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Title: A Volunteer with Pike - The True Narrative of One Dr. John Robinson and of His Love for the Fair Señorita Vallois
Author: Bennet, Robert Ames, 1870-1954
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Volunteer with Pike - The True Narrative of One Dr. John Robinson and of His Love for the Fair Señorita Vallois" ***

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                         A VOLUNTEER WITH PIKE

            _The True Narrative of One Dr. John Robinson and
                of His Love for the Fair Señorita Vallois_

                         BY ROBERT AMES BENNET

         AUTHOR OF "FOR THE WHITE CHRIST," "INTO THE PRIMITIVE," ETC.

                  _With four Illustrations in color by_

                        CHARLOTTE WEBER-DITZLER


CHICAGO
A. C. McCLURG & CO.
1909

COPYRIGHT
BY A. C. MCCLURG & CO.
1909

Published October 2, 1909

Entered at Stationers' Hall, London

_All rights reserved_

THE UNIVERSITY PRESS, CAMBRIDGE, U. S. A.


              TO ONE
    WHO FOLLOWED AFTER PIKE TO
          THE GRAND PEAK
       HALF A CENTURY LATER
            MY FATHER


[Illustration: "'We go in now, señorita,' I said, offering her my arm"]



_Contents_


       I. THE ROSE IN THE MIRE

      II. PLAIN THOMAS JEFFERSON

     III. AT THE PRESIDENT'S HOUSE

      IV. SEÑORITA ALISANDA

       V. GULF AND BARRIER

      VI. THE WEB OF THE PLOTTER

     VII. SHIP AND CREW

    VIII. THE HOSPITABLE BLENNERHASSETTS

      IX. MY INDIAN TALE

       X. THE FATHER OF WATERS

      XI. GENERAL WILKINSON

     XII. AU REVOIR

    XIII. AGAINST THE CURRENT

     XIV. THE LURE

      XV. THE PAWNEE PERIL

     XVI. THE BARRIER OF ROCK

    XVII. THE GRAND PEAK

   XVIII. FAMINE AND FROST

     XIX. BEYOND THE BARRIER

      XX. A MESSAGE TO MY LADY

     XXI. HO FOR CHIHUAHUA!

    XXII. GLIMPSES OF FATE

   XXIII. THE HOUSE OF VALLOIS

    XXIV. THE SERENADE

     XXV. A VICTORY

    XXVI. A DEFEAT

   XXVII. HEART TO HEART

  XXVIII. A SPANISH BALL

    XXIX. THE INSULT

     XXX. THE DUEL

    XXXI. MY CROSS

   XXXII. THE MESSAGE

  XXXIII. IMPRESSED

   XXXIV. SHAME

    XXXV. UNDER THE LASH

   XXXVI. ACROSS THE GULF



_Illustrations_


"'We go in now, señorita,' I said, offering her my arm"

"We swung out into the current and drifted swiftly away"

"'The Grand Peak!' I shouted. 'We'll name it for you'"

"He fell like a steer: my sword blade broke clean off, a span beyond the
hilt"



_A Volunteer with Pike_

_The True Narrative of One Dr. John Robinson and of His Love for the
Fair Señorita Vallois_



CHAPTER I

THE ROSE IN THE MIRE


The first time I was blessed with a sight of the señorita was on the day
of my arrival in the Federal City,--in fact, it was upon my arrival. An
inquiry in the neighborhood of the President's House for my sole
acquaintance in the city, Senator Adair of Kentucky, had resulted in my
being directed to Conrad's boarding house on the Capitol Hill.

In the Fall of 1805 Indian Summer had lingered on through the month of
November. As a consequence, so I had been informed, Pennsylvania Avenue
was in a state of unprecedented passableness for the season. Yet as,
weary and travel-begrimed, I urged my jaded nag along the broad way of
yellow mud toward the majestic Capitol on its lofty hill, I observed
more than one coach and chariot in trouble from the chuck-holes of
semi-liquid clay.

It was midway of the avenue that I came upon _her_ coach, fast as a
grounded flatboat, both of the forewheels being mired to the hub. The
driver, a blear-eyed fellow, sat tugging at the reins and alternately
plying the whip and swearing villanously. I have ever been a lover of
horseflesh, and it cut me to see the sleek-coated, spirited pair plunge
and strain at the harness, in their brave efforts to perform a task
utterly beyond them.

I drew rein alongside. The driver stopped his cursing to stare at me,
purple-faced.

"Are you blind drunk?" I demanded. "They'll never make it without a lift
to the wheels."

"Lift!" he spluttered--"lift! Git along, ye greasy cooncap!"

He raised his whip as if to strike me. I reined my horse within
arm's-length.

"Put down that whip, or I'll put you down under the wheel," I said
cheerfully. He looked me in the eye for a moment; then he dropped his
gaze, and thrust the whipstock into its socket. "Good! You are well
advised. Now keep your mouth shut, and get off your coat."

Again I smiled, and again he obeyed. We Western men have a reputation on
the seaboard. It may have been this, or it may have been the fact that
my buckskin shirt draped a pair of lean shoulders quite a bit broader
than the average. At the least, the fellow kept his mouth closed and
started to strip off his coat.

I rode over to the nearest fence and borrowed two of the top rails.
Returning, I found the fellow in his shirt-sleeves. Yet he seemed not
over-willing to jump down into the mud. One more smile fetched him. He
took his rail and descended on the far side, muttering, while I swung
off at the head of his lathered team and stroked them. Once they had
been soothed and quieted, I dropped back, took the reins in hand, and
thrust my rail beneath the hub of the wheel. I heard the driver do the
same on his side.

"Ready?" I called.

"Ready, sir!" he answered.

A voice came from over my shoulder "_Por Dios!_ It is not possible,
señor, to lift. First I will descend."

The knowledge that I had put my shoulder to the wheel for a Spaniard
caused my tightening muscles to relax in disgust. But the don had spoken
courteously, his one thought being to relieve us of his weight, at the
risk of ruining his aristocratic boots.

"Sit still. _Quien sabe?_" I replied, without looking about, and bore up
on the rail. "Heave away!"

The rails bowed under the strain, but the clay held tenaciously to the
embedded wheels. I drew the reins well in and called to the willing
team. They put their weight against the breast bands steadily and
gallantly. The wheels rose a little, the coach gave forward.

"Heave!" I called. The wheels drew up and forward. "Steady! steady,
boys! Pull away!"

Out came the forewheels; in went the rear. We caught them on the turn.
One last gallant tug, and all was clear. The driver plodded around by
the rear, a hand at his forelock.

"Return the rails," I said. "I'll hold them."

He took my rail with his own and toiled over to the roadside. I called
up my horse and swung into the saddle, little the worse for my descent
into the midst of the redoubtable avenue, for my legs had already been
smeared and spattered to the thigh before I entered the bounds of the
city.

Again I heard the voice at the coach window: "_Muchas gracias_, señor! A
thousand thanks--and this."

He proved to be what I had surmised,--a long-faced Spanish don. What I
had not expected to see was the hand extended with the piece of silver.
There was more than mere politeness in his smile. It was evident he
meant well. None the less, I was of the West, where, in common opinion,
Spaniards are rated with the "varmints." I took the coin and dropped it
into the mire. He stared at me, astonished.

"Your pardon, señor," I said, "I am not a _Spanish_ gentleman."

The shot hit, as I could see by the quick change in the nature of his
smile.

"It is I who should ask pardon," he replied with the haughtiness of your
true Spanish hidalgo. "Yet the señor will admit that his appearance--to
a foreigner--"

"Few riders wear frills on the long road from Pittsburgh," I replied.

He bowed grandly and withdrew his head into the coach's dark interior. I
was about to turn around, when I heard a liquid murmuring of Spanish in
a lady's voice, followed by a protest from the don: "_Nada_, Alisanda!
There is no need. He is but an Anglo-American."

The voice riveted my gaze to the coach window in eager anticipation. Nor
was I disappointed. In a moment the cherry-wood of the opening framed a
face which caused me to snatch the coonskin cap from my wigless yellow
curls.

After four years of social life among the Spanish and French of St.
Louis and New Orleans, I had thought myself well versed in all the
possibilities of Latin beauty. The Señorita Alisanda was to all those
creole belles as a queen to kitchen maids. Eyes of velvety black, full
of pride and fire and languor; silky hair, not of the hard, glossy hue
of the raven's wing, but soft and warming to chestnut where the sun
shone through a straying lock; face oval and of that clear, warm pallor
unknown to women of Northern blood; a straight nose with well-opened,
sensitive nostrils; a scarlet-lipped mouth, whose kiss would have
thrilled a dying man. But he is a fool who seeks to set down beauty in a
catalogue. It was not at her eyes or hair or face that I gazed; it was
at her, at the radiant spirit which shone out through that lovely mask
of flesh.

She met my gaze with a directness which showed English training, as did
also the slightness of her accent. Her manner was most gracious, without
a trace of condescension, yet with an underlying note of haughtiness,
forgotten in the liquid melody of her voice.

"Señor, I trust that you will pardon the error of my kinsman,--my
uncle,--and that you will accept our thanks for the service."

"I am repaid,--a thousand times,--señorita!" I stammered, the while my
dazzled eyes drank in her radiant beauty.

She bowed composedly and withdrew into the gloom of the coach. That was
all. But it left me half dazed. Not until the driver trudged back and
reached for the reins did it come upon me that I was staring blankly in
through the empty window at the outline of the don's shoulder. The best
I can say is that I did not find my mouth agape.

A touch of my heel and a hint at the bit sent my nag jogging on toward
the Capitol, leaving the rescued coach to flounder along its opposite
way as best it could, through the avenue already famous for its two
miles of length, its hundred yards of width, and its two feet of depth.

Wearied as I was by the last of many days' hard riding from the Ohio, I
was the lighter for carrying with me a scarlet-lipped vision with eyes
like sloes.



CHAPTER II

PLAIN THOMAS JEFFERSON


It was the third day after my arrival in Washington. The clear sky,
which in the forenoon had lured me down from the Capitol Hill along the
forest-clad banks of the little Tiber, had brought at the noon hour a
warmth of sunshine that made by no means ungrateful the shade of a giant
tulip poplar.

I was lolling at my ease on the bank of the beautiful stream when a
rider broke cover from a thicket of azaleas and cantered toward me down
along the bank. The first glance at his horse brought me to my feet,
eager-eyed. It was one of the most mettlesome and shapely mounts I had
ever had the pleasure to view.

The rider, attracted perhaps by my ill-concealed admiration, drew up
before me with the easy control of a perfect horseman, and touched his
cocked hat.

"A pleasant day, sir, for a lover of wild Nature," he said.

His tone, though easy almost to familiarity, was underlaid with a quiet
dignity and reserve that brought my hand in turn to my high, stiff
beaver and my eyes to his face.

"A day, sir, to tempt even a botanist to forget his classifying," I
ventured at sight of the rooted plant of goldenrod in his hand.

He shook his long gray locks with a whimsical manner. "On the contrary,
I am of the opinion that the enjoyment of Nature should add zest to the
pursuits of Science."

"Since you put it so aptly, sir, I cannot but agree," I made answer,
smiling at his shrewdness. "In truth," I added, "this unusual
opportunity of enjoying _solidago odora_ so late in the season loses
nothing by the knowledge that the infusion of those selfsame fragrant
leaves is of service medicinally."

He met the careless glance accompanying my words with deepened interest
in his thoughtful eyes. Having had the greater part of my attention thus
far fixed upon the noble horse, I had not gone beyond my first
impression that the man was an overseer from some near-by plantation on
the Potomac. Now, roused to closer observation by his gaze, I perceived
that behind his homely features lay the brain of a man of much thought
and learning. With this I gave heed to the fact that his clothes, for
all their carelessness of cut and condition, were of the finest
materials.

I swept him the best of the bows I had acquired from the French creoles
of New Orleans.

"Can it be, sir, that chance has favored me with the acquaintance of a
fellow physician in what Mr. Gouverneur Morris has so aptly termed the
spoiled wilderness of Washington?" I asked. "If so, permit me to
introduce myself as a young but aspiring practitioner of the healing
art. My name, sir, is one often in the mouths of men,--Robinson,--Dr.
John H. Robinson."

Smiling at my attempt at wit, the gentleman swung to the ground before
me, and twitched the reins over the head of his spirited mount.

"You were walking toward the Capitol?" he inquired. I nodded assent.
"Then, by your leave, I will accompany you part of the way,--not that I
can claim the honor of membership in your most useful profession. I am
no more than a browser in the lush fields of philosophy. My name, sir,
is Thomas Jefferson."

For a moment I stood like a dolt. My hand went up to jerk off my
coonskin cap, and knocked smartly against the stiff brim of my beaver.
The touch recalled me to my dignity, and I flattered myself that my bow
and words would alike prove acceptable: "Your Excellency will pardon me!
Had I been aware--"

"You would have known that there are few things I hold in greater
detestation than such high-flown, aristocratic terms of address and such
undemocratic bendings," he cut in upon me, with a touch of asperity in
his quiet voice.

"I stand corrected, sir," I replied, straightening to my full six feet,
and seeking to cover my confusion with a smile. "It is not necessarily
proof of sycophancy that one has acquired his manners in New Orleans."

"True--true, and that is full explanation of what I must confess puzzled
me. You are from the far West, if I do not mistake, and our
frontiersmen, as a rule, are as deficient in courtly graces as the
European aristocrats are sycophantic. By your leave, we will be moving."

We swung about and sauntered up the stream bank, the horse following at
his master's heels, docile as a well-trained hound. For a time the
attention of my distinguished companion seemed fixed upon the romantic
arbors of wild grapes which overran the neighboring thickets. But as I
was about to remark on the beauty of the autumnal foliage, he turned to
me with a direct question: "Have you close acquaintance, sir, among the
people of St. Louis and New Orleans?"

"I have practised in both towns, sir, since the cession of Louisiana
Territory."

"And you found the former subjects of Spain and France well disposed
toward the Republic?"

"I regret to have to say, sir, that Governor Claiborne is not popular
even among our American residents of New Orleans."

The President looked at me doubtfully. "Claiborne is a man of undisputed
integrity."

"The creoles, Your Excellency, could better appreciate a degree of tact.
Governor Claiborne is too much the Western man in his attitude toward
people of another race."

"I cannot but trust that our release of them from subjection to
despotism--" He paused to study my face with a mild yet penetrating
gaze. We walked on for several paces before he again spoke. "I esteem
you to be a man of some little discernment, Dr. Robinson."

"You compliment me, sir. Having gone to the Mississippi fresh from my
medical studies in New York, it may be that I observed some features of
the Louisiana situation unnoted by the local factions. Though a
Westerner myself, I trust that four years in college on the seaboard has
enabled me to look upon events with a little less of our natural
trans-Alleghany prejudice."

"Ah! You are also acquainted in St. Louis--with General Wilkinson?
Perhaps you are intimate?"

"No!" I said. Before my mental vision rose the whiskey-flushed face and
portly figure of the pompous, fussy old General.

"You speak emphatically."

"Sir, I give you common opinion when I say there are few men of standing
in the Upper Territory, or in the Lower, for that matter, who would
trust the General out of sight either with their reputations or with
their purses."

My companion frowned as severely as it seemed his philosophic
temperament would permit. "You forget, sir, that you are speaking of
the Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Republic."

"A commander whose appointment, it is said, was urged on the grounds
that it would keep him out of mischief,--a man who is charged with
having been implicated in all the separatist plots of the nineties."

"And if so, what then? With the removal of the misguided Federalists
from the control of public affairs, and the purchase of Louisiana
Territory, insuring for our Western river commerce the freedom of port
at New Orleans, all basis for the just complaints of the West have been
removed. I trust implicitly in the loyalty of the people of that great
region."

"What of the ovations given to Mr. Aaron Burr during his trip this past
season?"

"Greatly as I deplored, and still deplore, the death of Mr. Hamilton, it
is a fact that the duel terminated the political career of his
slayer,--the man whom we alike distrusted."

"Yet Colonel Burr was received with enthusiasm by nearly every man of
prominence west of Pittsburg. I might mention Senator Adair, young
General Jackson of the Tennessee militia, General Wilkinson, and our
richest New Orleans merchant, Mr. Daniel Clark."

"Very true; and easily accounted for by the reaction of sentiment
against the Federalist and partisan animus which procured Colonel Burr's
disfranchisement in the State of New York and his indictment for murder
in New Jersey. No; once for all, Colonel Burr has been removed as a
disturbing element in the politics of the Republic."

Having delivered this confident opinion, Mr. Jefferson stooped to pick
up an odd pebble, and after gazing at it a moment, abruptly changed the
subject. "The West takes some little interest, I trust, in the
expedition which I had some share in planning."

"You refer, sir, to the Northwest Expedition under the command of
Captain Lewis and the brother of Clark of Vincennes fame."

"The furtherance of unremunerative scientific research is one of the few
functions properly within the scope of an ideal government. I am hopeful
of valuable results from this expedition as regards the advancement
alike of geography, botany, zoölogy, and mineralogy."

"I trust, sir, that you will be equally gratified by the results of the
exploration of the Mississippi by my friend Lieutenant Pike."

"Pike?--Pike?--Ah, the son of Major Zebulon Pike of the Revolution.
General Wilkinson duly informed the Secretary of War that he had sent
young Pike up the river with a small party. But it is a purely military
expedition, equipped by the General on his own initiative; although I
may add that his action in the matter has since received the approval of
the Government."

"That last statement, sir, is of no little satisfaction to myself as a
friend of Lieutenant Pike. I am sure that he will quit himself of his
service with no small credit. Allow me to speak of him as one of the
Republic's most able and patriotic young soldiers."

"So I have been informed. On the other hand, the young man lacks the
scientific attainments most desirable in the leader of such an
expedition."

My heart gave a bound that sent the blood tingling to my finger-tips.

"Mr. President," I exclaimed, "the Government is doubtless aware that
General Wilkinson has in view another expedition,--one to proceed
westward to treat with the tribes of the great plains and to explore the
western boundaries between Louisiana Territory and New Spain. I am, sir,
only too well aware of my lack of standing alike with the General and
with the Government, yet I believe I can say, with all due modesty, that
I possess somewhat the scientific attainments you mention as
desirable--"

I stopped short upon meeting the growing reserve in my companion's mild
gaze. He smiled not unkindly.

"I did not state, Dr. Robinson, that such attainments were the sole
requisites. Moreover, this expedition, if in truth such a one is
contemplated, rests wholly upon the discretion of General Wilkinson, and
will no doubt be of a military character."

"Yet, if I may venture, could not Your Excellency--"

The President stopped and regarded me with severity. "I have already
remarked, sir, that such adulatory titles--"

"Pardon me, Mr. Jefferson!" I cried.

His look did not relax. "Nor 'Mister' Jefferson, if you please, sir. I
am Thomas Jefferson, the servant of the people and a plain citizen of
the Republic,--no more, no less."

Knowing the greatness of the man behind this small foible, I bowed
acquiescence to the statement, and he, smiling gravely in response,
added with cordiality: "As I have intimated, the Executive will not
interfere with any proper plans which General Wilkinson may deem
expedient. Yet I will say that, in the event he carries out the
contemplated expedition to our Western boundaries, I should be pleased
to hear of such a well-qualified assistant as yourself being included in
the party as a volunteer."

I covered my disappointment with the best smile I could muster: "In that
event, sir, I fear that I must repress my adventurous longings."

I bowed and stepped aside for him to pass on. He mounted with easy
agility, but checked his over-willing horse for a parting remark: "Sir,
I am pleased to have met you. I shall be more pleased to meet you at my
table this evening."

Before I could recover from my astonishment he had touched his hat
civilly, and was cantering away across country.



CHAPTER III

AT THE PRESIDENT'S HOUSE


It will not be thought strange that my invitation to dine with the
President put me in high conceit with myself, and this notwithstanding
such information as I had already acquired as to the looseness and
informality of the White House etiquette since the retirement of
President Adams. Although Mr. Jefferson's custom was to invite many
kinds of persons to his elegant little dinners, the guests were
generally selected for their compatibility.

On the other hand, my elation was tempered by the fact that another
result of my chance meeting with His Excellency in the woods had been a
sharp dashing of the hopes which had brought me to Washington. I refer
to the matter of General Wilkinson's contemplated expedition to the
West. Having reasons of my own for not wishing to apply to the
Commander-in-Chief for the leadership of the expedition, I had come on
to the Federal City in the fond hope of receiving the appointment from
the Secretary of War. Fate had given me the opportunity of making my
modest request direct to the source of all Federal patronage, with the
results which have been stated.

It was therefore without undue elation that, dressed in my small-clothes
and new coat, my best shirt-frill, and highest pudding cravat, I jogged
north along the redoubtable avenue which, only three days before, had
seen me ride south in my buckskins. My horse, feeling his oats after his
days in stall, fretted at the sober pace I set him. A word or even a
touch would have put him into full gallop, for all the depth of the
mire. Yet, even had I not been in so grave a frame of mind, I had my
silk stockings and fine buckled shoes to consider.

In due time we came to the grassy common about the Presidential mansion,
and entered the iron gate in the high rock wall built by Mr. Jefferson
to enclose the noble building. On dismounting, my first surprise of the
evening was that I should be ushered in by a white attendant. I had
expected that Mr. Jefferson would be served by slaves from his great
plantation at Monticello. Later I learned that he preferred to hire his
entire corps of servants, some thirty or more, all of whom were white.

Upon giving my name as one of the dinner guests, I was shown into a
pleasant, spacious room, which, from a remark dropped by the attendant,
I understood to be the President's cabinet. My first glance took in a
view of walls lined with well-filled bookcases, globes, charts, and
maps; my second, a brighter picture of window recesses filled with roses
and geraniums, in the midst of which was embowered a cage with a
mocking-bird; my third glance followed down the long table in the
centre of the room to where the tall, slender figure of my illustrious
host was rising in courteous greeting.

My second surprise of the evening lay in my recognition of the handsome,
dashing little man who sat regarding me, alert and keen-eyed, from the
far corner of the table. I had seen that sanguine, high-spirited face
before, many a weary mile west of Washington.

The President met my advance with a benignant smile: "You are in very
good season, Dr. Robinson. I am pleased that you did not forget my hasty
invitation."

"One does not easily forget such an honor from Thomas Jefferson," I
responded.

"Tut, tut!" he reproved, and turning to his companion, who rose with
graceful ease and quickness, said, "Colonel Burr, I wish to introduce
Dr. Robinson--Dr. John H. Robinson of New Orleans--"

"Now of St. Louis," I corrected.

"Of St. Louis."

Had I been the President himself, Colonel Burr's bow could not have been
more considerate or his smile more winning.

"If I missed the pleasure of an introduction to Dr. Robinson in New
Orleans, it was not due to lack of desire on my part," he said.
"Governor Claiborne and Mr. Daniel Clark alike spoke highly of your
merits, sir."

"That Colonel Burr should remember such chance remarks concerning an
unknown young doctor is indeed a compliment," I replied. "You were
pointed out to me, sir, at the dinner given you by Governor Claiborne.
An urgent professional call compelled me to leave before I could obtain
an introduction. But my misfortune in missing the honor of meeting you,
alike in New Orleans and upon your subsequent visit to St. Louis, will
now, I trust, be offset by the pleasure of your company as a fellow
guest."

"I had in mind that you would count yourself among the Western
well-wishers of Colonel Burr," remarked Mr. Jefferson, eying me as I
thought with a certain sharpness. "My idea for this dinner was a party
whose members would share a common interest in Louisiana affairs."

As he finished speaking, the President stepped past me toward the door
by which I had entered. Colonel Burr promptly took his place, still
smiling suavely, but keen-eyed as a hawk.

"Sir," he asked, in a low and eager voice, "may I indeed count you among
my Western friends?"

It may have been the magnetism of the man, or possibly only the
suddenness of the question, but I found myself answering without
thought, "We are all your well-wishers, sir."

He smiled and gave me a significant glance which I did not half
understand and liked still less. The words were on my tongue's tip to
correct his evident misconception of my hasty answer, when he, in turn,
stepped past me, bowing and smiling. I turned about, and received my
third surprise. The President and Mr. Burr were exchanging bows with my
Spanish don of the mired carriage!

Great as was my astonishment, I intercepted and unconsciously made
mental note of the look of understanding which as I turned was passing
between the don and Colonel Burr.

The former flashed a glance of inquiry from myself to the President, who
met it with his ungraceful but ready courtesy--"Don Pedro Vallois, Dr.
John H. Robinson."

"And my good friend, señor!" added Mr. Burr, with a warmth of tone that
astonished me.

Señor Vallois responded to my bow with one as punctiliously polite as it
was haughty. There was no sign of recognition in his cold eyes. The
opportunity was too tempting to forgo.

"I trust, señor, that you were not again stalled, and have not been
required to inhabit the centre of the avenue these past three days," I
remarked.

At this he gazed at me with more interest. No doubt my voice jogged his
memory, for in a moment his eye kindled, and he grasped my hand with the
heartiness of an Englishman.

"_Por Dios!_ It is our _caballero_ of the mire!"

"The same, señor. It is good fortune which brings us together as guests
of His Excellency the President," I replied, thinking to divert the
conversation. It was in vain.

"How?--What is this, señor? You know Dr. Robinson?" questioned Colonel
Burr, his eyes sparkling not altogether pleasantly, and his lips
tightening beneath their smile.

Señor Vallois waved his hand for attention and proceeded, with much
detail and elaboration, to recount my simple feat with the fence rails.
In the midst entered the Honorable Henry Dearborn, the Secretary of War,
to whom I had been introduced on the day of my arrival by Senator Adair.
His curt nod of recognition forestalled an introduction by Mr.
Jefferson, and the señor's account proceeded to the end without
interruption.

Mr. Jefferson and Colonel Burr were alike pleased to give the señor
close attention. The former was first to make his comment,--"A friendly
deed, and one seldom met with nowadays."

Colonel Burr was not content so to spare my modesty.

"Friendly!" he exclaimed, "friendly! Gallant is the word, sir! We read
of Raleigh spreading his cloak for a queen. Here is an American
gentleman who plunges into the mire to pry out a lady's coach, an act by
far the more gallant!" He faced about to give me a knowing smile. "You
saw the lady beckoning from the carriage window, and, of course, beauty
in distress--"

"_Santisima Virgen!_ My niece beckon to a stranger in the highway!"
protested Señor Vallois, in a tone that would have compelled a far
duller man than Colonel Burr to realize his mistake.

"Your pardon, señor!" he hastened to explain. "A mere figure of speech.
I infer that the lady looked out, and Dr. Robinson, chancing to see
her--"

"No, no, Colonel!" I broke in. "I cannot lay claim to the gallantry with
which you would credit me. It was the needless lashing of the horses
which prompted me to the action."

"The more credit to your kindliness, sir," remarked Mr. Jefferson, with
a heartiness which added to my embarrassment. The nod of assent and warm
glance of General Dearborn in part consoled me for the stress of the
situation.

Whether the grave look of Señor Vallois indicated approval or
disapproval of my disclaimer of gallantry I could not tell. But Colonel
Burr was open in his protest.

"What! what!" he cried. "Is this the manner of the coming generation?
Have romance and gallantry fled with the peruke?"

He looked from my loose, unpowdered curls to the Spaniard's costly wig.

"Youth will have its day," said General Dearborn, offering him his
snuff-box. Mr. Burr took a pinch with the affected elegance of a beau.
The dose was of such strength that the sneeze which followed flapped the
Colonel's queue and lifted a cloud of powder from his hair. The
President, Señor Vallois, and myself having in turn declined the box,
General Dearborn complemented the Colonel with a sneeze that stirred his
own thin queue and powder.

Mr. Jefferson made some remark commending the growing simplicity of
fashion with regard to the dressing of the hair. He was interrupted by
the entrance of a small, stoutish gentleman in black broadcloth, who
bowed familiarly to the President and General Dearborn, and formally to
Colonel Burr. I learned without delay that the newcomer was no less a
personage than the Secretary of State, for Mr. Jefferson at once
presented to him first the señor and then myself.

The introduction brought me to a full realization of the honor which had
been conferred upon me. That such notable men as my fellow guests should
be dining with the President was a matter of course, but that I should
be present as a member of so distinguished a party was, I flattered
myself, a most signal honor for an unknown young doctor.

The situation was in part explained by the President, who, as Mr.
Madison met my bow with a penetrating glance of his mild blue eyes,
remarked, in his easy, informal manner: "My secretary had a fall while
riding to the hounds, and Dr. Robinson has been so good as to take his
place with us this evening. Dr. Robinson is conversant with matters
pertaining to Louisiana Territory."

A servant appeared at the door of the drawing-room, and Mr. Jefferson
moved forward beside Señor Vallois, with a word of explanation: "We will
join the ladies, gentlemen."



CHAPTER IV

SEÑORITA ALISANDA


My wits would have been those of a dolt had I not foreseen the
possibility of the presence of Señorita Alisanda in the drawing-room.
The chance of so favorable a meeting set my nerves to tingling between
delighted anticipation and dread of disappointment.

Thanks to my ruddy coloring and a natural erectness of bearing, I
followed the others to the door with a fair show of confidence,
notwithstanding that I had to endure the contrast of so polished a
gentleman as Mr. Burr. As we advanced, he had promptly placed himself at
my side, in the rear of the others, his yielding of precedence being, as
I was not too dull to perceive, a most subtle attempt to flatter me.

That I was flattered was not strange, as may be testified to by those
who have come in personal contact with the man. Yet for all his winning
manner I gave little heed to his words, my thoughts being fixed on the
delicious possibility of an immediate meeting with my glorious lady of
the avenue.

Imagine the bitterness of my disappointment, upon entering the
drawing-room, to see no one in the remotest degree resembling the
señorita among the ladies who awaited our presence. While Señor Vallois
was being introduced I had a moment to glance about the room, with the
disheartening result that I nowhere saw the graceful figure which I had
hoped to discover screened by the shabby crimson damask of the
furniture.

The voice of Mr. Jefferson recalled me to the ladies, and I found myself
making a melancholy bow to Mrs. Randolph, his surviving daughter. She in
turn presented me to the other ladies,--of whose persons and appearance,
out of the medley of muslins and fans, bright eyes, bared busts, and
thinly veiled forms, I retain only the remembrance that one was Mrs.
Dearborn, another a Mrs. Smith, daughter of the renowned Senator Bayard
of Delaware, and a third Mrs. Madison. Of the fourth lady, whose name I
did not catch, I recall that she was an elderly dame of sedate manners,
but far other than sedate in her compliance with the extreme mode. Her
gray curls were all but dripping with pomade, and the gore in the left
side of her narrow skirt extended up above mid-thigh. Her jewelled
garter was the handsomest one visible, for which reason, I presume, it
was more openly displayed than those of the other ladies.

Mrs. Madison, petite and charming, notwithstanding her plainness of
feature and the fact that she was nearer forty than thirty, promptly
rallied me upon my look of depression. The Colonel and Mrs. Smith joined
forces with "Dolly," as the latter addressed her, so that I was
compelled to smile, if only to save myself from a general onslaught.

"That is better!" exclaimed Mrs. Madison. "He, a doctor! to think of
dining with so gloomy a countenance!"

"Above all, to think of any other than a smiling face in _your_
presence!" chimed in Mr. Burr. "I had not thought it possible of one who
has proved that he can be gallant even to horses."

At this there was a chorus of curious questions. I turned, seeking a way
of escape, and discovered that I was all but touching elbows with my
lady of the mire!

Presently I found myself bowing. Though still half bewildered, I
realized that I was being introduced to her as Miss Vallois, the niece
of Señor Vallois.

Colonel Burr, who had been introduced with the other gentlemen while I
stood in my daze, now sought to engage her attention. His eye for
feminine charm and beauty is as well known as is his success with the
ladies. With such a rival, my utter loss of composure doubtless would
have resulted quickly in the more serious loss of the lady's attention,
had she not at the last moment recognized me as the buckskin
_caballero_.

With a glance of frank pleasure which came near to finishing me on the
spot, she signed gracefully to her uncle: "_Santa Maria!_ It is he--the
_caballero_ who so kindly came to our assistance!"

"I have already expressed to the señor the full measure of our gratitude
for his service," replied Don Pedro, in a tone which recalled the girl
to her first manner of polite hauteur.

"Permit me to join my thanks to those of my kinsman," she said to me.

Nettled by the condescension of her tone and bearing, I shook off my
daze, and rejoined with more wit than courtesy, "Believe me, señorita,
no thanks are due me other than from your coach horses."

Another chorus of questions demanded the explanation, and Colonel Burr
responded by telling over Don Pedro's account in the form of a wittily
brilliant anecdote. I listened unheeding, for my gaze was fixed upon
Señorita Alisanda.

At my rude reply her eyes had flashed with a look before which my own
dropped,--though not to the floor. As she drew back a step in her
displeasure, my gaze dwelt adoringly upon the graces of her lissome
form. She was tall, yet not unduly slender, and the queenly dignity and
beauty of her presence were enhanced by the flowing lines of her dress.

Of the dress itself I can only say that it was of scarlet sarsenet,
covered in part by an overdrape of silver spangles on white _crêpe_,
and, in compliance with the Empire mode, cut low enough in the waist to
expose her dazzling shoulders and bosom. Her arms, rounding up from the
small hands and slender wrists as if carved from new ivory, were bare to
the bows of black ribbon on her shoulders. Close about her perfect
throat, in place of the usual ruffs, was a double string of black
pearls. Notwithstanding the universal acceptance of the new fashions, I
had great pleasure in the fact that she had not sacrificed her beautiful
hair for a wig.

But, needless to say, I gave slight heed to her dress. My fascinated
eyes dropped their gaze to the little arched foot which peeped from
beneath the raised front of her dress, snugly cased in its
diamond-buckled slipper of scarlet satin. The foot drew back out of
view, and I looked up in time to catch a faint tinge of pink beneath the
clear ivory of my lady's cheeks. Her look was, if possible, more haughty
than before. Yet, emboldened by that faint blush and the intoxication of
her beauty, I met her gaze with such a glow in my steel-gray eyes that
this time it was hers that lowered.

A change in the light chatter of the company forced me to spare them a
glance. Señor Vallois and Mrs. Randolph were leading the way to the
dining-room, and the others were pairing off to follow, in a most
informal manner. I saw Colonel Burr turning toward us, which spurred me
to instant action.

"We go in now, señorita," I said, offering her my arm.

Mr. Burr flashed me a whimsical glance, between disappointment and
commendation, and turned to the nearest lady. At the same time the
señorita looked up. Seeing the others all in couples, she hesitated
only a moment before accepting my arm.

Of the dining-room I can state no more than that it was a very long
apartment, that the furniture was exceedingly plain, and that we sat at
an oval table, whose shape was supposed to bring all present face to
face.

Thanks to the close imitation of Parisian society at New Orleans, to
which I had enjoyed the _entrée_, I managed to conduct my unwilling
partner to the table with a _haut ton_ that brought an uplift in the
brows of more than one of my fellow guests. My elation over this success
was short-lived. Colonel Burr adroitly placed himself on her other hand,
and for a time I saw no more of her scarlet lips and dusky eyes. Both
were given freely to the Colonel, whose reputation was only too well
known.

I might have sought to console myself with the rareness of the wines and
the epicurean delicacy of the food. The service was simple, yet refined,
the cooking such that I at once recognized the art of a Frenchman. Yet
even the Madeira failed to cheer me. I could only sit silent over my
plate and steal lackadaisical glances at the rounded shoulder which my
partner so cruelly turned upon me, and at the silky maze of sable hair
which crowned her shapely head.

Until now my feeling toward Colonel Burr had been uncertain, vaguely
doubtful, yet by no means hostile. It now hardened of a sudden into
deep-seated aversion. So little has reason to do with the affairs of
men--and women!

To show the depth of resentment into which my passion flung me, I need
only say that I conned over in my memory the fatal meeting between Mr.
Burr and Mr. Hamilton, and exulted that I might be able to avenge the
great Federalist and myself at the same time by challenging the Colonel
to a like encounter. For all his sinister reputation as a duellist, at
that moment I would gladly have met him with any weapons he might
choose.

Either because of my look, or, what was the more probable, because of
his well-known aversion to a divided conversation at table, Mr.
Jefferson broke in upon the Colonel's _tête-à-tête_ with so shrewd a
question regarding the Louisiana situation that Mr. Burr was required to
answer at some length.

This fresh turn of the conversation the President, with seeming
ingenuousness, deflected to me, so that, from being the one silent
member of the party, I found myself most unexpectedly the main speaker
and the centre of attention. By keeping well within the bounds of my
certain information, I was able to hold my own in the general discussion
which followed, and to reply to all questions with a fair degree of
fluency, although subjected by each of the gentlemen in turn to a
cross-examination as keen and pointed as it was lightly uttered.

"And your opinion of the Spanish boundaries?" asked Mr. Madison at last.
It was a question which I had expected from the first,--the question of
all questions among my fellow-denizens of Louisiana Territory.

"We have him there!" said Colonel Burr, as I paused over my reply.

Even the ladies bent forward to catch my words, and I was not surprised
to see that Señor Vallois betrayed still more interest than the other
gentlemen. For the first time my partner turned and fixed her eyes upon
me. I stated my opinion without further hesitancy.

"As to the West Florida boundary," I said, "there can be no doubt. Spain
is in the right."

"Your proof?" demanded Colonel Burr.

I cited such clauses bearing upon the point in the Spanish and French
treaties as were known, and other facts which I had heard mentioned by
Mr. Daniel Clark.

"A plausible statement," remarked General Dearborn. "But with regard to
the other Spanish line--the Texas boundary?"

"As to that, would not the opinions of Señor Vallois and Colonel Burr be
more authoritative?" I countered. "Colonel Burr at least should be
well-grounded as to the points in controversy, in view of his high
standing as a lawyer and the commonly accredited report in the West that
he is negotiating for permission to found a colony within the Spanish
territory."

"It is the first I have heard of the undertaking," remarked the
President, with evident surprise. "You did not mention it to me,
Colonel, at our meeting the other day."

"Had Your Excellency then considered it expedient to give me the
ministry for which I asked, I should have had no need to enter upon
speculative projects," returned Mr. Burr, exposing his humiliating
rebuff by Mr. Jefferson with a cynical frankness which it was plainly to
be seen disconcerted not only the President but his eminent secretaries
as well. Mr. Burr paused a moment to enjoy the confusion of his great
adversary, then continued: "The project of a colony is as yet indefinite
in my mind. I have considered the possibility of retrieving my fortunes
by the purchase of four or five hundred thousand acres in the midst of
the most fertile tract of Texas,--on the Washita River."

"Ah, Texas!" exclaimed Mrs. Madison, turning to Señor Vallois. "Is it
not the question of the Texas line which most threatens to terminate our
fair relations with your Government?"

"Such is the fact, señora," replied the don, with marked reserve.

Mrs. Randolph addressed my partner: "Your uncle takes you to Chihuahua
by way of Texas, I believe you said, Miss Vallois."

"No, madam. I fear I was not clear in my explanations. Señor Vallois had
intended to return that way before it was decided that I should
accompany him from England."

"We go by way of Vera Cruz," explained Señor Vallois.

"So long a voyage!" exclaimed Mrs. Smith. "I should have imagined the
passage from England would have wearied you of the water for a
lifetime."

"We came in one of your American packet ships, and were only
twenty-seven days in crossing," replied the señorita.

"Only twenty-seven days on the ocean!" I exclaimed--"twenty-seven days!"

"It is not an extraordinarily quick passage, with favorable weather and
our American-built ships," remarked Mr. Madison.

"Believe me, sir, it was not the shortness but the length of the voyage
which compelled my exclamation," I explained. "Miss Vallois will pardon
me if I express my admiration of her heroism. I once made a trip from
New York to Boston by schooner. I came back on a horse."

This statement was met with a gust of mirth, no doubt due more to the
wine which had gone before it than to its wit. Yet it served to throw
the conversation into a lighter vein, that ended in a run of repartee as
sparkling as the champagne with which it was accompanied. In this
contest of wit and airy nothings I soon found myself as far
out-distanced as the others were outstripped by Colonel Burr.

Again my partner gave me her shoulder, and my sole consolation for the
slight was that she joined but little in the contest, and met the
Colonel's gallantry with a reserve unmistakably evident in the poise of
her head and the coldness of her perfect profile. She could be haughty
with others no less than with myself.

Although she did not favor me with a single glance, the half-averted
view of her adorably curved cheek and an occasional glimpse of her
profile were far preferable to nothing. All too early, Mrs. Randolph
gave the signal for the ladies to withdraw.

In rising, whether by accident or design, the señorita turned toward me.
Her eyes were nearer on a level with my own than those of any other
young lady I had ever faced, and the erectness of her carriage, so
different from the drooping French pose, added to the effect of proud
height. She met me with a full open gaze, as devoid of allurement as it
was of repellence and hauteur. I seemed to be looking down into the
depths of fathomless wells, within which was nothing but velvety
darkness.

It was but a moment, and she had turned away with the others, leaving me
mystified. Nor could I puzzle out the meaning of the look during the two
hours I sat with the other gentlemen, matching them glass after glass,
and with them growing steadily more mirthful over the witticisms of
Colonel Burr, which were more notable for point than for decorum.

The fine and costly wines of our illustrious host stirred me to this
false mirth, behind which, as behind a mask, I found my inner self
constantly reverting to the thought of my lady's strange glance. But try
as I might, I could not so much as guess at its meaning. As I have said,
it had held nothing either of attraction or of repulsion; it had not
expressed even the barest curiosity--only that fathomless depth of
mystery.

All the more was I eager for the signal to rejoin the ladies in the
drawing-room. Another look, I thought, would give me the key to the
puzzle, a trace to point me along the way of her meaning.

At last Mr. Jefferson saw fit to lead us in to the ladies, a servant
following with the coffee. I pressed in close after Señor Vallois, and,
like him, looked about in vain for his niece. Mrs. Randolph hastened to
explain to him that Miss Vallois had only just withdrawn, on the plea of
a slight indisposition. The señor immediately excused himself, saluting
us all with punctilious bows and a sonorous "_Adios!_" and withdrew.

After his departure the ladies were pleased to bestow on me some little
attention, and in their seemingly artless manner drew from me much
regarding my family, my education, and my fortune,--or, as I should say,
my ambitions; for my fortune as yet lay mostly in the future. Presently,
to my surprise, I found myself invited to call at as many homes as there
were ladies present. This was an honor entirely unexpected by me, in
view of the fact that I could claim neither political prestige nor
distinguished birth. The disregard for the latter may have been due to
Mr. Jefferson's well-known Jacobin principles, the reflection of which
is clearly perceptible in the attitude of the greater number of his
intimates.

The gentlemen were almost equally cordial when the time came for me to
withdraw, General Dearborn alone maintaining a certain reserve, due, as
I surmised, to anticipations of a formal application for Government
favors.

At the last moment Colonel Burr remarked that he intended to stop over
another day before going on to Philadelphia, and gave me his address,
followed by a cordial invitation to call. I replied with an expression
of thanks for the honor and withdrew before he could pin me down to an
outright acceptance.



CHAPTER V

GULF AND BARRIER


There may be more disagreeable tasks than waiting on the uncertain favor
of public officials. If so, I have never chanced upon them. Backed by
letters of introduction from prominent men in New Orleans and St. Louis
and by my father's old-time friend Senator Adair of Kentucky, I had
thought to obtain the coveted leadership of the westward expedition for
the asking.

To my surprise, even the letter of so great a merchant as Daniel Clark
met with scant consideration from the Eastern office-holders, and
Senator Adair soon confessed to his lack of influence with the
Government with regard to my interest. At the same time he intimated to
me that should I be able to gain the good word of Colonel Burr, it was
not unlikely I might receive my appointment direct from General
Wilkinson.

"But, sir," I protested, "what has Colonel Burr to do with a military
expedition planned by the Commander-in-Chief of the Army?"

The Senator gave me a sharp glance, and considered for some moments
before replying: "Young man, one of the greatest aids to success in life
is the ability to recognize helpful friends. I have received a letter
from Colonel Burr in the last Philadelphia post. You met him at the
President's House, and I gather from his remarks regarding the occasion
that he was greatly taken with yourself."

"Unfortunately the favorable impression was not mutual," I said.

"It is indeed unfortunate--for you, John," reproved the Senator. "Such
men as Colonel Burr can pick and choose from thousands."

"I am willing to be passed over."

"Tut! a boyish whim! Do not say no to me. You will cultivate the
friendship of the Colonel." I made an impatient gesture. "At the least,
you will not rebuff him."

"Sir, I have not sought his advances. But since it is you who ask, I
will not take positive stand against him."

"That is better. It might be more--yet enough for the time. Let me tell
you, John, Colonel Burr is still a man of mark in this Republic, and I
shall be vastly surprised if he does not add laurels to those he has
already gathered."

"It is I who am surprised," I replied. "A once successful politician,
now discredited from Maine to Virginia,--a man who seven years ago tied
with Mr. Jefferson in the vote for the Presidency, and last election was
all but unanimously rejected, alike by the people and by the electoral
college,--for you to speak of such a man winning other laurels!"

"You forget the West."

"The West?"

"Consider his reception west of the Alleghanies this past year,--his
triumphant progress from Pittsburg to New Orleans and return."

"The West will elect no Presidents in many years to come."

The Senator gave me an odd look. "Perhaps not--perhaps not. These people
of the original States would not consider it a possibility even of the
remotest future," he murmured. Again he considered. At last, "Has it
occurred to you, John, that this expedition may have other object than
the exploration of our Western boundaries?"

"There will be treaties to make with the powerful tribes of plains
Indians,--the Pawnees and perhaps the Ietans, or Comanches, as some call
them."

"Ah, yes; with the Pawnees--and others. Did you never hear it said that,
could an overland trade with Santa Fe be established, it would be of no
small profit to those fortunate enough to obtain the concession from the
Spanish authorities? Santa Fe is the nearest gateway to the mines of
Mexico,--to El Dorado."

"I know a certain Señor Liza of St. Louis who would not forego a chance
to join in such a venture," I replied.

"True--true. But he is a Spanish Creole, and, I fear, not too well
disposed toward us. My point is, would it be too great an improbability
that a certain projected expedition should chance to come in friendly
touch with the authorities of northern New Spain?"

Having given me food for thought to last me many a day, the Senator
dropped the subject. During all my subsequent months of waiting I could
not induce him to discuss it again.

The time of this conversation was the third week of my stay in
Washington. Being well supplied with funds and on agreeable terms both
socially and professionally with Dr. Frederick May, I had settled down
in my comfortable boarding-house, prepared, if need were, to besiege the
Government throughout the Winter. Should I fail to attain my desired
end, I had only to return West to find a fair practice awaiting me
either at St. Louis or New Orleans. At the worst there would be ample
recompense for my expenditures in the experience of a Winter in the
Federal City.

Even had I been certain of the rejection of the formal application
which, a few days after the dinner at the White House, I had placed on
file in the War Office, I should have prolonged my stay for some time.
Within the week I had taken advantage of the invitations to call
tendered me by the ladies of the President's party. Within another week
I found myself fairly launched in the social swim.

It is not remarkable that a man well under thirty, who has spent many of
his years riding the wilderness traces, should plunge into social
affairs with a zest unknown to the city dweller. To this zest there was
added in my case the keen desire to meet again my haughty Señorita
Alisanda. Yet devote myself as I might to attendance at balls, _fêtes_,
dinners, routs, and calls innumerable, it was only to meet with repeated
disappointments. Although, thanks to the kindness of Dr. May and my lady
patronesses, there were few social gatherings, small or great, to which
I was not invited, I failed to gain another meeting with the lady of my
heart. She was not present even at the grand New Year's _fête_ at the
White House, when Mr. Jefferson, as was his custom, received and
entertained all Washington.

That I was desperately in love with the señorita I had soon found myself
compelled to admit. For nothing less than the depth and passion of my
feeling could have prevented me from laughing myself out of it for the
sheer absurdity of such a thing.

Reared among a people whose daughters marry at sixteen and their sons at
nineteen and twenty, I had safely survived my calf-love, had even run
the seductive gantlet of the creole belles of New Orleans,--only to fall
victim in my mature twenties to the first glance of this haughty Spanish
señorita. What could I hope from one who doubtless regarded me as our
Western girls regard the red Indian? I do not mean with the like horror,
but with a like contempt.

Not alone was she a Spanish Catholic, to whom marriage with a heretic
would mean little less than sacrilege,--she was the daughter of a
Castilian family whose name implied kinship with one of the royal houses
of France. I was a man without a grandfather, and, what gave me real
concern, a citizen of a Republic which, in return for the carrying trade
of the world, was grovelling at the feet of England and France,
submissive to their contemptuous kicks.

True, Spain also bowed beneath the iron hand of Napoleon, but it was
because of the might of that hand, and not, as with us, because of a
willingness to endure shame rather than part with the commerce of which
our humiliation was the price. Far better war and death than such barter
of principles for gold!

As I thought of my abject countrymen I did not wonder that my lady had
looked upon me with hauteur; and yet I could not but reflect on the
graciousness of her thanks from the carriage window and that inscrutable
glance at our last parting. Hope interpreted the glance to mean that she
was heart-free and to be won by him who could stir her heart. Despair
said that she had gone forever beyond my reach, to the far distant home
of her uncle in New Spain. One answer to this last was the wild fancy
that, could I but attain the leadership of the Western expedition, I
might penetrate the wilderness and seek her out in the midst of her
people.

At the height of my fantastic scheming, gossip at last enlightened me to
the fact that my lady was yet in the city, stopping with a humble family
of Catholics, and precluded from attendance at social functions by the
absence of her uncle on a trip to Philadelphia.

Rumor added that the señor had gone to the old Capitol in company with
Colonel Burr, who, having spent much time at the British Legation with
Mr. Merry, the English Minister, had hurried North to confer with the
Marquis de Casa Yrujo. But Rumor and Colonel Burr were old bedmates, and
I gave little heed to the report at the time.

My interest was centred on the joyous news that the señorita was still
in Washington, not upon the curious information that her uncle and
Colonel Burr were supposed to have business with the Spanish Minister,
who, though he had severed diplomatic relations with our Government some
months since, yet lingered at Philadelphia.

Significant as should have been this report to one with my interests and
information, I must confess that not even the mention of Señor Vallois
drew second thought from me. For the time being my whole intent was to
find myself once more in the presence of the señorita. The question was
how and where? She was not to be seen in society, and I was not quite so
mad as to thrust myself in upon her at her retreat.

Hope flamed up again when all seemed darkest. As is well known to all
people of information, the Sunday assemblage in the Hall of
Representatives at the Capitol is frequently varied by the preaching of
distinguished clergymen of various sects and denominations. Being rather
given to Free Thought, though not to Atheism, I had thus far refrained
from attending these quasi-official services, much as I had heard about
them as the social levees of the city.

Chance, however, brought to Washington a noted Catholic bishop, and the
announcement that he would preach the following Sabbath in place of the
chaplain stirred me with the hope of a pleasant possibility. That Sunday
I went early to the assemblage hall, dressed in my best attire, my chin
swathed high enough by my pudding cravat to shame a London beau, my
trousers cut to the most modish, baggy shape and flapping loosely about
my shins.

Early as I arrived, I found no small part of the crowd ahead of me, and
I had to thrust and elbow my way here and there among the beaux, across
the hall, before I could satisfy myself that the señorita was not
present. Dashed, but by no means disheartened, I chose a post of vantage
on the elevated edge of a niche, from which I could watch the entrance.

Already I had had occasion to make my bows to the fashionably costumed
dames and misses whose gay talk and manners lent to the Hall more the
aspect of a ballroom than that of a house of worship or a legislative
chamber. As the company thronged in the gallant Representatives yielded
their seats to the ladies and stood beside them if acquainted, or, if
the fair ones came attended, left the aisles to the escorts and
withdrew into the lobbies or warmed themselves at the fireplaces.

Seeing the rapidity with which the seats were being filled by the
ladies, it occurred to me to pay one of the House attendants to bring me
a chair. By the time the man fetched it the aisles were so crowded with
extra seats and the throng of standing men that the only available space
left for a chair was in the statueless niche behind me. Though the width
of the Hall lay between it and the platform behind the Speaker's chair,
I could do no better, and the elevation of the position would, as I had
found, enable one to see, if not hear, over the heads of the noisy
assembly. The nearness to the entrance was in another way a decided
advantage, since it would enable me to address the señorita without
abandoning my seat to capture by the nearest beau of the many chairless
ladies.

From the moment the chair was handed me I was subjected to the wordless
attack of numerous fair ones, whose glances ranged all the way from soft
appeal to scornful reproach. And still the señorita failed to appear!

Mr. Jefferson, as negligently dressed as usual, had come in and taken
his seat beside his secretary; and the Marine Band, a resplendent
cluster of scarlet uniforms and polished brass instruments in the
gallery, had played the opening bars of "Hail Columbia," when a stir at
the entrance caused me to redouble my despairing vigil.

Greatly to my disappointment, I saw only the stately form of the
Catholic bishop. Ushered by an attendant, the priest made his way with
serene dignity through the laughing, chattering crowds whom he was to
address.

My heart sank into my boots. The service had begun, the hall was packed
almost to suffocation, the bishop had arrived, and still the señorita
failed to appear. To have kept waiting longer the nearest of the ladies
who had signalled to me for my chair would have been most ungracious. I
turned to speak to the lady's friend, hesitated, and turned back for a
last look at the entrance.

A rawboned Irishwoman was thrusting her way in through a group of men,
who seemed none too willing to give passage to her. The plainness of her
dress was enough of explanation for that, even had not the crowd been so
close. As she paused for breath, her big face red from exertion and the
quick anger of her race, it flashed upon me what a just mockery of the
beaux' gallantry it would be to give the woman my cherished seat. No
sooner had the thought entered my head than I caught her eye and
beckoned her to the chair.

The woman stared. I nodded and repeated my gesture. Promptly she pushed
a little to one side and turned half about. The movement brought to my
view the figure of another woman who had followed her in. My heart
sprang into my throat. Though the face of the second woman was downbent
and her dress all of black, it was enough for my enlightenment that the
covering of her graceful head was a Spanish mantilla.

At a word from the Irish woman she looked up and toward me, and I
thrilled at the level gaze of her glorious eyes. I bowed and pointed to
my chair. Without a sign of recognition she turned to look across the
hall. Unmasked to the men about her by the changed position of her
attendant, they were already making room for her beauty where the rude
strength of the woman had met with counter elbowing. Nine in ten of
those who surrounded her would gladly have given her their seats had
they been in possession of chair or bench. But mine was the only vacant
seat in the hall. The Irishwoman, who stood half a span taller even than
the señorita, had already perceived the fact. I saw her bend to whisper.

This time the señorita met my salute with a slight bow of recognition,
and advanced toward me, followed closely by her duenna. Had there been
no other ladies in the throng her passage would have been along an open
lane of admiring gallants. But not until she was within arm's-length did
I dare step down from my post of defence to meet her. We alike had the
other ladies to face and avoid. Half a dozen beaux were already before
me to proffer their assistance. I thrust aside the nearest and offered
my hand.

She placed her gloved fingers in my big palm and stepped up, without so
much as a word or a glance. For all that I found myself in an exultant
glow. Had I not had the forethought to procure the chair for her? and,
what was far more, had I not exercised sufficient courage to retain it
for her, despite the other ladies? The big Irishwoman gave me a glance
as kindly as it was shrewd, and took up her position beside me, her
coal-scuttle bonnet on a level with my curls.

Having done the señorita a service, it seemed to me fitting that I
should wait for her to speak before pressing her with further
attentions. Accordingly I stood with unturned head, gazing across toward
the Speaker's stand, and drinking in with appreciative ears the sonorous
bars of "Columbia."

With the last note of the national anthem ringing in my ears I became
aware of a far more musical sound,--the low-pitched voice of the
señorita: "There is space for one to stand beside the chair. Dr.
Robinson has my permission to step up and discover for me if Mrs. Merry
is present."

"Dr. Robinson accepts the invitation of Señorita Vallois with pleasure,"
I replied, hoping to bring a smile to the scarlet lips. They did not
bend, and I could see nothing but hauteur in her pale face and the
drooping lashes of her eyes. I stepped up into the narrow space beside
the chair, but it was not to stare about in search of Mrs. Merry.

"You do not look," she said with a trace of impatience.

"There is no need," I replied, my gaze downbent upon her cheek.

"No need?"

"The wife of the British Minister is not here."

"You have heard that she is ill?"

"No, señorita."

"Then how should you know that she is not here?"

"Because I have looked into the face of every lady present."

She smiled with a touch of scorn. "I had not thought the American
gentlemen so gallant!"

"I looked into the faces of all, señorita, searching for one."

To this she made no reply; and I, fearing that I had gone too far, stood
silent, under pretence of listening to the service. It was indeed a
pretence, for had I been in sober earnest I could have heard little
other than the band above the whispering and giggling all about the
room, the occasional loud talk in the lobbies, and the open laughter and
conversation of the young ladies and their lovers warming themselves at
the fireplaces. Throughout the service these gay young couples came and
went from their seats whenever the ladies felt chilled or took the whim,
the freedom of their movements seemingly limited only by the closeness
of the aisles.

When the time came for the bishop to preach there was a lull, owing to
his stately appearance and forceful oratory. The lull was brief. Once
more the young couples fell to whispering and tittering. A group of
Representatives and a Senator near us began a muttered disputation about
the question of naval appropriations. The señorita bent forward,
straining her ears to catch the words of the bishop. It was hopeless. In
the most favorable circumstances the Hall of Representatives has a bad
name for its wretched acoustic properties.

In the midst, at the stroke of noon, the attendant who had brought my
chair, came in with a great sack and, escorted by an officer of the
House, passed across the hall through the thick of the throng to the
letter-box on the far side. Having emptied the box, he returned with his
official escort in the same fashion, the bag on his shoulder bulging
with letters. The spectacle did not tend to lessen the lively spirits of
the assembly.

For the first time since I had taken my place beside her the señorita
looked up at me. Her face was still cold, but in the sombre depths of
her eyes glowed a fire of anger.

"Is it so you republican heretics meet the words of a most venerable
prelate?" she demanded.

"From what I hear, señorita, preachers of other churches receive, if
anything, still less consideration than this."

"It is a mockery of worship!"

"With the thoughtless, perhaps. I see many who listen. Another time it
would be advisable to come early and find a seat nearer the speaker."

"There will be no other time."

"Señorita!" I murmured, "you leave?"

"Within the week."

"So soon! You go by water. Would that I were a sailor in the West Indian
trade!"

She gave me a curious glance. "Why in the West Indian trade?"

"Ships carry passengers. Aboard even the greatest of ships the sailors
have glimpses of the passengers."

"Sometimes passengers stay below, in the cabin," she said coldly.

"That may well be in times of storm," I replied. "Then the sailor is
above, striving to save those who are in his care from shipwreck. But in
the warm waters of the Gulf the passengers show themselves on deck,
pleased to leave the narrow bounds of their staterooms."

"There are some who would rather stifle in their staterooms than be
stared at by the common herd."

"There are others, born in state, who would rather stand beneath the
open sky, side by side with a true man, than share the tinsel display of
kings," I persisted.

"Rousseau is somewhat out of style."

"No less is royalty."

"The French murdered their king, and God sent them a tyrant."

"A tyrant not for France alone. All Europe trembles at the word of the
Corsican."

"And your country, the glorious free Republic."

The bitter words forced past my lips: "My country writhes and bends
beneath the insults of the fighting bullies, and clutches eagerly at the
price of shame,--the carrying trades of the world."

She raised her eyes to mine, grave but no longer scornful. "At last I
have found an American!"

"There are others beyond the Alleghanies. We of the West are not sold to
the shipping trade."

"No; you do not take by commerce. You have ever been given to taking by
force."

"We have conquered the Indian with our rifles, and the wilderness with
our axes."

"Yet you turned to your East for it to buy you Louisiana, through a
conspiracy with that arch-liar the Corsican!"

"No conspiracy, señorita! It is well known that Napoleon bought
Louisiana from Spain for the sole purpose of extending his empire to the
New World. It was the fear of losing New Orleans to England that induced
him to sell the Territory to us--that alone."

"Yet he had given his pledge to my country not to sell!"

"Let your people look to it that he does not sell Spain itself."

"Ah, my poor country!" she murmured, and her head sank forward.

"I had gathered that your uncle was among those who seek to free Mexico
from Spanish rule," I said.

"Those whose misrule rests so heavily upon my people in New Spain have
little more regard for the welfare of my people in the mother country."

Again there was silence between us, this time until the close of the
bishop's sermon. As the prelate left the stand, the Irishwoman turned
about with an expectant look.

"Enough of this mockery!" said the señorita.

I stepped down at the word, and had the pleasure of receiving her hand
the second time. She made no objection to my escorting her from the hall
and to the outer door. In the portico she stopped for the Irishwoman to
come up on her other hand.

"You have my thanks, señor," she said.

I was not prepared to receive my dismissal so soon.

"With your kind permission, señorita, I will see you to your door," I
ventured, astonished at my own audacity.

Whatever her own feeling, she turned without so much as a lift of her
black eyebrows, and signed the woman to drop behind again. We descended
the marble steps together, and passed down a side street. She walked as
she spoke, flowingly, her step the perfect poetry of motion as her voice
was the poetry of sound. Her mere presence at my side should have been
enough to content me. But my thoughts returned to the dismal news of her
intended departure.

"You go within the week?" I questioned.

"Without regret," she replied.

I passed over the thrust. "You have been nowhere. It must have been
dull."

"Less so than may be thought. I have spent much of my time in the
company of Mrs. Merry."

"Lord have mercy upon us!" I mocked. "If you have been imbibing the
opinions of the Lady of the British Legation--!"

"I have heard some sharp truths regarding the ridiculousness of your
republican regime."

"And could tell of as many, from your own observation, regarding the
Court of St. James."

It was a chance shot, but it hit the mark.

"I had not thought you so quick," she said, with a note of sincerity
under the mockery.

"I am not quick, señorita," I replied. "It is no more than the
reflection of your own wit."

"That does not ring true."

"It is true that you raise me above my dull self."

"Have I said that I have found you dull?"

"I have never succeeded in acquiring the modish smartness of the
gallants and the wits."

"That, señor, is beyond the power of a man to acquire." I looked for
mockery in her eyes, and saw only gravity. The scarlet lips were curved
in scorn, but not of myself. "It is only those born as brainless magpies
who can chatter. You were right when you said that I could tell of
truths from my own observation. I left England with as little regret as
I shall--"

"Do not say it, señorita!" I protested.

"You Americans! You have the persistence of the British, with no small
share of French alertness!"

"We are a mixed people--" I began.

"Mongrel!" she thrust at me, with a flash of hauteur.

"Not so ill a name for a race," I replied. "History tells of a people
called Iberians. The Ph[oe]nicians and Carthagenians landed on their
shores. Then came the Romans; later, the barbaric hordes from the
North,--Goths, Vandals, Suevi; later still, the Moors."

The last was too much for her restraint. "Moors!--Moors! Mohammedan
slaves!" she exclaimed. "We drove them out--man, woman, and
child--before your land was so much as discovered."

"Yet not before they had done what little could be done toward
civilizing barbaric Europe, and not before their blood had mingled--"

"_Santisima Virgen!_" she cried, in a passion which was all the more
striking for the restraint that held it in leash--"I, a daughter of such
blood!--you say it?"

"I do not say it, señorita," I replied, with such steadiness as I could
command under the flashing anger of her glance.

"Then what?" she demanded.

"I spoke of your race in general, señorita. There are self-evident
facts. Even were the fact which you so abhor true as to yourself, would
your eyes be any the less wondrously glorious? Your dusky hair--"

She burst into a rippling laugh, more musical than the notes of any
instrument. "_Santa Maria!_" she murmured. "You miss few
opportunities--for an Anglo-American!"

"A man asks only for reasonable opportunities, señorita,--a fair field
and no favors."

"The last is easy to grant."

"You mean--?"

"No favors."

She had me hard. I rallied as best I could. "But a fair field--?"

"Can there be such?" she countered. "You are Anglo-American; I am
Spanish."

"Vallois has a French sound."

Her chin rose a trifle higher. "It is a name that crowns the most
glorious pages in the history of France."

I thought of St. Bartholomew, and smiled grimly. "I, too, can trace back
to one ancestor of French blood. He died by command of Charles de
Valois. He was a shoemaker and a Huguenot."

She looked at me with a level gaze. "It is evident you are one who does
not fear to face the truth. You have yourself named the barrier and the
gulf between us."

"Barriers have been leaped; gulfs spanned."

"None such as these!"

"Señorita, we each had four grandparents, they each had four. That is
sixteen in the fourth generation back. How many in ten generations? Who
can say he is of this blood or that?"

"I do not pretend to the skill to refute specious logic, and--here is
the gate. My thanks to you."

"Señorita!" I protested.

"_Adios_, señor! Open your eyes to the barrier and the gulf."

"I see them, and they shall not stop me from crossing!" Again I
encountered the inscrutable glance that opened to me the darkness in the
fathomless depths of her eyes. "I swear it!" I vowed.

Still gazing full at me, she replied: "It may be that in the Spring we
shall pass through New Orleans."

I would have protested--asked for a word more to add to this meagre
information. But she turned in at the gate, and the Irishwoman was at my
elbow.

"Till then, if not before, _au revoir_, señorita!" I called in parting.

She did not glance about or speak.



CHAPTER VI

THE WEB OF THE PLOTTER


Three days of waiting was the utmost I could force myself to endure. On
the afternoon of the fourth I called at the house on the side street.
The door was opened by the Irishwoman, who met me with a broad grin.

"Oi looked for ye sooner, sor!" was her greeting.

"Señorita Vallois--?"

"Flown, sor,--more's th' pity! Ye're a loikely lad, sor, if ye'll oxcuse
th' liberty."

"Gone?" I muttered. "Her uncle--?"

"Came an' packed her off, bag an' baggage, two days gone."

"Two days!--Where?"

"'Tis yersilf, sor, is to foind out th' same," she chuckled.

I held out a piece of silver. "Will that jog your memory, mistress?"

"Divil take ye!" she cried, and she struck the quarter dollar from my
hand. "Am Oi a black traitor to sell a fellay Christian to a heretic?"

After that there was nothing to do but turn on my heel and leave the
virago. By one false move I had lost her friendship beyond recall.

For weeks I sought to trace the señorita and her uncle. All I could
discover was that the don had come from Philadelphia in his private
coach, called at the British Legation, and carried away his niece by a
route unknown.

Left with no more than that doubtful mention of New Orleans, I plunged
back into the social swim of the Federal City; not to forget her,--that
I could not have done had I wished,--but to wear away the months of
waiting and to perfect myself in the social graces so far as lay within
my capacity.

At the same time I did not forget to press my application with Secretary
Dearborn and other members of the Government, who, I found, were all too
ready to forget me. It was a hopeless quest, and I was well assured of
the fact before midwinter. Yet it served its part as a time-killer; and
the season being too far advanced for the descent of the Ohio by boat,
it was far more agreeable as well as advantageous for me to while away
my enforced holiday in Washington than needlessly to punish myself by
the long and wearisome horseback journey to the Mississippi.

So I lingered on, dancing attendance on officials who frowned, and
dancing the minuet with ladies who smiled. Each served its purpose in
carrying me over what would otherwise have been a most tedious winter.

March came and dragged along more than the due number of weeks of foul
weather. Yet with the approach of the vernal equinox I began to overhaul
my buckskins. Being well able to imagine the state of the roads, I had
started a chest with the bulk of my wardrobe by wagon to Pittsburg ten
days in advance, and all my preparations had been made to follow after,
when the post from Philadelphia brought me a letter which caused me to
change my plans in a twinkling. I should rather have termed the missive
a note. It was without date, and ran thus:

     "If Dr. Robinson is interested in learning of a project
     contemplated by two parties whom he met at dinner,--to wit, a
     certain foreign gentleman and the writer,--he will, on his
     return West, come by way of Philadelphia, and call upon the
     writer.

     "A. B."

Much as this language smacked of intrigue, I had no hesitancy in
changing my route to comply with the note. It was not that I felt any
interest in the projects of Colonel Burr or his associates. The point
was that to my mind "foreign gentleman" spelled "señor," and I had met
but one señor at dinner in the company of Aaron Burr. If señor, why not
señorita? The rest follows as a matter of course.

My faithful nag had not gone unridden through the winter. A man does not
always give over the habit of a daily outing because of balls and routs
and tea-sippings. Yet the roads north might have been better--which is
not saying much,--and there are limits to the endurance of a beast,
though not to the miriness of a seaboard road in the spring rains. I did
not make the trip to Philadelphia in record time.

Upon my arrival I found that even the beast's master would be the
better for a night's rest. Directed to the Plow Tavern, I demanded food
and drink for man and horse, and having washed and supped, soon found
myself pressing the clean linen of my Quaker host.

Business justifies calls at early hours, and I did not breakfast late.
It was as well, perhaps, that I missed my way in the square-laid but
narrow Quaker streets, and did not find myself upon the doorstep of
Colonel Burr until midmorning. Even as it was, I had a wait of several
minutes in the drawing-room before the Colonel entered, wigless,
unshaven, and loosely attired in nightgown and slippers.

While waiting, a casual survey of the room had surprised me with its
evidences of a lavish establishment. Gossip had reported that the
Colonel was not meeting all his extensive indebtednesses when due.

He greeted me with bland cordiality, notwithstanding the inapt hour of
my call.

"Welcome, doctor, welcome!" he exclaimed. "Better late than never, eh?"

"You are kind," I replied. "I fancied that I had come too early."

He glanced at his dress with a shrug. "Wine and late hours carry through
many a successful conference. You will join me in a cup of coffee and a
roll?"

Though I had no wish for food, I assented, for I saw that he had not yet
breakfasted. We were soon seated in a snug little den of a room, sipping
as good coffee as I had ever tasted at any other than a creole table.

Few men whom I have met have greater command of their features than has
Colonel Burr. On the other hand, few are as over-sanguine. He must have
inferred that my speedy response to his note meant outright eagerness to
share in the projects at which he had hinted. Scarcely pausing for a few
civil inquiries as to mutual acquaintances in the Federal City, he
interrupted my answers in the midst.

"Let that wait, let it wait, doctor!" he exclaimed, with an ingratiating
smile. "There is something of greater moment to us both. I take it from
this personal response to my note that you are not uninterested in the
plans of Señor Vallois and myself."

The mention of the señor's name drew from me a sharp nod of assent. The
plans of Señor Vallois could not but concern his niece, and consequently
myself. The Colonel nodded back, and his smile deepened.

"You are aware," he began, "that I have contemplated the purchase of a
large tract of land beyond the Mississippi, within the Spanish boundary,
on a tributary of the Red River."

"The project was mentioned by you at the President's house," I replied.

"But the ulterior purpose of the scheme--"

"It is reported that you have planned for a colony."

"As a move necessary to the advancement of the real project," he
explained.

My look of interest was not assumed. For months past many hundreds of
persons, enemies no less than well-wishers of the astute Colonel, had
been guessing at the real object behind his rumored schemes.

He nodded shrewdly, and went on, almost in the words of Senator Adair:
"Have you considered, doctor, the fortune in store for whoever opens an
overland trade with Santa Fe?"

"Granted, sir. No less have I considered the improbability of obtaining
such trade concessions from the Spanish authorities. It is only too well
known that their policy is set upon jealous exclusion. Their desire for
contact with our Western borderers is as slight as their racial and
religious aversions are deep-seated and abiding."

"Say rather, their political aversion. Better still, say the political
aversion of the authorities alone. I have reason to believe that the
people of Mexico would welcome closer relations with us."

"It is not possible!" I protested.

"Have you never thought that the Spanish colonies may be as desirous of
achieving independence from foreign oppression as were our own?"

"There is the contemplated expedition of Miranda to Caracas to speak for
that," I assented.

"We have the outcry of our insolent friend the Marquis of Casa Yrujo to
testify as to the Spanish view of Miranda. The point is, if an
expedition to South America, why not one to Mexico?"

"A conquest?" I inquired--"an extension of the vast westward boundaries
of Louisiana Territory? It is true that war with Spain now seems
inevitable. There is no doubt that the Government would proceed to
hostilities, were it not that the French Minister intimates that the
Emperor will not permit the war."

He gave me a cunning look. "Ay! With a Napoleon behind him, General
Torreau has no difficulty in intimidating our meek philosopher of the
White House. Yet the Emperor is powerless. England's fleets guard the
high seas. The time is ripe to strike at Spain. We shall precipitate the
war, and to us shall fall the prize! Let our object remain unnamed.
Enough that Señor Vallois speaks for certain fellow haciendados of
wealth and influence living in the northern part of New Spain, that
portion of the country above the territory of the viceroyalty and under
the government of General Salcedo."

"Whom they term the Governor-General of the Internal Provinces?"

The Colonel nodded. "These friends of Señor Vallois are far from content
with present conditions. They would gladly throw off the yoke of Spain
if the occasion presented itself. My plan is to present the occasion by
means of an army of invasion, to be allied with the revolutionary party.
There are thousands of adventurous riflemen west of the Alleghanies not
unready to follow an able leader to the land of the Montezumas."

"I have lived on the frontier too long, sir, to doubt that the tide of
our westward emigration will roll on until it breaks on the vast desert
of the Western plains."

"I care not for the tide, sir! We shall set in motion a wave that will
roll across the desert into the golden paradise of El Dorado!"

"And you would tell me a man of Señor Vallois's intelligence invites the
entrance of that wave?"

Again the Colonel gave me a knowing smile. "It will be for the Mexicans
to care for their own interests when the time comes. Men do not traverse
deserts and destroy governments without thought of reward. My fiery
friend General Jackson of Tennessee is champing with eagerness to share
in the conquest of the Spaniard. Would he be so eager were it explained
to him that the object of the invasion went no further than the freeing
of the people of that remote land? But there will be glory and
recompense for all, and to spare. I have pledged Señor Vallois that he
and his friends shall gain a free government, and with it security for
their estates. It is his own concern if he and they misconstrue the
statement too much in their own favor. On the other hand, Jackson is a
man far hungrier for glory than for gold. He will lead our victorious
army south into the viceroyalty, to capture the city of Mexico, while we
are shaping the new Government for the whole."

The magnitude of the scheme struck me dumb. The Colonel noted the fact
with satisfaction. He tapped the table significantly. "That Government,
doctor, is already in process of formation. As originator and leader of
the project, I claim the supreme office. Certain other of the higher
offices are allotted. But you, sir, are a man of scientific attainments
and proven courage, and, what is no less important in a royal court, you
are a gentleman."

"Royal court?" I muttered, wondering what more might follow.

"The Spanish-American is not qualified to enjoy a republican form of
government. Upon this Señor Vallois and myself are clearly agreed. The
plan is a constitutional monarchy or empire, with a restricted
franchise, the voters to be confined to the ranks of the wealthy and the
intellectual."

"In neither of which classes will be found the bulk of your invading
army. I foresee a revolution to cap your conquest," was my comment.

"Men can be managed," he replied. "There will not be lacking the spoils
of office and the plunder of the enemy to lull their discontent. With
all their leaders bound to us by self-interest, it will not be difficult
to hold the mass in check. Señor Vallois guarantees a stout auxiliary
force of native militia."

"With whom our rough frontiersmen will make short work, in sport, if not
in deadly earnest."

"Perhaps,--if brought in contact while not under the fire of the common
enemy. Pray do not imagine me so dull, sir. The point has been foreseen,
and has been discussed with men of military training. The army of
invasion will remain the army of invasion. West of Nuevo Mexico is the
remote Pacific province of the Californias; south of the city of
Mexico--"

"You think to conquer an empire!" I cried, overwhelmed.

"Why not?" he returned, with an assurance which for the time swept me
off my feet in the current of his flashing dreams.

But this giddiness was not alone due to his bare statement. Behind the
daring words I had seen what to me was the lure of lures. I had been
offered in substance, if not in words, an office of dignity in the court
of this future royal personage, among whose lieutenants was numbered the
kinsman of Señorita Vallois.

What wonder if for the moment I forgot the worth of republican
citizenship in the glittering dream of titled office? What wonder if in
the intoxication of the moment I saw the barrier flung down between
myself and her, and thought to barter my birthright as an American for a
vassal estate which should bring me within reach of her?

"An empire!" I repeated. "The spoils to the victor--and to his
followers. At what, sir, do you appraise my worth?"

His answer was ready to glibness: "The title of marquis, an estate to
support the dignity, and a seat in my privy council, or such other
office as your merits may indicate during the consummation of our
projects."

"You have made sure of Señor Vallois?" I demanded.

"He is with us hand and glove. I have planned to cross the Alleghanies
about midsummer. Señor Vallois has gone before, to negotiate with
certain persons at St. Louis and New Orleans, whom otherwise I might
find difficult of approach."

"He has gone west?" I repeated, unable to credit my ears.

"At my request. It was required that he should go by way of New Orleans,
in any event, and the coastwise voyage is far from pleasant at this
season. Hatteras has an evil name in equinoctial weather. Also there is
danger of Spanish pirates off Cuba and in the Gulf. It is hard to find
passage in other than an American ship, and a cannon-ball or musket shot
fired by a Spanish pirate at a Yankee hull would not turn aside to avoid
the Spanish don who chanced to be aboard that selfsame Yankee."

Masking my eagerness with a smile at the conceit he pictured, I remarked
in as casual a tone as I could command: "The don, then, is well on his
way to St. Louis?"

"Not he!" snapped the Colonel. "It is now only seven--no, eight days
since he started. Knowing the condition of the roads, I advised that he
should take to the saddle, and leave his charming niece to continue her
visit with my daughter Theodosia, who, as doubtless you have heard, is
the wife of Senator Allston of South Carolina. I may mention in
confidence that my son-in-law is one of the foremost of all those
interested in our grand project. When I begin my second Western tour,
both he and my beloved Theodosia and my little grandson will accompany
me."

"From all that I have heard, sir, Mrs. Allston has only to make an
acquaintance to find a friend," I said.

His fond ear was quick to catch the sincerity of my tone, and a look of
the most profound and unselfish love ennobled his crafty face. But my
own love cried out for an ending of the bitter-sweet suspense.

"So Señor Vallois was so ill advised as to take with him his niece?--or
was she not his daughter?" I commented.

"His niece. Did you not meet her at the table of our Jacobin
philosopher? To be sure you did! I have not so soon forgotten that
gallant exploit with the fence rails!... Thanks to the obstinacy of her
uncle, she will be muddying that dainty arched foot in the wayside bog
for days to come. There will be few Dr. Robinsons between here and
Pittsburg to pry out the carriage of the bemired Dulcinea."

"Ah, well," I observed, "doubtless the señor will arrive in time enough
to take advantage of the spring fresh. What he loses on the road he will
regain by the added swiftness of the Ohio's current."

"True--true."

"I had myself thought to take advantage of the early floods. My
interests impel me to return to Louisiana as speedily as possible."

The Colonel gave me another of his shrewd looks. "You will not take it
amiss, doctor," he said, "if I repeat current gossip that the object of
your Winter in the Federal City was not attained." I nodded, without
show of offence, and he added quickly, "As well, as well, my dear sir!
It has brought you better fortune, and your wish atop! You shall have a
letter from me to General Wilkinson."

The suddenness of this took me unawares, but he had turned at the words
to summon the servant, and did not observe my confusion. Calling for
pen, ink, and paper, he turned again to me with outstretched hand.

"Your hand to it, doctor!" he cried. "You are with us?--you cast in your
fortune with the future Empire of the West?"

"A word, sir," I protested. "The heritage left me by my father was scant
as to property, but I have found it rich in wisdom. It included this old
adage, 'Look before you leap.'"

"Good! good, sir! Most excellent advice! Yet have I not shown you the
prospect?"

"You have, sir, and not without avail. It is an alluring prospect. I
confess myself tempted. Yet--I have seen what the French term the
mirage. I should prefer to hold my decision until I have dipped my cup
in the lake and found it filled."

"Eh! eh!" he chuckled. "I'll wager there's Scotch blood in your
veins--Scotch blood!"

"At the least, I would look closer at the water," I insisted.

"You shall, sir--my word for it!" he responded, with an assurance which
shook my last doubt. "You shall have the letter to Wilkinson. When it
has brought you your wish, then, and not until then, need you consider
your pledge binding."

"Sir," I said, tempted beyond my strength, "I accept the terms."

"Your hand to it!" he cried, and his soft white fingers closed about
mine with a strength of grip that astonished me. "To you, sir, shall be
entrusted the double mission of opening communication across the Western
boundaries with our Mexican allies, and of negotiating with the present
Spanish authorities for the Santa Fe trade. I need hardly mention to a
man of your intelligence that such projects as we contemplate are not
carried to completion without funds. To me falls the task of collecting
the sinews of war."

"To me the leadership of the scouts!" I cried. "I am doubly hot to take
the road. Dawn shall see me in the saddle!"

"The fire of youth!" he exclaimed, again clasping my hand. "Go, make
your preparations. You will ride none the less swiftly that you carry a
packet of letters for me."

"Willingly!"

"You think to go south to New Orleans?" I bowed. "Then a letter as well
to Daniel Clark."

"I am known to him."

"True; but I have word to send him--no less to Wilkinson--regarding the
death of Pitt."

"It is months since that event," I remarked. "The Prime Minister died in
January."

"The post to Louisiana is uncertain. Wilkinson at least may not have
heard, and I have comments to make. You will deliver the letters for
me?"

"I should be pleased to do so, sir. It is a small enough favor to
undertake, even for a chance acquaintance."

"But a favor that shall be remembered, doctor. Your lodging?"

"The Plow Inn."

"The packet shall be in your hands by evening," he replied.

I rose at the words, and he showed me to the door, with repeated
assurances of confidence and esteem.



CHAPTER VII

SHIP AND CREW


The promised packet of letters was delivered to me at the Plow shortly
after dark, by the man who had served coffee at the Colonel's. It was
accompanied by a note in which Mr. Burr pleaded pressing business as an
excuse for not delivering the packet in person. To this he had added a
postscript empowering me to break the seal of the packet upon my arrival
at St. Louis.

It struck me as most odd that the packet should have been sealed at all.
But upon reflection, I concluded that this was a very proper precaution
against a chance inspection of the contents by prying busy-bodies who
should happen to handle the packet. The letters might well contain
statements open to misconstruction by the Colonel's numerous and
powerful enemies, or details of plans, publicity of which, owing to the
necessity of secrecy, might disconcert the progress of the great
project. The instruction to me to open the packet upon my arrival
prevented any questioning of the Colonel's confidence in myself.

Thanks to a large hostler-fee, my horse came from the stable after his
day of rest as fresh as when we left Washington, and hardened by the
trip. He had need for all the endurance within his nature. Before dawn
his hoofs were clattering across the great new bridge over the
Schuylkill.

In the dense night of the bridge's enclosed roof and sides, it was like
riding through a hall of vast length, with no guidance other than the
faint starlight at the far end. The thought struck me that this was apt
symbol of my love-quest. The darkness was as the night of my lady's
fathomless eyes, through which in the uncertain distance I could no more
than fancy a dim starlight of hope.

Musing on the conceit, I continued the allegory as we left the bridge
and splattered away on the old colonial road to the Monongahela, with
the fancy that in spirit, as in body, I had passed from the shut-in
blackness out into the openness of space, and that before me was promise
of fair dawn.

The day's dawn came as promised, bringing me still greater elevation of
spirit. And within the mile a mischievous farmer's brat by the wayside
tumbled me from heaven to muddy earth by howling in a voice of lively
concern that my horse had lost his tail. So near does the ridiculous
skirt the sublime! I had begun my journey on the Day of All Fools.

Perish superstition! Who but the ignorant believes in signs and omens?
And if mine was in truth a wild-goose chase, the sooner I reached the
end of my running the better. I neither would nor could have checked
myself had the thought come to me to turn back.

A journey tedious enough in the best of seasons is not improved by April
rains and boggy roads. On the other hand, I had that drawing me Westward
which would have spurred the tortoise into striving for the hare's leap.
It is sufficient evidence of my haste to state that, for all the
condition of the roads, I made in fifteen days the trip which is
considered well covered if ridden in nineteen.

Let me hasten to add that this was not done on one nag. Even had not my
love of man's second friend served to prevent so brutal an attempt,
failure would have been inevitable. With the best of roads, not a horse
in the Republic could have carried through a man of my weight in the
time. The attempt was not necessary. Thanks to a kindly acquaintance
here and there along my route and to a sufficiency of silver in my
saddlebags, I managed to obtain a fresh mount on an average of twice in
every three days. With such relays, I was able to ride post-haste, yet
leave behind me each horse, in turn, none the worse for his part in the
race.

Up hill and down dale, pound, splatter, and chug, I pushed my mounts to
their best pace, along the old Philadelphia road. In other circumstances
and under clearer skies I might have paused now and again to enjoy the
pleasant aspect of the Alleghany scenery,--its winding rivers and
brooks, its romantic heights and budding woods. But from the first my
thoughts were ever flying ahead to the Monongahela, and the sole
interest I turned to my surroundings was centred upon such urgent
matters as food, lodging, and fresh mounts.

At the end of the journey I found myself in clear memory of but three
incidents,--a tavern brawl with a dozen or more carousing young farmers,
who chose to consider themselves insulted by my refusal to take more
than one glass of their raw whiskey; the swimming of the Susquehanna
River, because of a disablement of the ferry; and a brush with a trio of
highwaymen at nightfall in the thick of a dense wood. The rascals did
not catch me with damp priming. When they sprang out at me, I knocked
over the foremost, as he reached for the bridle, with a thrust of my
rifle muzzle, and swung the barrel around in time to shatter the
shoulder of the second fellow with a shot fired from the hip. The third
would have done for me had not his priming flashed in the pan. He turned
and leaped back into the thicket, while I was quite content to clap
spurs to my horse and gallop on up the road.

But even this last adventure failed to hold a place in my thoughts when
at last, near mid-afternoon of the fifteenth day, I came in view of
Elizabethtown on the Monongahela. Here it was I had reason to hope that
I might overtake Señor Vallois and his party. With roads so difficult,
it was more to be expected that he would take boat from this lively
little shipping point than rag on through the mire to Pittsburg.

Cheered by the thought, I urged my horse into a jog trot, which,
however, soon fell back into a walk as the weary beast floundered
through the deeper mire of the town's main street. I rode as directly as
possible toward the leading tavern. Señor Vallois was not the man to lie
at any other than the best of inns when choice offered.

With quick-beating heart I made out the sign of the tavern I sought, and
again attempted to urge my horse into a jog. He was slow to respond
either to word or spur, and I suddenly gave over the effort at sight of
a tall and dignified figure which stepped from the inn door and swung
easily upon the horse which a half-grown lad had been holding in wait.

The first glance had told me what I most wished to know. My chase had
not been fruitless. The Spanish cloak and hat and high riding boots of
the don were unmistakable, even had I not recognized the Spanish dignity
of his bearing. Certain of his identity, I would have preferred to
postpone a meeting until I had found opportunity to bathe and to change
to the one shift of linen and clothes which I carried behind the cantle
of my saddle. Yet I made no attempt to avoid him when he wheeled his
horse about and rode directly toward me.

Had it not been for our first meeting in the yellow clay of Washington's
famous avenue, I doubt if the don were unmistakable, even had I not
recognized buckskins. With that memory in mind, it is not unlikely that
my mud-smirched condition only served to add to the quickness of his
perception. We were almost passing, when he raised his eyes, which had
been staring down into the miry road in frowning abstraction. His glance
swept over me and rested on my face. A moment later he had drawn rein
and was bowing to me.

"_Por Dios!_ It is our gallant _caballero_ of the mire!--_Buenos dias_,
Dr. Robinson!"

"To you the same, Señor Vallois!" I returned.

"It is a strange chance which brings us to a meeting in this wilderness
bog," he remarked, with what I thought was a shade of suspicion in his
proud black eyes.

There was every reason for me to seek at once to place myself on the
footing with him that I desired. Meeting his glance with a careless nod,
I answered readily: "It is a pleasant chance which brings us together
here, but not a strange one. Little travel comes from Philadelphia to
the Ohio other than on the road we both have such cause to remember."

"From Philadelphia?" he questioned.

"I carry despatches from Colonel Burr."

"You!" he cried, thrown out of his aristocratic reserve. But in the same
breath he was bowing his apologies. "Your pardon, señor! I was not aware
that you and Colonel Burr--"

"Nor he, señor, until a few days ago," I hastened to explain. "Senator
Adair of Kentucky was formerly my father's friend and camp-mate. He
advised me to see Colonel Burr. When I started upon my return West, I
came by way of Philadelphia. It did not take me long to come to an
agreement with--" I lowered my voice and leaned nearer the don--"the
man who professes an intention to strike off the fetters of a land dear
to Señor Vallois."

"_Poder de Dios!_" cried the don, reaching his hand to me with a fiery
impetuosity of which I had believed him incapable--"_Santisima Virgen!_
You are one of us! You have cast in your lot with the new league of
freedom!"

It angered me that I must qualify. "Hold, señor! I did not say that. I
have not gone so far--as yet."

"As yet?" he demanded.

"Your pardon, señor, but many such projects are schemed, and in the end
prove to be--'castles in Spain.'"

He smiled gravely and without offence. "Señor, I give you my word that I
and my friends are prepared to build the Western wall of the castle."

"Your word, señor, is sufficient. But there remains the Eastern wall,
and I am doubtful of the builders. I did not ask for Colonel Burr's
word. I preferred something more substantial. He has promised that I
shall receive such proof upon my arrival at St. Louis."

"Then you, too, go to the--to St. Louis?"

"To the General," I responded, surmising that it was General Wilkinson
whom he had hesitated to name.

"You spoke of despatches."

"Letters from the Colonel to parties we both seek, in St. Louis and New
Orleans."

"Colonel Burr entrusted me with numerous despatches."

"He mentioned the day of my visit with him in Philadelphia as the eighth
after your departure. That week may have seen developments or changes
which required fresh despatches."

"_Poder de Dios!_" he exclaimed. "You left Philadelphia eight days
later--and are here!"

"At your service, señor."

"_Santisima Virgen!_ And I had four horses to my carriage!"

"I had nine horses beneath my saddle, in succession."

"_Virgen!_ What a _caballero_!"

"When a man is in haste to see his journey's end, señor, he does not
loll about taverns on the way. You came in yesterday?" He bowed. "Then
you may be able to tell me what are the chances of obtaining quick
passage down the river."

He looked across toward the shipyards with a frown.

"I am now on my way to inquire, señor," he answered. "Against the better
counsel of Colonel Burr, I was so ill advised as to bring a seaman from
the seaboard to have charge of the water journey."

"A salt-water sailor on an Ohio flat!" I exclaimed.

"The señor forgets that I am a stranger to his forest wilderness."

"Your pardon, Señor Vallois!--Permit me to ride with you. It may be I
can assist you."

"_Na-da-a!_" he protested. "I cannot permit it. You have ridden for
fifteen days at more than post speed. You must first refresh yourself."

"The señor forgets that I am no less eager than himself to arrange for
the river passage. Rest assured I am good for another day in the saddle,
if need be, at your service, señor."

As I wheeled around, and we started for the riverside, he looked me up
and down with a wondering glance.

"_Por Dios!_" he muttered. "I had thought none could ride as ride our
_vaqueros_. You are a man of iron."

"I am the son of my father," I replied. "How other than hard could be
the sons of the men who wrested this Western land from the savages,--who
have driven the Cherokees, Creeks, and Choctaws south of Tennessee, and
pressed back the Northwest Indians to their present fastnesses about the
Great Lakes?"

"It is true," he said. "I have been told no little of that most cruel
and ferocious warfare waged by your savage enemies. I myself know the
fearsomeness of the raids of our equally ferocious Apaches and Yaquis.
Therefore I do not wonder that the men and the sons of the men who met
their painted enemies in this gloomy wilderness should have become not
only hard, but rude and harsh in their manners."

"Given that and the prevailing craze for raw whiskey, and we have--what
we have. Yet they are the men whose fathers met the Indian on his own
ground; who themselves have met the ravaging war parties, and who will
doubtless again meet them,--though I trust not again on the banks of the
Ohio."

"May the Virgin grant that your trust is well founded!" returned the
señor, with deep earnestness. "Yet the British soldiers still hold your
lake forts, and it is rumored that the British agents are ever at work
conspiring with the Northern tribes against the interests of your
people. Let me predict that unless Britain is humbled by the great
Emperor, she will make excuse of your many differences to crush your
Republic and regain these lost colonies."

"Let her try!" I cried. "Let her turn loose her savage allies upon us,
and we will hurl them back into the lakes! We will cross over and drive
redcoats and redskins alike down the St. Lawrence into the sea! Even the
abject people of the seaboard, who now lick the foot that spurns them,
will remember their fathers of the Revolution, and strike the enemy as
Paul Jones and his fellows struck them,--on the sea."

The señor met my enthused glance with unmoved gravity. "I have heard
mention of what is called President Jefferson's mosquito fleet."

Our arrival at the shipyards gave me welcome excuse to change the
subject. I pointed to the scores of river craft, afloat in the stream or
in course of construction. "Had you in mind, señor, to take a bateau or
a flat?"

"Bateau?--flat?" he repeated. "Your pardon, doctor, but the terms--?"

"A bateau is a boat of flat bottom but with keel. A flat is a great scow
without keel, and often provided with deal cabins."

"I had been told how to proceed, but left all to that rascal of a
seaman. Immediately upon our arrival, he told me, with many foul oaths,
that he intended to make no ventures on fresh water, and to show his
contempt for the saltless fluid, has sat ever since in the taproom of
the inn, guzzling whiskey."

"You are better off without the fellow," I said. "There are scores of
men to be hired here who are well used to river travel. Is it your
intention to hire passage, or to purchase your own boat?"

"Privacy is desirable. I have disposed of my coach and horses with less
loss than I had feared. If boats are not too high in price--"

"Rest easy as to that, señor. Boats are one of the cheapest products of
the shipping towns. The question first to decide is whether you prefer a
keelboat or a flat."

"Señor, I must rely upon your good advice," he replied.

I pointed at the swollen, turbid current of the Monongahela, swirling
high along its banks. "As you see, the river is in full flood. It is
what the rivermen term the Spring fresh. The Ohio now runs no less
swiftly, at times fully eight miles an hour. I should advise you to
choose a flat, because it will travel little less speedily than a
bateau, and with its house, will prove a far more comfortable craft for
so long a voyage."

"Comfort is an important consideration, doctor. With me travels my
niece, whom you may remember."

I kept such command of my features as I could. "I have a clear memory of
Señorita Vallois. It is unfortunate."

"Unfortunate!" he exclaimed, with a lift of his black brows.

"That you have no servant skilled in handling a river boat."

"Ah--that!"

"A single man could manage your flat, provided you were willing to lend
a hand on occasion at steer-oar or pole--a few minutes, it might be,
once or twice a day. There are, as I have said, numbers of skilled
rivermen to be hired. But--" I paused as if to consider--"No. I could
bring you more than one for whose faithfulness I could vouch, but none
who is not foul-mouthed and--to a foreigner--insolent."

Shifting my gaze to the nearest flat, I waited in eager suspense. He
answered with a question: "Do I understand you to say that with my help
one man could guide so clumsy a craft?" I nodded, with assumed
carelessness. "And you are yourself skilled as a riverman, señor?" Again
I nodded. I could not trust myself to speak. He continued with polite
hesitancy: "Would you, then, think it odd, Dr. Robinson, if I requested
you to make the river journey with me?"

"Señor!" I cried, "it would give me great pleasure!"

"_Carambo!_" he muttered, at sight of my glowing face.

A moment's hesitancy would have lost me all the vantage I had gained. I
held my left hand level before me, and swept off the upturned palm with
my right. There are few of the Indian signs which do not pass current
from the lakes of the North and the swamps of the South to the most
remote of the tribes in the Far West. I was right in my surmise that
they were known even across the Spanish borders.

The señor bowed in quick apology: "A thousand pardons, Señor Robinson!"

"A man does not ride post-haste without expense," I said, with a
seriousness which was not all feigned.

"A thousand pardons!" he repeated. "My purse is at your disposal, Señor
Robinson. I do not speak in empty compliment. Such funds as you may
require--"

"_Muchas gracias!_" I broke in. "I have enough silver left to jingle in
my pocket. My thought was that it would be more agreeable to work my
passage with an acquaintance than with strangers. At this season it is
unusual for persons of culture to undertake the river trip. The voyage
is becoming quite the fashion among young gentlemen of means and
enterprise, but they seldom venture over the mountains before settled
weather, and the rivermen, as I have remarked, are not always the best
of company."

"Señor, no more! We share this voyage as fellow-travellers--my boat and
your skill. Is it not so?"

"Señor, my thanks!" I replied. "Yet first, there is the question of
Señorita Vallois's pleasure. It is a long voyage. I would not thrust
myself upon your intimacy against the lady's inclinations."

"My niece will be no less pleased than myself to travel in company with
a gentleman of your acquaintance. I will answer for that. My niece has
lived for three years in England. While we travel in Anglo-America, we
are agreed to comply with such customs of the country as do not differ
too widely from our own."

I bowed low to hide my extreme satisfaction. It was the rarest of good
fortune to have penetrated the reserve with which a Spanish gentleman
surrounds the ladies of his family. But it was not my part to dwell upon
the fact. I hastened to point out a flatboat which had caught my eye
when we first rode down to the bank.

"What is your opinion of that craft?" I asked.

"So large a boat--for two men? _Santa Maria!_"

"Hardly forty feet over all," I replied. "Let us go aboard."

He swung to the ground as quickly as myself, and we hitched our horses
to the nearest stump. As the flat was moored alongside the rough wharf,
we had only to step aboard. The height of the water brought the craft
almost on a level with the wharf.

A glance or two showed me that the boat was already fitted out with
steer-oar, sweeps and poles, a kedge with ample line, and a light skiff,
snugly stowed in the ten-foot space of open prow. Having next made sure
that she was well calked and dry, I led the señor through the house. It
was divided into three apartments or rooms, of which the one nearest the
stern was some five feet the longest.

"Here," I said, pointing to the rude but well-built fireplace, "is the
kitchen, salon, and dining-room of our floating inn."

We passed on through the middle and forward rooms. Like the kitchen,
both were limited to a width of seven feet by the need of a runway
without, along each side of the boat. But Señor Vallois looked about
approvingly.

"We could share this cabin," he said, glancing about the forward room.

"My thanks, señor, but I can make shift to sleep on deck," I replied.

"There will be rain--there is always rain in this northern country of
yours. No. You will do me the favor of sharing this cabin with me. There
are two berths, as you see."

I looked gravely at the rude bunks built, one above the other, on the
left wall, and bowed my acceptance of the offer.

"It is well," he continued. "My niece and her woman will share the
middle room. There remains only the question of purchase."

"Leave the bargaining to me," I said quickly, at sight of the
shrewd-faced Yankee who came down the wharf as we stepped out into the
open prow.

"The affair is entirely in your hands, doctor," assented the señor.

The Yankee stepped aboard with an air of brisk business.

"I cal'clate ye want a boat," he began. "Let ye have this 'un dirt
cheap."

"How much?" I demanded.

"One seventy-five."

"Lumber cordelled by keelboat from New Orleans?" I rallied him in
smiling irony.

He looked me up and down with a speculative eye.

"We-ell, stranger, I might knock off ten dollars."

"You mean fifty."

Again he surveyed me; then appraised the rich broadcloth of my
companion.

"Be ye buyin' fer him?" he queried.

"We make the trip together. I can go as high as a hundred and
twenty-five. We could do better at Pittsburg, but are willing to give
you the bargain, to save our boots."

He looked again from my mud-smeared buckskins to the señor's fine
apparel, and smiled sourly. "Ye'll git no such boat at the price, here
or at Pittsburg, if ye wait till the next freeze. One fifty is my best
offer. Take it or leave it."

"Skiff, kedge, sweeps, poles, and steer-oar included," I stipulated.

He assented, with well-feigned reluctance: "As she stands--lock, stock,
and barrel."

I handed him a five-bit piece. "Taken! Yet I'd have had you down fifteen
more if we were not in haste."

"I'd ha' eased your high-nosed don of a round two hundred, my lad, had
he done his own dickering," muttered he, as, at a word from me, the
señor drew out a bulging purse and counted into my palm the hundred and
fifty dollars in American gold.



CHAPTER VIII

THE HOSPITABLE BLENNERHASSETS


While our sour-faced boat-dealer made out his bill of sale, I wrote down
a list of provisions and furnishings for the boat. Upon reading this to
the señor, he suggested the addition of some articles which I would have
regarded as needless luxuries. Leaving these to his own selection, I
jogged to the store of a gruff old German ship-chandler, one of the
Hessians against whom my father had fought at Monmouth and Trenton, and
whose wife, on my last trip, I had been so fortunate as to cure of a
quinsy.

The good Frau came in as I was giving my list into the charge of her
husband, and would not take a refusal to her offer of hospitality.
Horse, list, and all were taken from me before I could defend myself,
and I am not sure but what the Frau would herself have put me into the
tub she made ready in the bedroom had I not begged for a dish of her
sauerkraut and corned beef.

Cleansed and filled, I was given no peace until she had me safe between
clean, dry sheets in their canopied fourposter. Having then been given
sufficient respite to write a note of explanation to the señor, I rolled
over and sank into that profound slumber of which I had so great need.

I awoke to find the sun up a good two hours and the hospitable couple
beaming upon me as brightly as the sunrays which shone in through the
diamond panes of the latticed window. The Frau held up my buckskins, all
cleansed and dried and softened; the man showed my list, with every item
checked and double checked, and a receipt from the party to whom I had
agreed to deliver my last mount.

Between them I soon learned that the flatboat was well stocked for the
voyage, and that the señor had sent word he was about to go aboard with
his party. This last would have forced me to rise and accept the good
wife's intended assistance with my dressing, had she not feared that I
should rush off before she could serve my breakfast. I gulped my coffee
while she tied on my moccasins. There was no question of other garments
than my buckskins, since saddle and all had been stored aboard the flat.
When I at last made my escape, it was with a hot sausage in either hand.
These German delicacies followed the rye bread and coffee which had gone
before, while I was riding to the wharf in my host's rattling ox-cart.

Greatly to my relief, despite the plodding pace of our beasts, we were
first to reach the boat. I had time to overhaul the craft and say
farewell to my good German friend. As he drove off, gruff-voiced but
beaming, the well-remembered cherry-wood carriage came churning through
the mire. The señor had retained the right to use it for this last
service.

I was at the door, with my hand on the knob, as the driver swung
around. The señor stepped out, with a sonorous, "_Buenos dias_, doctor!"
For a fraction of a moment he seemed about to turn. Then he stepped
aside, and left my way clear.

My lady drew out an arm from the depths of her great ermine muff. Her
plump, bare little hand lay in my brown fingers like a snowy jasmine
bloom. There was mockery in the depths of her eyes, but the scarlet lips
arched in a not unkindly smile.

"_Buenos dias_, señor!" she greeted me.

"It is truly a good day which brings me sight again of Señorita
Vallois," I replied. "May this clear sky prove true augury of the voyage
we are to share!"

"May it prove true augury of clear sunshine to follow! These weeping
skies of England and your Republic! I long for a week of dry weather."
She shivered in her single-sleeved French cloak, whose white floss net
and tassels added little to the warmth of her gauzy muslins. As for her
head, even her light mantilla would have been more suitable to the
weather than the jaunty cap of velvet and tigerskin.

"You are cold!" I said. "There is a fire aboard our craft."

I drew her hand beneath my arm and started to lead her down the wharf as
a swarthy, hard-featured woman stepped from the carriage. The señorita
spoke a few words in Spanish, and the woman turned to help the driver
lift down the chests and boxes from behind, under the direction of Señor
Vallois.

Handing the señorita down into the boat's stern, I led her into the
living-room, or kitchen, and laid more fagots upon the fire which I had
kindled. In another moment I had her seated before the blaze, with a
blanket about her graceful shoulders. As I knelt to place a stool for
her little feet, she gazed down with the velvety eyes which had looked
out upon me from the coach window in Washington.

"_Maria purisima!_" she murmured. "There are tales of gallant knights--"

"Who served and adored their ladies!" I added.

She glanced about at her uncle, who was entering through the middle
room.

"_Madre de los Dolores!_" she called. "These physicians! Pray, reassure
him, my uncle. He is convinced I shall suffer a chill."

"Not after the precautions I have taken," I rejoined with professional
gravity as I rose. "The wonder is that Señorita Vallois has so long
survived the sudden changes of our seaboard climate. I know little of
temperatures abroad, but on this side of the Atlantic these thin Empire
gowns are sheer murder."

"Granted," replied the señor. "Yet as a physician you have doubtless
long since learned the futility of arguing the cut or material of a gown
with a woman."

"Only too well, señor! Fortunately every day will now carry us both
nearer a milder climate and nearer the Summer. Your chests are all
aboard?"

"All. And yours, señor?"

"Mine will be waiting on the wharf at Pittsburg. We will put in for it
as we drift past."

"It is well," he replied. I moved toward the outer door. "A moment, if
you please, doctor. We voyage together many leagues. Among my friends I
am addressed as Don Pedro."

"And I as Alisanda," added the señorita gayly. Her uncle raised his
brows, but said nothing. She called toward the inner door,
"Chita!--Chita!"

The woman appeared, and at a sign from her mistress, crossed toward me.

"Dr. Robinson, you have not before met my faithful Chita, because she
was ill and had to be left in Philadelphia when we went to Washington.
Chita, this is he of whom I spoke."

The woman courtesied with a grace which belied her stout figure, her
beady eyes riveted upon my face. When she straightened I ventured to
surmise from the half smile which hovered about her hard mouth that if
she was not already well-disposed toward me, she was at least not an
enemy.

"It is well," said Don Pedro.

"All well--and ready to cast off," I added. "If the señorita--"

"Alisanda!" she corrected, with a flashing glance.

"If--Alisanda is quite warm, she may wish to witness the event."

"I will join you immediately," she responded.

With that I led Don Pedro out to the steer-oar and showed him how to
hold it to aid in bringing us about. As our craft lay in a slow eddy, I
had no difficulty in casting off. The townfolk and shipyard workers were
far too busy with the rush of the Spring shipping to give heed to so
common an event as the departure of a flat. But it was enough to call
out all my skill and strength that I thrust off under the eyes of
Alisanda.

A side shove from the prow, and a rear thrust from the inner corner of
the stern as the prow swung out, cleared us from the wharf and sent us
gliding out aslant the eddy. The river was in such full flood that the
bottom, even alongside the wharf, was beyond poling depth. But I called
Don Pedro to aid me with the sweeps, and a few long strokes carried us
out into the swirling current of midstream.

Our voyage had begun. We were afloat in the grasp of the river, and for
the time need only to fold our arms and gaze at the changing vistas of
forest-clad hills on either bank, past which the current swept us along
at more than post speed.

Before the noon meal we had passed in turn the important shipping town
of McKeesport, at the mouth of the Youghiogheny, and the hillside ravine
near Turtle Creek, where, within a gunshot of the river bank, the
British General Braddock met with his disastrous defeat at the hands of
the French and Indians, and where he whose life was to prove so precious
to his countrymen came so near to losing it beneath the edge of the
tomahawk.

In the midst of our meal we came so close under the heights of
Pittsburg that I had need to leave the table to take advantage of a
slant in the current which would bring us shoreward. Before the others
joined me, I had the boat fast alongside the warehouse wharf where I
hoped to find the chest of clothes I had sent on from Washington. My
expectations were not of the firmest, for I knew the Cumberland Pike to
be quite as miry as the Philadelphia road. It had been, indeed, a close
shave, for on inquiring of the warehouse keeper, I learned that my box
had come down from Redstone by skiff only the previous evening.

We had no letters to deliver in Pittsburg, and no desire either to wade
the unpaved streets or to linger beneath a sky whose shower of soot bore
out only too well the boast of the townsfolk that good coal could be
bought in their streets at five cents a bushel. For my part, I would
prefer to pay more for wood fires, and escape the smearing of house and
garments with lampblack. However, the residents may consider this
inconvenience offset by their numerous social and cultural advantages,
which are unequalled among all our trans-Alleghany towns, unless it may
be at Lexington or Cincinnati.

As we put off again into the stream, I pointed out the site of Fort
Pitt, built by the British to replace the French Fort Duquesne. But a
storm cloud drove down over the Pittsburg hills, and Alisanda hastened
to withdraw with her uncle into the cabin to escape the April rain which
soon poured upon us in torrents. It was not, as I had hoped, a mere
squall. With the passing of the first roaring wind gusts that rocked
our heavy craft, the rain settled into a steady drizzle, which obscured
river and banks for the rest of the afternoon, and sheeted us in like a
black pall throughout the night.

With the nightfall, trusting to the height of the flood to carry us over
all shoals and rocks, I made no attempt to effect a landing or to tie up
to the half-submerged willows along the bank. We had wood enough aboard
to last for three days or more, and our fireplace, with its pots and
ranger, saved the necessity of a shore camp to prepare food.

As there was no call for Don Pedro to suffer a needless wetting, I
argued that I could not trust him on watch so dark a night,--which was
no more than the truth of the matter. My supper was brought to me in the
prow by Chita, and her peppery stew was doubly welcome after my
afternoon's drenching. She carried back with her instructions to obtain
one of my dry suits from Don Pedro and take it through to the kitchen.
About midnight, the boat chancing to swing about stern foremost in the
current, I left my watch long enough to shift into dry garments before a
crackling fire.

With the first gray glimmer of dawn through the breaking rain clouds,
Don Pedro came to take my post, and Chita slipped out in her nightshift
to set on her coffee pot. By the time I had breakfasted, the sun had
dispelled the mists, and I saw that we were already in the Long Reach,
having passed during the night by Steubenville and Wheeling. It was a
run possible only at the height of the Spring fresh.

Upon my inquiry, Don Pedro informed me that he did not wish to stop at
Marietta, that prim New England village planted by Rufus Putnam and his
fellow Yankees on the site of Old Wyandot Town. He had, however, a
letter to deliver to Mr. Harmon Blennerhasset, owner of an island some
fourteen or fifteen miles below Marietta. So, having made a rough
calculation of the speed of the current, I went in to my bunk, after
explaining that they need not waken me before midday, unless the boat
tended to leave the current.

Sharp upon the noon hour I was roused by the don, and informed that we
had already passed Marietta, some five miles back. His description of
the Muskingum River and the block houses and other buildings of the town
would have convinced me that it was indeed Marietta, had I not known
that it was the only settlement of the size between Wheeling and
Gallipolis. What was more, I recognized the greater width of the river
bottoms, which were now flooded to the higher levels, the many islands
which divided the current, and the lowness of the densely wooded hills.

But having, as I felt sure, something over an hour to wait before
sighting Mr. Blennerhasset's well-known island, I made my toilet, and
leaving Don Pedro at the steer-oar, indulged myself in the great
pleasure of sitting down at table with the señorita. Either because of
her determination to live up to the customs of the country, or owing to
my watch in the rain,--which any riverman would have taken as a matter
of course,--she was most friendly and gracious in her manner, greeting
me with a smile and giving me her hand to salute. Not content with this,
she saw to it that Chita served me with particular attention, and
herself pressed food and drink upon me.

Only one who has lived among the Spanish people can realize what a
privilege it was to be thus received into the intimate society of my
travelling companions. We conversed with cousinly gaiety and freedom on
all subjects which came to mind, from the ambition of the great Corsican
to the latest fashionable ditties, and Alisanda filled me with
delightful anticipations by stating that amongst her baggage was a
guitar, which she and Don Pedro were not unskilled in fingering.

After the dessert of sweets, or _dulces_, to use the Spanish term, I
went out to relieve Don Pedro at the steer-oar and to inquire whether he
wished to stop over at the island. He replied that it might be necessary
to confer at some length with Mr. Blennerhasset.

A half-hour later we were sheering our craft toward the Virginia bank,
to make the wharf which faced the Ohio shore, near the upper end of
Blennerhasset Island. As the channel which separated the island from
Virginia was scarcely a stone's-throw across, our course brought us well
to the left of the river's centre. With the ready aid of Don Pedro at
the steer-oar, I managed, between sculling and poling, to bring the
flat alongside the wharf. Before I could leap out, a negro ran down the
bank and made fast the line tossed him from the stern by Chita.

Another slave who had sighted us from the crest of the bank turned and
ran with the news of our landing, so that before we could straighten our
garments and step ashore, Mr. Blennerhasset himself came hastening down
the bank to welcome us. Our visit had been unheralded, and, so far as he
knew at the moment, we were no more than chance strangers. But it was
enough for this cultured, unworldly Irish gentleman that persons of
quality had stopped at his gate.

Señor Vallois introduced Alisanda and myself with all the stateliness of
a Spanish hidalgo, and followed by delivering over the letter from
Colonel Burr. With no more than a glance at the address, Mr.
Blennerhasset thrust the letter into his pocket, and pressed us to
accompany him at once to his house, where, he said, Mrs. Blennerhasset
would be anxiously awaiting her guests.

Such warmth of hospitality would have melted even a reluctant visitor,
and we were far from unwilling to view the famed beauties of the place.
My one regret was that I could not claim the privilege of escorting the
señorita. Don Pedro and I ascended the bank behind the others, Chita
remaining aboard the boat.

Entering through the handsome stone-columned gateway at the top of the
bank, we passed between the shrubbery and a meadow, along a gravelled
walk, for somewhat over a hundred paces, to the front of the mansion.
The façade was remarkable for the semi-circular shape of the pillared
porticos which curved forward from each front corner of the main body of
the house. Though built of wood, the handsome proportions and two
stories of the mansion lent to it an air of distinction rarely to be
found west of the mountains.

Mr. Blennerhasset bowed us into a small front parlor, where we found his
comely and charming wife waiting to receive us, in the company of their
two little sons. After we had been welcomed by this pleasant lady no
less cordially than by her husband, Don Pedro stated that there might be
matters of mutual interest to discuss when our host had read his letter.

At this Mrs. Blennerhasset suggested that the gentlemen should be left
to their privacy, and Don Pedro invited me to share in the conference.
But I explained that I did not consider myself at liberty to do so, in
view of the fact that I was not yet irrevocably committed to the
projects of Mr. Burr. Mrs. Blennerhasset at once invited me to join with
her and Alisanda in an inspection of the mansion.

We entered first a dining-room of ample proportions, where our hostess
gave the little boys into the charge of their nurse. The apartment was
furnished with a richness and taste which compelled a look of surprise
even from the señorita. We were soon to learn that the mansion was
furnished throughout in the same lavish style.

What most interested me at the time was Mr. Blennerhasset's scientific
workroom in the rear of a second parlor which led off behind from the
dining-room. Here it was our host conducted his experiments in chemistry
and physics, and here he had properly arranged a fair-sized apothecary's
stock. Upon my remarking that I wished to purchase a quantity of
Peruvian bark and calomel,--my stock of which, in my haste, I had
neglected to replenish before leaving Washington,--the lady immediately
requested me to measure out the quantity I desired, and absolutely
refused any compensation.

We next visited the library at the end of one of the curved porticos.
Here, much against my desire, I was given permission to remain while the
ladies visited the kitchens in the other wing.

Tactfully as I was dismissed, the shaft rankled none the less sorely.
Yet happening to open a choice volume of European travels, I so lost
myself in the printed pages that the appearance of my host some two
hours later came as a surprise.

He explained that arrangements had been made for our party to join them
at dinner, and would not take a refusal from me. A servant had already
been sent aboard the boat, that Chita might attend on her mistress. The
man had orders to remain until morning, should I, following the example
of Señor Vallois and his niece, agree to lie the night in the house.
Unwilling to tax their hospitality so far, I excused myself from this
last, on the plea of my duties as boat captain, but before leaving I
gladly accepted his invitation to return and join them at dinner.

In due time I returned, and I trust that my appearance did full credit
to my country. Enough said that nay hat, shoes, breeches and waistcoat
were of the latest mode, that my coatcuffs extended to my finger tips,
that my shirt-frill was like a snowy waterfall, and that my coatfront
was padded to the fulness of a swelling bullfrog. As for my luckless
throat, it was so swathed about with its bandages of cambric that my
chin had a most supercilious elevation, and to look about I must first
turn my body. The neck was all but immovable.

This martyrdom was, however, small price to pay for my evening. Of all
costumes calculated to reveal and enhance the lovelinesses of women, the
Empire modes are by far the foremost. Indeed, such is the thinness of
gauzy materials and the scantness of breadth required, that,--if I may
venture my opinion not alone as a physician but as a gentleman,--the
flimsy, graceful costumes, though to be praised for the absence of
injurious stays, are too apt to over-expose the forms of the fair sex.

Yet a modest woman, by stopping short of the utmost extremes of fashion,
and no less by comporting herself with dignity and decorum, can suggest
thoughts no less elevating than enravishing through the graces of this
mode. With this by way of guide to my meaning, I shall not be
misunderstood when I speak of my rapture over the swell of my lady's
firm white bosom and the exquisite curves of her lissome young body
beneath the clinging sarsenet of her low-cut waist and narrow skirt. I
looked and adored as the artist adores the perfect lines of a
masterpiece. Yet with my adoration there flamed a fire of passion of so
white a heat that it burned away all dross of base imaginings.

I say nothing of our hostess,--not that she lacked in beauty or charm;
but who looks at the moon when the sun is in the sky?

The dinner did not disappoint the expectations roused by the lavish
display of the household; though I cannot say that Mr. Blennerhasset's
wines compared well with those of President Jefferson, unless it might
be the Madeira.

Upon the withdrawal of the ladies, Mrs. Blennerhasset urged me so
cordially to join them soon, and Alisanda seconded the invitation with
so sweet a smile, that I did not linger at table above half an hour. My
going was hastened by the conjecture that our host and Don Pedro might
wish to resume their conference. That I was not mistaken in this was
evidenced by the fact that they did not follow me for two hours or more.

In the meantime I had been led up a spacious stairway to the
drawing-room, directly above where we had dined. The room was notable
for the stucco work of the rounded cornices and ceiling, and the
harmonious tones of the wall-hangings, of which those above the chair
rail were green, bordered with gold, and those below reddish gray.

My entrance found the ladies seated together at a large forte piano, in
the execution of a duet which gave full display alike to their
accomplished skill and to the genius of the composer, the noted German
musician Beethoven. After the duet, our hostess favored us with a
ballad, and Alisanda no less readily followed with a Castilian song in
the Spanish. Her voice, even better trained than Mrs. Blennerhasset's
fine high soprano, was a liquid contralto that had in it the murmur of
sparkling waters, the sweetness of silver bells, and the sadness of
tears. I was affected almost beyond self-control, and it was as much
this as the disability from my high cravat which forced me to decline my
turn.

At my request, the ladies returned to another round of duet and song,
and followed with the reverse,--playing solos and singing a duet. In the
end they persuaded me to join them in a trio, and afterwards were so
gracious as to compliment me on my baritone.

On the whole, it was the most heavenly evening I had ever known, and
when, upon the appearance of the other gentlemen, I begged my leave of
our hostess, it was to dance my way down to the boat on winged feet.
Such a feast of divine music and diviner beauty seldom falls to the lot
of mere mortals.



CHAPTER IX

MY INDIAN TALE


Dawn found me clad in my buckskins, ready for the start. All my articles
of finery lay again in their snug retreat, and with those nightmares of
beaudom disposed of in a way to give me most comfort, I was once more at
my ease. Of all costumes suitable to action, there is none to equal our
old-time forest ranger's dress of fur cap, buckskin shirt, thigh
leggings, and good elk or buffalo moccasins.

To my surprise, the Spanish woman came aboard while I was toasting my
bacon, with word that her mistress and Don Pedro would follow as soon as
they had risen from the breakfast table. Alisanda had sent her down to
prepare food for me. The announcement of this brought a glow to my face
which I saw did not pass unnoticed by the woman. But she masked all
expression under her hard stolidity, and when I declined her services,
set about arranging her mistress's evening attire and returning it to
its box.

Shortly afterwards Mr. Blennerhasset and his wife made their appearance,
escorting my fellow travellers to the river bank and down to the boat
itself. I hastened to add my adieus to the others, and the tactful
couple, seeing that I was impatient to be under way, cut short what had
threatened to be a protracted parting.

With repeated last calls of farewell and wavings of hat and
handkerchief, we swung out into the current and drifted swiftly away
from our over-hospitable host and hostess. A few minutes carried us
below the cultivated upper portion of the island, and I noticed Don
Pedro eying the wooded remainder with a peculiar intentness. Afterwards
I was told that certain of the huge cypresses shadowed a bayou, in which
at the time we passed there were already being collected boats and
munitions for the flotilla that was to form the nucleus of Colonel
Burr's ill-starred expedition.

[Illustration: "We swung out into the current and drifted swiftly away"]

Of this and the nefarious plans since charged to that great dreamer, I
then had not the remotest suspicion, and soon turned my attention from
the pondering señor.

Scattered up and down the midchannel for three miles or more was a
string of barges, flats, and keelboats, laden with flour, lumber, and
other up-river products, for the market at New Orleans. Like ourselves,
they were coming down from the higher shipping-ports with the Spring
fresh.

At my request, Alisanda kept within the house, until, by a vigorous bit
of sculling, I had sent our craft beyond earshot of the nearest of these
barges. The huge, clumsy craft, which must have been upwards of four
hundred tons burden, was manned by the usual crew of twenty-five or
thirty rowdy, drunken rivermen, whose ribaldry and rude jests were
unfitted for the ears of a gentlewoman.

By adroit steering and an occasional return to my sculling, we were
fortunate enough to keep our distance from these other boats, and for
the greater part of the day I had the pleasure of pointing out to
Alisanda the beauties of the river scenery. Rightful in fact, and most
appropriate in truth, is the interpretation which tells us that "Ohio"
means "the beautiful river."

A day of clear, warm sunshine, marred by only one shower, gave us our
first chance to share the ever-shifting views of headlands and rolling,
wooded hills. Though the forest was as yet only half in leaf, and the
height of the flood covered all other than the highest of the bottoms,
the nature of the scene was an unending wonder to my companions, who in
turn compared it with the sterile mountains of Old Spain and the deserts
of New Spain. They could not liken it to the tamed woodlands of England;
for, notwithstanding a generation of settlement, with the river long
since the main artery of a great commerce, these banks were as yet in
many places unbroken wilderness, the abode of elk and deer and wolf, of
tigerish panther and lumbering bear.

High above us soared eagles and turkey buzzards, spying for carrion and
live prey, each according to his nature, as they had soared and spied in
the late sixties and early seventies, when Gist and Boone and the great
Washington first threaded the untraced wilderness and skimmed downstream
in their bark canoes to the dark and bloody hunting-grounds of the
hostile tribes. Since then what vast changes had come over the land!
What thousands of homesteads hewn out of the gloomy depths of beech and
oak, walnut and maple forest! What scores of settlements and towns,
ranging in size up to Cincinnati, with its three hundred and more
houses, many of brick and stone, its fifteen hundred whites and thousand
slaves, its genteel coaches and chariots, and its educational
institutions!

Yet, aside from the slaughtered buffalo and the backward-driven savage,
how small the change in the forest life! Along the rocky banks the
deadly rattlesnake and copperhead still lay coiled in wait; the deer
came timidly down to the water along old game traces where the panther
still lurked; and flocks of screaming, chattering paroquets still flew
up river from the southwest, their emerald plumage contrasting with the
bright hues of the redbirds and woodpeckers, the orioles and
kingfishers.

The following day, below the mouth of the Scioto River, we had view of
one of the strangest sights of the West,--a flight of passenger pigeons.
The flock passed upstream above the left shore in a dense column and
with a tremendous roaring sound of their millions of wings. Though we
were going in a contrary direction, hours passed before we saw the last
stragglers of their amazing multitude, and this despite the fact that
they are among the swiftest of birds. While making a southward bend of
the stream, we came beneath them, the lowermost flying so near overhead
that I was able to kill a number simply by flinging fagots among them.
As their flesh, though dark, is choice eating, we enjoyed a most savory
pie at the evening meal.

During the night the boat caught me nodding and gave itself into the
grasp of an eddy, which held it fast for two hours or more. My regret
over the delay was short-lived, since at dawn I made the welcome
discovery that it had caused us to part company with the last of the
cargo flotilla. The rivermen were well supplied with skiffs, and as some
of them are not above theft and even outright piracy, I had spent most
of these two nights in vigilant watch, with my rifle and Don Pedro's
pistols charged and primed against a night attack.

Less welcome than the absence of such consorts was the cold rain which
set in before dawn and lasted well along toward noon, with now and then
a slashing drive of sleet. I spent the dreary hours fast asleep in my
bunk, for Don Pedro insisted upon his right to share the hardships of
our voyage.

When I turned out, the sun had burst through, and the leaden clouds were
rolling away to the eastward. My first act was to sweep the Ohio shore
with an anxious glance. The swiftly changing vistas of winding river and
pleasant hills that undulated beneath their cloak of budding green, told
me that we had entered upon the run of the Great Bend. By good fortune,
I was just in time to sight the well-remembered hills of my childhood
home. Another twist of the channel brought us in view of the Little
Miami.

Cap in hand, I stepped to the side of the flat, and stood quiet and
apart, gazing at the rough, white stone that rose clear against the
sky-line on the first crest below the stream's mouth. What memories of
childhood rushed in upon me! what bitterness and grief!

At last the envious river swept us around a masking hill. I turned
slowly about, with all my heaviness plainly written in my look. Less
than three paces behind me stood the señorita, her dark eyes fixed upon
me with a soft pity far different from their usual mockery.

"You grieve!" she murmured.

"It is the grave of my mother."

Don Pedro dropped the handle of the steer-oar and turned to me with a
courtesy that went far deeper than outer form. "Your mother? May the
Virgin bless her!"

Alisanda made the sign of the cross, and her lips moved in quick prayer:
"_Ave Maria purisima_--"

After a little the don ventured a word of consolation: "It is a
beautiful place for a tomb,--serene and grand on its solitary hillcrest.
When my own time comes, may I rest as well!"

Serene!--beautiful! The words roused me from my unmanly weakness.

"You do not know!" I cried. "Her grave was dug among the ashes of our
home. She was murdered by the Shawnees."

"You speak of the Indian savages?" murmured Alisanda. "Is it so long ago
as that?"

"In my boyhood--in ninety-one--the Spring before St. Clair's terrible
defeat. The northern tribes raided the settlements from above Pittsburg
to the lower Kentucky, with a fury before unknown. The ferocious braves
crept by night through the very streets of Cincinnati and under the
walls of Fort Washington. Our home, outlying yonder on the Little Miami,
was one of the first struck. The memory of that morning is burned deep
into my brain. My father had gone into town to barter some skins for
flour, and my mother was part way down the hillside, ploughing for corn.
I had gone up to the cabin to fetch a jug of cider, and was half-way
back, when a score of Shawnees in their black war paint leaped from the
ravine and set upon my mother.

"I ran to help her, but she, striking bravely at the treacherous savages
with the ox-goad, screamed to me to fly for the guns. I turned as she
fell under the stroke of a tomahawk. The murderers leaped after me,
yelling and firing. Rifle balls and arrows whistled about me, some
piercing my shirt. But I gained the cabin unhurt. On the pegs beside the
door lay my father's rifle and his old Queen Anne musket of the
Revolution, which I had that morning charged half to the muzzle with
swanshot in preparation for a bear which had been stealing our porkers.

"Barring the door with one hand, I caught down the musket with the
other, and fired through the nearest loophole. My pursuers were coming
on fairly in a body, and the distance was such that the swanshot
scattered just enough to cover the foremost warriors. One fell dead and
three more were wounded. In a twinkling all others than the one killed
leaped to either side and checked their rush.

"But their chief came bounding up from the rear through their midst,
flourishing his bloody tomahawk and yelling to them to come on. Young as
I was, if given a support for the heavy barrel, I could handle my
father's rifle as well as he himself. The chief fell within twenty paces
of the door, with the hole of the rifle ball between his glaring eyes.
At this, fearful that they had run upon a trap, the red warriors ran
dodging and side-leaping to the nearest brush, while I caught up a knife
and rushed out to scalp the chief--"

"_Por Dios!_" cried Don Pedro. "You ran out!--you took the scalp of the
chief under the eyes of his followers?"

"My mother's scalp hung at his belt. I was mad with fury. I would have
struck the murderer even had the others already turned."

"They did turn?" asked Alisanda, her eyes widening with the horror of
the vision she pictured.

"They turned as I burst from the cabin. I was surrounded--seized
fast--but not before I had torn off the scalp of their chief and shaken
it in their painted faces!" My eyes flamed at the memory of that fierce
vengeance.

"_Madre de Dios!_" breathed the Spaniard--"You stung them to wildest
fury!"

"I sought to make them strike me down. Better death under the tomahawk
than the slow agony of torture at the stake. What greater shame to them
than for a boy of twelve to kill two of their most famous warriors,--to
taunt them with the bloody scalp of their chief?"

"Yet they spared you!" whispered Alisanda, her eyes fixed upon my
flushed face.

"For the torture. When they took me north to the Shawnee towns, I was
made to run the gantlet. Being quick-footed and nimble, I avoided most
of the heavier blows and midway of the line dodged out sideways,
tripping up the old squaw who sought to stop me. Before the rabble could
overtake me, I had set myself in the midst of the chiefs and foremost
warriors of the village, whose dignity had prevented them from joining
in the lesser torture.

"My craft in tripping the squaw and avoiding the greater number of my
tormentors won me the protection of the chiefs, and while they waved off
the boys and squaws, the young warrior Tecumseh, one of the brothers of
the chief I had killed, claimed me for adoption in place of his kinsman.
The other brother, Elskwatawa, promptly seconded Tecumseh. After much
dispute, their claim was allowed, and for three years I lived as a
member of the tribe, always watched against escape, yet treated with
utmost kindness.

"That Fall the leading members of my tribe were present with the braves
of the Miamis, Delawares, Wyandots, Iroquois, and other tribes, who made
a second Braddock's Defeat of their battle with General St. Clair. They
brought back no captives, but such quantities of plunder and such tales
of slaughter that I could hardly credit either my eyes or my ears.

"After this I was taken to the neighborhood of the British fort near the
Maumee Rapids, where the notorious renegade McKee proved that even the
worst of men have their better nature. He sought to ransom me from my
adopted brothers. This was refused, but I was permitted to come and go
freely to the fort. One day, chancing upon a book of physic in the scant
library of the post surgeon, I showed such interest that the portly old
doctor seized upon me as a _protégé_.

"Within a year I was forced to return to the Shawnee towns, but with me
I took a Latin grammar and my precious treatise on physic. Again I was
brought to the Maumee, and there placed for safekeeping in the fort
during General Wayne's cautious but steady advance north from Fort
Washington. This meant months more of study under the tuition of my
kindly surgeon; so that upon the day of Wayne's glorious victory at
Fallen Timbers, when he drove the routed warriors of the allied tribes
past the very walls of the fort, I was further advanced in my studies
than many an English schoolboy of seventeen or eighteen, and, I must
confess, fast acquiring British sympathies.

"But the sight of Wayne's victorious cavalry, who rode up defiantly
within pistol-shot of the palisades, roused in me such a feverish desire
to escape that I should have flung myself upon the bayonets of the
sentinels rather than have remained. Fortunately the garrison was so
intent upon the burning of the dwellings and trading establishments
without the fort by our army, that I was able to slip over the stockade
with the aid of a rope, and make off safely in the darkness."

Alisanda sighed her relief of the suspense that had held her tense. "So
you escaped!" she exclaimed.

"To the American camp where I found both my father and my mother's
cousin, Captain Van Rensselaer. The captain had been shot from his
saddle during the battle, but was able to return with us to Cincinnati
when my father's term of service as a mounted volunteer expired. It was
Captain Rensselaer who, upon his return to New York, sent for me to
complete my medical and other studies in Columbia College."

"_Por Dios!_ What a life!" cried Don Pedro. "We also have our Indian
battles. But to live among the ferocious savages--_Santa Maria_! Small
wonder you men of the forest wilderness are men of iron!"

"Many settlers of soft fibre have come over the mountains since the days
of peace. But the men who first hewed their homes in the wilderness had
to be of iron. Such are those who now press on to the new frontiers of
the South, the Lakes, and the Mississippi."

"Among whom is our friend Don Juan," replied Alisanda.

I looked, thinking to see a mocking glance, and instead found myself
gazing down into the fathomless depths of her eyes.



CHAPTER X

THE FATHER OF WATERS


So far I have written at some length of our voyage, for it was these
first days that set the stamp upon the relations of our little party.
From the hills of Cincinnati, which we sighted as I ended the story of
my boyhood, on down the long descent to Natchez, I was as one of Don
Pedro's own kinsmen. The name spoken by Alisanda, seemingly in jest,
became the name by which all addressed me, only that before we entered
the Mississippi both the señor and she had begun to drop the "Don" in
favor of the familiar "Juan."

So "Juan" and "Alisanda" it became between my lady and me, and Don Pedro
looked on and smiled. Yet with and beneath it all, both held to a subtle
reserve which told me plainer than words that the barriers were down
only for a truce, and not for a treaty,--that our freedom of conduct as
fellow-travellers would at the journey's end be barred by a return to
customs not of the country.

At times when alone on watch at night, I thought with misgiving of the
approaching days when my lady would resume her fine Castilian hauteur
and Don Pedro his punctilious politeness. But on the whole I was
content to make the most of my opportunities,--to drift with the current
of our companionship as the boat drifted with the stream.

Milder days came to us as we floated down into the Southwest,--days of
grateful sunshine and lessening rains,--heavenly hours beneath the blue
sky, when, inspired by the blossoming springtime upon the verdant
shores, we sat together in the open stern and sang solos and duets and
trios to the accompaniment of the guitar.

With the coming of nightfall I learned to look longingly for fog or wet,
for a clear moon meant a night on watch, that we might lose nothing of
the drift. But a dark sky gave me excuse to tie up to the bank for the
night and join in an evening of music and genteel talk about our
crackling beechwood fire.

Then there were lessons for me in Spanish from the don, and in the
playing of the guitar by Alisanda. It was strange how clumsy were my
fingers and how repeatedly I had to ask my fair teacher to place them
correctly.

And so we swept on down the beautiful river, the swirling depth of the
Spring fresh bearing us clear over the rocks of the Ohio Falls at
Louisville, as over the hundreds of miles of inundated flats and shoals
above and below.

At Lusk's Ferry Don Pedro had planned to leave the river and cut across
country horseback, over the forty-league road to Kaskaskia, which would
have saved nearly half the keelboat journey up the Mississippi from the
mouth of the Ohio to St. Louis. For this we should have taken aboard our
horses at Louisville or at the little settlement of Shawnee Town below
the Wabash, since at Lusk's Ferry suitable mounts for our party were not
to be had at any price. In the outcome, however, the miscarriage of
plans proved truly fortunate.

Having no other choice, we dropped on downstream past the Cumberland and
Tennessee Rivers, to Fort Massac, our lonesome American stockade, built
near the site of the old French post of the same name. We tied up to the
steep bank of clay and gravel, and I made a landing. Upon inquiry at the
post, Captain Bissell, the commandant, whom I had met the previous Fall
on my eastward journey, informed me at some length as to the movements
of General Wilkinson. Report having been received that General Herrera,
the Spanish commander in Texas, was gathering a force to march upon
Natchitoches, the Commander-in-Chief had descended the Mississippi for
the double purpose of strengthening the forts at New Orleans and of
assembling a force to repel the expected invasion.

I intimated to the captain that Señor Vallois was not averse to a war
which might give his country opportunity to throw off the Spanish yoke.
At this he confided to me as his opinion that the long-impending
hostilities seemed now inevitable, and that he would welcome a change
which would not only relieve him of his _ennui_ in this solitary post,
but would tend to break up the general stagnation of the service.

His urgent invitation brought Don Pedro and Alisanda ashore for a much
needed change. Neither had set foot on shore for days, and I persuaded
Don Pedro that the recreation was well worth the delay. But my pleasure
over the enjoyment of the exercise was not added to by the sight of the
gallant captain and his no less gallant lieutenant receiving the smiles
of Alisanda for their attentions. As a good excuse for avoiding the
painful spectacle, I secured some spare jars of sweetmeats from Chita,
and bartered them in the little settlement near the fort stockade for
chickens, eggs, and butter,--all of which would be still higher in price
and harder to obtain after we entered the Mississippi.

Soon after the landing of my companions, so strong a head wind set in
that we were forced to lie moored over night. Toward morning it fell to
a pleasant breeze, and I put off at dawn, without waiting to rouse the
others.

Midday found us afloat on the broad bosom of the Father of Waters, whose
noble flood, swollen above St. Louis by the silty downpourings of the
Missouri, and here by the Spring torrent of the Ohio, rolled on
gulfwards in full-banked majesty. It was a grand sight, but one to which
Don Pedro and Alisanda gave more thought than myself. Captain Bissell
had dropped me a word of warning as to possible trouble from canoe
parties of Chickasaw and other Indians, which, in view of Alisanda's
presence, gave me no little uneasiness.

That night and the next I called upon Don Pedro to watch, turn about,
with myself. I even went so far as to land at New Madrid; but the
villagers knew nothing of the Indians. At last, late in the afternoon of
the third day, we sighted a canoe full of warriors putting out from the
left bank, with the evident intention of intercepting us. At my command
Alisanda and her woman sought shelter in their room, while I left the
steering to the don, and stood ready with my rifle and his pistols.

When I signed the party to hold off at hailing distance, the foremost
warrior signed back that they were friends. But they were now near
enough for me to see their black war paint. Again I signed the leader to
keep off, and he in turn hailed me in Shawnee, demanding lead and
gunpowder. Before I realized what I was saying, I had answered him in
his own tongue, telling him to bring his party around under our stern.

At this unexpected address, the chief raised the hand which I knew had
been grasping his rifle. I responded with three or four quick signs that
drew a guttural exclamation from the least stolid of the warriors. They
were not used to meeting white men who could claim fellowship in their
tribe. But as they paddled nearer, I stared back at their chief, hardly
less astonished. There could be no mistaking his noble, powerful
features. He was my adopted brother Tecumseh!

The instant I recognized him with certainty, I laid down my rifle, and
called to him in Shawanese: "Tecumseh, many years have come and gone
since we parted at the British fort on the Maumee, yet do you not know
again your white brother Scalp Boy?"

At the word he rose from his knees and stood grandly erect in the bow of
the canoe, staring at me from beneath his levelled palm. The craft was
now within twenty yards of us, and Don Pedro could not withhold a
muttered exclamation of apprehension and warning. Almost at the same
moment Tecumseh stooped, and catching up a corner of his blanket, wiped
the grim war paint from his face. The paddlers at once paused to follow
his example.

"_Santisima!_" muttered Don Pedro. "Why do they rub their faces?"

"They remove the war paint in proof of friendship. Their chief is one of
my Indian brothers, who saved me from torture."

"But they come close! You will not permit them to enter the boat, with
Alisanda--"

"Fear nothing," I hastened to assure him. "We are safer now than when we
were alone. My brother and his people can be trusted with our lives and
our property."

"It is true, señor," remarked Tecumseh in clear though guttural English.
"Scalp Boy and his friends are sacred in the eyes of all Shawnees. He
is a member of our tribe and my brother."

I reached out and grasped the hand of the chief as the canoe came
alongside.

"Come aboard and feast with us," I said.

He shook his head. "No, Scalp Boy; that may not be. It warms my heart to
again grasp your hand; but you are an American white man; you have long
ago forgotten your Shawnee kindred--"

"No, no, Tecumseh! I have always remembered you and Elskwatawa, my
true-hearted brothers--"

"Tecumseh does not blame his white brother for returning to his white
kindred. There is no enmity between us. But Elskwatawa our brother has
become a communer with the Great Spirit, and he has told the redman how
evil are the customs and food and firewater of the white man. It is evil
for the redman to mingle with the white people."

"Have you then taken the warpath, my brother? Is that why you came out
against us in war paint?" I asked.

"We came out to attack you because we had need of powder, and I would
not beg. But we are not on the warpath."

"You are far from home," I remarked.

He swept his hand around in a grand gesture. "Elskwatawa the Prophet and
I make a great journey to our red cousins. We visit all the tribes from
the Great Lakes to that greater water in the South which the white
people call the Gulf."

"To form a great conspiracy against my people!" I exclaimed.

"Your people!" he repeated. "No, we seek to convince the tribes of my
people that they are all brothers, and should join in one nation."

"That they may seek to destroy the white people!"

"That they may hold back the white man from stealing any more of their
land."

He had me there. I could only look my regret; for I knew that, whatever
his intent, the result must be war.

He returned to the object of his averted attack. "Give us powder and
lead, Scalp Boy. We cannot eat the white man's food. We need powder and
lead to shoot game."

"Not to make war?" I asked.

"I speak with a straight tongue," he said.

At this I went into the cabin and fetched out a small keg of powder and
a quarter-hundredweight of lead. He motioned me to hand the gifts to the
warrior in the stern of the canoe, and when I turned again to him, he
held out a beautifully wrought belt of wampum.

"It is little I can give to my brother," he said.

"I take the gift because my brother offers it," I replied. "What I have
given is nothing. All that I could give would not repay what Tecumseh
did for me in my boyhood!"

He looked me up and down with an approving glance. "Scalp Boy has grown
to be a great warrior. I will ask the Great Spirit that we may never
meet on the battlefield."

Before I could respond, he signed his warriors to push off, and the
canoe shot away at arrowy speed. At once Alisanda slipped out of the
cabin, to peer after the darting craft and the grim savages, whose
naked, bronzed forebodies, fantastically streaked with the war paint,
swayed to the paddle strokes so vigorously as to bob their plumed war
locks about in a most comical manner. It was a sight she was not apt to
see again even on the Mississippi, if only because of the redman's
dislike to exert himself except when hunting or on the warpath.

Though we had come so well through this adventure, the accident of our
escape from attack did not lessen my fear of visits from Indians
belonging to other tribes. To my vast relief, the following day brought
us safely in the approach of a great flotilla of flour-laden flats,
whose draught of water gave them better headway than our boat. The drift
of our craft, which sat so much higher in the water, was at times more
retarded by the head winds. The difference was so slight that we were
able to keep the others in sight until another flotilla overtook us. In
fact, so vast was the extent of the river traffic that from this point
until our landing at Natchez, we were never beyond view of one or more
descending vessels, while even keelboats, ascending under sail or poles,
were not uncommon.

Though far from as swift as the flooded Ohio, the Mississippi bore us
rapidly on our way. Divided by island after island and contorted this
way and that by out-jutting points, its mighty current, swollen to vast
width, yet swept on in majestic grandeur past towering bluffs and
inundated lowlands and wildernesses as virgin as in the remote days of
De Soto the Spaniard, and La Salle the Frenchman, other than for an
occasional plantation and, at longer intervals, the log cabins of the
little settlements.

I will not speak of our difficulties from snags and sawyers and delaying
eddies, or of the extreme difficulty of shooting the waterfowl, which,
though abundant, had long since been taught wariness by the guns aboard
the swarming river craft. I shot a swan and now and then a duck, but for
the most part was held too close to the navigation of our awkward flat
to hunt such shy game.

On the other hand, our well-stocked larder supplied us with all else
than fresh meat and milk, and to obtain fish we had only to trail a line
over the stern. The season was favorable to the avoidance of fevers and
agues; the high water obviated in a measure the danger of shoals and
sawyers, and I had had the forethought to provide nettings, which saved
us when within the cabin the torments which at night we would otherwise
have suffered from mosquitoes and gnats, even out in midchannel.

So, on the whole, our days would have passed pleasantly, even without
those joys of companionship of which I have written. Aside from an
occasional fierce thunder storm, our May days on the lower river were
ideal to southern-born persons like my companions, though the fervid
sunrays on the water darkened Don Pedro's aristocratic face to a coffee
brown, and burned my ruddy complexion until it presented one unvaried
expanse of brick red.

When not at work, Chita was accustomed to doze, uncovered, in the full
blaze, mumbling in answer to my repeated warnings, that it would take a
lifetime of basking to draw the fog and wet of England and my country
from her bones. But she took great care that her mistress should never
venture out into the sun-glare unmasked. Though the señorita could
endure the heat as well as herself, there was always the señorita's
complexion to be considered.



CHAPTER XI

GENERAL WILKINSON


By tacit agreement, throughout our long voyage no mention had been made
of its purpose since the evening of our visit with the Blennerhassets.
Intimate as had been my relations with Alisanda and her uncle, it was
not the part of an honorable man to receive confidences bearing on Don
Pedro's plans, until I had seen General Wilkinson and learned whether
Colonel Burr's test of influence would stand. Unless committed to the
furtherance of the far-reaching projects which the Colonel had outlined
to me, I felt that I had no right to share the secrets of the scheme.

In compliance with my wish, Don Pedro had refrained from all allusion to
the subject, going so far as seldom to mention his home and country. In
consequence, this being Alisanda's first voyage to New Spain, I learned
so little of their plans that when we landed at Natchez I knew only that
they expected to sail from New Orleans to Vera Cruz, and from there to
travel either by _diligencia_ or private coach to a town named
Chihuahua, in the desert interior, where the don was possessed of a
great estate. Even of the nature and customs of the country I had
gathered few facts to add to the vague information acquired in past
years from the Spanish Creoles.

But with our approach to Natchez, that which had been least in my
thoughts became the uppermost. General Wilkinson was at Natchez, and the
nature of his response to my letters from Colonel Burr was a matter of
vital importance to me. A few days after our arrival would bring about
my inevitable parting from Alisanda. If that parting took place without
the knitting of new ties for the future, what hope had I of ever again
looking into the depths of her dark eyes?

But should the Commander-in-Chief prove the feasibility of Colonel
Burr's plans by agreeing to precipitate war and support the invasion of
Mexico, and should he, in addition, give to me the leadership of the
Western expedition, how strong my cause for hope! At once I could enter
into the plans of Don Pedro, and while he journeyed back to Chihuahua,
to prepare his friends for the revolution, I could lead my expedition
across the great plains, my approach to Santa Fe to be the signal for
the uprising. With war raging on the Sabine River and in Texas, the
interior provinces would be drained of Spanish troops; so that the
revolution could be gotten well under way before the Viceroy could send
up an army from the City of Mexico.

Though not a man of military training, I then believed, and am still
convinced, that this plan of campaign would have met with certain
success. Thousands of our hardy frontiersmen were ready at the word to
fling themselves across the Spanish borders, and with such men as the
fiery General Jackson to lead them, they would have soon crushed all the
forces which General Herrera could have brought against them. Their
march across Texas and to the City of Mexico would have been marked by
an unbroken succession of victories, while I, fighting side by side with
Don Pedro in the revolutionary army of Mexico, with Alisanda to win!--

But enough of idle dreams! Those who base their plans on the leadership
of wild schemers and double-dyed traitors should be grateful if the
outcome finds them unsmirched by the company they have kept.

We moored to the wharf under the bluff at Natchez, and I, dressed
fittingly for the occasion, had the pleasure of escorting Alisanda up to
the little town on the hilly slope behind the bluff-crest,--my companion
finding much to interest her in the motley crowd of Spanish and French
Creoles, Americans, negro slaves, and Chickasaw Indians.

The don had not expected to stop at this seat of the Government of
Mississippi Territory; else I have no doubt Colonel Burr would have
provided him with a letter to insure hospitality from the persons who
had so _fêted_ that statesman the preceding Fall. As it was, I arranged
for the best accommodation to be had at Mickie's Hotel, and at once set
about the disposal of our floating home.

It being understood that I might be required to hasten north to St.
Louis, Don Pedro had decided to sell the flat, since, without my
company, it would be more convenient to continue the voyage to New
Orleans in a passenger boat. A flat is worth so little at this end of
the river trade that I was glad to bargain the craft for twenty dollars
to a family of French creoles. At New Orleans I might have sought in
vain for a purchaser. Scores of flats are there abandoned by the
rivermen, many of whom return to the upper shipping towns afoot.

After some hours of delay at the water front, I returned to Mickie's
Tavern with a cartload of impedimenta, including my own chest. Don Pedro
met me at the door, with the information that he had already seen
General Wilkinson, who, upon learning that I also bore despatches, had
sent him to summon me to the headquarters. The don's expression, so far
as one might read his proud features, told me that the interview had not
been over-satisfactory.

"You are not pleased at General Wilkinson?" I asked.

"_Nada_, John," he answered with a terseness which spoke volumes.

I could well imagine what he would have said, had not his courtesy
prevented.

"I will hasten," I said. "It may be he will meet you in a more favorable
mood after he has seen the letters I bear."

"God knows! Who can tell?" he murmured in Spanish.

"I hope to know within the hour," I replied.

"_Sabe Dios--Quien sabe?_" he repeated, as I set off.

I found the General's headquarters without difficulty, and upon
mentioning my name, was at once passed in by the sentinel on guard in
the piazza. When I entered the office, I found the General studying a
map of Lower Louisiana, in company with Colonel Cushing, his second in
command. For a moment he stared at me with stupid pomposity, as if he
had been overcome with the whiskey, a bottle of which stood on the table
before him. But even as I gave my name, he recognized me and beckoned me
to a seat at the table, with a fussy show of cordiality.

"Of course, of course, Dr. Robinson! Take a seat! I'm pestered with all
kinds of visitors in these days of impending war. But a gentleman is
always welcome. Colonel Cushing, you have met Dr. Robinson?--No?--One of
our most promising young physicians,--already favorably known for his
skill, both in the Upper and Lower Territory. He has, I understand, a
private claim to present for my consideration. That is my understanding,
doctor."

"You have been so kind, sir, as to give me opportunity to present a
matter of private business, if I am not mistaken."

Colonel Cushing promptly rose, excused himself, and withdrew. The
General leaned toward me, his fat, red face flushing still deeper, his
breath hurried and labored.

"You bring me letters?" he puffed.

I took out my packet, broke the seal before his eyes, and handed over
the first two letters, which were addressed to him. He tore open both
with pudgy fingers that shook, either from excitement or excess of
drink. The more bulky one he stared at for a moment, with knitted brows,
only to fling it into a drawer.

"Cypher again!" he muttered.

"You spoke to me, sir?" I asked.

He glared across at me, with what I could have sworn was panicky fear.
His voice shook: "You--you--Do you know what is in these letters?"

"You saw me break the seal of the packet," I replied. "I do not know the
contents of Colonel Burr's messages; though, from what he told me, one
letter relates to myself, and the other bears upon the death of Pitt."

"Pitt!--Pitt dead?" he gasped, losing thought of the one fear in
another.

"Have you not heard?" I asked, astonished. "It is months since his
death--midwinter."

"But--but--that puts another face on the plans! Without Pitt--without
the British ships--"

"British ships!" I exclaimed.

He started, and sought to gather together his scattered wits, hastily
pouring out and drinking half a glass of raw whiskey before again
speaking. I waved aside the bottle and a second glass which he thrust
toward me, and pointed to the other letter. "Your Excellency, may I ask
you to read what Colonel Burr has written with regard to myself?"

He caught up the letter, and after a hasty glance about the room from
door to window, began to read. I could see by the quickness with which
his eyes followed the lines that, unlike the first, it was written in a
legible hand. At the end he went back and re-read the latter part.
Coming again to the end, he laid the letter down, and addressed me with
a most bombastic assumption of dignity: "Sir, Colonel Burr takes too
much upon himself--far too much! The granting of your request, sir, is
impossible--impossible!"

Away puffed my aircastles at a word, and left me stunned and heartsick.
I had not looked for so sudden a blow. Yet I managed to protest: "Your
Excellency, I have ventured to imagine that I am not altogether lacking
in the qualities needed by the leader of such an expedition."

He unbent a trifle. "Sir, I do not question your qualifications."

"Then what prevents my appointment, Your Excellency? Is it that you wish
further recommendations? If only my friend Lieutenant Pike were here to
speak for me!"

"That, sir, is the point. I cannot give you the place, because
Lieutenant Pike has already been assigned to it."

"He!" I cried. "But he is at the sources of the Mississippi!"

"He was, sir, and the Government shall hear of it, to his just credit.
He has explored the headwaters of the river; entered into treaties with
the powerful tribes of the Sioux and Chippewas; hauled down the British
flags at the fur-trading posts, and compelled an agreement of the
Northwest Company to pay us our import duties at Michilmackinac."

"And he has returned!" I muttered.

"In April. By now he is fitting out this present expedition."

I rose and bowed. "Such being the case, Your Excellency, permit me to
wish you good-day."

"One moment," he said, leaning toward me, with a leer which doubtless he
meant for an ingratiating glance. "Has your ambition so narrow a range,
doctor?"

"My ambition?" I inquired.

"Your ambition and your interest in the projects of one who shall at
present go unnamed. I must read and consider what the gentleman has
written to me. Whatever my decision as to--those matters, I cannot give
you what you have asked; but--you will understand--there may be
possibilities--vast possibilities!--a vast Empire, stretching westward
from the Alleghanies--"

"Alleghanies!" I cried, astounded.

At sight of my face, his own turned a mottled gray. He caught at the
whiskey bottle and poured himself out a second drink. Fortified by the
draught, he gasped something about an attack of bilious fever, and
added, with a crafty smile: "You, sir, as a physician, know how this
cursed malaria flies to the head. I have the word Arkansas on my tongue,
yet say Alleghany."

The explanation at once allayed the terrible suspicion which had flashed
into my mind. It was common knowledge throughout the West that this man
had been involved with Innes and other conspirators of the separatist
plots in the nineties. But that he or Colonel Burr or any other man not
insane could dream of such treason to the Republic in these days was a
thought seemingly so preposterous that it needed only the pompous old
fellow's word of explanation to make me banish the suspicion. Yet I
realized that I had had quite enough of his company.

"Sir," I said, "my interest in the affairs of Colonel Burr hinged
entirely upon this question of the expedition. Since the honor of its
leadership has fallen to my friend Lieutenant Pike, I have nothing to
ask of you."

"You will remain in Natchez a day or two?" he inquired.

"I cannot say."

"It might prove to your interest to delay over. I may again send for
you, notwithstanding your reluctance to receive other favors than the
one I cannot grant."

I bowed and withdrew, leaving him in the act of pouring a third drink of
whiskey.



CHAPTER XII

AU REVOIR


It was not with a light heart that I returned to Mickie's Hotel. I had
made my cast, and fortune was against me. In the afternoon I had left
Alisanda smiling down upon me from the balcony of her inn window; I was
returning at nightfall to meet--Señorita Vallois. Though to the last she
and Don Pedro might hold to the familiar "Juan," how little might even
her smiles lighten the shadow of a hopeless parting!

As I entered the inn door, Mickie bustled forward to inform me, with an
air of vast importance, that at the request of the Spanish grandee, he
had arranged to serve the evening meal to the señor's party above
stairs. When he added that a plate was to be laid for myself, I hastened
to my own room for a change of linen.

My heart was too heavy for me to linger over foppish details of dress.
It was not long before I found myself at the door of the room set apart
for the private dining-parlor. Chita, who was overlooking the spreading
of the cloth by the negro attendants of the inn, conducted me through to
the balcony, where I found the don indolently puffing at his _cigarro_.

Before I could take the seat to which he waved me, Alisanda floated out
into the moonlight from the window behind him. She was a vision all
heavenly white but for her scarlet lips and sombre eyes and brows. Even
the soft tresses of her hair were hidden beneath the gauzy white drape
of tulle and lace which took the place of her black mantilla.

"_Buenas noches_, Juan," she greeted me, in a tone of liquid silver.

"God be with you, Alisanda!" I responded.

"Be seated, _amigo_," urged Don Pedro. "You have a weary look."

"I bring what to me is heavy news," I replied.

"You had in mind to ask a favor of General Wilkinson," said Alisanda.
"You have asked the favor, and--he has refused it?"

The note of sympathy in her voice soothed my despairing anger. I did not
stop to wonder at the intuition by which she had divined the object of
my visit to the General. It was enough for me that she had perceived my
heaviness, and held out to me her sympathy.

"It is true," I said, and in a few words I told them of my shattered
plans,--how I had hoped to gain fame by leading an expedition of
exploration to the West, as Lewis and Clark were exploring the
Northwest, and as my friend Pike had explored the headwaters of the
Mississippi; and how the statements of Colonel Burr had led me to hope
for still greater fame as a sharer in the freeing of Mexico.

Don Pedro leaned toward me, his eyes glowing with friendly fire. "_Por
Dios!_ Your one thought was to help us break the yoke! You would give
your life for the winning of liberty!"

I looked across at Alisanda, and the soft loveliness of her beauty in
the moonlight filled me to overflowing with the bitterness of my blasted
hopes.

"Do not think me so noble!" I replied. "I thought to fight for the
freedom of your country, but it was in hope of a reward a thousandfold
greater than my service!"

Alisanda raised her fan and gazed at me above its fluted edge with
widened eyes,--I feared in resentful wonder at my audacity. But Don
Pedro was too intent upon his own thoughts to perceive the meaning of my
words.

"_Por Dios!_" he protested. "Those who have risen against Spanish
oppression have ever met with short shrift. Shall not they who brave
death in our cause look for glorious reward in the hour of victory?"

"That is true of those who may be blessed with the chance to join your
ranks. As for me, the opportunity which I had thought to be golden has
turned to ashes in my grasp."

"_Sabe Dios!_" murmured Alisanda in so soft a tone that the words came
to me like a whisper of the evening breeze. Was it possible that after
all I still had cause for hope?

Chita's voice, drawling the usual Spanish phrase, summoned us to the
table. We rose, and Alisanda accepted my arm with a queenly
graciousness of manner which in the same moment thrilled and
disheartened me. I read it to mean that she was in a kindly mood, but
that the kindliness was due to the condescension of Señorita Vallois,
and not to the frank companionship of my fellow-traveller Alisanda. This
surmise was borne out by her manner at table, where she rallied her
uncle and myself upon our gravity, and with subtle skill, confined the
talk to the lightest of topics. The Don was as abstemious as most of his
countrymen, and Mickie's wine was a libel on the name, yet he soon
mellowed to the gay chit-chat of his niece.

It was beyond me to enter into this spirit of merriment. I forced myself
to smile outwardly and to meet their lively quips and sallies with such
nimbleness of wit as I possessed. But it went no deeper than show on my
part. The longer we sat, the heavier grew my heart. I had no joy of my
food. Even the peaches and the other fruits of the lower river tasted
bitter in my mouth. For with each fresh turn of the conversation I saw
my Alisanda slipping farther away from me, her kindly glance giving
place to the haughty gaze of the Spanish lady of blood, her familiar
address cooling to stately condescension. I was no longer "Juan," but
"doctor" and "señor," and, near the end, "Doctor Robinson."

We had come to the sweetmeats, and I noted with despair that she was on
the point of withdrawing. She had even thrust back her chair to rise,
when, with scant ceremony, a young soldier in uniform entered and
stated that His Excellency, General Wilkinson, desired the immediate
presence of Señor Vallois.

"_Carambo!_" exclaimed Don Pedro, looking regretfully at the sweetmeats.
"He might have chosen a fitter time! It is in my mind to wait."

"Is not your business with him the affair of others no less than your
own?" murmured Alisanda.

"_Santisima Virgen!_ You do well to remind me! Juan, with your
permission--"

"_Adios!_ Good fortune to you!" I cried, as he rose.

Another moment and he and the soldier had left the room. I was alone
with Alisanda. She rose, with a trace of inquietude beneath her calm
hauteur. I moved around the table to join her.

"Spare yourself the trouble," she said, with repellent sharpness. "It is
unkind to take a man of English blood from his wine."

"Señorita," I answered, "since we came in to table, you have told me all
too plainly that you no longer wish to conform to the customs of the
country. I do not wonder. Our voyage as fellow-travellers is at an end.
There is no longer need for such slight service as I was able to
render--"

"Service?" she repeated, with a curl of her scarlet lip.

Though cut to the quick, I could not give over.

"Alisanda," I said, "has it been nothing to you, all these golden days
since we met on the Monongahela?"

She raised her hand to arrange her scarf, letting fall a loose strand of
hair down her cheek.

"_Santisima Virgen!_" she murmured, with fine-drawn irony. "It has ever
been a marvel to me--so chance a meeting."

"Chance, indeed!" I replied. "Chance that the utmost of my effort could
not trace the road by which you left Washington; chance that Colonel
Burr gave me the clew for which I sought; chance that of the nine horses
I rode to a stand between Philadelphia and Elizabethtown, none failed me
in my need."

She gave me a mocking glance over her fan. "_Madre de los Dolores!_ What
a pity! A little time, and the gulf will roll between."

"I will cross that gulf!"

"Not so; for it is the gulf of the Cross," she mocked. "I go the way of
Vera Cruz--the True Cross. No heretic may pass that way."

The words struck down my last hope. It was the truth--a double truth.
The way of my body was barred by the city of the Cross; the way of my
spirit by that which to her the Cross symbolized.

"So this is the end," I replied. "We have come to the parting of the
ways. Do not fear that I shall weary you with annoying persistence. I
shall go my way before sunrise to-morrow. Only--let me ask that this
last hour with you may hold its share of sweetness with the bitterness
of parting,--Alisanda!"

"An hour?" she repeated. "The air in here is close."

She laid her fingers lightly upon my arm, and we passed out into the
moonlit balcony. For a time we sat silent, she gazing out across the
broken slopes of the town, I gazing at her still white face and shadowy
eyes. Her loveliness was part with the night and the moonlight and the
scarlet bloom of the climber upon the balcony rail.

At last I could no longer endure the thought that she was lost to me; I
could no longer deny utterance to my love and longing.

"Alisanda! dearest one! Is there then no hope that I may win you? I have
no gallant speeches--my love is voiceless; no less is it a love that
shall endure always. Alisanda! _my_ dearest one! is my love of no worth
to you? Let your heart speak! Can it not give me one word of hope?"

My voice failed me. Throughout my passionate appeal I failed to see the
slightest change in her calm face. I had failed to stir her even to
mockery. Truly all was now at an end! I bowed my head and groaned in
most unmanly fashion.

The low murmur of her voice roused me to despairing eagerness. She spoke
in a tone of light inconsequence, yet I seized upon the words as the
drowning man clutches at straws.

"Love?--love?" she repeated. "The word has become a jest. Men protest
that they know the meaning of love--that they suffer its bitterest
pangs. Yet speak to them of the days of chivalry, when gallant knights
bore the colors of their ladies through deadly battle, and the ogling
beaux turn an epigram on _les sauvages nous ancêtres_!"

"Show me the way to the battlefield--I ask no more!" I cried.

"Words--words!" she mocked. "The Cid would have found his way to the
field of glory without asking. Were the way barred, El Campeador would
have hewn his way through, though the barrier were of solid rock! But
the men of to-day--!"

"Wait!" I broke in. "Have you not yourself said that the way of the gulf
is impassable for me?"

"True," she assented, "true! And not alone the gulf, but the
barrier--the gulf of water and of the Cross; the barrier of rock and of
blood."

"Blue blood and red have been known to intermingle," I argued.

"With love for solvent!" she murmured. The softness was only for the
instant. "Yet what of that other barrier?" she demanded. "Between your
land and the land to which I go lies the blood of Christ."

"Is it then religion that is the insurmountable barrier--the impassable
gulf? You have not lived all your life in Spain. I had hoped that not
even your faith could close your heart against me, if only I might prove
to you the greatness of my love."

She sat silent for what seemed an endless time, toying idly with her
fan. When at last she spoke, it was again in that light, inconsequential
tone: "To the eastward or northeastward of Santa Fe lies a vast
snow-clad sierra. My kinsman once saw it from a great distance. He says
it is called the _Sangre de Cristo_."

"_Sangre de Cristo_--the Blood of Christ!" I said, lost in wonderment.
Then a great light flashed upon me. I knelt on one knee and caught to my
lips a white hand that did not seek to escape my grasp. "The
barrier--the barrier of rock!--Alisanda! you give me hope! If I come to
you there--if I cross that barrier? Dearest one!--dearest! can you doubt
it? Though I have to find my way alone among the fierce savages of the
vast prairies; though I find that snowy range a mountain of ice and
fire, I will come to you, Alisanda--my love!"

I saw the quick rise of her bosom and the blush that suffused her cheeks
with glorious scarlet before she could raise her masking fan.

"_Santisima Virgen!_" she murmured, and broke into a little quavering,
uncertain laugh. "They speak of the cold blood of your race!"

"Alisanda!--Dearest one! Tell me I may come!"

She rose quietly, already calm again, and cold as the moonlight which
shone full upon her face. I rose with her, still clasping her hand.

"Tell me, Alisanda, may I come?"

"Why ask me that?" she said, in an even voice. "Could I prevent if you
wished to try?"

"If I cross the barrier, may I hope?"

"There would yet be the gulf."

"Gulf or barrier, I swear I will find my way to you, though it be
through fire and flood! I will seek you out and win you, though you hide
your beauty beneath a nun's veil!"

Such was the force of my passion, I again saw her bosom rise to a
deep-drawn breath and the edges of her sensitive nostrils quiver. Yet
this time she did not blush, and her voice cut with its fine-drawn
irony: "Words--words!"

"I offer love. I ask nothing in turn but a word or a token--nothing
but--my lady's colors."

She turned and opened her eyes full to my gaze as she had opened them at
our parting in far-off Washington, and I looked down into their depths,
vainly seeking to penetrate the darkness. At last it seemed to me I saw
a gleam far down in the wells of mystery--a glow, faint yet warm, that
seemed to light my way to hope.

Suddenly the glow burst into a flame of golden glory--She was swaying
toward me, a line of pearls showing between her curving lips. But even
as I sought to clasp her in my arms, she eluded me and glided away,
vanishing through the farther window.

Half mad with delight, yet unable to believe my own eyes, I sought to
follow, the blood drumming in my ears from the wild intoxication of my
love. None too soon I heard behind me the sharp call of Don Pedro:
"_Hola, amigo!_ Have you gone deaf, that you do not answer?"

This, then, was why she had eluded me! It was his return which had
robbed me of that moment of all moments. My look as I turned was as
bitter as his was keen. My voice sounded to me like that of another man:
"What! Back so soon, señor?"

"Señor?" he repeated, taken aback by the formal address. "Yet it is as
well, Juan. All our plans are blasted. Hereafter it would seem we are to
be strangers. I have no faith in the promises of that man."

"You do well to distrust him," I said. "I might have foreseen the
outcome of plans in which he was to play a part."

"Whom can we trust in this self-seeking age! I find myself doubting even
the fair promises of your great statesman Burr."

"Of our discredited politician Burr!" I cried. "Don Pedro, he has no
claim upon me, and you have many. Let me tell you, I begin to doubt him,
even as I doubt our pompous General. I have reason to believe that
Colonel Burr plans to take your country from Spain, not for the benefit
of you and your friends, but for his own aggrandizement. He thinks
himself a second Napoleon."

"_Por Dios!_ I see it now. He plots to sell us to Spain, that Spain may
aid his plot to make himself king of your Western country,--king of all
that part which extends from the Alleghanies even here to New Orleans
and north and west to the Pacific. I know; for did he not enter into
negotiations with Marquis de Casa Yrujo?"

"With the Spanish Minister?" I exclaimed.

"With Casa Yrujo, after the death of Pitt deprived him of the hope of
British ships and money."

"So--he is but a crack-brained trickster," I muttered. "We have chased
his rainbows and landed in the mire. This is the end, señor. I go now.
Tomorrow's sun will see me on my way up-river to St. Louis. May you find
brave men enough in your own land to win freedom, without the costly aid
of tricksters!"

"There are others than tricksters that share my plans--true-hearted men
at New Orleans. The Mexican Association stands pledged,--three hundred
and more loyal workers in the cause of my country's freedom."

"Creoles," I said. "You could count upon a hundred of my backwoods
countrymen to do more, should it come to the setting of triggers."

"We shall see. But there are others than creoles in the association.
Already Señor Clark has made two voyages to Vera Cruz, to spy out the
defences. I go now to tell him more. You know something as to the power
of our religious orders. At New Orleans are two such. But what is all
this to you now?"

"Much, Don Pedro! My heart is with the success of your plans!"

"_Muchas gracias, amigo!_ Would that you might journey with me to my
people! But the gate at Vera Cruz is narrow for heretics. _Adios!_"

"_Adios_, Don Pedro. May we meet under brighter skies!"

"God grant it, Juan!" he cried, with unfeigned friendliness.

I clasped his hand, and hastened away. My heart was too full for words.

Early as I expected to start in the morning, I did not seek my bed. I
could not sleep. Having bargained for my upstream passage with a St.
Louis friend, in command of a keelboat, I wandered out and strolled
through the sloping streets of the town. But even the wild revelry of
the rivermen, for which Natchez is so evilly noted, failed to win from
me more than passing heed. My own thoughts were in wilder turmoil. In
beside the memory of the golden love-glory which had shone in her eyes,
and fit mate to the bitter disappointment of the loss that Don Pedro's
entrance had cost me, there had crept into my mind a maddening doubt
that I had seen clearly,--a fear that the glow in her eyes, the swaying
of her dear form nearer to me, had been only the fantasies of my
passion.

Unable to endure the torment of such doubt, I hastened back, to linger
in the shadow beneath my lady's balcony. After a time, so great was my
longing, I found courage to murmur the refrain of a song we had sung
together on the river. I dared not raise my voice for fear Don Pedro
would hear and divine my purpose, and my low notes seemed lost in the
drunken ditties and outcries of the carousers in the tavern taproom.

An hour dragged by its weary length, and no soft whisper floated down
to me from above, no graceful vision appeared at the vine-clad
balustrade. Despair settled heavily upon my heart. The cadenced Spanish
vowels died away upon my lips. I turned to go. A small white object
dropped lightly from above and fell at my feet.

In a trice my despair had given place to hope and joy no less
extravagant. I snatched up the message, and rushed in to open it before
the waxen taper, in the privacy of my room. The wrapping was a
lace-edged handkerchief of finest linen, in the corner of which was an
embroidered "A. V."--my lady's initials.

But when I opened it, thinking to find a written missive, there appeared
only a great, sweet-scented magnolia bloom. Yet was not this enough? Was
it not far more than I had expected--than had been my right to expect?

I held it close before my eyes, my thoughts upon the sender, whose
cheeks were still more delicate in texture than these creamy petals. I
turned the blossom around to view its perfections. She had held it in
her hand!

Upon one of the delicate petals faint lines had appeared. They darkened
into clear letters under my gaze, and those letters spelled "_Au
revoir_!"



CHAPTER XIII

AGAINST THE CURRENT


Had I been in funds, I should have preferred a horse for the up-river
trip. As it was, I was glad of the opportunity to make the passage by
boat with my friend the captain, and in so doing, to earn a pocketful of
wages. It is not, however, a proceeding I should advise to be undertaken
by one who lacks the strength and experience necessary for poling and
cordelling.

At times, to be sure, we were able to relieve our labors by an
occasional resort to the sails, when the wind chanced to be fair. But in
the very nature of the case, this aid could never be more than
temporary, since the windings of the river were bound, sooner or later,
to make a headwind of what had been a fair breeze.

So, for the most part, our voyage all the way from Natchez to St. Louis
meant one continuous round, from morning till night, of setting our
poles at the boat's prow, each in his turn, and tramping to the stern
along the side gangways, or walking-boards,--there to raise our poles
and return to the prow, to repeat the laborious proceeding. I can say
that keelboat poling is a splendid method of developing the muscles of
the back and lower limbs, provided the man who attempts it begins with a
sufficient stock of strength and endurance to carry him over the first
week.

This does not mean that I enjoyed the trip. Softened by my Winter in
Washington, the first few days out of Natchez were as trying to me as to
the regular members of the crew after their carousals and excesses in
New Orleans and Natchez. Our boat, which had come down with a cargo of
lead from the mines about St. Louis, was returning with a consignment of
the cheap calicos and the coarse broadcloth called strouding, which form
the basis of the Indian barter in the fur trade; and cloth in bolts,
closely stowed, is not the lightest of cargoes.

But, once we had worked ourselves into condition, we shoved our craft
upstream from daylight till nightfall at an average speed of over three
miles an hour. Whenever the bank and channel permitted, we eased our
labor at the poles by passing a towline ashore and cordelling the boat,
while our captain, one of the best on the river, was ever alert to hoist
sail with every favorable breeze.

If I did not enjoy the voyage, I nevertheless had cause to feel thankful
for the hard work which held my melancholy thoughts in check and sent me
to my bunk at night so outspent that I slept as soundly as any man
aboard. A man treading the walking-boards, bowed over his pole, may
brood on his troubles for a week or two, but none could do so longer
unless his system were full of malaria. For the constant, vigorous
exercise in the open air is bound to send the good red blood coursing
through every vein of the body, until even the most clouded brain must
throw off its vapors.

Once free from the melancholy which had oppressed me the first few days,
I gave most of my thought to the problem of how I should fulfil my vow
to cross the barrier that was so soon to lie between my lady and myself.
My main hope lay in the possibility of obtaining Lieutenant Pike's
permission to join his expedition as a volunteer. But he was so strict
in his adherence to the most rigid requirements of his position as an
officer, that there was grave reason to doubt whether he would accept my
services without an order from the General.

There were other plans to be considered, one of which was that I should
throw in my fortunes with Señor Liza and his creole fellows. The idea
was distasteful, yet, reflecting on what little I had learned of the
plans of Colonel Burr and his friends, I was not so sure but that Liza's
party were quite as loyal. At the least, I could see no harm in aiding
Liza to carry a trading expedition into Santa Fe. So far as my own plans
were concerned, the venture would promise more at the other end than if
I joined Pike's party. If I reached that other end, I should be going
among the people of New Spain in company with persons of their own
blood.

There remained the most desperate plan of all. I could set out alone,
and trust to my unaided craft and single rifle to carry me safe across
the hundreds of miles of desert and the snowy mountains of which
Alisanda had spoken. I had travelled the wilderness traces and the
trackless forests too often alone to have any fear of wild beasts. But
there was the uncertainty of being able to kill enough meat to keep from
starving in the Western wilds, and on the other hand the certainty of
encountering bands of the little-known Pawnees and Ietans.

Rather than not go at all, I was resolved to attempt this desperate
venture. But my plan was to seek first to attach myself to my friend's
party, and, failing that, to open negotiations with Liza.

After a brief stop at Kaskaskia, that century-old trading post of the
French, we undertook the last run to St. Louis with much spirit. The
greater part of the crew were eager to reach St. Louis in time for the
celebration of Independence Day. In this we were disappointed, being so
set back by headwinds that we did not tie up to the home wharf until the
evening of the sixth of July.

My first inquiries relieved me of my fear that Lieutenant Pike had
already started. He was waiting with his party, fourteen or fifteen
miles upstream, at the Cantonment Belle Fontaine, established the
previous year by General Wilkinson. I had already learned at Kaskaskia
that the General had passed us in his barge far down the river, and had
arrived in St. Louis several days before us. To this was now added the
news that he had gone on up to Belle Fontaine.

Such an opportunity to meet the General and my friend together was not
to be lost. I made my plans over-night in St. Louis, stored my chest,
provided myself with a new hunter's suit, and obtained letters of
recommendation to the General from two gentlemen of influence.

Dawn found me at the convenient river front which gives St. Louis such
an advantage over the other up-river settlements of twice its size and
age. The rock bank not only prevents the incutting of the current, but,
owing to its lowness, gives easy access to and from the water, unlike
the high bluffs upon which most of the settlements have been located.

Looking about for an up-river party, I was so fortunate as to fall in
with Mr. Daniel Boone, who with his son-in-law, Flanders Calloway, had
come down from La Charette with a bateau-load of furs. Seeing me in
hunting dress, the old gentleman showed the keenest interest in my
intentions, and upon learning that my immediate purpose was to reach
Belle Fontaine, invited me aboard their bateau.

On the way upstream he made me sit beside him in the stern-sheets, and
his look betrayed such an eagerness over my plans that I could not
resist confiding them to him. It was sad to see the youthful fire flash
and sparkle in his bright old eyes, only to dull and fade to the
grayness of forced resignation.

"My days are past, John," he said, in his quiet, almost gentle voice.
"You have heard me tell of the trip I took with your father through the
Choctaw nation; but I'm now past my threescore years and ten, lad. Take
off the ten, and I'd be with you on this traceless quest to the Spanish
country. It's hard to be tied down to a scant fifty miles or so of free
range. But my old bones stiffen and call for rest after their
wanderings. I reckon, though, I've done a man's share in my time. Not
that I make any boast of it; only I feel that I was an instrument in
God's providence to open the wilderness to our people. I feel it none
the less that there were all those others before me. Captain Morgan
founded New Madrid in sixty-six--"

"But that was under Spanish rule," I exclaimed. "Yours was the first of
the advanced American settlements in Kentucky. If only I may have a
share in a like tracing of our great Western plains!"

He gave me a shrewd glance. "You fear they won't let you go with the
expedition. Why not follow their trace, and join their party in the
Pawnee country? This young lieutenant is your friend, you say. He will
be sure to take you into camp."

Simple as was this stratagem, it had not occurred to me in all my
scheming. Yet it was so practicable that I at once assured Mr. Boone I
would, if need were, carry out the suggestion. A few minutes later he
landed me at Belle Fontaine, and we parted with a warm handshake. Though
deprived by litigation of the bulk of his Spanish grant on the Femme
Osage, as he had been in the early nineties of his Kentucky lands, Mr.
Boone remains one of the most even-tempered and kindliest men I know.

Upon reaching the cantonment, my first intention had been to seek out
General Wilkinson. But within a few paces I caught sight of a company of
the Second Infantry on parade, and one glance was enough to tell me that
the officer in command was my friend Lieutenant Pike. Though I could see
only his trim back, there was no mistaking the odd manner in which he
stood with his head so bent to the right that the tip of his chapeau
touched his shoulder.

Before many minutes he dismissed the company, and turning about, saw me
waiting within a dozen paces. In another moment he was grasping my hand,
his blue eyes beaming and his fair cheeks flushing like a girl's beneath
their sunburn.

"Good fortune, John!" he cried. "I feared you had gone on down to settle
in New Orleans. The General spoke of meeting you in Natchez."

"Did he tell you the cause of that meeting--and the outcome?"

"Surely you cannot blame him!"

"No, no, Montgomery!--since it was you who had forestalled me!"

"Yet you must have had your heart set upon leading the expedition."

"It was to obtain the leadership that I went on to Washington."

"No!"

"A wild goose chase, as you see. But, worst of all, I am now more than
ever anxious to go."

"Yet--even if the General should remove me--"

"He would not give the place to me. Nor could I ask your removal. Yet I
_must_ go with you, Montgomery!"

"You are not in the Service."

"I will offer myself as a volunteer."

"Nothing could give me greater pleasure! And we need a surgeon. Still--"

"I am aware that the General does not regard me with favor. Yet if you
should second my application--"

"By all means! Have you met the General's son, Lieutenant James
Wilkinson?" I shook my head. "Here he comes. I will introduce you. He is
my second in this expedition. Stop and talk with him, while I see the
General. I will have you on with us if it can be done."

I turned and saw approaching a tall young lieutenant whose sallow but
pleasant face was altogether unlike that of his father. Owing to this
and to his cordial greeting when we were introduced, I was able to enter
into a lively conversation with him, while my friend hastened away. A
few remarks brought us to the subject of the expedition, and I found the
Lieutenant so agreeable when I intimated my desire to volunteer that I
ventured to ask his good services in the affair. To this he very readily
assented, and upon the return of my friend, held a conference with him,
the decision of which was that I should wait over a day, in view of the
fact that the General had received Pike's intervention in my behalf with
disfavor.

It was an irksome wait, little as was the time given me to brood. Young
Wilkinson put me up in his own quarters, but Mrs. Pike insisted that I
should take all my meals with the family. I repaid this hospitality as
best I could by detailed descriptions of all that I had seen during my
visit in Washington, which proved no less interesting to the Lieutenant
than to Mrs. Pike. Also I was able to cure the children of a slight
seasonable indisposition.

Of his own affairs my friend had little to say. His modesty and reserve
prevented him from giving any other than the most meagre information as
to his recent trip, while my first inquiry regarding the present
expedition was met by the prompt statement that he was under orders not
to discuss it. The most I learned was that, with few exceptions, his
party was made up of the men who had proved themselves so brave and
enduring on his Mississippi trip.

On my part, I contrived to say nothing about my dealings with Colonel
Burr, and so little with regard to Alisanda that not even Mrs. Pike
divined my romance. This was not that I shrank from confiding in them.
My idea was to keep the information as a last resort, in the event that
I should be compelled to undertake the stratagem suggested by Mr. Boone.
The confession of my love-quest would then add strength to my appeal to
be taken into camp.

Shortly after noon of the following day Pike brought me the welcome news
that young Wilkinson advised an immediate call upon his father. I
hastened over to headquarters, and, upon sending in my name, was shown
into the presence of the General. He was still seated at table, and with
the same gesture that dismissed his waiter, waved me to a seat across
from him.

"So," he puffed, eying me curiously, "I understand that you have
reconsidered the position you took at Natchez."

"I confess, Your Excellency, I have become so infatuated with the idea
of this adventurous expedition that I wish to join it, even though in a
subordinate position."

"Your reasons?" he demanded, with unconcealed suspicion.

"There is the love of adventure for its own sake, Your Excellency. I was
born on the frontier. For another thing, I should perhaps gain some
little standing by reporting on the mineralogical and other scientific
features encountered by the expedition."

"You would be willing to give your services as surgeon?"

"Certainly, sir!"

He pushed across a glass and his whiskey bottle, and I thought it
discreet to accept the invitation. As I sipped my toddy, he drew a
sealed document from his pocket, and fixed me with what was meant for a
penetrating stare.

"You are willing to do all within your power to further the success of
the expedition?"

Though certain that this covered something more than my medical
services, I answered without hesitancy: "Anything within my power, sir!"

"Good," he replied, and he nodded. "Here is a question to test
that--Supposing the expedition, in exploring our unknown boundaries,
should chance to find itself in the vicinity of the Spanish
settlements--"

I started, and leaned toward him, eager-eyed. "Yes!" I cried. "You
mean--?"

"By ----!" he muttered. "What do _you_ mean? You're like a hound
on a blood trace!"

"Who is not eager to get at the secrets of El Dorado?" I parried.

"So?" he said. "I fear that Colonel Burr has been plying you with his
harebrained schemes."

"He spoke to me of the Mexican mines."

"You are not the first of his dupes."

"Dupe, sir! I thought that you were yourself one of his friends."

"Friend?--to him!" The General swelled with what seemed to me over-acted
indignation. "But I forgive you your ignorance, sir. Let us return to
the point under discussion. The question is, would you, under the
supposition I have stated, be willing to risk yourself among the
Spaniards?"

"You mean, sir, as a spy?"

"It is a question of patriotism, sir, patriotism!" he puffed. "Though
war now seems averted for the time being, hostilities may occur even
before this expedition can return. In the event of war, I need hardly
mention to you that information bearing upon the situation of the
Spanish in their northern provinces would be of inestimable value to our
country."

"Your Excellency," I said, "I bear the Spanish authorities no love, and
my country much. I will undertake what you have mentioned, so far as
lies within my power."

"Lieutenant Pike has assured me as to your abilities. You speak French
and some Spanish?"

"Some French, sir; very little Spanish."

"Enough to serve." He took up the document, with its beribboned seal.
"Here is a paper for your consideration. It is a claim upon the Spanish
authorities, prepared according to the treaties between the United
States and Spain. Two years ago Mr. William Morrison of Kaskaskia
intrusted one Baptiste Le Lande with a large stock of trade goods for
barter among the Western tribes. According to reports which have lately
come to Mr. Morrison through the Indians, Le Lande has reached Santa Fe
and there settled, without intention of accounting for the property
intrusted to him."

"I understand, Your Excellency," said I. "This claim is to serve as a
cloak for my spying."

"No need to use so harsh a term," he mumbled.

"It is the term the Spanish authorities will use if they detect me," I
answered.

"We are at peace with Spain. I reached a good understanding with General
Herrera before coming up the river. There will be no hostilities for
some months, at the least. The Spaniards will not dare to resort to
extremes against you."

"Their authorities bear us no love," I rejoined. "Those in so remote a
province as Nuevo Mexico may well argue that it will be quite safe to
hang a spy, war or no war."

He took up the document, with a frown. "Then you do not care to venture
it?"

"Your Excellency mistakes me. I wish merely to point out the risk. In my
opinion, the danger could be no greater if hostilities had already
begun."

"And if I admit the risk?" he demanded.

"It is, in a sense, a military service. Supposing it successful, is it
not Your Excellency's opinion that a recommendation to a commission
might be in order?"

He studied me for some moments. Then: "A commission as a
subaltern--possibly."

"Sir, I could obtain that by means of a little political begging. I had
in mind a captaincy."

"Captaincy!" he repeated, taken aback by my audacity. "Captaincy! That
is beyond all reason."

"Yet if I succeed beyond reason--?"

"In such event--But let that wait until your return."

"If ever I do return," I added.

"True; but you can thank yourself that you are thrusting your head into
the noose, with your eyes open."

"Then Your Excellency gives me leave to join as a volunteer?"

"We shall see--we shall see."

"But, Your Excellency, a man likes time for preparations."

"That is your own affair, sir,--though I may say that, at present, I
feel disposed to grant you the favor. I shall let you know in good
time."

With this I was forced to be content. The General rose to enter his
office, with a pompous gesture of dismissal.

But upon my return to my friend's quarters, he and Mrs. Pike and
Lieutenant Wilkinson joined in assuring me that, since the General had
not refused me point blank, I had every reason to expect a favorable
decision.



CHAPTER XIV

THE LURE


It was well in line with the General's character that he kept me on
tenterhooks until the very afternoon before the intended day of
marching. Then, as it were at the eleventh hour, he included in his
written orders to Lieutenant Pike, to march the following day, a brief
paragraph to the effect that I was to accompany the expedition as a
volunteer surgeon.

Notwithstanding the orders of the General, we did not start in the
morning, but were forced to wait over until the fifteenth of July, owing
to the unreadiness of our savage charges, the Osage captives who had
been rescued from the Pottawattomies and who were to be returned to
their people under our escort.

The first stage of our journey, up the devious Osage River, was one
tedious to all and exceedingly laborious to those whose duties confined
them to the navigation of the boats. In confirmation I need only add
that the Summer was fast nearing its close before we arrived at the
Osage towns.

There, instead of the generosity which we had a right to expect from an
Indian tribe to whom we had restored so many members, we were delayed
many days by their ungrateful reluctance to supply us with horses, and
in the end obtained with greatest difficulty only a few of their least
desirable animals.

Yet, relieved of the boats and our Indian charges and possessed of these
few pack-beasts and saddle horses, our march on toward the Pawnee
Republic, when at last we did get under way again, soon carried us into
the prairie which lies westward of the three-hundred-mile belt of
half-forested lands along the Mississippi. We had come to that vast
extent of desert plains which, though abounding in game, is all but
destitute of timber. In consequence of this fact, young Wilkinson and I
agreed with Pike that the arid waste is destined to serve forever as the
Western boundary of the Republic's settled population.

About the middle of September I was sent on ahead of the party to the
Pawnee Republic, accompanied by a young Pawnee called Frank, one of the
half-dozen of his people attached to the expedition at St. Louis. We
were well mounted, and travelled rapidly in a northwesterly direction,
across the lower fork of the Kansas River and the three branches which
flow into the Republican Fork from the south and west.

At first we kept a sharp outlook for hunting and war parties of the
Kans, who at the time were not on the best of terms with their cousins
the Osages. But throughout our trip we saw nothing more dangerous than
the numerous panthers which thrive on the superabundant game. Though
bold, these tawny beasts were too well fed to trouble us. The same was
true of the gray wolves, a small pack of which followed us day after day
to feast upon the carcasses of the buffaloes we killed.

Evening of the fourth day brought us into the vicinity of the Pawnee
Republic. We were riding along over a broken, hilly country, and my
savage companion was telling me, in a mixture of bad French and worse
English, that we should soon come within sight of the Republican Fork
and his home village, when suddenly we rode into a broad track which
could only have been made by a large body of horsemen, over two hundred
at the very least.

"Hold!" I cried, reining up and pointing at the signs. "Look. Many
people went south, on horses, two or three weeks ago. Your people? They
have gone to the Arkansas?"

"_Non!_" grunted Frank, and leaping off, he caught up and handed to me a
tent pin. "Pawnee? _non!_ Stick no grow in Pawnee hunting-ground. White
man's knife cut him. _Voilà!_"

"White man!" I repeated in amazement.

How was it possible that there could have been so large a party of white
men traversing this remote wilderness? As I sat staring at the wooden
pin, studying its grain and shape, Frank circled around through the
beaten grass in search of further signs. A guttural cry from him
compelled my attention.

He was holding up a broken spur.

"España!" he called.

One glance was enough to convince me that he was not mistaken. The spur
was of Spanish make.

More puzzled than ever, we clapped heels to our horses, and galloped up
the track, which Frank declared led direct from the village. Within a
few minutes we topped a line of high hills, and found ourselves looking
down into the valley of the Republican and upon the rounded roofs of the
big Pawnee lodges.

One look was enough to relieve our fears regarding the safety of the
village. I had never seen a more peaceful-appearing Indian town. The
women were at work dressing buffalo robes near the lodges or harvesting
their corn and pumpkins in the little patches of field near-by. The
children were scattered far and wide, the girls playing with their
puppies or tagging their mothers, the boys practising with bows and
arrows or watching the hoop-and-pole games of the few men who were to be
seen. The young warriors, probably, were off on hunting or war parties,
and of the men who remained in the village, most were dozing in their
lodges or lolling in the shade outside.

But I did not look long at the savages. My eye was almost immediately
caught by a red-and-yellow flag afloat above the front of the great
council-lodge. Even at that distance I could not fail to recognize it as
the flag of Spain. So astonished was I at the sight that I drew up
short, unable to credit my eyes. The flag solved the mystery of the
track, only to raise the puzzling question of the presence of so large
a body of Spaniards at so great a distance from their present
boundaries.

A loud shouting and commotion in the village roused me from my
bewilderment. We had been sighted. The women and children were fleeing
to the lodges, and all the men capable of bearing arms were advancing
toward us, with threatening guns and bows and lances. However, Frank at
once made the wolf-ear sign which showed them that he was a Pawnee,
while I held up the wampum belt intrusted to me by Pike. A moment later
Frank was recognized, and the news shouted back to the village.

At the same time the men, both mounted and afoot, charged down upon us,
whooping and piercing the air with their shrill war whistle and
flourishing their weapons as if about to tear us to pieces. A man unused
to Indians, no matter how brave, might well have trembled at finding
himself thus confronted by hundreds of yelling, half-naked savages. The
Pawnee warriors are particularly formidable-looking, being tall and well
shaped, and their height accentuated by the bristling roach of short
hair which runs back over their shaven heads to the feathered
scalp-lock. I was, however, too well versed in the Indian character
either to show or to feel any trepidation.

As the wild band closed about us in mock attack, a stately warrior whom
Frank said was Characterish, or White Wolf, the grand chief of the
nation, forced his horse through the mob and greeted me with a guttural
"_Bon jour_!" Upon my return of the salute, he invited me to his lodge.
This was gratifying, for I could see by the Spanish grand medal he wore
suspended from his neck that he had been particularly favored by the
Spaniards, and so might very well have felt ill-disposed toward all
Americans.

When we advanced, escorted by the warriors, we were met by all the rest
of the population, running and shouting and leaping with excitement at
the arrival of their fellow-tribesman and the white man. But at a word
from Characterish, not only the women and children but the warriors as
well quitted their clamor and gave us free passage into the village.

Unlike the mat and slab lodges of the Osages, the Pawnee houses are
substantial structures. Their wattled walls and grassed roof, supported
by a double circle of posts, are covered with a thick layer of sods and
earth above and over all. This makes them cool in Summer and warm in
cold weather; yet, like the Osages, the Pawnees always move down into
the timbers for the Winter.

Arriving at the lodge of White Wolf, I was shown in through the covered
portico which gave the lodge quite the aspect of a civilized home.
Within I found the chief's wives and men-servants busily cooking a meal
for us on the fire in the middle of the wide pit which occupied the
greater part of the lodge's interior. That there might be no doubt of
his hospitality, the chief at once assigned to me one of the snug little
curtained compartments built against the wall, around the edge of the
pit. My room was in the place of honor, beneath the sacred medicine
bundle, on the far side of the lodge.

By the time I had my rifle and saddle stowed away, the chief's cook, a
maimed old warrior, called us to come and eat. I sat down with my host
and his two sons to a none too savory stew of dried buffalo meat,
thickened with pumpkin. To this was added a mess of corn cooked in
buffalo grease. But a prairie traveller is seldom troubled with a dainty
stomach, and I managed to compliment my host by making a hearty meal of
it.

As soon as we had eaten, White Wolf sent out a crier to call in the
chiefs and a few of the foremost warriors of the village. They seated
themselves with us in a circle, and the head chief's calumet was passed
around without any man refusing to smoke.

When the pipe came back around to White Wolf, he addressed me in Pawnee,
which was interpreted by Frank: "Let the white man speak; tell why he
come Pawnee terre."

I held up the wampum belt, and answered briefly: "I come in friendship
from the war chief of the great white father at Washington."

"Ugh! Washington!" grunted the least stolid of the warriors. Even these
remote prairie savages knew that illustrious name.

"--From the war chief sent by the high chief of my people to bring gifts
and peace to the Pawnee people," I continued. "It is his wish that you
send out your young men to guide him to your town as a guest."

As Frank interpreted this I thought I could detect a shade of change
beneath the stolid look of the grim warriors. What was still more
ominous, when the pipe was passed around the second time, no one smoked.
But when it came back to White Wolf, after some delay and hesitation, he
smoked, and thereupon announced laconically: "I go--heap grand comp'ny
meet white capitan."

Again the pipe was started around. It was taken by one of the
sub-chiefs. When he had smoked, he rose majestically, and, drawing up
his buffalo robe about his naked body, pointed dramatically to the
westward. There could be no mistaking the menace in his terse, guttural
declamation.

I looked to Frank, who explained, with evident trepidation: "He
Pitaleshar, grand war chief. He say: ''Merican white braves no go to
setting sun; no march over Pawnee hunting-grounds. España chief
grand--heap big; Pawnees grand--heap big; 'Merican soldiers _non_!'
_Voilà! Comprenez-vous?_"

"That's to be seen!" I muttered. "Tell them: What the white chief will
do is for him to say when he comes."

Whatever impression this made, none present gave any sign, and the
emptying of the ashes of the sacred calumet by White Wolf's pipe-bearer
brought the council to an end.

As it was now close upon sunset, and I was greatly wearied from my long
journey, I at once sought my fur-padded couch in the rear of the lodge,
and gave myself over to profound slumber.

Upon wakening, I was astonished to find that the sun was well up the
sky, and that White Wolf and Iskatappe, the second chief of the town,
had already set out, with a large party, to meet the expedition. The old
warrior cook, who had been left to attend me, and who spoke a little
French, went on to explain that Frank, having like myself been found
asleep, had also been left undisturbed. At this I hurriedly bolted my
buffalo stew, and stepped outside the lodge, intending to look for
Frank.

But as I paused before the entrance of the huge council-lodge to glance
about and drink in the pure, sunny air, the flapping of the Spanish flag
in the morning breeze compelled my attention.

The first glimpse of those red and yellow folds was sufficient to catch
and hold my gaze. They spoke to me of my lady--of my Alisanda!--and of
the tyrannical power of that Government whose hatred of foreigners
interposed between us a barrier harder to pass than the snowy sierras of
which she had told me. Such at least was the dread that seized upon me
as I gazed up at that symbol of lust for gold and blood.

Presently, as I yet stared at the mocking banner, my glance was caught
by a little tracing of white lines on the outer corner. Prompted by idle
curiosity,--or it may have been by an unconscious premonition,--I waited
until a lull in the breeze brought the flag drooping down within my
reach. I grasped it to look closer at the tracing.

Whether I stood gaping at that little sign for a few brief seconds or
many minutes I cannot say. I was too overcome with wonder and delight to
sense the passage of time. All I can say is that, rousing at last to
action, I slashed off the corner of the flag with my knife and thrust it
into my bosom.

The tracing was a duplicate of that upon the lace handkerchief which,
wrapped about a withered magnolia blossom, I carried in an inner pocket
of my hunting-shirt. It consisted of two letters embroidered in white
silk, and those two letters were--"A. V."

What a volume of joyous news those few stitches of dainty needlework
conveyed to me! My lady had arrived at Chihuahua before the starting of
the Spanish expedition; she had known at least something of the plans of
the Spanish commander, and she had placed her initials upon the flag as
a message to me should I be attempting to cross the barrier and chance
to meet her countrymen.



CHAPTER XV

THE PAWNEE PERIL


The escort party led by White Wolf returned three or four days after
their start, but without the expedition. They had gone almost due east,
which had brought them north of our party. Great was their disgust when
Frank explained how, when leaving the Osage villages, our Osage guides,
in their dread of the Kans, had led our party far around to the south of
the direct course.

At once Frank was sent out with two or three other runners on the right
track, and by forenoon of the next day one of the scouts came back with
word that the others were bringing in the Americans. Immediately the
chiefs rode out with all the warriors, to receive the visitors in state.
The ceremonies opened with a mock charge, during which the balls from
the old fusils and trade guns of the savages flew about far too
promiscuously for comfort. There followed a horse-smoke, in which some
of the Pawnees presented ponies to the few Osages with the party.

After this White Wolf shook hands with Pike, and invited him and myself
to dine at his lodge. We did so, while Wilkinson marched the party on
across the river to a strong position on a hill.

This welcome to the village could not have been more ceremonious and
friendly. But a few days later, when we met the chiefs and warriors in
grand council, the situation took on a much less favorable aspect.
Lieutenant Pike effected a burial of the hatchet between the Osages and
three or four Kans warriors who had come down from their village on the
Kansas River. He then distributed honorary presents and a quantity of
goods to the Pawnee chiefs, explaining that President Jefferson was now
their great father, instead of the Spanish Governor-General Salcedo, and
that he had been sent with these gifts to show the good-will of their
new father.

The Pawnees accepted the presents readily enough, but I doubt if they
either understood or cared about the transfer of Louisiana Territory. To
them the prairies,--north, south, east, and west,--were their own land
so far as their guns and bows could hold back the other prairie tribes.
Judging from what little they knew of the two rival nations of white
men, they had better reasons to turn to the Spaniards than to us, for
the Mexican expedition had come among them with a force fifteen times
greater than our little band.

Yet in the face of this disadvantage, Pike was determined to press home
his point to the great ring of chiefs and headmen which encircled us and
to the crowds of younger warriors without. Owing to the great number who
had wished to share in the council or to witness the proceedings, we had
met in the open space before the entrance of the council-lodge.
Standing thus in the midst of the hundreds of red warriors, with none
but Wilkinson, myself, and Baroney the interpreter to back him, Pike
turned and pointed to the Spanish flag.

"Men of the Pawnee nation, how comes that flag here?" he demanded. "Is
that the flag of your father in Washington, from whose people you
receive in barter all your guns and powder and lead, your strouding and
beads? No! it is the flag of a far-off chief, who lives beyond your
deadly foes, the Ietans. This land is no longer under his hand; that
flag has no right to float over these prairies. Take it down and give it
to me."

"It is a gift to us from those other white men," protested White Wolf.

"It is the flag of a people who have no right in this land," rejoined
Pike, and he unrolled the glorious Stars and Stripes which he held in
his hand. "Chiefs and men of the Pawnee Republic, this is the flag of
your great father. I command you to hand over that flag of Spain to me
and raise instead the banner of my chief!"

At this audacious demand, even the stolidity of the chiefs could not
hide their concern, and the warriors began to mutter and scowl. Yet Pike
stood stern and resolute, awaiting the answer. After a full minute, one
of the older warriors rose, took our flag, and going to the lodge,
raised it in the place of the Spanish banner, which he handed to Pike.
At this I am not ashamed to confess that inwardly we all breathed a
sigh of relief. I say inwardly, for it was no time to show other than a
bold front.

The Pawnees were not so successful in the concealment of their feelings.
It was all too evident from their looks that they were in deadly fear
that this insult to the Spanish flag would bring upon them the vengeance
of the white men of the Southwest. For it seems the Spanish leader had
told them his people would return the following year in great numbers,
to build a large town. But Pike, having gained his point, relieved their
fears by at once returning the flag, under condition that it should not
again be raised during our stay.

Throughout this exchange of colors, my apprehensions of a treacherous
outbreak had not prevented me from watching for some one to discover and
remark upon the tattered corner of the Spanish banner. But if it was
noticed at all, the mutilation was probably laid to the thieving hand of
some young brave who might have thought himself in need of a bit of
bright cloth.

Pike now stated the wish of the great father at Washington that the
Pawnee chiefs should make him a visit, in company with a few of their
Kans brothers. To this White Wolf replied that the matter would be
considered. Next Pike explained that he wished to secure the services of
one of their Ietan, or Comanche, prisoners, to act as interpreter on our
westward trip; also that he wished to barter for several good horses.
Again White Wolf replied that the wishes of the white chief would be
considered. With that the council rose.

There followed some days of anxious waiting, during which our savage
hosts suddenly took on a hostile attitude. In the end we were given to
understand that they would not comply with any of our requests, but on
the contrary would seek to prevent our marching on westward, according
to their agreement with the Spaniards.

It was in the midst of the stress and anxiety caused by this delay and
the menacing actions of the Pawnees, that we received from two French
traders the joyful news how Lewis and Clark had brought their expedition
safely back from the far Pacific, and should by now have gone on down
the Missouri to St. Louis.

A few days later, near the beginning of the second week in October,
having at last secured a few miserable horses out of the splendid herds
of the Pawnees, we struck our tents and packed for the march. It was a
ticklish moment, for there was not a man among us who did not fear that
noon might find our scalps dangling above the Pawnee lodges. Our little
party, barely over a score, all told, was about to defy the power of an
Indian town which numbered over five hundred warriors.

For the first time since our start at Belle Fontaine I had occasion to
observe the mettle of our eighteen soldiers. Not one among them required
the admonitions of the lieutenants to ram full charges into their
muskets, to fix bayonets, and look to their priming. I was no less
ready, having provided myself with a sabre, in addition to my rifle and
tomahawk and brace of duelling pistols. I told Pike that I did not
consider myself bound by his orders to reserve fire, in the event of an
attack, until the enemy were within half a dozen paces. After a little
argument on the point, he consented that I should seek out their chiefs
with my rifle the moment the savages commenced hostilities. With
Indians, no less than with whites, it is good strategy to pick off those
in command at the beginning of an engagement.

By way of explanation of what followed, it is as well to state that
during the night two of our horses had been stolen by our light-fingered
neighbors, and though one had at once been delivered up when we sent
over to the village, the other was still missing. As we fell in about
the pack horses, I saw Pike turn back to address a question to young
John Sparks, his waiter. The bright-eyed lad saluted and stepped out,
with evident eagerness, to mount one of the led horses. Pike signed him
to take position at the head of our little column, and himself rode
forward with Baroney.

The moment they reached the van, he gave the order to march, and we
swung away down the hill toward the river. Across in the village we
could see that the savages had made preparations which bore out in most
menacing fashion their threats to oppose our march westward. Every
woman and child had been sent away during the night or else hidden in
the lodges. This of itself was a most ominous sign. But that was the
least of it. All about the lodges we could see swarms of warriors, armed
with guns, bows, and lances, while here and there one of the naked young
braves showed the hideous black and vermilion markings of the war paint.

But if the savages thought to awe and turn us back by this warlike
display, they were never so mistaken. The Osages had slipped off at
dawn, with the explanation that they wished to hunt, and would join us
later in the day. None of our men wished to hunt. They swung along down
the slope as steadily as on parade, some of the younger ones a trifle
flushed, some of the older a shade paler beneath their tan and sunburn.
Sergeant Ballenger marched along as stiff as his ramrod. Sergeant Meek
rocked a little in his step from sheer exuberance of feeling over the
prospect of a fight. His grim, scarred face fairly glowed.

We came down to the river bank a little above the town, and crossed over
without breaking column, those on foot holding their muskets and powder
horns well up above the water. When all were across, command was given
to halt and look to the primings. Again the order was given to close up
and march. We swung steadily up the bank, but obliquely, that we might
pass by the village. Already we could see every movement of the savages,
who swarmed over to the near side of the village, waving their
buffalo-hide shields and their weapons and shouting insults at us. Once
or twice we heard the shrill Pawnee war whistle. In the midst of this
wild uproar, when we were directly opposite the upper side of the
village, Pike wheeled and raised his hand.

"Halt!" he shouted. "Stand ready to repel attack according to orders.
Baroney, Sparks, follow!"

Wheeling again, he galloped straight at the yelling mob of savages,
followed closely by Baroney and Sparks. The Pawnees trained their guns
upon him and levelled their lances. Without checking the pace of his
horse, he held out his bare palm to them. They opened their ranks to let
pass the three mad white men, and closed quickly in their rear. But Pike
and his two followers galloped on without check until they came to the
lodge of White Wolf.

We now perceived that the head chief was standing before the entrance of
the lodge, wrapped about in his buffalo robe; but whether or not he held
his weapons concealed beneath the cloak we could not tell. He waved back
with a grand gesture the warriors who would have crowded around, and
stood like a statue while Pike, sitting his horse no less calm and
impassive, addressed him with the aid of Baroney.

The savages, yet more astonished than ourselves at this strange parley,
for the most part turned to stare at the mad white chief who had so
dauntlessly ridden into their very midst. We had looked to see them
instantly fling themselves upon our three lone comrades and massacre
them before our eyes. In anticipation of the murder, more than one
among us picked his man for reprisals, Wilkinson singling out
Pitaleshar, the war chief, while I drew a bead on White Wolf. Iskatappe
was not to be seen.

The very air seemed to tingle with that feeling which thrills a man's
nerves and sends the blood leaping through his veins when lives hang by
a thread. More than one of the younger warriors, infuriated at the delay
in the attack, bent their bows. Had a single arrow been shot at us
another instant would have seen us in the midst of a bloody battle. All
hung upon the will of White Wolf. He had only to make a sign, and my
ball would pierce his brain, Pike and his companions would be stabbed
and mutilated, and we ourselves rushed by a furious mob of bloodthirsty
savages.

Fortunately for all alike, White Wolf had arrived at years of wisdom. As
they watched his impassive face, the warriors gradually stilled their
ferocious yells and gestures. Within two minutes all was so quiet that
we could hear the quick, guttural syllables of Baroney's translations.

"It is over!" said Wilkinson, as White Wolf suddenly made a gesture of
assent. We saw Pike turn to Sparks, who promptly dismounted and walked
into the chief's lodge. Baroney took the riderless horse in lead, and
rode back to us with Pike, through the now silent but still scowling
crowds of warriors.

The moment they had joined us, our leader, as cool and steady as
throughout his daring venture, gave the word to march. The savages
continued to stand silent and motionless, watching us slip out of their
clutches without so much as a parting yell. Yet had it not been for the
unequalled courage and firmness and sheer cool audacity of our leader,
there can be no doubt we should have been in for a most desperate fight.

In justice to the rank and file, I must add that the men had borne
themselves throughout the affair in a manner fully creditable to their
leader, who afterwards told us that he had counted upon our disposing of
at least a hundred of the enemy before being ourselves rendered _hors de
combat_. The men, I believe, half regretted that they had not had the
opportunity to test the accuracy of this estimate. This was certainly
true of Meek, than whom no man was ever more maligned by his name.

Baroney was no less courageous than the enlisted men, as was shown by
the cool manner in which he returned the following day to look for
Sparks. Both the brave lads overtook us during the afternoon, safe and
sound, and Sparks riding the stolen horse!

They arrived shortly before we came upon the first outgoing encampment
of the Spaniards, and relieved by their safe return, we swung away at
our best pace in the tracks of the invaders. Our immediate purpose was
to follow the trace made by these soldiers of His Most Catholic Majesty,
and so discover in what direction their expedition had turned after the
visit to the Pawnees.



CHAPTER XVI

THE BARRIER OF ROCK


After several adventures and misadventures, during a march of several
days to the southward, over a broken, hilly country, in which we lost
the Spanish trace, we came to the broad, shallow channel of the Arkansas
River. Here Lieutenant Wilkinson and a party consisting of Sergeant
Ballenger, four privates, and the two or three Osages who had continued
with us thus far, were detached to descend the river for the purpose of
exploring the unknown reaches of its lower course to its junction with
the Mississippi. A canoe was hewn out for them from the trunk of a
cottonwood tree, and another made of skins on a frame of branches, and
they set off bravely downstream, though the river was at the time
covered with drifting ice.

Having seen our companions embarked on their perilous voyage through the
almost unknown country to the southeast, we set off westward on our
ascent of the stream which they were descending. Despite a snowstorm and
the ice in the river, we crossed and recrossed the channel, until at
last we rediscovered the camps and trace of the Spaniards, which here
indicated a force of fully six hundred soldiers.

After this we marched steadily upstream, along the trace, for over two
weeks, despite the hindrance and annoyance resulting from the weakness
of the greater number of our horses, three or four of which had finally
to be abandoned. Unfortunately we lacked both the skill and the means to
replace the beasts from the herds of spirited wild horses which we
frequently saw interspersed among the great droves of buffaloes. Yet
despite the depletion of our pack train and the grim prospect of being
weather-bound for the Winter out on these bleak plains, we felt assured
that where the Spaniards had led the way we could follow, and so pushed
on into the wilderness, ever farther and farther from home and
civilization.

Since the second day after leaving the Pawnee Republic we had
encountered none of the savage habitants of the prairies. But now at
last we were again put on our guard by the discovery of occasional
Indian signs along the river banks. As a precaution against falling into
an ambuscade, Pike and I took to scouting some little distance in
advance of the party.

On the fifteenth of November, a day ever memorable to us, we were riding
along in this manner, when, two hours or so after noon, as we topped one
of the numerous hills, the Lieutenant abruptly drew rein and pointed off
to the right.

"Indians?" I demanded, looking to the priming of my rifle.

"No," he replied. "Wait."

At the sight of his levelled spyglass, I too stared off a little to
north of west, and at once made out what appeared to be a faint,
half-luminous point of cloud. Its color was a spectral silvery blue,
much like that of the moon when seen in the daytime. Before I could
utter the word that sprang to my lips, my friend forestalled me.

"'Tis a mountain!--the Mexican mountains, John!"

I caught the spyglass which he thrust out to me, and fixed it upon that
distant peak with burning eagerness. The Mexican mountains, the fabled
sierras of New Spain! Had we at last sighted the snowy crest of their
nearest peak? Was this one of that sierra of which Alisanda had spoken,
my Barrier of Rock, the Sangre de Cristo?

We rode on, too overcome to speak, held in throbbing suspense between
delight over our discovery and dread lest it should prove to be some
illusion of cloud and light. But within another two miles there came an
end to all doubt. Before us, from one of the higher hill-tops there
stretched out along the western horizon an enormous barrier of snowy
mountains, extending to the north and south farther than eye or glass
could see. My heart gave a great leap at that wonderful sight. In my
mind there was no longer the slightest doubt. I knew that before me
upreared the barrier that I must cross to reach my lady.

Not until the men came up with us and burst into cheers for the great
white mountains of Mexico did I rouse from my daydream of Alisanda.
Before me, as real as life, I had seen imaged her beautiful pale face,
with the scarlet lips parting from the pearly teeth, and the velvety
black eyes gazing at me full from beneath the edge of the veiling
mantilla. Such was the vision--whose reality I knew to be awaiting me
somewhere south and west, beyond that snowy sierra. I drew in a full
breath and joined in the loud cheering of my comrades.

While the air yet rang with the last of our wild cheers, our commander
faced about, with upraised hand, and called in resolute tones: "Men! we
have toiled, we have undergone dangers. We know not what dangers lie
before us: Winter is at hand; our horses are fast failing; we are
outfitted only for Summer travel. Yet what of all that? We have outfaced
the Pawnees; we have traversed this vast desert; we have held to the
track of the Spanish invaders of our territories. Before our eyes uprear
the unknown mountains of the West,--mountains upon which our countrymen
have never before set eyes; of which no American has ever heard, unless
it be the vague and misleading reports of the Spaniards. Men! we will
not turn back with the goal of our toilsome marches in view!"

"No! no! Lead us on, sir!" shouted Sergeant Meek, and every man caught
up the cry: "Lead us on, sir! lead us on! No turning back!"

Our commander flushed, and his blue eyes sparkled. "Ah, my brave men! I
was certain of your mettle! We will ascend these mountains; we will
explore the utmost boundaries of Louisiana; and if the Spaniards seek to
check us--"

"We'll raise a little dust, sir!" cried young Sparks, flourishing his
musket.

"Perhaps!" returned the Lieutenant, looking about at us with a shrewd
smile. "If it comes to that, they will not find us backward. But do not
count too much on hostilities. We are here, not to fight, but to explore
the limits of the Territory."

"But, sir, should we fall in with the Spaniards?" ventured Meek.

"Should we meet a Spanish party, we may be invited to go in with them to
Santa Fe. It would serve our purpose no little to be the guests of the
Spanish authorities. Enough. Fall in! By to-morrow night we should be
encamped at the foot of that grand peak."

He wheeled his horse about, and rode off again in front. I hastened to
join him, my thought intent upon a surmise drawn from his last speech.
When we had ridden ahead beyond earshot of the others, I put my thought
into words.

"Montgomery," I said, "you have other orders from General Wilkinson than
those given out. It is not I alone whose instructions are to attempt
communications with the Spaniards."

"And if your guess is right?" he asked.

"God forbid!" I cried.

"What! I see no cause for dismay in the simple fact that I am to further
your efforts to obtain information. I and the party will be in much less
danger from the Spanish authorities than yourself, John.

"It is not that," I muttered.

"What, then? I declare, John, there are times when I cannot bear the
thought of your venturing in among the Spaniards alone. It is now my
resolve to march into Santa Fe with you."

"No, no!" I protested. "You must not--cannot!"

"Cannot? Do you think I fear the danger?"

"Of death, no; but of dishonor."

"Dishonor! Should the Spanish dare--"

"No, not the Spaniards--not that. But our own people."

"Explain!" he demanded.

I opened my mouth to accuse his General--and paused. After all, what
proof had I of Wilkinson's connivance in the plans of Colonel Burr? What
proof had I that even Burr's plans were treasonable? I should have been
an outright imbecile to have entertained the slightest doubt of the
zealous loyalty and patriotism of my friend,--and Wilkinson was his
General and his patron. Why poison his mind against one who had shown
him great favors and was in a position as Commander-in-Chief to show him
even greater favors? We could not now hope to return to the Mississippi
settlements for several months. Why fill my friend's mind with anxieties
over plots and projects which might never develop, or which, even if
_not_ stillborn, might well be counted upon to reach maturity long
before we should have a chance to oppose them?

So, instead of Wilkinson's name, it was Burr's which passed my
hesitating lips; and in my account of the little I knew of the late
Vice-President's grand projects, I took care to omit the name of
Wilkinson. My companion listened with his usual seriousness, but at the
end smilingly shook his head, and declared that he believed the
Colonel's schemes were all based on pure speculation, and would end in
air. As I have stated, I could not tell him my reasons for suspecting
that his General had plotted with Burr. Yet this was the very crux of
the affair. It was evident, in my opinion, that at about the time of my
visit to him in Natchez Wilkinson had become frightened, and was rapidly
coming to the decision of withdrawing from Burr's projects. But
supposing he, the military chief of the army and the Governor of the
Upper Territory, should gain heart to cast in his fortunes with the
great plotter, would those projects then be so visionary?

My friend went on with an argument which proved only how little he
suspected any connection between our expedition and Burr's plot. He
explained at great length--to his own satisfaction, though not to
mine--that our secret instructions to spy upon the Spaniards related
only to the far-from-probable event of war between their country and our
own.

On his part, he then came at me with a shrewd inquiry as to my real
motive for volunteering with the expedition. I immediately confided to
him everything relating to my romance. There was now no reason why I
should hold back anything about Alisanda, and indeed I should have told
him all long before, had it not been that since our start from Belle
Fontaine we had never chanced to be alone together other than at times
when matters of great concern to ourselves or the expedition absorbed
our interest.

My confession won me, as I had foreseen, a most ardent ally. He listened
with all the joyful sympathy of one who has been happy in the love of a
true-hearted, beautiful wife.

"John! John! To think of it! All these months, and you never so much as
whispered a word! A señorita from Old Spain? Never fear!" He looked me
up and down with an air of severe appraisal. "She'll take you; she's
bound to take you!"

He went on with a list of reasons as long as my arm. There is nothing
like a friend to lay it on with regard to your good qualities, when he
is in the mood.

"Hold! hold!" I broke in on him. "Save that to tell to Señorita Vallois.
I'd rather you'd inform me as to how soon I'm to reach Santa Fe."

"That's the question," he replied. "We've first to round the headwaters
of this stream, then those of the Red River. Afterwards it is not
unlikely we can manage so to lose ourselves as to contrive to wander
into the midst of the Spanish settlements."

I stared glumly at the snowy peaks towering upon the western horizon.
"That may be months hence. We cannot travel fast among the mountains.
Why not strike first for Santa Fe?"

"The Spanish settlements must all lie to the southward of yonder grand
peak. Santa Fe is rumored to have a mild climate; hence it must lie to
the south of our present position," he argued. "Therefore we must first
explore the sources of the Arkansas. When we go south among the
Spaniards, there is no telling what they will do with us, but it is fair
to presume that they will at least do their best to check our
explorations."

"Very true," I assented. "Suppose, then, that I part company from you
here, and strike out to cross my barrier alone?"

"No!" he exclaimed.

"Why not?"

"You surely would perish. I could not spare you a horse. We shall need
all for the packs before the week is out. Without a horse, and alone,
you surely would perish, either in this bleak desert or among those
mountain wilds."

"Yet I am willing to chance it. I hoped to have crossed the barrier--to
have reached her side--before now."

"If not for your own sake, John, then for ours! You are the best shot
among us. Since Wilkinson left, you have in effect taken his place as
second in command. You know how highly the men regard you. Should aught
happen to me, you are the only one of our number capable of taking my
place and carrying out the various objects of the expedition."

"Meek is a fine soldier," I said.

"A good sergeant and a brave man--so brave that we could count upon him
to 'raise a little dust' at the first opportunity. He's brave to
rashness, but quite incapable of keeping notes, either of our route or
of the many scientific features which we are certain to encounter."

"Yet--to wait, it may be months longer!"

"We need you, John."

"Very well," I replied. I could not do other than give way to that
argument.

Such was the quenching of my newly aroused hopes. I should cross the
barrier to Alisanda; I vowed I would cross it, or die. But the attempt
must now wait until we had penetrated to the headwaters of the Arkansas;
until we had rounded the sources of the Red River,--if in truth we were
ever to find the unknown upper reaches of that stream; until we had
spent weeks, and it might be months, wandering about the snowy
wildernesses of these vast Western mountains.

It was a sickening prospect for my eager love to contemplate. Yet I
needed only the quiet words of my friend to realize what I already knew
in my heart. It was true what he said. I could be of service to my
comrades. There was my duty to them, if not my patriotism, to bind me to
their company. I could not have left them at the time, even though the
way to Santa Fe and on to Chihuahua had been an open highway before my
feet, and the season midspring.



CHAPTER XVII

THE GRAND PEAK


The Lieutenant's prediction that the following evening should see us
encamped at the foot of the Grand Peak was not borne out by the event.
Notwithstanding our many days on the prairies, we were yet far from
realizing the deception of distances in this high altitude and clear,
dry atmosphere.

That next day we lost many hours on a large fork of the river, where the
turning of the Spanish trace led us to believe that the party had set
off southward. Finding that they had returned and continued their ascent
of the main stream, we did likewise. This gave us but little progress
for that day.

But the next morning we set out, confident that we should reach the
Grand Peak within a few hours. Our astonishment was great when, after
marching nearly twenty-five miles, we found ourselves at evening
seemingly no nearer the mountains than at sunrise. Yet we had thought to
encamp at their base that night!

The following two days we spent in hunting buffalo and jerking the meat.
The marrow bones gave us a feast fit for a king,--fit even for citizens
of the Republic.

The second day of our march onward, still keeping to the Spanish trace,
we at last found ourselves appreciably nearing the mountains. What was
not so welcome, we came upon the fresh traces of two Indians who had
ascended the river very recently. Warned by this, we proceeded in the
morning more than ever wary of ambuscades. There was good reason for our
precautions.

Scarcely had the Lieutenant, Baroney, and myself ridden out in advance
of the party, when of a sudden the interpreter sang out: "_Voilà! Les
sauvages!_"

A moment later we also caught sight of the Indians, a number of whom
were circling about us on the high ground, while others raced directly
upon us out of the dense groves of cottonwoods. All were afoot; which,
taken with the unmistakable cut of their hair and their red and black
paint, told us all too plainly that they were a war party of Pawnees
returning from an unsuccessful raid upon one of the Western tribes.

Knowing well how apt are the warriors to be evil-tempered after the
humiliation of a failure to strike their enemy, I prepared to sell my
life as dearly as might be. All the probabilities pointed to the
supposition that the party was made up of Skidis, or Loups, and I, for
one, had no desire to become a captive in their hands. It was enough to
have escaped in my boyhood from the stake and fire of the Shawnees. I
had no intention of now letting myself be crucified and mangled and
burned as a sacrifice to the morning star by these prairie savages.

But Pike, cool as ever, restrained Baroney and myself from firing, and
the Indians seemed to justify his moderation by flinging down their
weapons and running to us with outstretched arms. In a moment they were
all about us, in a jostling, jabbering crowd, patting and hugging us as
though we had been blood kinsmen. So urgent were they with their
friendly requests for us to dismount that we finally complied. On the
instant an Indian was upon each horse and riding off.

Still the others held to their friendly gestures, and upon looking back,
we could see the rest of their party making no less friendly
demonstrations among our soldiers. We were partly reassured when we
learned that the warriors were not Loups, but a party from the Grand
Pawnee. But the confirmation of our surmise that they were returning
from an unsuccessful raid upon the Tetans, or Ietans,--whom the
Spaniards call Comanches,--caused us to fall back upon our main party
and work it around to a camp in a little grove as speedily as possible.

During this man[oe]uvre more than one of our unwelcome visitors bent
their bows. But the firm insistence of our gallant leader won its way
with the savages. Soon all sixty were seated about us in a ring. The
Lieutenant then sat down opposite their chief, with the council pipe
laid out before him.

At his orders, gifts of tobacco, knives, and flints were placed beside
the chief. The present was greeted with guttural cries of
dissatisfaction, and the chief demanded with great insolence that we
should give them a quantity of our most valuable equipage, from
ammunition to blankets and kettles. To this, despite the advice and even
urgent plea of Baroney, our commander firmly refused to accede.

At last, after no little grumbling and threatening, they presented us
with a vessel of water, and drank and smoked with us, in token of amity.
Not satisfied with this, and warned by Baroney, I kept on my feet,
watching the treacherous warriors. Our wariness was justified by the
contemptuous manner in which many of their number threw away their
presents. When, immediately after this, we began to reload our pack
horses, the entire band pressed into our midst and began to pilfer right
and left.

For a time all was in the most perilous confusion, Pike and I having to
mount our horses to save the very pistols in our holsters. On every side
the savages were snatching articles, which the soldiers were doing their
best to wrest from them.

"The rogues!" cried Pike. "Baroney, command the chief to call off his
men. I'll not submit to open robbery!"

Even while Baroney interpreted the order, the chief slipped a knife from
the belt of one of the privates who was turned the other way, and hid it
behind his shield. Almost in the same moment he faced the Lieutenant,
and flung out his hand in a gesture of injured innocence.

Baroney hastily interpreted his ironic, hypocritical reply: "The great
white chief has an open hand, a good heart. It cannot be he grudges his
poor red friends a few small gifts. My braves are wretched; they are
needy; they hunger."

"Hungry, are they?" shouted Pike. "Then we'll give them lead to eat!
Stand ready to fire, men!" He rose in his stirrups and pointed his
pistol at the chief. "By the Almighty! I'll shoot the next scoundrel who
touches our goods!"

I looked for an instant acceptance of the challenge. Intermingled among
us as they were and so greatly superior in numbers, the savages had
every advantage. In hand to hand fighting their clubs and knives and
stone tomahawks would have been as efficient as our weapons, while our
firearms, once emptied, would have taken us more time to reload than an
Indian would require to shoot a quiverful of arrows.

For a long moment our fate hung in the balance, while the enraged
pilferers gripped their weapons and glared at us with murderous hate.
The tense silence was broken only by the sharp clicking of our hammers.
Suddenly Sergeant Meek, far too well disciplined to fire without orders,
yet unable to restrain his pugnacity, seized a brawny young warrior by
the shoulder, and whirling him around like a child, sent him flying off
with a tremendous kick.

"Begone, ye varmint!" he roared.

It was the last straw to the savages. Overawed by our unquailing
boldness in the face of their superior numbers, they followed their
staggering fellow, sullen and scowling, muttering threats, yet afraid to
strike.

We waited with finger on trigger, until the last of their long file had
glided beyond gunshot. Then the Lieutenant, half choking with rage,
ordered us to take stock of our losses. It did not soothe him to find
that the thieves had managed to make away with some thirty or forty
dollars' worth of our property. Not even the ferocious Sioux and
Chippewas had dared to rob him in this brazen fashion. But with only
sixteen guns, all told, it was wiser for us to submit to the outrage
than to imperil the expedition and perhaps lose our lives in an attempt
to follow and punish the rascals.

That evening the Lieutenant and I went back and lay in wait beside our
trace, thinking that the thieves might return and attempt to steal our
horses. It would have been only too well in keeping with the habits of
these savages, for the Pawnees are the most noted horse-thieves of all
the prairie tribes. Fortunately our watch proved needless.

By noon of the day after this encounter we came to the third large
southern branch of the river, immediately beyond which a fork on the
north bank ran off about northwest toward the Grand Peak which we had
first sighted so far out on the prairies. As the Peak now seemed only a
day's journey distant, the Lieutenant decided to attempt its ascent
with a small party. But first we joined in erecting a breastwork,--the
first American building in all this vast wilderness; the first structure
south of the Missouri and west of the Pawnee Republic to float the
glorious Stars and Stripes!

Shortly after noon of the second day the Lieutenant marched for the peak
with Miller, Brown, and myself.

Instead of reaching the foot of the peak by nightfall, as we had
expected, we were compelled to camp under a cedar tree, out on the bleak
prairie. Severe as was the cold, we felt still greater discomfort from
the lack of water. Again we marched for the great mountain, in the fond
expectation of encamping that night upon its summit. Instead, we hardly
reached the base of the lofty rise. Fortunately we there found a number
of springs, and succeeded in killing two buffaloes.

Still untaught by experience, we foolishly left our blankets and all
other than a pocketful of provision at our bivouac, and set off up the
mountain at dawn, assured that we could reach the top by noon and
descend again by nightfall. Almost at the start I brought down a deer of
a species unknown to us, it being larger than the ordinary animal, and
its ears much like those of a mule. The carcass was flayed without
delay, and the skin hung well up in a pitch-pine, together with the
saddle.

Made impatient by the delay, we began our climb with a will, determined
to reach the summit even earlier than we had planned. In this, however,
we were to be most sadly disappointed. After clambering up the steep
slopes and precipices all day without arriving at the crest, we were
forced to take refuge for the night in a cave. While preparing to creep
into this cheerless shelter, our discomfort over the utter lack of
blankets, food, and water was for the moment forgotten in the curious
sensation of standing under a clear sky and gazing at a snowstorm far
below us down the mountain.

Morning found us half famished with thirst and hunger and bruised by our
rocky beds, but we needed no urging to resume our laborious ascent. The
view from our lofty mountain side was the grandest I had ever seen.
Above us arched the translucent sky in an illimitable dome of purest
sapphire, rimmed before our upturned eyes by gaunt, jagged rocks and
fields of dazzling snow. Behind and below us the vast desert of prairies
stretched away to east and north and south, far beyond the reach of
human eye, its tawny surface closely overhung by a sea of billowy white
clouds. Far to the south, at least a hundred miles distant, we noted in
particular a vast double, or twin, peak, which stood out from and
overtopped the heights of the front range even as our Grand Peak dwarfed
its neighbors.

But we did not linger long to gaze at this sublime prospect. Though our
thermometer here registered well below zero, we struggled on upward
through the waist-deep snow to the first of the summits which rose
before us. An hour found us close upon what we took to be the goal of
our efforts.

At last, panting from our exertions and the rarity of the air, we
floundered up the final rise to the crest. In this wild, scrambling rush
Brown dropped to the rear, while the Lieutenant, though physically the
least robust of the party, forged ahead even of myself, upborne by his
zealous spirit. He, the leader of the expedition, should be--must
be--the first to set foot upon the summit of the Grand Peak!

With a final rally of his wiry strength, he uttered a shout and dashed
up over the thin, hard-crusted snow of the summit to the crest,--only to
stop short and stand staring off beyond, in bitter disappointment.

"Look!" he cried. "The Grand Peak!"

"The Grand Peak!" I shouted back, too excited to perceive the import of
his tone and bearing. "The Grand Peak! We'll name it for you,--for the
first American to sight it; the first to mount its crest; the first--"

[Illustration: "'The Grand Peak!' I shouted. 'We'll name it for you'"]

My exultant cry died away on my lips. I halted and stood gaping in
speechless amazement at the peak that loomed skyward over beyond the
lesser height we had mounted. What we had taken for the Grand Peak was
no more than a satellite that had masked the Titan from our view! As we
gazed from our hard-won crest, there uprose before us, grander than
ever, the vast bulk of the mighty mountain, its sublime summit
glittering with eternal snows. But the nearest ridge of its stupendous
pyramidal base was yet a full sixteen miles distant!

I turned and shouted the discovery to Miller and Brown, who toiled up
beside us to stare at the awesome beauty of the Peak in dull wonderment.

At last Pike regained his usual firm composure.

"We will begin the return march," he ordered, without betraying a trace
of his keen disappointment either in look or voice.

"Send them back," I replied, nodding toward Brown and Miller. "Let us go
on and make the attempt alone."

"My thanks to you, John!" he exclaimed. "But it would be madness, sheer
madness. Through these snows we could not reach the base of the Peak
short of a day's march; and look at that ascent! I doubt if any man
could scale those heights."

"Not at this season. Yet, if you give the word to make the attempt--"

"No!" he rejoined. "Without food, and clad as we are in summer wear, no!
It is enough to have ascended this peak, without our being so mad as to
attempt the impossible."

"Then the sooner we reach the plain, the better," I said, pointing to
the mountain side behind us.

While we had stood viewing the indescribable grandeur and sublimity of
the Peak and the snow-clad sierras which stretched away in savage
majesty to north and south of their mighty chieftain, the clouds below
us were rolling upwards, were enveloping the entire mountain upon which
we stood. Fearful of being lost in a snowstorm upon these bleak heights,
we descended rapidly down a cleft, and regained our bivouac at the foot
of the mountain just as the snow began to fall.

Here we found our blankets and other camp equipment as we had left them.
But the ravens had robbed us of all our food, other than an unstripped
fragment of the deer's ribs. Though one of the men had killed a
partridge during our descent, the bird and the lean deer bones together
formed a scant enough meal for four men who had not eaten in two days.

About noon the next day we shot two buffaloes, upon whose flesh we
gorged ourselves like Indians, and I, for one, am convinced that we had
well earned the full meal.

In the valley, all up and down the creek, we found many old Comanche
camps, but the Indians had undoubtedly gone south for the Winter.

The next day brought us back to our little stockade on the Arkansas.



CHAPTER XVIII

FAMINE AND FROST


Many even of our Western-bred officers would have considered themselves
justified in lying about camp for at least a day after such a trip. Not
so Pike. Toward noon of the next day, which was the last of November,
our entire party marched on up the main stream, in the thick of a heavy
snowstorm.

We had at last come to the real hardships of our voyage. Within the week
two or three of the men suffered frosted feet. The temperature fell to
nearly twenty degrees below zero, so that even I felt the cold keenly
through my hunting clothes, while the Lieutenant and the others, clad
only in their cotton wear, suffered still more from the stinging frost.

Yet, despite all the troubles and hardships of ourselves and our
half-starved horses, we held to our explorations, day after day, killing
an occasional buffalo or deer, and gradually working our way into the
midst of the mighty mountains, northward and westward behind the Grand
Peak, along what we thought to be the Spanish trace. At last we came to
a large stream, which, to our astonishment, ran to the northeast. Though
against all our previous theories, we were forced to believe that this
must be the river La Platte. Ascending the stream in a northwesterly
direction, all alike suffering greatly from the cold of these high
valleys, we passed signs of an immense encampment of Indians. But we saw
no more of the Spanish trace, or rather of the Indian trace which we had
followed into the mountains, thinking it to be the Spanish.

Turning back upon our own trace some little distance, we crossed over a
pass in the mountains to the southwest, and descending a small stream,
came upon what we thought to be the upper waters of the Red River. Here,
while our wretched, famished beasts were recruiting themselves upon a
favorable bit of pasture land, the Lieutenant marched with a small party
to explore upstream. At the same time Baroney and I marched down the
river, our mission being to kill game for the others, who were to follow
us in a day or two.

It was not, however, until three days later, on Christmas Eve, that our
party found itself reunited in one camp. After two days of unsuccessful
hunting, Baroney and I had at last killed four buffaloes, and young
Sparks had shot four more. In view of the fact that we had all been for
two days without food, the meeting brought us great happiness.

Yet I cannot say that Christmas Day, which we spent in camp, smoking and
drying our meat, was as merry as it might have been. The contrast with
all our previous experiences of that holiday was far too sombre. Some of
the men even drew unfavorable comparisons between this and the past
year, when they were at the head of the Mississippi. Though then in a
still colder climate and among the fierce Chippewas, they had at least
enjoyed far better food and shelter. As for our present food, though now
for the first time in weeks we had an abundant supply, it was limited to
the one item of meat, which we must eat without so much as a pinch of
salt. Our summery clothes were rent and tattered; many of our blankets
torn up for stockings; our outer footwear reduced to clumsy moccasins of
raw buffalo hide.

To these physical privations was added the consciousness of the grim
fact that between us and the nearest of our far-distant frontier
settlements lay all the mountain wilderness we had traversed, and more
than seven hundred miles of desert plains. Yet, taken all in all, we
managed to spend the day in fairly good cheer, despite the snow which
came whirling down upon us.

On the afternoon of the next day we marched down to where the mountains
closed in on the river valley. From here on, each succeeding day until
the fifth of January found our way rougher and more difficult. The
valley became ever deeper and narrower, so that we had to cross and
recross the river repeatedly, our horses frequently falling upon the
ice. Even harder upon them were their no less frequent slips among the
rocks of the banks.

Much to my relief, I was not required to witness the sufferings of the
poor beasts coming down through the worst of that terrible canyon. On
New Year's Day Brown and I were sent ahead to hunt. Within the first few
hours we had the good fortune to bring down a huge-horned mountain ram.
Leaving this in our path for the others to skin and dress, we struggled
on down the ever-narrowing valley all that day and the next without
sighting any other game.

On the third of January we found ourselves fighting our way along in the
gloomy depths of a cleft that wound and twisted through the very bowels
of the mountains. The bottom of this tremendous gorge was almost filled
with the foaming, roaring torrent of the river, while on either side the
cliffs towered skyward in sheer, precipitous precipices, thousands of
feet high. Never before had I seen or heard of such a terrific chasm,
and may I never again be caught in its like!

Leaping and slipping over the icy rocks beside the furious rapids and
falls, and creeping along the narrow ledges of ice that here and there
rimmed the less torrential stretches of the stream, we at last gained a
spot where a little ravine ran up through the face of the precipice. We
saw that it was impossible for us to descend that gloomy gorge even a
few yards farther. The icy waters of the roaring cascades swept the bed
of the chasm from wall to wall.

Yet to ascend the side cleft seemed no less beyond our power. The water,
running down from above earlier in the season, had coated the rocky
surface from top to bottom with an unbroken slide of ice. It seemed
outright madness to attempt that dizzy ascent. However, a man never
knows what he can do until he has tried. We set to, I with my tomahawk
and Brown with his axe, and by cutting footholds, turn about, in the ice
of the ravine's bottom, we slowly worked our way up the giddy rise.
Again and again we came near to slipping and so plunging headlong down
that glassy slide. After the first hundred feet, we dared no longer look
back below, for fear of being overcome with dizziness. Yet at last we
came to easier climbing, and, scaling the side of the ravine, found
ourselves safe on the mountain ridge, far above the river and its
cavernous gorge.

Here we soon killed a deer, and leaving the greater part of the carcass
for our companions, pushed on another day across the mountains. We had
at last sighted the prairies from our lofty heights, when, pressed by
hunger, I was so ill advised as to eat some of the berries we found
hanging to the bushes. As a result I suffered such vertigo that I was
compelled to lie quiet in camp. But Brown put in the time very well by
killing no less than six deer.

Early in the forenoon of the sixth, as we hastened down out of the
mountains, we again came within earshot of the torrential river of the
gorge. Drawn by the sound, we scrambled around the point of an
out-jutting ridge, and found ourselves on the river bank where it flowed
from the gorge. It was not the first time I had stood on that selfsame
spot.

"Good God!" I groaned. "After all our toil, and only this!"

"You may well say it, John," echoed a melancholy voice from beneath the
cliff upstream.

"Montgomery!" I cried. "You here?"

He appeared from around a big rock, sad and dejected; but at sight of my
companion, instantly assumed a look of unbending resolve.

"We scattered," he explained, as I grasped his hand. "The others took
the horses up out of the gorge by the least difficult of the side
ravines. I followed your trace down into the midst of that awesome cleft
and up the icy ascent. But I lost the trace on the mountain top, and so
came on down here--"

"To find that, after all our toil and privation, it is not the Red
River!" I cried.

"Ah, well, it is something to have rounded the headwaters of the
Arkansas," he replied. He turned to Brown: "You will find two of your
fellows downstream at the old camp. Join them, and see what the three of
you can do toward killing meat against the coming of the others."

"Aye, sir!" responded Brown, with ready salute.

He was striding off when I interrupted: "Wait! Montgomery, he has six
deer already hung."

"Good! The more the better! Fetch the other lads, Brown, and bring in
your game. If you see more deer, do what you can to bring them in too."

Brown saluted the second time, and started off at a dogtrot.

I looked inquiringly into the Lieutenant's darkening face and thought I
read his purpose. "If any of the horses come through alive, they will
nevertheless be too outworn for farther travel within many weeks. You
propose to go into winter quarters?"

"No!" he answered almost angrily.

"Yet the horses?" I argued.

"Poor beasts!" he sighed. "Would that I might put them out of their
misery--such of their number as the men may bring alive out of that
rocky waste! Yet we cannot spare them, and the fewer the survivors, the
greater our need to cherish them. We will build a stockade, and leave
the beasts here in the charge of two or three of the men."

"Leave them! And what of ourselves?"

"We will go on in search of the Red River."

"Afoot? In midwinter?"

"Southward. There must be passes over the mountains to the
southwest,--passes leading over into the warmer valleys. All reports
agree that the Spanish settlements enjoy a mild climate."

"The Spanish settlements!" I cried. "You would head for the Spanish
settlements! Give the word, Montgomery; the sooner the better. Ho, for
Nuevo Mexico and my lady!"

He shook his head soberly. "It is well you are not in command, John,
else I fear you would have even less chance than now of winning your way
to your lady. It is a desperate move we are about to undertake."

I smiled. "Can anything be more desperate than our present situation?"

"We must leave the horses to recuperate," he replied. "With the horses
we must leave a guard. Two men will be as many as we can spare. They
must have a stockade for defence should they be attacked by Indians or
Spaniards."

"Come!" I exclaimed. "Only show me the place, an axe, and a grove of
pines. I will have your stockade well under way by nightfall."

He took me at my word, and at once led the way downstream to the site of
our last camp on the river before we struck off into the mountains
behind the Grand Peak. On the way we met Brown and his two companions,
going to fetch his deer. We borrowed from them two of their axes, and,
arriving at the camp, at once set about felling pines.

Before nightfall we were rejoined by Brown's party and two others, the
latter bringing in four sadly disabled horses. The least wearied of the
men were at once sent back in search of the remaining parties, carrying
a plentiful supply of deer meat to supply those who might be famished.
To make a long story short, the ninth of January saw the last member of
the expedition in camp, safe and sound, with a loss all told of only
four horses.

To hunt down a sufficient store of game and complete the blockhouse for
Baroney and Smith, the two men detailed to stay in charge of the bruised
and half-famished beasts, occupied the party a full five days. But
between times in helping and directing the others, Pike and I managed to
take several observations to determine the latitude and longitude of the
camp. I also spent much time copying the records of all our courses and
distances up to the time of our entry into the mountains, and in
elaborating my own notes on the mineralogy, etc., of the vast rocky
ranges traversed by us.

When finally we started on our next desperate venture, it was with
hearts far lighter than backs. I was overjoyed at the thought that I was
at last to march toward the Spanish settlements--and Alisanda! The
others had their own good reasons to be pleased. Ignorant of what lay
before us, we were alike happy in the thought that our faces were now
turned southward, and gladly shouldered our heavy packs for the march.

Each one of us carried a forty-five pound load, made up of Indian
presents, tools, ammunition, and scientific instruments. To this were
added our weapons and other necessary equipage and a small quantity of
half-dried meat, bringing our burdens up to an average weight of seventy
pounds. Some packed a few pounds more, some less, each according to his
strength. Our leader was among those who carried more. As for myself,
being the biggest man of the party, I found that I could make shift to
start off with a hundredweight.

Thus, as we thought, well provided for our trip, we struck out boldly
over a ridge and southwardly up a valley which lay behind the front, or
easternmost range of mountains. We had taken to calling these the Blue
Mountains, for though at this season they were where barren hardly less
snow-clad than the stupendous sierra to the westward of them, the
pine-clad ridges of their slopes, no matter how far distant, appeared
colored a clear dark blue, without a trace of haze.

At the beginning of our journey the White Sierra stood so far to the
westward, and our course lay up a winding stream through such hilly
country that we did not sight their towering peaks until the morning of
the fourth day. After this they remained always in view, for the range
trended to the east of south in such manner as gradually to approach the
front range, or Blue Mountains, which trended south and seemingly a
little to the west.

Meantime on the second day, the Lieutenant, Sparks and myself had the
good fortune each to bring down a deer. Deceived by this seeming
abundance of game, we added little of the fresh meat to our already
over-heavy loads, and some of the men even threw away what remained of
the dried meat in their packs. Far better had we cast away our Indian
trinkets, and even the greater part of our tools!

Within half a day the very last of our food was exhausted, and as no
more game was seen, we at once found ourselves face to face with famine.
To add to our distress, in crossing over the valley toward the White
Mountains two days later, to reach a belt of woods, we had to wade the
creek, and the cold coming on extreme, the feet of nine of the men were
severely frozen before we could get fuel and warm ourselves. We did what
we could to draw out the frost with snow-chafing, but in several
instances the injury had gone beyond that remedy.

Our camp that night was in truth a most miserable one. Not an ounce of
food had we eaten in nearly two days, and though we had an abundance of
pitch-pine for fuel, this meant only that we were free to crouch before
the fires, in our thin tatters, and roast one side, while the other was
pierced by the terrible frost. Hungry, exhausted, and shivering, we
huddled about the fires, even those who were suffering the least being
hardly able to obtain a few hours of broken sleep.

It was all too evident that we must soon find food, or perish of
starvation in this fearful mountain wilderness. At dawn Pike and I took
our rifles and set out, aware that the lives of all depended upon the
success of our hunt.

Spurred on though we were by this dreadful necessity, our wide circuits
through the pine groves and around the hills brought us no sight of any
game throughout that dreary day. At last, near nightfall, we came upon a
gaunt old buffalo bull, and stalked him with extreme care. But though we
succeeded in creeping within range and wounding him three times, our aim
was so unsteady that none of our balls reached a vital spot. He made off
and escaped us.

Bitterly disappointed, and weary from our long hunt, we sought shelter
in a group of rocks, and spent a sleepless night, without food or fire.
Neither of us had the heart to go into camp and tell our starving
companions of our failure.

The long hours of midwinter frost and darkness at last drew to an end,
and, half dead from cold and hunger, we set off again, in the first gray
light of dawn.

After hours of searching, we sighted a small drove of buffalo.
Immediately we circled about to get down the wind from them, and, by
creeping on all fours nearly a mile through the snow, stalked within
fair range of the nearest. By this time, however, we were both so faint
and quivering from starvation and over-exertion that neither of us could
hold his gun steady. Again and again we fired and reloaded, the stupid
beasts standing all unconcerned at the report of our guns, though we
repeatedly hit the nearer members of their band. With muskets we could
surely have soon brought down one or more, if only from their loss of
blood. But the tiny wound made by a rifle ball is of little effect
unless a vital part is pierced.

In the end we must have succeeded by a chance shot. But while we were
yet blazing away as fast as we could load and fire, one of the herd
chanced to drift around to where a flaw in the wind bore our scent to
his sensitive nostrils. In an instant he had alarmed the herd, and all
raced off, snorting with fear, the wounded running no less swiftly than
their fellows. To follow such a stampede was useless. Once started, the
animals would run for hours.

We staggered to our feet and gazed after the fleeing herd in utter
despair.

"It is the end!" I groaned--"the end! We have lost our last chance!"

"We are outspent!" murmured my companion. "We can do no more! My poor
lads! faithful ever to their rash leader! To think that I have led them
into this death-trap!"

"They are men!" I cried in bitter anger. "What is death to men?--even
this hideous agony of hunger? We can bear that. But to die now--my
God!--that I should die before seeing her!--my Alisanda!"

"No! not now!" He turned upon me with a flicker of feverish resolve in
his hollow, bloodshot eyes. "Not now, not here! We are not cowards to
give up the struggle while we can yet drag ourselves along."

"As well here as a few paces farther on," I muttered.

He dragged at my arm to rouse me from the black stupor of mind and body
into which I was fast sinking. "John! think of her!" he cried. "You'll
not give up! Keep fighting, for her sake, keep fighting, lad!"

"For her sake," I whispered. I caught at his clutching hand and sought
to rally from that benumbing stupor. "For her sake!"

"And I--for the sake of those--who await the return of husband and
father!" he panted. "Come! We'll fight--to the last!"

Death alone might conquer that indomitable spirit! We staggered on
through the bleak wild, our eyes inflamed and half blinded by the snow,
peering about in vain search for game. We did not turn back. To return
to camp empty-handed would have been the bitterest of mockeries,
supposing we could have found strength to go so far.... We staggered on,
but we were upon the verge; we had all but reached the utmost limit of
human endurance. For four days we had marched over broken ground and
through the snowdrifts in this midwinter cold--four days without food!
Even Pike's iron resolve could not force his wasted muscles to perform
miracles.

I found myself dulling even to the thought of Alisanda. The end was
close upon us. A darkness was gathering about me. We were upon the verge
of exhaustion. Several times Pike fell, half fainting, and presently I
also began to stumble and sink down at the slightest misstep. Certain
that we were about to perish, we bent every effort to reach the nearest
trees, reeling and staggering like drunken men, or crawling, between
times, when we found ourselves unable to stand.

Half stunned by one of my falls, I lay outstretched, gasping and
quivering, when I heard Pike utter a stifled cry. I strained my head
about, and to my astonishment saw that he was on his feet and running
forward. Staring beyond, over a snowdrift, I caught sight of a little
herd of buffaloes advancing at an angle to our course. For a little my
strength came back as had my friend's. Staggering up, I tottered after
him. By the most fortunate of chances, the wind was in our favor, so
that the dull-sighted beasts came on without heeding us.

Pike had already gained a clump of cedar trees. Resting the long barrel
of his rifle across one of the low branches, he took quick aim and
fired. The shot struck the young cow which was at the head of the herd.
She stopped short. The others, sighting us, wheeled and made off at
their lumbering gallop. But to our amazement and joy, the wounded animal
stood as if dazed. I rested my rifle across a limb, and managed to give
the beast a second wound. A moment later Pike flung out his ramrod and
fired his second shot. The cow wheeled half about, and moved slowly off
to the left.

I had already poured a double charge of powder down my rifle barrel.
Upon this I drove home a ball without stopping to patch it, and dashing
the pan full of priming, took hasty aim behind the animal's shoulder. By
good chance the ball struck her to the heart. Yet even when she fell we
kept our places, hastily reloading our rifles. Not until she had lain
for some moments with outstretched head did we venture to advance, for
even a desperately wounded beast is apt to leap up and make off at sight
of the hunters.

Our hunger and exhaustion were so great that, once beside our kill, we
could not even wait to devour the raw flesh, but slashed open a vein in
the neck and drank the warm blood. Nothing could have revived us more
quickly. Before many minutes we were strong enough to set about the
dressing of our game. As we worked, we devoured bits of meat, which
eased our famished stomachs and added yet more to our slowly returning
strength. By nightfall we had managed to butcher the carcass, and
loading ourselves with as much of the meat as we could carry, we
staggered off in search of the camp.

When at last we sighted the welcome blaze of the fires and dragged
ourselves into camp, it was past midnight. Neither of us could have gone
another furlong. As we threw off our loads and sank down beside the
fire, Pike was seized with so severe a vertigo that it was some time
before he could sense the joyful greetings of our camp-mates.

Even before they caught sight of the burdens we bore, the brave
sufferers had hailed our approach with heroic cheerfulness. Now, with
every mouthful of frozen meat, our leader recovered from his dizziness,
and generous strips of steak sizzling on the green-wood spits, the
spirits of all rose even to the pitch of merriment. Desperate as was
still our situation, it yet seemed like paradise after the anguish of
body and mind through which we had passed.

No men, I venture to say, ever bore pain and privation and hardship with
more heroic fortitude than was shown by these poor fellows. All but
three had been compelled to endure the agony of their frozen feet, in
addition to the pangs of starvation, and the sad truth that these
injuries went beyond a mere frosting was all too evident in the morning,
when, upon examining the men, I found that two of them, at the best,
would have to give up their packs and hobble along with the aid of
crutches. As for Dougherty and Sparks, both were too disabled to march
at all.



CHAPTER XIX

BEYOND THE BARRIER


But I will dwell no more in detail upon our sufferings in that terrible
valley of frost and famine. Enough said that, after bringing in the
remainder of the meat for Sparks and Dougherty, we left them and
struggled onward in search of a pass. To linger in camp with our
disabled comrades would have meant certain death to all. But many among
us wept at the parting, for few believed we should ever return.

Indeed, having eaten in one scant meal all the meat we had found heart
to take from the injured men, we again suffered a famine, this time of
three days' duration. It was then, for the first and only time during
all our privations, that one of the men murmured openly. So evident was
it that his outcry had been wrung from him by anguish and despair that
the Lieutenant, instead of shooting him down in his tracks in accordance
with the usual rigor of military discipline, chose to pretend that he
had not heard the mutinous words. A few hours later we were the second
time saved from starvation by a fortunate kill of buffalo, and it was
then, after we had feasted to repletion around a roaring camp-fire, that
Pike called the mutineer before him and reproved the repentant man for
his conduct.

At this camp we left the greater part of the meat of the four buffaloes
killed, in the charge of Hugh Menaugh, one of the two men who, aside
from Sparks and Dougherty, had suffered the worst from the frost. This
time, however, meat being so abundant, we did not fail to take with us
on our onward march enough of provisions to last us for several days.

Though recuperated by two days of feasting,--for we had lingered that
length of time with Menaugh,--our first march out of his camp proved one
of the very hardest we had yet made. We were by now near the top of a
high plateau, where the travelling was even more difficult than in the
lower valley; yet we could discover no break in the white barrier,
which, despite our high altitude, still towered up many hundred feet
above us.

It was almost nightfall, and Pike and I--as usual in the lead breaking a
way through the drifts for the others--were beginning to look about for
a favorable camp-site, when, topping a knoll, we found ourselves staring
down upon a little stream whose course ran to the westward.

"Look!" I shouted. "A pass! That brook flows to the mountains--into the
mountains!"

"It may twist about again to south and east. We have reached the top of
a divide," cautioned Pike.

"No, no! it cannot be!" I cried, wild with delight. "I see a cleft in
the mountain side! The sun dazzles our eyes, but look beneath, in the
shadow."

"Thank God!" he sighed. "It is a cleft! It must be that the stream flows
through the mountains. If only we can find a way down its bed!"

"We can--we must!" I wheeled about to the weary men. "Hurrah, lads!
Stiffen your knees! We've found our pass! Another day will see us beyond
the mountains!"

The brave fellows answered with a ringing cheer. Drooping heads
straightened; tottering steps gave place to firm, eager strides. Buoyed
up by renewed hope, we hurried down the hillside and along the stream
bank until in the gathering twilight we could see with certainty where
the stream wound its way into the mountain cleft. Assured of this
all-important fact, we made our bivouac in a grove of pines, and settled
down to the happiest night we had known in weeks.

Bright and early in the morning we broke camp and trudged along through
the snow, down the bank of the creek. Soon we found ourselves within the
flanking shoulders of the mountains, descending a gorge that was walled
on either side with almost sheer cliffs. I should speak of these
precipices as stupendous had I not first seen the terrific chasm of the
far narrower and deeper gorge of the Arkansas.

To our vast relief, the bed of the pass proved to be broad and open
throughout, being clear even of blocking snowdrifts. That it was
habitually open was evident from the number of trees we found painted
with Indian signs, clear proof that this was one of the accustomed paths
of the roaming savages of the Far West. What most astonished us was the
length of the gorge, which wound and twisted its way through the heart
of the White Mountains in seemingly endless extent.

At last, after we had marched downward for twelve or fourteen miles, a
sudden turn unmasked to our gaze a view that brought us up short in our
tracks, with cries of astonishment and delight. Instead of the narrow
mountain valley that we had expected to open before us, there burst upon
our vision the panorama of a vast park-like country, dotted with
scattered woods and groves, through which meandered numerous branching
streams whose main trunk flowed to the southward. It was many miles
across to the mountain range which bounded the western side of this
beautiful valley.

Pike was the first among us to find his voice. "Men," he said simply,
"we have won free. The worst is now behind us. This Western country is
far lower than the plateau on the east side. It must be less cold; see
the wide stretches of open ground. There must be game--"

"Ay! look!" I said, pointing to a multitude of black dots drifting
across a snowy hillside. "Deer! a herd!"

"An' more on 'em to yan side, sir!" sang out one of the men.

"No more fear of famine!" exulted Pike. "We're safe at last!"

"But how as to savages?" I rejoined. "I see no smoke; yet in a country
so abounding in game--"

"Say rather, the Spaniards, John."

"What! You surely do not think--Yet that main stream runs southward. All
the accounts tell how the Rio Grande del Norte flows from the north down
through the Province of Nuevo Mexico. Montgomery! can it be--"

He checked me with a gesture. But the twinkle in his eyes belied the
soberness of his answer: "We have crossed the mountains in search of the
Red River. Who among us can swear that yonder stream is not the Red?"

"Yet I, for one, am ready to wager it is the Rio Grande!" I cried. "The
Rio Grande! Only think what that means to us--to me! I have only to
descend its banks to the Spanish settlements--"

"To land in a Spanish gaol!" he rejoined. "No, John; it is for the Red
River we have been seeking, and the Red River it shall be, at the least
until we have built a stockade and brought up all the members of our
party."

"You would defy the Spaniards!" I exclaimed.

"We will at least put ourselves into a position of defence before
seeking to communicate with them."

"But a stockade on Spanish territory?"

"A small party should be conceded the right to provide against the
attacks of savages. Besides, we have wandered far into a region unknown
to us. If this is the Red River, our side of the stream lies within the
boundaries of Louisiana Territory."

I nodded my understanding of his position. "You are right. We have a
very fair argument, and can present it to Don Spaniard quite
favorably--from behind the walls of a stockade."

"Or without any walls, sir!" put in Sergeant Meek. "Even with this
dwindled squad, sir, give us a bunch of trees or scrub, and we'd stand
off a troop of Spanish dragoons, or my name's not Meek."

"Small doubt of that, you old fire-eater!" rejoined the Lieutenant.
"It's harder to keep you in hand than it will be to whip any enemy we
are like to find in this region."

The men all chuckled appreciatively at the joke.

"But just a little brush to liven us up, sir!" pleaded Meek.

"That may come, all too soon! Yet it is not our game. We did not come
here to fight the Spaniards, any more than we ascended the Mississippi
to fight Sioux and Chippewas and British fur-traders. No. Bear in mind
that this is a peaceful expedition. So far am I from desiring a hostile
encounter with the Spaniards, it is by no means certain that I could
bring myself to refuse an invitation to visit their settlements, should
they tender us their hospitality."

Again catching the twinkle in his blue eyes, I exclaimed impulsively:
"True! why not? Why not march on down the Rio Grande without delay?"

He shook his head. "Hold hard, John. You forget that this is supposedly
the Red River. Also you forget your own observation as to how much more
convincing is an argument when made from behind a fortification, and,"
his voice sobered, "you forget those whom we must first rescue."

"God forgive me!" I cried. "That I should for a moment lose thought of
those poor lads! Give me a detail, if no more than a single man. I will
go back at once and fetch them."

"No," he replied. "We are still weak; you could not bear them through
the drifts, and they cannot walk as yet. We must first build a stockade
yonder in the valley. They had food enough to last many days. In good
time I will send back a detachment to the Arkansas for the pack train.
The injured lads can be brought through on horseback."

"I will go now!"

"You will go with us," he commanded. "If, as is possible, we have come
within measurable distance of the Spanish settlements, we must establish
a fort without delay. It is imperative. I need every man of you."

When the Lieutenant spoke in that tone, there was nothing to do but
obey. I turned on my heel and swung away down the pass, all the more
eager to advance, since I might not turn back.

To advance! The word thrilled me throughout every fibre of my being. To
advance! Well enough was it for Pike to express doubts--to talk solemnly
of the Red River. He had to bear in mind the problem of diplomatic
explanations to the Spaniards. But as for myself, I rejoiced in the
conviction that the stream before us was in truth the Spanish River of
the North; that within the distance of a few days' journey southward lay
the upper Spanish settlements, beyond which, somewhere in the interior
of New Spain, lay Chihuahua, the seat of government for the northern
provinces, and the goal of my love-quest! I no longer doubted, I knew!
We had crossed the Sangre de Cristo! I had passed the Barrier!

Small wonder was it that I chafed during the many days which yet
intervened before I was free to fare away on the road which led toward
my lady! First of all came our check at the west base of the mountains,
where a vast line of sand hills blocked our advance into the valley and
compelled us to skirt along some distance to the south before we could
march out toward the river. It took yet two more days for us to reach
the main stream and cross over, up one of its tributaries, to a
favorable site for our stockade.

The first few days of February we spent in hunting and in hewing down
cottonwood trees for the stockade. Of buffalo we saw no sign in the
valley, but succeeded in killing a few deer, and sighted such vast
droves that the last thought of famine was dispelled.

As soon as we had made some progress on the fort, I pressed the
Lieutenant to permit me to return for our comrades on the back track.
But he, knowing the keenness of my desire to be off southward,
positively forbade my returning, and instead detailed Corporal Jackson
and four men to bring in Sparks, Dougherty, and Menaugh, together with
the four packs we had been forced to leave behind. Baroney and Smith, we
thought, could wait on the Arkansas until later, when the horses should
have had more time to regain strength.

It had been arranged that Jackson and his men should leave on the
afternoon of the seventh. But I did not linger to see them start. Making
hasty preparation, I marched in the opposite direction at sunrise of the
same day. The parting with my fellows in the midst of this remote and
unknown wilderness affected me deeply. Despite all our sharing of famine
and toil and bitter cold, I had not before realized the warmth of
attachment between us. The men crowded around to grasp my hand and wish
me Godspeed, and one and all swore that if I came to harm among the
Spaniards, they would follow their commander to the death in his effort
to avenge me.

After this Pike walked out with me half a mile or so on my way, where we
could say our farewells in private, and none might see the tears which
would come despite our efforts at calmness. By now he was quite
convinced that I was going to my death.

"Farewell, my friend, my companion!" he exclaimed, wringing my hand.
"God keep you from harm!"

"Wish me more than that, Montgomery," I protested.

"Ah, more--more, with all my heart!" he cried. "God grant you win your
way to your lady--that you win her sweet self!"

"My thanks, dear friend!" I choked, gripping him by the shoulders. "We
talk of patriotism; but I know, and you know, it is for her sake alone I
am putting my neck into the noose."

"No, no," he rejoined. "It is not alone love, it is duty as well that
calls you. And I fear the worst. Would that I might even now dissuade
you from the attempt!"

"Dissuade me?--now? I should go, even though I felt as sure as you do
that the outcome will be the garrotte or a blank wall and a firing
squad. No; what grieves me most is the thought that we may never again
meet. I hope to win my way to Chihuahua; I must win my way to--her! But
can I then leave New Spain? Never one of Nolan's men has come home."

"It may chance that you will wish to stay, John."

"No, not even for her sake, unless--" I hesitated--"unless the Spanish
creoles rise and throw off the rule of Old Spain."

"A revolution? That would be a grand opening for you!" His eyes flashed
with militant fire, only to darken again with grief. "But the people of
New Spain are too dispirited to revolt. If you linger in that tyrannical
land, it will be as a prisoner in one of their foul gaols--or worse!"

"For her I'd risk the worst a thousand times over! Take cheer! They
will never suspect me as a spy. The Le Lande claim will carry me
through."

"God grant it!" he cried.

I gave his hand a last grip. "Farewell for a long time, my friend! That
you may not waste thought over the chance of my return, I confess that I
have resolved to go to my lady, whatever may befall."

"Then you will not come back even if they rebuff you at the upper
settlements?"

"I have crossed the Barrier. Now I go to Chihuahua."

"Farewell; God keep you!" he repeated.

A final glance at the little log fort, with its shallow moat, bristling,
staked abatis, and loopholed walls, above which floated our glorious
banner, then I tore myself from him, and started off on my solitary
journey.

Having meat enough to last me some time, I did not stop to hunt, but
continued on at my best pace, southwest and then more nearly south.
Mid-morning of the second day I came upon a pair of the ugliest Indians
I had ever seen. Fortunately they were not so stupid as their swarthy,
flat faces made them appear. After no little sign talk, I at last
overcame their fear of me, and by an offer of a few trinkets, gained
their assent to take me into the Spanish settlements.

For the night they took me to a camp in the woods where their women were
waiting. Being unacquainted with the customs of these savages,--who I
afterwards learned were Yutahs,--I passed the night without sleep, for
fear of treachery. But whether because of my rifle and pistols, or owing
to their treaty with the Spanish whites, my ugly guides made no attempt
to attack me. Next morning we set out upon our way to Agua Caliente, the
first of the Spanish towns, which we reached mid-afternoon of the same
day.

It was with the keenest of emotions that I first made out what I took to
be the mud-wall stockade, or rampart, of this northernmost of the
Spanish settlements. At last I had arrived at the inhabited parts of New
Spain,--I was about to venture into the midst of our secretly, if not
openly, hostile Spanish neighbors. For all I knew, the long-threatened
war might have broken out months past; it might now be raging with
utmost fury. Yet even the thought of this far from improbable situation
did not cause me to waver for an instant. I needs must go on in search
of my lady, though a thousand Spaniards lined the road with guns loaded
and primed to shoot me down.

As we drew near the town gate, one of the tame Indians of the place ran
in with the news of my coming. I stopped, and was in the midst of paying
over the agreed articles to my guides, when a bewhiskered Spanish
corporal and a squad of dragoons came charging out as if to ride me
down. Some held their long lances levelled at my breast; others, who had
rushed off without their lances, flourished the short rifles which they
call _escopettes_; while one man had only his big horse pistol. All,
however, carried their thick leather shields, which it seems the
soldiers in these parts bear as a protection against the arrows of the
savages.

Greatly to my relief, I soon perceived that all this display of weapons
and horsemanship was intended rather as a greeting than a menace. As
they replaced their lances in the sockets and brought their curvetting
mounts to a stand, the corporal saluted me in a most hospitable manner.
At this, having good reasons for concealing what little knowledge of
Spanish I possessed, I demanded, in French, to be taken before the
commanding officer of the place. Whether or not the fellow understood my
words, he sprang off courteously beside me, and made a sign for me to
accompany him into the town. The others took his horse in lead, and
followed us at a few paces.

As we passed the gate, I perceived that what I had taken for a great
stockade of unbaked mud brick was in fact no other than the rear walls
of a continuous row of houses, built in the form of a hollow square, and
with inward-facing doors. The town was thus of itself a most effectual
fortification against the savages of this region, the walls of the
houses extending up above the flat roofs so as to form a convenient
parapet for the defenders against the arrows and even the guns of their
assailants. Very few of these Southwest Indians, however, possess
firearms, and as they also lack scaling ladders, it does not detract
from the effectiveness of the defence that none of the houses is above a
story in height. This last was also true of the rows of like buildings
laid off in streets within the square.

At the time, however, I had little opportunity to observe either this
Moorish architecture, which the Spaniards brought with them from Old
Spain, or the curious appearance of the tame Indians, who made up the
majority of the town's inhabitants. The corporal at once led me into the
presence of the commandant, who, finding that I claimed to be of French
blood, expressed himself in French as vastly astonished at the presence
of an American in this remote region, particularly in view of the
season.

Before we had finished our interview, I was no less astonished to learn
that I was not the first American to arrive in the country. This does
not refer to the French creole Le Lande, who had settled between here
and Santa Fe and had done so well with his stolen goods that he was
already known as a _rico_. Something over a year before our coming, one
of our daring Western fur-hunters named Pursley, an American by blood as
well as allegiance, had traversed the prairies from the Missouri, and
falling in with a great party of Kyoways and Comanches near our Grand
Peak, had come down with them to the Spanish settlements.

I received this account while dining with the commandant, he being so
hospitable as to invite me to his table, notwithstanding my tattered
and wretched appearance. But first, having learned my ostensible reason
for coming to New Mexico, he had sent off a soldier, post-haste, with
despatches to Governor Allencaster at Santa Fe.

After weeks and months of dieting on the flesh of wild game, much of the
time without salt, and even longer without so much as corn to vary the
monotony, it was only with the greatest effort that I could restrain
myself from gluttonizing on my host's fiery _chili con carne_, his hot
corn-cakes and beans, his delicious chocolate and _dulces_. All the time
he was repeating polite apologies for the meagreness of his fare. To me
it was no less than a banquet, and I feasted until prudence forced me to
deny myself another mouthful.

That night, for the first time in seven months, I slept upon a mattress,
which, according to the custom of New Spain, was laid upon the floor.
The nearest approach to a bedstead in this benighted land is a
bench-like bank of mud brick along the wall, in some of the houses.
Chairs and divans are none too plentiful, even in the homes of the
cultured rich, the people in general preferring to recline or to sit
Turk-fashion upon mats or mattresses laid along the floor.

Early in the morning I was informed that an escort was in waiting to
guide me to Santa Fe. The kindness of the commandant in providing me
with numerous articles of civilized comfort induced me to accede
without protest to his politely worded hint that it would be better for
me to leave behind my weapons and ammunition, which he promised to send
on in a few days.

Having given myself singly into the hands of the Spanish, I knew that
diplomacy was now my sole resource, the thought of a resort to force
being sheer madness.



CHAPTER XX

A MESSAGE TO MY LADY


During the journey to Santa Fe, while stopping over at the town of San
Juan, where I was treated with the utmost warmth of hospitality, I was
able to inform myself as to the prosperous condition of the trader Le
Lande, who had married and settled in the vicinity. But my apprehensions
as to my reception by the Governor of this remote province prevented me
from taking as deep an interest either in that rascal or in the strange
customs and appearance of these Mexican people as I should have felt in
easier circumstances.

Unlike Agua Caliente and some of the other small settlements we had
passed, I found Santa Fe a town widely scattered in the outskirts. Many
of the low adobe buildings which made up the bulk of the place stood
each in its tiny patch of field, which, early as was the season, the
people were beginning to cultivate with their rude ploughs and mattocks.
Within these suburbs, however, the houses crowded closer and closer
together, until they were for the most part separated only by streets
that were no less narrow and crooked than dirty. A more striking
difference between this two-century-old settlement and the ones
up-country was the presence of the two huge adobe churches which towered
among the hovels, all the more imposing for the contrast. Their windows,
like those of the better houses, were glazed with sheets of thin,
transparent talc.

I was at once taken past the rectangle of the soldiers' barracks to the
great open court, or plaza, in the midst of the town, where we came to
the house of the Governor. By this time I and my escort were surrounded
by a number of _mestizos_ and tame Indians, all of whom, however, drew
away when we entered the palace through an open, brick-paved portico, or
shed. After the plainness of the exterior, I was astonished by the
ornate furnishings of the rooms within, whose limed walls were hung with
bright-figured drapes and whose floors of beaten clay were spread with
skin rugs.

Little time was given me to wonder at what to my unaccustomed eyes
seemed most magnificent decorations. I was quickly shown on into a large
apartment, at the upper end of which sat a sallow-faced, corpulent
Spanish don. I had no need to look at the secretary and the other
attendants grouped about his high chair to realize that I was in the
presence of Don Joachin Allencaster. The harshness of his glance as I
was led before him was enough of proof; for until now, all whom I had
met, even to the most ignorant and dogmatic of the priests, had treated
me with the deference of true hospitality.

Not until this moment had I fully realized the wretchedness of my
appearance. Though the kindness of the commandant at Agua Caliente had
provided me with a bath and a cotton shirt, I still wore my tattered
buckskins; upon my head was my old coonskin cap, which had been half
singed by a fall in the fire; my limbs and feet were clad in moccasins
and leggings of fresh buffalo hide, the raw surface outward; while about
my shoulders my unkempt hair fell down in loose and shaggy locks, as
barbarous as the eight months' beard upon my lean, starved face.

"_Por Dios!_" exclaimed His Excellency. Having doubtless been informed
in the despatches that I claimed to be a Frenchman, he addressed me in
that language: "_Sacre!_ You have come here, the second American in two
years, to spy upon my province!"

"Your Excellency," I replied, "I had thought the Commandant of Agua
Caliente wrote you regarding the purpose of my visit to New Spain. As to
this Pursley, if it is to him you refer as my fellow spy, I had never
before so much as heard of the man until told at Agua Caliente. The
Commandant can tell you how astonished I was when he informed me of
Pursley's exploit in penetrating the wilderness. For my part, I should
surmise that he is no more than one of our venturesome fur-hunters. But
if you insist upon your suspicions, why not include Baptiste Le Lande
with us in a trio of spies?"

Throughout this the Governor had continued to regard me with great
austerity. Quite unmoved by my attempt at lightness, he now signed to
his secretary, and spoke to me in a most peremptory tone: "Your papers,
fellow!"

I drew out the documents relating to the Le Lande claim and handed them
over to the secretary. His Excellency demanded their purport, which I
gave as clearly and briefly as my French would permit.

"We shall see," he commented, when I ended my account. "Your papers will
be examined, and I will send for Le Lande. Meantime you will consider
yourself under arrest. You will be given quarters in the rooms assigned
for officers in confinement, but you are at liberty within the bounds of
the town, if accompanied by your guard."

With this, he appointed a corporal of the regular dragoons to attend
upon me both as guard and waiter, and I was promptly led out. During the
short delay which followed, I had no cause to complain of my treatment.
The corporal proved a most accommodating servant, and my meals were sent
to me from His Excellency's own table. In addition, the hospitality of
the leading people of Santa Fe was so cordial that I should have enjoyed
greatly the two days I had to wait, had it not been for my fears that
the Governor might detain me for an indefinite period, or send me
eastward out of the province, into the country of the Comanches.

When, therefore, he again called me before him, and stated that he had
inquired and found that Le Lande was incapable of discharging the claim
presented by me, I declared boldly that I knew this to be a mistake,
and that it appeared to me His Excellency was seeking to shelter a
refugee debtor of my country, in violation of the treaties between Spain
and the United States.

"Look to it, Your Excellency!" I concluded, with all the heat and
indignation I could affect. "Look to it! This is no light matter. The
man is an outright thief, and the treaty rights of Monsieur Morrison are
clear. I insist upon the payment of this claim. If I cannot obtain
justice of Your Excellency, I will appeal to the Governor-General."

This last stirred him out of the daze of astonishment into which he had
been thrown by the audacity of my heated protest. Governors of Spanish
provinces are not accustomed to being bearded by their inferiors in
rank, much less by lone foreigners suspected of espionage. But at my
mention of his superior, he found his voice.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, and I marked the change in his tone. "_Madre de
Dios!_ You would go to Chihuahua?"

"No offence to Your Excellency," I hastened to protest, affecting to
believe him alarmed for himself. "It may well be that your authority is
so limited that you cannot satisfy my claim. My complaint against your
refusal will be purely formal. In truth, I prefer to have the decision
of the Governor-General, if only to obtain a precedent in the
adjudication of similar claims which may be presented in other provinces
under his rule."

"_Por Dios!_ You wish to go to Chihuahua!" he repeated. I believe he
would have been less amazed had I urged him to let me go to the gallows.
"To Chihuahua! to Salcedo!" he murmured.

"Why not, Your Excellency?" I inquired.

His sallow cheeks darkened with a sudden return of his suspicions, and
he sought to transfix me with his glance.

"_Caramba!_" he muttered. "Tell me clearly how you came across all that
vast desert. You came from the northward. Did you then cross the
mountains?"

I described briefly that terrible march south and west from the Grand
Peak. He listened with growing wonderment.

"_Poder de Dios!_ It is impossible!" he cried. "Malgares has told me of
that gigantic peak and the sierra you crossed. It is not possible! The
Sangre de Cristo, and in midwinter--afoot!"

"Yet it is true, Your Excellency."

Again his eye sought to pierce me with its suspicious stare.

"Your party?" he demanded. "You have spoken of hunters. Who are
they?--and where?"

Having now some of the details of Pursley's adventures to copy, I told a
connected tale of having accompanied some Osages from St. Louis to the
Pawnee country, in search of the recreant Le Lande, when, learning of
his flight to New Mexico, I had wandered westward with a small party of
hunters to the Grand Peak and then southwest over the mountains, until
we came to what was supposed to be the Red River, where my companions
had stopped to hunt.

At the end of my recital, he sat for some moments studying me. Then,
with a most disconcerting suddenness: "Señor, you will honor me with
your presence at table."

He rose at the words, and leaving all the others gaping, conducted me
down a corridor to his dining-room. It was now high noon, and we found
the table already spread for the midday meal, which is the principal
repast of the day among the Spaniards in Mexico.

A plate was laid for myself opposite His Excellency's, and we sat down
in civilized fashion to a meal which would have graced the table of the
richest Spanish creole in all Louisiana. There were trout from the
neighboring streams, a variety of meats and fowl, good wheaten bread
altogether unlike the unappetizing corn _tortillas_ of the commonfolk,
chocolate and _dulces_, fine raisins from the Paso del Norte, and a
bottle or two of most excellent wine.

Throughout our repast His Excellency addressed himself to me as one
gentleman to another, so that I found myself continually in a stress of
excitement between apprehension and hope. Our conversation was for the
most part directed to European topics, dwelling much, as must every
discussion of transatlantic affairs, upon the career of that most
marvellous of men, the Emperor of the French.

But with the wine and the _cigarros_, His Excellency seemed to
recollect for the first time the small but none the less important
affairs of our own personal concern.

"I begin to be convinced, señor physician, that you are indeed a man of
genteel breeding," he said. "If, however, you will pardon the remark, I
have grave doubt whether a Frenchman of your education would commit so
many errors in the use of his native language."

I smiled. "_Mon Dieu!_ Your Excellency, we of St. Louis have not the
facilities for visiting _la belle_ France possessed by our fellow
creoles of New Orleans. It is a century or more since my ancestors came
to the New World."

"And you have dwelt much among the Anglo-Americans," he insinuated.

"It is true," I replied with candor. "I obtained my diploma as a
physician from the college of Columbia in the city of New York."

He stiffened with a sudden return of austerity. "Señor, I no longer
doubt that you are a _caballero_--a gentleman. I will not press you to
confess your ulterior motive in coming into the domains of His Most
Catholic Majesty. Yet, if you carry secret documents (I am disinclined
to have you searched), I ask you to give me your word whether or not you
carry such despatches."

"Your Excellency," I answered, "I give you my word that I do not. The
documents I handed over into Your Excellency's keeping were all I
brought with me."

"_Satanas!_" he cried, his face flushing with sudden violent anger.
"Such duplicity! Such treachery!"

"If you will be so kind as to explain, señor," I said with unaffected
astonishment.

"You hold to it? _Carrajo!_ How then of the packet in your bosom?"

"That?" I exclaimed, at once perceiving the cause of his continued
suspicion. Some one had spied upon me and seen the packet. I reached my
hand into my hunting-shirt, only to hesitate and draw it out again,
empty. It seemed a profanation to expose my treasures to his gaze.

"You pause! You dare not produce the packet! In it lies your
condemnation!" he cried.

The folly of my course flashed upon me. Why should I set a mere fanciful
sentiment against the lulling of his suspicions? If I did not myself
hand over the packet, he would have it taken from me by force.

He started to rise, but I caught the little bundle from my bosom and
reached it across the table. Instead of rising, he bent forward, and,
with forced deliberation, began to open the folds of the waxed parchment
cover. First exposed was the corner of the flag.

"Aha!" he exclaimed, his eyes flashing across at me in fieriest anger.
"Explain that, if you can!--a malicious desecration of the flag of His
Most Catholic Majesty!"

"Not so!" I flung back at him. "Look what is marked upon it. Those
letters were a message to me. I found it within the undisputed
boundaries of my country, at the town of the Pawnee Republicans. It was
a message to me, and I took it, for it was mine."

"Ah! ah! a message! You confess, señor spy!"

I pointed to the last unwrapped fold. He turned it open, his face keen
with exultant expectation. The now powdered leaves of the magnolia bloom
puzzled him for the moment. Not so the handkerchief. His eye was
instantly caught by the initials in the corner. Without a second glance,
he averted his gaze until he had drawn up the edge of the snowy damask
cloth over my stained and crumpled treasures.

"_Perdone, hermano!_" he murmured, with a most apologetic bow. "Be
pleased to regain your property."

With that he left the table and stood with his back to me until I had
folded up the packet and replaced it within my bosom.

"Your Excellency," I said, "the world has heard much about the
chivalrous gallantry of your people. I am now convinced the half has not
been told of it!"

"_Muchas gracias_, señor!" he returned. "You pardon my stupid error?
Yours is the act of a true _caballero!_ If the question does not trench
upon delicate ground, may I venture an inquiry as to the possible
relation of your daring journey--?"

"I have reason to believe that the lady is at Chihuahua, Your
Excellency," I explained.

"Ah! ah! now I perceive! Yet what an _amor_ to bring any man across the
vast desert!--above all, over the Sangre de Cristo in midwinter!"

"It was the barrier which lay between myself and my lady, Your
Excellency."

"_Por Dios!_ You _Americanos!_ You will yet be flying to the moon!
Malgares told me fully of the perils of the desert, and he had six
hundred men, and it was in the pleasant season. But one man or a mere
handful, however brave--_Santisima Virgen!_"

"Malgares?" I repeated.

"Lieutenant Malgares, who led the expedition to the savages of the East
and North. On your way to Chihuahua you will have opportunity to learn
that he is a true _caballero_."

"Chihuahua?" I exclaimed. "Your Excellency will then permit me to go to
Chihuahua?"

"_Quien sabe?_" he smiled. "God alone knows the future! But I will send
despatches, and it may well happen that they will not be in disfavor of
your going. But as for the decision, that is with His Excellency, Don
Nimesio Salcedo, the Commandant-General."

A sudden thought aided me to rally from my disappointment.

"Your Excellency," I asked, "if I should seal and address one article
contained in my packet before your eyes, might I not ask the favor that
it be delivered at Chihuahua to the lady addressed?"

"_Santa Maria!_" he returned, "it is always a pleasure to aid a lover.
Come now! We will seal your message with my own seal. There are those
between us and your Dulcinea who might otherwise peer within the cover.
The address you shall write upon it in private with my own quill, and
none shall see the name of the señorita. She is not married?" (I signed
that she was not.) "None shall see her name except my messenger when he
opens the despatch-pouch for delivery at Chihuahua."

"_Muchas gracias_, Your Excellency!" I murmured, overcome.

"Ah! ah!" he murmured, leaning upon my bony shoulder as we started. "The
years pass, but I, too, once had my romance, señor!"



CHAPTER XXI

HO FOR CHIHUAHUA!


So it was that for the time being I found myself received into the
society of the most powerful official of the North Province with a favor
as cloudless and warm as the blue sky above his chief town. Yet, on the
other hand, having been requested by His Excellency to prescribe for the
dropsy with which he was afflicted, I laid myself open to trouble by
giving a treatment different from that previously prescribed by the monk
who was his regular physician. The result was soon evident in the
poisoning of His Excellency's mind against the heretic.

But in the few hours of practical liberty which intervened, I had the
good fortune to meet my fellow-countryman, James Pursley. He proved to
be one of our typical gaunt, long-legged Kentuckians, with a bearded
face as resolute and formidable as that of our fighting sergeant Meek.
Still better proof of his daring character lay in the fact that he had
been wandering on the prairies for two years or more before he fell in
with the great company of Comanches and Kyoways whose encampment we had
found on the headwaters of the Platte, and with whom he had come south
to the vicinity of the Spanish settlements. Venturing into Santa Fe, he
had been fairly well received by the Spanish, and though forbidden to
leave certain bounds, was otherwise free, and doing quite well as a
carpenter.

As my attendant corporal knew nothing else than Spanish, Pursley and I
were able to talk with the utmost freedom. When, in the midst of the
account of his truly remarkable adventures, he told how he had found
gold on the upper reaches of the Platte, westerly of the Grand Peak, and
how he had refused to divulge the place to the Spaniards because it
might lie within the bounds of Louisiana Territory, I became so
convinced of his stanch loyalty and patriotism that I confided in him
the circumstances of our party.

He was immensely interested, but shook his head over my suggestion that
he should attempt to join the expedition. He did not see how this could
be of any benefit either to the party or to himself, especially, he
explained, as Allencaster had already sent out well-mounted spies to
find and report on the party of hunters with whom I claimed
companionship. He, Pursley, could not hope to overtake these expert
horsemen; while, on the other hand, if caught trying to escape, he would
surely be jailed in the terrible _calabozo_.

In the midst of our argument of the question, I was summoned into the
presence of the Governor. He met me with a frown, and showed how closely
I had been watched by peremptorily ordering me to hold no further
communication with Pursley. My attempt at a French shrug flung him into
a passion, in which he decreed my exile to San Fernandez, a tiny village
four days south of Santa Fe, there to remain in the charge of Lieutenant
Malgares until word should come from Chihuahua.

Finding His Excellency thus once more harshly disposed, I was not
altogether reluctant at being banished, more especially as my exile was
in the direction I wished to travel. Nor did I regret the change when I
came to San Fernandez and made the acquaintance of Lieutenant Don
Faciendo Malgares.

He was, I soon learned, the son of one of the royal judges of the
Kingdom of New Spain, and immensely wealthy. But neither his birth nor
his wealth prevented him from being the most courteous gentleman I have
ever met. That he was a daring and dashing officer was evident from his
modest account of that remarkable excursion through the heart of the
Comanche country and north to the Pawnees.

The question of his expedition chanced to come up within a week after my
arrival, and having already gauged his gallant character, I felt free to
rally him upon his invasion of our domain.

"_Nom de Dieu!_" I mocked, as he concluded by telling how his party had
returned southward from the Arkansas, along the outer face of the front
range of mountains, and into Santa Fe through an easy pass eastward of
that town. "_Nom de Dieu!_ you invade territory indisputably ours with a
force little short of a regiment; yet when I would repay the
compliment,--one lone man, lost in the Western wilds, your righteous
Governor has a mind to garrotte me!"

"Not he, señor," replied Malgares. "Rest assured he will leave that to
the decision of the Governor-General."

"He will send me to Chihuahua!" I exclaimed.

"I fear as much, señor. There can be little doubt that General Salcedo
will order you before him."

"_Quien sabe?_" I muttered, affecting a doleful tone. My fear had been
that I might be sent the other way. A sudden thought brought my hand to
my bosom. "_Perdone_, señor lieutenant, if I seem impertinent, but is it
usual for Spanish officers to present savages with banners embroidered
by the ladies?"

He stared at me blankly. "Embroidered banners?"

"I chanced to visit that Pawnee town some three weeks after yourself.
Examining the flag you left, I observed upon its lower corner--"

"Ah!" he interrupted, "I comprehend. The flag from Señorita Vallois. But
I assure you, Señor Robinson, it was the lady's own whim. She requested
me to fly her banner at the point where I should make nearest approach
to your settlements."

"Ah!" I exclaimed, in turn, masking my delight with difficulty. "So your
Spanish señoritas still send out their knights errant bearing their
colors."

"True," he replied. "Yet you mistake in part. It was not Señora Malgares
who gave me the banner in question, but her friend, Señorita Vallois."

"Vallois?" I repeated;--"Vallois? That is a French name."

"No less is it Spanish, señor; though it is in point that my friend Don
Pedro claims descent from French royalty. One can well believe the claim
in the presence of his niece."

"My word to that!" I cried. "She's the most beautiful lady under
heaven!"

"_Santisima Virgen!_" he exclaimed. "You know her?"

"I had the honor of meeting her in my own country."

By a flash of intuition he divined all on the instant. "_Dios!_" he
murmured, and he swept me a wide bow. "A love that could draw a man
across that vast desolation of desert and sierra! Most unjust the fate
that would not requite the deed!"

"You have seen her. Do you wonder that I should have made the venture?"

"Less than a year has passed since I won my own lady," he said. "The
Virgin grant that I may be the one to escort you to Chihuahua! I have
not seen my señora since I marched north, last year."

When a Spaniard opens his heart to you, count on it you have found a
friend. I nodded understandingly.

"Ah, my Dolores! my _niña_!" he sighed.

"But she is yours; you have already won her; while I--!"

He nodded, in turn. "My Dolores writes that every bachelor of Chihuahua,
from the greatest _haciendados_ to the youngest sub-lieutenants, are
suitors for the hand of Señorita Alisanda. Yet take heart. At the last
writing, not even Medina had won recognition from her."

"Medina?" I inquired, full of jealous inquietude.

"Salcedo's favorite aide-de-camp,--a braggadocio fellow."

"Could you not take it upon yourself to hurry me south at once?" I
urged.

"_Poder de Dios!_ I, a soldier, to march without orders? But be assured.
The order will come before many weeks. In the meantime we should
prepare." He looked me over smilingly. "It will never do for you to come
before your lady in this savage costume. Great is my regret that in this
remote village we cannot find you garments after the European mode, yet
there are worse attires than that of a Spanish country gentleman--a
_caballero rusticano_."

Notwithstanding my protests against imposing upon his generosity, he
insisted upon at once conducting me to a man qualified to tailor the
Spanish modes. Within the next fortnight I was completely fitted out _à
la Española_ from top to toe. But although it was the first time I had
ever worn the costume, I cannot say that in the company of similarly
attired Spaniards I felt ill at ease in these garments. In part at least
they were well adapted to the needs of this hot, arid climate,
particularly the broad-brimmed shade-hat, or sombrero. Silk stockings
and Spanish breeches, buttoned down the outer seams and open below the
knees, took the place of my tattered pantaloons and buffalo leggings.
For belt I wore a sash of scarlet silk, with ends dangling like a lady's
drape. Above it was a waistcoat as large as the jacket was short, while
the circular cloak over all gave me quite the air of an hidalgo. My one
difficulty was with the stiff jack-boots upon which jangled my
barbarously gaffed spurs. After months of freedom in pliant moccasins,
my feet found this hard confinement barely endurable even when I was
mounted.

In return for the numberless courtesies of Malgares, I was able to make
part payment by practising gratis among the people. It was, at the same
time, a most interesting experience to come into intimate contact with
the population, from the _gachupines_, or Spaniards of Old Spain, and
the native-born Spaniards, whom we call creoles, to the far more
numerous _mestizos_, or mixed-bloods, and their half-brothers, the
pueblo, or tame Indians.

One day I had gone up to see a patient at Atrisco, a little village next
below Albuquerque. It was, as I remember, the seventh of March, exactly
a month after I had left my comrades at the stockade in the valley. The
Commandant, at whose house I was staying, had borrowed for me a Spanish
grammar from Father Ambrosio, and I was deep in the verbs, when my host
stepped into the room, with a bow and a sonorous introduction:
"_Perdone, hermano!_ Present _usted_ Señor el Capitan Mun-go-meri-paike,
your compatriot."

I started up, and found myself confronting--Pike!

He stared back at me, half in doubt that it could be I, so vast was the
change in my appearance and health.

"John!" he exclaimed. "It cannot be!"

"Yet it is," I replied, aglow with delight.

There could be no mistaking him, if only that he still wore his scarlet
fur-lined cap and blanket cloak,--though much of his dress was new, and
his face presented far other than the ghastly, emaciated aspect it had
worn at our parting.

But as I reached out to clasp his hand, he suddenly recalled our
agreement not to recognize one another, and drew back with feigned
hauteur. "Who are you, sir? I do not know you."

"'T is of no use, Montgomery!" I cried. "I cannot hide my friendship. I
should call out to you though they had the garrotte at my neck. What is
more, the secret is out. I have already confessed my connection with the
expedition to Lieutenant Malgares, who, though a Spaniard, has proved
himself a true friend. I could no longer endure the thought of
concealment from him. It has not cost me his friendship; and I am
prepared to risk the worst his superiors can inflict upon me."

"No, no, John!" he protested. "We shall all come through safely, and you
shall win your lady."

"Ah! Alisanda! My thanks for the good wish. But you?" I demanded. "Are
you and the men also prisoners in the hands of that capricious
Governor?"

"Prisoners!" he repeated, dropping his hand on his sword-hilt. "Does
this look like it? No! They lured us into Santa Fe with false promises.
But my men still carry their guns and ammunition. Let the tyrants so
much as raise a finger against us, and we will flee to their enemies the
Apaches, and lead the savages against their settlements!"

"We could do it!" I cried. "Yet first--"

"First you would go to Chihuahua; and so would I," he assented, his blue
eyes twinkling. "I made a loud protest when this over-wise Governor said
it was necessary for me to go south. But we are going as 'guests under
constraint'--not as prisoners, please note, John. The addle-pated don
did not know enough to send us packing the shortest way out of the
country, to the Red River,--which, it seems, lies far to the eastward,
in the Comanche nation. No! he must needs march us down through the
heart of the Northern Provinces. Could we ask more?"

"Not if Salcedo sets you free."

"Sets me free? No less yourself, John!"

I shook my head dubiously. But at the moment there entered a Captain
D'Almansa, whom I had met at Santa Fe, and who, I now learned, was
conducting down the Lieutenant and his men to place them under the
escort of Malgares. When Pike explained to him that I had been a member
of the expedition, the old captain smiled knowingly. Few among the
Spaniards had doubted my connection with the mad _Americanos_ after the
party was brought in.

We left D'Almansa in the house, seated over a bottle of ardent spirits
with my host, and went out to where the six privates who had come with
the Lieutenant from the stockade were in waiting. I was rejoiced to see
that, though still for the most part clad in their tatters, their
rounding cheeks showed the welcome effects of Spanish hospitality, and
that the ones worst frosted now hardly limped in their gait. Not one of
them had been required to walk a mile since leaving the fort, horses
having been provided them from the first.

It was no less affecting than amusing to see the manner in which,
obedient to orders, they stared at me with an air of stolid indifference
even when I came up to them with their Lieutenant. But the moment he had
explained that all was discovered, they crowded about me with
exclamations of joy. It was truly a happy meeting for us all, despite
the uncertainty of what might befall us in the hands of the tyrannical
Spanish authorities.

As soon as I had sketched my adventures, Pike, in turn, told theirs.

"For several days after you left," he began, "I spent the time in
hunting, reading, and exploring the valley around the fort. But a
fortnight ago, while out with Brown, we fell in with a dragoon and an
Indian of the militia, who, after telling us of your arrival at Santa
Fe, insisted upon following us to the fort. In the morning, after we had
made them a few gifts, they started back to Santa Fe, from which place
they had been sent out to spy upon us."

"True!" I broke in. "Allencaster must have suspected from the first that
my party of hunters was no less than the American expedition. I have
learned that Señor Lisa sent word from St. Louis of the expedition's
plans, to the Spanish authorities in Texas. All the Northern Provinces
have been on the lookout for us for months, and Malgares has told me
that the real purpose of his great expedition was either to capture us
or to turn us back."

"That I have myself learned," replied Pike. "Well, they have us now. May
they have joy of their find! But to return. The same day that the spies
left, Jackson and his party came in with Menaugh. But poor Sparks and
Dougherty, alas! neither had been able to take a dozen steps, and the
others could not bear them through those deep drifts."

"Good God!" I cried. "They left their comrades again, in that terrible
valley, famished, crippled, sick! Had I but gone--!"

"No, John, they are not famished, nor are they sick. Jackson found them
well nourished. The gangrene had not spread. They will recover. You
yourself said they would recover if the disease did not spread in this
time. Jackson restocked them with meat, and within three days after his
return Meek and Miller volunteered for a second rescue-party. As their
orders were to go first for Baroney and Smith and the horses, there can
be no doubt that this time our poor lads will be brought in."

"Then they are not at the fort?" I asked.

"I cannot say. They had not yet come in when the Spanish dragoons came
to lure us away. But you know the obstinacy and combativeness of Meek.
_He_ will bring them in. Yes, by now they must be over the mountains and
on their way to Santa Fe, guided by the Spaniards left at the fort for
that purpose. Allencaster has promised to send them after us as soon as
they can march. By the way, he has complimented you with the return of
your rifle and pistols. As I positively refused to be disarmed, the
diplomatic supposition is that we need our weapons to provide against
attacks of the Apaches."

"Your papers?" I inquired, "all those invaluable charts and journals?"

He gave me a rueful look. "The enemy have them trapped in my little
paper trunk, most of them. When we first came into Santa Fe all the more
valuable ones were concealed in the clothes of these lads." He shook his
head sadly at the six privates. "But the over-hospitable ladies plied
them so freely with wine and ardent spirits that I feared some of the
papers might be lost during their tipsy antics. So I returned to the
trunk all except your copy of my courses. Immediately afterwards the
trunk was seized, and is now in the charge of our escort."

"They may be returned," I argued.

He shook his head.

"You say they lured you into Santa Fe?"

"Upon the report of his spies, Allencaster sent out a force of a hundred
men, under pretence that the Yutah Indians were about to attack us.
They were extremely courteous, and invited me to come into Santa Fe,
stating that the Governor wished to know our reasons for entering his
territories. When I had expressed our strategic supposition that we were
on the Red River, and they had explained that these were the waters of
the Rio del Norte, I at once hauled down our flag and agreed to
accompany them.

"As with yourself, Allencaster was at first exceedingly haughty to me.
But after I had expressed my opinion of their invasion of our
territories, and stated that I had come in merely to be directed how to
find the Red River, that my party might follow it down to Natchitoches,
he mellowed exceedingly. I believe the old fox thought he was playing me
a sly trick in thus sending us south through the heart of his country."

"He will be hoist by his own petard!" I cried. "Papers or no papers,
Salcedo is bound to free you at least, and you have a fine memory. My
fate will not affect the splendid advantages which will accrue to our
country from this blunder of the dons."

"Your fate?" he demanded.

"I am now a spy confessed. But enough of that when we reach Chihuahua!
Until then we shall have no cause for complaint. We go under the escort
of Malgares, than whom there is no truer gentleman under the sky."

Pike shook his head doubtfully.

But the next day I had the great pleasure of introducing him to
Malgares, who promptly talked himself into the Lieutenant's good
graces, and entertained us that evening by ordering a _fandango_ to be
danced in our honor by the prettiest girls of the vicinity.

Of our southward journey, which we began on the ninth of March, I will
mention only that the first stage alone carried us some three hundred
and fifty miles down the valley of the Rio del Norte, to El Paso. The
most prominent features of this trip were a notorious arid desert called
the Jornada del Muerto, or Journey of the Dead Man, which we avoided by
a long detour, and two ranges of mountains to the eastward of the
river,--the glittering, snow-clad Sierra Blanca and the Sierra de los
Organos,--in whose fastnesses lurk the murderous Apaches, said by
Spaniards to be the most terrible of all Indians.

The second day south of El Paso we had to toil across a region of
shifting sand hills similar to those at the west end of our pass through
the Sangre de Cristo. The stop that evening was made at the Presidio of
Carrazal, where, for the first time since our meetings with Governor
Allencaster, we were received without the effusive hospitality to which
we had become accustomed. When Malgares introduced us to the Commandant,
the latter bowed with utmost coolness, and muttered in Spanish an
ungracious statement to the effect that Malgares was welcome to his
quarters, but that _los hereticos_ could lodge themselves, together with
their privates of infantry, in the common hovel provided for
travellers.

Malgares bowed his grandest. "_Perdone_, señor!" he replied. "I could
not bring myself to trouble your hospitality. What is good enough for my
friends is good enough for me."

Such was Malgares's stateliness of manner that the Commandant, although
his superior officer, was bowing in most apologetic fashion before our
friend had ceased speaking.

"_Perdone, hermano!_" he murmured. "I erred most deplorably in imagining
that _los señores Americanos_ came as persons under constraint. _Con
permiso_, I hasten to rectify my error by urging them to honor my humble
abode with their presence."

"I fear that the Señor Commandant will have to excuse _los Americanos_,"
I said.

"The sky is ever a welcome roof to us," added Pike, no less offended
than myself.

"But that is impossible, señores!" urged the Commandant, with growing
concern. He turned appealingly to Malgares--"Pray persuade them, Don
Faciendo! Should they refuse my hospitality I could never forgive
myself!"

"From the first our countrymen have given them the warmest of welcomes,"
remarked Malgares, his chin still high.

"_Por Dios!_ Do I deny it? Yet consider, I have but now received the
gazette from the City of Mexico."

"The gazette?" inquired Malgares, unbending.

"With the account of the terrible Colonel Burr."

"Señor, we will be pleased to accept your hospitality," said Pike.

Immediately there was a general exchange of amicable bows, and the
Commandant conducted us to his quarters. I could see that Malgares was
hardly less eager than Pike and myself to hear the news about Burr. But
diplomacy, no less than etiquette, compelled us to repress our burning
curiosity until our host had exemplified his hospitality with a light
evening meal. As we rose from the table, he remarked that we might
better enjoy our _cigarros_ under the starlight, on the _azotea_.

"_Perdone, amigo_," replied Malgares, suavely. "You spoke of the
gazette. I would hardly venture to say how old was the last gazette
which I saw at Santa Fe."

"_Con permiso_, señores," said the Commandant, bowing to Pike and
myself.

At his command the attendant fetched the gazette, which he took into his
own hands and tendered to us, with a polite bow. When we shook our heads
over the Spanish text, he waved us back to our seats, and proceeded to
translate into French a most extraordinary mess of wild and
contradictory rumors regarding Aaron Burr.

The redoubtable Colonel had descended the Ohio with an immense army; he
had invaded the Province of Texas; he was marching upon Santa Fe; he had
captured New Orleans; he was operating against Pensacola, with a view to
the conquest of the Floridas; he had joined forces with the British
fleet and had sailed to invest Vera Cruz; he was fighting the Eastern
_Americanos_; no! the atheist Jacobin Jefferson had sent a second army
to help him to conquer New Spain. Only the firm stand of the honest and
most upright _Americano_ Commander-in-Chief, General Wilkinson, had
prevented _los hereticos_ from breaking their sacred pledge by crossing
the Sabine River into the disputed territory. Risking the anger of the
hypocritical Jefferson, the brave Wilkinson had met the treacherous and
ferocious Burr in a terrific battle; had defeated the desperadoes and
either slain or captured the would-be conqueror of the domains of His
Most Catholic Majesty, King Ferdinand.

So the account ran--a bushel of chaff heaped about a few scant grains of
fact. Yet even out of these garbled and fantastic details of an
evidently panic-stricken Spanish scribe, we could extract at least an
inkling of the truth. There could be no doubt that Colonel Burr had
actually embarked upon one or more of his venturesome enterprises, and
that there had ensued more or less public agitation, if not an armed
conflict.

To my wider knowledge of the Colonel's schemes many things were clear
which puzzled and bewildered my friend, and I was not altogether
surprised to see by Malgares's look that he understood the situation
nearly as well as myself. When, however, at the first opportunity, I
sought to obtain an intimation that he had been a sharer in the Mexican
end of the great project, he avoided the inquiry with his usual tactful
reserve.

For my own part, I concluded that my worst suspicions regarding the
treasonable intentions of Colonel Burr were all too true. Evidently
relying upon Wilkinson to force hostilities on the Texas border, he had
planned to sweep down the Ohio and the Mississippi, with the rallying
cry of "War with Spain!" to bring the frontiersmen flocking after him in
a vast army. With all the loyal-hearted marching to the conquest of
Mexico under Wilkinson and Jackson, it would then have been a simple
matter to seize New Orleans, declare a separation of the West from the
East, and appeal to the States and Territories west of the Alleghanies
to join in creating an empire which should extend westward to the far
distant Pacific and south to remote Panama.

That the West was, and for years had been, far too loyal to listen to
the traitorous proposal, was not the question. The point was, that, had
Wilkinson supported the arch-plotter so far as the seizure of New
Orleans, the result would have been a bloody internecine war among our
people, with France and England alike gloating upon our dissensions, and
waiting, eager-fingered, to tear us asunder at the first opportunity.

So it was that, taking matters at their face value in so far as I could
conjecture the facts, I gladly gave General Wilkinson credit for the
part he seemed to have played in checkmating the alleged invasion of the
lower Mississippi by Burr.

The manner in which our host watched our faces as he read the gazette to
us, explained the discourtesy of his first greeting. It was evident that
he regarded our expedition as a reconnoitring party sent out by the
hated _Americanos_ to explore a road for the expected army of invasion.

For my part, I firmly believe it was in fact so intended by General
Wilkinson, who had been known to boast that he could take all New Mexico
in a single campaign. But whether or not he had intended to use our
discoveries to further the treasonable projects of Burr, I will leave to
the verdict of History. At the time, it was enough for me that he had
not joined forces with Burr, but, on the contrary, it would seem had
averted the possibility of the dashing Colonel's capture of New
Orleans.



CHAPTER XXII

GLIMPSES OF FATE


The day before our arrival at Chihuahua, when Lieutenant Malgares
despatched ahead a courier with letters to his wife's father and General
Salcedo, I was suddenly struck with the fact that this First of April,
like that other Day of All Fools out of Philadelphia, was bringing me to
the señorita high in hopes yet none the less uncertain. Then I had
chilled with the dread that my journey's end would find her dear
presence vanished beyond my reach; now I suffered the far more poignant
fear that I might find her heart lost to another.

With such a thought lying like a torpid snake upon my breast, it is not
strange that I slept ill that night. But I was astir in the morning no
earlier than Malgares, who betrayed the liveliest apprehension over his
coming interview with the Commandant-General. It was the first time that
he had been permitted to come south to the seat of government since
leaving it for his daring expedition into our territories, nearly a year
past. Pike and I were astonished to find that he was not beaming with
expectation of the rewards his gallant exploit deserved. Instead he rode
along between us in silence, his fine Castilian face creased with lines
of anxiety, almost of dread.

We were now passing over the last few miles of the vast
mountain-encircled plain which surrounds the city of Chihuahua and upon
which, as well as similar vast ranges in this Province of Nuevo Viscaya,
_los haciendados_ pasture herds of thousands and tens of thousands of
cattle. Only in the most favored spots was the dreary landscape broken
by trees, most of them the acacia-like mesquite, which here grows to a
height of thirty or forty feet. There was little cultivation of the soil
in this region, whose inhabitants depend upon cattle and the rich silver
mines for their subsistence. A far from pleasant proof of this fact was
to be seen in the great number of smoking ore furnaces and the enormous
extent of the cinder heaps all about the city.

From the time we swung into our high-pommelled, high-cantled saddles, my
gaze was fixed through the smoke haze of the furnaces upon the lofty
towers of the _Parroquia_--the magnificent parish church of
Chihuahua--and the older and lower structure of the Jesuit Church of the
Campañia. Noticing my intentness, even in his distraction, Malgares
courteously told the story of how the _Parroquia_ had been paid for by a
contribution from the silver produced by the great Santa Eulalia mine,
in all something over a million dollars, estimated in our money.

Aside from the _Parroquia_ and a few other imposing stone edifices, such
as the royal treasury, the hospital, the military academy, and the
three or four lesser churches, the city of Chihuahua proved to be
interesting but not magnificent. A few of the private buildings were of
stone and of more than one story, but the greater part of the city was
built of the ubiquitous unbaked mud brick.

Passing within sight of the huge arches of the great aqueduct, or
waterway, which bends around from the south to the east side of the
city, we at last found ourselves in the neat, close outskirts of
Chihuahua. Our course carried us toward the plaza through the better
streets, and it was evident from the number of ladies who crowded out
into their balconies to see us pass that the news of our coming had been
announced.

That Malgares was well and favorably known among these bright-eyed
señoras and señoritas soon became apparent as we swept along at the head
of our clattering, swashbuckling dragoons. Fans were waved, _rebozas_
and mantillas fluttered, and greetings called. Despite the anxiety which
damped his spirit, our companion responded with the most gallant of bows
and compliments.

In the midst, a gay young señorita, more daring than her sisters, cried
out: "_Viva, los Americanos!_"

Our response, I trust, was as gallant in spirit if not in effect as the
bows of Malgares. I qualify because Pike had to endure the mortification
of riding beneath the gaze of all those sparkling eyes in a costume
better fitting a backwoods farmer than a military gentleman. He was
still in his scarlet cap and blanket cloak. Yet, encouraged by our
acknowledgment of the first greeting, others of the ladies caught up the
cry, until we found ourselves being welcomed no less warmly and
frequently than Malgares himself.

This should have been fair enough augury to reassure the most despondent
of travellers. But as we jingled past house after house, I found myself,
between bows, scanning the gay groups on the balconies with a sinking
heart. We were nearing the plaza. I could see the trees between the
blank, bare walls of the dwellings which flanked the narrow street. In a
little more we should pass the last of the balconies,--and I had seen no
sign of my lady.

We neared the last balcony. Upon it were only three ladies, one of whom
held back behind the others, so much of her head and shoulders as showed
being muffled in a silk _reboza_, the Mexican head-drape or shawl. The
other two leaned eagerly forward over the balustrade, and the younger, a
plump beauty with the blackest and most brilliant of eyes, flashed at
Malgares a look that told me she was his wife, even before he called to
her in terms of extravagant endearment. Unlike so many of the Spanish
marriages, his had been a love match.

The señora and her yet plumper companion at the rail called down a
welcome to _los Americanos_. Pike and I swept off our hats and bowed our
handsomest. I straightened and looked up. Malgares had not checked his
horse for an instant, so that we were now opposite the balcony, and I,
being on the right, was almost directly beneath it. My heart gave a
great leap. Smiling down upon me, over the rail, I saw the lovely face
of my lady. I started to cry out her name: "Al--"

But already her finger was on her scarlet lips. I checked myself so
quickly that my exclamation sounded more like an "Ah!"

My lady let fall her _reboza_ over her face and drew back out of view.
When at last I gave over craning my head about, Malgares met me with a
smile. "So you have discovered her already, Don Juan!" he remarked in
French.

"My señorita!" I murmured. "She is the loveliest lady in the world!"

"The most beautiful--that is true, but I cannot admit that she is the
loveliest," he returned, with the loyalty of a true gentleman.

"I trust soon to repeat that last to your señora!" I exclaimed. "She was
the one to whom you called."

He bowed in confirmation of my surmise. "It is the house of Señor
Vallois. That other was Señora Marguerite Vallois, his wife. The house
of my wife's father is on the cross-street. She came to the house of her
friends to see me pass, for she knew I could not turn out of my direct
way to the _palacio_."

"What! Not a few moments to greet your lady after an absence of almost a
year?" I cried.

"This is not a free republic as is your country. Our ruler--" He checked
himself, and looked from me to Pike with an anxious glance. "Friends, I
have not darkened your journey with sombre anticipations. But now is the
time for warning. Do not be surprised if a few hours hence you find
yourselves in the _calabozo_."

"No!" said Pike, without raising his voice, but speaking in a tone of
indomitable resolution. "Your people may kill us, Don Faciendo, but they
shall neither disarm nor imprison us so long as there is breath left in
our bodies. My men have their orders."

Malgares shook his head sadly. "You free-born _Americanos_! You do not
yet know what it means to stand before a despot!" He glanced back over
his shoulder as if fearful of being overheard. The nearest of the escort
was beyond earshot. He drew in a deep breath, and murmured bitterly:
"You see what it means. I am not accounted a coward, yet I turn cold at
the very thought of the man who can dishonor me."

"Dishonor!" I repeated.

"Death is a little thing! But who does not fear a life--or death--of
disgrace?"

Our looks assured him of our sympathy. We came into the _alamo_, or
shaded ride, through the plaza. He pointed across at the fort-like mass
of the Governor's residence. "There lies the fate of all the Northern
Provinces, from the borders of Louisiana Territory to the Pacific, in
the grasp of one man!"

"You have an appeal to His Catholic Majesty," remarked Pike.

Malgares shrugged his shoulders in the manner of a Frenchman, a
gesture of which we would have considered his haughty pride incapable.
"It is a long journey to Old Spain to one who would oppose the
Commandant-General, and a far longer journey through the Court to the
Hall of Justice. No, _amigos_. Be advised. Discretion is sometimes the
better part of valor. Diplomacy wins many victories beyond reach of the
sword."

"You have our thanks, Don Faciendo," replied my friend, soberly. "I
shall not forget that I am here as an officer of the Army of the
Republic. My first and only concern is the interests of my country, and
I will use all means to conserve those interests."

We were by now approaching the great arched gateway which gaped in the
centre of the _palacio's_ stuccoed _façade_. The guard turned out with a
smartness which I could see impressed Pike not a little. There was a
moment's halt, and then we all clattered through the tunnel-like archway
into the brick-paved court enclosed by the building.

This was not the first _patio_ we had entered, but it was by far the
largest. Here and there the court was ornamented with small trees and
potted shrubs, some already in flower. A line of them screened off in
the rear the view of the kitchens and stables. All around this court ran
the arched entrances of the building's inner tiers of rooms, the gallery
of the upper story being reached with outside stairways in opposite
corners.

As the audience chamber was on the lower floor, we were ushered with
Malgares into the hall of the guards by one of the aides-de-camp, a
heavy-set, dark-browed Andalusian whom Malgares introduced as Lieutenant
Don Jesus Maria de Gonzales y Medina. Our six privates were left outside
in the care of the dragoons of the escort, with whom they had long since
come to the best of terms.

Word had at once been taken in to the Captain-General that we were
awaiting his pleasure. Presently an aide appeared and bowed to Malgares.
This left Pike and me seated alone on a stone bench, under the eyes of
the guard and of a rabble of house and stable servants, who had pressed
in to gape at those strange creatures, _los Anglo-Americanos_. It was no
easy test for my temper to bear, nor, I judge, for Pike's. Added to
this, we were by now fairly on needles and pins as to the manner in
which this despotic ruler should choose to receive us.

Lieutenant Medina had withdrawn. In his place appeared a ferret-eyed
little Frenchman, who snuffled complaints of how he had been abused in
this vile land, and sought to draw from us expressions of opinion
regarding the Spanish Government. Suspecting him to be a spy, Pike
pointed to the outer door, and gave him his _congé_ in Spanish: "_Vaya,
carrejo!_"

The scoundrel went, followed by a muffled yet none the less hearty laugh
over his discomfiture from the rough, honest soldiers. After a time
Medina returned with a sandy, pale-eyed but well-built young officer
whom he introduced as Alferez Don Juan Pedro Walker. The newcomer
hastened to explain, in English, that he was the same John Peter Walker
of New Orleans who in 1798 aided Mr. Ellicott in surveying the Florida
line.

At this moment Malgares appeared in the doorway of the audience chamber,
and requested Pike to enter. I started to follow, but he waved me back,
with an anxious frown. This boded ill for us. To conceal my concern, I
expressed to Walker my surprise that an American should have entered the
service of Spain. He answered quickly that he was not my countryman,
since his father was English and his mother French, and he had been born
and reared in New Orleans under Spanish rule.

While he was explaining this, in rather an apologetic tone, Medina was
called away. There followed a summons to Walker to attend upon the
Governor-General, and I found myself left quite alone in the midst of
the gaping, muttering rabble. This was no throng of simple, hospitable
rustics such as I had met and liked in the North Province; but a stable
and kitchen mob, the low scullions and hostlers and lackeys of a great
man, puffed with reflected pride and saucy with second-hand arrogance.

Soon I began to overhear jeers and scurrilous flings, of which the word
"spy" was the least galling. Before long all my apprehensions as to the
Governor-General were drowned in the swelling tide of my indignation and
anger. It was unendurable to sit for what seemed an endless time before
the insolent leers and coarse raillery of this scum. The soldiers looked
on, without attempting either to join in their scoffs or to silence
them.

At last, when I was about to seize the foremost two of the rascals by
the scruff of the neck and crack their heads together, the aide-de-camp
Medina sauntered back from out in the court. I cried to him sharply in
Spanish: "Señor lieutenant! do you not know whether it is time to take
me in?"

Such at least was what I intended to say. But, in my heat, I must have
slipped on my Spanish verb. The aide, mistaking me to mean that I had
been summoned before the Governor-General, immediately ushered me into
the audience chamber.

My first glance gave me a general impression of a large apartment,
severe in its furnishings; the second took in a table at which sat Pike
and Walker and two or three others, all engaged in sorting books and
papers which I ruefully recognized as the charts and journals of our
expedition.

The sight of Malgares, staring at me in open consternation, caused me to
fix my gaze upon the gray-headed, irascible little man at the head of
the table. We had expected a great show of regalia and the other
trumpery of court display about the Commandant-General. Of this there
was no sign to be seen anywhere in the room. Yet the bearing of the man
at the head of the table and the attitude of all others present in
facing him, told me that this was none less than His Excellency, Don
Nimesio Salcedo, the despotic ruler of provinces greater in total
extent than the United States and all their possessions other than
Louisiana Territory. Yet by now I was so goaded to indignant anger that
I held my head high and met his stern glance with the curtest of bows.

"_Caramba!_" he swore, turning to Malgares. "Whom have we here?"

"Señor Juan Robinson, Your Excellency," explained Malgares--"that most
excellent physician of whom I spoke, the surgeon attached to the
expedition of Lieutenant Don Montgomery Pike."

It was only a fair example of Malgares's noble courtesy and friendliness
to seek thus to mollify in my favor the man whose single word could send
me to the garrotte as a spy. I thanked him with a look.

Salcedo flashed a fiery glance at the luckless Medina. "Why do you bring
him in--_imbecil_? Let him retire."

I turned on my heel, too heated now to care, whatever the tyrant might
have in mind to do. But the moment the door closed behind me, I found
Lieutenant Medina at my elbow, and he was as angry as myself.

"_Satanas!_" he hissed, his little beady eyes snapping with fury. "I
have lost standing with His Excellency by this frightful blunder.
Explain! You told me I was to conduct you in! Explain!"

"_Na-da!_" I drawled. "I did not tell you."

"You said it!" he insisted.

I gave him the Spanish equivalent for our adage not to cry over spilt
milk, adding that I preferred his room to his company. At this he went
off fairly boiling with rage, fearful, I take it, that if he stayed he
would explode, and so draw upon himself the wrath of his lord and
master. As by this time the rabble had dispersed, I was left to my own
bitter reflections.

Surely if Salcedo had not scrupled to seize the records of the
expedition, he would not scruple to treat me as an outright spy. The
best I could forecast from that meant an indefinite confinement in the
terrible Spanish _calabozo_, compared with which the worst of our filthy
flea-and-fever-infested seaboard gaols is a palace of comfort. Yet the
thought of Alisanda spurred me to wild resolve. Let them fling me into
their dungeons. I would break through their bars and stone walls. I had
not crossed the Barrier to be daunted now. Nothing should keep me from
her!

In the midst of my angry scheming, the door opened to permit the exit of
Walker, Pike, and Malgares. Walker bowed, and addressed me in French,
out of courtesy to Malgares: "If you please, Dr. Robinson, the General
has expressed his wish that yourself and Lieutenant Pike should honor me
by becoming my guests while you are in Chihuahua. We go now to permit
yourself and Lieutenant Pike to arrange your dress before returning to
dine with His Excellency."

This was decidedly different from being invited to descend into a
dungeon. I bowed my acknowledgments.

Malgares held out a hearty hand to Pike and myself.

"God with you!" he exclaimed. "Pardon my haste. But I will see you again
at dinner. Now I fly to my Dolores!"

"_Vaya usted con Dios!_" we replied, waving him not to linger.

It would have been cruel to delay his departure an instant, seeing that
he had been separated from his señora for the greater part of a year. I
saw Pike heave a sigh, and knew he was thinking of the beloved wife and
children whom he had not seen for so many months, and might not see for
many other weary months to come, possibly never.

My own thoughts, however, turned back to Alisanda. As Walker conducted
us across the plaza to the house where, in company with other young
bachelor officers, he had his quarters, a question or two set him to
gossiping upon the ladies, and, inevitably, to singing the praises of
Señorita Vallois. That was music to which I could have listened
unwearying for hours.

But time pressed. Walker insisted upon loaning both of us neckcloths,
and Pike various other articles of dress suitable to the occasion. He
would have been as insistent upon sharing his wardrobe with myself had
not my size prevented. I had to content myself with the neckcloth and a
pair of silk stockings which I had in my saddlebags. In our prinking we
enjoyed the officious services of Walker's quaint old negro servant
Cæsar, who had been taken in Texas with other members of Captain Nolan's
party, and was said by Walker to be the only man of his race in all
this region.

Washed and dressed, we returned to the _palacio_ still escorted by
Walker, who had seen to it that we should not for an instant find
opportunity to speak a word in private. Arriving at our destination, we
found Malgares there before us, his fine eyes still beaming from the
meeting with his loving señora.

This time we were shown in without delay to the _sala_, or salon, where
Salcedo received us with a formal bow, and then directed his attentions
to Pike and Malgares with an urbanity which belied the gash-like crease
between his shaggy gray brows. I was introduced to Señor Trujillo, the
treasurer, who, however, paired off with Walker. This left me to go into
table with the portly padre Father Rocus, who was the only other member
of the party. Our seats proved to be at the far end of the longish
board, and as the padre at once contrived to divert and hold my
attention, I heard and saw little of what took place among the others.

Unlike the native-born priests I had met in the north, Father Rocus was
a man of profound learning and ability. Without allowing the
conversation to interfere in the least with his enjoyment of our elegant
French-cooked repast and the very superior wines, he quickly sounded the
none too profound depths of my learning in the sciences. He then touched
adroitly upon politics and religion. The thought flashed upon me that he
was seeking to lead me into some snare, yet I stated my convictions
candidly. If Salcedo wished to condemn me, he would condemn me, and that
was all there was in it.

At the end Father Rocus sat for some moments sipping his wine, holding
the glass as daintily and caressingly between his plump white fingers as
I would have held my lady's hand. He set it down to be refilled by the
assiduous lackey at his elbow, and addressed me in English: "Republican,
heretic, and Anglo-American--it is unfortunate. None are popular in the
domains of His Most Catholic Majesty."

"I did not come here to curry favor with your people, padre," I replied.

"Not with all, perhaps, but--" Again he raised his glass and sipped for
several moments. Yet I observed that his half-shut eyes were fixed upon
me in a penetrating gaze. "You are acquainted in Chihuahua?" he
remarked, in a tone as much of statement as inquiry.

"Lieutenant Malgares has honored us with his friendship."

"Are there not others?" he queried.

"If so, I am not at liberty to mention their names," I said.

"Good!" he commented. "Discretion is the one quality in which I thought
you lacking. I now feel justified in returning to you an article which I
have reason to believe is your property."

"An article--my property?" I repeated, not a little puzzled.

He smiled, and, unobserved by the attendants, handed me my lady's
handkerchief. I gazed at it, first astounded, then dismayed. It was all
too clear that my message had been intercepted, probably by Don Pedro,
and intrusted to this priest, to be returned as a courteous hint that my
suit for the niece's hand was not acceptable. But as, greatly downcast,
I thrust the handkerchief into my bosom, the padre raised his brows, and
spoke in evident surprise: "You do not appear pleased, señor doctor.
From what she said, I was led to infer--"

"What she said?" I broke in. "She? You mean--"

"A certain señorita who voyaged down a long river in company with her
uncle and a certain gallant young heretic," he answered over his glass.

"She--my Alisanda! Then it is from her you bring the kerchief! You are
our friend!"

"I am her confessor, and, I trust, her best friend," he replied. "As for
yourself, God grant I may also become your friend and confessor."

"Friend--yes!" I assented eagerly.

"And confessor!" he urged. "Remember, you are now in the Kingdom of New
Spain. It is in point to remark that a heretic was burned at the city of
Mexico within the last three years."

My head sank forward in gloomy meditation. I had crossed the Barrier, it
is true; but now I saw yawning before me the abyss of the Gulf.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE HOUSE OF VALLOIS


Before I could pluck up my depressed spirits sufficiently to ask Father
Rocus the thousand and one questions about my lady which for months I
had been longing to have answered, the Governor-General rose from the
table with an abruptness that surprised us. Though by now somewhat
informed as to the Spanish-Mexican custom of the siesta, we had supposed
that at a formal dinner, served in the usual mode, there would be some
lingering over the wine.

We had sat scarcely an hour, all told. Yet His Excellency led us into
the _sala_, and awaited our adieus with a manner which, though urbane,
did not encourage extended farewells. As his bearing toward myself was
markedly less gracious than toward Pike and Malgares, I for one was not
so ill-pleased as I might have been over this hurried leave-taking.

In the outer gateway Malgares for the second time excused himself to
gallop off to his señora, while we returned afoot across the plaza with
the ubiquitous Walker. Upon reaching his quarters, the latter invited us
to recline on the mattresses which had been provided for us by old
Cæsar. He himself preferred one of the long net hammocks such as are
used among the Spaniards of the tropical coast lands. We chatted a few
minutes over our _cigarros_, and then Walker dropped asleep.

Pike at once informed me that Salcedo had taken possession of all the
papers in his little despatch trunk other than the letters from Mrs.
Pike. These last, prompted by the same chivalry which had induced
Allencaster to restore me my treasures, the Governor-General had
permitted my friend to pocket without examination, upon the statement
that they were from a lady. But that all the really valuable papers,
such as our charts, astronomical observations, and journals, would be
retained the Lieutenant now had little doubt.

"However," he concluded, "worse come to worse, we have your copy of the
courses and distances, covering everything except that side excursion to
the Platte and down the Upper Arkansas."

"And there is your keen eye and retentive memory," I added. "We have
already seen enough of New Spain for the information to more than offset
the loss of the papers--if they really are lost. Had we headed straight
for the Red from the Rio del Norte, we should have saved the papers, but
should have gone home as ignorant of New Spain as we came."

"And you without seeing your señorita!"

"Ah, that!" I murmured. "It may be I shall pay dearly for the venture.
You saw how Salcedo varied his manner toward me. But it is worth the
risk. I could not have done otherwise!"

"I believe you, John. I myself caught a glimpse of your lady. I no
longer wonder! But if Salcedo really is ill-disposed toward you, the
sooner you get in touch with the señorita and her people the better. It
may be they have influence."

"I shall make every effort to do so before the day is over," I said.
"The difficulty is this Walker."

"He is an informer," said Pike. "Of that I have no doubts. I propose to
give him enough and to spare of material for his tale-bearing."

"Good!" I cried. "A bold front is the best. Salcedo is bound to release
you; while as for myself, if they garrotte me, they shall not have the
satisfaction of saying that I cringed. No! we will tell this informer
what we think of matters Spanish."

Before Pike could reply, we were startled by a sudden out-clanging of
bells in the towers of the _Parroquia_. Walker started up and stared at
us. Pike yawned, stretched, and remarked to me, in a casual tone:
"You're right. This government is one fit only for masters and slaves."

"You mean, a master and slaves," I returned.

"No--one master here and one in Old Spain."

"Why not put it, a master there and an overseer here? The comparison is
in point between this arrangement and that of one of our Virginia or
Carolina plantation-owners who lives in town and leaves his estate under
the care of an overseer. You could hardly call the overseer a master."

"The difference is that he drives people of a race born for slavery,
while here--"

"Here," broke in Walker, his face quivering--"here some who were not
born to slavery fall into it unawares!"

"What!" I said. "Do you, who voluntarily joined the cavalry of New
Spain, complain of the Government to which you owe allegiance?"

"Voluntarily?--No, gentlemen. New Orleans is not Chihuahua, nor was it
so even under Spanish rule. I did not realize what I was venturing when
I entered this service. I have attempted to withdraw, but they refuse to
accept my resignation."

"Ah, well," said Pike, "since it seems we are to be your guests,
lieutenant, I am pleased that you understand and share our opinion of
this despotic Government. Discontent is a hopeful sign when tyranny is
rampant. Only let a few of the bolder spirits among you pluck up courage
to seek open redress for your wrongs, and Mexico will soon fling off the
yoke of Spain, as our glorious States broke their bondage to Britain."

I saw our host's eyes begin to widen. To keep the ball rolling, I chimed
in along the same line. Walker did not again speak, but sat staring in
open amazement at our audacity,--of course with both ears wide. Having
started off at such a pace, we were almost out of material when Cæsar
thrust in his woolly head and announced Señor Vallois. Walker promptly
called out a floridly complimentary invitation for the visitor to enter.

Don Pedro came in, every inch the gentleman and grand _haciendado_. As
he straightened from his bows to our host, I had time only to observe
that since our parting his face had lost several shades of tan and
gained many deep lines of anxiety. A moment later he gripped my hand and
shook it with cordial heartiness. But at the end, instead of releasing
his clasp, he slipped his left arm around my waist and pressed himself
to me until our cheeks touched. It was the first time I had either seen
or experienced this curious custom of the country, and it so surprised
me that I stood unbending to his embrace.

"How is this, Don Juan?" he demanded. "Are your friends so soon forgot?"

"No, no, Don Pedro! It is only that I did not look for so warm a
greeting from you. You must be aware that I am here under a cloud."

"The more reason for your friends to support you!" he protested with
generous fervor.

"Señor, I should have known that so noble a gentleman as yourself could
have done none else!"

We bowed together, and I then introduced him to Pike, adding for
Walker's benefit that the don was an acquaintance I had met in
Washington. So far we had held to the French. Now the don delighted Pike
by addressing him in English: "Sir, I am more than pleased to meet you.
I have heard rumors of your extraordinary trip to the headwaters of the
Mississippi."

"You are kind, sir. But it was nothing worth mentioning. The soldiers of
the Republic are accustomed to doing their duty."

"But this present expedition!" added the don. "I understand that you
crossed the Sangre de Cristo in February."

"It was cross over--or perish."

"_Madre de Dios!_ That is the point. It seems that you and Don Juan did
cross over when most men would have perished. Do you then marvel that my
wife is desirous of meeting two such heroes?" He turned to Walker with a
bow. "With your kind permission, Lieutenant Walker, I will borrow your
guests for the evening."

"Ah--yes--indeed--" hesitated Walker.

"My sincerest regrets, sir," broke in Pike. "You will pardon my
declining the kind invitation. This long ride from Santa Fe and the heat
have fatigued me more than I realized."

"_Santisima Virgen!_" exclaimed Don Pedro, unfeignedly disappointed.
"Yet as you need rest, I must console myself with the hope that you will
honor us with your presence in the near future. As to this evening,
however, I must urge Don Juan to accompany me."

"By all means!" I assented.

This, as was plainly evident from his manner, put Walker into a
quandary. To have ordered me to remain would have exposed the hand of
the Governor-General. Yet how could he watch both Pike and myself if we
separated? It was an impossibility. He hesitated for a long moment, and
then bowed to Don Pedro: "With your kind permission, señor, I will pay
respects to Señora Vallois. Lieutenant Don Montgomery should be allowed
to repose in quiet."

"Your pleasure is mine, señor," replied Don Pedro, with a punctilious
note in his politeness that told me he was not altogether pleased at
Walker's self-invitation.

It occurred to me that the Governor-General might have as much or more
reason to spy upon him as upon myself. If the don was in the thick of a
revolutionary conspiracy, as might well be, he was vastly more dangerous
to the Government than myself. The thought filled me with sudden dread
for the safety of my lady's kinsman. But on the heels of this fright
came the reassurance that, after all, Walker's interest might well be
accounted for by the presence of a certain señorita in the home of Don
Pedro. We had taken for granted that he was an informer. Yet his present
course was quite as reasonably explained by his desire to see Señorita
Vallois.

Leaving Pike to his own devices, we left the house and walked leisurely
around the edge of the plaza. This brought us past a number of the
city's largest merchandise establishments, to which groups of
_reboza_-veiled señoras and señoritas were beginning to saunter for the
evening's shopping. Now and again a bright, coquettish eye peeped out at
us from among the folds of a close-drawn headwrap. But I was not curious
to look twice at any of these over-rotund brunettes. To me there was
only one lady in all the world, and now I was going to see her, to hear
her exquisite voice, after almost a year of separation.

A few minutes, which to my impatience seemed hours, brought us to the
door of Don Pedro. I should say, to the wicket in the great iron gate of
the archway. At sight of us the porter within sprang to free the bolt.
But before we could enter there sounded a clatter of hoofs in the
nearest side street, and Malgares came galloping into view. Don Pedro
paused for him to ride up, and a moment later they were exchanging that
curious salute of handshake and cheek-to-cheek embrace. Malgares then
explained that his wife was at the house of Don Pedro, and that he had
just secured relief from his duties to follow her.

As we entered, a groom ran forward to take charge of Malgares's horse,
while the don conducted us up the stairway in the nearest corner of his
beautiful garden-court. A short turn along the gallery brought us to the
entrance of a large _sala_. By now I was so wrought up that I found it
necessary to pause beside the open doorway to regain my composure, the
result of which was that all the others passed in before me.

I followed close behind Walker. The first glance showed me that my lady
was not in the room. Malgares, who had entered with Don Pedro, stood
before his wife and Señora Vallois, clasping the hand of the latter. The
ladies, I observed, wore the full petticoats and short jackets of their
countrywomen, though their costumes were of the richest and most elegant
materials. As I stood gazing at them, I was astonished to see Malgares
and the rotund lady exchange that same odd embrace of greeting with
which our host had favored myself and Don Faciendo.

Knowing the fiery jealousy of the Spaniards, I looked for Don Pedro to
strike the audacious soldier, and Doña Dolores to burst into angry
tears. Instead, they stood by, beaming at the affectionate pair with
utmost complacency. Malgares turned to his smiling wife, and Señora
Vallois gave Walker her hand to salute. When he also stepped aside, Don
Pedro introduced me, first to his señora, and then to Doña Dolores
Malgares. Each permitted me to salute her hand.

Straightening from my second bow, I was overjoyed to see Alisanda
crossing the room toward us. But Malgares was before me. He met her with
a bow. They grasped hands in that cordial manner, exchanged a few words
of greeting, and--embraced!

This was too much! It might be the custom of the country--doubtless it
was the custom of the country--But for my lady to welcome another man
than myself, not of her family, was more than I could endure. I stepped
forward, frowning. Alisanda slipped from Malgares's embrace and came to
meet me, her lips parting in a demurely mischievous smile.

"_Hola, amigo!_" she murmured. "It is joyous to meet a friend after so
many months!"

"It is heaven!" I mumbled, attempting to read her eyes.

But she drooped her long lashes. I clasped her little hand and bent to
kiss it. Again I was frustrated. She drew the hand back. But her firm
clasp did not relax. In the excess of my emotion, I did not realize her
purpose until she had drawn me close, and her left arm began to encircle
me. Then the truth flashed upon me. She had welcomed Malgares according
to the custom of the country that I too might enjoy that most delightful
of greetings! The discovery was too much for my discretion to withstand.
Swept away by my love and adoration, I caught the dear girl to me and
kissed her fairly upon her sweet lips.

I heard a sharp exclamation from Don Pedro, and Alisanda thrust herself
free from me, her pale cheeks suddenly gone as scarlet as her lips. Her
dark eyes flashed at me a glance of scorn and anger which sobered me on
the instant. I half turned to the others, who were all alike staring at
me in angry amazement.

"Señora Vallois!" I exclaimed, "can you not pardon this blunder--my
deplorable ignorance of your customs? This is my first experience with
your gracious salute of friends. The offence was absolutely
unintentional. Believe me, my esteem and respect for Señorita Vallois is
such that nothing could cause me greater grief than the consciousness I
had offended her."

"Do not apologize further, Señor Robinson," replied the señora, melting
more at my tone and look of concern than at the words. "Your explanation
is quite sufficient. I am certain my niece will pardon you the error."

"If only she may!" I cried, turning to Alisanda. "Señorita, will you not
forgive me? Do not hold it against me that in attempting to conform to
your etiquette I passed the bounds! You must know that no disrespect was
intended--Far from it! I meant only to express my great esteem."

"My aunt has spoken for me, Señor Robinson," she answered coldly. "The
incident is already forgotten."

"But not Señor Robinson," remarked Señora Malgares. "I am consumed with
curiosity to hear more about his marvellous adventures. My beloved
Faciendo has told me that the señor doctor and his fellow _Americanos_
crossed and recrossed the northern mountains in the very midst of the
Winter."

"They were a barrier in our way, señora. We could do none else than
cross them," I replied, with a side-glance at Alisanda.

This time she met me with that calm, level gaze which I had always found
so inscrutable. Now, as then, I looked deep into those lovely eyes and
saw only mystery. But Doña Dolores would not be denied.

"_Santa Maria!_" she exclaimed. "When am I to hear about your heroic
journey, Señor Robinson?"

"Pardon me, señora," I replied. "Don Faciendo is better qualified to
serve as historian. He insisted upon learning the facts alike from
Lieutenant Pike and myself."

"If Don Faciendo will graciously ease our impatience," urged Señora
Vallois.

"Nothing could give me greater pleasure, Doña Marguerite," assented
Malgares.

"Be seated, friends. I am sure we are all eager to hear," said the
señora. Even Walker bowed quick assent to this. "I am most interested of
all present, because Señor Robinson showered endless courtesies and
favors upon my beloved Pedro and Alisanda while they were journeying
through his country."

"Believe me, señora," I protested, "what little I was able to do fell
far short of the favors I received."

"One word or glance from Señorita Vallois were worth the service of a
lifetime!" put in Walker.

My feeling went too deep for verbal compliments. I stood dumb, and
watched Walker receive a smile over my lady's fan that repaid him a
hundredfold. The others were now moving toward the end of the _sala_,
where were grouped three or four low divans. Alisanda glided after Doña
Dolores, and Walker promptly stepped out beside her. I followed last of
all, too fearful of another false move to force myself forward.

Yet somehow, when we came to seat ourselves, I was delighted to find
myself beside Alisanda at the end of the divan, while Walker was hedged
off from her on the other side by Doña Dolores. As the plump little
señora chose to tuck up her limbs Turk-fashion, the interval was not
narrow. Walker had to perch on the extreme far corner of the divan.

Malgares and our host sat across from us, while Doña Marguerite reclined
upon the third divan. Alisanda was the only one of the ladies who sat
upright. She did not look at me. But for the moment it was enough that
her shoulder touched my arm.

When all were settled, Malgares plunged into his account, which he
rendered in a crisp, clear French that made every statement stand out
like a cameo. First of all he gave a brief and modest recital of his own
remarkable expedition, dwelling strongest upon his arrangements with the
savages to stop us; the vast extent of the all but treeless prairies,
and the grandeur of the mighty snow mountains of the North.

He then described how our little party had come to the Pawnees and
braved their might; how, late as was the season, we had pushed on
westward, and how, in the midst of the midwinter's cold, we had
clambered about among those huge sierras of rock and snow. As told by
him, the account drew _bravo_ after _bravo_ from the little audience.
When he described our ascent of what we had supposed to be the Grand
Peak, Alisanda flashed at me a glance that put me into a glow of bliss.
Malgares was a flattering historian. But he was not satisfied with his
own efforts. When it came to the descent of the terrific gorge of the
Arkansas by Brown and myself, he broke off in the midst and insisted
upon my picturing that awful canyon in my own words.

"_Nada_," I hesitated. "I cannot tell it."

"You must, Juan!" murmured my lady.

To say "no" to her was impossible. I went on with the tale as best I
could in my rude French, and related how Brown and I had made our way up
the icy ascent of the side ravine. As I described the cutting of
footholds and our slow clambering higher and higher out of the chasm,
Alisanda's eyes widened and her hands met in a convulsive clasp. Before
I had finished she was breathing hard with excitement. The other ladies
were hardly less thrilled. Women are so easily startled by the recital
of dangers which a man risks as a matter of course.

But when I came to our terrible journey in the valley of starvation it
was not alone the ladies who were moved. Aside from Walker I felt that
all my listeners were friends, and I could not forego the opportunity to
describe fully the heroic fortitude with which my indomitable friend and
his men had endured their sufferings and struggled on against all odds.
If my eyes were wet when I told of the injuries of the poor lads Sparks
and Dougherty, there was at least one present who did not consider my
emotion unmanly. She bowed her head in her hands and wept.

I went on to tell how the unfortunate men had sent the bones from their
frozen feet, in pitiful appeal to their commander, and how they were
being brought after us, maimed and unable to walk. It was not my desire
to harrow my listeners needlessly, but I knew that the Malgares and the
Vallois were among the richest families in New Spain, and felt certain
that to tell them the piteous truth would insure the injured men the
best of care so long as they should be detained by the Governor-General.

Having covered this point, I went back and described how we had fought
our way on up the desolate plateau and across the Sangre de Cristo, and
had at last found relief from toil and frost and famine in the broad
valley of the Rio del Norte.

"So there was an end of our hardships," I concluded. "We had crossed the
barrier."

"You had crossed the barrier!" murmured my lady, and through the tears
which still glistened in her eyes she shot me a glance that repaid in
full for all my months of journeying to find her.

"But that is not the end, Señor Robinson!" cried Doña Dolores, with the
sweet petulance of a young bride. "Faciendo, you must let them know how
Don Juan left his companions and came alone all the way to Santa Fe,
fearless of the hideous Apaches."

"The Apaches do not range so far north, _niña_," corrected her husband.
"Yet is it dangerous for a man to go alone among any of the wild tribes,
or even among the tame Indians, if they have reason to believe his
murder will not be discovered. That, however, was a small matter
compared to the courage required to brave condemnation as a spy."

"Spy?" exclaimed Señor Vallois.

I saw Alisanda shrink at the word, and Walker bend forward to catch the
answer.

"You must remember that Don Juan and his companions had been absent from
the nearest of their frontier settlements for seven or eight months,"
explained Malgares. "How was he to foresee whether or not war had been
declared?"

"War or not," interrupted Walker, "Señor Robinson not only invaded our
territories in company with a military force, but, as I understand the
event, he ventured into Santa Fe in disguise and without acknowledging
his relation to Lieutenant Pike."

"How about it, Don Faciendo?" I asked. "Is an incursion into the
territories of a neighboring Government necessarily an act of war?"

"_Por Dios!_" he laughed. "You have us there! I trust that His
Excellency will consider his own proceedings, and be moved to look with
a lenient eye upon the mistake of our _Americano_ friends."

"So exalted a personage must be a man of discretion," I said, looking
fixedly at Walker. "His Excellency will think twice before exacting
vengeance for so small an offence. The garrotting or imprisonment of one
or all the members of the expedition would be a bad bargain if it
resulted in the loss to His Catholic Majesty of the Floridas. Mr. Walker
can tell you that the riflemen who muster for our backwoods militia
could, unaided, sweep the Floridas from Louisiana to the Atlantic. What
is more, they will do it at the first excuse. They are already at full
cock over the manner in which the British agents are allowed by your
people to come up from the Gulf and foment trouble against us among the
Creeks, Cherokees, and Choctaws. Let General Salcedo go to extremes
with our peaceful expedition, and there will be a setting of triggers
from Georgia to Louisiana."

"_Madre de Dios!_ Be prudent, I pray you, Juan!" warned Don Pedro. "Such
words are best left unsaid."

"Are they?" I demanded. "If to-morrow every free-minded man in New Spain
spoke out his real thoughts, to-morrow this land would be free from Old
Spain."

"_Maria santisima!_" gasped Doña Marguerite, dropping her fan and
sitting erect.

"We forget that Don Juan is a citizen of the Anglo-American Republic,"
said Alisanda, calmly. "In his land men are not accustomed to wear
muzzles."

"Because our fathers rebelled and triumphed over the tyrant who
oppressed them," I added.

There followed a tense silence. The sun had set, and I could barely
distinguish the features of the others in the fast gathering twilight.
There was a shadow upon them, not alone of the night.

Before any one spoke, the silence was broken by the peal of a huge
church bell. Instantly all others than myself bent forward, crossing
themselves and murmuring hasty prayers--"_Ave Maria purisima!_" "_Ave
Maria santisima!_"--while slowly the great bell pealed forth its deep
and sonorous note.

In the midst a little hand slipped out and rested for a moment upon my
hard knuckles. I turned my palm about to clasp the visitor, but it
flitted like a butterfly. An instant later _la oracion_ was brought to a
close by a merry chime of smaller bells. The señoras began to chat in
lively tones, and servants hastened in with waxen tapers to relieve the
deepening gloom.

Greatly to my annoyance, Walker rose to leave. I might have surmised
that he was prompted to the action by jealousy, but my ignorance of
local etiquette made me apprehensive of another blunder. This forced me
to follow his lead and join in his polite refusals of the pressing
invitations of our host and hostess to remain for the evening. In a land
where, upon an introduction to a man in the plaza, he presents you with
his house, and later is not at home to you when you call at that same
house, it is as well to take the most urgent of invitations with a grain
of salt.

As we bowed to the ladies, Doña Dolores demurely slipped aside and drew
the attention of the others by a piquant remark about one of the fine
paintings upon the wall. Alisanda took the opportunity to flash me a
glance which set my heart to leaping with the certainty that I had lost
nothing by my crossing of the barrier. Just what I had gained was yet to
be seen. I knew I had gone far toward winning my lady's heart--I had
crossed the barrier of nationality and birth. But I did not forget that
I had yet to cross the gulf of religion.

With that one swift glance, she drew back, and Don Pedro escorted us to
the door. We exchanged bows with him, and moved down the gallery to the
head of the stairway. Here we turned and again exchanged bows. We
descended to the first landing, and paused to return the bow which he
made to us over the gallery rail. Another exchange of bows from the edge
of the beautiful flower-and-shrub-embowered court, and we at last
escaped out through the tunnel-like passage to the great gate.

Passing through the wicket into the street, which was lit up by the red
glare of a resin torch, we found ourselves face to face with Father
Rocus and Lieutenant Don Jesus Maria de Gonzales y Medina. The
aide-de-camp bowed stiffly and stared from Walker to myself with a
glance of fiery jealousy. I gave him a curt nod, and hastened to grasp
the proffered hand of the beaming padre.

"God be with you, my son!" he exclaimed.

"My thanks for the kind wish, padre!" I replied "I see you are coming to
call upon my friend Señor Vallois."

"Your friend!" muttered Medina, for I had spoken in French.

"My friend," I repeated. "I had the pleasure of meeting Don Pedro in my
own country. But now, señor, with regard to our misunderstanding this
morning, I wish to express my regrets and to explain that the error was
committed through inadvertence."

"Ah--if you apologize," he said, with a complacent half-sneer.

"You mistake me, señor. I do not apologize. I merely explain."

He turned, without answering, and swaggered in through the archway.

"You _Americanos_!" protested Father Rocus, reaching up to lay a hand
upon my shoulder. "Can you never be prudent? Medina is a swordsman. Your
friend here will tell you that out of five duels, the aide has to his
credit three deaths on the black record of Satanas."

"If he is a swordsman, I am a pistol shot," I rejoined.

"Then all turns upon the chance of who challenges and who has choice of
weapons. God grant the choice fall to you! He is in strong need of a
lesson."

"That is true!" muttered Walker, with a shrug.

"Meantime, my son, it will be well for you to consider the peril of your
soul and come often to the _Parroquia_ to hear me preach," admonished
the padre. He spoke in a severe tone, but I fancied I caught a twinkle
in his eye as he turned to enter the gate.

Walker took me familiarly by the arm, and as we sauntered back to his
quarters, first inquired particularly as to my skill with the pistol,
and then went into the details of Medina's duels. Before he had finished
I divined that he and others of the officers at Chihuahua would be more
than pleased to see some one trim the comb of the braggadocio
aide-de-camp. If an outsider could be inveigled into taking the risk, so
much the better.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE SERENADE


The following morning I assisted Pike in the preparation of a sketch of
our trip, which had been most courteously requested by Salcedo. Walker
offered his services, and would take no refusal. But we found more than
one opportunity for a word apart, and Pike told me that he was already
in touch with the woolly-headed old Cæsar, who had at once offered to
help us to obtain information as to the country's mines, ranches, and
Government. He had begun by pointing out to my friend the closet in
which were secreted the Government maps that had hung on the walls
before our arrival.

After dinner and the siesta, we received calls from a number of the most
prominent gentlemen of Chihuahua, including Malgares's father-in-law,
Colonel Mayron, and Don Manuel Zuloaga, one of the under secretaries.
Almost in the first breath the latter insisted upon our visiting him
that evening, and as he chanced to be the first in the field, we
assented.

Other invitations showered upon us thick and fast, so that it soon
became apparent we should not lack for social entertainment, despite our
equivocal position in the eyes of the Governor-General. More than once
we were urged to move to the luxurious homes of these generous
gentlemen, but declined because Salcedo had intimated his wish that we
should stay in Walker's quarters. Otherwise there seemed to be no check
upon our liberty. We were free to come and go in the city as we chose.
To save us the annoyance of arrest by the night patrols, we were even
given the especial countersign of "_Americanos_."

During the afternoon Malgares and Señor Vallois pressed Pike and myself
to receive loans from them of sufficient money to replenish our
wardrobes. We declined, but later accepted a loan from Señor Zuloaga, on
his representations that Salcedo would soon comply with my friend's
application for an official loan, and that we owed it to the dignity of
our country to present a favorable appearance. Accordingly, we went out
with him to his tailor and to the stores, and made provisions for
complete costumes in the prevailing mode of Europe and our own country.

This occupied us until vespers, or _la oracion_, after which, having
donned such articles of our new outfit as were ready for wear, we
accompanied Señor Zuloaga to his house. As the señor was a bachelor, we
spent a most interesting hour alone with him on the _azotea_, or flat
earthen roof of his house, discussing the great questions of politics
and religion.

Our host talked with freedom, telling us, among other things, there was
reason to dread that Emperor Napoleon had designs to seize Spain and
dethrone King Ferdinand. In such event, he added, many of the loyal
subjects in New Spain would consider it the highest patriotism to
declare for independence. As Americans, Pike and I heartily commended
this revolutionary sentiment.

Before we could further sound the position of our host, other callers
arrived, and he shifted the conversation to less perilous topics. We
descended to the _sala_, where there soon gathered a number of our new
acquaintances and other persons of wealth and station who expressed
themselves as eager for an introduction to the _Anglo-Americano
caballeros_.

My truculent friend Lieutenant Medina came in early with Walker, to whom
he seemed to have much to say on the side. He greeted Pike effusively,
myself with marked reserve. After this he avoided us both, and soon sat
down to gamble at cards with other officers. The rest of the company
stood around or lolled on the divans, puffing their _cigarros_, and
_cigarritos_, the younger men chatting about women and horses, the older
ones adding to these stock topics the third one of fortune.

As politics was a subject unmentioned, Pike attached himself to the
group which seemed most disposed to discuss silver and gold mining and
the other important industry of stock-raising. I kept more among the
younger men, gleaning in the chaff of their sensual anecdotes for grains
of information on military affairs. My harvest was so scant that I gave
over the attempt at the serving of the _dulces_ and wine, an hour or two
before midnight.

This light refreshment proved to be the signal for a general change. The
gamblers gave over their cards, the others their barren chatter. A
guitar was brought in, and Lieutenant Medina sang a rollicking wine
song, nearly all present joining in the refrain. The aide was gifted
with a rather fine tenor voice--and knew it. At the end of the song, he
tendered the guitar, with a flourish, to the _Americano_ lieutenant.
Pike declined the honor; upon which Medina turned to me, with a yet
deeper bow, his lip curled in a smile of malicious anticipation.

There was a general flash of surprise when I gravely accepted the
instrument and set about readjusting the strings to my own key. I did
not look at Medina, for I had need to keep a cool head. After so many
months my fingers bent stiffly to the strings. But I had not forgotten
my lady's lessons, and as the refrain of the first song had enabled me
to test my voice, I was able to render a Spanish love ditty with some
little success.

"Bravo!" exclaimed our host as I handed him the guitar. "I did not know
that you _Americanos_ were singers."

"We are not, as a rule," said Pike. "For the most part, our people have
been too intent upon hewing their way through the wilderness and
fighting for life and freedom to find time for skilled voice-training.
Yet we have our singing-schools even on the outer frontiers."

"It is quite evident that Señor Robinson has found time to cultivate
his fine voice," remarked one of the crowd.

"There will soon be a baritone beneath the balconies," added Medina.
"Beware, all you who have wives and daughters!"

Señor Zuloaga handed the guitar back to me. "Pray accept this little
gift from a friend, Don Juan," he said. "The señoritas of Chihuahua will
be deprived of a great pleasure if you lack the means to serenade them."

"Señor," I replied, accepting the guitar, "it would be most ungallant to
refuse a gift presented in such terms. Though I lack the skill and voice
of Lieutenant Medina, I will do my best. May I ask if His Excellency,
the Governor-General, is the father of one of your charming señoritas?"

A sudden hush fell upon the company at the mere mention of their master.
The silence was broken by Pike.

"Better sheer off from that shore, John. Should your ditties fail to
please His Excellency, you are apt to land in the _calabozo_."

"And the other fathers are apt to drop tiles upon my head," I sighed.

"Not they," reassured Zuloaga. "Keep in the shadow, and it will not be
known but that you are the suitor favored by the parents."

"Yet what if I am discovered to be a stranger?" I inquired, with feigned
concern.

A dozen voices hastened to reassure me that a serenade from one of the
gallant _Americanos_ would be taken in good part by the most
hard-hearted of parents.

"But how do you find the window of the fair one?" I asked.

"That is to be seen, señor doctor," put in Medina. "My way is to station
myself across the street and sing the first verse. That never fails to
lure the coyest of coquettes from her secrecy."

"But, then, you have the voice," I mocked.

"It is true," he replied, taking me seriously.

"But what if the señorita's chamber is located in a remote part of the
house?" I questioned.

"You are in truth a stranger to the women," he jeered. "Count upon it
that every señorita in Chihuahua, however ugly, has a balconied chamber,
either upon the front or the side street."

"_Muchas gracias_, Don Lieutenant," I said, and turned to Pike. "_Hola_,
Don Montgomery! Would you keep the ladies waiting for their serenade?"

This raised a polite laugh, in the midst of which Pike, Walker, and I
essayed the prolonged ceremony of leave-taking. At the door of the
_sala_ an attendant relieved me of the guitar, and for a little I
thought Zuloaga's presentation had been a mere formality. But as we
passed the gate into the street the attendant returned the instrument,
in a handsome case.

"You are in fortune, doctor," remarked Walker. "That is as fine a guitar
as is to be found in Chihuahua."

"So?" I said. "Then I really believe I will try it to-night."

"You may lose yourself, or be struck down by the knife of some murderous
_ladrone_," he objected.

"Not he," reassured Pike. "I'd back him to out-wrestle a panther."

"What is more, I carry one of my pistols," I added. "So if, between you,
my guitar case will not prove too much of a burden--"

"_Sacre!_" muttered Walker. "You may fall into trouble."

"That's my risk," I replied with unaffected cheerfulness, and handing
the guitar case to my friend, I swung away up a side street before our
_dueño_ could interpose further objections.

As I sped along in the shadow of the houses, I could have leaped up and
cracked my heels together for joy. I was alone and free for the first
time since joining company with the two Yutahs in the valley north of
Agua Caliente. But my coltish impulse was short-lived. I had not
questioned and planned for the last hour, to caper about in solitary
darkness now.

The street up which I had bolted did not lead in the direction in which
I wished to go. This was soon mended by turning at the first corner. The
towers of the _Parroquia_, looming high against the starlit sky, guided
me to the plaza. I then needed only to skirt edge of the square to come
to the street corner upon which stood the great mansion of Don Pedro.

More than once on my way I had heard the long-drawn notes of serenaders,
and the thought that there might already be one beneath my lady's
balcony hurried me into a run. But when, mindful of the counsel of the
complacent Medina, I slipped into a shadowy archway across from the
stone _façade_ of the Vallois mansion, I could hear no music within two
or three hundred paces. This surprised me not a little, and I stood for
some moments wondering at it, for my brief stay in Chihuahua had already
confirmed all that Doña Dolores had written to Malgares as to the great
popularity of Alisanda.

It was, however, no time to ponder mysteries. Whatever reasons her other
suitors might have for staying away, I was here to woo her, and woo her
I would. I keyed my strings, and with my gaze roving from one to the
other of the balconied windows across, began to sing that love ditty I
had sung beneath my lady's window at Natchez. The first verse brought me
no response. Every balcony remained empty, every window gaped black
between its open hangings.

After a short interval I sang the second verse. But though I stared at
the dim, ghostly outlines of the white stone mansion until my eyes
ached, I saw no sign of my lady. It then occurred to me that her chamber
might face upon the side street. I stepped out from my dark archway, to
walk around. But as I crossed over I could not resist gazing up at the
nearest balcony and whispering her dear name: "Alisanda! Alisanda! It is
I--John."

Almost instantly a little white object darted out over the balcony rail
and came fluttering down through the limpid darkness. I caught it in the
air, and felt in my closing palm a roll of paper twisted through a ring.
That it was a note and from my lady I had no doubts. But I could not
read it here, and my love made me too impatient to be able to content
myself with this dumb favor. I thrust the missive into my pocket, and
called again: "Alisanda!--Alisanda! Speak to me, dearest one!"

I waited a full minute. But she gave no sign. By now I was in desperate
earnestness.

"Alisanda!" I appealed to her, "is it for this I have come to you all
these many leagues? Speak to me, dearest! I will not go--I cannot--until
you speak to me!"

This time I did not call in vain. A shadowy form glided out the window
and bent over the balcony rail, and the sweet notes of my lady's voice
came down to me in heavenly music.

"Juan! Juan!" she murmured, in tender distress, "you must not take this
risk! You will lose all! Go now, dear friend, before you are discovered.
Go, read what I have written."

"What is a little risk, Alisanda, to one who has crossed the barrier to
reach you?"

"You do not know! The risk is that you may find you have crossed the
barrier in vain. There is yet the gulf. Go quickly! I hear a step--some
one comes! He is almost here!"

"But, dearest one--!" I protested, as she vanished.

There came a sound of quick steps behind me, and an angry voice muttered
the fierce oath, "_Carrajo!_"

A man reared in the wilderness acquires the instinct of the wild
creatures to act first and consider afterwards. I leaped away from that
angry voice before the last syllable of the oath hissed out. Even at
that I felt the prick of a sword point beneath my shoulder as I bounded
away. The owner of the voice had thrust--and thrust to kill. As my feet
touched earth again I had out my pistol; as I spun about, I set the
hair-trigger. The glint of a steel blade directed my gaze on the instant
to the dim figure crouching to spring after me.

"Halt, señor assassin!" I commanded. "Take a step, and I shoot you down
like a dog!"

"_Peste!_" he cried, lowering his sword point. "It is the _Americano_
physician."

"And you are Medina!" I muttered between my hard-set teeth--"Medina, the
aide-de-camp and bravo of Salcedo,--Medina the assassin."

"_Peste!_" he repeated. "It is a lie."

"You had better pray than swear," I warned him. "The trigger of my
pistol is set. The slightest touch of my finger, and you go straight to
hell."

"_Santisima Virgen!_" he protested, a trace of concern beneath the
continued anger of his tone. "You do not comprehend."

"I comprehend that you, an officer in the service of His Most Catholic
Majesty, sought to stab me in the back without warning. It was vile--it
was cowardly! Can you name a single reason why I should not shoot you?"

"You do not comprehend!" he insisted. "I mistook you for one of those
whom I have warned."

"Mistook me?" I repeated, catching at the chance for an explanation. It
is not pleasant to think of a gentleman and officer turned assassin.

"Yes," he answered. "I have made this my privilege. Any man in Chihuahua
who wishes to serenade Señorita Vallois has my pledge that I will kill
him."

"I am in Chihuahua, and I have serenaded Señorita Vallois," I replied.

"But you did not know of my pledge. I will spare you this time."

"_Muchas gracias_, señor. Yet it seems to me it is a question of my
sparing you."

"In that case, Señor Robinson might do well to consider that His
Excellency, the Governor-General, would gladly welcome an excuse to
garrotte a certain _Americano_ spy."

"That may be. Still, a sword prick in the back is fair evidence against
a dead assassin, even in a prejudiced court."

"True. Then it may be that the _Americano caballero_ is sufficiently
gallant to consider the scandal of a slaying beneath the window of a
señorita of his acquaintance."

"A scandal which, it seems, one Lieutenant Medina did not consider. For
all that, the argument is sound, _Vaya!_" I ordered, lowering my pistol.

"No!" he rejoined. "I will not go and leave you here."

"You shall!"

"_Nada!_"

For a moment I stood quivering with fury, wild to leap in, sword or no
sword, and strike him down with my bare fist. But he had spoken truth. A
death, or even a loud quarrel, beneath my lady's balcony, would draw
upon her the talk of all Chihuahua.

"You are right in this," I forced myself to say; "we owe it to the lady
not to involve her in any scandal. You will give me your word, and I
will give you mine, to start in opposite directions, and neither return
here to-night."

"Agreed!" he responded. "You have my word to it, señor physician."

"And you mine," I said, wheeling.

With punctilious precision he wheeled the other way and swaggered up the
street as I stalked down. With a last glance at the empty balcony of my
lady, I darted off across the corner of the plaza. Almost in front of
Walker's quarters I ran plump into the midst of a night patrol.

"_Arreste!_" cried the officer in charge, and I stopped short with half
a dozen lances at my breast.

"_Americano!_" I exclaimed.

"_Vaya_," said the officer.

The lance points flew up. I darted on through the gateway and around
the court to the rooms assigned to Walker. Our host and Pike had
retired, but old Cæsar was dozing beside the door. I sent him hobbling
to bed with a few _medios_ to tickle his black palm, and the moment he
had disappeared, drew out my precious missive in the light of the
guttering candle.

The ring was a plain gold band without any setting. Yet to me it was far
more precious than any seal or gemmed ring, for on the inner side were
engraved my lady's initials. I kissed the band and hastily forced it
upon my little finger, that I might read my note without further delay.
Though the message was written in English, the paper had been so
crumpled that I had to smooth it out with care before I could decipher
her dear words.

     "My Knight," it began, "you have proved yourself a true
     champion. There is now no Barrier between us. I pray the
     Blessed Virgin that you may also cross the Gulf! But you still
     wear my colors. You have not honored them with your faith and
     courage to shrink now from the greater task! You should know,
     dear friend, that according to the Spanish law my uncle, who is
     my guardian, has the bestowal of my hand. Therefore be
     discreet. He will refuse your suit for a reason which I will
     tell you another time. Talk as you please. It is the custom to
     pay the ladies of my people extravagant compliments. But for a
     time restrain yourself as to action, and pray be prudent in
     what you say about political affairs. I fear for you! He who is
     to decide your fate is in doubt as to how far policy will
     permit him to venture. He would like to execute you as a spy,
     or at least fling you into his dungeon, but hesitates for fear
     the outrage might precipitate war with your Republic. Such was
     the representation made to him by my uncle and the friends he
     has interested in your fate. Therefore do not infuriate him
     beyond his self-control. Seek out Father Rocus. He is a true
     gentleman and my friend. You have made a good impression upon
     him. He may be able to aid you to cross the Gulf and avoid the
     danger which besets you. Then it will be for me to overcome the
     objections of my uncle. Now farewell. God preserve you, dear
     Knight! I press my lips to that name, for you have earned the
     salute many times over. _Au revoir_, my Knight!"



CHAPTER XXV

A VICTORY


Delighted as I should have been, and was, to receive such a missive from
my lady, its effect was to rouse in me all the greater longing to see
her and win from her dear lips the admission that she loved me. In this
thought I now forgot all else. Even the demand of patriotism that I
should exert every effort on behalf of my country found me deaf.

I stilled my conscience with the argument that if I, the accredited spy,
should devote my whole effort to a personal affair, it would tend to
divert attention from the splendid work of Pike. Every day saw important
additions to his notes and memoranda, and he had already hit upon the
ingenious plan of securing the notes in tight rolls inside waxed
wrappings and packing them down into the barrel of one of the muskets of
the men, who were quartered in the same building as ourselves. As the
gun's muzzle was of course kept plugged with its tampion, there was no
danger of discovery, and with five more barrels to fill, we felt that
whenever the Governor-General chose to release the Lieutenant and his
men, they would be able to march out of the territories of His Most
Catholic Majesty fairly _loaded_ with information against the tyrant.

So, casting aside every thought of duty, I allowed my mind to dwell
constantly upon my wooing, and, frivolous as it may appear, was more
concerned over our visit to the tailor than to the magnificent hospital
in the old Jesuit edifices on the west side of Chihuahua. That
institution of healing was finely situated and furnished. But when I
ventured to suggest an improvement upon some of the antiquated and
barbarous methods of treatment, I met with such a heat of jealous
prejudice from the clerical physicians that I was forced to silence.

Returning to the plaza, we were agreeably surprised to find our little
French tailor most modern not only in his knowledge of the modes but
also in the quickness of his work. He and his assistants had already
completed our suits. As the following day was a Sunday, it was
particularly gratifying to find ourselves becomingly costumed for
genteel society.

Pike and our host slept late in the morning, but I had given old Cæsar
orders to rouse me early. Donning my new garments, I slipped out and
hastened across the plaza toward the Parroquia. The bell was already
intoning for mass, and I passed numbers of _rebozo_-shrouded women
streaming churchward. With my Anglo-American eyes and complexion I
suppose I presented rather a striking figure among these people, who are
so very rarely other than brunette,--though it may be I attracted more
attention because of the fact that few other men had sallied out so
early to attend mass.

Whatever the cause, I received enough smiles and alluring glances from
pretty señoritas and, I fear, señoras, to have quite turned my head, had
I not been far too intent upon the hope of seeing my lady to heed these
charming coquettes. What I did heed, however, was the fact that the
prettier the girl, the more jealously guarded was she by a keen-eyed
duenna. What hope had I of a word apart with Alisanda if she came in
company with Doña Marguerite?

Between the thought of this and the need to scan the scores of
approaching ladies, I was not in a favorable frame of mind to appreciate
the grandeur and beauty of the _Parroquia_. Yet so splendid were the two
pillared towers, which reared against the sapphire sky a full hundred
feet above the front corners of the high edifice, and so ornate was the
white stone _façade_ with its carvings and numerous statues of saints,
that even my brief and preoccupied glances brought me a strong
consciousness of the church's magnificence. I even looked twice at the
carvings of the great round-arched entrance, so different in design from
the pointed style of our Gothic ecclesiastical architecture.

That was as far as my observations went at the time, for as I again
glanced out, I saw approaching among the throng of Moorishly draped
figures one so tall and graceful that I knew her on the instant. I
sprang from the entrance to meet her, but checked myself at the thought
that it would be as well first to see who it was that accompanied her.

Alisanda wore her black lace mantilla, her companion a _rebozo_ of
finest silk, and both walked with heads reverently bowed. Yet I needed
no second glance to feel assured that the duenna had not so portly a
figure as that of Señora Vallois. If not Doña Marguerite, who then?

I was not long kept waiting for my answer. Standing with my stiff hat in
hand, I looked eagerly for a sign of recognition from my lady. She did
not so much as raise her head. But her companion straightened a little
and parted a fold of her _rebozo_ to bestow on me the mischievous flash
of a sparkling eye. It was hardly the glance of an instant, yet it left
me pleased and wondering why I had not at once recognized that plump,
petite figure. The duenna I had so feared was none other than the wife
of my friend Malgares, Doña Dolores. What was more, her look gave me the
impression that she knew all, and, with the national love of intrigue,
if not because of friendship for Alisanda, would aid us in our plans.

Vastly relieved at this discovery, I followed them at a respectful
distance into the lofty domed interior of the _Parroquia_. As my eyes
were fixed upon my lady, that I might not lose her in the throng which
moved up the centre of the stone-flagged nave, I gathered at first only
the vaguest of impressions with regard to the church's interior. But
when she and Doña Dolores piously knelt upon the hard flagstones, in the
midst of the peon women and the filthy beggars, I could not resist the
impulse to look up and around.

At once, in place of the vague impression of magnificence, there burst
upon my vision a glory of ornamentation almost dazzling. In all the
Republic we have no church or other edifice to approach the _Parroquia_
of Chihuahua in richness and splendor of ornamentation. The windows were
filled with pictures of saints and angels wrought in stained glass,
which cast over all a rich coloring well in keeping with the
gold-and-silver-bedecked altar, the brass screens and railings, the
silver candelabra, and the brightly colored and gilded images and
pictures and crucifixes on the walls.

Add to this splendor of decoration the rich vestments of the officiating
priests, the incense and wax tapers, and the solemn service of music and
prayer,--and the effect was one to impress the most frivolous of
believers in the Romish faith.

Yet as I stood beside one of the carved pillars and watched the devout
bendings and prayers of Alisanda, I could not but compare her real
worship with the formal movements and parrot-like invocations of those
about her. Her religion was of the heart; theirs mere outward display.
So at least I surmised from the manner in which, between times, they
whispered and nibbled at _dulces_, and stared about at one another. Of
course Alisanda and her friend were not alone in their real devotion,
but I speak of the crowd.

I followed the service as closely as the different accenting and
pronunciation of the Latin by Spanish tongues permitted. In justice to
Alisanda, it was my duty to learn all I could with regard to her
religion. I felt an added interest from the fact that the foremost of
the priests was none other than Father Rocus.

Yet the closing of the ceremonies came as a vast relief to me. When for
the last time the congregation crossed themselves and rose to leave, I
leaned against my pillar and watched them pass out with as idle and
careless a gaze as I could assume. All the time I kept the mantilla upon
Alisanda's gracefully bowed head within the rim of my circle of vision.
But I was certain she never once cast a glance in my direction, nor did
Doña Dolores.

Untrained as I was in the intricacies of Spanish courtship, I might have
been discouraged had I not observed that in their advance toward the
exit the two were drifting, so to speak, sideways. This brought them
angling through the crowd toward my pillar. Señora Malgares was on the
nearer side, and I fancied it was her purpose to speak to me. Instead,
they both swept by without so much as a glance.

Only, as she passed, the señora raised an arm beneath her _rebozo_ as
though to adjust its folds, and the fringed edge swept over my hat,
which I was holding at my hip. A slight tug at its brim induced me to
look down, after a moment's prudent wait. Within the hat's crown lay a
scrap of paper upon which was written, in French, the single word,
"Follow."

My height and dress, and the fact that I was one of the _Americanos_
about whom the city was so curious, made me a marked man in the crowd.
But if any among the hundreds of interested eyes that followed my
movements had for owners some who suspected the purpose of my visit to
the church, I flatter myself the sharpest were unable to distinguish
which one of the ladies it was I followed into the open. To divert
attention I glanced about at the peeping señoritas with feigned
interest, until one angel-faced little coquette who could not yet have
seen her sixteenth springtime fairly stared me out of countenance.

Once in the plaza, I had more room to man[oe]uvre, and started off at an
angle to the course taken by Alisanda and her friend. To my chagrin I
was at once surrounded by a tattered crowd of filthy _leprosos_, who
exposed their sores and whined dolefully for alms. I flung them the few
coppers I chanced to have with me, but that served only to whet the edge
of their persistent begging. Suddenly I remembered that Don Pedro had
given me the Spanish method for relieving oneself from these _caballeros
de Dios_.

"Gentlemen," I addressed them in my best Spanish, "for God's sake,
excuse me this time."

Even a few drops of Spanish blood carries with it appreciation of
ceremonious courtesy. My words and the bow with which I accompanied them
acted like magic upon the clamoring rabble. All alike bowed in response,
with a great flourishing of greasy, tattered sombreros, and all alike
stepped politely aside for me to pass.

The delay had given Alisanda and Doña Dolores several yards' start of
me, but they were now sauntering so slowly that nearly all the members
of the congregation who had turned in the same direction had gone by
them. I followed several paces behind the last chattering, giggling
group. As they passed Doña Dolores she dropped her rosary. This I judged
was intended as a signal for me to join them. I picked up the string of
polished beads, and hastened forward beside their owner.

"Pardon me, madame," I said in French, holding out the rosary, "you
dropped your necklace."

"_Santisima Virgen!_" she exclaimed in mock surprise. "They are indeed
my beads. _Maria purisima!_ it is Señor Robinson! How fortunate that you
should have chanced to find them for me, señor!"

I gave no heed to this mischievous raillery, for I was gazing across
into the tender eyes of Alisanda. I started to go around beside her.

"_Nada!_" forbade Doña Dolores. "Not so fast, señor. I am the duenna,
and I have very sharp eyes. So also have others who are walking in the
plaza. You have chanced to find my beads, and are escorting me to the
house of Señor Vallois, where your friend, my husband, is to join me at
breakfast. Please do not forget that you are escorting me. If you choose
to pay compliments to my companion, and I am too deaf to hear anything
that is said, who can blame me? Besides, you know I do not understand
English."

"Señora, you are an angel!" I exclaimed.

"_Santa Maria!_ but that is the truth," she mocked. "Yet do not tell it
to me when she is in hearing."

"Dolores! Is this a time for jests?" murmured Alisanda. The señora fell
to counting her beads, with the most pious of expressions. My lady
addressed me in English: "Dolores knows all, Juan. But it will be easier
for you to talk in English, and she will not have to strain her
conscience when she next goes to confession. Juan, it was rash to force
this meeting."

"Forgive me, dearest one! But I could wait no longer. The interruption
of our last meeting--"

"_Santa Virgen!_ that terrible aide! I was stricken dumb with terror
when he lunged at you--from the rear! The coward!"

"You saw it?"

"All! all! Juan, dear friend, you must guard yourself--you must be
careful! That savage Andalusian! I heard all you said--how you spared
him, that I might escape the scandal of a duel beneath my window. Has he
challenged you?"

"Not yet."

"Not yet! But he will--he will! Do not fight him with swords, Juan. You
told me once that you were not a swordsman. He is the most expert fencer
in all these provinces."

"If he is a master, I have a better chance against him as it is than if
I were an average swordsman. He will at least not know what I am going
to do, as he would know with one who fenced according to rules."

"But he will kill you! No, do not fight him with swords, Juan. Let him
challenge you, and be sure you name pistols."

"Would you have me murder the man?" I protested.

"You need not shoot to kill."

"That is true. But, dearest, let us speak of more important matters. You
have not yet told me--"

"I wrote of your danger from His Excellency, Juan. Be prudent. Make as
few enemies as you can. You have many friends."

"Walker has intimated that I shall gain more friends if I tame this
Andalusian bull."

"_Nada!_ If the swashbuckler challenges, you must fight, Juan. I know
that. But do not force the matter yourself. He stands high in the favor
of His Excellency."

"Alisanda," I replied, "you, like all others here, are far too much in
fear of this tyrant Governor-General. But rest assured Lieutenant Pike
and I comprehend the man and the situation. Should we show the slightest
sign of weakness, I at least will at once be flung into prison, if not
garrotted. The only course which will avert the blow is for us to show a
bold front."

"Yet a little diplomacy--"

"Trust Lieutenant Pike to attend to the diplomacy. In his direct
communications with Salcedo, he will flourish the steel blade in a
velvet sheath. Aside from that, we have decided that the bolder our talk
and bearing the better."

"Yet consider his absolute power--I fear for you, Juan!"

"What odds of the danger, if I have your love--Alisanda?"

A quick blush leaped into her pale cheeks, and she looked down, in sweet
confusion.

"No, no, dear friend," she murmured. "Do not speak of that now. It would
be too cruel, if later--Juan, you must see Father Rocus!"

"At once!" I assented.

"Go, then, now! You will find him at the _Parroquia_."

"But first, dearest one--"

"No, no! Go at once. We approach my uncle's house, and it is as well he
should not see you."

"Then, if you bid me go, _au revoir!_" I said, stopping short.

She gave me a lingering glance which told all that her lips refused to
speak. Doña Dolores dropped her beads and looked up at me with one of
her bright, mischievous glances.

"_Santa Maria!_ but you do not leave us, señor? You have been so
entertaining!"

"And you, señora,--I could not have asked for a kinder duenna."

She muffled a peal of girlish laughter beneath the folds of her
_rebozo_, and hurried Alisanda away, fearful, I suppose, that we had
attracted too much attention. I wheeled in the opposite direction, and
returned to the _Parroquia_. Aside from a few women kneeling here and
there before the wall shrines, the great church Was now empty. But a
young acolyte who came in to arrange the altar very courteously
directed me to the parsonage, where, he said, I should find Father
Rocus.

When I announced my name at the entrance, the gate porter at once
admitted me, and rang a little bell. In a moment who should appear but
Chita, my lady's Spanish maid. She courtesied and motioned me to follow
her, without betraying the slightest sign of recognition. But the moment
we were out of sight of the porter, she paused to whisper:

"_Tsst!_ Say nothing. They have sent me here that I might not aid her to
see you or write to you. They do not know that the padre is a friend. It
is as well that he even does not know how greatly I wish to aid you.
Señor, you are a _caballero_ and a man, and she loves you. It is right
that you should have her, though you be twice over a _heretico_. But she
will not wed unless the padre gives his blessing. It is true love
between you. If you cannot be a Christian, make pretence. For her sake,
bow to the holy images and cross yourself. Deceive the padre--for her
sake!"

"No, Chita," I replied. "A _caballero_ may lie to save a lady's good
name, but not to win her."

"_Peste!_ Then you will lose her!"

"We shall see. Lead me in."

She took me into a cosey library, where I found Father Rocus seated in a
huge easy-chair, one foot cushioned upon a stool, a glass and decanter
at his elbow, and a book of philosophy in his jewelled, white hand.

"_Hola_, Don Juan!" he called at sight of me. "You come in good season.
Be seated on the saddle-chair It will save your new coat-tails a
creasing. I will not rise. A touch of the gout, as you see,--the first
in months."

"Too much port," I suggested, swinging astride the narrow chair of
carved mahogany. "Better take to sour claret for a while."

"_Nada!_ not while I can bear the pain. I might pass for an English
squire--I cannot forego the port."

"I will write you a prescription that will ease the pain. Nothing will
cure you but abstinence."

He drew a wry face between his smiles. "Then I fear my case is hopeless.
I am far from being a true Spaniard.--Chita, a glass for Señor
Robinson."

The woman fetched and filled a glass while I drew my chair up to the
marble-topped table-desk and scribbled a prescription. Father Rocus
signed her to go out, and turned to me, still smiling, but with a
sharpened glance.

"So you have already followed my advice and come to mass," he said.

"Your Reverence has a keen eye," I replied. "It seemed to me I kept
close behind my pillar."

"Men are not numerous at early mass. Brawny, six-foot _caballeros_ in
European dress are not seen every week. Lastly, this one has blonde
hair. A glimpse was enough and to spare. You talked with her?"

"She has sent me to you."

"Hum," he considered. "First of all, this Medina affair. Let him do the
challenging. She says you do not fence. 'Twould be butchery for you to
meet him with swords."

"That is a small matter, padre. What I wish to know--"

"Is whether you can conscientiously become a Christian," he put in.

"No, padre. That is not the question. It is of no use for me to hedge. I
know I cannot become what you call a Christian. My religious principles
are too near those of our famous President, Thomas Jefferson."

"Jefferson--that atheist!" he exclaimed, frowning.

"Not so, padre," I insisted with much earnestness. "It is an injustice
to term Mr. Jefferson an atheist."

"And you?" he demanded.

"Your Reverence, I differ from most men of the age in this: I am content
to leave creeds and ceremonies to the theologians; to walk as upright a
life as lies within my power; and to trust in the great Author of all to
judge my deeds with the clemency of a father for his child."

"You do not acknowledge God's vicar?"

"I have not the faith which enables me to believe your dogmas. It is no
use to argue, padre. I am already sufficiently informed to know that a
man of my refractory mentality cannot accept many of the fundamentals of
your faith,--and I will not make false pretence by complying with the
outward form."

Instead of flushing with anger, as I had expected, he looked grieved.
It was apparent that my position was a bitter disappointment to him. For
several minutes he sat gazing at the crucifix on the wall across, in
sorrowful meditation, forgetful even of his wine.

"Padre," I at last said. "I love her with a love that dwells much upon
my own happiness, but more upon hers. I now know she loves me. Do you
not think such love God's will?"

He crossed himself. "God give me light! I am not among those who believe
that the love of man and woman is of necessity an impure desire. God,
not Satan, made Eve to be a companion unto Adam. Therefore true love is
sacred in the eyes of God, and marriage a sacrament."

"In effect, if not in form, Your Reverence, that is the belief and
practice of my people. With us a wife is the dear life companion who
shares our triumphs and our defeats, our joys and sorrows, who brightens
our pleasures, purifies and ennobles our impulses, and inspires us with
the highest aspirations."

"Such, alas! is not the attitude of my people toward women," he sighed.
"Yet to give a daughter of the Church to a heretic! _Santisima Virgen!_
It is a knotty problem."

"To me, or to such a man as Medina," I argued--"which would be the
greater sin?"

"Her uncle is set upon giving her, not to Medina, but to one as bad--one
as bad!" he repeated. "My son--my son! if you could but become a
Christian!"

"God gave me my reason, padre. If it is wrong to use my reason as I use
it, I trust that He will forgive the error."

"You are a true, clean man, and you love her as no man in New Spain can
love her."

"I do, padre."

"Yet it is against the canons of Holy Church--to give a true believer to
an outright heretic!"

"She should be free to believe and practise her religion without
change," I argued.

"True, but the children?" he demanded. "How as to the children?"

The wine spilled from my upraised glass, and I bent my head quickly
aside to hide the strange emotion which overcame me. Children! Never had
my thoughts dared roam so far into the future. Children--my children and
hers! From the depths of my heart there gushed up such a flood of
tenderness and adoration that I could not speak.

Despite his gouty toe, he came around before me, and with a finger
beneath my chin, raised my head until he could look down into my eyes.
Whether or not he read my thoughts I do not know. But I do know that he
raised his hands above me and gave me his benediction.

"Padre," I murmured as he drew back a little way, "believe me, if I
could do what you wish--"

"Swear that your children shall be raised in the Church," he demanded.

"I cannot swear that, padre. It would be against my conscience."

"Your word is enough."

"Nor that. But if this will satisfy you, I give you my word that she
shall decide upon the rearing of--of our children throughout childhood."

"Good!" he exclaimed, again all smiles. "You have won me over, my son.
Let us hope I may aid you to overcome your graver difficulties."

"Her uncle--Don Pedro?" I asked.

"Beyond hope, I fear, Juan. Yet I will try. For the present we must
avoid that problem, and bend every effort to mollify one who sits in a
high place."

"Outface, not mollify," I returned. "Lieutenant Pike and myself are
resolved to show him how fully we rely upon our country to defend, and,
if need be, to revenge us. We have already pointed out to those who will
bear our words to His Excellency the fact that the Floridas are within
easy striking distance of our turbulent frontiersmen."

"_Por Dios!_ You dared send such a message to Salcedo?"

"You may call it a message. We spoke in the presence of Lieutenant
Walker. Nor is it the only one. Since the first, we have been loading
him with similar information."

"Yet Salcedo has not incarcerated you? _Poder de Dios!_ It is a
miracle!"

"Rather, it is merely that we have outfaced him."

"God gave you the wisdom to be bold! Yet the danger is by no means past.
He may free your companions, but detain you for years, as he has
detained the men of Captain Nolan."

"I could fancy a harsher fate, padre. To remain a prisoner, yet have
Alisanda to comfort my captivity--"

He raised his hand warningly at the sound of sandalled feet scraping
along the brick pavement of the corridor.

"Let us hope for the best, my son. Go now, and God be with you!"

I thanked him with a glance, and hastened out past the withered old
priest who was shuffling across the threshold.



CHAPTER XXVI

A DEFEAT


That afternoon, immediately after the siesta, Pike and I received the
first fruits of our course of action with regard to the Government.
Malgares came to us from His Excellency, bearing a most urbane and
ceremonious message. The Governor-General expressed himself as more than
pleased to supply us with the official loan for which Pike had applied,
and offered to render us any and all other service which lay within his
power. Pike returned mellifluous thanks, while I looked at Walker and
smiled.

In the evening we accompanied Malgares to the south border of the town,
where we found a delightful promenade beneath the intertwining boughs of
a triple row of fine trees. Here gathered the society of Chihuahua, to
loll in the many seats or saunter to and fro, the gentlemen with their
_cigarros_, the ladies with their fans, and few of either sex indisposed
toward an exchange of ardent glances. All displayed the utmost
graciousness toward the _Americano_ guests of the Government, and, as
usual, we found ourselves highly entertained.

Among the ladies were Señora Vallois and Señora Malgares, and I was
pleased that Pike was introduced to them by their husbands. We met many
other ladies, but, with one exception, there was none other than Señora
Vallois whose husband was sufficiently free from the old Moorish ideas
about women to permit his wife to keep a _salon_. Needless to say, this
gave me little concern. I was far too disappointed over the absence of
Alisanda.

When Don Pedro introduced Pike, I asked Doña Marguerite if my friend
might not have the pleasure of meeting her niece. She replied, in a most
gracious tone, that he should meet her as soon as we called, but that
this evening the señorita was indisposed and would not be present. A
little later, when the company assembled in the circular seat at the end
of the promenade, Doña Dolores found an opportunity to slip me a note.

With the missive in my pocket I could not enjoy the voluptuous love
songs which the company sang in solo and chorus. I slipped away, in the
midst, while Medina was airing his really fine tenor. A torch at the
first gateway gave me light to read my lady's note. It was short, but,
alas! too much to the point:--

     "We were seen in the plaza. They are not angry, but are
     resolved to keep us apart. To save myself the shame of lock and
     key, I have promised not to see you for a week. Be patient, for
     I must keep my word, and our friends are not idle."

That was all, but it was enough to fill me with bitter disappointment.
That she would keep her word with scrupulous honor I had not the
slightest doubt. Yet how was I to endure a week without so much as a
glimpse of her?

Nevertheless we often suffer burdens which at first seem unbearable, and
I was strengthened to play a good part by the knowledge that my words
and manner would be reported upon in detail to Don Pedro and Doña
Marguerite. To mislead them with regard to the depth and resolution of
my passion, I managed to go about to our many dinners and calls with a
smiling face and merry words.

During the week we again dined with Salcedo, who this time was hardly
less urbane to myself than to the Lieutenant. We both, however, received
greater enjoyment from our dinner at the house of Colonel Mayron, the
father-in-law of Malgares. There was present an officer from the
Province of Texas who was able to give us many correct details as to the
fiasco of Colonel Burr.

Among other things, we now learned that the Colonel had been arrested at
Bayou Pierre in mid January, but had been released because of the
failure of the grand jury to bring in a true bill against him. Later he
had fled through the Cherokee nation toward the Spanish port of Mobile.
But it was rumored that had been captured in Alabama during February,
and was to be taken to Richmond, Virginia, for trial. This news from
home in part consoled me for the fact that Doña Dolores had no missive
for me from Alisanda.

We returned to Walker's quarters, and were still discussing Burr, when,
soon after the siesta, Malgares called by for us in his coach. We drove
around past several points of interest which we had not before viewed,
and then, without a word of warning from Malgares, suddenly cut across
the plaza to the mansion of Don Pedro.

When we stopped before the entrance the great gate was flung wide open
for Malgares to drive into the court. Instead he left his spirited bays
in the charge of a groom, and led us in afoot. When we came to the court
he dropped back beside Pike. I followed in the rear, wondering what
would be the nature of my reception by Don Pedro and his señora, and
whether I should be permitted to see Alisanda in the presence of her
relatives.

These questions were soon answered. The moment we appeared Don Pedro
hailed us from the head of the stairway and hastened down to welcome us.
His manner to me was quite as cordial as it had ever been, and when he
led us up into the _sala_, Señora Vallois was no less pleasant. Alisanda
was not present. But immediately after our hostess had invited us to be
seated, she pulled what I presume must have been a bell-cord. Within
half a minute Chita appeared at one of the inner doorways.

Doña Marguerite signed to her and called quickly: "Go, tell your
mistress we should be pleased to have her join us. We have guests of
her acquaintance and also Lieutenant Pike, whom I particularly wish to
introduce."

Chita gave me a blank stare, and disappeared. Malgares smiled at my
heightened color, and Pike looked about, with a twinkle in his blue eyes
that belied his solemn face. Yet I managed to force my gaze away from
the inner doorway, and even joined in the conversation with some
lightness. In the midst of a sentence, I saw Pike's eyes suddenly widen
and glow with admiration. By that I knew Alisanda had entered the
_sala_, and I could not resist the impulse to turn about.

It was small wonder my friend stared fascinated and that Malgares
uttered a quick exclamation of delight. Alisanda stood before us in the
costume she had worn at the Blennerhassets'. Her loveliness was
overpowering--intoxicating! No Grecian goddess could have exceeded her
in grace of movement and exquisite modelling of form, while the beauty
of her pale, oval face, with its wondrous eyes and luscious lips and
crown of sable tresses, was beyond all compare.

Regardless of Spanish etiquette, I hastened to her side. She rewarded me
with a glance of adorable tenderness, and took my arm that I might lead
her down the long apartment to where the others were grouped. Don Pedro
frowned at my presumption, but the señora could not resist a smile at my
ready gallantry as I led up her niece to be presented to Pike. Their
first remarks opened a conversation as lively as it was elevated in
tone, and I took a seat to one side, eager for my lady and my friend
each to discover the wit and fine sentiments and high breeding of the
other.

But neither I, nor, I fancy, our host and hostess had bargained on the
fervor of the Lieutenant's partisanship for me. Without ceasing to
render the most delicate of compliments to my lady, he adroitly turned
the conversation upon myself. Such a panegyric as he bestowed upon me I
had not thought it possible even for his fond bias to contrive. A man
may deserve some praise for his character, since that is acquired, but
why give him credit for the qualities of temperament with which he was
born?

Notwithstanding my embarrassment, it was most blissful to watch my dear
girl flush and glow, and to see her lovely eyes glisten with love and
pride, as Pike went on and on, contriving to cast a glamour over the
most commonplace of my qualities and deeds. As may be surmised, my
feelings were directly opposite to those which racked Don Pedro and Doña
Marguerite. Nothing, I imagine, could have given them greater annoyance
than this pouring of the oil of incense upon the flame of my lady's
love. Yet Pike swept gallantly on, innocent of all offence, while our
host and hostess turned steadily colder beneath their forced smiles, and
I flushed hotter with blissful shame, and Malgares lolled back, with a
_cigarrito_ between his fingers, his fine face impassive, but his eyes
drinking all in with utmost amusement.

At last, after one or two vain efforts to divert the conversation, Doña
Marguerite asked Malgares if he was not intending to take us around to
see our other friends. The hint was unmistakable. As we rose to leave,
our hostess deftly interposed the rampart of her plump figure between
Alisanda and myself. Our parting was restricted to a single exchange of
glances.

That I should leave with this and no more was beyond my endurance. As we
bowed to Don Pedro at the head of the stairway, a sudden resolve came to
me. I signed to the others to go on, and addressed our host: "Señor, my
friends will pardon my desertion of them. I desire the favor of a
private talk with you."

The frown which had creased his forehead at my first word vanished at
the last. He had thought I intended to ask for a private interview with
Alisanda.

"At your service, Don Juan," he at once responded.

I drew aside until he had bowed my friends down the stairway and out of
sight. He then turned to me, with a grave smile, and, taking my arm, led
me away from the _sala_ to his private cabinet, a small but elegantly
furnished room in the far corner of the mansion. But I was not
interested in the paintings by Titian, Velasquez, and Murillo which
decorated the rough-plastered walls, and to which he called my attention
with excusable pride.

"Señor," I said, "these pictures are beautiful,--they show the skill of
master artists. But my whole being thrills with the matchless beauty and
grace of a living work of art,--the masterpiece of the Master of
masters, of God Himself!"

"Juan!" he cried, "forgive me! I know now how you love her. Yet it is
impossible. If I dared give way to my personal regard for you, you
should have her. Believe me, I speak only the truth. But my country--for
the sake of its freedom, its welfare, I am resolved to give all--even
her!"

"Even her!" I answered. "Then give her to me! I will fight for your
country,--I will pledge my life in the cause of freedom! What more can
you ask? Your country shall be my country; your cause my cause!"

"No, Juan, it cannot be!" he replied, and his sigh proved that his
regret was real. "You would add strength to our cause, but not what may
be gained elsewhere. There are men in New Spain who, if they joined the
revolution, could singly bring over whole provinces."

"You would give her to another!--as a bribe to win the support of
another!--when you know she loves me?"

"God bear me witness, it is not for myself but for my country. What a
small price to pay--the disappointment of two lovers--in turn for the
freedom and happiness of millions!"

"It is not your heart you would break," I retorted.

"Do you then believe I can look upon her grief and yours without
sorrow?"

"Let another pay the price!"

"There is none other as precious--none other that can win him over. All
turns upon her beauty and charm. He whose aid I am resolved to gain by
the bestowal of her hand can be won only by the most lovely woman in New
Spain. And he is one whose leadership would at once bring us the support
of all the land, from across the borders of the Viceroyalty to Santa
Fe."

I stood dumb, staring at him in deepening despair.

"Juan, can you not look at the matter through my eyes?" he urged. "The
time is ripe. There are rumors that the Corsican is preparing to clutch
Old Spain out of the feeble grasp of King Ferdinand. It is well known
that the revenues from our mines have already for a long time been
flowing through the Spanish treasury into the coffers of France. Our
people are fast losing faith in Old World rulership. They hate and fear
the French."

"Then let them rebel and win freedom with their blood, as did my people.
A people who would buy liberty by the sale of a helpless girl are worthy
only of utter slavery."

He flushed a dull red beneath his swarthy skin, yet kept his temper well
in hand.

"You do not understand, Juan. Listen. It is now only ten years since the
people of the Viceroyalty rose and proclaimed the Viceroy, Barnardo
Count of Galvez, King of Mexico. In his misguided loyalty, Barnardo
crushed the insurrection with merciless vigor,--for which he was duly
honored and then duly poisoned by his royal master. Had he been wise, he
would to-day be ruling over a freed country of devoted subjects. But
that revolution came to naught; the vast projects of your discredited
statesman Aaron Burr have failed most miserably; and now we lovers of
liberty here are left to do the best we can with our unaided strength."

"And the purchasing power of divine and innocent beauty!" I cried.

"So be it!" he replied, with a hardness of determination which I
realized all my anger and despair could not move a hair's-breadth. Yet
as he went on, his voice quivered with unfeigned commiseration for my
suffering. "Juan!--Juan! If I could sell my soul instead, and thereby
save her for you, I would do it. The thought of her anguish rends my
very heart cords! Yet it cannot be. She alone can win over the second
Galvez who shall free my country."

There was nothing more to be said. Death alone can bend the course of a
good and strong man turned fanatic. Without a word I left the room, half
crazed with rage and black despair. He followed, murmuring words of
sorrowful regret; but to me his heart-felt condolences seemed only the
bitterest of mockeries.

As I descended the stairway, I looked back, not to return his grave
bows, but in search of my lady. It was in vain. Doña Marguerite had
taken care to spirit her away. Heavy-footed, I dragged myself out into
the street and away from that hateful gateway.

Before I could reach the plaza, I heard a sudden rumble of wheels and
thud of hoofs, and there swirled into the street a grand coach and six
that all but ran me down. I flung myself clear of the trampling hoofs,
but the forewheel of the huge gilded carriage grazed my leg as I pressed
back against the nearest wall.

A few strides of the splendid horses whirled the coach upstreet to the
gateway I had just left. There the driver pulled up with a flourish, and
the footmen sprang down to stand at the heads of the horses and to open
the coach door, from which stepped--Medina!

It flashed upon me that this was the man to whom my lady was to be
bartered. I turned on my heel to rush back and challenge him. But from
the manner in which he stood to one side, I perceived he had not come
alone. A moment later Don Pedro appeared in the gateway and stepped to
the side of the coach, bowing profoundly. A hand was reached out to him,
and from the coach descended, not the young gallant whom I looked to
see, but stern-faced, gray-haired Nimesio Salcedo.

Greatly puzzled, I turned again and walked slowly to our quarters,
striving to discern an opening through the meshes of intrigue in which
Alisanda and I had become entangled. What could be the meaning of this
visit of the Governor-General to one who I knew had reason to detest
and fear him? And if, as it seemed to me Don Pedro had intimated, he
intended to win over the Viceroy Iturrigaray by the offer of Alisanda's
hand, why had he not already taken her to the City of Mexico, or stopped
there on his way from Vera Cruz?



CHAPTER XXVII

HEART TO HEART


One result of my pondering of the tangled situation was the resolve to
keep from my friend all that concerned myself alone. He had enough and
to spare of anxieties and difficulties over the safety of himself and
his men, without becoming involved in my private affairs. At the least,
his concern for my safety and happiness would have tended to interfere
with the observations and notes which we hoped would be of such great
value to our country.

The following morning being Sunday, I went early to the _Parroquia_,
thinking to visit Father Rocus, should I fail to meet Alisanda again.
This last was barely within the bounds of my fondest expectations, and I
was accordingly more grieved than surprised when she failed to appear.
As I was going out, a few minutes before the close of the service, a
rather well-dressed woman in the archway mumbled an appeal for alms.

Struck by her lack of dirt and tatters, I stopped. She repeated her
appeal, this time in a clear tone, though without opening the veiling
folds of her _rebozo_. It seemed to me I recognized the voice of Chita.
At once I held out a coin to her. In reaching for it, she covered my
hand with the edge of her _rebozo_, beneath which I felt a note being
slipped into my palm.

She turned away, with a shrill blessing upon the generous _Inglese_,
while I dropped my half-closed hand to my side, thrust it into my pocket
and left the note, to draw out a copper for the foremost of the wretched
_leprosos_ who came flocking about the rich foreigner. This time I was
provided with a quantity of the smallest coins of the realm, and
scattered two or three handfuls to right and left. While the beggars
swarmed after the coppers like a flock of fowls over their grain, I
slipped around the nearest corner of the church to read my precious
note. It was short but full of promise:--

     "Do not go to the promenade. Feign illness. The _Parroquia_ at
     nine o'clock to-night."

The _Parroquia_?--at nine in the evening? It was an appointment to meet
her! Yet how could she escape the watchful eyes of Doña Marguerite and
Don Pedro, even should they, as was most improbable, take her out to the
promenade?

However, I concluded that I could safely trust to her wit and courage to
bring about the meeting. My problem was how to fill the weary hours and
minutes which lay between. I wandered aimlessly about the city, stopping
now and then to watch the gambling with dice and cards, which, though
prohibited by His Excellency, is too deeply seated in the natures of
these people to be eradicated.

Intense as were these games, where men and even women staked their
little all with passionate abandon, the excitement was far greater and
the betting higher at the numerous cock-fights. I looked on at
one,--which was enough and to spare. Man has a right to kill for food,
but none other than the cruel and brutal enjoys the torment of his
fellow creatures.

A gay dinner at the house of Doña Maria Cabrera helped to pass over the
day until the siesta. But throughout the long hours of the afternoon
rest I could only lie and swelter and eat up my heart with longing and
anxiety. So heated and restless did I become that when Walker waked he
inquired whether I had a fever.

This gave me my opening, and I stated my condition at some length, in
medical language which impressed him much while telling him nothing.
Even Pike was deceived by my statement, but I assured him that I should
be quite well by morning if I abstained from the usual round of calls
and the evening in the promenade. After condoling with me and explaining
my indisposition to the numerous friends who called, they at last heeded
my request for quiet, and went off to spread the news of my illness.

Between then and the twilight, the few who called were permitted to peep
in and see me dozing on my mattress, with my head swathed about in wet
towels. But after _la oracion_, old Cæsar had his orders to stop all on
the threshold of the outer room, and explain that I was not to be
disturbed.

A full hour before the time set, I borrowed one of Walker's circular
cloaks, and shadowed my face in my wide sombrero. After explaining to
Cæsar that I needed a breath of fresh air, but that he should say
nothing about my absence unless his master or Lieutenant Pike came in
before my return, I slipped out, unseen by any one else.

The moon having risen, I had need of care to cross the plaza without
attracting attention. Fortunately it was too early for an encounter with
the soldiers of the night patrols, who would have required me to give my
countersign. Arriving at the _Parroquia_, I stationed myself in the
dense shadow around the corner of the farther tower, and waited with
such scant patience as I could command.

Now and then persons passed by in the plaza, singly or in couples or in
groups. None caught sight of me, yet I could see them with perfect
distinctness, and as I considered this, I was seized with the fear that
Alisanda would inevitably be detected before she could reach my side.

From the first I had kept my gaze fixed in the direction of the Vallois
mansion, and had watched with eagerness the approach of all the gowned
figures that came either alone or in pairs. As the time drew near, I
became more restless and could not keep so steady a watch. More than
once I had to turn to look about at all quarters of the plaza.

It was during one of these chance glances that I was astonished to see
my lady approaching the church from the direction of the promenade. She
was accompanied by Father Rocus and Chita.

When they came opposite me, I ventured a slight cough, but they went by
without stopping. It was otherwise with a group of young gallants, who
paused to stare at the graceful figure of my lady until she and the
padre and Chita had disappeared into the yawning entrance of the
_Parroquia_. The young beaux had at once guessed the identity of the
señorita, notwithstanding her veiling mantilla, and they stood within
twenty feet of me, discussing her lovely charms as we would name over
the fine points of a pedigreed horse.

Meanwhile I fretted and fumed, in a swelter of impatience. No doubt my
lady was waiting for me and wondering at my delay! At last I was on the
point of stepping out boldly to follow her, when Chita came scuffling
out of the church, bent over like an old crone. She passed the young
men, muttering and grumbling, and tottered half sideways around into the
shadow. I caught her outstretched hand, and she led me quickly back
along the flank of the towering edifice.

We stopped before the dim outline of a little door. Chita tapped upon
the panel, and stepped away a few paces, to stand with her back to me. A
moment later the door swung open, without a sound, and a dark figure
appeared.

"Alisanda!" I whispered.

"Juan!" she replied, stepping nearer.

Ah, the rapture of that moment! Hers was no half love, to shrink with
false shame. As I clasped her in my arms, her own arms slipped about my
neck in tender embrace, and her lips met mine in a kiss of purest
passion. Our hearts throbbed together in ecstasy. She drew back her head
to gaze at me through the shadow.

"Juan! Juan! my knight! Oh, the joy of leaning upon your dear breast! I
could swoon for joy!"

"Tell me you love me!" I demanded.

"Juan! Can you doubt it? Could you have doubted it from the first--the
very first? There in the midst of that miry avenue, when I looked out
the coach window into the windows of your soul,--then it was, my
knight--"

"Then?" I questioned, my astonishment as great as my delight--"then,
dearest heart? You perceived the love, the adoration which filled my
whole being at my first view of your lovely face! You knew I would serve
you and love you forever after!"

"No, dear. I knew you loved me that moment. But I did not know you. I
was very proud--I am still very proud. The blood of kings flows in my
veins. I had vowed I should wed none other than one of kingly blood. I
shall not break that vow."

"Yet my arms are about you, Alisanda. See, I draw you still closer to my
heart; I kiss your adorable lips!"

As I eased my embrace a little, she sighed, and her head sank upon my
shoulder.

"Wait, dearest," she murmured. "Such ecstasy goes beyond my strength."

"Alisanda!" I exclaimed, "tell me--you do love me--this is not a dream!
I know you are in my arms, yet it is unbelievable--it is not possible
that you--!"

"Juan, my king!" she answered.

"That?"

"Yes, that! I believe in nobility of birth, for in that belief I was
born and reared. But you have taught me a new belief; you have opened my
eyes to see that there are men who are their own ancestors,--men so true
and brave and chivalrous that they are kings among their fellows,
whatever their birth."

"Beloved," I said, "do not mistake. I am as other men. It was only the
love you inspired that gave me strength to win you. I am but an average
man. Yet with your love--with your dear self to glorify life for me, it
may be I can rise above the average."

"My king," she repeated, woman-like, unmoved by the plain reason of my
statement.

"We have no kings in the Republic," I argued.

"But I have a king in my heart! Ah, Juan, if you but knew the fulness of
your conquest! Love was in my heart from the first. Love can creep
through keyholes. But pride barred the way against your entrance. Did I
not mock you and scorn you and look coldly upon you? Yet Love forced me
to give you the fighting chance, to put you to the test."

"That was the mystery--the secret of your eyes!" I exclaimed.

"And you had the courage to guess aright, to persevere against all my
scorn and hauteur, to cross the barrier of rock and the barrier of pride
and birth, into my heart, Juan!"

"Forever in your heart, as you in mine!"

"Forever!"

"When will you wed me, dearest one?"

At the words she quivered and sought to draw away, but I held her fast.
"No, Alisanda! I cannot release you until you have told me. When shall
we be married?"

"Ah, Juan!" she sighed. "How can I answer you? I fear that it will be
never!"

"Never!"

"My uncle has asked me to sacrifice myself for the sake of the
revolution."

"By marrying the Viceroy?"

"No!"

"No?--Then whom?"

"The Governor-General."

"Him--Salcedo?--that old tyrant?"

"It is my uncle's wish. He says it would free millions of people, my
countrymen."

"Your countrymen? You come from Old Spain! No! And what if that man
should sell himself for your beauty? Could such a man be trusted? Yet
suppose he held true to his pledge to lead the revolution, and suppose
the revolution should triumph, would it not be the triumph of Salcedo?
Would this wretched land be less oppressed under Salcedo the King than
under Salcedo the Governor-General? Answer me, Alisanda Vallois. You
know the man!"

"_Madre de los Dolores!_--And I would have made the sacrifice for that!
Juan, you have given me an answer to my uncle's plea. He may break my
heart, but he shall not force me to marry against my wish. Rather than
that, I will take the veil."

"Become a nun?" I protested.

"If I may not marry you, Juan."

"But you will marry me, Alisanda--you must!"

"How can I, dear? You have yet to cross the gulf."

"Father Rocus--" I began.

"He has spoken for you on that, yet admits a doubt. Can I wed you while
I still think of it as a sin--a marriage against God's will?"

A sudden great fear embittered my rapture and dashed me to the earth.

"Alisanda," I pleaded, "is not our love true love? Can such love be
wrong in the sight of God?"

"I have prayed the Virgin for hours without answer to that," she sighed.
"And when the holy priest admits a doubt--If I do not come to you with a
clear conscience, Juan, I shall be unworthy of your love."

"Leave that to me to judge!"

"No. We must wait, my knight. Rest assured I will not wed another than
yourself. Be patient. A few days may see the cutting of the knot. That
dangerous man Medina has wormed himself into the council of the
revolutionists. It would be like him to turn traitor, and demand me as
his price for not betraying the plot."

"Your uncle will give you to him to save his own life!"

"You do my uncle an injustice. He would sooner die. No; I was to be
given to Salcedo for the sake of this oppressed land. My uncle would die
rather than force misery upon me for other than the sacred cause of
liberty."

"I have opened your eyes to the peril of trusting Salcedo. Now what is
to be done?"

"Should Medina threaten, my uncle must flee from New Spain."

"Taking you with him! The world is large, dearest one, but wherever he
may take you, I will follow."

"If you escape Salcedo!" she whispered, and I felt her tremble.

Before I could answer, the voice of Father Rocus murmured from the
little doorway: "My children, you must part now. I brought you away on
the plea of faintness, my daughter. I must take you in for a glass of
wine, that my servant may bear witness with a clear conscience, and then
we must hasten home with you before the return of your kinsfolk."

"But when shall I see her again, padre?" I begged, clinging to my love
as she clung to me.

"_Sabe Dios!--Quien sabe?_" he returned. "We will each and all do what
we can. Now we must hasten, for if my share in this be discovered, I
shall lose all power to help you."

Reason compelled me to bend to this argument. I strained Alisanda to me,
and we exchanged a parting kiss. Chita came up beside us, and the moment
I released her mistress, hurried her to the envious doorway.



CHAPTER XXVIII

A SPANISH BALL


Fortunately I did not know that before me lay a full week of useless
scheming and vain longing. Though we went about visiting and dining as
usual, even two evenings at Colonel Mayron's failed to bring me the
slightest relief from my suspense. Alisanda was kept in such seclusion
that even Doña Dolores could not reach her.

On the other hand, Salcedo called twice at the Vallois mansion and took
with him Medina. This caused me the most intense anxiety. I was sure of
Alisanda's constancy, and yet did not know what pressure their casuistic
minds might bring to bear against her will.

As to this Father Rocus might have enlightened me, had I not feared to
compromise him by a second visit. It would need only the slightest
shadow of a suspicion to put Don Pedro and his señora on their guard
against the padre. Also I relied upon His Reverence to inform me in some
secret manner at the first change in the situation.

Another Sunday roused in me the wild hope of a second meeting with my
lady. But though I fairly haunted the _Parroquia_ throughout the
forenoon, I received no notes and saw nothing of my friends. Even
Father Rocus was absent. A casually spoken question at dinner brought me
the information that he was suffering a slight attack of gout.

Pike, ever eager for the display of my small skill as a physician,
immediately urged upon me to offer my services to the padre. This was
seconded by Walker and the half-dozen guests present with us at table,
for it appeared that Father Rocus was a general favorite in Chihuahua,
from the mighty Salcedo down to the lowliest _leproso_. After much
insistence on the part of the others, I at last agreed to call upon the
padre and prescribe for him.

Our little dinner, though frugal, was a merry one, for our host and the
guests were in high spirits over the prospect of a _baile_, or ball,
that evening. Though this ball was given at the house of a family we had
not previously visited, Walker took Pike and myself as a matter of
course.

When we arrived we found most of the _élite_ of the city already
assembled in the large ballroom. Indeed, the first couple upon whom I
set eyes were Doña Dolores Malgares and His Excellency, Don Nimesio
Salcedo, Commandant-General of the Internal Provinces of the Kingdom of
New Spain, whirling about in a Spanish dance that displayed far more
liveliness than dignity.

We were duly presented to our hostess, and made our compliments; after
which Pike plunged into the whirl with all the zest of his gallant
nature. I drew apart, to overlook the gay scene in search of my lady.
Not that I had much hope of seeing her, but I had learned that almost
anything seemed possible in this land of intrigue.

At once I was challenged from all sides by brilliant-eyed señoras and
señoritas. But even had I wished to take one as partner, I was
unacquainted with the now spirited, now voluptuous measures of this
peculiar Spanish dance. Pike, daring at all times and in all places, was
attempting the step with the aid of a plump and kindly señorita.

I was more than content to keep back and look on, while my ears drank in
the seductive melody of mingled guitar and violin and singing voices
which floated down the ballroom from the stand of the musicians. Both
the oddness and the agreeableness of this music was enhanced when at
certain intervals the guests joined in the singing.

Confusing as was the whirl of the dance, I soon identified all present
who were known to me, the first turn of the dancers bringing me a smile
from my stately friend Malgares and a hostile stare from Lieutenant
Medina. The dread to which the latter had reduced many of his
fellow-officers was evident from the manner in which the young subaltern
who had pressed up beside me shrank away at the first glance of the
aide's baleful little eyes.

Wondering how soon Medina would force a duel upon me, I drifted idly up
the room and back toward the entrance. No more guests had arrived since
ourselves, and I had given over all hope of seeing Alisanda. But as I
approached the Moorish arch of the ballroom doorway I caught a glimpse
of Don Pedro in the anteroom. It took me only a few moments to gain the
doorway. The close group of young officers about Don Pedro convinced me
that my lady was with him. I thrust myself unceremoniously into their
midst. Doña Marguerite sought to interpose, but, with a bow, I slipped
around her, and bent to salute the hand which Alisanda held out to me. I
was relieved to see that, like the rest of the ladies present, she was
dressed in the Spanish national mode, and also that she seemed in good
health and spirits.

"God keep you, _amigo_!" she said in a clear voice.

"_Muchas gracias_, señorita! May I beg the honor of your first dance?"

"It is yours, señor," she responded.

The other men fell away as she took my arm. Don Pedro stepped forward as
though to interpose, but desisted at a sign from Doña Marguerite. I
entered the ballroom with colors flying and the loveliest girl in all
the world upon my arm. For the moment Fortune was with me. The Spanish
dance had reached an end, and the musicians were striking up a waltz.
Nothing could have suited me better. Dancing was one of my few
accomplishments, and it was the very poetry of love and life to circle
about the long room with my darling in my arms, in rhythm to the pulsing
throb of the sweetest and softest of music.

It was no more than human that my bliss should key yet higher with a
tang of triumph as I glided with my lovely partner under the nose of
the scowling Salcedo and past the lowering visage of his Andalusian
aide. It might be that I was to meet my death from one or the other of
them, but for the time at least I was the happiest man beneath heaven. I
was in Paradise.

Before I was forced to relinquish her to Doña Marguerite at the stopping
of the music, I received my dear girl's pledge to give me all the
waltzes of the evening. More she dared not promise for fear of the
interference of her aunt. As may be imagined, it was a severe trial to
see her led out by another partner, even though she accepted Pike
instead of Medina for the voluptuous _fandango_ and though Doña Dolores
contrived to pilot me into the set in which my lady danced the minuet as
partner to His Excellency, Don Nimesio.

Before the close of the _baile_, Medina's persistence and his open
warning off of the other officers won him two dances, strive as my lady
would to avoid him. But even he lacked the assurance to interfere with
Salcedo's marked attentions, and, for the rest, Pike, Malgares, and
myself contrived to foil him in every attempt, with the two exceptions
mentioned. For myself, I had the divine joy of dancing every waltz with
my lady, and it did not lessen my rapture that Medina followed us each
time with a gaze which would have struck me dead had it possessed the
power.

Such bliss could not last. All too soon the ball began to draw to a
close, and when I came to lead out Alisanda for the last waltz, Doña
Marguerite interposed with the statement that they were about to leave.
Making the best of the situation, I claimed and was granted the
privilege of escorting my darling to the coach. Such complaisance on the
part of her duenna astonished me. I could account for it only on the
supposition that Señora Vallois thought to spur on Salcedo's ardor and
jealousy by the sight of a favored suitor.

However that may have been, the last of my successes of the evening
still farther infuriated the truculent Medina. It is not improbable he
would have challenged me that night had not my failure to obtain a word
apart with Alisanda induced me to follow the Vallois coach all the way
across the city.

Watching from the corner of the plaza, I saw the coach roll in between
the wide-flung gates of the Vallois mansion. I waited perhaps half an
hour, then stole silently up the street to my black doorway, across from
her balcony, and began to murmur the song which had twice brought me a
response from her. Almost immediately a light appeared behind the drawn
hangings. I started forward eagerly, only to check myself and step back
into the denser darkness of my lurking place. A hand had parted the
curtains, and between them appeared the frowning face of Don Pedro.

I went home, if not in as black a mood as Medina, at least not disposed
to kindly thoughts toward my enemies.



CHAPTER XXIX

THE INSULT


As chance would have it, Medina and I did not again meet for four or
five days. In the meantime the Lieutenant and I were astonished to
receive the report that an American officer had arrived in Vera Cruz
some weeks since, and had been permitted to start for the City of
Mexico. What could be his mission and why the Viceroy should allow him
to travel through the midst of his territories was a puzzle we tried in
vain to solve.

The same day I called upon Father Rocus, as I had promised, but saw him
only for a few minutes and in the presence of two other priests. This,
as I took it, was intended on his part as a precaution against suspicion
of his friendliness. That he had no news for me was evident from his not
passing me a note, though three or four opportunities offered for him to
do so without detection.

A few days later I had a still greater surprise than the mystery of the
envoy to Mexico. It came in the form of an invitation for the Lieutenant
and myself to dine at Don Pedro's. Hope, ever unquenchable in the heart
of a lover, told me that the don had repented of his harsh patriotism
and was thinking to save his niece from a fate worse than death. Never
was a lover more bitterly disappointed! Don Pedro and Doña Marguerite
received us with the most suave and cordial hospitality--but Alisanda
did not appear.

In answer to the Lieutenant's inquiries, Doña Marguerite explained, with
affected regret, that Señorita Alisanda was indisposed, and so could not
join us. I needed no more to assure me that the dear girl was under
restraint. What I could not understand was why I should have been
invited to dine.

The nearest I could come to an explanation was a repeated assurance from
Don Pedro that he and his friends were doing their utmost to persuade
Salcedo that it would be advisable to hurry me out of the country with
my fellow members of the expedition. This I took as an intimation that
our host still regarded me as a friend, but that the sooner I was sent
away from Chihuahua the more pleased he would be. When we left, shortly
before the beginning of the siesta, I had not been favored with so much
as a glimpse of my lady, nor even of Chita.

That evening we went to bid farewell to Colonel Mayron, who had been
ordered to a command in Soñora. Doña Dolores had no word for me other
than her assurance that I might rely upon the constancy of Alisanda. Of
that I was already certain, yet it pleased me to receive the
confirmation of the fact from her true friend.

On the other hand, I experienced a kind of savage joy when Malgares took
occasion to draw me aside and warn me that Medina was looking for the
first opportunity to force a duel. I made no other reply than to request
that every effort be made to keep Pike in ignorance of my private
troubles, and to ask Malgares to act as my second.

Being at such a disadvantage with the Government, I thought it as well
to refrain from explaining that Medina would not need to force me very
hard to reach an issue. Also I feared that a display of eagerness on my
part might cause even so noted a duellist as the aide to hesitate, and I
had become desperately desirous to break the blockade of events.

Medina did not keep me waiting long. The following afternoon he found
his opportunity in a message to us from Salcedo. As an officer, he was
careful to attend first to his official business, which proved to be of
a character well suited to his temper. I happened to be in one of the
rear rooms when Walker ushered him in to where Pike was thumbing over
his beloved Pope's "Essay on Man."

Recognizing Medina's carefully modulated voice, I lingered to adjust my
cravat with an extra touch. When I entered, the Lieutenant was in the
midst of a reply to some remark by the aide: "--Therefore, Mr. Robinson
and I have considered ourselves at liberty to discuss what we pleased,
and as we pleased."

Medina met my half bow with a scowl.

"May I inquire the purpose of our distinguished guest's presence with
us?" I asked.

"He brings word from the Governor-General that it is high time we put on
muzzles," replied Pike, with one of his rare flashes of anger.

"_Por Dios!_" I mocked. "Can it be Don Nimesio Salcedo does not admire
our teeth?"

"Were I His Excellency," growled Medina, "certain teeth would be gnawing
crusts in the _calabozo_."

"But as it is, Lieutenant de Gonzales y Medina comes as an aide in the
service of His Excellency," suggested Walker.

The hint was sufficient to smooth Medina's ruffled front. He fixed his
gaze upon Pike, and addressed him with the most formal politeness: "Then
you admit, señor, that yourself and Señor Robinson have persistently and
deliberately inculcated and disseminated republican principles
throughout the period of your presence in New Spain?"

"It is true," replied Pike. "We came to Chihuahua at the insistence of
His Excellency, yet have been assured that we are not to regard
ourselves as prisoners. Why, then, should we not discuss topics of
world-wide interest with the same freedom we should enjoy in our own
country?"

"Lieutenant Pike overlooks the delicacy of his situation."

"My compliments to His Excellency," retorted Pike. "My country is yet
young and poor. It may as yet lack strength to resent the outrages of
Britain and France. But present to His Excellency the assurance of my
confidence that the Republic can exact reprisals for injuries to its
citizens and officers inflicted by a secondary power."

"_Satanas!_" swore the aide. "You dare name the great Kingdom of Spain
as not among the first of the powers?"

"The sun of Spain is fast setting. Your statesmen sneer at the mistakes
and seeming weakness of the United States. I predict that unless Spain
elects for freedom, within a century she will be shorn of the last of
her glory, while free America shall grow in might beyond the grandest
dreams of her citizens!"

"It is with the present we have now to deal, señor," sneered Medina.
"His Excellency sends you fair warning. Those who have permitted you to
indulge in your Jacobinical and atheistic discourse in their company,
and in particular those who have themselves indulged in the treasonous
discussions, are all noted, and their cases will be attended to in due
time."

"That, señor, is doubtless one of the prerogatives arrogated to itself
by tyranny," said Pike. "As for Señor Robinson and myself, we are
citizens of the United States, and not subjects of His Most Catholic
Majesty. We propose to continue to express our opinions freely on all
subjects."

"I shall report your reply to His Excellency," said Medina, rising.
"Rest assured your conduct will be represented in no very favorable view
to your Government."

"As an officer of the army of the Republic, I am responsible to my
Government, and to none other," replied Pike, now fairly boiling with
rage. Fearful of his dignity, he gave Medina a curt bow, and withdrew to
our bedchamber.

"_Nom de Dieu!_" gasped Walker, astonished that any one could have so
dared the power of the Governor-General.

Medina looked aside at me, and saw me smiling.

"Señor Robinson is pleased to be amused," he said with a feline suavity
which told me the time had come.

"It is most amusing, señor," I replied. "That any one could be foolish
enough to imagine the possibility of intimidating Lieutenant Zebulon
Montgomery Pike is little short of ridiculous."

"_Por Dios!_ Say rather it is an absurdity to expect courteous
compliance from the bearer of so barbarous a name."

"How of my name?" I asked, with mock concern. "Is it also displeasing to
you?"

He stepped close to me, with a menacing look. "Your name, Señor Spy, is
one to be linked in infamy with that of your double-dyed traitor,
General Wilkinson, who for twenty years and more has been in the regular
pay of His Most Catholic Majesty."

My palm struck full across his mouth with a force that sent him reeling.
For a moment he stood in speechless fury, plucking at his sword-hilt. I
grasped the back of the chair in which I had been sitting, for my
pistols were in the bedchamber, and I had no mind to be run through.
But Walker stepped between us, and muttered a hasty word to Medina. The
latter made a sign for him to follow, and strode out into the court.
Walker was out and back in two minutes.

"_Sacre!_" he protested, in great concern. "What am I to do? He insists
that I shall serve as his second. Yet with you as my guest--"

"Accept, by all means. It would give me great pleasure. My one desire is
to keep this from my friend. The fewer who know of it the better."

"But a second for yourself?" he questioned. "_Entre nous_, I should far
prefer to serve you than your opponent."

"My thanks. But doubtless Lieutenant Don Faciendo will second me. I will
call upon him at once, and you can follow with such communications as
Lieutenant Medina desires to transmit."

"At your bidding, doctor. _Nom de Dieu!_ what a blow you gave him! and
with the open hand! My lips are now sealed--yet it is a fact that you
have choice of weapons. You will of course advise with Lieutenant
Malgares."

I waved him off, and as he went out again to tell Medina he would serve,
I hastened in to Pike. He was pacing up and down the bedchamber like a
caged panther.

"Has he gone?" he demanded. I nodded. "It's well--it's well! I could not
answer for the consequences should I have to face his sneer again
before I've had time to cool. By the Almighty, had he spoken in his own
name and not as a messenger, I'd have challenged him, John!"

"Doubtless. But this menace by the Governor-General?"

"It cannot be he will go to extremes."

"Yet would it not be as well to consult with our friends? They may have
knowledge of Salcedo's temper."

"We can rely upon Zuloaga and, I believe, your Don Pedro."

"Go to them, then, and I will look for Malgares."

"Very well. I will call upon Señor Vallois, and will meet you later at
Zuloaga's, if Malgares can come."

With this, we threw on hat and coat and started off in the gathering
twilight, on diverging paths. A few minutes of sharp walking brought me
to the Mayron mansion, where I was so fortunate as to find Malgares at
home and alone. Having first told of Salcedo's implied threat, I stated
my own personal affair briefly, and recalled his promise to act as my
second.

"_Poder de Dios!_" he exclaimed. "Nothing would give me greater
pleasure. You will choose pistols?"

"Can he shoot?"

"Not at all."

"Then let it be swords," I decided.

"_Santisima Virgen!_ you are no swordsman. He will spit you with the
first thrust of his rapier."

"I said swords, Don Faciendo. My thought was the straight cutlass of
your Texas cavalry. I have hefted a sabre, and your cutlasses must swing
much the same."

"It is true, _amigo_, that the regulation cutlass would put you to a
slightly less disadvantage compared to the rapier. There would be more
play for your strength. Yet Medina is an expert--a master swordsman. You
would have no chance. He means to kill you."

"I have quickness and strength. The odds are not so great as you fear.
But with pistols, he would be absolutely at my mercy."

"Then you insist?"

A lackey announced Walker.

"I insist," I replied, as Walker bowed himself in.

"What time?" asked Malgares.

"The sooner the better."

At this he excused himself, and conducted Walker into another room. I
spent the brief interval of waiting admiring a glorious painting by
Velasquez for which Malgares had paid a fabulous sum in gold ingots. My
enjoyment was not forced or feigned. With the assurance of action in the
immediate future, I really felt lighter and easier in mind than at any
time since the ball.

Malgares returned, with a clouded brow. "He was astonished. I do not
wonder. Men nowadays are not usually so chivalrous as to give the game
into the hands of their opponents."

"It is a case of two sets of loaded dice," I replied. "Mine are loaded
beyond all question of fair play."

"And his the same!"

"That is to be seen. You accepted the challenge? All is arranged?"

Malgares nodded, still troubled. "I could do none else. We meet them at
sunrise to-morrow, at the east end of the aqueduct. It is possible we
may have use for your pistols. Have them ready. I shall call for you in
good time, with my coach."

"You think there may be need of it to bring me home," I rallied him.

"God forbid!" he protested, crossing himself. "My only thought was that
you might pass unobserved."

"True," I replied, and I hastened to explain my reasons for not wishing
Pike to become involved in the affair.

I was barely in time, for I had no more than finished when the
Lieutenant was announced. Not finding Don Pedro at home, he had called
upon two or three other friends, who had expressed great concern for our
safety, and advised him to consult with Malgares. Don Faciendo looked
grave, but expressed a belief that all would be well if we held on as
before with a bold front. This was also the opinion of the friends with
whom we spent the evening at Señor Zuloaga's.



CHAPTER XXX

THE DUEL


Upon our return to Walker's quarters, the Lieutenant, who had been
working hard all day, at once retired. I remained up long enough to load
my pistols, and write, first, a farewell letter to my lady, and second,
a note to my friend explaining that I was to start early on a coach ride
with Malgares. This I left with old Cæsar, whom Walker had already
instructed to rouse us before dawn.

Faithful to orders, the old black had us out a good hour before sunrise,
and a biscuit and pot of chocolate ready for our refreshment. We dressed
and ate and made off, leaving Pike still fast asleep. Walker fetched his
horse from the stables in the rear of the courtyard, and conducted me as
far as the street. The expected coach was just wheeling into sight,
preceded by a pair of outriders with torches, for the night was as black
as Egypt.

At once Walker sprang into the saddle and rode off through the gloom to
join his principal, while I ran up to the coach and slipped in beside
Malgares. With that the gilded carriage swung about and rumbled off
along the first street which led northward. Having taken possession of
my pistols and loading outfit, Malgares asked if I had any word to be
given to Señorita Vallois, in the event of any misfortune. I handed him
the letter, with the request that it be returned to me if all went well.

"For her sake, you must see that it does go well!" he urged.

"It is for her I fight. In any event, I must have struck him for what he
said. For whether or not it is true General Wilkinson is or has been a
traitor, in the pay of your Government, Lieutenant Medina intended his
remark as a deliberate insult. But we are alike fully aware that it is
because of the señorita we now meet."

"God grant that for her sake you may win!--You will win, _amigo_!"
exclaimed my friend; and with that, to divert my thoughts, he fell to
chatting about various light subjects.

Presently the coach turned eastward, and, after a time, southward. The
gray dawn now broke the darkness, and the outriders, at an order from
our coach-man, flung down their torches and rode back into the city. The
ruddy gleams of the full dawn shot swiftly up the sky. Our driver put
the lash to his horses, and we spun along through a dense cloud of dust,
in a race with the sun.

Just as the upper rim of the blazing orb of day peered over the low
mountains to the eastward, the coach drew up beneath one of the immense
arches of the aqueduct. Malgares caught up the two cutlasses, which had
lain beside him in a wrapping of buckskin, and sprang out to meet
Walker, who was advancing from around the corner of the massive aqueduct
pier. They bowed and exchanged a few words, and Malgares, having handed
the swords to Walker, came back to the coach.

"Permit me to assist you in removing your hat, cravat, coat, and
waistcoat," he said.

I stripped to my shirt, delighted to be freed of the encumbering
garments.

"We meet on the east side of the pier," he explained; and taking my arm,
he led me beneath the colossal arch to the corner.

A step around brought us face to face with Walker and Medina. Their
horses, with the bridle reins thrown over head upon the ground after the
custom of the country, stood at a little distance, cropping the dry
grass. The ground for several paces alongside and out from the pier was
smooth and of a firm, dry, gritty earth. Medina, who had stripped in the
same fashion as myself, was looking at the cutlasses, which Walker was
holding up to his view.

When we turned the corner, Medina immediately stepped back half a dozen
paces, with a readiness that showed his experience in the formalities of
the _code duello_. Malgares left me and stepped forward beside Walker.
They first measured and examined the cutlasses, then exchanged a few
words in a low tone. Medina cast an impatient glance at the sun, which
was now clearing the horizon.

Malgares raised his hand, and stated, first to Medina, then to me: "The
principals will take position, at sword's-length, facing as at present.
At the word, 'On guard!' given by Lieutenant Walker, they will begin
action. At the word '_Arreste!_' by either second, the principals will
instantly cease action. Señor, do you comprehend?"

"_Si_, señor," replied Medina.

"_Si_, señor," I answered, in turn.

We were each handed a cutlass, and led up within striking distance.
Malgares and Walker drew back three paces.

"On guard!" cried Walker, in a thin, high voice.

Instantly I dropped almost to the ground and made a long-armed sweep at
my opponent's knee. He leaped back barely in time to save himself from
being hamstrung.

"_Arreste!_" shrilled Walker, springing between us.

I rose and stood back, staring from him to Malgares.

"What now?" I demanded.

"That is not fencing," protested Walker.

"No. It is fighting," I retorted.

Walker wheeled about and exchanged whispers with his principal. He
turned again, to address Malgares: "My principal demands that the duel
shall be according to the rules of swordsmanship."

"Enough!" I exclaimed. "If he wishes me to stand erect, I will stand
erect. Only do not again interrupt."

"Very well," replied Walker, and stepping aside, he for the second time
gave the signal: "On guard!"

I whirled up my cutlass. Medina stabbed at my heart. For all the
quickness with which I bent to the right, his point gashed full through
my left arm. But already my sword was descending in a sweeping stroke,
and the fierce sting of my wound gave all the more force to the blow.
Medina tore free his blade and whirled it up between my descending
cutlass and his head. But for his quickness, I believe I should have
split his skull to the chin.

Given a fraction of a second more time, he, being so skilled a
swordsman, might even have glanced my stroke, despite its weight. As it
was, the edge of my blade caught the flat of his at a square angle, and
drove it down upon his head close above the temple. He fell like a steer
beneath the poleaxe, while my sword blade broke clean off, a span beyond
the hilt, and whirred down upon the dry soil.

[Illustration: "He fell like a steer: my swordblade broke clean off, a
span beyond the hilt"]

"_Dios!_" cried Malgares.

"_Arreste!_" shrilled Walker, springing to stoop over the fallen man.
"_Sacre!_ I thought him dead. He is only stunned."

In confirmation of this, Medina stirred, opened his eyes, and, assisted
by Walker, staggered to his feet.

"Señor Walker," demanded Malgares, "as your principal is the challenger,
I now ask if he is satisfied."

Medina muttered something in the ear of Walker, who replied to the
inquiry: "Señor, we contend that, so far, the honors are even. My
principal has been stunned, yours wounded. By the time Señor Robinson's
injury is bound up, Lieutenant Medina will have recovered a clear head."

"The sword of my principal is broken," objected Malgares, as he spoke
producing the bandage I had provided. No artery having been severed,
there was no need of a tourniquet, and he bound up the wound during the
discussion.

Walker consulted Medina, and replied: "We hold that each principal was
given a sword of equal quality, and that the duel must continue until
the matter is settled."

"Good!" I exclaimed to Malgares, before he could remonstrate. "We
continue to fight each with his weapon. I shall use my broken blade as a
dart and the hilt as a tomahawk. I am far better armed than before."

At this Medina drew away for a consultation with his second. Walker came
back alone.

"We protest against the use of our opponent's sword as a missile," he
stated.

"We refuse to consider the protest," rejoined Malgares.

"We then suggest that the fight be continued with rapiers. My principal
has a pair at hand."

"The naming of the weapons lies with my principal," replied Malgares.
"If you insist upon a second choice, we name duelling pistols, with
which we have come provided."

Walker returned to Medina, and after a brief consultation, brought us
his assent to the use of pistols. Malgares immediately conducted me
around to the coach. As we turned the corner, we were astonished to see
Father Rocus racing toward us on a large white mule. He waved his hand
to us, and urged his mule to yet greater speed as Malgares drew out the
pistols and turned to go back.

"Wait!" I said. "The padre wishes to speak to me. Insist upon Medina
firing both pistols as a test. That will give me time. Walker knows my
manner of loading."

Malgares nodded and disappeared as Father Rocus galloped up and drew
rein beside the coach, purple-faced and gasping for breath. I gave him
my right shoulder, else he would have fallen in his descent.

"_Virgen!_" he panted. "It is over already! You have killed him!"

"No. We have tried swords without success. Now it will be the pistols. I
will shatter his right shoulder in the joint. He shall boast no more of
his swordsmanship."

"_Nada_, my son! That is not enough. _Carrajo_! He must die! Listen!
This scoundrel has wormed himself into all the secrets of the
revolution. He has demanded Alisanda as his price--"

"My God!" I cried. "But Salcedo--?"

"If she could put her heart into luring him, Salcedo might be won over.
But now this scoundrel calls checkmate. He pledges faith to the
revolution in return for her hand. _Carrajo!_ I now know the utmost of
his baseness. He pledges faith, yet, once he has her, thinks to betray
all and gain the estate of her uncle as reward for his treachery."

"God!" I cried.

A shot rang out on the far side of the pier.

"What is that?" exclaimed the padre.

I explained, and my statement was punctuated with the report of the
second pistol.

"So--he has tried them," said the padre. "Now they will be reloaded. You
will kill him, my son! It is God's will!... Malgares is not yet of the
revolution, but he is a true friend of Don Pedro. At dawn I went to
appeal to him to challenge Medina--His wife confessed that he had come
here as your second. I have ridden at breakneck speed--God be praised, I
am in time! You will kill the traitor!"

"You are in time," I said. "I will place my ball so exactly between his
eyes that you cannot measure a hair's-breadth farther on the one side
than on the other."

"God bless you, my son! You will save Alisanda and the revolution with
the same shot!"

"I did not suspect that you were one of the revolutionists," I muttered.

"For years,--like Padre Hidalgo in the South. But come. Malgares signs
to us."

We hastened forward to the corner of the pier, where Malgares stood
ready to hand me my pistol. Medina already was in waiting, ten paces
from the spot to which Malgares led me. At sight of Father Rocus, the
aide and Walker started. But the padre at once reassured them: "It is
well, gentlemen. I come only to act as witness."

Walker bowed. "Your Reverence is welcome. Señor Robinson, the terms have
been stated to my principal. I now repeat them. You will each stand in
the present position, with pistol pointed upward. Lieutenant Malgares
will say, 'One, two, three. Fire! One, two, three.' At the word 'Fire!'
you can aim and fire, during the time of the second count of three. If
either fires before the word, or after the count, you know the penalty.
Gentlemen, are you ready?"

Medina and I bowed, and Walker took his station with Father Rocus and
Malgares against the face of the pier, out of the line of fire.

"Ready!" called Malgares. We raised our pistols as directed. "One!" he
counted. "Two!--"

Down came Medina's pistol! I saw the black dot of the muzzle only to
lose it instantly in a puff of smoke. The ball grazed the side of my
head. So unexpected and sudden was the dastardly deed, I stood
motionless, the report of the pistol ringing in my ears, but listening
for Malgares to continue the count. Instead he uttered a sharp cry and
rushed upon Medina. Before the aide could so much as turn, Malgares's
Toledo lunged through his heart.

Whipping his sword from the body as it fell prone, Malgares faced
Walker, with his head high and his eyes flashing.

"Witness!" he demanded.

Walker bowed. "He fired before the word. You have done right to strike
him dead."

"You have done right! _Satanas_ has claimed his own!" confirmed Father
Rocus. Suddenly he thought of me and hastened to my side. "We forget
Juan! My son, did the ball strike you?"

I put up my hand and reached out to him one of my locks, which had been
clipped by the ball.

"So close as that!" exclaimed Walker.

"You know the saying, 'A miss is as good as a mile,'" I replied, as
Malgares took my loaded pistol and carefully lowered the trigger. "The
question now is to agree on an account for His Excellency that will
clear my noble friend and second, and place all the blame upon me, where
it belongs."

"_Nada!_" rejoined Malgares. "He shall know the exact truth."

"Leave the matter to me," said Father Rocus. "You know my standing with
the Governor-General. I engage to prevent any unpleasant consequences."

"But--the--body?" murmured Walker, glancing askance at Medina's huddled
corpse.

"I will take it in my coach," said Malgares, without hesitation. "You
will ride his horse, and lend your own to Señor Robinson."

We each offered to take his place in the grewsome part he had chosen.
But all that he would accept of us was our assistance in stanching the
wound and carrying the body to the coach. Walker then set off ahead to
notify Medina's servants, while Father Rocus and I returned to the city
by a roundabout road.

The moment we were alone I asked my companion a dozen and one questions
about Alisanda.

He shook his head to them all. "There is nothing to tell, Juan, other
than she is holding out bravely against their persuasions and commands.
The point now is to convince Salcedo that the death of Medina has rid
him of one rival, and that he can free himself of another by sending you
away with your indomitable friend."

"But if it is to leave her behind--!" I cried.

"We shall see about that in due course," he replied. "One thing at a
time. Rome was not built in a day. Now ride on, and leave me, my son. We
approach streets where we are both known. _Adios!_"

There was nothing for me to do but to obey.



CHAPTER XXXI

MY CROSS


Upon my return I found the Lieutenant so preoccupied over an intended
visit to Salcedo that one or two vague answers satisfied his curiosity
about my early morning excursion. He started out at last, an hour or so
before noon, when I contrived with the help of old Cæsar to wash my
wound and dress it in proper manner. Lest the Lieutenant or any one else
should notice something amiss and make inquiries, I told Cæsar he might
say I had been bitten by a scorpion, of which, truth to tell, there were
enough and to spare in and about Chihuahua.

The Lieutenant returned much sooner than I had expected. He had been
informed that His Excellency was closeted with Father Rocus, and could
see no callers. This he took as an unfavorable indication of Salcedo's
temper, until I assured him I had reason to believe that the padre was a
friend and had called on the Governor-General in our behalf. The
confirmation came during the afternoon in the form of a polite message,
brought by Walker, requesting Pike to call at the _palacio_ that evening
without ceremony.

When he returned, it was with the news that all was settled except as to
myself. The papers of the expedition were to be held, but Pike and the
six men with him were to march for Natchitoches in three or four days,
to be followed shortly by the detachment under Sergeant Meek, which all
this time had been carefully held back somewhere on the El Paso road.
The Lieutenant was inclined to be anxious over my fate, but I could not
but trust to the good offices of Father Rocus.

He met the padre at Salcedo's table the following noon, and answered in
his usual fearless manner the adroit questions put to him by His
Reverence. This, I believe, must have proved the last straw to the
Governor-General, for that evening, while we were visiting Malgares,
Walker brought word that I was free to accompany Pike. In his
excitement, he spoke of the padre's cleverness in mollifying His
Excellency over the death of Medina, but Malgares averted a disclosure
of my share in the affair by the laconic statement to Pike that he had
killed the aide during a duel.

Such a happy termination of the affair would have given me great
satisfaction had I not been distressed over my failure to hear a word
either of or from Alisanda. Even Doña Dolores was still refused
admittance to her.

This was on a Sunday. Monday we spent in our preparations for marching.
I had need of all the diversion I could find, to keep down the maddening
thought that I should have to go without seeing my lady. In my despair I
called upon Father Rocus, who counselled patience, and promised to do
what he could to obtain for me a last meeting. But he warned me that
even should he succeed, I could expect to see her only in the presence
of the family. I begged him to give me some hope for the future. But he
shook his head.

"_Sabe Dios!--Quien sabe?_" he said. "All that I can now say is that, if
she cannot follow you to your free republic, she will take the veil."

"No!" I cried. "I cannot give her up!"

"You can if you must, my son. There are few mortals who at some time
during their lives do not have to bear a heavy cross. If this one is
laid upon your shoulders, you will bear it with manly strength. But
there is still a hope for you. I shall advise with her before you pay
your farewell call at Señor Vallois's. If there seems a way of escape,
you will receive a message either from her or from myself."

I thanked the good padre, and left him, my heart in a tumult between
fondest hope and blackest despair.

In the morning, which was that of the twenty-eighth of April, the day
set for us to march, we visited about the city to say farewell to all
our friends. But when we came to Don Pedro's I informed the Lieutenant
that I wished him to make only a brief call and then go without me.
Malgares, who was to march in charge of our escort, and with whom we had
called upon the weeping Doña Dolores, assented to my request no less
heartily than did Pike.

As I had expected, Don Pedro and Doña Marguerite received us with the
utmost cordiality--but alone. In the midst of our call Father Rocus
entered in a casual manner, but, unlike the Vallois, he greeted us with
a marked coolness. I was seized with the dreadful suspicion that he had
all along been playing double with me. Yet there was the memory of that
meeting at the _Parroquia_ to shame my doubt.

Before I could calm my thoughts, Pike and Malgares rose to leave. I
followed them slowly to the door, then suddenly turned back and bent
upon one knee to take the hand of Doña Marguerite.

"Señora," I begged, "for the love of God, give me a last word with her!
I am going away all those thousands of miles--I fear I shall never again
see her--have pity upon me! One word, señora!"

"_Ave Maria purisima!_" she murmured, bowing her head and sighing.

I had touched her heart. Another plea might have persuaded her. But Don
Pedro came hastening back, his face as cold and hard as a stone.

"Your friends will be delayed, Señor Robinson," he said.

"Señor," I replied, rising to face him, "at the least have the justice
to hear me out. You know that I love your niece with my whole heart and
body and soul. You know that she loves me with a love that will last as
long as life itself. Our love was born the first time we looked into
each other's eyes; since then our love has never wavered. It drew me to
her over deserts and mountains, through wildernesses before known only
to the red savages; it forced me to face singly the soldiers and
prisons and garrottes of your tyrannical rulers. I know now that I
cannot hope for you to turn from your cruel purpose. Yet for the sake of
the friendship you once professed to bear me and for the sake of her
love, give me at least a moment's farewell--a word of parting!"

Despite the desperate earnestness of my plea, he stood throughout
without a trace of relentment in his cold face. But Doña Marguerite was
a woman, and I had spoken from the depths of my heart.

"_Santisima Virgen!_" she cried. "It is only for a last moment's
adieu!--Padre! padre, advise us!"

My heart gave a leap of wild hope as I saw Don Pedro look about at the
padre with respectful attention.

"It is a hard question to decide, my children," deliberated Father
Rocus. "It may well cause her more sorrow than relief. And yet--and
yet--"

He paused and seemed to sink into prayerful meditation. Don Pedro and
Doña Marguerite bowed their heads and murmured "_Ave!_" I stood waiting,
in a tremendous stress of doubt and joy, of hope and despair. At last
the padre raised his head, and pronounced his opinion: "As her guardian,
Don Pedro, yours is the decision. Yet as her confessor, I advise, for
the good of her soul, that you do not deprive her of this last
consolation. Even the meekest will rebel if pressed too hard, and she
has a high spirit."

"Since you advise it, padre," acquiesced Don Pedro, though with evident
reluctance. "For the good of her soul, they may say adieu. But it must
be here, in our presence."

Doña Marguerite hastened to pull the bell-cord. Chita appeared.

"Prepare your mistress to say adieu to Señor Robinson."

Chita darted away. We waited, I burning with impatience, the others
murmuring prayers. At last my sweet lady appeared in the curtained
doorway. Though she sought to smile, her face was wan and sad, and her
beautiful eyes heavy as if she had wept much and slept little. Had not
Doña Marguerite taken the precaution to lay a restraining hand on my
wrist, I should have rushed forward and clasped the poor oppressed
darling in my arms.

We were permitted to approach each other. I bent on one knee and pressed
my lips to the little white hand she gave me. The others watched our
every movement and listened for every word. Yet I could not restrain
myself from speaking out the love with which my heart overflowed.

"Dearest one!" I murmured, "it seems that we must now part--it may be
forever! I do not see how I can bear to lose you, my darling. But, as
the good padre says, we all have our crosses, and it may be that
strength will be given to me to endure. Yet most of all my heart aches
for your grief, Alisanda. God grant you surcease of sorrow!"

My voice failed me. I heard Doña Marguerite sob. But Alisanda neither
wept nor sobbed. She gazed upward, with a spiritual glow in her dark
eyes.

"God will do unto us according to His holy will!" she said.

"_Ave Maria de los Dolores!_" sobbed Doña Marguerite.

Alisanda looked down at me with the gaze which opened to me those
fathomless wells of mystery.

"Juan," she said, "they tell me we can never wed. If such be the will of
God, we must submit. But--" She held up the gold crucifix of the rosary
which hung about her neck--"by _la vera cruz_ I vow to you, beloved, I
will wed none other mortal than yourself. If I may not be your bride, I
will become the bride of Christ!"

"_Caramba!_" swore Don Pedro. "Recall that vow! I command you!"

"God has heard it!" she answered.

"The vow is registered in heaven," confirmed Father Rocus.

"Absolve her!" demanded the don, fairly beside himself with chagrin at
this sudden turn that threatened to frustrate all his designs.

"Peace, peace," soothed the padre. "I will consider the matter with
prayer and meditation."

"_Satanas!_" cried Don Pedro, turning upon me in a rage. "But for you,
she would not have vowed! Go!--"

"_Nada!_" I rejoined. "You said I could bid her farewell. I hold you to
your word as a gentleman."

He turned on his heel, and strode over to stand beside Father Rocus,
doubtless fearful that he could not otherwise restrain himself from
attacking me.

"Be quick!" urged Doña Marguerite.

Alisanda took the rosary from about her white throat and held it out to
me. Her voice kept to the same clear, brave note: "Adieu, my Juan! We
part. You are not a Christian, I know, yet as a sign for the guidance of
your faith, I give you this golden symbol--_la vera cruz_!"

As her dear hand placed the cross in my palm, my love and despair burst
all bounds. Forgetful of all else, I caught her to me and pressed my
lips to hers in passionate grief. But in a moment she was torn from me
by Don Pedro, who carried her off, half fainting, from the room. I would
have followed had not Doña Marguerite and Father Rocus clung to me on
either side and implored me to leave before the return of Don Pedro.

Half stupefied with despair, I permitted them to lead me to the
stairway, where Doña Marguerite sobbed out an "_Adios!_" and turned
back. The padre hurried me down the stairway and out into the street,
where, after a hasty benediction, he hastened back to pacify the
violence of Don Pedro.



CHAPTER XXXII

THE MESSAGE


He left me none too soon. I could hear Don Pedro cursing furiously in
the courtyard. Fearful that if matters came to blows, I might do an
injury to the kinsman of my lady, I dragged myself away, heavy with
despair. Not until I was half across the plaza did I notice that I still
held her rosary in my hand. I stared at the little gold cross with
bitter hatred. It seemed so harsh a mockery that she should have given
me as parting gift that symbol of the gulf that now yawned between us,
wider and deeper than ever. Yet the gift was from her, and--I must bear
my cross!

For a moment I was tempted to put a pistol to my head and end all. But
the life within me was sane and strong, and the memory of my lost lady
too sweet for me to hurl myself into the unknown. In reflex from that
last black thought of self-destruction there came to me even a feeble
consciousness of resignation--a feeling that for her sake I must
endeavor to live my life in a manner worthy of her memory. And this
feeling did not leave me, but increased in strength throughout the weary
weeks of our long homeward journey.

We started that afternoon, immediately after the siesta, and proceeded
in a southerly direction on the road toward Durango. But I do not
propose to give here the tedious details of our trip. Greatly to our
disappointment, a few days brought us a parting from our noble friend
Malgares, who turned over his instructions and despatch-pouch to a
Captain Barelo. The latter took us so far south before rounding the
lower end of the terrible Bolson de Mapimi Desert that we at one time
thought he had secret orders to march us to the City of Mexico.

Whatever the object of this long detour, it served the purpose of
enabling Pike and myself to take many more observations of the mines,
towns, and other features of the country than if we had followed a
shorter route. By the time we had swung around, north by east, up
through the Province of Coahuila, and crossed over the Rio del Norte,
which here is more often called the Rio Grande, we had all but one of
the musket barrels closely packed with notes.

From the Rio Grande we proceeded northeastward, and crossing the border
of the Province of Texas, arrived at San Antonio on the seventh of June.
Here we were received with the utmost hospitality by the gallant and
beloved General Herrera and by Governor Cordero, who took us into his
own quarters, offered us every favor within his power, and had a house
especially prepared for the men.

Many other prominent persons of the town were no less cordial and
hospitable. Among them was a Captain Ugarte, to whom we brought letters
of introduction from Malgares. His charming wife Doña Anita was a sister
of Doña Dolores. Hardly had we been introduced to her when the kindly
señora led me aside and showed me a letter which she had received from
Señora Malgares a week before our arrival.

"My sister has roused my deepest interest, Señor Robinson, by the story
of your doleful separation from your Dulcinea," she explained. "This
letter begs me to do what little I can to console you."

"You are most kind, señora," I replied. "But I know of nothing--unless I
might ask you to send a message by Doña Dolores to Señorita Alisanda."

"Gladly! Have you received no message from her?"

I shook my head sadly. She thought a moment, and then pressed me to tell
her of my last meeting with Alisanda. The moment I mentioned the cross
her face brightened.

"Permit me to see the rosary," she said.

I drew the bitter-sweet gift from my bosom and handed it over to her. To
my surprise, she began to examine the beads with a minute scrutiny,
feeling and shaking each in turn as she passed it along the cord.
Whatever she had thought to discover, she found nothing. At the last she
took up the little crucifix and turned it over in her slender hand.

"Ah!" she exclaimed, holding it closer to her sparkling eyes. "Her name
is Alisanda Vallois."

"Alisanda Vallois," I repeated, wondering at the remark.

"A. V.--Alisanda Vallois. You have planned for a meeting in August?"

"No, señora. We did not plan. I have heard of no such plan."

"_Santa Maria!_ Men are so stupid!" she rejoined. "Look, there is your
message: 'A V--AUG'! What ever else can that mean than Alisanda Vallois,
in August?"

"What?" I cried, half mad with delight. "But where?--what place, señora?
Tell me where!"

She laughed at my blindness. "Where, señor? You ask that? What did she
call this gift--the exact words?"

"_La vera cruz!_" Even as the words passed my lips, the truth flashed
upon me. I had indeed been stupid--blind!--blind not to have seen those
faintly scratched letters on the gold; stupid not to have joined the
symbolism of the gift to her words, "_La Vera Cruz_"!

I kissed the señora's hand with a fervor which, I trust, did not disturb
the peace of mind of Captain Ugarte. Later she undertook to send to the
care of Doña Dolores a message which, for the sake of precaution, I
restricted to the one line:--

"_La vera cruz_ is my guide and comforter."

Despite so joyful a revelation to glorify our stay at San Antonio, I
felt no regrets when another week saw us started on to the north and
east for Nacogdoches, the most eastward of the Spanish _presidios_ in
Texas.

The second day beyond that place we crossed the Sabine, and were left by
our Spanish escort, being in the neutral zone.

On the afternoon of July the first we at last arrived at Natchitoches,
only fifteen days short of a full year since we had departed on our long
and eventful journey from Belle Fontaine.

Such greeting as we received from our officers at the fort may be better
imagined than expressed. And not the least of my joys upon this happy
occasion was that of hearing my brave and resolute friend hailed by his
fellows, not as Lieutenant, but as Captain! We were alike astonished and
gratified to learn that he had been entitled to that advanced rank since
the twelfth of the preceding August. What was more, his services had
been most handsomely noticed to Congress by President Jefferson.

As the Captain had arrived at the journey's end outworn and in miserable
health, I restrained myself to remain with him long enough to assist in
arranging the great mass of notes which, to the exultant delight of our
countrymen, we brought to view by filing off the barrels of the six
muskets.

There would have been no end to the questions of the officers of the
fort had not Pike intimated that discretion required silence with regard
to all the important details until after he had made his report to
General Wilkinson and the Secretary of War. The doughty General, we
were informed, had hurried east to Richmond some weeks past, to take
part in the trial of Colonel Burr and Harmon Blennerhasset for treason.

But as to the facts of the great case, I observed that our countrymen
were decidedly circumspect in their statements; for it seems that the
General himself was accused by his numerous enemies of complicity in the
alleged treasonous conspiracy. Captain--I write the word with
pride--Captain Pike was highly indignant at this attempt to implicate
the friend and patron who had so helped him in his career. But I,
remembering what I had learned from Burr and from the General himself,
and above all considering that hideous charge by the aide Medina, had
the greatest difficulty in giving the passive assent of silence when my
friend said that he would include my respects in his letter to the
General.

Truth to tell, having now the possibility of again meeting and of
winning my lady, I was extremely desirous for a commission in the Army.
It was an ambition which the Captain and I had frequently discussed
since our departure from Chihuahua, and which he told me he intended to
call to the attention not only of General Wilkinson but of the Secretary
of War, General Dearborn.

I need hardly say that we had also discussed, in confidence, my plans
for a voyage to Vera Cruz. But as he knew even less about the sea than
myself, he could only commend my intention of applying for assistance
to Mr. Daniel Clark, and insist upon my leaving him as soon as his
health was a little improved and the notes partly arranged.

At last my growing impatience and anxiety forced me to bend to his
urging. We parted, with more than brotherly regard and affection, in the
fond expectation of rejoining each other within a few months as brothers
in arms. His last words were an assurance that he could obtain me a
captaincy, and a heart-felt wish that I might succeed in my venture.



CHAPTER XXXIII

IMPRESSED


It was a wearisome journey by river and forest and swamp to New Orleans
in the swelter of the July heat, but I pushed on by horse and boat to
the mosquito-and-fever-plagued city of the delta. Having long since
become hardened to the torments of the Southern insect pests and to the
dangers of ague, dengue, and yellow jack, I endured the first with
resignation and braved the last without a qualm.

The sight of the creole city, with our glorious flag afloat above the
bold little forts, St. Louis and St. Charles, filled me with joy and a
sense of accomplishment. This marked my point of departure in the
crossing of the Gulf, which alone, I hoped, now separated me from my
lady. Though, even with the influx of our native-born Americans since
the annexation, the city could claim only nine thousand inhabitants, the
amount of its trade and shipping was enormous. Among the scores and
hundreds of sea-going craft which lay moored along the wharfs and the
levees or swung at anchor in the stream, I felt certain I should find
one to bear me to Vera Cruz.

Of all the merchants of the city, I knew that few if any stood so well
with the Spanish authorities in the New World or carried on so extensive
a trade with the Spanish colonies as my acquaintance, Mr. Daniel Clark.
Accordingly I waited upon him the evening of my arrival, and stated my
keen desire to obtain passage to Vera Cruz.

He took occasion to congratulate me on my share in the expedition, a
general account of which had come to him, I suspect through secret
sources of communication with the Spaniards. He, however, shook his head
over my request for advice and assistance, until, in desperation, I
confessed that the object of my intended voyage was to meet the lady to
whom I was betrothed.

"Why did you not tell me that at the first, sir?" he snapped. "I set you
down for an agent of that double-dealing scoundrel and traitor James
Wilkinson."

"Mr. Clark," I replied, "General Wilkinson will, I presume, be subjected
to the searching cross-examination of the counsel for Colonel Burr.
Personally I have little liking for the General, and have so expressed
myself in the past. But for the present I think it only just to him, as
to Colonel Burr, to await the publication of the facts of this
deplorable scandal and the verdict of the trial."

"Ay, ay! You can take a dispassionate view, doctor. You have not shared
in all the heat and tumult of this last year. Very well. Be as
nonpartisan as you wish, just so you do not join in the hounding of
honorable men who chanced to show courtesies to that misguided dreamer,
Burr."

"Sir, I have no other thought, no other object in life that I can
consider until I have returned this to my lady," I said, showing him the
rosary.

He turned to his portfolio, and at once wrote a letter in a neat, clerky
hand. Having folded and addressed it, he handed it to me unsealed.

"Present that to Monsieur Lafitte. You will find his sloop, the _Siren_,
somewhere along the water front. Wait. Are you in funds?"

"Enough for the present, sir. But this Monsieur Lafitte--he sails for
Vera Cruz?"

"I have written him that you wish to land in that port. He bears papers
from me which will enable you to effect a landing and a stay of a few
weeks. Should you need funds to carry you through with your venture in
that city, this letter will enable you to draw upon Captain Lafitte for
a hundred doubloons."

I sought to express my gratitude, but he cut me short, and rang for his
mulatto boy to show me out. As it was by now past nine o'clock and a
dark, cloudy evening, I returned to my hotel for the night.

But sunrise found me down in the midst of the hurly-burly and confusion
of the water front. Such a scene was never known elsewhere than here in
the port of the Father of Waters. Rowdy rivermen from the Ohio and
Mississippi settlements, and no less rowdy seamen from the four quarters
of the globe, lewd women and dock workmen, black and white, swarthy
creole merchants and weather-beaten ship's officers,--all jostling and
hurrying about wharf and levee in the cool of the early morning.

Upon starting to inquire, I discovered that it was not so simple a
matter to find the sloop _Siren_ as I had imagined. The slaves and
creoles were polite in their replies, the sailors and rivermen gruff,
but all alike expressed their inability to enlighten me.

At last I accosted at a venture a splendidly built gentleman of about my
own age and breadth but a full two inches taller.

"Monsieur," I said, noting his black hair and French features, "your
pardon, but I am in search of the schooner _Siren_, Captain Lafitte."

"Ah," he replied, eying me with a polite yet penetrating gaze. "May I
request you to name your business with Captain Lafitte?"

"Sir," I answered, bowing, "my business with Monsieur Lafitte is
private. If you cannot favor me with the location of the _Siren_--"

"If I cannot favor you with that, I can at least with the location of
Jean Lafitte," he said, bowing in turn. "Monsieur, permit me to
introduce myself as Jean Lafitte, at your service."

"Monsieur, your servant, Dr. John H. Robinson, with a letter from
Monsieur Daniel Clark," I responded.

His fine hazel eyes glowed. "A friend of Monsieur Clark!"

I handed him the letter. He bowed with the polished ease of a courtier,
and after a polite apology, opened and read the letter. At the end he
slipped the letter into his wallet, and smilingly held out to me a
shapely, bronzed hand.

"Monsieur Clark has explained your reason for sailing, doctor," he said,
with a manner that won him my regard on the spot. "I shall be more than
pleased to do all in my power to aid you. We shall first send for your
chests."

I explained my lack of wardrobe.

"_Sacre!_" he exclaimed. "But I sail at once. Come! I have it. I lost my
third mate in a brush with an English privateer last month. He was a
cleanly man of much your build. You shall ship in his berth."

I pointed to the nearest flatboat. "That is the extent of my seamanship,
Monsieur Captain."

He shrugged. "The clothes will fit, if the berth does not. You can save
your present costume for your landing."

I bowed assent, and we at once swung along side by side to a wharf where
his boat was in waiting for him. With a courtesy which I did not then
appreciate, though I noted how it impressed the half-dozen swarthy,
red-capped oarsmen, he sprang first into the stern-sheets. The moment I
stepped in after him, the men pushed off. They rowed with a skill and
regularity of stroke that speedily brought us out around the brig which
blocked our view, when we approached the most graceful sloop upon which
I had ever set eyes.

Not being a seaman, I can only say that the _Siren's_ masts and yards
seemed to me to be unusually long, and the former strongly inclined to
the stern--raked, I believe is the marine term. Her hull, which was
painted a dull gray, with a narrow stripe of red, was sharp in the bow,
broad and overhanging at the stern, and low-set in the water.

When we came aboard, I noticed that the sloop's decks were cleaner and
more orderly than those of any other merchant vessel I had seen at close
quarters, and that besides a number of carronades, she carried abaft the
mainmast a great pivot-gun that could have found few mates afloat
elsewhere than aboard a man-of-war. It was a long French
twenty-four-pounder, which is really a twenty-six-and-a-half-pounder by
English weight. As is well known, many frigates carry no heavier longs
than eighteen-pounders.

Observing my interested glance, Captain Lafitte said, with a smile: "As
you see, doctor, Monsieur Clark is disinclined to deliver his sloop and
cargo to the Spanish privateers without a protest."

"Is the _Siren_, then, his vessel?" I asked in surprise.

"For this voyage, at least," he answered; and leaving me to guess what
this might mean, he turned and called out a series of nautical orders in
a voice like a trumpet.

Instantly such a swarm of sailors poured up from the forecastle and
hatchways and rushed here and there about the decks that I wondered they
did not run one another down. Between times the Captain beckoned to a
grinning imp of a cabin-boy and told him to show me below.

It was three days before I again saw the deck. Once the sloop was under
way, Captain Lafitte came down long enough to start me overhauling the
chests of the dead third mate. This kept me occupied until the
mid-afternoon, aside from the time it took me to eat the savory meal
brought to me by the cabin-boy. Captain Lafitte remained all the time on
deck with the pilot who conned us down to the Gulf. When at last he did
come below, the sloop was pitching in a rough cross-sea and I was most
disgracefully nauseated.

The gale freshening to a downright storm, we were, as I was afterwards
told, compelled to run before it under a storm jib. At the time I knew
only that I was too seasick to care whether the ship floated or
foundered.

But on the fourth day the storm abated to a half gale, and the sloop,
being brought about and put under more sail, became so much steadier
that I made shift to eat a scant meal and crawl on deck. Such of the
weary-eyed crew as took heed of me grinned at the pale-faced landsman,
but they took on another look when at noon I helped the captain to take
his observations and work out the result. I had not spent all those
months with Pike for nothing.

Lafitte appeared highly amused at this discomfiture of his tars, and
promptly declared in their hearing that I should be rated as third
mate. The following day, when I really found my sea-legs, he proposed in
all seriousness that I should accept the berth. Having candidly declared
his bitter hatred of the British, he sought to sting me to a like hatred
by relating in full detail the account of the shameful, brutal outrage
of the _Leopard_ upon the _Chesapeake_, off Hampton Roads, hardly more
than a month past.

Despite my anger and humiliation at this unavenged insult to my flag, I
felt no longing for a seafaring life other than such as was necessary to
win me my lady. Lafitte acknowledged that, in my situation, my decision
was probably a wise one. But he went on with the statement that he, for
one, would live and die in the contest against tyranny on the high seas,
and repeated a terrible vow which he had taken against all Britons and
Spaniards. His hatred of the first I could well understand, since he was
a Frenchman. But his enmity to the latter, now the allies of his
country, I could explain only as the result of private injuries. On this
point he was as reserved as he was free in expressing his determination
to wreak vengeance upon the ships of both nations.

Not two days later we were roused at dawn by the muffled cry of "Ship,
ho!" and slipping up on deck, found the _Siren_ within a cable's-length
of a British frigate. The surprise was complete, for the British sighted
us within a few moments after they were themselves seen. Detecting
Lafitte's attempt to set more sail, they fired a solid shot across our
bows. Our captain could do no other than obey this grim signal to
heave-to, since disobedience would have meant the blowing of the sloop
to matchwood by the frigate's broadside of long eighteen-pounders.

According to a prearranged plan, the half-dozen British seamen in our
crew and a dozen of the more English-appearing Americans at once slipped
down into the hold, where they were hidden by their shipmates in a
stow-hole prepared for the purpose in the midst of the cargo. Meantime,
cursing beneath his breath, Captain Lafitte paced his little
quarterdeck, if so it may be called, and stared at the frigate's cutter,
which came racing toward us over the dancing waves in the refulgent glow
of the low, red sunrays. It was a pretty sight, but one which not a man
aboard looked upon with other than a sour face.

Very shortly the cutter came alongside, and we were boarded by a pert
young cockerel of a midshipman, with a following of six or eight
heavy-jawed British tars. Meeting Captain Lafitte's punctilious bow with
a curt nod, the young fellow demanded to see his papers, and added with
the lordliness of an admiral: "Pipe all hands on deck, and let there be
no stowaways, for I warn you I shall exercise the rights of search and
impressment."

Captain Lafitte made a formal protest against these so-called rights of
search and impressment aboard an American sloop sailing from the neutral
port of New Orleans to the unblockaded port of Vera Cruz. Without
waiting for the insolent reply which this elicited, he sent for the
ship's papers and ordered all hands on deck. While the midshipman
glanced through the papers and log, all the crew, other than those
concealed, assembled in the bows for inspection.

Unable to find a flaw in the papers, for Lafitte and the _Siren_ were
alike certified to as belonging to the port of New Orleans, our
unwelcome visitor ordered the crew to file before him. In all the lot
there was not one British subject nor one who looked like a Briton, yet
the young tyrant picked out, without hesitancy, ten of the likeliest
looking men, seven of them lean, lantern-jawed Yankees and three French
creoles. In answer to the protests of the first that they were New
Englanders, he snapped out the one word "Hull"--to the creoles,
"Guernsey."

"Good God!" I cried to Captain Lafitte, who stood by, gnawing his
mustache in silent fury. "You know these are native-born citizens of the
United States. Can you submit to such an outrage?"

Far better had I held my peace! Instantly the middy demanded of the
nearest of our men who I was. The fellow, a stupid mulatto, mumbled
something about my being the third mate.

"So!" snapped the Englishman. "Third mate? It is well known that all
Yankee ships are officered by British deserters. I'll take this
loud-mouthed sea-lawyer."

"Not alive!" I rejoined. "I'm a free-born citizen of the Republic. I'll
not submit, you lying young scoundrel!--Captain Lafitte!--shipmates!
Show these bullies we can die like men!"

My appeal was in vain. Lafitte still stood silent, and the men turned to
stare shamefaced at the guns of the frigate. I stepped back to catch up
a marlin-spike, but the British crimps were too well trained in their
despicable business. They sprang at and about me in a body. I struck out
right and left; then a belaying-pin crashed upon my head with stunning
force.

When I recovered consciousness, I found myself swinging in a sailor's
hammock that was suspended from the beams of a low wooden ceiling. I
felt strangely weak and faint, but made shift to turn my head enough to
see that I was in a long, wide space between decks. The rows of cannon
resting each before its open port roused in me a sort of dull, vague
wonderment. A puff of salt sea air through the nearest port tempered the
suffocating heat of the place and revived me to a clearer
self-consciousness, though all my memory seemed, as it were, wrapped in
a gray mist.

The first clear idea was that there was about my neck something precious
which must not be lost. I fumbled about with a feeble hand, and drew out
the rosary and cross from the open bosom of my shirt. I was gazing at
this, still bewildered, when there came to my side a dried-up, kindly
faced, bespectacled little gentleman who, at sight of my open eyes,
nodded and chirruped almost gayly: "Ahoy, Jack! Pleased to see your
wits out of limbo! You've had a narrow squeak of it, my man."

"Who are you? Where am I?" I murmured.

He took a pinch of snuff, sneezed with hearty enjoyment, and then
answered me with genial condescension: "In due order, Jack, I reply that
I am Dr. Cuthbert, surgeon to His Majesty's frigate _Belligerent_, of
whose crew you are a member."

I stared at him, my memory still in that gray mist. Seeing my
bewilderment, he was thoughtful enough to explain: "You were so foolish
as to resist, my man, when Midshipman Hepburn impressed you. Either the
blow which stunned you, or the close air of the forecastle, or the seeds
of disease in your system, brought on a fever and delirium in which you
have lain for the past fortnight."

"Fortnight!" I gasped. "But--I remember now--I must get to Vera
Cruz--Vera Cruz! Fortnight! What is the date?"

"August the ninth."

I groaned.

"Vera Cruz?" he cackled. "Why should you wish to go to Vera Cruz?"

I put my hand to my head, and tried to think--to penetrate that gray
mist. "I cannot remember--I cannot remember--only I know I must go--at
once--and it has to do with this cross."

"Eh! eh!" he cackled. "I thought there was something in that rosary.
Third mates of merchantmen do not usually go about with Romish
crucifixes and beads about their necks. Your name?"

I opened my lips, but not a syllable came from them. I racked my brains,
groping in that terrible mist of oblivion. It was in vain. I could not
remember my own name!

"Eh! eh!" he murmured, when I told him the dreadful truth. "You are in a
pretty pickle. I have known before of such cases, resulting from a crack
on the head. The famous John Hunter agrees with Jean Louis Petit that it
is due to a bloodclot on the brain, which, in favorable cases,
dissolves, and the patient becomes fully restored."

I stared, uncomprehending. I had forgotten Hunter and Petit; I had
forgotten all my learning--everything of my past life. I did not even
realize that I was a physician.

He went on cheerily: "So you have some little hope for a full return of
memory, Jack. In the meantime you will soon regain strength enough to
leave the sick bay. For your own good, let me advise you to obey orders
and do your duty, with no further attempts at vain and foolish
resistance to your superiors. Whether or not you are a British
subject,--which personally I strongly doubt,--you are entered in the
crew of the 'Belligerent,' and the iron rules of the Royal Navy deal
severely with the slightest infractions of discipline."



CHAPTER XXXIV

SHAME


It was another week before I recovered a fair share of my usual
strength, and I believe the kindly little surgeon kept me under his
charge two or three days longer than was strictly necessary. Meantime
the mist still shrouded my memory, and though otherwise my wits were as
clear as they had ever been, so far as knowledge of anything other than
the commonest matters of daily life was concerned I was in a dense night
of ignorance.

Dr. Cuthbert took care to explain this to the officer of the watch in
which I was put, and the lieutenant was sufficiently humane to set me at
tasks which required no skill of seamanship. As it chanced, I saw
nothing of the midshipman who had impressed me. He was, as I afterwards
learned, in another watch.

The day I was ordered on deck we sighted a palm-fringed coast, which my
fellow seamen spoke of as Yucatan. The word meant nothing to me, for my
memory was still in the mist, and the only name left me out of the past
was Vera Cruz.

From Yucatan the _Belligerent_ cruised off in an easterly direction
toward Cuba. But the second day we fell in with a west-bound frigate,
which signalled the _Belligerent_ to patrol the mouths of the
Mississippi, on the lookout for a noted French privateer sloop _La Belle
Silène_, whose master, Jean Laffat or Lafayette, was rumored to have
turned pirate.

Had I been in full possession of my mental faculties, I must surely have
noted the similarity of names. Jean Lafitte was not so far from Jean
Laffat, and the _Siren_ from _La Belle Silène_. As it was, I doubt
whether at this time the shouting of Lafitte's name in my ear would have
stirred the faintest echo of memory.

The following morning, just at the change of the dog watch, the frigate
was suddenly roused from its dull, precise routine by the sound of a
heavy gun booming down the wind from the westward. Instantly the ship
was brought about, to tack to windward, and the order was given to clear
for action. The call to quarters was sounded, the marines paraded, and
the cannon run out ready for firing, all before we sighted the supposed
enemy.

Meantime the boom of the heavy cannon had come rolling down the wind to
us at such regular intervals that the men about me swore there could be
only one big gun. Before many minutes we distinguished the hoarse,
barking roar of many carronades. At the same time we sighted the square
topsails of a Spanish merchantman, and, a little later, the gaff-topsail
of a sloop.

Soon the word was shouted down from our lookout at the masthead that
the ship was running from the sloop, which carried the big gun and was
evidently having far the better of the engagement. The flag of the ship
now confirmed the opinion that she was a Spanish merchantman. But the
strongest of spyglasses were unable to make clear the small flag of the
sloop. It was enough, however, for the British captain, that, upon
sighting us, the Spaniard flew a signal for help, and veered so as to
run down to us. That her crew should thus seek to put their ship in the
way of certain capture was considered by the men about me clear proof
that the sloop was a pirate.

As I had been left to pull and haul on deck, I was able to witness all
the fierce contest of the fight, and the race of the frigate to rescue
the assailed Spaniard. Sail after sail was set, and the bellying sheets
tautened as flat as the nimble seamen could draw them.

But swiftly as we tacked to windward, and swiftly as the Spaniard
slanted down the wind to obtain shelter of us, the unfortunate vessel
was already in terrible distress from the relentless attack of her
little enemy. With an audacity which amazed the Britons, the sloop stood
on, undaunted by our approach, hanging close upon the quarter of her
victim.

The fire of the ship was already silenced, while from half a
cable's-length the carronades of the sloop belched their missiles into
the rigging of the Spaniard with ever-increasing rapidity, and the great
gun on the mid-deck sent shot after shot crashing into the bulging hull
at the waterline.

Suddenly we saw the mizzenmast of the Spaniard totter. It fell forward
and sideways, dragging after it the splintered mainmast. As the ship
broached-to, we could see that she was settling down by the stern. Even
I, despite the night of ignorance which lay upon me, realized that she
was beginning to founder.

Certain of the fate of her victim, the sloop now sheered off. The
_Belligerent_ opened fire with the long eighteen-pounder bow-chasers,
but the shots fell short of the sloop by fifty yards or more. Within
half a minute the sloop had the stupendous audacity to fire her great
gun at us. By a rare chance, the ponderous ball struck the starboard
shrouds, snapping them like packthread, and hurled on aslant the after
deck, to chip a splinter from the mizzenmast and smash a great hole
through the roof of the cabin.

Only the quickness with which the frigate was brought up into the wind
and the main and mizzen sails blanketed by the foresails saved the main
and mizzenmasts from being sprung, if not carried overboard. Never, I
fancy, did the crew of a man-of-war have to suffer such a maddening
checkmate. They dared not even come about to give the saucy sloop a
broadside, but could only bark away with the ineffective bow-chasers.
The sloop packed on what was a tremendous spread of canvas for so small
a craft, and fled away aslant the wind at a speed that the frigate could
not have hoped to equal on the same course, even had the rigging been in
perfect trim.

By the time the British had stoppered the broken shrouds, reeved
preventer braces, and strengthened the splintered mizzenmast, the
Spanish ship had drifted down within hailing distance. She now sat very
low astern, and such of her people as had not been slain or helplessly
wounded had crowded up into her high-flung bows and were shrieking to us
for rescue. There was not one of their boats which had escaped the
fierce fire of the sloop's carronades. Seeing this, and that pursuit of
the sloop was now hopeless, the British captain ordered out all the
frigate's boats to take off the imperilled Spaniards.

This was a simple matter, as there was little sea running and the wind
no more than a fair breeze. Soon the first boatload of Spaniards was
brought over from the sinking ship and rowed along our starboard side
toward the stern. As the boat passed, I looked down from the lofty deck
in the idle curiosity of my empty head. Seated in the stern-sheets I saw
a portly man in robes, and beside him a slender woman in the white veil
of a novice. The woman looked up--It was Alisanda!

A cry burst from my lips, and I staggered back with a hand to my
forehead. In a twinkling everything had come back to me--full
consciousness and memory of myself, my life, my love! But in the same
instant all memory of my days aboard the _Belligerent_ became a blank.

I stared about me in amazement. Then I remembered that my lady was being
rowed alongside this strange ship. I glanced over, and saw that the
boat had made fast alongside the ship's quarter,--that preparations were
under way to lift Alisanda to the deck.

Heedless of all else in the strange unknown scene about me, I ran aft,
half mad with the mystery and joy of such a meeting. But suddenly a
marine sprang before me with lowered bayonet.

"Halt!" he ordered.

I stopped short, with the point against my breast.

"Let me past--let me past!" I panted. "I must go to my lady! I am Dr.
Robinson! I must see her--at once!"

"What's this?" demanded an insolent young voice, and the midshipman who
had impressed me swung around beside the marine. I recognized him on the
instant.

"You!" I cried.

"The dunce!" he rejoined. "Back before the mast, you damned Yankee!"

"You!" I repeated. "Get out of my way. I'm going to my lady!"

"Your lady!" he sneered, and he added a term which stung me to madness.
As he spoke, he struck me a heavy blow with his fist upon my jaw.
Catching him by the wrist, I jerked him forward and struck him a blow
between the eyes that would have felled him had I not held to his wrist.
The marine cried out, and sprang around for an opening to lunge at me
without striking his officer. I caught the staggering young scoundrel
by the shoulders and hurled him against the man. Both rolled to the
deck.

At the same moment some one sprang upon me from behind and bore me down.
As I fell, others flung themselves upon my legs. My arms were wrenched
around behind my back and lashed together, my ankles bound fast, despite
my desperate struggles. Then a stern voice gave the order for me to be
taken below and placed in irons. I sought to cry out an appeal--to
attempt an explanation. But one of the men thrust a balled kerchief into
my mouth and tied in the gag with another kerchief which covered my eyes
as well. Dumb, blind, and bound, I was carried below, still struggling.

The moment they had replaced my bonds with handcuffs and bilboes and
relieved me of the gag, down in the foul, cell-like prison, I so
implored and raved to see the captain that they thought I was beside
myself,--as, indeed, it may well be said I was. Instead of the captain,
they sent for Dr. Cuthbert, who was a perfect stranger to my restored
memory. He listened to my now incoherent statements that I was Dr. John
Robinson and must go to my lady, and sought to soothe me. My constant
repetitions convinced him that I was quite out of my head, and to quiet
me, he cunningly administered an opiate in wine and water.

Discipline is swift-handed aboard a man-of-war. Before I had fully slept
off the effects of the drug, I was roused and taken before the
court-martial convened to try me. The judge-advocate was the officer of
my watch, though at the time I had no memory of him. For the first time
I saw the captain near at hand. He was a granite-faced Cornishman, and
looked upon me with a cold, blue-gray eye which condemned me before a
word had been spoken.

My ankles had been freed from the bilboes before I was brought up, but
when I was ordered to stand, I could not readily obey because of the
continued numbness of my limbs. At this two of my guards jerked me up
with brutal roughness, and the charge against me was read. To my
amazement and horror, I learned that I was upon trial, under the name
Jack Numskull, for the crime of striking my superior officer, the
penalty for which was death.

Ignorant of the procedure of the court, I sought to protest, but was
ordered to keep silent. In quick succession, the witnesses were called
and questioned,--first the midshipman I had struck, then the marine, and
after that four or five seamen. All testified without contradiction to
the damnable fact that I had struck Midshipman Hepburn.

"Enough," said Captain Powers. "Has the prisoner anything to say?"

The question was repeated to me. I bowed to the court as best I could
with my wrists locked together behind my back.

"Gentlemen," I said, "I wish first to explain--"

"Speak to the point," commanded the judge-advocate. "The law does not
require you to confess. Yet if you wish to meet death with a free
conscience, the court will receive your statement. Do you admit that you
struck your superior officer?"

"No. I deny it."

"You deny it--in the face of this positive testimony?"

"I admit that I struck Midshipman Hepburn,--if that is his name. I deny
that I struck my superior officer."

"Explain!" demanded Captain Powers, irascibly.

"I deny that Midshipman Hepburn is my superior officer,--that any man on
this ship or in the Navy of George the Third is my superior officer. I
deny the jurisdiction of this court. I am a native-born citizen of the
United States of America. I was aboard a neutral vessel sailing from one
free port to another when this same Midshipman Hepburn boarded the craft
and unlawfully impressed me. In resisting, I was struck senseless. Of
whatever has happened since I have barely a vague consciousness. Only I
know that immediately before the affray for which I am now being tried,
I saw a lady being brought alongside in a boat, and at once full memory
came back to me. I am John H. Robinson, a physician of the Louisiana
Territory, born in the State of Pennsylvania, reared at Cincinnati on
the Ohio River, and educated at Columbia College, in the city of New
York."

During my recital, all present except the captain regarded me with
lively curiosity, mingled with varying degrees of incredulity. Powers
did not betray the slightest interest or emotion.

"We have heard the statement of the prisoner," he said. "Whether it is
or is not true is irrelevant. The fact remains that the prisoner, while
serving as a seaman in the service of His Majesty King George, did
strike a midshipman in said service, the same being his superior
officer."

"Sir, may I suggest the doubt of the prisoner's sanity, in mitigation of
his crime?" interposed the judge-advocate.

"Remove the prisoner," commanded the captain.

I was led out and kept waiting for half an hour, while my life hung in
the balance. At last they led me back to receive the decree of the
court. By now I was in a half stupor of agonized despair, my thoughts
fixed upon Alisanda and all I was to lose. The terrible word "Death!"
roused me to consciousness of my surroundings.

The judge-advocate paused, drew a deep breath, and continued the reading
of the sentence: "But, it being testified to by Surgeon Wilbur Cuthbert
that said prisoner was not at the time of the committance of his crime
rational or sane, said sentence of death is hereby commuted to the
sentence of one hundred lashes--"

"Hold! hold!" I cried. "Not that! Shoot me!--murder me! But spare me
that shame!"

This time when they dragged me out and down to the foul prison
black-hole they had no need of a gag. After that one wild protest, I
fell dumb. I had seen two floggings of twenty strokes of the cat since
coming aboard. With the words of my sentence the memory had come back to
me, and with the memory of those shameful floggings had returned the
remembrance of all my life aboard the _Belligerent_.

When, an hour or so after my sentence, Dr. Cuthbert came to condole with
me, I recognized him and his kindness, but sat in sullen misery when he
sought to question me. The trial was over--sentence imposed. Why should
I accept the sympathy of these brutes?

He may have divined my frame of mind, for presently he fell to deploring
the rigors of the times, brought about by the boundless ambition of
Bonaparte. England, he argued, alone interposed by means of her navy a
barrier against the world-wide domination of the Corsican adventurer.
That navy was the hope of the world. Yet, thanks to the French
privateers and Bonaparte's strength upon the Continent, Britain had lost
much of her commerce to the United States, to whose ships the British
seamen were constantly deserting to escape the harsh yet necessary
discipline of the Royal Navy. What, then, if occasionally a native
American was impressed? The struggle between Britain and the Corsican
was a struggle of life and death. Britain must man her ships, or submit
to destruction, and with Britain crushed, what nation or alliance of
nations could hope to withstand the infernal genius of Bonaparte?

I waited for a pause, and inquired in a casual tone as to the welfare of
the Spanish lady rescued from the sinking ship. He started up, retreated
a pace or two, with his eyes fixed upon me, and then hurried off,
tapping his head significantly. I bowed my head with a sigh of relief.
The temptation had been taken from me. My weakness should not have
another opportunity to betray me. My lady should not know of my shame.



CHAPTER XXXV

UNDER THE LASH


In the early morning they led me out beside the foremast. There were
present the petty officer told off to wield the cat-o'-nine-tails, an
officer to tally the strokes, Dr. Cuthbert, and my guard. This was at
the first. Before the punishment had begun, half a hundred of the crew
had assembled to witness it, drawn I suppose by varying motives of
curiosity, pity, or craving for the exhibition of brutality.

My guard was about to strip off my shirt, when Dr. Cuthbert interposed.
"One moment." They stepped back, and he addressed me: "Dr. Robinson, I
have never known a man possessed of a finer physique than yours. On the
other hand, none can say beforetime what any man can endure unless he
has been tested. You may succumb to this punishment."

I looked at him a long moment, and for my lady's sake, found power to
beg a favor of this most insistently kind enemy.

"Dr. Cuthbert," I replied, "may I ask you to remove the rosary from
about my neck?" He did so. "Sir, I now request you to guard my treasure.
If I survive this shame, restore it to me. If I succumb, I trust you as
a gentleman and a brother physician to give the cross into the hands of
Señorita Alisanda Vallois, with the simple statement that I died in your
care."

"Señorita Vallois?--You know her?" he exclaimed.

"Yes; but in God's name, doctor, do not tell her of my shame!"

"Dr. Cuthbert!" interposed the officer in charge.

The doctor stepped away, and my guard and executioner seized me fast.
With the deftness of sailors, they removed my handcuffs, stripped me to
the waist, and triced me up by the wrists to the foremast.

"Ready!" called the officer. "One!"

Down came the lash upon my bare back. But the sting of its thongs was as
nothing to the sting of shame which pierced my heart. Death would have
been far less bitter than this disgrace!

The count went on. Stroke after stroke slashed across my back and
shoulders as heavily as my imbruted executioner could strike. Soon the
blood began to ooze, then trickle, then stream down. By the fiftieth
stroke I should judge that my back was a mass of raw flesh. Yet the
count continued, the strokes fell without ceasing, mercilessly.

Coming as I did from a people bred to endure the utmost torture of the
Indian savage, I found no difficulty in restraining any outcry under
this equally fiendish torture of so-called Christians. But as the little
surgeon had said, no man can foresee the limits of endurance. At the
seventy-third stroke I swooned. They did not cut me down, but let me
hang by the wrists, and drenched me with buckets of sea-water, until I
revived.

I gasped, stiffened, and writhed in the hell of agony which beset me
with returning consciousness.

"Seventy-four!" called the officer.

The lash descended, all the more forcefully for the rest enjoyed by the
wielder.

"Seventy-five!--seventy-six!--seventy-seven!" went on the merciless
tally.

I gritted my teeth, and vowed to endure and live, that I might overturn
heaven and earth to accomplish the shame and destruction of Britain. My
glaring eyes looked out past the mast upon the sailors before me with
such murderous rage that one by one they edged back and around beyond
reach of my vision.

The count had now passed the eighties--it was at ninety. Only ten more
strokes! But despite my rage, a deathly sickness was fast creeping upon
me. I could no longer hold up my head. Try as I might, it sank lower and
lower, until my chin was upon my quivering breast.

"Ninety-five!" The words came faint, from an immeasurable distance. I
was again about to swoon.

Suddenly I heard a cry of anguish such as I trust never to hear again.
It was the voice of my lady! I looked up. She was darting toward me, her
beautiful hair flying wildly in the breeze, the rosary in her
outstretched hand.

"Ninety-six!" Again the lash fell.

"Ninety-seven!" But now she was beside me--she had flung herself between
me and the descending lash. I heard the sailors cry out. The executioner
whisked his lash aside by so narrow a margin that the tip of one of the
thongs left a crimson weal across her white forehead.

"God!" cried the officer. There was a moment's breathless pause. Then he
called harshly, "Mademoiselle, stand aside. There are yet three
strokes."

"Strike if you dare!" she cried. "I am here to defend him! Strike me!"

"Mademoiselle, I would not force you away. But if I send for Captain
Powers--"

"Send!" she cried. "_Poder de Dios!_ This gentleman is my betrothed
husband!"

There was a gleam above my head, and the blade of a little dagger
slashed through the lashings which bound my wrists to the mast. I
attempted to turn, but tottered, and my knees bent and doubled beneath
me. I should have fallen headlong had she not eased me to the deck with
her arm across my naked, sweaty, blood-streaked breast.

She knelt beside me, and drew my head against her knee. Then all again
became black.



CHAPTER XXXVI

ACROSS THE GULF


This time, lacking the flood of sea-water, my swoon lasted much longer.
I recovered to find myself in the great cabin, lying upon a luxurious
berth, close to a stern window. Already my back had been covered with a
soothing, cooling balm and wrapped about with bandages. I sought to turn
upon my side, that I might look around. At once gentle hands lent their
aid to my support.

"He revives!" exclaimed my lady.

"'T was best to dress the wound before applying restoratives," chirruped
Dr. Cuthbert.

But now I was fairly on my side, and could see the dear form of my lady.

"Alisanda!" I murmured.

"Juan!" she responded, kneeling and pressing her lips to mine regardless
of the doctor's presence. "My Juan! I am here, my beloved. I am with
you!"

I caught sight of the weal of the lash across her forehead, and I
quivered with fury.

"That!" I muttered--"that mark upon your forehead! They struck you?"

"No, no!" she soothed. "Lie still, beloved. It was only an accident. It
does not hurt me--nothing can hurt me, Juan, now that we have found
each other!"

"Dearest one!" I whispered.

She bent close above me, with her soft round arm about my neck,--and
quickly all my pain and rage died away and were forgotten under the
glory of the golden love-light in her tender eyes.

Dr. Cuthbert coughed, then took snuff. At that moment we would not have
heeded a cannon roaring in our ears.

At last, however, Father Rocus entered, followed closely by Captain
Powers. Alisanda quietly rose to face them, but held to my hand as a
mother would clasp the hand of the child she sought to defend. The
captain stared at her between anger and admiration.

"Mademoiselle Vallois!" he rumbled. "What does all this mean? How dare
you interfere with the discipline of my ship?"

"How dare you, who call yourself an officer and a Christian, torture so
hideously this gentleman?" she returned.

"Gentleman?--Torture?" he echoed, taken aback.

"The gentleman I am betrothed to marry."

"Marry!--Him?"

"_Santisima Virgen!_ yes!" she cried. "And you!--you have lashed him
like a slave!--the truest, most gallant gentleman in Christendom!"

He muttered something about the mad third mate of a sloop. To this Dr.
Cuthbert made hasty reply: "All a mistake, sir,--a most egregious
error. Mr. Robinson is, I am certain, precisely what he claimed."

"Nevertheless," broke in the captain, his voice as hard as iron, "the
man has been tried, found guilty, and sentenced to one hundred lashes.
He has received ninety-seven. There are still three strokes."

"I will bear them for him!" said Alisanda.

"Mademoiselle, do not make yourself ridiculous," he reproved.

"Better that than your cowardly cruelty in seeking to lash to death a
citizen of the Republic which revolted from your brutal rule!" she
thrust back at him.

He stood for some moments gazing into her scornful eyes. Despite all his
harshness and arrogance, I believe he was alike pleased with her spirit
and softened by her beauty.

"This man is entered in my crew as a subject of His Majesty," he at last
stated, in a tone which invited argument.

"He is not a Briton," she replied. "I know he is an American. I met and
travelled with him in his own land. I saw, on the bank of the Ohio, the
tomb of his mother, who was slain by the red savages in the pay of your
Government. He was a volunteer with an expedition under Lieutenant Pike
of the Army of the United States. They crossed the western deserts of
Louisiana and the lofty sierras of the West, and came far south into New
Spain."

"Hold!" exclaimed the captain. "That is incredible."

"It is the truth," confirmed Father Rocus.

"You support her statement, sir?" demanded Powers.

"I am ready to swear to it, on my sacred word," replied the padre. "This
gentleman upon the couch is Dr. John H. Robinson, a physician of the
Louisiana Territory, who was the _compagnon du voyage_ of Lieutenant
Pike in the amazing journey of which Señorita Vallois has spoken. It is
as I told you before we entered."

Father Rocus spoke with no less force than suavity.

"It begins to look as though a mistake had been made," admitted the
captain with obstinate reluctance.

"A mistake, sir, which has come near to costing Dr. Robinson his life,"
ventured Dr. Cuthbert, snuff-box in hand.

"A mistake which can never be rectified," added Father Rocus.

The stubborn Briton was at last convinced. "I will make such reparation
as lies within my power. Dr. Robinson, I offer you my apology for this
unfortunate mistake."

I closed my eyes and clung tightly to Alisanda's hand, that I might not
fling his apology back in his teeth. I heard the murmur of the padre's
voice, followed by the tread of feet and the opening and closing of the
door. Then once more Alisanda's arm was about my neck and her fragrant
lips were pressed upon my mouth.

"Dearest," she whispered, "they have gone. I alone am here now, to
comfort you."

"You are here!" I repeated. "Tell me. How did you come? I sailed for
Vera Cruz, but they took me by force from the sloop."

I paused, as suddenly my two memories brought together the sloop _Siren_
and the sloop which had sunk my lady's ship.

"Lafitte!" I exclaimed.

"Lafitte?" she asked, bewildered.

"All's well that ends well!" I cried. "After all, he brought us
together."

"Who, Juan?"

"Jean Lafitte, the man who was to have landed me in Vera Cruz."

"Ah, Vera Cruz--_Santa Maria!_ that terrible city! People were dying by
scores of the yellow fever. We lingered as long as we dared. But you did
not come. The padre said you could not have read my message aright. We
at last took ship for Western Florida. There was none sailing for New
Orleans."

"You were coming to me! But the veil--the nun's veil?"

"It is gone--see!" She put her free hand to the silky mass of her dusky
hair. "God forgive me, Juan! It was for your sake, and with the assent
of the padre, that I took the novitiate vows."

"For my sake, Alisanda?"

"That I might come to you, my knight! When you left me, my uncle became
all the more insistent that I should marry the Governor-General. The
padre had already planned for me this way of escape. I took the vows of
a novice. After that neither my uncle nor Doña Marguerite dared oppose
the counsel of the padre when he told them I must go to the Convent of
my Order in Vera Cruz. You see how selfish a love is mine. I could not
give you up, Juan. I was not a heroine, to give myself for the saving of
an oppressed people."

"No!" I rejoined. "You could not have helped the people of New Spain.
They must fight their own battles. No people are worthy of freedom who
are not ready to give their lives for the ending of tyranny. Had you
sacrificed yourself to Salcedo, he would either have betrayed the
revolution, or he would have made himself a dictator, more tyrannous
than before."

"You told me that in Chihuahua, dear. I repeated your words to the
padre, and he confirmed the statement. It was well, for had he shared my
uncle's faith in Don Nimesio, he also might have sought to persuade me
to give myself to the cause of liberty."

"As it was," I murmured, "you attempted to come to me--alone!"

"Not alone, Juan. There were the padre and my faithful Chita."

"Ah, Chita--I did not see her in the boat."

My lady began to weep. "Poor Chita! She was killed by a cannon-ball,
when standing beside me, during that fearful destruction of our ship by
the pirate sloop."

"Pirate!" I repeated. "They flew the black flag?"

"No; but it was a flag unknown to our captain, and he said they must be
pirates. They attacked us without warning and signalled that they would
give us no quarter--and they killed my poor Chita!"

I remembered the dreadful vow of Captain Lafitte, but forgot it again in
my efforts to comfort my darling. I drew her lovely head down upon my
shoulder and stroked her silky hair.

In the midst Father Rocus entered and came over to us, rubbing his
plump, white hands together with satisfaction.

"My dear children," he said, "after all your trials, you have at last
won the happiness you deserve. Though you, my son, remain a heretic, I
believe that such love as yours is sacred in the sight of God. My
daughter, come now, that I may prepare you for the sacrament of holy
wedlock."

"Now?--so soon?" she cried, drawing free from me, and standing,
scarlet-cheeked, her eyes fixed upon the deck, and her sweet bosom
rising and falling tremulously.

"He is bruised and torn in spirit and body. You alone can soothe him,"
said the padre.

She cast at me a glance of unutterable tenderness, and withdrew into the
adjoining stateroom. Father Rocus paused for a last word to me: "My son,
this moment should be as solemn to you as it is joyful. Consider the
great goodness of God in giving to you a wife more precious than rubies.
In that thought, remember the words of our Blessed Lord Christ, 'Forgive
your enemies.'"

With that he left me, and I lay alone in my burning pain, wondering if
it were possible for any man to forgive so bitter a shame and wrong as
had been done to me. But quickly a sort of ecstatic awe crept over me as
the consciousness of my marvellous--my splendid good fortune took
possession of my mind. It seemed unbelievable, and yet he had said it.
My dear lady was about to become my bride! She had crossed the gulf to
me!

In the bliss of that thought, all my pain and anguish of body and mind
vanished, and the bitterness of shame, the fury of hate dissolved away.
I could not forgive my enemies, but the memory of their deeds was
blunted and smoothed over by the magic of love.

When at last Captain Powers came in with a few others to witness the
ceremony, I was able to bring myself to the point of accepting the
apology he had tendered. This was well, for otherwise it would have been
difficult to endure the service which, as captain of the ship, it was
necessary for him to render us to assure the legality of our marriage.

Soon Father Rocus led in my dear lady. She was no longer blushing, but
calm and pale. In the presence of the men who had condemned me to death
and to a disgrace worse than death, she raised her head and passed by
them with the hauteur of a queen. Yet once at my side, she knelt and
clasped my hand with a tender devotion that fetched more than one
envious sigh from the breasts of the younger officers. Never had she
seemed more lovely, more adorable, than as she waited beside me, her
dark eyes upraised and glowing with solemn ecstasy.

The sonorous voice of Father Rocus rang in my ears like the sweet
harmonies of some heavenly choir. I had insisted upon lifting myself
upon my elbow, and when the padre handed me the ring, I made shift to
slip it upon the finger of my bride. A little more, and the good padre
raised his hands above us and blessed us as man and wife.

With that the officers came forward and expressed their congratulations,
forgetting their British stiffness and reserve in their heartiness. At
such a moment I could have thanked Satan himself for a word of
good-will. Yet I was not ill-pleased when, having received my responses,
they bowed themselves out. As the last of their number closed the door
behind him, Father Rocus drew from his robe a rounded pouch of worn
leather, and held it out to me.

"What is this, padre?" I asked, taking the heavy little bag.

He nodded gayly to Alisanda. "According to the Spanish, and, I believe,
the American law, you are entitled to the charge of this property. When
we left Chihuahua, Señorita Vallois intrusted her jewels to my care. I
now deliver them into the hands of her husband."

He smiled at my bewildered look, blessed us the second time, and left us
alone.

"Sweetheart," I muttered, "I did not know--"

She smiled in tender mischief. "Was it not a happy surprise? Before my
father died, there in the fogs of England, he sold all his Spanish
estates and bought jewels, that I might keep possession of my property.
Such being his will, not even his brother, my uncle, would take the
jewels from me."

"Nor will I, Alisanda," I said.

"You will share them equally with me, dear husband; for we are now one.
If it is your desire, we will purchase an estate at New Orleans. I dread
your cold, wet North."

"Whatever your heart desires, dearest one, it shall ever be the object
of my life to obtain it for you. Your wish shall ever be my law, my
bride!"

"Juan, my husband!" she murmured, and our lips met in that first
rapturous kiss of man and wife.

Two days later, having in the meantime stood off toward the Spanish port
of Mobile, the _Belligerent_ fell in with a Philadelphia brig, bound for
New Orleans. The master of the Quaker vessel readily bargained to take
us as passengers, and we were accordingly put aboard the _Mary Penn_ by
Captain Powers, after we had taken a most affectionate farewell of
Father Rocus. He was going on to Mobile to care for the rescued
Spaniards, of whom, all being persons of no political or military
consequence, the British were eager to rid themselves.

Except between ourselves and the padre, the parting afforded a welcome
relief to all. There had not alone been the matter of personal shame. In
these years of national humiliation, it would be difficult for any true
American to act the part of a gracious guest aboard a British
man-of-war.

But once aboard the _Mary Penn_, there was nothing to mar the perfect
joy of our love. After a short and smooth voyage, the brig put into one
of the many mouths of the Mississippi, and, ascending in charge of a
pilot, landed us at New Orleans, the happiest couple in all the wide
world.

THE END



BY MR. BENNET


INTO THE PRIMITIVE

     A daring story of shipwreck and "the survival of the fittest."

FOR THE WHITE CHRIST

     A Story of the Days of Charlemagne.





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