter's heart—all these picturesque glories, together with many more, unite to make the perfect picturesqueness of Monterey.
Yet Pancha, who had been born in Monterey, and who never had been but a league away from it in the whole seventeen years of her life-time, did not know that the city in which she lived was picturesque at all. She did know, though, that she loved it very dearly. Quite the saddest time that she had ever passed through was the week that she had spent once at the Villa de Guadalupe—a league away to the eastward, at the Silla's foot—with her Aunt Antonia. It was not that tia Antonia was not good to her, nor that life at the Villa de Guadalupe—as well conducted a little town, be it said, with as quaint a little church, as you will find in the whole State of Nuevo Leon—was not pleasant in its way; but it was that she longed for her own home. And when, coming back at last to the city, perched on the forward portion of tio Tadeo's burro, she peeped over the burro's long ears—at the place where the road turns suddenly just before it dips to cross the valley—and caught sight once more of the dome of the cathedral, and the clock-tower of the market-house, and the old Bishop's palace on its hill in the far background, with the Mitras rising beyond, and a flame of red and gold above the Sierra left when the sun went down,—when Pancha's longing eyes rested once more on all these dear sights of home, she buried her little face in tio Tadeo's pudgy shoulder and fairly sobbed for joy.
Many a person, though, coming a stranger and with a stranger's prejudices into this gentle, lovely Mexican land, would have thought Pancha's love of home quite incomprehensible; for her home, the house in which she dwelt, was not lovely to eyes brought up with a rigorous faith in right angles and the monotonous regularity of American city walls. In point of fact, persons of this sort might have held—and, after their light, with some show of justice—that Pancha's home was not a house at all.
Crossing the city of Monterey from west to east is a little valley, the arroyo of Santa Lucia, into which, midway in its passage, comes through another arroyo of a few hundred yards in length the water from the ojo de agua—the great spring whereat the Conde's commissioners paused content, and beside which the holy fathers sang songs of praise. Along both banks of these two little valleys grow trees, and canebrakes, and banana groves, and all manner of bushes and most pleasant grass; and in among the bushes and trees, here and there, are little huts of wattled golden cane overlaid with a thatch of brown. And it was in one of these jacals, standing a stone's throw below the causeway that crosses the arroyo of the ojo de agua, upon the point of land that juts out between the two valleys before they become one, that Pancha was born, and where most contentedly she lived. Over the jacal towered a great pecan tree; and a banana grew graciously beside it, and back of it was a huddle of feathery, waving canes. Truly it was not a grand home, but Pancha loved it; nor would she have exchanged it even for one of the fine houses whose stone walls you could see above and beyond it, showing grayly through the green of the trees.
For nearly all the years of her little life the love of the beautiful city of Monterey, of her poor little home that yet was so dear to her, of the good father and mother who had cared for her so well since she came to them from the kind God who sends beautiful children into the world, for her little brother and sister, the twins Antonio and Antonia, who gave a world of trouble,—for they were sad pickles,—but who repaid her by a world of childish lovingness for her care: for nearly all her life long these loves had sufficed to fill and to satisfy Pancha's heart. But within a year now a new love, a love that was stronger and deeper than all of these put together, had come to her and had grown to be a part of her life. And Pancha knew, down in the depths of her heart, that this love had begun on the very first day that her eyes had rested upon Pepe's gallant figure and handsome face—the day when Pepe, having been made captain of a brave company of contrabandistas, had come up to Monterey to partake of the Holy Sacrament at Easter, and to be blessed by his old father, and to receive the congratulations of his friends.
Pancha's father, Christobal, a worthy cargador who never in the whole twenty years that he had discharged the responsible duties of his calling had lost or injured a single article confided to his care, and old Manuel, who held the honorable position of sereno—a member of the night-watch—in the city of Monterey, had known each other from a time long before Pancha was born; and from a full understanding of each other's good qualities, and from certain affinities and common tastes, the two old fellows had come in the course of years to be the closest friends. Christobal the cargador—better known, being a little bandy-legged man, as Tobalito—was scarcely less delighted than was Manuel himself when Pepe—a motherless lad who had grown to manhood in the care of a good aunt—came up from his home in Tamaulipas that Easter-tide to tell of his good fortune. The boy was a gallant boy, they both agreed,—as they drank his health more times than was quite good for them in Paras brandy of the best, on which never a tlaco of duty had been paid,—and before him had opened now a magnificent future. Being a captain of contrabandistas at twenty-two, what might he not be at thirty? His fortune was assured! And old Catalina shared in this joy of her husband's and of her husband's friend, and drank also, relishingly, a little mug of brandy to Pepe's good fortune—present and to come. Even the twins, Antonio and Antonia, entered into the spirit of the festive occasion, and manifested their appreciation of it by refraining from signal mischief for the space of a whole hour: at the end of which period Pancha, perceiving that they were engaged in imitating the process of washing clothes in the stream, and judging rightly that the earnestness of their operations boded no good, was just in time to rescue the yellow cat from a watery grave.
And it was on this happy day, as Pancha knew afterward, that her love for Pepe first began.
This was a year past, now; and for many months Pancha had been gladdened by the knowledge that her love was returned—though, as yet, this sweet certainty had not come to her in words. Indeed, during the past twelvemonth Pepe had been but little in Monterey. As became a young captain of contrabandistas who longed to prove that he deserved to wear his spurs, his time had been passed for the most part in making handsome dashes from the Zona Libre into the interior. Already the fame of his brilliant exploits was great along the frontier; already to the luckless officers of the contraresguardo his name was a mocking and a reproach. What with his knowledge of the mountain paths and hiding-places, his boldness and his prudence, his information—coming it might be treason to say from where, but always exact and trustworthy—of where the revenue people would be at any hour of any day or night, the contraresguardo seemed to have no more chance of catching him than they had of catching the wind of heaven or the moon itself.
Once, indeed, Pepe had a narrow escape. At the outskirts of Lampazos word came to him that the customs guard was at his very heels. There was no hiding-place near; to run for it with a train of heavily laden burros was of no earthly use at all; to run for it without the burros would have been a disgrace. And Pepe did not attempt to run. As fast as they could be driven he drove the burros into the town, and halted them in squads of three and four at friendly houses; spoke a word or two at each door, and then galloped off with his men into the outer wilderness of chaparral. And when, ten minutes later, the men of the contraresguardo came flourishing into Lampazos, certain of victory at last, not a vestige of the contrabando could they find! True, in the patios of a dozen houses were certain weary-looking burros whose backs were warm, and near them were pack-saddles which were warm also; but what had been upon those pack-saddles no man could surely say. The explanation vouchsafed that the lading had been firewood was not, all things considered, wholly satisfactory; but it could not be disproved. And as the possession of warm pack-saddles and warm-backed burros is not an indictable offense even in Mexico, the contraresguardo could do nothing better in the premises than swear with much heartiness and ride sullenly away. And to the honor of Lampazos be it said that when, in due course of time, Pepe returned and withdrew his burro-train from the town, not a single package of the contrabando had been stolen or lost!
So Pepe, by his genius and his good luck, proved his right to wear his spurs. And the merchants of the interior held him in high esteem; and people generally looked upon him as a rising young man; and Pancha, who read aright the story told by his bold yet tender brown eyes, suffered herself to love this gallant captain of contrabandistas with all her heart.
Yet while this was the first time that Pancha had loved, it was not the first time that love had been given her. A dozen young fellows, as everybody knew, and as even she, though quite to herself, demurely acknowledged, were in love with her to their very ears. One or two of them had gone so far, indeed, as to open communications, through proper representatives, for the rare favor of her hand. The most earnest, though the least demonstrative of these, was a certain captain in the contraresguardo, by name Pedro; a good fellow in his way, but quite shut out beyond the pale of reputable society, of course, by his unfortunate calling.
Naturally Pancha never was likely to think very seriously of loving Pedro; yet pity for him, acting on her gentle heart, had made her in some sort his friend. It was not altogether his fault that he was an officer of the contraresguardo, and other people besides Pancha believed that but for this blight upon him a good career might have been his. But luck had been against Pedro from the very day of his birth; for when he was born his mother died, and a little later his father died also. Being thus left lonely in the world, he fell into the keeping of his uncle, Padre Juan, a grim priest who, having lost all happiness in life himself, saw little reason why he should seek to make the lives of others glad. Dismally the boy grew up in this narrow, cheerless home. The Padre fain would have made of him a priest also; but against this fate Pedro rebelled, and accepted, while yet a boy, the alternative means of livelihood that his uncle offered him in the service of the contraresguardo.
As his rebellion against his proposed induction into the priesthood showed, the boy had strong stuff in him. He had a mighty will of his own. And there was this in common between him and his grim uncle: a stern resolve, when duty was clear, to do duty and nothing else. Therefore it came to pass that Pedro, being entered into the hateful service of the customs preventive force, presently was recognized by his superiors as one of the very few men of the corps who, in all ways, were trustworthy; and as trustworthiness is the rarest of virtues in the contraresguardo,—a service so hated that usually only men of poor spirit will enter it at all,—his constant loyalty brought him quick promotion as its just reward. Yet Pedro had no happiness in his advancement. Each step upward, as he very well knew, was earned at the cost of greater hatred and contempt. Those who would have been his friends, had the lines of his life fallen differently, were his enemies. Nowhere could he hope to find kindliness and love. Therefore he grew yet more stern and silent, and yet more earnestly gave himself to the full discharge of the duty that was sacred to him because it was his duty, but that in his heart he abhorred. Nor did he ever waver in his faithfulness until, coming to know Pancha, his chilled heart was warmed by her sweet looks of friendliness, the first that ever he had known; and, as fate decreed, the force of duty found arrayed against it the force of love.
Pancha had a tender, gentle nature, in which was great kindliness; and before she knew Pepe there was some little chance, perhaps, that in sheer pity of his forlornness she might have given Pedro her love. This, of course, showed how weak and how thoughtless Pancha was; how ignorant of the feelings of society; how careless of the good opinion of the world. To be sure, the possibility of her loving Pedro never passed beyond a possibility; but that it went so far counted for a great deal to him, to whom, in all his life, no single gleam nor even faintest hope of love had ever come. The gentle glance or two which she had cast him in her compassionate sorrow for his friendlessness sank down into the depths of Pedro's heart, and bred there for her that great love—tender, yet almost stern in its fierce intensity—to which only a passionate, repressed nature can give birth. And through the year that passed after Pepe had gained his captaincy, and at the same time Pancha's favor, Pedro's love had grown yet stronger and deeper,—growing the more, perhaps, because it was so hopeless and so deeply hid; but Pancha, whose very life was wrapped in Pepe's now, had almost ceased to remember that such a person as this rueful captain of the contraresguardo lived.
Still another life-thread was interwoven with the life-threads of these three. Dearest of Pancha's girl-friends was Chona,—for so was shortened and softened her stately name, Ascencion,—daughter of a lenador whose jacal was near by, and with whom her father had long been on friendly terms.
A grand creature was this Chona, daughter of the lenador. The simple folk among whom she lived called her "La Reina," and her majestic beauty made her look indeed a queen. Yet was she not loved by those among whom she lived. Her nature was as imperious as her beauty was imperial, and, save only Pancha, there was none who called her friend. Because of their very unlikeness, these two were drawn together. Pancha had for Chona an enthusiastic devotion; and Chona graciously accepted the homage rendered as her queenly right. In the past year, though, since Pepe's triumphal visit to Monterey, a change had come over Chona that was beyond the understanding of Pancha's simple, loving heart. She no longer responded—even in the fitful fashion that had been her wont—to Pancha's lovingness. She was moody; at times she was even harsh. More than once Pancha, chancing to turn upon her suddenly, had surprised in her eyes a look that seemed born of hate itself. This change was grievous and strange to Pancha; but it troubled her less than it would have done a year before. For now her whole heart was bright with gladness in her love of Pepe, and with the glad hope that his love was given her in return.
So, for Pancha at least, the time passed blithely on. Her mood of compassion for Pedro was forgotten, and her loss of Chona's friendship—if ever she had possessed it—caused her no great sorrow; and all because her love for Pepe filled to overflowing her loving heart.
* * * * *
This was the way that matters stood the next Easter, when Pepe again came up to Monterey to take part in the blessed services of the church, to see again his old father, and again to receive graciously the congratulations of his friends.
And this time Pepe told his love to Pancha in words. In the warm twilight of the spring evening—being followed, as custom in Mexico prescribes, by the discreet tia Antonia, also come into Monterey for the Easter festival—they walked slowly among the bushes and trees lining the bank of the ojo de agua, passed beneath the arch of the causeway, and stood beside the broad, clear pool where the water of the great spring pauses a little before it flows outward to the stream. It was on this very spot, say the legends of the town, that the good Franciscan fathers, three hundred years ago, set up the holy cross and sang their song of thankfulness and praise.
And here it was—while the discreet tia Antonia manifested her discretion by standing where she could watch closely, yet could not hear—that to Pancha were whispered the sweetest words that ever she had heard, that ever she was to hear. In her memory dwelt for a little while joyously the picture of the dark water at her feet that, a little beyond, grew duskily green with aquatic plants; the massive stone causeway that cast a shadow upon them in the waning light reflected from the red sky beyond the Mitras crest; the trees beside the spring swaying a little in the gentle evening wind; the hush over all of the departing day. Very dear to Pancha was the memory of this picture—until, in the same setting, came another picture, ghastly, terrible, that made the place more horrible to her than the crazing horror of a dream. But the future was closed to her, happily, and in her heart that Easter evening was only a perfect happiness and a perfect love.
Later, when they went back to the jacal of wattled cane, there was great rejoicing among the older folk that Pepe's suit had sped so well. It was not, of course, a surprise to anybody, this suit of his. In point of fact, it all had been duly settled beforehand between the two old men,—as a well-conducted love affair in Mexico properly must be,—and this dramatic climax to it was a mere nominal concession to Pepe's foreign tastes, acquired through much association with Americanos upon the frontier. So, the result being satisfactory, the Paras brandy was brought forth again, and toasts were drunk to Pepe's and Pancha's long happiness. And these were followed by toasts to the success—though that was assured in advance, of course—of a great venture in which Pepe was about to engage; a venture that infallibly was to make him a rich man.
The scheme that Pepe had devised was worthy of himself. Its basis was an arrangement—made who shall say how?—that all the forces of the contraresguardo and rurales should be sent on a wild-goose chase into the mountains, and sent far enough to make sure that they should stay in the mountains for a whole night and a whole day. And, the coast being thus cleared, it was the purpose of this daring captain of contrabandistas to come up from the Zona Libre with not one, but with three great trains of burros laden with contrabando, and to bring these trains, in sections and under cover of darkness, actually into the city of Monterey! Further, to make quite sure that in the city he should meet with no hindrance to the execution of his plans, he had arranged that at the hour his trains were to enter from the east, a jacal should be set on fire over in the western suburb. Fires occur but rarely in Monterey, and when one does occur all the town flocks to see it: it is better than a fiesta. It was a stroke of genius on Pepe's part to think of this diversion; and the man who owned the doomed jacal—one of Pepe's band who himself had a share in the venture—was eager to put so brilliant a plan into execution. Indeed, to insure success a dozen jacals might have been profitably consumed, for the contrabando was to be exceptionally rich in quality as well as great in quantity, and the profit upon it would be something that to such simple-minded folk as Manuel and Tobalito and Catalina seemed almost fabulous.
The very risk of the venture, as Pepe pointed out, constituted its safety. In the mountains there was a chance at any time of a fight, but in the city streets there was literally nobody to fear—"unless the serenos should turn contraresguardo!" he suggested; whereat there was much cheerful laughter, that of the honest sereno Manuel being loudest of all.
The lenador, Tobalito's trusted friend, hearing the sounds of festivity and snuffing the Paras brandy from afar off, came in to join them; and being informed of the happy issue of Pepe's love affair, and of Pepe's noble project, he gladly joined in drinking the double toast and in adding his good wishes to theirs. So they made merry over their hopeful prospects; and even when the twins, Antonio and Antonia, succeeded in an unwatched moment in possessing themselves of the precious bottle of Paras brandy, and thereafter, to their great joy, emptied a considerable portion of it over the unfortunate yellow cat, a mere desultory spanking was deemed to be a meet atonement for the act.
So Pepe rode lightly out from Monterey, and behind him rode not black care, but brightest joy, and after him went good wishes and great love. When he came again he would be rich, and—dearer than all other riches—Pancha would be his. Truly, a young fellow of three and twenty, who had carved his own way to so brave a fortune, might well rejoice within himself; and Pepe did rejoice with all his heart. As he rode down the valley—the valley that is scarred by the railroad now—his thoughts ran back pleasantly over the past few years of hard work in his profession; over his many successes tarnished by not a single serious failure; and still more pleasantly his thoughts ran forward into the future, when all his toil was to receive, over and above a liberal compensation, a most sweet reward. One more deal in the game that he knew so well how to play, and all the stakes would be his. No wonder that Pepe's heart was glad within him; that his soul was filled with joy.
Yet Pancha, left behind in Monterey to wait while Pepe worked, was sorrowful. As sometimes happens to us when we are confronted by the certainty of great happiness, she was possessed by a gloomy sadness that came of dark forebodings in her mind. The very greatness and sureness of this happiness awed her into doubt. She knew that to take her good fortune in this faint-hearted way was not wise in itself, and was not what Pepe would approve; and that she might please Pepe she berated herself roundly and tried to laugh away her fears—though they scarcely amounted to fears, being but shadowy doubts and unshaped thoughts in which always was a tinge of nameless dread. But scolding herself and laughing at herself were equally unavailing; therefore she betook herself to that refuge which is dear to women the world over, but which especially is dear to women in Roman Catholic lands—the refuge of prayer.
A placid, holy place is the church of San Francisco in Monterey. It stands upon a quiet street, the Calle de San Francisco, where little travel or noise of traffic ever comes, and about it always is an atmosphere of sacred rest. On one side of it is the ruin of the old, old church where, near three hundred years ago, the colonists sent northward by the Conde de Monterey first met within church walls to offer up to God their sacrifice of praise and prayer for the grace shown to them in bringing them within so fair a land. On the other side is the old convent, where long the good Franciscans dwelt, and whence they went forth to save poor heathen souls. The convent is deserted now, but holy memories live on in it, and sanctify its silent, sunny cloister and its still, shady cells. And close beside the convent grows a single stately palm, larger and more beautiful than any other palm in all the country round. The old church is shadowy within, and a faint smell of incense hangs always in the dusky air. The floor is laid in panels of heavy wood, worn smooth by the knees of the five generations which have worshiped there, and beneath each panel is a grave. Reverently do the Mexicans believe that thrice blessed is the rest in death of him who sleeps within the earth made consecrate by bearing on its breast the house of God.
So it was to this old church, the church of her patron saint, whose name she bore, that Pancha came to pray that Pepe might prosper in his gallant adventure, and that the happiness in store for both of them might not be wrecked by evil chance. To pass from the heat and glare of the April sunshine into the cool, dark church was in itself a refreshment and a rest. Save an old woman or two, slowly and wearily moving from station to station and slowly and wearily at each station repeating her form of prayer, the church was deserted; and in the quiet corner near the chancel rail where Pancha knelt, far away from the mumbling old women, there was a perfect quiet, a holy peace. Her prayer was a little simple prayer: only that the good Saint Francis would keep Pepe safe from all harm, and that the contrabando might not be captured, and that she and Pepe might be married as they had planned to be, and might live on in happiness together to a good old age. When she had made her prayer she knelt on for a long while, dreamily thinking of the Saint's goodness and of his mighty power to guard and save. And, as she knelt there, gradually faith and hope came back again into her heart, and the conviction grew strong within her that the blessed saint had heard her prayer and had sent to her this comforting for assurance that it should be granted to the full. So at last, heartened and quieted, she came out once more into the April sunshine. Yet, even as she left the church there passed before the sun a cloud. Pancha, whose mind was full of happy thoughts, did not perceive this cloud.
* * * * *
That day in Monterey one other heart was troubled, but to it came not peace nor rest. Much to her surprise, Pancha—standing near the causeway over which Pepe gallantly had ridden forth upon his brave adventure, her heart full of love and hope and fear—had felt an arm about her neck, and turning had found Chona by her side. In her tender mood this mark of affection from the friend whom she had deemed lost had moved her greatly, and with little urging she told to Chona the sweet happiness that at last certainly was hers; and wondered to see the look of hate—there could be no mistaking it now—that came flashing into Chona's eyes.
"And he loves a pitiful thing like you! Loves you, when he might—go! you are no friend of mine!"
In Chona's voice there was a ring of bitter contempt that lost itself, with the abrupt change, in yet more bitter rage. With an angry push that almost threw Pancha into the water, she turned, sprang up the bank, and disappeared among the trees. So was Pancha made yet more sorrowful, and yet more gladly turned to the holy church for rest and comfort in prayer.
For Chona there was no comfort. Her brain was in a whirl, and in her heart was only wretchedness. The fate had come to her that for months past she had known must be hers; yet now that it actually had overtaken her, she resented it as though it were a sudden and unexpected blow. Against hope she had hoped to win Pepe's love—and now all hope was dead, and she knew that her chance of having him for her very own was lost forever. Still worse was it that the love which she longed for so hungrily should go to another. This was more than she could bear. Pepe's death, she felt, would have caused her a pain far less poignant—for she herself easily could have died, too. But Pepe lost to her arms, and won to the arms of such a poor, spiritless creature as this Pancha, was an insult that made greater the injury done her a thousand-fold. Her fierce love was turned in a moment to fiercer hate; and from hate is but a single step to revenge.
That night, when the lenador came home,—and in good spirits, for he had sold his wood well,—he told Chona gleefully of the grand project that Pepe had on foot; of the clever scheme by which the customs people were to be tricked; of the fine fortune that surely was coming to the captain of contrabandistas now as a fitting culmination of his gallant career.
After her father, with a prodigious yawn, had ended his narration and had betaken himself to sleep, for a long while Chona sat there in the open space before the jacal alone with her own thoughts. In the darkness and stillness—for only the low, soft rippling of the water broke in upon the peacefulness of night—the longing for revenge that possessed her slowly took form in her mind. The hours passed swiftly as she brooded upon her wrong and upon the means that she had chosen to compass vengeance. When at last she arose and went into the jacal, the morning star shone bright above the twin peaks of the Silla, and the whole mountain stood out sharply, a huge black mass, against the clear, pale light of the eastern sky.
Yet the morning still was young when Chona—her father meanwhile having started with the burro for the mountains—went down to the barracks of the contraresguardo and asked of the sentinel on duty permission to see the capitan, Pedro. The sentinel smiled as he dispatched a messenger with her request, and thought what a lucky fellow the capitan Pedro was, to be sure.
"Come to me quickly in the Alameda," said Chona, when Pedro had joined her. "I can tell you of a great plan that the smugglers have on foot—and also of a matter very near to your own heart." Without waiting for an answer, she turned sharply and walked rapidly away.
Perceiving that she was much excited, Pedro did not doubt that Chona had information of importance to give him; and his experience had taught him that the treachery of a jealous woman was not a thing that the customs preventive service could afford to despise. To the personal part of her address he did not give a second thought. Without returning to the barracks, he set off at once for the Alameda. The sentinel, lazily watching the two retreating figures, smiled again, and said to himself, "Aha! my little captain is a lucky man to-day!"
It is a good mile from the barracks to the Alameda. Chona covered the distance rapidly. As she entered the ragged pleasure-ground, she turned to make sure that Pedro was following her, and then crossed it quickly and disappeared through a gap in a hedge beyond. When Pedro passed through the gap he found her seated on the ground between the bushy screen and the cane-field that it inclosed. They were remote from all houses, from all curious ears; for the Alameda, being but a forlorn place, has few visitors.
She motioned him to a seat beside her, and said, hurriedly:
"The capitan Pepe will bring three great trains of contrabando on Friday night into Monterey."
"Yes. He is your lover?"
She flashed her glittering black eyes on him savagely. "It is no affair of yours who my lover may be. But I will tell you this: Pepe is the lover of Tobalito's Pancha—the girl whom you love."
She marked with satisfaction how he winced under her words, the gleam of anger that came into his eyes. But, without giving him time to speak, she went on rapidly to tell of Pepe's plan, and with a clearness and precision that left no room for doubting that she told the truth. Her excitement increased as she spoke. Her black eyes grew blacker as the pupils dilated; her breath came short as her bosom rose and fell tremblingly; twice or thrice she pressed her hand upon her heart. As she ended she sprang to her feet and held erect her superb form. Her eyes gleamed with the anger of hate, her hands were clinched, her guardedly low voice quivered with a passionate energy.
"I have betrayed him into your hands, even as he has betrayed my offered love. Take him! Kill him! He has only my hate. And remember, it is he who has won from you Pancha's love. He must die!" In an instant she had plunged into the thicket of canes. For a few moments the rustling of the leaves sounded hissingly as she fleetly pushed her way between them; the sound grew fainter; presently it faded out of hearing, and all was still.
Pedro stood for awhile motionless, vacantly staring at the place in the cane-thicket, still marked by the swaying leaves, where she had disappeared. Then slowly he passed through the gap in the hedge, and slowly walked across the Alameda. When he came to the circle of stone benches he sat down wearily. He did not in the least particular doubt the truth of what Chona had told him; and because he knew so surely that it was all true a great sorrow weighed upon him, a cruel conflict arose in his heart. Chona had told him too much. Had she told him only of Pepe's plans, her purpose would have been easily gained; for in a strictly professional and matter-of-course way he would have crushed the smugglers' scheme effectually, and probably the smugglers with it. Chona, judging his nature by her own, had overshot her mark. The very fact that Pepe was Pancha's lover, that his ruin would be her misery, that his death might also be her death, made Pedro—for the first and last time in his life—regard his duty falteringly. For his love for Pancha was so loyal, so utterly unselfish, that even this very love he was ready to sacrifice for her; ready, for her happiness' sake, to yield her to another's arms. The question that now confronted him was whether or not he could sacrifice for Pancha his honor.
What made this cruel strait in which Pedro found himself crueler still was the certainty that should he save his honor no one at all (yet it was only Pancha of whom he thought) would believe that in capturing Pepe he had been prompted by any higher motive than revenge. Should Pepe be harmed, Pancha would hate him; should Pepe be killed,—and the chances favored this issue, for Pepe was a man who far rather would die than surrender,—Pancha would turn from him in horror, as a loathsome creature too base even to die. These thoughts went whirlingly through Pedro's mind, and there came to him no safe issue from his perplexity. Toward whichever of the two paths before him he turned, he saw standing a figure with a drawn sword: Love barred the way of Honor; Honor barred the way of Love.
At last, the conflict still continuing in his breast, he slowly arose from his seat on the stone bench, and slowly walked back into the town; but he took the streets by the hospital and the market-place, thus leaving the arroyo of the ojo de agua far out of his path. As he entered the barracks the sentinel looked at him curiously. "Oho! there has been a quarrel," he thought. "To quarrel with 'La Reina,' my little captain must be a very great fool!"
The noise and confusion, the loud talking and coarse laughter of the barracks jarred on Pedro, and presently he went out again. Walking without purpose, he retraced unconsciously his steps toward the Alameda. Then, finding of a sudden an object, he walked on rapidly until the shady lanes beyond the Alameda were traversed and he stood at the gate of the Campo Santo. Reverently he entered between the stone pillars of the gate-way and stood in the presence of the holy dead.
In a shady corner of the old grave-yard he seated himself upon a stone that had fallen from the wall, and took up again resolutely the problem that he had to solve. There in the perfect peace and stillness, with only the dead about him for witnesses, the great battle of his life was fought and won. His own faith in his manhood came back to him and gave him strength; the doubt and trouble were cast out of his soul; a steadfast light shone clearly upon the way that he must go. And the silent counselors around him confirmed his choice. By the very utterness of their silence, as it seemed to him, they were as strong voices declaring that Love is but the dying daughter of Time, while Honor is the deathless son of Eternity.
When he stood up, the fight ended, he was very pale, and sweat stood in great drops upon his forehead; but in every line of his figure was firmness. Erect and steadily—with something of the feeling, as he bethought him, that had upheld him once when leading his men upon a most desperate charge—he marched between the graves and out again through the gate-way. His resolute step was in keeping with his resolute purpose. Love lowered her sword and fell back, conquered. The path of Honor was clear.
* * * * *
Being cheered by her prayer and by the good saint's promise that it should be granted, Pancha went home blithely and with a heart at rest. And further cheer came to her from her mother, the excellent Catalina. By profession, this good Catalina was a lavandera. Hers was a vicarious virtue, for while her washing was endless, its visible results rarely had any perceptible connection with herself. Indeed, it is a fact that the washer-women of Mexico are upheld by so lofty a sense of their duty to their employers that only by the operation of some extraordinary law of chance is it that their own garments ever get washed at all.
Down by the edge of the clear stream, in company with many other washer-women, Catalina practised her honorable vocation, squatted upon the ground and having in front of her a broad, flat stone. On this stone she soaped and rubbed and squeezed each separate garment until her fine knowledge of her art told her that cleanliness had been achieved, and that for the perfecting of her work was needed only copious rinsing in the running stream. Close beside her, always, was a little fire, whereon rested a little boiler; and thence smoke and steam curled up together amidst the branches of the overhanging trees. On the low bushes near by were spread the drying clothes; in the middle distance stood out the straw-thatched hut; and beyond, for background, were trees and bushes and huts and half-hidden stone walls. And as near her as their perverse spirits would permit them to come were the twins, Antonio and Antonia, scantily clad or not clad at all, usually engaged in some small evil, or else basking like two little brown lizards in the sun. Some day an artist will come to Monterey who will paint Catalina at her work with all her picturesque surroundings; and if he paints the picture well, he will thereafter awake to find himself famous.
Pancha, joining this group, and perfecting it by standing erect beside the bubbling boiler, was further cheered by Catalina's confident talk concerning the certainty of Pepe's success. Manuel had stopped at the jacal on his way homeward—coming sleepily back from his vigilant duties on the city watch—to leave the good news that a detachment of the contraresguardo really had been sent away early that morning toward Garcia—quite in the opposite direction from that whence Pepe would come. There could be no doubt about this assuring fact, for one of his fellow serenos, being on duty near the barracks, actually had seen the force depart. So it was clear that the most important part of the promise made to Pepe by his employers had been fulfilled. The other part, the massing of the rurales in the wrong place at the critical moment, might now confidently be counted upon—and this made sure that Pepe would accomplish safely his unostentatious yet triumphal entry into Monterey. As became the prospective mother-in-law of the hero of this noble adventure, Catalina greatly rejoiced; and Pancha, listening to such heartening news, was still more firmly convinced that the good Saint Francis had heard her prayer.
* * * * *
But even while these comforting thoughts upheld the hopes of the watchers in Monterey, Chona's treachery was doing its work. In the early morning of the third day after Pepe's departure there had been a tough fight south of Lampazos—and the end of it was the capture by the contraresguardo of one of Pepe's three trains. Broken by a sudden charge, the guard of smugglers was overcome; one or two were killed, half a dozen were captured, and the rest saved themselves by the speed of their horses and their knowledge of the mountain paths. The men of the contraresguardo were jubilant. But there was no joy in the heart of their captain. He had but the cold satisfaction of knowing that he had done his duty—and bitter he had found that duty to do.
When the scattered burros had been driven together, and their packs made fast again, the convoy set off southward; for the capture had been made in the State of Nuevo Leon, and the contrabando would be turned into the custom-house at Monterey. Under the hot sun the train moved slowly along the valley; so slowly that Pedro's horse, out-walking the short-stepping burros, carried him far in advance of his command. He was too deeply buried in his own thoughts to perceive his loneliness, and it was only when he reached the town of Salinas that he roused himself and found that his convoy was almost out of sight down the dusty, winding road. On the bluff above the Salinas River he tethered his horse to a tree, and sat down in the shade of the ferry-man's hut to wait for his men to overtake him. The barquero speedily slunk away; but Pedro, heavy with his own heavy thoughts, took slight notice of his movements, save that he was glad to be left alone.
A quarter of a mile from where he sat the road dipped into a recess behind a shoulder of the mountain, and for a little space was lost to view. He watched the train until it entered this recess, and then, while waiting for it to reappear, he bowed his head upon his hand. His heart was very full of bitterness. There was but little comfort for him in the fact that the train that he had captured had not been commanded by Pepe in person; for he knew that the precautions taken made the capture, either in the mountains or in Monterey, of the other two trains certain; and not less certain was the capture or the killing of Pepe himself. Certainly Pepe's fortune, probably his life, already was as good as forfeited; and with this forfeiture Pancha's hope of happiness was gone! And the cruel part of it all was that Pancha ever must believe that he, willfully, revengefully, because she had kept back from him her love, had brought upon her this great misery. In the darkness that beset him he saw no way of hopeful light. He had saved his honor, but he had wrecked his heart.
A rattle of rifle-shots snapped short his dismal revery. As he sprang to his feet he saw a squad of his own people, a dozen or so, galloping up the road, and a moment later four times as many men came out from behind the shoulder of the mountain in sharp pursuit. The pursued were bent low over the necks of their horses; from the crowd of pursuers there came each instant a puff of smoke followed by the sharp crack of the report; and each instant a horse fell, or ran wildly with empty saddle, as the balls went home.
Pedro loosened his revolver in his belt and sprang to his horse. The barquero had become visible again, and was standing beside him; on his face was a malicious, yet not wholly unkindly grin. "Quick!" he said. "Get into the boat. You yet have time." As an officer of the contraresguardo he hated Pedro cordially; but he had no especial wish to see him shot down, now that the smugglers had recaptured the contrabando and the fight was won. But Pedro already was mounted, and his horse was headed not toward the river, but toward his men. The barquero saw his purpose, and seized his bridle with a strong hand.
"God! Senor Captain, would you ride straight to your death?"
"Let loose, or I shoot!"
Like a flash Pedro's revolver was drawn and cocked and within an inch of the barquero's head.
"You are a fool, a madman! Go!" And the man staggered aside as the horse, bounding forward, sharp stricken with the spurs, brushed against him, and nearly threw him to the ground.
"Es mi deber!" "'Tis my duty!" came ringing back through the rush of air as Pedro rode furiously onward; and it seemed to the barquero—yet this was so strange a thing that he could not trust his ears—that there was gladness, nay, even triumph, in Pedro's tone.
Whether spoken in sorrow or in hope, certain it is that these were the last words which the capitan Pedro spoke on earth.
* * * * *
In Monterey there was no knowledge of the loss and of the gaining back again from the contraresguardo of a part of Pepe's treasure; no knowledge that treachery had come in to defeat Pepe's well-laid plans. Therefore when at last the momentous day arrived, there was with Pepe's friends a glad expectancy and happy hope. Under all, of course, was somewhat of fear that even in the moment of its success failure might come and dash the gallant plan. And because of such dismal doubt, Tobalito's face at times was bereft of its accustomed cheeriness, and for minutes together he would sit silent, the while mechanically polishing the brass number that, as a cargador, he wore upon his breast, as was his wont on the rare occasions when his mind was beset by troublous thoughts. But these fears, in which, also, the others shared, had no endurance; for all had steady faith in the all-powerfulness of Pepe's lucky star. So, slowly, the day wore on, and at last was lost in night.
Excepting the twins, Antonio and Antonia, no one that night slept in the jacal. Tobalito sat before his door and smoked incessantly his corn-husk cigarritos. Beside him, smoking not less vigorously, sat Catalina. A little apart from these was Pancha, holding in her arms the yellow cat. And each of these three minds was so busy with its own thoughts that all of the three tongues were still. Only the yellow cat, having but little mind, and that being soothed into a calm content by Pancha's gentle strokings of her sleek fur, expressed her perfect happiness, and so made talk for the whole party, in a rumbling purr.
From where they sat—although they could not hope to see even the reflected light of the burning jacal that was to clear the way for the entry of the contrabando—they could see, a hundred yards away, the stone causeway standing out in the light of the young moon against the darkness beyond. Pancha's mind was full of sweet remembrance of the words which Pepe had spoken to her over beyond the causeway, beside the pool, but five little days before, and of the glad future that was bound up in the fulfilment of his hopes. Tobalito and Catalina, being somewhat beyond the age of romance, were thinking not less gladly of the good fortune that was in store for them through the rich son-in-law who had come to lighten the burdens of their old age. No more would the cargador bear heavy ladings of other people's goods; no more would the lavandera wear her life out in washing other people's clothes. And so all three waited and watched eagerly, straining their ears for the rattle of horses' feet upon the stone-paved streets; straining their eyes to catch the first glimpse of the burro-train stealing in from the Zona Libre with its rich load. For close beside them, across the causeway, the train that Pepe himself headed was to pass. Now and again they caught sight of a little point of flame passing and repassing near the farther end of the causeway; and they knew that it was the lantern of the sereno, and that Manuel also watched and waited hopefully to see his son, bearing his rich sheaves with him, come gallantly home. All four of these fond hearts were brimming full of love and hope and joy.
* * * * *
Slowly the young moon set, when suddenly Pancha was aroused by a strange confusion: pistol-shots—screams—a rush of horses' feet—oaths—the clash of steel—and on the causeway, dimly seen in the faint light, a confused mass of men and horses and laden burros were hurrying away before an orderly mass of horsemen riding in upon them from the east. And, before the full meaning of all this was clear to Pancha's mind, came another rush of horsemen charging down along the causeway from the west. Right under Pancha's eyes Pepe, surrounded by his foes, was fighting for his life; and Pancha knew that the fight was hopeless, and that Pepe's life was lost! Up at the end of the causeway she saw quivering for an instant the light of the sereno's lantern; and a vast sorrow for the old man standing there, full of years, yet henceforth to be childless, for the moment overcame the bitter agony in her own heart. But only for a moment. Then, with a cry keen and woful, that echoed along the arroyo, and even for an instant made the men pause in their deadly fight, with every drop of her sluggish but fierce Indian blood aroused and burning in her veins, she sprang to her feet, and but for Tobalito's strong, restraining grasp, she would have gone to Pepe's aid and died wildly striking by Pepe's side—as the Aztec women, her brave ancestors, fought and died on the causeways of Anahuac when the cruel Spaniards first came into the land. But Tobalito held her fast—and then a merciful unconsciousness came to give her breaking heart relief.
* * * * *
When life came back to Pancha, she was alone in the jacal, save that in one corner lay the twins, Antonio and Antonia, still asleep; and beside them, having fled thither for refuge during the noise and confusion of the fight, was huddled the yellow cat. Within the jacal a little candle feebly burned, casting a faint gleam of light through the open doorway out upon the broad, smooth leaves of the banana-tree. There was no sound to break the serene stillness of the night, and, for a little, Pancha half fancied, and tried hard to make herself believe, that she was but awaking from a woful dream. But the searching agony that wrenched her heart was too bitterly real to give a chance for this fond fancy to have play. And then, slowly but strongly, the thought came into her mind that she must go to Pepe; that, if living, she must bear to him words of comfort and of hope; that, if dead, she must cast one last loving look upon his face.
So she passed out into the darkness—for only a faint, hazy light beyond the Mitras showed where the young moon had sunk away behind the mountains—and walked along the path that she and Pepe had trod together but five days before. This time she did not pass beneath the arch of the causeway. Where the path forked she turned to the right and climbed the bank of the arroyo and so came out upon the causeway itself. In the darkness she tripped and nearly fell, and, looking closely, she saw at her feet the body of a man. Resolutely, yet shudderingly, she stooped still closer to see by the faint starlight the dead face, and knew it for the face of one of Pepe's companions. Beside the dead contrabandista lay another dead body, clad in the uniform of the contraresguardo; and the two lay facing each other as they had fallen in the fight. Beyond were yet others, and a dead horse or two, and a dead burro—from which the lading of precious stuffs had been hastily removed—and carbines, and swords and pistols were lying as they fell from dead hands; for, in the joy of their victory and capture, the contraresguardo had wasted no time in bearing away their fallen comrades or in clearing off the field. And Pancha, wofully seeking for Pepe, passed back and forth among the dead.
While she searched thus, she saw slowly coming from the far end of the causeway a little point of light, and presently the old sereno wrapped in his long cloak, stood beside her. In a broken sentence or two he told her that, with Tobalito and Catalina, he had followed the contraresguardo to the barracks, and that Pepe was not among the prisoners, and so he had come back to look for him here. Pancha made him no answer in words, but she took his hand and kissed it; and, still holding it, they searched together for the dead one who had been all in all to them in the world. Along the whole length of the causeway they searched, but found him not.
"Yet he is here," said Manuel. "My boy is not a prisoner, and if not a prisoner, he surely was struck down in the fight."
And Pancha knew that Manuel spoke truth: Pepe could not be safe and free from harm while his men were captured or slain.
While they paused midway upon the causeway, standing upon the arch that spans the stream, a low, faint moan sounded through the still night air. The sound came up from the darkness below—from the space beside the pool. Bending together over the edge of the unguarded footway, Manuel held down his lantern so that its light fell into the depth beside the wall and was reflected back in broken rays from the rippling water. Then he moved the lantern slowly, until the light rested upon the bank and shone on Pepe's body stretched upon the ground—on Pepe's face upturned toward them piteously! And Pepe knew them. Up through the darkness came faintly the words, "Pancha! Padre!"
When, going very quickly, they passed to the end of the causeway, and so down the bank of the arroyo to where he lay, he clasped feebly their hands as they knelt beside him: the lantern throwing a weird, uncertain light upon the three, upon the dark stone wall, upon the dark water of the pool.
"It was a trap, my father; we were betrayed," he said brokenly. "But we made a brave fight, and I can die without shame."
He felt the quiver that passed through Pancha's body as he spoke.
"Yes, I must die, my Pancha. It is very near. All is ended that we planned—that we planned on this very spot, not yet a little week ago. It is hard, my little one—but—it—must—be." Then he was silent, and clenched his teeth—this brave Pepe—that his face might not show to Pancha his mortal agony.
Manuel held Pepe's hand and wept: the silent, forlorn weeping of an utterly desolate old man. Pancha could not weep. She clutched Pepe's hand in both of hers, as though forcibly she would hold him back to life. Pepe understood her thought.
"It may not be, my Pancha, my Panchita. It is very, very near now. Give me one little kiss, my heart,"—it was almost in a whisper that Pepe spoke,—"one little kiss to tell me of your love before I go."
And so, for the first and the last time in her life, Pancha kissed Pepe upon the lips: a kiss in which was all the passionate love that would have been his in the long years to come; a kiss that was worth dying for, if only by dying it could be gained; a kiss that for a moment thrilled Pepe with the fullest, gladdest life that he had ever known—and that, being ended, left him dead.
Then Pancha, kneeling where the holy fathers, far back in the centuries, had sung their Te Deum laudamus, kneeling where but five little days before her life had been filled with a love so perfect as to be beyond all power of thankfulness in words of praise, looked down upon her dead lover and felt her heart break within her in the utterness of her despair.
* * * * *
Standing amidst the dead upon the causeway above, a dim shadow against the star-lit sky, was another figure—unperceived by, yet completing, the group below. The arms were raised, half threateningly, half imploringly, and the lithe, vigorous form swayed in unison with the wild throbbings of a heart in which sated hate did mortal battle with outraged love. Chona had conquered; but even in the first flush of her triumph she knew that love and hope and happiness, that everything which makes life worth holding to, had been lost.
THE ABLEST MAN IN THE WORLD.
BY E. P. MITCHELL.
The Sun, New York, May, 1879.
It may or may not be remembered that in 1878 General Ignatieff spent several weeks of July at the Badischer Hof in Baden. The public journals gave out that he visited the watering-place for the benefit of his health, said to be much broken by protracted anxiety and responsibility in the service of the Czar. But everybody knew that Ignatieff was just then out of favor at St. Petersburg, and that his absence from the centres of active statecraft at a time when the peace of Europe fluttered like a shuttlecock in the air, between Salisbury and Shouvaloff, was nothing more or less than politely disguised exile.
I am indebted for the following facts to my friend Fisher, of New York, who arrived at Baden on the day after Ignatieff, and was duly announced in the official list of strangers as "Herr Doctor Professor Fischer, mit Frau Gattin und Bed. Nordamerika."
The scarcity of titles among the travelling aristocracy of North America is a standing grievance with the ingenious person who compiles the official list. Professional pride and the instincts of hospitality alike impel him to supply the lack whenever he can. He distributes Governor, Major-General, and Doctor Professor with tolerable impartiality, according as the arriving Americans wear a distinguished, a martial, or a studious air. Fisher owed his title to his spectacles.
It was still early in the season. The theatre had not yet opened. The hotels were hardly half full, the concerts in the kiosk at vhe Conversationshaus were heard by scattering audiences, and the shop-keepers of the Bazaar had no better business than to spend their time in bewailing the degeneracy of Baden Baden since an end was put to the play. Few excursionists disturbed the meditations of the shrivelled old custodian of the tower on the Mercuriusberg. Fisher found the place very stupid—as stupid as Saratoga in June or Long Branch in September. He was impatient to get to Switzerland, but his wife had contracted a table d'hote intimacy with a Polish countess, and she positively refused to take any step that would sever so advantageous a connection.
One afternoon Fisher was standing on one of the little bridges that span the gutterwide Oosbach, idly gazing into the water and wondering whether a good sized Rangely trout could swim the stream without personal inconvenience, when the porter of the Badischer Hof came to him on the run.
"Herr Doctor Professor!" cried the porter, touching his cap. "I pray you pardon, but the highborn the Baron Savitch out of Moscow, of the General Ignatieff's suite, suffers himself in a terrible fit, and appears to die."
In vain Fisher assured the porter that it was a mistake to consider him a medical expert; that he professed no science save that of draw poker; that if a false impression prevailed in the hotel it was through a blunder for which he was in no way responsible; and that, much as he regretted the unfortunate condition of the highborn the Baron out of Moscow, he did not feel that his presence in the chamber of sickness would be of the slightest benefit. It was impossible to eradicate the idea that possessed the porter's mind. Finding himself fairly dragged toward the hotel, Fisher at length concluded to make a virtue of necessity and to render his explanations to the Baron's friends.
The Russian's apartments were upon the second floor, not far from those occupied by Fisher. A French valet, almost beside himself with terror, came hurrying out of the room to meet the porter and the Doctor Professor. Fisher again attempted to explain, but to no purpose. The valet also had explanations to make, and the superior fluency of his French enabled him to monopolize the conversation. No, there was nobody there—nobody but himself, the faithful Auguste of the Baron. His Excellency, the General Ignatieff, his Highness, the Prince Koloff, Dr. Rapperschwyll, all the suite, all the world, had driven out that morning to Gernsbach. The Baron, meanwhile, had been seized by an effraying malady, and he, Auguste, was desolate with apprehension. He entreated Monsieur to lose no time in parley, but to hasten to the bedside of the Baron, who was already in the agonies of dissolution.
Fisher followed Auguste into the inner room. The Baron, in his boots, lay upon the bed, his body bent almost double by the unrelenting gripe of a distressful pain. His teeth were tightly clenched, and the rigid muscles around the mouth distorted the natural expression of his face. Every few seconds a prolonged groan escaped him. His fine eyes rolled piteously. Anon, he would press both hands upon his abdomen and shiver in every limb in the intensity of his suffering.
Fisher forgot his explanations. Had he been a Doctor Professor in fact, he could not have watched the symptoms of the Baron's malady with greater interest.
"Can Monsieur preserve him?" whispered the terrified Auguste.
"Perhaps," said Monsieur, dryly.
Fisher scribbled a note to his wife on the back of a card and dispatched it in the care of the hotel porter. That functionary returned with great promptness, bringing a black bottle and a glass. The bottle had come in Fisher's trunk to Baden all the way from Liverpool, had crossed the sea to Liverpool from New York, and had journeyed to New York direct from Bourbon County, Kentucky. Fisher seized it eagerly but reverently, and held it up against the light. There were still three inches or three inches and a half in the bottom. He uttered a grunt of pleasure.
"There is some hope of saving the Baron," he remarked to Auguste.
Fully one-half of the precious liquid was poured into the glass and administered without delay to the groaning, writhing patient. In a few minutes Fisher had the satisfaction of seeing the Baron sit up in bed. The muscles around his mouth relaxed, and the agonized expression was superseded by a look of placid contentment.
Fisher now had an opportunity to observe the personal characteristics of the Russian Baron. He was a young man of about thirty-five, with exceedingly handsome and clear-cut features, but a peculiar head. The peculiarity of his head was that it seemed to be perfectly round on top—that is, its diameter from ear to ear appeared quite equal to its anterior and posterior diameter. The curious effect of this unusual conformation was rendered more striking by the absence of all hair. There was nothing on the Baron's head but a tightly fitting skull cap of black silk. A very deceptive wig hung upon one of the bed posts.
Being sufficiently recovered to recognize the presence of a stranger, Savitch made a courteous bow.
"How do you find yourself now?" inquired Fisher, in bad French.
"Very much better, thanks to Monsieur," replied the Baron, in excellent English, spoken in a charming voice. "Very much better, though I feel a certain dizziness here." And he pressed his hand to his forehead.
The valet withdrew at a sign from his master, and was followed by the porter. Fisher advanced to the bedside and took the Baron's wrist. Even his unpractised touch told him that the pulse was alarmingly high. He was much puzzled, and not a little uneasy at the turn which the affair had taken. "Have I got myself and the Russian into an infernal scrape?" he thought. "But no—he's well out of his teens, and half a tumbler of such whiskey as that ought not to go to a baby's head."
Nevertheless, the new symptoms developed themselves with a rapidity and poignancy that made Fisher feel uncommonly anxious. Savitch's face became as white as marble—its paleness rendered startling by the sharp contrast of the black skull cap. His form reeled as he sat on the bed, and he clasped his head convulsively with both hands, as if in terror lest it burst.
"I had better call your valet," said Fisher, nervously.
"No, no!" gasped the Baron. "You are a medical man, and I shall have to trust you. There is something—wrong—here." With a spasmodic gesture he vaguely indicated the top of his head.
"But I am not—" stammered Fisher.
"No words!" exclaimed the Russian, imperiously. "Act at once—there must be no delay. Unscrew the top of my head!"
Savitch tore off his skull cap and flung it aside. Fisher has no words to describe the bewilderment with which he beheld the actual fabric of the Baron's cranium. The skull cap had concealed the fact that the entire top of Savitch's head was a dome of polished silver.
"Unscrew it!" said Savitch again.
Fisher reluctantly placed both hands upon the silver skull and exerted a gentle pressure toward the left. The top yielded, turning easily and truly in its threads.
"Faster!" said the Baron, faintly. "I tell you no time must be lost." Then he swooned.
At this instant there was a sound of voices in the outer room, and the door leading into the Baron's bed-chamber was violently flung open and as violently closed. The new-comer was a short, spare man of middle age, with a keen visage and piercing, deep-set little gray eyes. He stood for a few seconds scrutinizing Fisher with a sharp, almost fiercely jealous regard.
The Baron recovered his consciousness and opened his eyes.
"Dr. Rapperschwyll!" he exclaimed.
Dr. Rapperschwyll, with a few rapid strides, approached the bed and confronted Fisher and Fisher's patient. "What is all this?" he angrily demanded.
Without waiting for a reply he laid his hand rudely upon Fisher's arm and pulled him away from the Baron. Fisher, more and more astonished, made no resistance, but suffered himself to be led, or pushed, toward the door. Dr. Rapperschwyll opened the door wide enough to give the American exit, and then closed it with a vicious slam. A quick click informed Fisher that the key had been turned in the lock.
The next morning Fisher met Savitch coming from the Trinkhalle. The Baron bowed with cold politeness and passed on. Later in the day a valet de place handed to Fisher a small parcel, with the message: "Dr. Rapperschwyll supposes that this will be sufficient." The parcel contained two gold pieces of twenty marks.
Fisher gritted his teeth. "He shall have back his forty marks," he muttered to himself, "but I will have his confounded secret in return."
Then Fisher discovered that even a Polish countess has her uses in the social economy.
Mrs. Fisher's table d'hote friend was amiability itself, when approached by Fisher (through Fisher's wife) on the subject of the Baron Savitch of Moscow. Know anything about the Baron Savitch? Of course she did, and about everybody else worth knowing in Europe. Would she kindly communicate her knowledge? Of course she would, and be enchanted to gratify in the slightest degree the charming curiosity of her Americaine. It was quite refreshing for a blasee old woman, who had long since ceased to feel much interest in contemporary men, women, things and events, to encounter one so recently from the boundless prairies of the new world as to cherish a piquant inquisitiveness about the affairs of the grand monde. Ah! yes, she would very willingly communicate the history of the Baron Savitch of Moscow, if that would amuse her dear Americaine.
The Polish countess abundantly redeemed her promise, throwing in for good measure many choice bits of gossip and scandalous anecdotes about the Russian nobility, which are not relevant to the present narrative. Her story, as summarized by Fisher, was this:
The Baron Savitch was not of an old creation. There was a mystery about his origin that had never been satisfactorily solved in St. Petersburg or in Moscow. It was said by some that he was a foundling from the Vospitatelnoi Dom. Others believed him to be the unacknowledged son of a certain illustrious personage nearly related to the House of Romanoff. The latter theory was the more probable, since it accounted in a measure for the unexampled success of his career from the day that he was graduated at the University of Dorpat.
Rapid and brilliant beyond precedent this career had been. He entered the diplomatic service of the Czar, and for several years was attached to the legations at Vienna, London, and Paris. Created a Baron before his twenty-fifth birthday for the wonderful ability displayed in the conduct of negotiations of supreme importance and delicacy with the House of Hapsburg, he became a pet of Gortchakoff's, and was given every opportunity for the exercise of his genius in diplomacy. It was even said in well-informed circles at St. Petersburg that the guiding mind which directed Russia's course throughout the entire Eastern complication, which planned the campaign on the Danube, effected the combinations that gave victory to the Czar's soldiers, and which meanwhile held Austria aloof, neutralized the immense power of Germany, and exasperated England only to the point where wrath expends itself in harmless threats, was the brain of the young Baron Savitch. It was certain that he had been with Ignatieff at Constantinople when the trouble was first fomented, with Shouvaloff in England at the time of the secret conference agreement, with the Grand Duke Nicholas at Adrianople when the protocol of an armistice was signed, and would soon be in Berlin behind the scenes of the Congress, where it was expected that he would outwit the statesmen of all Europe, and play with Bismarck and Disraeli as a strong man plays with two kicking babies.
But the countess had concerned herself very little with this handsome young man's achievements in politics. She had been more particularly interested in his social career. His success in that field had been not less remarkable. Although no one knew with positive certainty his father's name, he had conquered an absolute supremacy in the most exclusive circles surrounding the imperial court. His influence with the Czar himself was supposed to be unbounded. Birth apart, he was considered the best parti in Russia. From poverty and by the sheer force of intellect he had won for himself a colossal fortune. Report gave him forty million roubles, and doubtless report did not exceed the fact. Every speculative enterprise which he undertook, and they were many and various, was carried to sure success by the same qualities of cool, unerring judgment, far-reaching sagacity, and apparently superhuman power of organizing, combining, and controlling, which had made him in politics the phenomenon of the age.
About Dr. Rapperschwyll? Yes, the countess knew him by reputation and by sight. He was the medical man in constant attendance upon the Baron Savitch, whose high-strung mental organization rendered him susceptible to sudden and alarming attacks of illness. Dr. Rapperschwyll was a Swiss—had originally been a watchmaker or artisan of some kind, she had heard. For the rest, he was a commonplace little old man, devoted to his profession and to the Baron, and evidently devoid of ambition, since he wholly neglected to turn the opportunities of his position and connections to the advancement of his personal fortunes.
Fortified with this information, Fisher felt better prepared to grapple with Rapperschwyll for the possession of the secret. For five days he lay in wait for the Swiss physician. On the sixth day the desired opportunity unexpectedly presented itself.
Half way up the Mercuriusberg, late in the afternoon, he encountered the custodian of the ruined tower, coming down. "No, the tower was not closed. A gentleman was up there, making observations of the country, and he, the custodian, would be back in an hour or two." So Fisher kept on his way.
The upper part of this tower is in a dilapidated condition. The lack of a stairway to the summit is supplied by a temporary wooden ladder. Fisher's head and shoulders were hardly through the trap that opens to the platform, before he discovered that the man already there was the man whom he sought. Dr. Rapperschwyll was studying the topography of the Black Forest through a pair of field glasses.
Fisher announced his arrival by an opportune stumble and a noisy effort to recover himself, at the same instant aiming a stealthy kick at the topmost round of the ladder, and scrambling ostentatiously over the edge of the trap. The ladder went down thirty or forty feet with a racket, clattering and banging against the walls of the tower.
Dr. Rapperschwyll at once appreciated the situation. He turned sharply around, and remarked with a sneer, "Monsieur is unaccountably awkward." Then he scowled and showed his teeth, for he recognized Fisher.
"It is rather unfortunate," said the New Yorker, with imperturbable coolness. "We shall be imprisoned here a couple of hours at the shortest. Let us congratulate ourselves that we each have intelligent company, besides a charming landscape to contemplate."
The Swiss coldly bowed, and resumed his topographical studies. Fisher lighted a cigar.
"I also desire," continued Fisher, puffing clouds of smoke in the direction of the Teufelmuehle, "to avail myself of this opportunity to return forty marks of yours, which reached me, I presume, by a mistake."
"If Monsieur the American physician was not satisfied with his fee," rejoined Rapperschwyll, venomously, "he can without doubt have the affair adjusted by applying to the Baron's valet."
Fisher paid no attention to this thrust, but calmly laid the gold pieces upon the parapet, directly under the nose of the Swiss.
"I could not think of accepting any fee," he said, with deliberate emphasis. "I was abundantly rewarded for my trifling services by the novelty and interest of the case."
The Swiss scanned the American's countenance long and steadily with his sharp little gray eyes. At length he said, carelessly:
"Monsieur is a man of science?"
"Yes," replied Fisher, with a mental reservation in favor of all sciences save that which illuminates and dignifies our national game.
"Then," continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, "Monsieur will perhaps acknowledge that a more beautiful or more extensive case of trephining has rarely come under his observation."
Fisher slightly raised his eyebrows.
"And Monsieur will also understand, being a physician," continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, "the sensitiveness of the Baron himself, and of his friends upon the subject. He will therefore pardon my seeming rudeness at the time of his discovery."
"He is smarter than I supposed," thought Fisher. "He holds all the cards, while I have nothing—nothing, except a tolerably strong nerve when it comes to a game of bluff."
"I deeply regret that sensitiveness," he continued, aloud, "for it had occurred to me that an accurate account of what I saw, published in one of the scientific journals of England or America, would excite wide attention, and no doubt be received with interest on the Continent."
"What you saw?" cried the Swiss, sharply. "It is false. You saw nothing—when I entered you had not even removed the——"
Here he stopped short and muttered to himself, as if cursing his own impetuosity. Fisher celebrated his advantage by tossing away his half-burned cigar and lighting a fresh one.
"Since you compel me to be frank," Dr. Rapperschwyll went on, with visibly increasing nervousness, "I will inform you that the Baron has assured me that you saw nothing. I interrupted you in the act of removing the silver cap."
"I will be equally frank," replied Fisher, stiffening his face for a final effort. "On that point, the Baron is not a competent witness. He was in a state of unconsciousness for some time before you entered. Perhaps I was removing the silver cap when you interrupted me——"
Dr. Rapperschwyll turned pale.
"And, perhaps," said Fisher, coolly, "I was replacing it."
The suggestion of this possibility seemed to strike Rapperschwyll like a sudden thunderbolt from the clouds. His knees parted, and he almost sank to the floor. He put his hands before his eyes, and wept like a child, or, rather, like a broken old man.
"He will publish it! He will publish it to the court and to the world!" he cried, hysterically. "And at this crisis——"
Then, by a desperate effort, the Swiss appeared to recover to some extent his self control. He paced the diameter of the platform for several minutes, with his head bent and his arms folded across the breast. Turning again to his companion, he said:
"If any sum you may name will——"
Fisher cut the proposition short with a laugh.
"Then," said Rapperschwyll, "if—if I throw myself on your generosity——"
"Well?" demanded Fisher.
"And ask a promise, on your honor, of absolute silence concerning what you have seen?"
"Silence until such time as the Baron Savitch shall have ceased to exist?"
"That will suffice," said Rapperschwyll. "For when he ceases to exist I die. And your conditions?"
"The whole story, here and now, and without reservation."
"It is a terrible price to ask me," said Rapperschwyll, "but larger interests than my pride are at stake. You shall hear the story.
"I was bred a watchmaker," he continued, after a long pause, "in the Canton of Zurich. It is not a matter of vanity when I say that I achieved a marvellous degree of skill in the craft. I developed a faculty of invention that led me into a series of experiments regarding the capabilities of purely mechanical combinations. I studied and improved upon the best automata ever constructed by human ingenuity. Babbage's calculating machine especially interested me. I saw in Babbage's idea the germ of something infinitely more important to the world.
"Then I threw up my business and went to Paris to study physiology. I spent three years at the Sorbonne and perfected myself in that branch of knowledge. Meanwhile, my pursuits had extended far beyond the purely physical sciences. Psychology engaged me for a time; and then I ascended into the domain of sociology, which, when adequately understood, is the summary and final application of all knowledge.
"It was after years of preparation, and as the outcome of all my studies, that the great idea of my life, which had vaguely haunted me ever since the Zurich days, assumed at last a well-defined and perfect form."
The manner of Dr. Rapperschwyll had changed from distrustful reluctance to frank enthusiasm. The man himself seemed transformed. Fisher listened attentively and without interrupting the relation. He could not help fancying that the necessity of yielding the secret, so long and so jealously guarded by the physician, was not entirely distasteful to the enthusiast.
"Now, attend, Monsieur," continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, "to several separate propositions which may seem at first to have no direct bearing on each other.
"My endeavors in mechanism had resulted in a machine which went far beyond Babbage's in its powers of calculation. Given the data, there was no limit to the possibilities in this direction. Babbage's cogwheels and pinions calculated logarithms, calculated an eclipse. It was fed with figures, and produced results in figures. Now, the relations of cause and effect are as fixed and unalterable as the laws of arithmetic. Logic is, or should be, as exact a science as mathematics. My new machine was fed with facts, and produced conclusions. In short, it reasoned; and the results of its reasoning were always true, while the results of human reasoning are often, if not always, false. The source of error in human logic is what the philosophers call the 'personal equation.' My machine eliminated the personal equation; it proceeded from cause to effect, from premise to conclusion, with steady precision. The human intellect is fallible; my machine was, and is, infallible in its processes.
"Again, physiology and anatomy had taught me the fallacy of the medical superstition which holds the gray matter of the brain and the vital principle to be inseparable. I had seen men living with pistol balls imbedded in the medulla oblongata. I had seen the hemispheres and the cerebellum removed from the crania of birds and small animals, and yet they did not die. I believed that, though the brain were to be removed from a human skull, the subject would not die, although he would certainly be divested of the intelligence which governed all save the purely involuntary actions of his body.
"Once more: a profound study of history from the sociological point of view, and a not inconsiderable practical experience of human nature, had convinced me that the greatest geniuses that ever existed were on a plane not so very far removed above the level of average intellect. The grandest peaks in my native country, those which all the world knows by name, tower only a few hundred feet above the countless unnamed peaks that surround them. Napoleon Bonaparte towered only a little over the ablest men around him. Yet that little was everything, and he overran Europe. A man who surpassed Napoleon, as Napoleon surpassed Murat, in the mental qualities which transmute thought into fact, would have made himself master of the whole world.
"Now, to fuse these three propositions in to one: suppose that I take a man, and, by removing the brain that enshrines all the errors and failures of his ancestors away back to the origin of the race, remove all sources of weakness in his future career. Suppose, that in place of the fallible intellect which I have removed, I endow him with an artificial intellect that operates with the certainty of universal laws. Suppose that I launch this superior being, who reasons truly, into the hurly burly of his inferiors, who reason falsely, and await the inevitable result with the tranquillity of a philosopher.
"Monsieur, you have my secret. That is precisely what I have done. In Moscow, where my friend Dr. Duchat had charge of the new institution of St. Vasili for hopeless idiots, I found a boy of eleven whom they called Stepan Borovitch. Since he was born, he had not seen, heard, spoken or thought. Nature had granted him, it was believed, a fraction of the sense of smell, and perhaps a fraction of the sense of taste, but of even this there was no positive ascertainment. Nature had walled in his soul most effectually. Occasional inarticulate murmurings, and an incessant knitting and kneading of the fingers were his only manifestations of energy. On bright days they would place him in a little rocking-chair, in some spot where the sun fell warm, and he would rock to and fro for hours, working his slender fingers and mumbling forth his satisfaction at the warmth in the plaintive and unvarying refrain of idiocy. The boy was thus situated when I first saw him.
"I begged Stepan Borovitch of my good friend Dr. Duchat. If that excellent man had not long since died he should have shared in my triumph. I took Stepan to my home and plied the saw and the knife. could operate on that poor, worthless, useless, hopeless travesty of humanity as fearlessly and as recklessly as upon a dog bought or caught for vivisection. That was a little more than twenty years ago. To-day Stepan Borovitch wields more power than any other man on the face of the earth. In ten years he will be the autocrat of Europe, the master of the world. He never errs; for the machine that reasons beneath his silver skull never makes a mistake."
Fisher pointed downward at the old custodian of the tower, who was seen toiling up the hill.
"Dreamers," continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, "have speculated on the possibility of finding among the ruins of the older civilizations some brief inscription which shall change the foundations of human knowledge. Wiser men deride the dream, and laugh at the idea of scientific kabbala. The wiser men are fools. Suppose that Aristotle had discovered on a cuneiform-covered tablet at Nineveh the few words, 'Survival of the Fittest.' Philosophy would have gained twenty-two hundred years. I will give you, in almost as few words, a truth equally pregnant. The ultimate evolution of the creature is into the creator. Perhaps it will be twenty-two hundred years before the truth finds general acceptance, yet it is not the less a truth. The Baron Savitch is my creature, and I am his creator—creator of the ablest man in Europe, the ablest man in the world.
"Here is our ladder, Monsieur. I have fulfilled my part of the agreement. Remember yours."
After a two months' tour of Switzerland and the Italian lakes, the Fishers found themselves at the Hotel Splendide in Paris, surrounded by people from the States. It was a relief to Fisher, after his somewhat bewildering experience at Baden, followed by a surfeit of stupendous and ghostly snow peaks, to be once more among those who discriminated between a straight flush and a crooked straight, and whose bosoms thrilled responsive to his own at the sight of the star-spangled banner. It was particularly agreeable for him to find at the Hotel Splendide, in a party of Easterners who had come over to see the Exposition, Miss Bella Ward, of Portland, a pretty and bright girl, affianced to his best friend in New York.
With much less pleasure, Fisher learned that the Baron Savitch was in Paris, fresh from the Berlin Congress, and that he was the lion of the hour with the select few who read between the written lines of politics and knew the dummies of diplomacy from the real players in the tremendous game. Dr. Rapperschwyll was not with the Baron. He was detained in Switzerland, at the deathbed of his aged mother.
This last piece of information was welcome to Fisher. The more he reflected upon the interview on the Mercuriusberg, the more strongly he felt it to be his intellectual duty to persuade himself that the whole affair was an illusion, not a reality. He would have been glad, even at the sacrifice of his confidence in his own astuteness, to believe that the Swiss doctor had been amusing himself at the expense of his credulity. But the remembrance of the scene in the Baron's bedroom at the Badischer Hof was too vivid to leave the slightest ground for this theory. He was obliged to be content with the thought that he should soon place the broad Atlantic between himself and a creature so unnatural, so dangerous, so monstrously impossible as the Baron Savitch.
Hardly a week had passed before he was thrown again into the society of that impossible person.
The ladies of the American party met the Russian Baron at a ball in the New Continental Hotel. They were charmed with his handsome face, his refinement of manner, his intelligence and wit. They met him again at the American Minister's, and, to Fisher's unspeakable consternation, the acquaintance thus established began to make rapid progress in the direction of intimacy. Baron Savitch became a frequent visitor at the Hotel Splendide.
Fisher does not like to dwell upon this period. For a month his peace of mind was rent alternately by apprehension and disgust. He is compelled to admit that the Baron's demeanor toward himself was most friendly, although no allusion was made on either side to the incident at Baden. But the knowledge that no good could come to his friends from this association with a being in whom the moral principle had no doubt been supplanted by a system of cog-gear, kept him continually in a state of distraction. He would gladly have explained to his American friends the true character of the Russian, that he was not a man of healthy mental organization, but merely a marvel of mechanical ingenuity, constructed upon a principle subversive of all society as at present constituted—in short, a monster whose very existence must ever be revolting to right-minded persons with brains of honest gray and white. But the solemn promise to Dr. Rapperschwyll sealed his lips.
A trifling incident suddenly opened his eyes to the alarming character of the situation, and filled his heart with a new horror.
One evening, a few days before the date designated for the departure of the American party from Havre for home, Fisher happened to enter the private parlor which was, by common consent, the headquarters of his set. At first he thought that the room was unoccupied. Soon he perceived, in the recess of a window, and partly obscured by the drapery of the curtain, the forms of the Baron Savitch and Miss Ward of Portland. They did not observe his entrance. Miss Ward's hand was in the Baron's hand, and she was looking up into his handsome face with an expression which Fisher could not misinterpret.
Fisher coughed, and going to another window, pretended to be interested in affairs on the Boulevard. The couple emerged from the recess. Miss Ward's face was ruddy with confusion, and she immediately withdrew. Not a sign of embarrassment was visible on the Baron's countenance. He greeted Fisher with perfect self-possession, and began to talk of the great balloon in the Place du Carrousel.
Fisher pitied but could not blame the young lady. He believed her still loyal at heart to her New York engagement. He knew that her loyalty could not be shaken by the blandishments of any man on earth. He recognized the fact that she was under the spell of a power more than human. Yet what would be the outcome? He could not tell her all; his promise bound him. It would be useless to appeal to the generosity of the Baron; no human sentiments governed his exorable purposes. Must the affair drift on while he stood tied and helpless? Must this charming and innocent girl be sacrificed to the transient whim of an automaton? Allowing that the Baron's intentions were of the most honorable character, was the situation any less horrible? Marry a Machine! His own loyalty to his friend in New York, his regard for Miss Ward, alike loudly called on him to act with promptness.
And, apart from all private interest, did he not owe a plain duty to society, to the liberties of the world? Was Savitch to be permitted to proceed in the career laid out for him by his creator, Dr. Rapperschwyll? He (Fisher) was the only man in the world in a position to thwart the ambitious programme. Was there ever greater need of a Brutus?
Between doubts and fears, the last days of Fisher's stay in Paris were wretched beyond description. On the morning of the steamer day he had almost made up his mind to act.
The train for Havre departed at noon, and at eleven o'clock the Baron Savitch made his appearance at the Hotel Splendide to bid farewell to his American friends. Fisher watched Miss Ward closely. There was a constraint in her manner which fortified his resolution. The Baron incidentally remarked that he should make it his duty and pleasure to visit America within a very few months, and that he hoped then to renew the acquaintances now interrupted. As Savitch spoke, Fisher observed that his eyes met Miss Ward's, while the slightest possible blush colored her cheeks. Fisher knew that the case was desperate, and demanded a desperate remedy.
He now joined the ladies of the party in urging the Baron to join them in the hasty lunch that was to precede the drive to the station. Savitch gladly accepted the cordial invitation. Wine he politely but firmly declined, pleading the absolute prohibition of his physician. Fisher left the room for an instant, and returned with the black bottle which had figured in the Baden episode.
"The Baron," he said, "has already expressed his approval of the noblest of our American products, and he knows that this beverage has good medical endorsement." So saying, he poured the remaining contents of the Kentucky bottle into a glass, and presented it to the Russian.
Savitch hesitated. His previous experience with the nectar was at the same time a temptation and a warning, yet he did not wish to seem discourteous. A chance remark from Miss Ward decided him.
"The Baron," she said, with a smile, "will certainly not refuse to wish us bon voyage in the American fashion."
Savitch drained the glass and the conversation turned to other matters. The carriages were already below. The parting compliments were being made, when Savitch suddenly pressed his hands to his forehead and clutched at the back of a chair. The ladies gathered around him in alarm.
"It is nothing," he said faintly; "a temporary dizziness."
"There is no time to be lost," said Fisher, pressing forward. "The train leaves in twenty minutes. Get ready at once, and I will meanwhile attend to our friend."
Fisher hurriedly led the Baron to his own bedroom. Savitch fell back upon the bed. The Baden symptoms repeated themselves. In two minutes the Russian was unconscious.
Fisher looked at his watch. He had three minutes to spare. He turned the key in the lock of the door and touched the knob of the electric annunciator.
Then, gaining the mastery of his nerves by one supreme effort for self-control, Fisher pulled the deceptive wig and the black skull cap from the Baron's head. "Heaven forgive me if I am making a fearful mistake!" he thought. "But I believe it to be best for ourselves and for the world." Rapidly, but with a steady hand, he unscrewed the silver dome. The Mechanism lay exposed before his eyes. The Baron groaned. Ruthlessly Fisher tore out the wondrous machine. He had no time and no inclination to examine it. He caught up a newspaper and hastily enfolded it. He thrust the bundle into his open travelling-bag. Then he screwed the silver top firmly upon the Baron's head, and replaced the skull cap and the wig.
All this was done before the servant answered the bell. "The Baron Savitch is ill," said Fisher to the attendant, when he came. "There is no cause for alarm. Send at once to the Hotel de l'Athenee for his valet, Auguste." In twenty seconds Fisher was in a cab, whirling toward the Station St. Lazare.
When the steamship Pereire was well out at sea, with Ushant five hundred miles in her wake, and countless fathoms of water beneath her keel, Fisher took a newspaper parcel from his travelling-bag. His teeth were firm set and his lips rigid. He carried the heavy parcel to the side of the ship and dropped it into the Atlantic. It made a little eddy in the smooth water, and sank out of sight. Fisher fancied that he heard a wild, despairing cry, and put his hands to his ears to shut out the sound. A gull came circling over the steamer—the cry may have been the gull's.
Fisher felt a light touch upon his arm. He turned quickly around. Miss Ward was standing at his side, close to the rail.
"Bless me, how white you are!" she said. "What in the world have you been doing?"
"I have been preserving the liberties of two continents," slowly replied Fisher, "and perhaps saving your own peace of mind."
"Indeed!" said she; "and how have you done that?"
"I have done it," was Fisher's grave answer, "by throwing overboard the Baron Savitch."
Miss Ward burst into a ringing laugh. "You are sometimes too droll, Mr. Fisher," she said.
YOUNG MOLL'S PEEVY.
BY C. A. STEPHENS.
Scribner's Monthly, April, 1875.
Villate's "drive" of logs had jammed at the foot of Red Rapids in the very throat of the main "pitch," where the Aux Lievres falls over the ledges into the "glut-hole" fifty feet below. Named "glut-hole" by the river-men; for lumber falling in here will sometimes circle a month, unless poled out. The waters whirl and are drawn down with a peculiar sinuous motion. Bodies going over are long engulfed, and sometimes never reappear, for the basin is of great depth and there are caverns under water beneath the shelving ledges, such as the drivers call cachots d'enfer, and have invested with a superstitious character, as the abode of evil spirits of the flood—a thing not greatly to be wondered at; for a wilder locality could hardly be cited, its rugged cliffs of red sandstone, hung with enormous lichens, like sides of leather, and overhung from high above with shaggy black spruces.
There were seven and a-half million feet of lumber in Villate's drive that spring. Every stick of it went into the great jam above the glut-hole. The rough fortunes of youth made me an eye-witness of the scene. A wilder spectacle I never saw throughout the lumbering region during a space of eight years. The gates of the dams at the foot of all the lakes were up; the volume of water was immense. Rocks, which in summer stand twenty feet out of the rapids, were now under water. The torrent came pouring down the long incline, black and swift as an arrow, and went over into the pool at one thunderous plunge, throwing up a vast column of mist. Two ledges only, situated in the very throat of the "pitch," showed above water. These rocks the lumbering company had designed to blast out the previous autumn, but had been prevented by heavy rains. They then stood twenty-seven feet out of water. Now their crests are barely exposed, and the flood washes over them in its mighty rhythm-motion. In the rapids the whole stream is compressed to a width of a little more than seventy yards.