EUGENE P. LYLE, Jr.
"In my predestin'd Plot of Dust and Soul."—Omar
Illustrated by Ernest Haskell
New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1905
Copyright, 1905, by Doubleday, Page & Company Published, August, 1905
All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian
MY TWO BEST FRIENDS
My Father and my Mother
THE THORN IN THE LAND OF ROSES
I. A Wilful Maid Arrives 3 II. A Fra Diavolo in the Land of Roses 11 III. The Violent End of a Terrible Bandit 18 IV. La Luz, Blockade Runner 27 V. The Storm Centre 34 VI. A Bruising of Arms for Jacqueline 45 VII. Swordsmanship in the Dark 55 VIII. The Thoughts of Youth May Be Prodigiously Long Thoughts 64 IX. Toll-Taking in the Huasteca 69 X. The Brigand Chief 80 XI. The Cossacks and Their Tiger Colonel 89 XII. Pastime Passing Excellent 98 XIII. Unregistered in Any Studbook 108 XIV. The Herald of the Fair God 114 XV. The Ritual 122 XVI. He of the Debonair Sceptre 131 XVII. Rather a Small Man 140 XVIII. Little Monarchs, Big Mistakes 149 XIX. A Tartar, and a Tartar 156 XX. In the Wake of Princely Cavalcades 164 XXI. The Red Mongrel 173 XXII. "Equidad en la Justicia" 182 XXIII. A Curious Pagan Rite 188 XXIV. The Man Who Did Not Want to be Shot 193 XXV. The Person on the Other Horse 200 XXVI. The Strangest Avowal of Love 209 XXVII. Berthe 219 XXVIII. "Mike" 228 XXIX. The Whisper of the Sphinx 238 XXX. The Ambassador 242 XXXI. Carlota 253 XXXII. The Woman Who Did Not Hesitate 258 XXXIII. A Sponsor to the Fat Padre 266
THE ROSE THAT WAS A THORN IN THE LAND OF ROSES
I. Meagre Shanks 273 II. The Black Decree 284 III. As Between Women 293 IV. The Lacking Coincidence 298 V. The Missourians 306 VI. If a Kiss Were All 315 VII. A Crop of Colonels 324 VIII. Royal Resolution 335 IX. Interpreter to the Almighty 344 X. Alone Among His Loving Subjects 351 XI. Fatality and the Missourian 359 XII. The Rendezvous of the Republic 369 XIII. A Buccaneer and a Battle 380 XIV. Blood and Noise—What Else? 391 XV. Of All News the Most Spiteful 406 XVI. Vendetta's Half Sister, Better Born 422 XVII. Under a Spanish Cloak 434 XVIII. El Chaparrito 443 XIX. In Articulo Mortis 459 XX. Knighthood's Belated Flower 465 XXI. The Title of Nobility 475 XXII. The Abbey of Mount Regret 484 XXIII. The Contrariness of Jacqueline 496 XXIV. The Journalistic Sagacity of a Daniel 506
THE PEOPLE OF THE STORY
THE MISSOURIAN, known in every fight as the Storm Centre. His real name is John D. Driscoll, familiarly shortened to Din Driscoll. At the close of the Civil War he finds himself a lieutenant-colonel in General Joe Shelby's brigade of Confederate daredevils, sent by his comrades as emissary to the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico.
JACQUELINE, who is the Marquise Jeanne d'Aumerle, on a mission of high politics from Napoleon III. to the Court of Mexico.
BERTHE, her maid.
MAXIMILIAN, archduke of Austria, occupant of the New World throne created for him.
CHARLOTTE OF ORLEANS, the Empress.
ANASTASIO MURGUIA, a Mexican hacendado, who acquires riches by running Federal blockades into Southern ports. He is both a coward and a miser.
MARIA DE LA LUZ, his daughter.
RODRIGO GALAN, brigand and guerrilla.
TIBURCIO, blackmailer of the highway, scout, and "loyal Imperialist."
AUGUSTIN FISCHER, "the Fat Padre," a renegade priest of subtle parts.
MICHEL NEY, grandson of the "Bravest of the Brave."
THE MARSHAL BAZAINE, commander-in-chief of the French Army of Occupation in Mexico.
MADAME LA MARECHALE, his bride.
COLONEL DUPIN, the "Tiger of the Tropics," chief of the Contra Guerrillas.
MIGUEL LOPEZ, colonel of Dragoons, a favorite of the Emperor.
MONSIEUR ELOIN, the Emperor's secretary.
MARQUEZ, MIRAMON, MEJIA, MENDEZ, Imperialist officers.
REGULES, ESCOBEDO, Republican officers.
DANIEL BOONE, first scout among the Missourians, one-time editor and editor yet to be.
"OLD BROTHERS AND SISTERS," "TALL MOSE" BLEDSOE, OF THE COUNTY OF PIKE, and yet more of the Missouri colonels.
BENITO JUAREZ, president of the Mexican Republic.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"JACQUELINE" "She was the spirit of the enigma, the very personification of the Napoleonic sphinx" Frontispiece
"MURGUIA" "He had evidently passed through salty spray, had braved the deep, this shrinking old man in frayed black" 16
"RODRIGO GALAN" "The fierce stranger, however, seemed undecided. His brow furrowed, and for the moment he only stared" 18
"JOHN DINWIDDIE DRISCOLL, THE MISSOURIAN" "His cheeks were smooth, but they were tight and hard and brown from the weathering of sun and blizzard" 38
"COLONEL DUPIN" "The Tiger of the Tropics ... the chief of Contra Guerrillas" 94
THE EMPEROR MAXIMILIAN 134
"MARIA DE LA LUZ" "The tapestry behind them parted and fell" 146
"BERTHE" "... brought down the ponderous knocker so terrifically that it abashed her, for all her present agitation" 220
THE THORN IN THE LAND OF ROSES
"Array you, lordyngs, one and all, For here begins no peace." —The Ballad of the Battle of Otterburn
A WILFUL MAID ARRIVES FROM FRANCE
"I'll tell thee, it is the stubbornest young fellow of France, full of ambition."—As You Like It.
Jacqueline was a gentlewoman of France. But there was usually mischief in her handsome head, for all its queenly poise. Just now, she was running away from the ship. Captain and officers of the Imperatrice Eugenie, Imperial red pantaloons, gilt Imperial eagles, such tokens of awe were yet not awful enough to hold Jacqueline. So, with the humility of limp things in that sticky air, the sailors shoved closer in the small boat and made place for the adjustment of crisp skirts. With the lady went her gentle little Breton maid, who trembled with the trembling of every plank in those norther-rocked waters. The high sun, just showing himself after the late gale, was sucking a gummy moisture out upon all surfaces, and the perspiring men felt mean and base before the starchy freshness of the two girls.
No one was pleased that Jacqueline was going, except Jacqueline herself. But she was keen for it. She had been impervious to their flustered anxiety, also to the tributes to her importance betrayed therein. In vain they argued no fewer than two emperors to dissuade her. She meant to have a walk on the shore and—a demure Parisian shrug settled it.
Jacqueline rested a high-heeled boot on a coil of rope and blithely hummed an old song—"Mironton, mironton, mirontaine!" Oh, how she had wearied of bumping, heaving, bumping! At first she had enjoyed the storm. It was a new kind of play, and the mise-en-scene was quite adequate. But ennui had surged in again long before danger had surged out. And now she considered that some later sensation was due her, just as supper after an evening of fasting. In such a way, her life long, Jacqueline had sustained existence. Her nourishment was ever the latest "frisson," to use her own word. She craved thrills of emotion, ecstatic thrills. Naturally, then, three weeks of ocean had fretted the restless lass as intolerable, tyrannical.
During the norther's blinding fury, the liner of the Compagnie Trans-Atlantique had groped widely out of her course, to find herself off Tampico when the storm abated. But the skipper saw in his ill-luck a chance for fresh meat, and he decided to communicate with the port before going on to Vera Cruz. And when Jacqueline found that out, she decided to communicate with the port too.
Little enough harm in that, truly; if only it were any one else but Jacqueline. In her case, though, all concerned would have felt easier to keep her on board. Then, when the ship sailed, they were sure to have her there. Otherwise, they assuredly were not. For they knew well her startling capacity for whims. But never, never, could they know the startling next way a whim of hers might jump. Yet did she give herself the small pains of wheedling? Not she. The mystery of her august guardianship, of no less than two emperors, and the responsibility falling on captain, crew, red trousers, and gilt eagles—He bien, what then? Neither were they cunning with their dark warnings of outlawry and violence. Dreadfulest horrors might lurk in the motley Gulf town held by force against bloodthirsty Mexicans. But croaking like that only gave brighter promise of the ecstatic shiver. So, parbleu, she went!
The brunt of anxiety fell on poor Sergeant Ney. Here was a young soldier whom a month before Louis Napoleon had summoned to the Tuileries, to charge him with the lady's safe return to Maximilian's court in the City of Mexico, where she was First Dame of Honor about the Empress Charlotte. The order was not a military one, else it must have fallen to an officer of rank. It was not even official. But no doubt it enfolded more of weight for that very reason. Napoleon III. believed that in the unofficial, in littleness and dark gliding, lay the way to govern a state. Michel Ney regarded his task as a complete enigma. He had only to see a girl to the end of her journey. He was a slow-thinking, even a non-thinking agent, but in a contingency he could fight, still without thinking.
The girl under his escort, however, was another sort of agent entirely. She was the spirit of the enigma, the very personification of the Napoleonic sphinx. She was the Imperial Secret flung a thousand leagues, there to work itself out alone in a new land of empire. Two months ago Louis Napoleon had recalled her from the Mexican court to her old circle, to the Tuileries, to St. Cloud, to Compiegne, and almost at once he had sent her back again. This time she came with the sphinx's purpose.
Getting himself into the small boat, Ney stole a glance at the gray eyes opposite him—for the moment they were gray, as well as treacherously innocent and pensive—and he reflected woefully that she had quite too much spirit altogether for an Egyptian dame of stone. She was making it very hard for him. What caprice might not possess her while on shore, and the ship to sail within a few hours? It was not a predicament for sabre play. And he made the mistake of trying to wield his wits a little.
"I should take it as an honor, mademoiselle," he faltered, "I should, truly, if you'd only believe that I would impose my escort for the pleasure it gives me, as well as—as well as——"
But she did not seem to notice that he stumbled. Her eyes were intent on the green water, which the oars transmuted into eddying crystals. He would go on, she knew, and lay more exposed the place where she meant to strike. She had coquetted with him, old play fellow that he was, for just a little during the voyage, as with others too, for that matter. But she had tired of it, as she had also of the chagrin of wives and sweethearts on board, or as she had of Hugo's "Napoleon le Petit," which she read purely out of contrariness to the censorship laid on the exiled poet. Michel Ney, however, and this she noted carefully, now kept close within his soldier's shell. He had that unofficial duty to think on, which was enough and over.
"——as well as," he finished desperately, "as a duty to an authority over us both. If you would believe that, mademoiselle?"
Then she struck. A word sufficed. "Oh, Monsieur the Sergeant!" she exclaimed. Her tone was deprecating, but she lingered wickedly on the title. The young Frenchman looked down on his natty uniform. No other cut or cloth in the whole imperial army of France was more dashing than the sky-blue of a Chasseur d'Afrique, but none of that filled Michel's eyes. For him there were only the worsted stripes. He colored and winced.
"Forgive me," she said meekly, "I should have said, 'Monsieur the Duke.'"
The Chasseur flushed like a boy. "Why will you harp on what a grandfather made me?" he blurted out. "And what's a duke——?"
"And a prince?—the Prince of Moskowa!" She courtesied from her slender waist.
"Alas for my blunders," she sighed, "for it was more delicate after all to call you sergeant. In that I congratulate you yourself, Michel, and never a grandfather."
Ney frowned unhappily. "The first prince of Moskowa was once a sergeant," he murmured, "and why shouldn't I, in this new country——"
"Mironton, mironton, mirontaine," she sang, and smiled on him.
His eyes flashed, and because of the voice his heart quickened. He had heard of "this new country." It was "a gold mine in a bed of roses," but with a thorn, to say nothing of a bayonet, for every bud, and like many another young Frenchman he hoped to win renown in the romantic Mexican Empire, sprung like Minerva from the brain of his own emperor. And now here was a girl humming the war song of his fathers and of his race, and flaunting his warrior's ambition in it.
"My Sergeant has gone to the wars, Far off to war in Flanders. He's a bold prince of commanders, With a fame like Alexander's— Mironton, mironton, mirontaine!
"Mon Sergot s'en va t-en guerre— Ne sais quand reviendra. Mironton, mironton, mirontaine!"
Having thus ousted the crusading hero of the song, and put the slang for "sergeant" in his stead, Jacqueline leaned back on the gunwale quite contented. She fell to gazing on the transparent emerald of the inshore, and plunged in her hand. The soft, plump wrist turned baby pink under the riffles. Of a sudden Berthe her maid half screamed, whereat with a delighted little gasp of fright, she jerked out the hand. But she put it back again, to tempt the watchful shark out there.
"My grandfather was only a duke," she mused aloud, very humbly. But she peeped up at Ney in the most exasperating manner. He could just see the gray eyes behind the edge of lace that fell from the slanting brim of her hat. He would not, though, meet the challenge. He kept to sincerity as the safer ground.
"Like mine, mademoiselle, yours made himself one, under Napoleon."
"The great Napoleon," she corrected him gently.
Michel assented with a sad little nod. Then he raised his head bravely. "And why not do things without a great Napoleon, and, after all, isn't he a Napoleon, and one who——"
"Is lucky enough to bear a name that means seven million votes. I should rather be a 'sergeant' and congratulate none but myself on it, Monsieur the—Duke."
Again, with the wisdom of a slow intelligence, the Chasseur held back from her subtleties. If only he might betray her into frankness—a compliment she paid to few men and to a woman never—then, just possibly, he might make her tractable as to their prompt return to the ship.
"Still, it is a name to rally to," he persisted, acknowledging in spite of himself the magic that had swayed the Old Guard.
For once she left the poor shark in peace.
"A name, a name?" she repeated.
"Isn't 'France' enough of a name for your rallying, monsieur?"
But the honest mood could not last. In the same breath she hastened on, "Yes, yes, France, the beloved of us proud grandchildren of original dukes. Of myself, sir, with a chateau in the Bourbonnais, whose floors are as well watered as the vineyards outside. And your France too, Michel, giving you only your clean linen to disguise the sergeant and remind us of the marshal of the First Empire. Of course," she added kindly, "there is the bravery. I had forgotten that, O grandson of the 'brave des braves.' But then?—Bonte divine, there's no rank in courage, mon ami! It's not the epaulette of a French uniform—it's the merest lining."
"And that," the youth cried doggedly, "is still enough to——"
"To do things for France, eh petit piou-piou?"
"Helas! our France can't expect much from me. But you, mademoiselle, you will do things for her!" It was a spontaneous tribute, just that, without thought of prying into the secret of her mission, "While I," he ended dismally, "can only fight."
"But you forget," she answered gravely, "that after all a woman can only give."
That cynicism of life which had become a part of the young girl was yet gaiety itself. Youth and health and beauty would not have even cynicism otherwise. But now, as she spoke, the irony was bitter, and worn, as of age. And behind it was a woman's reluctance before some abhorred sacrifice, a sacrifice which would entail the woman's power to give.
Ney stared at her uncomprehendingly. Here lay a clue to her mysterious errand in Mexico. But he was not thinking of her as the Napoleonic enigma personified. It was of herself he thought, an enigma apart. She was a flower of France. Yet many, many flowers blossom there. She might be a grande dame, of nobility of womanhood as well as of family. Or again, she might be only an alluring, heartless witch, that helped to make tempting, and damnable, the brilliant Second Empire. But in any case, Jacqueline was truly as dainty as a flower.
"It has already cost us enough to gain this New World," ventured the Chasseur, waving a hand toward the desolate shore, "and we made Maximilian emperor, but now they say that, that he would—they say so in Paris, mademoiselle—that he would rob us of it."
"Indeed, monsieur?" There was warning in the look she gave him.
"But," he plunged on boldly, "our soldiers still hold it, that is, until, until someone shall win it for us for our very own, absolutely. Ducal grandfathers never did more than that for France."
"Where are you leading, Michel? Please take me with you."
"To a question. Don't you think 'someone' is risking a great deal for a little walk on shore?"
Before she answered he knew that she had seen through all his blundering wiles.
"Are there guerrillas there?" she asked pensively.
"You should know. But they say, that out of Tampico especially——"
She was gazing toward the land, sandy and flat. Once she looked back with lively distaste at the rocking ship. Now she interrupted.
"It would be fun traveling overland—and such excitement!"
Ney's shoulders went up in despair.
"Oh, my poor guardian!" she exclaimed contritely. "But why aren't you a reader of the poets? Then you would find something to say to make me feel—sorry."
"You say it then."
"Why, for example, you might call all the stored vengeance of heaven right down on my ungrateful top."
The soldier gazed at the ungrateful top. It was of burnished copper. A rebellious lock was then blowing in the wind, and there was a wide, rakish crown of rice-white straw. There was also a soft skin of creamy satin, lips blood red, a velvet patch near a dimple, and two gray eyes that danced behind the hat's filmy curtain. An ungrateful top, out of all mercy!
A FRA DIAVOLO IN THE LAND OF ROSES
"A haunter of marshes, a holder of moors."—Beowulf.
The torpid, sordid and sun-baked port of Tampico gave little promise of aught so romantic and rare and exotic as the young French woman's coveted thrill of ecstasy. There was first the sand bar, which kept ships from coming up the deep Panuco to the town. Beyond there were lagoons and swamps mottling the flat, dreary, moisture-sodden, fever-scourged land. There were solemn pelicans, and such kind of grotesque bird as use only one leg, it being long enough for two, and never that to walk upon, so far as anybody had ever noticed. Such an old fellow would outline himself against the yellow loneliness, like a lump of pessimistic philosopher impaled on the end of his own hobbling crutch. Tarpons and sharks and sword-fish, monstrous, sinister, moved slothfully in the viscid waters. From scrubby growth on the banks a hundred or a hundred thousand crows had much ado with rebuking the invaders of their solitude.
Next, clusters of thatch roofs appeared, and in an hour the party from the Imperatrice Eugenie gained the wharf of the port. The sailors managed to steer through a tangle of shipping and dugout scows, the latter heaped high with fruits and flowers of many colors, or hides or fish of many aromas. Before the small boat could touch the worm-eaten quay, Jacqueline had poised herself on its edge, caught her skirts, and hopped lightly over the stretch of water yet remaining. Then she gazed curiously around on Mexico.
And Mexico was there in various forms to greet her, though in no form animated. Sluggish creatures under peaked sombreros of muddied straw seemed to be growing against the foreground of wharf and dingy warehouses, and fastened to the background of sallow blazing streets and sallow reflecting walls there were still the same human barnacles. But no creature seemed ever to move. They all looked a part of the decay, of putrefying vegetable and flesh and fish everywhere, which grew so rank in life that in death their rotting could never keep pace.
A lazy town stretched up a lazy street. On a hill farther up the river a fortress basked in peace, and had no desire to be disturbed. In the town the buildings were of warped timber, and a few of stone. Parasitic tumors, like loathsome black ulcers, swelled abundantly on the roofs. They were the buzzards, the only form of life held sacred. To clean up nature's and man's spendthrift killing was a blessed service in Tampico. It saved exertion.
A strange region, by all odds! But at least one could walk thereon, and Jacqueline thought it droll. An outlandish corner of the earth such as this was something never experienced before. But as to that, the outlandish corner might have said the same about Jacqueline. Men stared like dazed sheep on the astounding apparition of a lady. Some among them were entirely clothed, in sun-yellowed white. There was a merchant or so, a coffee exporter or so, a ranchero or so, and hacendados from the interior. But they were all hard, typical, and often darkly scowling, which seemed an habitual expression inspired by the thought of a foreign Hapsburg emperor so mighty and proud, far off in their capital. There was not an officer among them; nor, quite likely, a gentleman. Never a bit of red was to be seen from the garrison on the hill. The French invaders up there, with pardonable taste, kept to themselves. Their policing ended with the smothering of revolt. So against the stain of tainted mankind, the vision of delicate femininity contrasted as a fleck of spotless white on a besmeared palette. But crows, scavengers, men, they were all so many "creatures" to Jacqueline—the setting of a very novel scene, and she would not have had it otherwise.
She turned to her maid, who shrank hesitating in the boat. "Berthe, you pitiful little ninny, are you coming? Then do, and do not forget the satchel." For a promenade of an hour the inhabitants of two imperial courts must needs have a satchel, filled of course with mysteries of the toilet. The maid obeyed, and followed her mistress up the lazy ascending street. They passed through the Alameda of dense cypresses, an inky blot as on glaring manila paper, while the shade overhead was profane with jackdaws. The lady tripped on, and into the street again. Ney and a sailor hurried to overtake her. The other sailors meantime went on their errand for fresh meat, but Michel had said to the steward in charge, "If there should be any need, I'll send this man to you. Then you come, all of you, quick!"
Jacqueline pushed on her voyage of discovery, and her retinue trooped behind, single file, over the narrow, burning sidewalks of patched flagstone. The word "Cafe" on a corner building caught her eye. It was a native fonda, overflowing with straw-bottomed chairs and rusty iron tables half-way across the street, making carts and burros find their way round. Mexico's outward signs at least were being done over into French. Hence the dignity of "Cafe."
"Here is Paris," the explorer announced. "And this is the Boulevard." She seated herself before one of the iron tables that rocked on the egg-like cobblestones. She made Ney sit down also, and included Berthe and the sailor. An olive barefoot boy took their order for black coffee. Jacqueline's elbows were on the table and her chin on two finger tips, and she disposed herself placidly, as though this were the Maison Doree and Tout Paris sauntering by. The town was beginning to stretch after its siesta. That is to say, divers natives manifested symptoms of going to move in the course of time.
"Look!" exclaimed Jacqueline. "Only give yourself the trouble to look!"
She was pointing to a man, of course. The Chasseur stirred uneasily. One could never see to the end of Jacqueline's slender finger. "There, Berthe," she cried, "it's Fra Diavolo, just strayed from the Opera."
The stranger she meant was talking darkly to another man in the door of the Cafe. If a Fra Diavolo, he was at least not disguised in his monk's cowl, either because the April day was too hot or because he had never owned one. But he stood appareled in his banditti role, very picturesque and barbaric and malevolent. And though he posed heavily, he yet had that Satanic fascination which the beautiful of the masculine and the sinister of the devil cannot help having. His battered magnificence of a charro garb fitted well the diabolic character which Jacqueline assigned him. Spurs as bright as dollars jangled on high russet heels. His breeches closed to the flesh like a glove, so that his limbs were as sleek as some glossy forest animal's. The cloth was of Robin-Hood green, foxed over in bright yellow leather. From hip to ankle undulated a seam of silver clasps. More silver, in braided scrolls, adorned his jacket, and wrapped twice around the waist was a red banda. Jacqueline would have preferred the ends dangling, like a Neapolitan's. The ranchero, for such he appeared, wore two belts. One was a vibora, or serpent, for carrying money; the other held his weapons, a long hunting knife and a revolver, each in a scabbard of stamped leather embroidered with gold thread. His sombrero was high pointed and heavy, of chocolate-colored beaver encircled by a silver rope as thick as a garden hose.
"Now there's realism in those properties," Jacqueline noted with an artist's critical eye. "See, there's dry mud on his shoes, and his bright colors are faded by weather. That man sleeps among the rocks, I'll wager, and he's in the saddle almost constantly too. My faith, our Fra Diavolo is exquisite!"
The other of the two men was a withered, diminutive, gaunt and hollow old Mexican. He quailed like a frightened miser before Fra Diavolo.
"The risk? Coming to this town a risk!" Fra Diavolo was echoing the ancient man. "Bah, Murguia, you would haggle over a little risk as though it were some poor Confederate's last bale of cotton. But I—por Dios, I get tired of the mountains. And then I come to Tampico. Yet you ask why I come? Bien, senor mio, this is why." A gesture explained. Fra Diavolo unctuously rubbed his thumb over his fingers. The meaning of the gesture was, "Money!"
The old man recognized the pantomime and shivered. He shrank into his long black coat as though right willingly he would shrink away altogether. His parsimony extended even to speech. He pursued his fugitive voice into the depths of the voluminous coat and there clutched it as a coin in a chest. Then he paid it out as though it were a coin indeed.
"But——" he stammered.
"No buts," the fierce ranchero growled thunderously. "Not one, Don Anastasio, not while our country bleeds under the Austrian tyrant's heel, not while there yet breathes a patriot to scorn peril and death, so only that he get the sinews of war."
The curiously unctuous gesture grew menacing, brutal. Don Anastasio twitched and trembled before it. Under the towering and prismatic Fra Diavolo he cowered, an insignificant figure. The unrelieved black of his attire accorded with his meagre frame. It was secretive, miserly. A black stock covered a withered collar. A dingy silk tile was tightly packed over a rusted black wig. Boots hid their tops under the skirts of his coat, and the coat in turn was partly concealed under a black shawl. But there was one incongruous item. Boots, coat, hat and all were crusted with brine. He had evidently passed through salty spray, had braved the deep, this shrinking old man in frayed black. Just now his eyes, normally moist and avaricious, were parched dry by fear, as though a flame had passed over them. They might have rattled in their gaping sockets. Fear also helped him clutch his voice, which he paid out regardless of expense.
"You know, Don——" But Fra Diavolo scowled, and the name died on his lips. "You know," he went on, "why you haven't seen me for so long. It's the blockade up there. It's closer than ever now. This time I waited many nights for a chance to run in, and as many more to run out again."
"And you squeezed the poor devils all the harder for your weevily corn and shoddy boots?"
Jacqueline, who could not hear a word, told her companions with a child's expectancy only to wait and they would see Fra Diavolo eat up the poor little crow.
The crow, meantime, was trying to oust the notion that had alighted in the brain of Fra Diavolo. "Of course I ought to ask the Confederates higher prices as the risks increase," he said, then paused and shook his head and wig and hat like a mournful pendulum. "But how can I? The South hardly grows any more cotton. It cannot pay high, and——"
"And that's not my affair, but——" Again the business of thumb and fingers—"but this is. Quick now!"
"Senor, I—Your Mercy knows that I always pay at—at the usual place—near the forest."
"You mean that you won't pay here, because I am the one in danger here, and not you? Bien, you want a money-getting man for your daughter, eh, Don Anastasio, though you'll deny that you would give her to any man? Bien, bonissimo, I am going to prove myself an eligible suitor. In another minute Your Mercy will be frightened enough to pay. Attention now!"
So saying he drew a reed whistle from his jacket. It was no thicker than a pencil, and not half so long.
Murguia gripped his arm. "My daughter?" he cried. "It has been weeks since I—but you must have seen her lately. Oh tell me, senor, there is no bad news of her?" He had forgotten the threatened extortion. His voice was open too, generous in its anxiety.
"News of her, yes. But it is vague news. There's a mystery about your daughter, Don Anastasio."
But at this point Fra Diavolo dismissed mystery and daughter both with an ugly grimace. Nor would he say another word, for all the father's pleading. Instead, he remembered the little reed whistle in his hand, and swung round to blow upon it, in spite of the palsied hand clutching at his arm. But in turning, he became aware of the amused Parisienne watching him. His jaw fell, whereat Don Anastasio's hand slipped from his arm, and Don Anastasio himself began to slip away.
"Stop!" roared Fra Diavolo. "No, go ahead. Wait at the meson, though, until I come. Wait until I give you your passports."
Then he turned again to stare at the girl who all unconsciously had wrought the poor little crow's release.
THE VIOLENT END OF A TERRIBLE BANDIT
"Come listen to me, you gallants so free, All you that love mirth for to hear, And I will tell you of a bold outlaw." —Robin Hood.
"Oh, oh, now he's coming to eat us!" Jacqueline gasped.
The fierce stranger, however, seemed undecided. His brow furrowed, and for the moment he only stared. Jacqueline peeped through the lashes curtaining her eyes. She wanted to see his face, and she saw one of bold lines. The chin was a hard right angle. The mouth was a cruel line between heavily sensuous lips. The nose was a splendid line, and a very assertive and insolent nose altogether. The forehead was rugged, with a free curving sweep. Here there would have been a certain nobility, only its slope was just a hint too low. The skin was tawny. The moustache was black and bristling, as was also the thick hair, which lay back like grass before a breeze. The shaggy eyebrows were parted by deep clefts, the dark corrugations of frowning. One wondered if the man did not turn the foreboding scowl on and off by design. But all these were matters that fitted in with the other striking "properties," and Jacqueline was fairly well satisfied with her Fra Diavolo. As she declared to herself, here was the very dramatic presence to mount upon a war charger!
Now when Jacqueline peeped—there was something irresistible about it—the furrows in the black-beetled brow smoothed themselves out, whether the stranger meant them to or not. And a vague resolve took hold on him, and quickened his breath. Her glance might have been invitation—Tampico was not a drawing room—but still he hesitated. There was a certain hauteur in the set of the demoiselle's head, which outbalanced the mischief in her eyes. He felt an indefinable severity in her tempting beauty, and this was new to his philosophy of woman. But as he drank in further details, his resolve stiffened. That Grecian bend to her crisp skirt was evidently an extreme from the Rue de la Paix, foretelling the end of stupendous flounces. Then there was the tilt to the large hat, and the veil falling to the level of the eyes, and the disquieting charm of both. The wine-red lips had a way of smiling and curling at the same time. And still again there was that line of the neck, from the shoulder up to where it hid under the soft, old-gold tendrils, and that line was a thing of beauty and seductive mystery. The dreadful ranchero went down in humility before the splendor of the tantalizing Parisienne.
Michel Ney leaned nearer over the table. "In all conscience, mademoiselle, your Fra Diavolo is bizarre enough," he said, "but please don't let us stir him up. Think, if anything should happen to you, why Mexico, why France would——"
"You flatter!" she mocked him. "Only two empires to keep me out of a flirtation? It's not enough, Michel."
A shadow fell over them. "My apologies," spoke a deep voice, "but the senorita, she is going to the City, to the Capital, perhaps?"
The syllables fell one by one, distinct and heavy. The Spanish was elaborately cermonious, but the accent was Mexican and almost gutteral.
"L'impertinent!" cried Ney, bounding to his feet. No diffidence cloyed his manner now. He was on familiar ground at last, for the first time since fighting Arabs in Algeria. He was supremely happy too, and as mad as a Gaul can be. "L'impertinent!" he repeated, coaxingly.
"Now don't be ridiculous, Michel," said Jacqueline. "He can't understand you."
Moreover, the fame of the Chasseurs, of those colossal heroes with their terrible sabres, of their legendary prowess in the Crimea, in China, in Italy, in Africa, none of it seemed to daunt the Mexican in the least.
"How, little Soldier-Boy Blue?" he inquired with cumbrous pleasantry.
"Alas, senor," said Jacqueline, "he's quite a little brother to dragons."
"What are you talking about?" Michel demanded.
"I am keeping you from being eaten up, young sire, but," and Jacqueline's tone changed, "pray give yourself the trouble to be calm. He only means a kindly offer of service, no doubt, however strange that may seem to your delicacy of breeding, Monsieur the Duke."
Michel heaved a sigh and—sat down. He was no longer on familiar ground. Then Fra Diavolo proceeded to verify mademoiselle's judgment of him. Sombrero in hand and with a pompous courtliness, he repeated his natural supposition that the senorita was on her way to the City (meaning the City of Mexico), and perhaps to the court of His Glorious Majesty, Maximiliano. He offered himself, therefore, in case he might have the felicity to be of use. This she need not consider as personal, if it in any way offended, but as an official courtesy, since she saw in him an officer—an officer of His Most Peace-loving Majesty's Contra Guerrillas. And thus to a conclusion, impressively, laboriously.
Jacqueline was less delighted than at first. The dash and daredeviltry was somehow not quite sustained. But she replied that he had surmised correctly, and added that she was Mademoiselle d'Aumerle.
He started at the name, and her eyes sparkled to note the effect. "The Marquesa Juana de Aumerle!" he repeated.
"Jeanne d'Aumerle, no other, sir," she assured him, but she watched him quizzically, for she knew that another name was hovering on his lips.
"Surely not——" he began.
"Si senor," and she smiled good humoredly, "I am—'Jacqueline.'"
It was a name that had sifted from the court down into distant plebeian corners of the Mexican Empire, and it was tinged—let us say so at once—with the unpleasing hue of notoriety.
"His Ever Considerate Majesty Maximiliano would be furious if any harm should befall Your Ladyship," Fra Diavolo observed, "though," he added to himself, "the empress would possibly survive it."
Jacqueline looked at him sharply. But in his deferential manner she could detect no hint of a second meaning. Yet he had laid bare the kernel of the whole business that bore the name of Jacqueline. She betrayed no vexation. If this were her cross, she was at least too haughtily proud to evade it. For a passing instant only she looked as she had in the small boat, when she had said that about the mission of a woman being to give. The next moment, and the mood was gone.
With knowledge of her identity, the project that was building in the stranger's dark mind loomed more and more dangerously venturesome. But as he gazed and saw how pretty she was, audacity marched strong and he wavered no longer. And when she thanked him, and added that the ship was only waiting until she finished her coffee, he roused himself and drove with hard will to his purpose.
"Going on by water?" he protested. "But Senorita de Aumerle, we are in the season for northers. Look, those mean another storm," and he pointed overhead, to harmless little cotton bunches of clouds scurrying away to the horizon.
"Eh bien," returned the senorita, "what would you?"
He would, it appeared, that she go by land. He hoped that she did not consider his offer an empty politeness, tendered only in the expectation of its being refused. He so contrived, however, that that was precisely the way his offer might be interpreted, and in that he was deeper than she imagined. She grew interested in the possibility of finishing her journey overland. He informed her that one could travel a day westward on horseback to a place called Valles, then take the City of Mexico and Monterey stage, and reach the City in two days, which was much shorter than by way of the sea and Vera Cruz. He spoke as dispassionately as a time table. But he noted that she clothed his skeleton data with a personal interest. And Ney also, who had caught the drift of things, saw new mischief brewing in her gray eyes.
"You really are not thinking, mademoiselle——" he interrupted.
"And why not, pray?"
"Why not? Why—uh—the bandits, of course."
Jacqueline turned to the stranger who served as itinerary folder. Would he dispose of the childish objection? He would. But he wondered why the senor had not mentioned one who was the most to be feared of all bandits; in fact, the most implacable of the rebels still battling against His Truly Mexican Majesty. The stranger paused expectantly, but as Ney seemed to recognize no particular outlaw from the description, he went on with a deepening frown, "——and who is none other than the Capitan Don Rodrigo Galan."
"Who's he?" Ney inquired, willing enough to have any scarecrow whatever for Jacqueline.
"Is it possible?—Your Mercy does not know?"
Ney pleaded that he had never been in the country before.
"But surely," the Mexican objected, "Don Rodrigo is a household word throughout Europe?"
"He has certainly been heard of in Mexico," said Jacqueline, whereat Fra Diavolo turned to her gratefully. "But," she added, "Monsieur Ney will now find in him another objection to my journeying overland."
The ardor of the bandit's eulogist faltered. "The senor might indeed," he confessed, "only," and here he hesitated like a man contemplating suicide, "only, Don Rodrigo has been—yes, he's been shot, from ambush; and his band—yes, his band is scattered forever."
Having achieved the painful massacre, Fra Diavolo traveled on more easily to assure the senorita that since then the country had been entirely pacified. Ney, however, was not. How did they know the story was true? And if it was, he was sorry. He would enjoy meeting the terrible and provokingly deceased Monsieur Rodrigue, if only to teach him that being terrible is not good manners. But, did they know for certain that the bandit was dead?
"We do," said the Mexican, again like a reluctant suicide, "because I killed him myself."
"But how are we to know, sir," Ney persisted, "that you are so terrible on your own account?"
"My identification, you mean? Bueno, it is only just. Here, this may do," and the ranchero drew a paper from his money belt and handed it to Jacqueline. The paper was an order addressed to one Captain Maurel, who was to proceed with his company to the district of Tampico, and there to take and to shoot the guerrilla thief, Rodrigo Galan, and all his band, who infested the district aforesaid, known as the Huasteca. The Captain Maurel would take note that this Rodrigo Galan frequented the very city of Tampico itself, with an impudence to be punished at all hazards. Signed: Dupin, Colonel of His Majesty's Contra Guerrillas.
"Colonel Dupin?" Jacqueline repeated with a wry mouth. Dupin, the Contra-Guerrilla chief, was a brave Frenchman. But the quality of his mercy had made his name a shudder on the lips of all men, his own countrymen included.
"Yes," said Fra Diavolo between his teeth, "Mi Coronel Dupin—the Tiger."
"So he is called, I know," said Jacqueline. "And you, it appears, are Captain Maurel—Maurel, but that is French?"
"The way it is spelled on the paper, yes. But my Coronel, being French, made a mistake. He should have written it 'Morel.'"
"No matter," said Jacqueline, "for you are only a trite, conventional officer, after all. But how much merrier it would be if you were—were——" and suddenly she leaned over the paper and placed an impetuous finger on the bandit's name. "So," she continued wistfully, "there is no danger. We ride, we take a stage. It is tame. I say it is tame, monsieur!"
Captain Maurel, or Morel, desired to add that there was a trader who owned an hacienda in the interior, and that this trader was starting for his plantation the very next morning; all of which was very convenient, because the trader had extra horses, and he, Captain Morel, had a certain influence with the trader. The senorita's party could travel with his friend's caravan as far as the stage.
"Voila!" cried Jacqueline. "It is arranged!"
"Diable, it is not!" Michel was on his feet again.
His wayward charge looked him over reflectively. "Our Mars in his baby clothes again," said she, as a fond, despairing mother with an incorrigible child.
The Mexican had shown himself hostile and ready. But seeing Jacqueline's coolness he melted out of his somewhat theatrical bristling, lest her sarcasm veer toward himself.
The tempestuous Mars, however, was beyond the range of scorn. He kept one stubborn purpose before him. "We go back to the ship, or"—he took breath where he meant to put a handsome oath—"or—it's a fight!"
"There, there," said Jacqueline gently. "Besides, are you not to go with me just the same?"
Ney turned to the stranger. "I ask you to withdraw, sir, both yourself and your offers, because you're only meddling here."
The intruder grew rigid straightway. "I am not one to take back an offer," he stated loftily. His voice was weighted to a heavier guttural, and in the deep staccatos harshly chopped off, and each falling with a thud, there was a quality so ominous and deadly that even Jacqueline had her doubts. But she would not admit them, to herself least of all. "And I, Monsieur Ney," she said, "have decided to accept," though she had not really, until that very moment.
Ney turned to the one sailor with him. "Run like fury!" he whispered. "Bring the others!"
"Oh, very well," said the Mexican.
As he doubtless intended, Fra Diavolo's words sounded like the low growl of an awakening lion, and at the same time he brought forth the reed whistle and put it to his lips. The note that came was faint, like that of a distant bird in the forest.
Ney smiled. It seemed inadequate, silly. Lately he had become familiar with the sonorous foghorn, and besides, he was not a woodsman and knew nothing of the penetration of the thin, vibrant signal. When the sailors should come, he would take the troublesome fellow to the commander of the garrison on the hill. But then a weight fell on him from behind, and uncleanliness and garlic and the sweating of flesh filled his nostrils. Bare arms around his neck jerked up his chin, according to the stroke of Pere Francois. Other writhing arms twined about his waist, his legs, his ankles; and hands clutched after his sabre and pistol. But at last he stood free, and glared about him, disarmed and helpless. Jacqueline's infernal Fra Diavolo was surveying him from the closed door of the Cafe, behind which he had swept the two women. His stiff pose had relaxed, and he was even smiling. He waved his hand apologetically over his followers. "His Exceeding Christian Majesty's most valiant contra guerrillas," he explained.
The so-called contra guerrillas were villainous wretches, at the gentlest estimate. Their scanty, ragged and stained cotton manta flapped loosely over their skin, which was scaly and as tough as old leather. Most of them had knives. A few carried muskets, long, rusty, muzzle-loading weapons that threw a slug of marble size.
Almost at once the burly French sailors appeared, but Fra Diavolo's little demons closed in behind them and around them and so kept them from reaching Ney. Thus both sides circled about and moved cautiously, waiting for the trouble to begin in earnest. Michel only panted, until at last he bethought himself that there was such a thing as strategy.
"One of you out there," he shouted in French, "quick, go to the fort. Bring the soldiers!"
The Mexicans did not understand, and before they could prevent, a sailor had taken to his heels.
Then Fra Diavolo comprehended. "You idiots!" he bellowed. "You—Pedro! Catch him! Faster!—Catch him, I say!"
A little demon darted away in pursuit of the sailor. Obviously, the situation hung on the swifter in the race.
LA LUZ, BLOCKADE RUNNER
"For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring." —Romeo and Juliet.
"Meson" is Spanish for hostelry. In the ancient caravansaries, like the one at Bethlehem sacred to the Christ child, the same accommodations were meted out to man and beast alike. More recently there are "hotels," which distinguish a man from his beast, usually; though sometimes undeservedly. And so the word "meson" got left behind along with its primitive meaning. But in Mexico word and meaning still go together to this day, and both described pretty well the four walls in Tampico where Anastasio Murguia tarried. Excepting the porter's lodge at the entrance, the establishment's only roof formed an open corridor against one of the walls, in which species of cloister the human guests were privileged to spread their blankets in case of rain or an icy norther. Otherwise they slept in the sky-vaulted court among the four-footed transients, for what men on the torrid Gulf coast would allow his beast more fresh air than himself?
Don Anastasio's caravan filled the meson with an unflurried, hay-chewing promise of bustle-to-be at some future date. Except for the camels and costume lacking, the Mexican trader might have been a sheik in an oasis khan. His bales littered the patio's stone pavement. They were of cotton mostly, which he had bought in the Confederate States, in exchange for necessities of warfare and life. Complacent burros and horses were juggling into their mouths some final grains from the sacks over their noses. Peon servants stolidly busied themselves around charcoal braziers.
An American leaned in the cavernous doorway. The tarnished insignia on his collar indicated an officer of Confederate cavalry. He was smoking a cob pipe, of which he seemed quite fond. And as a return for such affection, the venerable Missouri meerschaum lent to its young master an air that was comfortably domestic and peaceable. The trooper wore a woolen shirt. His boots were rough and heavy. Hard wear and weather had softened his gray hat into a disreputable slouch affair. A broad black-leather belt sagged about his middle from the weight of cartridges. Under his ribs on either side protruded the butt of a navy-six, thrust in between shirt and trousers. He watched with dozing interest the muleteers inside as they roped up straw, tightened straps, and otherwise got ready for departure. Then Anastasio Murguia appeared coming up the street, just from his lately recorded interview with Fra Diavolo. The weazened little old Mexican was in a fretful humor, and his glance at the lounging Southerner was anything but cordial. He would have passed on into the meson, but the other stopped him.
"Well, Murgie, are we projecting to start to-night?" the trooper inquired in English. "Eh?—What say?"
What Don Anastasio had said was nothing at all, but being thus urged, he mumbled a negative.
"Not starting to-night?" his questioner repeated. "Now, why don't we?—What?—Lordsake, man, dive! Bring up that voice there for once!"
Murguia sank to the chin in his black coat. Glancing apprehensively at the cavalryman's long arm, he edged away to the farther side of the doorway. Experience had accustomed the ancient trader to despots, but in this cheery youngster of a Gringo the regal title was not clear, which simply made tyranny the more irksome. The Gringo was the veriest usurper. He did not justify his sway by the least ferocity. He never uttered a threat. Where, then, was his right to the sceptre he wielded so nonchalantly? Were there only some tangible jeopardy to his pelt, Murguia would have been more resigned. But his latest autocrat was only matter-of-fact, blithely and aggravatingly matter-of-fact.
By every rule governing man's attitude toward man, the Senor Don should have been the bully, and the youngster the cringing sycophant. For since their very odd meeting two weeks before, the tyrant had been in the power of the tyrannized. It began on Murguia's own boat, where Murguia was absolute. Any time after leaving Mobile he had merely to follow his inclinations and order the fellow thrown overboard. Yet it was the soldier boy who had assumed the ascendancy, and it could not have been more natural were the boat's owner a scullion and the intruder an admiral.
"And why don't we start to-night?" the complacent usurper demanded in that plaintive drawl which so irritated the other. "You went for your passports, didn't you get 'em?"
"Good! Then to-night it is, eh?—Can't you speak out, my gracious!"
"You might go to-night," the trader suggested timidly.
"Alone?—N-o, parting isn't the sweet sorrow it's cracked up to be. Besides, I don't know the roads, but of course that's nothing to losing a jovial old mate like you, Murgie."
Don Anastasio smirked at the pleasantry. "But I can't go to-night, senor. I—I have to see—someone—first."
The trooper betrayed the least impatience. "Now look here—usurer, viper, blanketed thief, honorable sir, you know I'm in a hurry!"
That his haste could be any concern of Murguia's was preposterous, and Murguia would have liked nothing better than to tell him so. But he did not, and suffered inwardly because somehow he could not. He harbored a dim but dreadful picture of what might happen should the amiable cavalryman actually lose his temper. Loss of patience had menace enough, though the Southerner had not stirred from his lazy posture in the doorway nor overlooked a single contented puff from the Missouri meerschaum.
"I'm sorry," Don Anastasio paid out the hard-found words through his teeth, "but possibly we can leave to-morrow. Will, will that suit Your Mercy, Senor Coronel?"
"Oh perhaps. Anyhow, don't go to forgetting, now, that I'm in a hurry."
Don Anastasio breathed easier, and he even grew so bold as to recall a certain suspicion he had entertained. "Your errand down here must be of considerable importance, Senor Coronel?" he ventured.
"There you are again—crawling again." It was evident that the trooper's normal condition was a great, hearty, calm good humor.
But the Mexican's shriveled features grew sharper and his moist eyes more prying. His suspicion had tormented him ever since fate had thrown the Confederate in his way. This had happened one stormy night at Mobile. The night in question was pitch dark. The tide was favorable, too, but a norther was blowing, the very same norther that had turned the Imperatrice Eugenie off her course. Murguia's skipper had chosen the hour of midnight for running the Federal blockade outside, and he had already given the order to cast off, when a horseman in a cape overcoat rode to the edge of the wharf.
"Wait there!" the horseman trumpeted through his hand.
It was the first word Murguia had ever heard from his future tyrant, and even then the cool tone of authority nettled him. But he reflected that here might be a passenger, and a passenger through the blockade usually meant five hundred dollars in gold. He ordered the plank held for a moment.
"They tell me—whoa, Demijohn!—you are going to Tampico?" hallooed the same voice.
"Yes," Murguia answered, and was going to name his price, when without more ado the cavalier rode across, dismounted on the deck, and tossed his bridle to the first sailor.
"Ca-rai!" sneered the astonished Mexican, "one would think you'd just reached your own barnyard, senor."
"My own barnyard?" echoed the stranger bitterly. "I haven't seen my own barnyard, or anything that is mine, during these four years past. But you were about to start?"
"Not so fast, senor. Fare in advance, seven hundred dollars." Murguia looked for the haggling to come next, but somehow the sniff he heard was not promising.
"Usurer, viper, blanketed thief, benevolent old rascal," the trooper enumerated as courteously as "Senor Don" or "Your Mercy," "you don't surprise me a bit, not when you charge us three thousand dollars gold for freight on a trunk of quinine!"
"G-g-get back on your horse! G-get off this boat!"
But the intruder calmly drew off his great coat, and Murguia saw the butts of pistols at his waist. Yet they had no reference to the removal of the cape. The latter was a simple act of making oneself at home.
"I reckon," said the newcomer cheerily, "there's no question of fare. Here, I've got a pass."
By a lantern Murguia read the paper handed him. It was signed: "Jefferson Davis, President C. S. A." Therein Mr. Anastasio Murguia or any other blockade runner was required on demand of the bearer, Lieut. Col. Jno. D. Driscoll, to transport the said Driscoll to that part outside the Confederacy which might happen to be the blockade runner's destination.
The peevish old man scowled, hesitated. He read the order again, hesitated again, and at last handed it back, his mind made up.
"Have the goodness, senor, to remove yourself from my boat."
But the lieutenant colonel placidly inquired, "Carry any government cotton this trip? No, I know you don't. Then you're in debt to the government? Correct. So I reckon you'll carry me in place of the cotton."
The demand was just. For their golden privileges the blockade runners took a portion of their cargo on government account. But Murguia knew that the army of Northern Virginia must surrender soon. The Confederacy was really at an end, and this would be his last trip. Why, then, pay a dying creditor?
"The favor, senor! Or must I have you kicked off?"
The senor, however, with his charger behind him, was foraging over the deck to find a stall, and in a fury Murguia plucked at his sleeve. But Driscoll wheeled of his own accord to inquire about horse accommodations, and then the Mexican wondered in his timid soul at his own boldness. It loomed before him as unutterably more preposterous than the lone wanderer's preposterous act of taking possession single handed. Yet the lone wanderer was only gazing down on him very benignly. But what experience of violent life, of cool dealing in death, did poor Don Anastasio behold on those youthful features! In a panic he realized certain vital things. To evade his debt to a government that could never claim it was very seductive and business-like. But there were the Confederate batteries on the wharf, and a line of torpedoes across the entrance to the bay. There were the Federal cannon of Fort Morgan, just beyond. His passenger, if rejected, had only to give the word, and there would be some right eager shooting. And as the Southerners shot, in their present mood, they would remember various matters. They would remember the treasure he had wrung from their distress; the cotton bought for ten cents and sold abroad for a dollar; the nitre, the gunpowder, the clothing and medicines, rated so mercilessly dear; the profits boosted a thousand per cent., though an army was starving.
And yet Murguia could not lift his soul from the few hundred dollars of passage money. He almost had his man by the sleeve again. But no, there were four hundred odd bales on board. There was La Luz, his fleet L20,000 Clyde-built side-wheeler, bought out of the proceeds of a single former trip. Even if torpedoes and cannon missed, the Fort and blockaders outside would be thankful for the alarm, and make sure of him. A few hundred dollars was an amount, but the benignity in Driscoll's whimsical brown eyes meant a great deal more, such for instance, as cotton and steamer and Don Anastasio plunging to the bottom of the bay.
"Oh I s'y, sir," interrupted a voice in vigorous cockney, "this 'ere tide ain't in the 'abit o' waitin'. If we go to-night, we go this minute, sir!" It was the skipper, and the skipper's ultimatum.
"W'y yes," drawled the lieutenant colonel, "let's be marching. I forgot to tell you, I'm in a hurry. Come on, Demijohn," and man and horse went in search of beds.
Murguia looked venomous, but the plank was drawn on board.
THE STORM CENTRE
"God forbid I should be so bold as to press to heaven in my young days." —Titus Andronicus.
The feathering buckets of the paddle wheels began to turn; and La Luz, long, low, narrow, and a racer, moved noiselessly out into the bay. A few yards only, and the loungers on the wharf could neither see nor hear her. Except for the muffled binnacle light, there was neither a ray nor a spark. The anthracite gave almost no smoke. The hull, hardly three feet above water amidships, was "Union color," and invisible at night. The waves slipped over her like oil, without the sound of a splash, almost without breaking. She glided along more and more swiftly. The silent engines betrayed no hint of their power, though breathing a force to drive a vessel five times as large.
There were many entrances to the bay, and Murguia had had his steamer built of light draft especially, to profit by any outlet offering least danger from the vigilant patrol outside. The skipper had already chosen his course. Because of the gale, he calculated that the blockaders would get a considerable offing, lest they flounder mid the shoal waters inshore. He knew too, even if it were not so dark, that a long, foamy line of surf curtained the bay from any watchful eye on the open sea. By the time she reached the beach channels, La Luz had full speed on. Then, knifing the higher and higher waves, she made a dash for it.
For a slender steamer, and in such weather, the risk was desperate. The skipper hoped that the blockaders would never credit him with quite the insanity of it. He held the wheel himself, while beside him his keenest-sighted quartermaster stood guard with a glass. The agitated owner was there also, huddled in his black shawl, but the binoculars glued to his eyes trembled so that he could hardly have seen a full-rigged armada in broad daylight.
Suddenly the quartermaster touched the skipper's arm under the shrouded binnacle. "I s'y sir," he whispered excitedly, "they're—there! There, anchored at the inshore station, just off the bar! My eye, but hain't they beastly idiots? They'll smash to pieces."
The skipper looked and Murguia tried to look. But they saw nothing. Except for the booming of the surf, they might have been on a landless sea, alone in the black night. Don Anastasio was shaking at such a rate that his two companions in the dark wheelhouse were conscious of it. He cursed the quartermaster for a pessimist. The skipper, though, was brave enough to believe.
"We're expected, that's gospel," he muttered. But he did not change his course, for he knew that on his other side there was a second fleet, tugging at drift leads off the entrance to the main ship channel. It was near hopeless, but he meant to dart between the two.
"Now for a reception as 'ull touch us to the quick, as Loo-ee Sixteenth said——" The skipper cut himself short. "Aye, aye, sir," he cried, "they've spied us!"
"They haven't!" groaned Murguia. "How could they?"
"'T'aint important now, sir, how they could. There might be a gleam in our wake. But any'ow they 'ave."
They had indeed. Less than a mile to port there suddenly appeared two red lights, two sullen eyeballs of fire. Then, a rocket cleft the darkness, its slant proclaiming the fugitive's course. Hurriedly the Luz's quartermaster sent up a rocket also, but in the opposite direction. It was useless. A third rocket from the signaling blockader contradicted him.
"We're bein' chased," announced the skipper. "One of 'em 'as slipped her chain and got off."
As La Luz had gained the open, the skipper let his quartermaster take the wheel. "'Old her to the wind, lad," he cautioned. "A beam sea 'ud swamp us." Next he whistled down to the engine room. They were to stoke with turpentine and cotton. At once Murguia began to fidget. "It, it will make smoke," he whined.
"An' steam. We're seen a'ready, ain't we, sir?"
"But it costs more."
"Not if it clears us. Soft coal 'ud seem bloomin' expensive, sir, if we got over'auled."
The race was on. In smooth water it would scarcely have been one. But the boiling fury cut knots from the steamer's speed, while the Federals sent after her only their sailing vessels, which with all canvas spread bent low to the chase. They had, however, used up time to unreef; and with the terrific rolling they would not dare cast loose a gun.
When morning dawned thickly behind the leaden sky, the three men in the wheelhouse made out a top-gallant sail against the horizon. "By noon," said the skipper, "the beggars 'ull 'ave us."
He was a small pert man, was the skipper, with a sharp face, an edge to his voice, and two little points of eyes that glowed. Salt water had not drenched his dry cockney speech, and he was a gamin of the sea and as keen to its gammon ways as in boyhood he had been to those of pubs around the old Bow Bells.
Don Anastasio heard the verdict with a shudder. Given the nature of the man, his mortal fear was the dreadfullest torture that could be devised. The game little cockney peered into his distorted face, and wondered. Never was there a more pitiful coward, and yet the craven had passed through the same agony full twenty times during the last few years. Murguia knew nothing of the noble motives which make a man stronger than terror, but he did know a miser's passion. He begrudged even the costlier fuel that was their hope of safety.
"Your non-payin' guest, sir," said the skipper, pointing downward. "'Spose he wants to buy them 'ere smokestacks?"
The trooper had appeared on deck. He was clinging to a cleat in the rail with a landsman's awkwardness and with the cunning object of proving to the ship that he wasn't to be surprised off his feet another time. He swayed grandly, generously, for'ard and aft, like a metronome set at a large, sweeping rhythm. Every billow shot a flood from stern to bow, and swished past his boots, but he was heedless of that. His head was thrown back, a head of stubborn black curling tufts, and he seemed absorbed in the Luz's two funnels. They gave out little smoke now, for with daylight the skipper had changed to anthracite again, in the forlorn hope of hiding their trail. But it had lessened their steam pressure, and in a short time, the skipper feared, the pursuer would make them out, hull and all.
A moment later the passenger climbed into the wheelhouse. "Look here—Mur—Murgie," he said, "for a seven-hundred-dollar rate that was a toler'ble unsteady cabin I had last night; restless, sort of. It's mighty curious, but something's been acting up inside of me, and I can't seem to make out what it is!" As he spoke, he glanced inquiringly from owner to skipper. He might have been another Panurge envying the planter of cabbages who had one foot on solid earth and the other not far away. He looked pale.
It afforded Don Anastasio little satisfaction to find a young man not more than twenty-two or three. Without his great coat the Southerner proved lithe rather than stocky. There was even an elusive angular effect to him. Yet the night before he had looked as wide and imposing as the general of an army. His cheeks were smooth, but they were tight and hard and brown from the weathering of sun and blizzard. His features had that decisive cleanliness of line which makes for strong beauty in a man. Evidently nature had molded them boyishly soft and refined at first, but in the hardening of life, of a life such as his, they had become rugged. Most of all, the face was unmistakably American. The large mouth had that dry, whimsical set, and that sensitiveness to twitching at the corners, which foretells a smile. The brown eyes sparkled quietly, and contour and expression generally were those which one may find on a Missourian, or a Texan, or on a man from Montana, or even on a New Yorker born; but never, anywhere, except on an American. Whatever is said to the contrary, the new Western race in its fusing of many old ones has certainly produced not one but several peculiarly American types, and Driscoll's was American. It was most so because it had humor, virility, and the optimism that drives back despair and holds forth hope for all races of men.
Murguia was right, his passenger seemed a boy. But war and four years of hardest riding had meant more of age than lagging peace could ever hold. Sometimes there flitted across the lad's face a vague melancholy, but being all things rather than self-inspecting, he could never quite locate the trouble, and would shake himself out of it with a sort of comical wonder. Bitterness had even touched him the night before, as it did many another Southerner on the eve of the Surrender. Yet the boy part in him made such moods rare, and only passing at their worst. On the other hand the same boy-part gave a vigor and a lustre to his occupation, though that occupation was—fighting. He knew no other, and in that the young animal worked off excess of animal life with a refreshing gusto. Even his comrades, of desperado stripe that they were, had dubbed him the Storm Centre. And so he was, in every tempest of arms. The very joy of living—in killing, alas!—always flung him true to the centre. But once there, he was like a calm and busy workman, and had as little self consciousness of the thing—of the gallantry and the heroism—as the prosiest blacksmith. He had grown into a man of dangerous fibre, but he was less aware of it than of his muscles.
Various items on the Luz struck the trooper as amusing. There was the incongruity of his seven-hundred-dollar cabin, the secession of his stomach from the tranquillity of the federal body organic, and finally, this running away from somebody. But he quickly perceived that the last was serious enough. The skipper lowered his glasses, and shook his perky head a number of times. "Who said life was all beer and skittles?" he demanded defiantly, and glared at Driscoll as though he had. But getting no answer, he seemed mollified, as though this proved that the man who had said it was an imbecile. Murguia, by the way, had come to hate no truth more soulfully than the palpable shortcoming of life in the matter of beer and skittles. And now it was borne in upon him again, for the skipper announced, definitely and with an oath, that they'd have to begin throwing the cargo overboard.
Poor Don Anastasio behaved like a man insane. He wrung his hands. He protested stoutly, then incoherently. He whined. He glared vengefully at the dread sail on the horizon, and then he shrank from it, as from a flaming sword. And as it grew larger, his eyeballs rounded and dried into smaller discs. But at once he would remember his darling cotton that must go to the waves, and the beady eyes swam again in moisture, like greenish peas in a sickly broth. Avarice and terror in discord played on the creature as the gale through the whimpering cordage.
"No 'elp for it, sir," said the skipper, bridling like a bantam. "Didn't I try to save my cargo, off Savannah, and didn't I lose my sloop to boot? Didn't I now, sir?—Poor old girl, mebby she's our chaser out 'ere this very minute."
"Try—try more turpentine," said Murguia weakly.
"Yes, or salt bacon, sir, or cognac, or the woodwork, or any blarsted thing I see fit, sir!" The little skipper hit out each item with a step downward to the deck, and five minutes later Murguia groaned, for bale after bale came tumbling out of the hold. Then over they began to go, the first, the second, the third, and another, and another, and after each went a moan from Anastasio. He leaned through the window to see one tossing in the waves, then suffered a next pang to see the next follow after. It was an excruciating cumulus of grief. The trooper regarded him quizzically. Destruction of merely worldly goods had become routine for him. He returned to his contemplation of the two funnels.
The skipper came back, dripping with pray. "The wind's changin'," he said, "and that'll beat down the sea some."
"Reckon they'll get us?" Driscoll asked.
Murguia took the query as an aggravation of woe, and he turned wrathfully on the trooper. "Don't you see we're busy?"
"I see you're very damn sullen, gra-cious me!—Reckon they will, captain?"
"We'll be eatin' a United States of America supper, chained, sir."
"Now look here," said Driscoll plaintively, "I don't want to get caught."
"But I hope as you'll bide with us, sir?"
"Still, I was just thinking—now that smoke——"
"And I'm a thinkin' you don't see much smoke. We're keepin' out o' sight as long as God'll let us."
"But, Captain, why not smoke up—big? Just wait now—this ain't any of my regiment, I know that—but listen a minute anyway. Well, once or twice when we were in a fix, in camp, say, and we knew more visitors were coming than was convenient, w'y, we'd just light the campfires so they would smoke, and then—meantime—we'd light out too. Old Indian trick, you know."
The skipper was first impatient. But as that did no good, he cocked himself for a laugh. Then his mouth puckered to a brisk attention, and at the last word he jumped to his feet. "Damme!" he said, and went thumping down the steps again. He splashed through the water on deck, minding the stiff wind not at all, and dived into the engine-room.
"Soft coal!" gasped Murguia with relief.
It was pouring from the stacks in dense black clouds.
The captain returned. "We'll try to save the rest o' that 'ere cotton, sir," he said.
He looked out at the trembling smoke that betrayed their course so rashly, and from there back to the pursuer on the horizon. He waited a little longer, carefully calculating; then sent an order down the tube to the engineer. The dampers were shut off, and the fuel was changed to anthracite. Soon the smoke went down, and a hazy invisible stream puffed from the funnels instead. The Luz swung at right angles to her former course. The paddles threshed hopefully, and on she sped, leaving no track. The skipper gazed back at the lowering line, which ended abruptly on their port and trailed off toward the horizon with a telegraphy of deceit for the distant sail.
"You soldiers, colonel," he announced, "don't 'ave no monopoly on tricks and gammon, I'm a thinkin'. But I s'y, w'at if you and me go down to my cabin and have a noggin?"
* * * * *
Thus La Luz ran her last blockade, and came safely into port. She reached Tampico some two days before the Imperatrice Eugenie. Whereupon Din Driscoll, as he was called anywhere off the muster roll, informed Don Anastasio that he would continue with him on into the interior. And as seen already, Murguia humbly excused delay, though his guest was not invited, not wanted, and cordially hated besides. That meek smirk of Don Anastasio's was the absurdest thing in all psychology.
Yet what perhaps aggravated the old man most was curiosity. He craved to know the errand of his young despot. In the doorway of the Tampico meson he still hovered near, and ventured more questions.
"How was it that, that you happened to be sent, senor?" he asked.
"Well now," observed the trooper, "there you go figuring it out that I was sent at all."
"It must have been—uh, because you know Spanish. Are you a—a Texan, Senor Coronel?"
"They raised me in Missouri," said the colonel. "But I learned to talk Pan-American some on the Santa Fe trail. We had wagon trains out of Kansas City when I was a good sight younger."
"I thought," said the old man suspiciously, "that perhaps you learned it with Slaughter's army, along the Rio Grande. Slaughter, he's near Brownsville yet, isn't he?"
"With about twenty-five thousand men?"
"Lord, I've clean forgot, not having counted 'em lately."
"Where did you come from then, when you came to Mobile?"
"W'y, as I remember, from Sand Spring, Missouri, near the Arkansas line."
A more obscure crossroads may not exist anywhere, but its bare mention had a curious effect on the prying Don Anastasio. In the instant he seemed to cringe before his late passenger.
"Then you—Your Mercy," he exclaimed, "belongs to Shelby's Brigade?"
The Missourian nodded curtly. His questioner was extraordinarily well informed.
"And, and how many men has Shelby at Sand Spring?"
"Oh, millions. At least millions don't appear to stop 'em any."
"But senor, how, how many Confederates are there altogether west of the Mississippi?"
Driscoll, though, had had enough. "Look here Murgie," he said, "if you keep on crawling, you'll crawl up on a mongoose one of these days, and those things have teeth."
He might have gone further into natural history, but a sudden commotion down the street interrupted. "It's a race!" he cried. "No—Lordsake, if they ain't fighting!"
He drew off his coat, took the pipe from his mouth, and shoved it into his hip pocket, all with the air of a man who has smoked enough and must be getting to work. His brown eyes quickened. It was akin to the satisfaction a merchant feels who scents an unexpected order. He was ready to deliver the goods instantly. His heavy boots went clattering and his great spurs jangling, and soon he was stooping over two men rolling in the dust. But he straightened and thrust his hands into his pockets. He was disappointed. The unexpected order was a hoax. The combatants were one to one, and he could not fairly enter into competition. Then an unaccustomed method for getting into the bidding occurred to him. He might be peacemaker. He leaned over again, to separate them. Each long-fingered hand reached for a collar. Yet even as he caught hold one of his prizes went limp in his grasp. He pulled out the survivor, who proved to be a ragged Mexican with a knife. The other was a French sailor. Driscoll shook the native angrily, whereupon the little demon swung the knife with vicious intent. But Driscoll held him at arm's length, and the sweeps fell short, to the amazement and rage of his captive.
"You miserable little chocolate-hided galoot, why couldn't you wait for me?"
But the chocolate-hided only squirmed to get away. Driscoll glanced up the street whence the two had come. At the next corner, before a cafe, he saw things more promising. A ranchero with a drawn revolver was holding off a young officer in sky-blue uniform, while around them a swarm of natives and ten or eleven sailors were circling uneasily, as if waiting for some sign to begin hostilities. The joy of battle dilated the trooper's nostrils.
"W'y, here I've been wasting time on a smaller edition."
So saying, he flung aside his prisoner; and in another minute he was the centre of the main affair, and having an excellent time.
A BRUISING OF ARMS FOR JACQUELINE
"Then John bent up his long bende-bowe, And fetteled him to shoote." —Robin Hood.
Into the crowd before the cafe, the Storm Centre pushed the argument of shoulders, and quickly gained for himself the place which his pseudonym indicated. Then he stopped, and looked puzzled. Which side to take? The French, being outnumbered, offered the larger contract.
"What's the row?" Driscoll inquired of Ney. But he was ignored. "Might answer," he suggested insidiously, "for it's only a toss-up anyhow which way I enlist. Look here, Sky-Blue, if you don't understand Spanish, just say so, and tell me why you don't start the game."
Ney shoved him aside impatiently, but he calmly stepped back again.
"Come now," he argued plaintively, "let me in, don't be selfish? But—goodness gracious, man, why don't you draw your gun?"
"Because, my good fellow, I haven't any."
The mystery cleared at once, for now Driscoll understood the strategic outlay. Its key was Fra Diavolo, with a pistol at Ney's head, and quite statuesque the romantic Mexican looked. But out of the tail of his eye Fra Diavolo noted the American, at first with contemptuous amusement only. Then, as though such had been the situation from the start, he grew aware of an ugly black muzzle under his chin. For very safety he froze rigid, and dared not turn his own weapon from Ney to his new aggressor. But he wondered how the ugly black muzzle came there. He had not seen the American move. But for those who did see, the action seemed deliberate, with no hint of the actual panther-like turn of the wrist from the waist outward.
With his left hand Driscoll next drew forth the second of the brace, and held it out to Ney in his palm. The Chasseur seized the weapon joyfully. He straightened as the humiliation of a disarmed soldier fell from him. But at once his face clouded, and with an oath he handed back the navy-six.
"W'y, what's the matter?" asked Driscoll.
"You are trifling, man. That thing has no trigger."
Much as an artisan would explain the peculiarities of a favorite tool, Driscoll said, "Now look here, you strip it—this way—so."
And as he explained, he illustrated. He raised the hammer under his thumb, he released it on the cartridge, and Fra Diavolo's sombrero flew off.
Fra Diavolo threw up his hand involuntarily, and there was a second report. Fra Diavolo's pistol twisted out of his grasp. The brace of navies had not gone higher than the American's waist.
"So," Driscoll concluded.
At the same moment one of the sailors, a bullet-headed lad of Normandy, was observed to do a very peculiar thing. Jumping in front of Fra Diavolo he drew up one knee, for all the world like a dancer who meant then and there to cut a pigeon's wing. His foot described a circle under the knee, then the performer turned partly round, and as a lightning bolt his leg straightened out full against Fra Diavolo's stomach. The ranchero dropped like a bag of sand, except that he groaned. Ney captured the fallen pistol. A musket blazed, and a sailor cursed. And forthwith the maelstrom began. It went swirling round, with weird contortions and murderous eddies, but always its seething vortex was the lone trooper.
Luckily, firearms were out of the question where both sides were so mixed together. But Mexicans and sailors plied their knives instead, so that there was much soppy red spreading over the yellowish white of shirts, and over the blue of jackets. The pigeon-wing diversion, called the savate, also played its bizarre role, for wherever a Frenchman found space for the straightening out of a leg, in that instant a little native shot from him as a cat from the toe of a boot. Fra Diavolo was deposited flat on his back each time he tried to rise, till the sole of a foot took on more terror than a cannon's mouth. As for Michel Ney, he was beautiful and gallant, now that what he had to do came without thinking. He achieved things splendidly with the butt of his enemy's revolver, and exhorted his men the while to the old, brilliant daring of Frenchmen.
The Storm Centre, though, was merely workmanlike. He put away the six-shooters, and strove barehanded with joy and vigor, which was delightful; yet so systematic, that it was anything rather than romance. It might have been geometry, in that a foe is safer horizontal than perpendicular, and the theorem he applied industriously, with simple faith and earnest fists.
Yet, all told, it was a highly successful affair. Din Driscoll objected to the brevity, but that could hardly be altered for his sake. The little demons of Mexicans crawled from the outskirts of the mess, here one, there two or three, and now many, limping and nursing heads, and rubbing themselves dubiously, with hideous grimaces.
Suddenly the cafe door opened, and Jacqueline emerged, tripping lightly. Din Driscoll was filling his cob pipe, but he paused with a finger over the bowl. "If there isn't a woman in it!" he muttered. He felt imposed upon. The game was a man's game, and now its flavor was gone.
Jacqueline had seen nothing of the fray, but now she saw Fra Diavolo's Contra Guerrillas skulking away and the sardonic captain himself fuming in ignoble soreness on his back. "Indeed," with fine scorn she demanded of Ney, "and how did you manage it?"
"Looks like the wrong side won out," mused Driscoll, feeling a little uncomfortable.
"Permit me to congratulate you—sergeant," she went on. "It's a good beginning for promotion. If you only knew how hard Maximilian tries to win over these natives, and here the very first thing you—Helas! poor Prince Max!"
Driscoll caught one word from her French. "What's that about Maximilian?" he interrupted. He had to repeat, and then Jacqueline only glanced at him over her shoulder. Some mule driver, she imagined, and turned again to the abashed Chasseur.
But the pseudo mule driver moved squarely in front of her. He was embarrassed and respectful, but determined. Jacqueline lifted her brows. "My good man, this is effrontery!" But her good man did not quail. She noticed him a little then. He was ruddy and clean, with a stubble growth on his jaw. Since the civilization of Mobile, Lieutenant Colonel Jno. D. Driscoll had backslided into his old campaign ease. His first genuine stiff beard had found him sabre in hand, so that his knowledge of cutting instruments and of arched brows was limited. He said that he would be much obliged to have his question answered. Whereat Jacqueline thought, by her faith, "What a round, wholesome voice these rustics sometimes have!" The one she heard possessed the full rich quality of an Irishman's brogue, with the brogue worn off.
"You know Spanish, do you not, senorita?"
"Mais—why, better than I thought," she returned in English; and in English that was piquant because it could not help being just the least bit French as well. "Much better—because, I comprehend even yours, sir."
"Con-grat-ulate you," Driscoll returned. "But what's this about Maximilian?"
An eagerness in his manner caught her attention. But she answered with her old irony. "His Imperial Majesty seems to concern you profoundly, monsieur?"
"H'm'm—oh no! Only it's curious how he gets mixed up in this shindy of ours."
"If—if you are asking about Maximilian, senor," a heavy voice began. Fra Diavolo at least was not indifferent to the American's questioning, and now he explained that the lady was the Marquesa d'Aumerle, and that she was on her way from Paris to the Mexican court. But a storm having brought her to Tampico, she wished to finish her journey overland. He, the Capitan Morel of His Majesty's Contra Guerrillas, had offered her escort for the trip. But the French caballero had presumed to force her to continue by water.