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The Missourian
by Eugene P. (Eugene Percy) Lyle
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A wave of motion, of tendons stiffening, passed along the thick wall of flesh. Against it the tide without swelled higher, stronger. Tension strained upward to the supreme crash. The quiet of a multitude is pain.

But the other two Imperialists had not spoken yet. Mejia shook his head passionately. He saw only his young wife with her babe, panting, stumbling through the dust. He held a crucifix, and would not take it from his lips. Miramon, however, raised his voice to protest against the charge of treason. Of that crime he died innocent. But he pardoned, as he hoped for pardon. Then he cried, "Long live Mexico! Long live the Emperor!"

Maximilian started. These were the words that he thought he should like to hear. But now they grated. They recalled the mistake he had lived, the anachronism of his life. They were scorpions. They stung like the needle in an ulcer. He turned sharply, in tearful reproach. But a sword flashed, the volley came, and the three men fell, as under a crushing rock, one against the wall; his head broken over upon his breast. The pert young officer pointed his blade at three convulsive bodies, and through each a last bullet sped, burying itself in the earth beneath. The crowd pressed, surged, stood on tiptoe.

* * * * *

There was one other among the spectators, but keeping himself hidden, whom Maximilian would have been concerned to see there. He was Driscoll. He came to watch the shriveled derelict, Murguia. He came to stand guard over a soul, Maximilian's. What peace that soul had found should not be destroyed. And so he screened himself in the crowd, holding ready to crush a viper whose fangs were heavy with poison. When Maximilian paused and spoke to the old man, Driscoll was very near, near enough to hear, and to strike. But the old man had only wheezed and mumbled. Though why that old man did not utter a first word, though why he could not, will never be explained. But this much is true, that the ambushed soul, moving so calmly toward eternity, then stepping so near the coiled serpent, was yet its own guardian, unwittingly.

Until the very end Driscoll staid there alert. The old man, baffled, insatiate, might yet cry out what he knew. Driscoll's gaze never relaxed. He felt as though he watched a murderer while the murder was being done. But the old man only listened. Unable to see within the hollow square, he listened, and waited. His lower jaw hung open, and over his lip a white froth grew and grew, until it broke and trickled down his chin. The red eyeballs gleamed ravenously, as still he waited.

"When this is over," Driscoll said to himself, "he'll plump down in a fit and blow out. Else he'll go raving crazy. Lord, that look!"

When it was over, Driscoll went to him. He had but to reach forth a hand and fasten on his shoulder. He held him against a scurrying of spectators, whom the tragedy's close had that instant brought to life.

"Here, Murgie, here's something that belongs to you," he said. "Well, what's the matter? Take it, I don't want it."

The old man looked up. An ivory cross was dangling from the other's fingers. The cross still showed bloodstains; no later flowing of blood had washed them away. But the father of Maria de la Luz stared, stared vacantly at the trinket. The masterful, consuming rage of two years past was gone out of his eyes. Instead they were watery and senile. The brows, and even the lashes, had turned as white as the thin strands of hair, and contrasted gruesomely against the yellow, mottled skin, which stretched like clouded parchment over the bony death's head. At last the old man put out his hand and took the cross, not comprehending.

"No, I didn't give it to him," Driscoll explained bluntly. "I told you I wouldn't."

Yet no spasm of chagrin distorted the weazen face.

"This chain here, it's—it's gold!" the old man cried.

Then he sputtered, choked. What had he betrayed? Would the strange donor reclaim the gift, knowing it was gold? He leered craftily at Driscoll, and with a hungry, gloating secrecy—his old slimy way of handling money—he smuggled the holy symbol under his jacket. But from cunning the leer changed to suspicion and quick alarm. He delved into his pockets, one after another. He searched greedily, wildly, until the last coin on him lay in his palm. Quaking in every feeble bone, he counted his poor wealth again and again. There was very little left. He glared at Driscoll. He glared at townsmen, officers, blanketed Inditos, all swarming past to gaze on the three corpses. He cried "Thief!" first at one unheeding passer-by, then at another.

"I had more than this!" he whined. "More—more than this! There was my hacienda, my peons, my cotton, my mills, my canvas bags. There was my blockade runner. She was Clyde-built, she was named La Luz, she cost twenty thousand English gold pieces. Who has taken these things from me? Who—where——Curse you, do you know?"

Dissipating his hoards, sacrificing his last chattel, all that was now a blank. But his hoards, his chattels, were all that were now worth while, and the miser clamored for them, and them only. Vengeance, however, is an ironical bargainer. Vengeance kept her pay, and "abhorred Styx, the flood of deadly hate," had dried and left a stranded soul, parched by avarice. Driscoll was moved by a pity half ashamed.

"Look here, Murgie," he threatened terribly, "Do you say I stole your——By the Great Horn Spoon, I'll——" He flung his hand to his revolver.

The counter-irritant had instant effect. All moisture died out of the rat eyes, leaving them two little horrible beads. The miser shrank, groveled, in mortal terror of some physical hurt.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE CONTRARINESS OF JACQUELINE

"Much adoe there was, God wot; He wold love, and she wold not." —Ballad of Phillida and Corydon.

Maximiliano I. of Mexico was dead. His dynasty and his Empire were the frippery of a past time. Yet there was his capital, still holding out against the Republic. Leonardo Marquez, the Leopard, spitefully refused to capitulate. But why he would not, no one knew, neither the starving City, nor the patient besieger outside. No one, unless it was Jacqueline. The very day of the triple execution she called on Escobedo, commander in chief at Queretaro. She desired to return to the capital, and she wanted a pass through the Republic's lines there. She mentioned, in case it were any inducement, that the place would fall within twenty-four hours after her arrival. Jacqueline had difficulty to speak at all. She could not endure the general's monstrous flaps of ears, his rabbinical beard, his cruel black eyes.

"Maria purisima," he exclaimed, "you cannot mean, senorita, that you, all alone, will deliver the City of Mexico into our hands?"

"It will certainly be an incident of my stay there," she replied.

The hard, Jewish features lighted cunningly. "Then, por Dios, you are as wonderful as I've always heard! But may—may one be allowed a little curiosity?"

"I might say," and Jacqueline forthwith said it, "that I have just had a cipher telegram from Louis Napoleon."

"Which," breathlessly demanded the other, "will interest Marquez, eh? Will disappoint him? Will cause him to surrender?"

"Your Excellency is of course entitled to his own conjectures."

But the commander-in-chief was satisfied. "We must hasten your going by every means," he declared. "You shall have an escort. You——"

"Then I choose the Gray Troop—because," she added carefully, "they're the best."

Now, why, by all that's feminine, was she surprised next morning when the Gray Troop gathered round her coach, as though that were a coincidence? At least she arched her brows, and lifted one shoulder petulantly, and unmistakably showed that she expected a tedious time of it. The sunburned colonel of the Grays beamed so with happiness too, as he drew rein to report to her. They met for the first time since Maximilian's embarrassing little scene for their express benefit. Driscoll noted her disdain, and it is likely that he only grinned. He did that because he knew how helpless he was, and how merciless she could be. For she was not only beautiful, she was pretty—a demure, sweet, and very pretty girl. Some vague instinct of self-defense guided him. His broad smile was exasperating in the last degree, and it was not she, but the other young woman in the coach, whom he addressed.

"I got some side saddles, Miss Burt," he announced, "and a few extra mustangs, whenever anybody gets tired of traveling behind curtains." Curiously enough, both girls wore riding habits. "Oh, by the way," he inquired suddenly, "how's Miss Jack'leen this morning? Is she well and—docile?"

Jacqueline's chin dropped in astonishment. She seized the old canvas window flap and jerked it down. But at once she raised it again, and thoughtfully contemplated the trooper.

"I wonder," she mused aloud, in that quaint accenting of the English which cannot be described, "when is it that you are going to grow up, ever?"

"I did start to," Driscoll informed her soberly, "but it got tiresome as all creation, and I reckon I've backslided just since"—a world of earnestness came into his lowered voice—"well, just since we had that talk with poor Maximilian."

The old canvas curtain fell for good then, and very abruptly.

A moment later, however, she was avenging her flushed cheeks on Mr. Daniel Boone, who rode at the other side, also sunburned, also effulgent with happiness.

"If it isn't the animal disputans!" she exclaimed. "Look Berthe, and rejoice; our sighing Monsieur le Troubadour!"

Driscoll hovered near a moment, then reluctantly rode ahead of his battered dusty warriors. So he and the wilful maid from France began a second journey together, yet far, far apart. But only after many torturing hours did his first joy consent to perceive the distance between them.

Now and then, though rarely, and never when he hoped for such a thing, she would ride with him. And then he usually stirred up hostilities before he knew it, and notwithstanding all that was tender and humble which he meant to tell her. There was, however, cause enough for savagery. She made him the least of the troop, though he arranged each detail of speed and comfort, laid out tempting noon-day spreads, improvised cheer in the cheerless hostelries, and all with a forethought showing pathetically how his every thought was of her. But if she divined the inwardness of this, which of course she did, outwardly she contrived to be oblivious. She thanked him sincerely and simply, the while that he craved repayment, as the heart repays. He yearned for only a chance to speak his mind, and to force hers. But now craftily she would bring the others flocking round, to decide for her if they did not think monsieur absurdly mistaken in this or that! The same instant she would conjure up the most trivial of arguments, and be vastly shocked over the ridiculous contentions which she herself assigned to Driscoll.

She grew honestly fond of the other Missouri colonels, with their ranger uniforms, and brawn scarred by weather and battle, and they and the marchioness became great friends. She was a dainty flower among them, but they were prime comrades, and she, the mad-cap tomboy her life long, took to them in the impulse that here were her own kind. Driscoll was proud to see it, without need of being generous. She gathered Berthe, as a soberer sister, into the merry communion, and she rode with Clay of Carroll, with Carroll of Clay, with Reub Marmaduke, with Crittenden, with cherubic Old Brothers and Sisters, with Hanks the bugler, and she mocked Meagre Shanks, that disputatious animal, because he tried to monopolize Berthe and would not dispute at all. She asked them questions. She asked Harry Collins if his tribe were the same as that of ces Missouriens-la, and the Kansan confessed that the two tribes had been a bit hostile of late, but what with raiding, razing, and murdering, he guessed they'd laid the foundation for a mutual self-respect, as behooved valiant redskins. So she often got strange answers for her inquisitiveness, but she had grown wary among Westerners, and she usually paid them back. They were a happy party. But Driscoll wanted a more definite focusing of the joy. And at times, indeed, yielding to temptation herself, she permitted him to lose his heart deliciously over again. Shadows were lifted now, and she was just a lovable girl, just sweet Jacqueline. And he loved her with the boy's young strength of adoration and diffident awe. Precisely in which state she made him suffer exquisitely. No one could be more contrary and capricious than the lovable girl of a moment before. Whereat storms brewed within him.

There was one of the rare times when the Missourian and the maid rode up and down the winding white ribbon of a Mexican highway, and for awhile both were quiet. This once they dared the risk—she did, rather—which lurks in the silence that requires no words. For him it brought the old time, and the rides of that time, when he wondered what was the matter with him, and she knew all along. And he thought how during the hard winter in the Michoacan mountains and swamps, he had caught himself almost crying aloud, that he wanted her, that he wanted her—wanted again the subtle comradeship of those silences which require no words. And here, at last, here she was, riding beside him!

He looked at her furtively. She was in profile. He looked again, to be sure that it was not memory, but the breathing girl herself. Yes, for a fact, it was the girl herself. And here was her own queenly head, here its regal poise, here the superb line of the neck to the shoulder. Reverence grew on admiration, for as he gazed he beheld her character revealed, of lines as stately, as womanly, and withal as flexible, too, before the cheery glow of each moment's life. He stirred, and was vaguely restive, and perhaps a little frightened also, because of the deep mystery of something within himself which he could not understand. The classic outline of her features was softened now in the warmth of flesh. Her vivacity was off guard, in the forgetfulness of reverie. The pure white of the little tip of ear was tinged with pink. Her eyes were lowered to the saddle horn. They were melting. They were almost blue.

"Jack'leen!" He burst out fervently, before he thought, with an arm half lifted toward her.

The drooping lashes raised. The eyes were gray again. She regarded him for awhile without speaking.

"Why don't you quarrel?" she asked finally.

The spell was broken. Her pounding heart had vent in a nervous laugh of raillery. She touched her horse with the riding crop in her gauntleted hand. Somehow she would not leave that dumb brute, the horse, in peace. Driscoll's old Demijohn, however, was used to the game by now. He pointed his ears, and checkmated that last move by bringing his master once more to the lady's side.

"You used to," she went on, as though there had been no interruption, "nicely. You were of an interest then. In fact, I reck-on—I know no one that I had rather have quarreled with."

But still he would not, though that "reckon" from her lips was most alluring. She stole a mischievous glance at his face, but the fixed look there made her lift her hand toward him. Perhaps, if he had seen and had spoken then—But he did see.

"Eh bien, since monsieur won't fight, won't, won't," she cried, "then it's more fun to——"

Evidently to seek livelier company. For she wheeled the mustang, swerved from a grasp at her bridle, and went galloping back to the coach. He twisted in his saddle, pushed his sombrero higher on his head, and dubiously watched her flying from him, a lithe, trim figure in snug Hungarian jacket, the burnished tendrils fluttering on the nape of her neck, the soft white veil trailing like a fleecy cloud from her black amazona hat. He bent a perplexed gaze to the road. "It's 'way, 'way beyond me," he told himself. Then he grew aware of a sense of warmth on his forearm. Yes, he remembered. For an instant she had laid a hand on his sleeve, and he had thrilled to the ineffable token of nestling. He was never immune from her tantalizing contradictions. He felt this one yet.

Hoofs pounded behind, and Mr. Boone drew up alongside. "She came back, and made me get away from the coach," he announced. "Prob'bly she wanted to cry some; she looked it."

Yet another of her contradictions!

"Then why in the nation," Driscoll demanded, "do you keep hanging round that coach for? Look here Shanks, you make me plum' weary. The idea of you falling in——"

"No more'n you, you innocent gamboling lamb of an ol' blatherskite." But Daniel's steel blue eyes had softened to their gentlest. "Say Jack," he added, "she's going back to Paris."

"Don't I know it? Lord A'mighty!"

"Go on, never mind me," said Mr. Boone. "Groan out loud, if you want to. For she sho'ly is, yes, back to Paris. Now Buh'the"—The Troubadour's r's always liquefied dreamily with that name—"Buh'the has been telling me a few things, and I'm sure reporter enough to scout out the rest of the story, and it's just this—Jack, she's fair broken-hearted."

"Miss Burt?"

"No, no, the marchioness. She staked out a campaign over here, and it's panned out all wrong, and it wasn't her fault either. Poor girl, no wonder she might like to cry a little. She's lavished everything she had on it too, ancestral chateau, and all that."

"But," said Driscoll quickly "she'll not suffer. There's her title——"

"Title?" exclaimed Daniel. "W'y, she's going to give that up too, not having any chateau any more, and she'll trip blithely down among the people again, where she says it's more comfortable anyhow. Title? Well, you've suhtinly noticed that she always did take that humorously. Her grandfather—Buh'the says—was right considerable of a jurist, used scissors and paste, and helped make a scrap-book called the Napoleonic code, and Nap the First changed him into a picayunish duke. But wasn't the nobility of intellect there already? Sho'ly! Miss Jacqueline, though, likes the father of her grandfather the best. He never was noble, technically I mean. His was the nobility of heart, and he'd have scorned to be tagged. He just baked bread, and fed most half of Saint Antoine for nothing at times, while the Dauphin at Versailles was throwing cakes to the swans. Howsoever," Mr. Boone added hastily, as sop to his softness for princes, "I reckon that there Dauphin was noble too. Both of 'em fed the hungry mouths that were nearest."

"But," demanded Driscoll, "doesn't her title carry some sort of a—a compensation?"

"Not a red sou. The majorat—that's the male line—died out with her father, which means that the annuity died out too."

"W'y, Great Scot, she's——"

"She's tired and disheartened, that's what she is, and she's going back to Paris, and you—" Boone paused, and glared at his companion, "—and you mean to let her!"

Old Demijohn felt a spur kicked against his flank, and he lifted his fore feet and sped as the wind. It was fully an hour later when Meagre Shanks caught up with horse and rider again. Rather, he met them coming back. His conversation was guileless, at first.

"Do you know, Din," he began, "those two girls are only half educated? Yes sir, gastronomically, they are positively illiterate, and it's a shame! W'y, they don't know hot biscuits and molasses. They don't know buttermilk. They don't know yams. Nor paw-paws, nor persimmons. They don't even know watermelon. Now isn't France a backward place?"

"Don't, Shanks!" Driscoll begged. "You'll have me heading for Missouri in a minute. You didn't, uh, mention peach cobbler?"

"And peach cobbler, big as an acre covered with snow. And just think, it's roastin' ea'ah time up there now, now!" How Daniel's voice did mellow under a tender sentiment! "And to think," he went on, "of the marchioness living on in such ignorance! It's a thing that's just got to be remedied, Jack."

"Then suppose you take her to Missouri," growled his friend, "and let me alone."

"I take her? Oh come now, Din, I see I've got to tell you something which is—" The Troubadour's accents grew low and fond, and the other man respected them, with something between a smile and a sigh for his own case. "Which is—well, nobody's noticed it, but the fact is that Buh'the, that Miss Buh'the——"

"Dan," interrupted Driscoll severely, "you're not going to tell me any secret. You mean that you weren't mistaken when you mistook her for a queen."

"That—that's it!" ejaculated Daniel. "Of coh'se," he added soothingly, "the other one is a—a mighty nice girl, but——"

"Oh, is she? But Miss Burt is the one you want to take to Missouri? Well Dan, why don't you?"

"Because," was the doleful reply, "those two are just like orphan sisters together, and—well, she won't desert. She is a queen, by God, sir! Miss Jacqueline might make her, but I haven't got the heart to ask it. Now, uh, if—if you would just bring along the other one?"

So, here was the goal of all of Daniel's manoeuvering!

Driscoll cast a leg over the pommel of his saddle, and faced Boone squarely. "Shanks," he demanded with tense vehemence, "do you suppose I need your woes for a prod? Don't you know how much—Lord A'mighty, how much!—I'd like to oblige you? But—she won't let me—even speak. There's, there's something the matter."

Boone's lank jaw fell. "What, I wonder?"

"And don't I wonder too?" Driscoll muttered savagely. "But it's something."

From which moment until the end of the journey, and afterward, there were two men who pondered on what could be the trouble with Jacqueline. But while one pondered gloomily and fiercely and with a semi-comic grin under the lash, the other let perplexity delve and ferret into the mystery. For Mr. Boone had grown aware that an enormous heap of happiness for four depended on himself alone.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE JOURNALISTIC SAGACITY OF A DANIEL

"Ah, my Beloved, fill the cup that clears To-day of past Regret and future Fears." —Omar.

At last Jacqueline stabbed a dot after the word "Finis," and so rounded out her chapter on "Failure." Beyond doubt that tiny punctuation point saved many lives. The besiegers were waxing impatient to assault, and within the City famine mobs ran the streets, crying, "Corn and wood! Corn and wood!" Those who could fled to the Republican camp. The Austrians practically mutinied. Starving and dying thousands clamored for surrender. Yet the ugly, revolting pigmy who was lieutenant of the Empire held them back in the terror of his heartless cruelty.

Then the angel of mercy came. From her Marquez the tyrant learned that his speculation in treachery had collapsed. Louis Napoleon wanted no more of that stock. Besides, every French bayonet was needed in France. The rabid Leopard heard, and that night meanly crept away to save his own loathsome pelt. Bombs had begun to fall into the City, when a Mexican general worthier of the name took upon himself the heroic shame of unconditional surrender. The Oaxacans outside marched in, led by their young chief, Porfirio Diaz, and they fed the people, and of "traitors" shot only a moderate few.

Renovation became the order of the days that followed. The President of the Republic was to be welcomed back to his capital. The stubborn old patriot's heart must be gladdened by every contrast to the dreary, rainy night years before when he fled into exile. Mexico would honor herself in honoring the Benemerito of America. So bunting was spread over every facade, along every cornice, green, white, and red, a festival lichen of magic growth. Flags cracked and snapped aloft, and lace curtains decked the outside of windows. Soldiers put on shoes and canvased their brown hands in white cotton gloves, and military bands rehearsed tirelessly.

Din Driscoll sat on a bench in the shady Zocalo, and contemplated the Palacio Nacional and the Cathedral in process of changing sides from Empire to Republic. Innumerable lanterns being hung along their massive outlines were for incense to a goddess restored. The Mexican eagle had prevailed over monarchial griffins, and held her serpent safely in the way of being throttled. The blunt homely visage of Don Benito Juarez, luxuriously framed, looked out from over the Palace entrance. It was a huge portrait, surrounded by the national standards. Among the emblems there was one other, the Stars and Stripes. The gaze of the ex-Confederate was fixed. It was fixed steadily on the Stars and Stripes. Now and then he felt a rising in his throat, which he had difficulty to swallow down again.

"Well, Jack?"

Boone stood over him. Driscoll's eyes were oddly troubled as they turned from that flag opposite.

"Sure it's hard," said Boone quietly, "mighty hard, to forgive our enemies the good they do."

"What enemies?"

"W'y, them," and Daniel pointed to a flag as to a nation. "Yes sir, the Yanks have kept faith. Do you see a single one of their uniforms down here? Do you notice anywheres that Yankee protectorate we were predicting? No sir, you do not! The Yanks—" But the term was damning to eloquence. Mr. Boone found another. "The Americans, I repeat, have hurled back the European invader. They have given Mexico to the Mexicans. They have endowed a people with nationality. But they have not gobbled up one solitary foot of territory. Which is finer, grander, than your Napoleonic glory! And yet it's selfish, of coh'se it is. But listen here, there'll never be any Utopia, Altruria, Millennium, or what not, that don't coincide with self-interest. And first among the races of the earth, the Americans have made 'em coincide, and I want to know right now if the Americans are not the hope of the world!"

The orator paused for breath. He had to. And then surprise the most lugubrious unexpectedly clouded his lank features. "Darn it, Jack," he exclaimed in alarm, "if I ain't getting Reconstructed, right while I am standing here!"

"Talked yourself into it," Driscoll observed scornfully. "But Dan, you can just put the South along with your Americans. The French laughed at the North alone, but later, when—Well, just maybe it's a good thing we did get licked."

Mr. Boone gasped. Sparks of indignation darted from his steel blue eyes. The recoil needed a full minute to spend itself. Then a greater horror appalled him, a horror of himself. "The Lawd help me," he burst forth, "but you're right, Din Driscoll! You are! It was for the best. But don't you ever think I'm going to admit it again, to nary a living mortal soul, myself included. W'y, it would, it would knock my editorial usefulness—all to smash. There," he added, "that's decided, we're going back. The colonels want their mamas. They've been men long enough, and they're plum' homesick. All the old grudges up there must be about paid off by now, so's an ex-Reb can live in Missouri without train robbing. Libertas et natale solum—It's our surrender, at last."

Driscoll rose abruptly. "Lay down your pen, Shanks," he said. "You're only trying to convert the converted. Of course I'm going too. That there flag, being down here, did it. And don't you suppose I've had letters from home too?"

Meagre Shanks jumped with relief. He straightened throughout his spare length. As the smell of battle to the war charger, the pungent odor of printer's ink wet on galley proofs assailed his nostrils. There were visions, of double-leaded, unterrified thunderbolts crashing from the old Gutenberg, back in Booneville.

"Missouri," he breathed in fire, "Missouri will sho'ly stay Democratic."

Both men glowed. They were buoyant, happy. But these two could not so soon be quit of the enervating Land of Roses. A pair of countenances fell together. Daniel voiced their mutual thought.

"And Miss Jacqueline?" he queried boldly, with the air of meaning to persist, no matter what happened.

Driscoll showed weariness, anger.

"And Miss Burt?" he parried.

"She won't desert, I told you once."

"You mean that she's going to Paris too? I say, Shanks, they're leaving to-morrow."

Shanks knew that much, quite well enough.

"Have you tried to stop her?" he demanded sternly.

Driscoll only looked disgusted.

"But have you—asked her?"

Driscoll's head jerked a nod, of wrath ascending.

The inquisitor wisely swerved. What her answer had been was, to say the least, palpable. But her reason for it was the question with Daniel.

"Is it," he pursued, "is it because she hasn't any dot? You know, Jack, that in France, when a young lady——"

"No, it's not that. I know it's not."

"Oh ho," said Daniel, "so you've been guessing too! And how many guesses did she give you? No, let me try just a few more. It ain't because, because she's an aristocrat?"

"But I want an aristocrat," cried the young Missourian, "one to her finger tips, enough of one to be above aristocracy. And she is."

"Then," said his friend in despair, "it's because she don't, just simply don't care for you?"

"You're a long time finding that out."

"What! You don't mean——"

"Fact," said Driscoll. "Even I guessed it at last. I told her I had been reckoning that she——"

"Cared, yes?"

Driscoll made a wry face. "And she said I mustn't jump at conclusions, I might scare 'em."

The Troubadour chuckled heartlessly. Neither was Driscoll's sense of humor entirely gone.

"'Oh, awful goddess! ever dreadful maid!'" Mr. Boone quoted.

"She's sure a wonder," the other owned gloomily.

"And you are a blind dunce, Jack."

"Don't talk axioms at me," said Driscoll, with a warning light in his eye. "I don't need 'em."

"Well, now," drawled Mr. Boone, "I can't help it if I associate with you any longer, so I'll just mosey round to the flower market. As they leave to-morrow, they'll be wanting some violets."

And he went, and Din Driscoll sat down again and hated him.

Daniel wended his way slowly, an attenuated ranger in gray mid carriages and blanketed forms. "Sho'", he mused, "that girl's heart is fair bleeding for him, can't I see! Her eye-lashes, they're wet, every now and then. And whatever the matter with her is, it's nothing. But nothing is the very darndest thing to overcome in a girl. There's got to be strong measures. It's got to be jolted out of her. Archimagnifico, there's the point!"

Mr. Boone drew out a black cigar, and mangled it between his teeth. He pondered and pondered, absent-mindedly kicking at natives he bumped into. "Kidnap 'em!" he cried at length. "N-o," he reflected, "they go in the public stage, and what with the escort, somebody'd get hurt. We don't want any dead men at this wedding. Old Brothers and Sisters would balk anyhow, and our ecclesiastical officiator is the boy we do need. Now what the everlasting——"

He meant what salutary jolt he could invent, barring holdups, but in the same breath he meant also a most startling scene which revealed itself as he turned the corner.

A deafening crash of musketry was the first thing, and he looked up. He had come into a small plaza before a church, and against the church's blank wall a scene was taking place before an awe-stricken throng. He understood. Another proscribed "traitor" had just been caught; and executed, naturally. But no, not executed! For as the officer of the shooting squad approached to give the stroke of mercy, the prostrate victim raised himself by one hand and knocked aside the pistol at his head. Then he laughed in the officer's face, the most diabolical and unearthly mirth any there had ever heard. There was not a stain of blood on him. He had dropped in the breath of eternity before the bullets spattered past. But his uplifted face, with chin tilted back, was swollen, black, distorted, corded by pulsing veins, and one of the eyes—a crossed eye—bulged round and purple out of its socket, and gleamed. The demon of pain was tearing at the man's tissue of life, but by grip of will unspeakable the agony in that grimace changed to a smile.

"Yes, poison! Vitriol!" he chattered at them hideously. "Adios, imbeciles. It's my last—jest!"

Whereat he fell, writhing as the acid burned to his soul. Before the astounded officer could shoot, he had grown entirely quiet.

Boone strained and pushed against the crowd until he reached the spot. The cadaver was in tight charro garb of raw leather. His sombrero lay near, on which was worked a Roman sword, meaning "Woe to the conquered!" Boone turned inquiringly to the officer. The man, who was pallid, touched his thumb to his cap, recognizing the uniform of the Grays.

"You should know him, mi coronel," he explained. "His name was Tiburcio. He deserted from the Imperialistas at Queretaro, but afterward he joined the plot for Maximilian's escape. We had his description, and I found him. He wanted to take me to Marquez and Fischer, whom we would also like to find. He said that he risked himself here, to spy on them, and that he knew where they had fled, the Leopard disguised in the padre's cloak. But of course I paid no attention. I did not delay even to tie his hands. As Your Mercy observes, I had the honor to do my duty, at once."

"I see," replied Boone dryly. "Lawd, this is a jolt!"

Then he got himself away from there.

"A jolt," he muttered to himself again. "But shucks, it can't—Yes, it can," he decided fervently, "it can be used. We've got to have something terrifying, and poor cock-eyed Don Tibby won't care. He'd appreciate it. And anyhow, I don't seem to be able to stir up inspirations to-day, and this is the only thing."

He was as pallid as the shooting squad he had just left.

"No matter," he reflected, "I'll need just this ghastly state of mind. But here, goodness gracious, I've got to be in a sweat," with which he began to run, a lank knight in gray dented armor.

"Worse luck," his thought pounded along with him, "this here's the first time I've ever faked. And it's a heap the hottest story I've ever handled, too. Our little Parisienne will get a frisson all right, all right, and such a one she'll not be wanting any of again very soon. Dixie Land, I mustn't smoke, I'm to be too excited."

He came into the Zocalo, and drew up before Driscoll, who was still there and still ruminating.

"Listen here," Boone panted, "here's your cue.—In ten minutes—to the second—arrive—knock at her door—appear!"

"With violets?" inquired Driscoll.

"Oh shut up!—Quit, don't stop me, I'm getting cooled off!—Only do what I say.—In just ten minutes—that is—if you want the girl."

And Daniel was off again, "with high and haughty steps" towering along.

"That Meagre Shanks, there, isn't a fool," Driscoll mentally recorded, and he took out his watch.

The two girls were stopping at a hotel in Plateros Street, for Jacqueline had returned to find her beautiful residence, salon and all, ruthlessly dismantled, looted, robbed by Marquez while she was in Queretaro, which was a manner of levying contributions not unfamiliar to the Lieutenant of the Empire.

In the balcony room of their hotel suite the two girls strove valiantly. Crisp gowns and dainty allied mysteries lay spread over the upholstery. They were vanishing into cavernous trunks, with crushing indifference if Jacqueline seized on a garment, but gently when Berthe rescued it, which she always did. Through the double glass doors of the balcony the street sounds below rose to their ears, clarion notes and vivas, hurrying feet and prancing hoofs, and the National hymn a few blocks away in the Zocalo.

Suddenly a grim apparition loomed before the glass doors on the balcony. Berthe half screamed, in dismay clutching at ruffles and laces to hide them, when into the sweet-scented confusion strode Mr. Daniel Boone. He was the grim apparition. Jacqueline withheld her opinion, but she had one. The intruder's spurs were iconoclastic of carpeting, his abrupt presence of feminine sensibilities. But the lean, perspiring face drove away all thought of the conventions. Jacqueline snatched up a fleecy bank of petticoats, making room for him on the sofa. Daniel stared vacantly. The two girls looked very pretty. They were just flurried enough, and they wore white lawn, with sleeves short to the elbow. His fingers groped, and soon they closed over a small, instinctive hand. He kept hold upon that hand for strength, at the same time collapsing on the sofa.

"Now, if you please," said Jacqueline calmly, "what——"

"O Lawd!" Boone gulped, fighting for breath. "It don't matter much—maybe—to you all, but—O Lawd, I got to tell somebody!"

"Tell us, tell us!" cried she of the captured hand.

Daniel had sufficient presence of mind to retain it.

"You know that—that poor devil Tiburcio?" he gasped.

"Yes, yes!" But what anti-climax was here?

"Well, he—he's dead. I saw him.—Lawd!"

"Oh!" It was a little cry of relief.

"But some were—were killed—taking him." Boone noted Jacqueline's intake of breath, her first tremor of alarm. "He fought like a—a wildcat. He had a knife—and a machete—and a pistol—and——"

"Who was killed? Monsieur—Oh, mon Dieu, what can you have to tell me?"

Daniel almost repented, there was that in her gray eyes.

"Among them was my—" He nerved himself to it, some way—"my best friend, that peerless——"

"Who?" Her command was imperious, her white teeth were set.

"Din Driscoll!"

The man blurted it out like a whipped schoolboy. He could not look up. He could only feel that she stood there, stricken, suffering.

"Where is he?"

He could not believe that this was her voice. It was hardened, tearless, without emotion.

"Monsieur—where is he?"

The girl at his side sprang up with a sharp cry to her who questioned. Then he raised his eyes. Jacqueline was unaware of the sobbing girl who clung to her. Her face was changed to marble, her body as rigid.

"Take me to him," she spoke again, still with that deathly authority of the grave.

The man stammered before what he had done. The great beads stood out on his forehead. "You would not—you must not—you——"

"He is mine," she said simply. "Wait, I shall be ready, at once." She passed into an inner room, the portieres falling after her.

"She's—she's getting on her hat," Boone muttered inanely. "Buh'the, she's got to be stopped! She's—God, why don't he come? It's shuah ten minutes. It's—What's that?"

Someone had knocked. In the instant Boone had the hall door ajar.

"Round to the balcony window, hurry!" he whispered.

Then he turned, caught Berthe by the hand, and drew her quickly out into the hall. As he closed the door behind him, he heard the portieres rustle, but he dared not look back.

Jacqueline stepped into the room, and her hat was upon her head. It was of straw, with a drooping brim. She had thrown a long cloak over her thin dress. There was ice in her veins on this tropical June day. She paused, for she saw that the room was deserted. But no—there was a shadow between her and the balcony door. She stared at it, and her eyes grew big. The cloak slipped to the floor, and her fingers worked in the tapestry behind her. She fluttered weakly, like a wounded dove on the ground. Her knees trembled under her. And the man there? He was gazing about him in a puzzled way, for the glare outside still blinded him. Then he saw. He reached her, and caught her as she sank. He felt two soft arms, but icy cold, drop as lead around his neck. The white form he held was rigid, and he thought of shrouds and the chilled death sweat. With savage despair he crushed her to him. After a time her body slowly began to relax.

"Oh, oh, my lad, my lad!" he heard her crying faintly, in a kind of hysteria.

He touched her hair dazedly, with unutterable tenderness.

"There, there—sweetheart!"

The word came, though he had never used it before.

Blood awoke, and coursed, sluggishly at first, through her being, until her heart tripped and throbbed and pounded against his own. Her head lay on his breast, the hat hanging by its ribbons over her back, and with the pulsing life the head and her whole body nestled closer. The soft arms grew warm against his neck, and tightened fiercely, to hold and keep him. Gently he forced up her chin, and her eyes, wet with hottest tears, opened under his. He bent and kissed the long lashes. But a small moist hand flattened against his brow and pushed back his head, and she raised on tiptoe. He understood, and—their lips met.

"Tu sais," she murmured deliriously—nothing but her own dear French would answer now—"tu sais, que—oh, mon coeur, que je—que je t'aime!"

The oddest contrasts fall over life's most sacred moments. The tone of her words thrilled him, set every fibre tingling, yet he thought of dry conjugations and declensions, conned over and over again in school, and he was conscious of vague wonderment that those things really, actually, had a meaning. Meaning? He believed now that no words in English could tell so much. He did not have to understand them. They bore the flesh and blood, the passion and the soul, of a woman who told him that she loved him.

With a hesitant gentleness which bespoke the deep and reverent awe in his yearning, he pressed her head back against its resting place. A man can do without words of any kind. She grew very quiet there. The tense quivering ceased, and she crept closer, and at last she sighed, purringly, contentedly.

But of course there was more which she simply had to say. And this time, when she raised her eyes, they were calm and earnest, and her beautiful forehead was white and very grave. "Do you know, dear," she said, "I should not care to live, I would not have lived, if what he said were—were—" But the eyes filled with tears, and angry with herself, she planted her fists against him to be free, and as impulsively crying, "Oh, my—my own dear lad!" she flung her arms about his neck again. "Oh, oh," she moaned, "he said that you were dead!"

For the first time it dawned on Driscoll that all this must have had a cause, and for the first time since entering the room he remembered Boone.

"He told you—He——"

But Driscoll did not finish. Putting her from him he sprang to the door and flung it open. There he waited. Boone was outside, and Boone walked expectantly in. Without a word Driscoll raised his fist, drew it back, his cruel arm muscled to kill. Jacqueline saw his anger for her, terrible in murder. She threw herself upon him, got hold of the knotted fist, got it to her lips. Another woman, too, had darted between him and the other man, and she faced him. The gentle Berthe was become a little tigress.

"Not that, not that!" It was Jacqueline's voice. "Listen, mon cheri, I—I thank him. Au contraire, I do! And—and you must, too!"

Driscoll stared at all three, first at one, then at another. He floundered, stupefied. Here was this loving girl, clinging to him as though he might vanish, and he had left her that morning a disdainful beauty. Then here was this Meagre Shanks with his mysterious ten minutes, and here was this dumfounding product of those ten minutes. Driscoll put forth an open hand.

"Dan," he muttered incoherently, "you're a—a wonder, too!"

Boone clenched the proffered hand in his own. "I never once thought, Jack," he said earnestly, contritely, "never once, that she cared so ever-lastingly much."

"Well," said Driscoll, "don't do it again."

"Not unless," ventured Boone, "not unless she should ever want a little antidote for ennui. By the way, mademoiselle, do you thank me for the quaver of emotion, for the frisson?"

"Frisson?" she repeated scornfully, with loathing. For once she had been unaware of the prized knife-like tremor. In the fear of losing one dear she had lost consciousness of self. She had lived the tremor, the agony, and it was too dreadful, "No, monsieur," she said, "I want no more of art. I—I want to live!"

"You needed something, though," said Berthe, "to make you find it out."

Driscoll looked curiously at the two girls.

"Yes, J-Jack'leen"—how quaintly awkward he was, trying her old tomboy nickname without the "Miss!"—"Yes, what was the matter with you, anyhow?"

"Parbleu, I forgot!" cried Jacqueline in dismay. "I was not to have monsieur, no!" And Jacqueline's chin, tilting back with elaborate hauteur, was meant to indicate that she was in her first mind about it.

Berthe laughed outright, and softly clapped her hands.

"Sho'," declared Mr. Boone, "the matter was nothing, nothing at all!"

But before feminine caprices and scruples it is wiser to bow low into the dust. Jacqueline turned on the editorial personage with vast indignation. "You leave the room, Seigneur Troubadour," she commanded, "and Berthe, you march with him. Haste, both of you!"

They went, meekly. Their attempt to hide content over the dismissal together was extreme, but transparent.

"What was it?" Driscoll insisted, when he and Jacqueline were alone once more.

"You mean," she exclaimed, "that you are going to quarrel—now?"

"Jack'leen, what was it?"

"I reck-on," she observed demurely, "that the animal disputans was—was right, after all. It was nothing, I—reck-on."

He noted mockery, defiance. There was much too much independence after her late surrender. He went up to her and deliberately reassumed the mastery. He held her, by force. "Mon chevalier," she murmured softly. So she confessed his strength.

"Tell me," he said.

"And you did not guess? You—Oh, how I hated you! How I never wanted to see you, never again! Not after, not after—Mon Dieu, you were two exasperating idiots, you and poor Prince Max! He virtually threw me into your arms. But I, monsieur, am not a person to be thrown. That is, unless—unless I do it myself, which—I did, helas!"

The trooper's grip tightened on her arms. "Then you," he said earnestly, "would have let me lose you?"

She laughed merrily at him.

"And would not you have followed after me?"

"W'y, little girl, I reckon I certainly would of."

"Don't," she gasped. "Let me come—closer. Oh dear, how can the bon Dieu let people be so happy—s-o happy!"

THE END

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