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Title: A Charmed Life
Author: Davis, Richard Harding
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 Charmed Life" ***

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A CHARMED LIFE


by Richard Harding Davis



She loved him so, that when he went away to a little war in which his
country was interested she could not understand, nor quite forgive.

As the correspondent of a newspaper, Chesterton had looked on at other
wars; when the yellow races met, when the infidel Turk spanked the
Christian Greek; and one he had watched from inside a British square,
where he was greatly alarmed lest he should be trampled upon by
terrified camels. This had happened before he and she had met. After
they met, she told him that what chances he had chosen to take before
he came into her life fell outside of her jurisdiction. But now that
his life belonged to her, this talk of his standing up to be shot at was
wicked. It was worse than wicked; it was absurd.

When the Maine sank in Havana harbor and the word “war” was appearing
hourly in hysterical extras, Miss Armitage explained her position.

“You mustn’t think,” she said, “that I am one of those silly girls who
would beg you not to go to war.”

At the moment of speaking her cheek happened to be resting against his,
and his arm was about her, so he humbly bent his head and kissed her,
and whispered very proudly and softly, “No, dearest.”

At which she withdrew from him frowning.

“No! I’m not a bit like those girls,” she proclaimed. “I merely tell you
YOU CAN’T GO! My gracious!” she cried, helplessly. She knew the words
fell short of expressing her distress, but her education had not
supplied her with exclamations of greater violence.

“My goodness!” she cried. “How can you frighten me so? It’s not like
you,” she reproached him. “You are so unselfish, so noble. You are
always thinking of other people. How can you talk of going to war--to be
killed--to me? And now, now that you have made me love you so?”

The hands, that when she talked seemed to him like swallows darting
and flashing in the sunlight, clutched his sleeve. The fingers, that
he would rather kiss than the lips of any other woman that ever lived,
clung to his arm. Their clasp reminded him of that of a drowning child
he had once lifted from the surf.

“If you should die,” whispered Miss Armitage. “What would I do. What
would I do!”

“But my dearest,” cried the young man. “My dearest ONE! I’ve GOT to go.
It’s our own war. Everybody else will go,” he pleaded. “Every man you
know, and they’re going to fight, too. I’m going only to look on. That’s
bad enough, isn’t it, without sitting at home? You should be sorry I’m
not going to fight.”

“Sorry!” exclaimed the girl. “If you love me--”

“If I love you,” shouted the young man. His voice suggested that he was
about to shake her. “How dare you?”

She abandoned that position and attacked from one more logical.

“But why punish me?” she protested. “Do I want the war? Do I want to
free Cuba? No! I want YOU, and if you go, you are the one who is sure
to be killed. You are so big--and so brave, and you will be rushing in
wherever the fighting is, and then--then you will die.” She raised
her eyes and looked at him as though seeing him from a great distance.
“And,” she added fatefully, “I will die, too, or maybe I will have to
live, to live without you for years, for many miserable years.”

Fearfully, with great caution, as though in his joy in her he might
crush her in his hands, the young man drew her to him and held her
close. After a silence he whispered. “But, you know that nothing can
happen to me. Not now, that God has let me love you. He could not be so
cruel. He would not have given me such happiness to take it from me. A
man who loves you, as I love you, cannot come to any harm. And the man
YOU love is immortal, immune. He holds a charmed life. So long as you
love him, he must live.”

The eyes of the girl smiled up at him through her tears. She lifted her
lips to his. “Then you will never die!” she said.

She held him away from her. “Listen!” she whispered. “What you say is
true. It must be true, because you are always right. I love you so that
nothing can harm you. My love will be a charm. It will hang around your
neck and protect you, and keep you, and bring you back to me. When you
are in danger my love will save you. For, while it lives, I live. When
it dies--”

Chesterton kissed her quickly.

“What happens then,” he said, “doesn’t matter.”

The war game had run its happy-go-lucky course briefly and brilliantly,
with “glory enough for all,” even for Chesterton. For, in no previous
campaign had good fortune so persistently stood smiling at his elbow. At
each moment of the war that was critical, picturesque, dramatic, by some
lucky accident he found himself among those present. He could not lose.
Even when his press boat broke down at Cardenas, a Yankee cruiser and
two Spanish gun-boats, apparently for his sole benefit, engaged in an
impromptu duel within range of his megaphone. When his horse went lame,
the column with which he had wished to advance, passed forward to the
front unmolested, while the rear guard, to which he had been forced to
join his fortune, fought its way through the stifling underbrush.

Between his news despatches, when he was not singing the praises of
his fellow-countrymen, or copying lists of their killed and wounded, he
wrote to Miss Armitage. His letters were scrawled on yellow copy
paper and consisted of repetitions of the three words, “I love you,”
 rearranged, illuminated, and intensified.

Each letter began much in the same way. “The war is still going on. You
can read about it in the papers. What I want you to know is that I love
you as no man ever--” And so on for many pages.

From her only one of the letters she wrote reached him. It was picked up
in the sand at Siboney after the medical corps, in an effort to wipe out
the yellow-fever, had set fire to the post-office tent.

She had written it some weeks before from her summer home at Newport,
and in it she said: “When you went to the front, I thought no woman
could love more than I did then. But, now I know. At least I know one
girl who can. She cannot write it. She can never tell you. You must just
believe.

“Each day I hear from you, for as soon as the paper comes, I take it
down to the rocks and read your cables, and I look south across the
ocean to Cuba, and try to see you in all that fighting and heat and
fever. But I am not afraid. For each morning I wake to find I love you
more; that it has grown stronger, more wonderful, more hard to bear.
And I know the charm I gave you grows with it, and is more powerful,
and that it will bring you back to me wearing new honors, ‘bearing your
sheaves with you.’

“As though I cared for your new honors. I want YOU, YOU, YOU--only YOU.”

When Santiago surrendered and the invading army settled down to arrange
terms of peace, and imbibe fever, and General Miles moved to Porto Rico,
Chesterton moved with him.

In that pretty little island a command of regulars under a general of
the regular army had, in a night attack, driven back the Spaniards from
Adhuntas. The next afternoon as the column was in line of march, and the
men were shaking themselves into their accoutrements, a dusty, sweating
volunteer staff officer rode down the main street of Adhuntas, and with
the authority of a field marshal, held up his hand.

“General Miles’s compliments, sir,” he panted, “and peace is declared!”

Different men received the news each in a different fashion. Some
whirled their hats in the air and cheered. Those who saw promotion and
the new insignia on their straps vanish, swore deeply. Chesterton fell
upon his saddle-bags and began to distribute his possessions among
the enlisted men. After he had remobilized, his effects consisted of a
change of clothes, his camera, water-bottle, and his medicine case. In
his present state of health and spirits he could not believe he stood
in need of the medicine case, but it was a gift from Miss Armitage, and
carried with it a promise from him that he always would carry it. He
had “packed” it throughout the campaign, and for others it had proved of
value.

“I take it you are leaving us,” said an officer enviously.

“I am leaving you so quick,” cried Chesterton laughing, “that you won’t
even see the dust. There’s a transport starts from Mayaguez at six
to-morrow morning, and, if I don’t catch it, this pony will die on the
wharf.”

“The road to Mayaguez is not healthy for Americans,” said the general in
command. “I don’t think I ought to let you go. The enemy does not know
peace is on yet, and there are a lot of guerillas--”

Chesterton shook his head in pitying wonder.

“Not let me go!” he exclaimed. “Why, General, you haven’t enough men in
your command to stop me, and as for the Spaniards and guerillas--! I’m
homesick,” cried the young man. “I’m so damned homesick that I am liable
to die of it before the transport gets me to Sandy Hook.”

“If you are shot up by an outpost,” growled the general, “you will be
worse off than homesick. It’s forty miles to Mayaguez. Better wait till
daylight. Where’s the sense of dying, after the fighting’s over?”

“If I don’t catch that transport I sure WILL die,” laughed Chesterton.
His head was bent and he was tugging at his saddle girths. Apparently
the effort brought a deeper shadow to his tan, “but nothing else can
kill me! I have a charm, General,” he exclaimed.

“We hadn’t noticed it,” said the general.

The staff officers, according to regulations, laughed.

“It’s not that kind of a charm,” said Chesterton. “Good-by, General.”

The road was hardly more than a trail, but the moon made it as light
as day, and cast across it black tracings of the swinging vines and
creepers; while high in the air it turned the polished surface of the
palms into glittering silver. As he plunged into the cool depths of the
forest Chesterton threw up his arms and thanked God that he was moving
toward her. The luck that had accompanied him throughout the campaign
had held until the end. Had he been forced to wait for a transport, each
hour would have meant a month of torment, an arid, wasted place in his
life. As it was, with each eager stride of El Capitan, his little Porto
Rican pony, he was brought closer to her. He was so happy that as
he galloped through the dark shadows of the jungle or out into the
brilliant moonlight he shouted aloud and sang; and again as he urged El
Capitan to greater bursts of speed, he explained in joyous, breathless
phrases why it was that he urged him on.

“For she is wonderful and most beautiful,” he cried, “the most glorious
girl in all the world! And, if I kept her waiting, even for a moment, El
Capitan, I would be unworthy--and I might lose her! So you see we ride
for a great prize!”

The Spanish column that, the night before, had been driven from
Adhuntas, now in ignorance of peace, occupied both sides of the valley
through which ran the road to Mayaguez, and in ambush by the road itself
had placed an outpost of two men. One was a sharp-shooter of the picked
corps of the Guardia Civile, and one a sergeant of the regiment that lay
hidden in the heights. If the Americans advanced toward Mayaguez, these
men were to wait until the head of the column drew abreast of them, when
they were to fire. The report of their rifles would be the signal for
those in the hill above to wipe out the memory of Adhuntas.

Chesterton had been riding at a gallop, but, as he reached the place
where the men lay in ambush, he pulled El Capitan to a walk, and took
advantage of his first breathing spell to light his pipe. He had already
filled it, and was now fumbling in his pocket for his match-box. The
match-box was of wood such as one can buy, filled to the brim with
matches, for one penny. But it was a most precious possession. In the
early days of his interest in Miss Armitage, as they were once setting
forth upon a motor trip, she had handed it to him.

“Why,” he asked.

“You always forget to bring any,” she said simply, “and have to borrow
some.”

The other men in the car, knowing this to be a just reproof, laughed
sardonically, and at the laugh the girl had looked up in surprise.
Chesterton, seeing the look, understood that her act, trifling as
it was, had been sincere, had been inspired simply by thought of his
comfort. And he asked himself why young Miss Armitage should consider
his comfort, and why the fact that she did consider it should make him
so extremely happy. And he decided it must be because she loved him and
he loved her.

Having arrived at that conclusion, he had asked her to marry him, and
upon the match-box had marked the date and the hour. Since then she had
given him many pretty presents, marked with her initials, marked with
his crest, with strange cabalistic mottoes that meant nothing to any one
save themselves. But the wooden matchbox was still the most valued of
his possessions.

As he rode into the valley the rays of the moon fell fully upon him, and
exposed him to the outpost as pitilessly as though he had been held in
the circle of a search-light.

The bronzed Mausers pushed cautiously through the screen of vines. There
was a pause, and the rifle of the sergeant wavered. When he spoke his
tone was one of disappointment.

“He is a scout, riding alone,” he said.

“He is an officer,” returned the sharp-shooter, excitedly. “The others
follow. We should fire now and give the signal.”

“He is no officer, he is a scout,” repeated the sergeant. “They have
sent him ahead to study the trail and to seek us. He may be a league in
advance. If we shoot HIM, we only warn the others.”

Chesterton was within fifty yards. After an excited and anxious
search he had found the match-box in the wrong pocket. The eyes of
the sharp-shooter frowned along the barrel of his rifle. With his chin
pressed against the stock he whispered swiftly from the corner of his
lips, “He is an officer! I am aiming where the strap crosses his heart.
You aim at his belt. We fire together.”

The heat of the tropic night and the strenuous gallop had covered El
Capitan with a lather of sweat. The reins upon his neck dripped with it.
The gauntlets with which Chesterton held them were wet. As he raised the
matchbox it slipped from his fingers and fell noiselessly in the trail.
With an exclamation he dropped to the road and to his knees, and groping
in the dust began an eager search.

The sergeant caught at the rifle of the sharpshooter, and pressed it
down.

“Look!” he whispered. “He IS a scout. He is searching the trail for the
tracks of our ponies. If you fire they will hear it a league away.”

“But if he finds our trail and returns--”

The sergeant shook his head. “I let him pass forward,” he said grimly.
“He will never return.”

Chesterton pounced upon the half-buried matchbox, and in a panic lest he
might again lose it, thrust it inside his tunic.

“Little do you know, El Capitan,” he exclaimed breathlessly, as he
scrambled back into the saddle and lifted the pony into a gallop, “what
a narrow escape I had. I almost lost it.”

Toward midnight they came to a wooden bridge swinging above a ravine
in which a mountain stream, forty feet below, splashed over half-hidden
rocks, and the stepping stones of the ford. Even before the campaign
began the bridge had outlived its usefulness, and the unwonted burden of
artillery, and the vibrations of marching men had so shaken it that it
swayed like a house of cards. Threatened by its own weight, at the mercy
of the first tropic storm, it hung a death trap for the one who first
added to its burden.

No sooner had El Capitan struck it squarely with his four hoofs, than he
reared and, whirling, sprang back to the solid earth. The suddenness of
his retreat had all but thrown Chesterton, but he regained his seat, and
digging the pony roughly with his spurs, pulled his head again toward
the bridge.

“What are you shying at, now?” he panted. “That’s a perfectly good
bridge.”

For a minute horse and man struggled for the mastery, the horse spinning
in short circles, the man pulling, tugging, urging him with knees and
spurs. The first round ended in a draw. There were two more rounds with
the advantage slightly in favor of El Capitan, for he did not approach
the bridge.

The night was warm and the exertion violent. Chesterton, puzzled and
annoyed, paused to regain his breath and his temper. Below him, in
the ravine, the shallow waters of the ford called to him, suggesting a
pleasant compromise. He turned his eyes downward and saw hanging over
the water what appeared to be a white bird upon the lower limb of a
dead tree. He knew it to be an orchid, an especially rare orchid, and he
knew, also, that the orchid was the favorite flower of Miss Armitage.
In a moment he was on his feet, and with the reins over his arm, was
slipping down the bank, dragging El Capitan behind him. He ripped from
the dead tree the bark to which the orchid was clinging, and with wet
moss and grass packed it in his leather camera case. The camera he
abandoned on the path. He always could buy another camera; he could not
again carry a white orchid, plucked in the heart of the tropics on the
night peace was declared, to the girl he left behind him. Followed by El
Capitan, nosing and snuffing gratefully at the cool waters, he waded the
ford, and with his camera case swinging from his shoulder, galloped up
the opposite bank and back into the trail.

A minute later, the bridge, unable to recover from the death blow struck
by El Capitan, went whirling into the ravine and was broken upon the
rocks below. Hearing the crash behind him, Chesterton guessed that in
the jungle a tree had fallen.

They had started at six in the afternoon and had covered twenty of the
forty miles that lay between Adhuntas and Mayaguez, when, just at the
outskirts of the tiny village of Caguan, El Capitan stumbled, and when
he arose painfully, he again fell forward.

Caguan was a little church, a little vine-covered inn, a dozen one-story
adobe houses shining in the moonlight like whitewashed sepulchres. They
faced a grass-grown plaza, in the centre of which stood a great wooden
cross. At one corner of the village was a corral, and in it many ponies.
At the sight Chesterton gave a cry of relief. A light showed through
the closed shutters of the inn, and when he beat with his whip upon the
door, from the adobe houses other lights shone, and white-clad figures
appeared in the moonlight. The landlord of the inn was a Spaniard, fat
and prosperous-looking, but for the moment his face was eloquent with
such distress and misery that the heart of the young man, who was at
peace with all the world, went instantly out to him. The Spaniard was
less sympathetic. When he saw the khaki suit and the campaign hat
he scowled, and ungraciously would have closed the door. Chesterton,
apologizing, pushed it open. His pony, he explained, had gone lame, and
he must have another, and at once. The landlord shrugged his shoulders.
These were war times, he said, and the American officer could take
what he liked. They in Caguan were noncombatants and could not protest.
Chesterton hastened to reassure him. The war, he announced, was over,
and were it not, he was no officer to issue requisitions. He intended
to pay for the pony. He unbuckled his belt and poured upon the table
a handful of Spanish doubloons. The landlord lowered the candle and
silently counted the gold pieces, and then calling to him two of his
fellow-villagers, crossed the tiny plaza and entered the corral.

“The American pig,” he whispered, “wishes to buy a pony. He tells me the
war is over; that Spain has surrendered. We know that must be a lie. It
is more probable he is a deserter. He claims he is a civilian, but that
also is a lie, for he is in uniform. You, Paul, sell him your pony, and
then wait for him at the first turn in the trail, and take it from him.”

“He is armed,” protested the one called Paul.

“You must not give him time to draw his revolver,” ordered the landlord.
“You and Pedro will shoot him from the shadow. He is our country’s
enemy, and it will be in a good cause. And he may carry despatches. If
we take them to the commandante at Mayaguez he will reward us.”

“And the gold pieces?” demanded the one called Paul.

“We will divide them in three parts,” said the landlord.

In the front of the inn, surrounded by a ghostlike group that spoke
its suspicions, Chesterton was lifting his saddle from El Capitan and
rubbing the lame foreleg. It was not a serious sprain. A week would
set it right, but for that night the pony was useless. Impatiently,
Chesterton called across the plaza, begging the landlord to make haste.
He was eager to be gone, alarmed and fearful lest even this slight delay
should cause him to miss the transport. The thought was intolerable. But
he was also acutely conscious that he was very hungry, and he was too
old a campaigner to scoff at hunger. With the hope that he could find
something to carry with him and eat as he rode forward, he entered the
inn.

The main room of the house was now in darkness, but a smaller room
adjoining it was lit by candles, and by a tiny taper floating before
a crucifix. In the light of the candles Chesterton made out a bed, a
priest bending over it, a woman kneeling beside it, and upon the bed the
little figure of a boy who tossed and moaned. As Chesterton halted and
waited hesitating, the priest strode past him, and in a voice dull and
flat with grief and weariness, ordered those at the door to bring the
landlord quickly. As one of the group leaped toward the corral, the
priest said to the others: “There is another attack. I have lost hope.”

Chesterton advanced and asked if he could be of service. The priest
shook his head. The child, he said, was the only son of the landlord,
and much beloved by him, and by all the village. He was now in the third
week of typhoid fever and the period of hemorrhages. Unless they could
be checked, the boy would die, and the priest, who for many miles of
mountain and forest was also the only doctor, had exhausted his store of
simple medicines.

“Nothing can stop the hemorrhage,” he protested wearily, “but the
strongest of drugs. And I have nothing!”

Chesterton bethought him of the medicine case Miss Armitage had forced
upon him. “I have given opium to the men for dysentery,” he said. “Would
opium help you?”

The priest sprang at him and pushed him out of the door and toward the
saddle-bags.

“My children,” he cried, to the silent group in the plaza, “God has sent
a miracle!”

After an hour at the bedside the priest said, “He will live,” and
knelt, and the mother of the boy and the villagers knelt with him. When
Chesterton raised his eyes, he found that the landlord, who had been
silently watching while the two men struggled with death for the life
of his son, had disappeared. But he heard, leaving the village along the
trail to Mayaguez, the sudden clatter of a pony’s hoofs. It moved like a
thing driven with fear.

The priest strode out into the moonlight. In the recovery of the child
he saw only a demonstration of the efficacy of prayer, and he could
not too quickly bring home the lesson to his parishioners. Amid their
murmurs of wonder and gratitude Chesterton rode away. To the kindly care
of the priest he bequeathed El Capitan. With him, also, he left the gold
pieces which were to pay for the fresh pony.

A quarter of a mile outside the village three white figures confronted
him. Two who stood apart in the shadow shrank from observation, but the
landlord, seated bareback upon a pony that from some late exertion was
breathing heavily, called to him to halt.

“In the fashion of my country,” he began grandiloquently, “we have come
this far to wish you God speed upon your journey.” In the fashion of
the American he seized Chesterton by the hand. “I thank you, senor,” he
murmured.

“Not me,” returned Chesterton. “But the one who made me ‘pack’ that
medicine chest. Thank her, for to-night I think it saved a life.”

The Spaniard regarded him curiously, fixing him with his eyes as though
deep in consideration. At last he smiled gravely.

“You are right,” he said. “Let us both remember her in our prayers.”

As Chesterton rode away the words remained gratefully in his memory and
filled him with pleasant thoughts. “The world,” he mused, “is full of
just such kind and gentle souls.”


After an interminable delay he reached Newport, and they escaped from
the others, and Miss Armitage and he ran down the lawn to the rocks, and
stood with the waves whispering at their feet.

It was the moment for which each had so often longed, with which both
had so often tortured themselves by living in imagination, that now,
that it was theirs, they were fearful it might not be true.

Finally, he said: “And the charm never failed! Indeed, it was wonderful!
It stood by me so obviously. For instance, the night before San Juan,
in the mill at El Poso, I slept on the same poncho with another
correspondent. I woke up with a raging appetite for bacon and coffee,
and he woke up out of his mind, and with a temperature of one hundred
and four. And again, I was standing by Capron’s gun at El Caney, when
a shell took the three men who served it, and only scared ME. And there
was another time--” He stopped. “Anyway,” he laughed, “here I am.”

“But there was one night, one awful night,” began the girl. She
trembled, and he made this an added excuse for drawing her closer to
him. “When I felt you were in great peril, that you would surely die.
And all through the night I knelt by the window and looked toward Cuba
and prayed, and prayed to God to let you live.”

Chesterton bent his head and kissed the tips of her fingers. After a
moment he said: “Would you know what night it was? It might be curious
if I had been--”

“Would I know!” cried the girl. “It was eight days ago. The night of the
twelfth. An awful night!”

“The twelfth!” exclaimed Chesterton, and laughed and then begged her
pardon humbly. “I laughed because the twelfth,” he exclaimed, “was the
night peace was declared. The war was over. I’m sorry, but THAT night I
was riding toward you, thinking only of you. I was never for a moment in
danger.”





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