Back in the village of Culebra a demon uproar hounded Don Anastasio out of serape and slumber. All about him were fleeing feet. They were shadows, bounding like frightened deer from the wood, across the clearing, and into the wood again. Some turned and fired as they ran. Screaming women and children hurried out of the jacales, and darted here and there. Dogs howled everywhere. A storm of crashing brush and a wild troop of horsemen, each among them a free lance of butchery, burst on the village. A second crashing storm, and they were in the forest again. They left quivering blots in their wake, and a moaning gave a lower and dreadfuller note to the wailing of women. Only the leader of the pursuers, with a few others, drew rein.
"Death of an ox!" the French oath rang out, "We're in their very nest. Quick, you loafers, the torch, the torch!"
Flames began to crackle, and in the glare Murguia was seen frantically driving burros and peons to safety. The leader of the troop leaned over in his saddle and had him by the collar.
"Who the name of a name are you?"
Don Anastasio looked up. His captor was a great bearded man. "Colonel Dupin!" he groaned.
"Who are you?—But I should know. It's the trader, the accomplice of Rodrigo. Sacre nom, tell me, where is she? We can't find her here. Where is she?"
"How can I know, senor? She—perhaps she is gone."
"With Rodrigo—ha! But he'll have no ransom—no, not if it breaks Maximilian's heart.—Now, Senor Trader——"
He stopped and called to him his nearest men. Murguia sank limp.
"But he hasn't got her! Rodrigo hasn't got her!"
"Who has then?"
"The other one, the American."
"Which way did they go?"
"If Your Mercy will not——"
"Shoot him!" thundered the Tiger.
"But if he will tell us?" someone interposed.
It was Don Tiburcio, still the guardian angel of the golden goose.
"Bien," growled the Tiger, "let him live then until we find the American."
"Which way did they go?" Tiburcio whispered in Murguia's ear.
"To, to Valles," came the reply.
The blazing huts revealed a ghoulish joy on the miser's face. The Gringo, not he, would now have to explain to the Tiger.
UNREGISTERED IN ANY STUDBOOK
"La belle chose que l'aristocratie quand on a le chance d'en etre." —Voltaire.
That garish daub which was sopped up from the burning homes of men and bespattered over the forest's dark crest was already mellowing under the gentler touch of dawn, when the three travelers gained the open country.
"Poor, dirty, little Inditos," Jacqueline mused aloud. Berthe struck her pony in a tremor of fright. The American was riding ahead. "Fire and sword," Jacqueline went on, and her voice lowered to intense scorn, "they make the final tableau, but—it's gaudy, it's cheap."
The trail had broadened into a high road, and now it wound among the hills like a soiled white ribbon. Driscoll turned in his saddle. "I shouldn't wonder," he observed in the full-toned drawl that was peculiar to him, "but what we'd better be projecting a change of venue. This route is too public, and publicity around here strikes me as sort of prejudiced. S'pose we just stir up an alibi?"
A certain stately old judge back in Missouri would have smiled thus to hear the scion of his house. But the marchioness, confident in her mastery of English, thought it was the veriest jargon. What was the boy trying to say? His next words grew fairly intelligible. "We are now headed for Valles. Well, we've decided not to go to Valles."
Perhaps they had, but she at least had ceased deciding anything, since the overruling of her veto in the matter of precedence when one is hoisted upon a burro.
A narrow pony path crossed the road. "First trail to the left, after leaving the wood," Driscoll said aloud, "and this must be it." Campaigner in an unfamiliar country, he had informed himself, and it was with confidence that he led his little party into the bridlepath. But he looked anxiously at the forest behind. He did not doubt but that Rodrigo, if it were he back there, would terrify Murguia into betraying their destination, or their supposed destination, which was Valles.
"Can't you hurry 'em up a bit?" he called back.
"We do try," protested Jacqueline, holding aloft a broken switch, "but they only smile at us."
Driscoll got down and undid the spurs from his boots. One of the immense saw-like discs he adjusted to mademoiselle's high heel, passing the strap twice around the silk-clad ankle. Jacqueline gazed down on the short-cropped, curly head, and she saw that the back of his neck was suddenly red. But the discovery awakened nothing of the coquette in her. Quite the contrary, there was something grateful, even gravely maternal, in the smile hovering on her lips for the rough trooper who took fright like a girl over a revealed instep. Still, the interest was not altogether maternal as she watched him doing the same service for Berthe. Perhaps he was too far away, or perhaps practice brought indifference, but at any rate, his neck was no longer tinged in that fiery way.
"Now dig 'em!" said he. "We want to make that clump of mesquite yonder, now pretty quick."
The trees he pointed to were two or three miles away, but the travelers covered the distance at an easy lope. Driscoll kept an eye on the road they had just left, and once hidden by the mesquite he called a halt. As he expected, a number of horsemen appeared at a trot from the direction of the forest. They did not pause at the cross trail, however, but kept to the highway in the direction of Valles. The American and the two girls could now safely continue their journey along the bridlepath.
"Monsieur," Jacqueline questioned demurely, and in her most treacherous way, "how much longer do we yet follow you up and down mountains?"
"W'y, uh—I'm going to the City of Mexico."
"And we others, we may tag along, n'est-ce pas? But the city is far, far. And, to-night?"
"Of course," said Driscoll, "if you should happen to know of a good hotel——" He paused and gazed inquiringly over hills covered with banana and coffee to the frost line. He would not have tried a frailer temper so, but to provoke hers was incense to his own.
"You others, the Americans," she said tentatively, as though explaining him to herself, "you are so greedy of this New World! You won't give us of it, no, not even a poor little answer of information. Alas, Monseigneur the American, I apologize for being on this side the ocean at all—in a tattered frock."
Driscoll looked, but he could see nothing wrong. She seemed as crisp and dainty as ever. If there were any disarray, it was a fetching sort, with a certain rakish effect.
"Oh that's all right," he assured her heartily, "you can stay."
"Really, and after you've been writing us notes from Washington to—to 'get out'? We French people do not think that was polite."
"I never wrote you any notes, and," he added in a lowered tone, "the devil take Washington, since Lee didn't!"
Jacqueline's lips pursed suddenly like a cherry. "Oh pardon me," she exclaimed. "I did not know. And so you are a—a Confederate? But," and the gray eyes fastened upon him. She rode, too, so that she could see his face, just ahead of her, "but your faction, the—yes, the South—she is already vanquis—no!—whipped? I—I heard."
He did not reply, but his expression disturbed her unaccountably. She could almost note the whimsical daredeviltry fade from his face, as there came instead the grimmest and strangest locking of the jaws. She tried to imagine the French beaten and her feelings then, but it was difficult, for her countrymen were "the bravest of the world, the unconquered." They had borne victory over four continents, into two hemispheres. But this American, what must he feel? He was thinking, in truth, of many things. Of his leave taking with his regiment, with those lusty young savages of Missourians whom perhaps he was never to see again. He was thinking of his ride through the South to Mobile, of the misery in stubborn heroism, of the suffering everywhere, matching that in the dreary fever camp of the Old Brigade. He was thinking of all the beautiful Southland torn and ravaged and of the lowering cloud of finality. Of the Army of Northern Virginia so hard pressed; of the doom of Surrender, a knell already sounded, perhaps. Never had Jacqueline seen such bitterness on a human face. It was a man's bitterness. And almost a desperado's. At least there was the making of a desperado in the youth of a moment before. She caught herself shuddering. There was something so like a lurking death astride the yellow horse in front of her.
But over her also there came a change, and it grew as she saw and appreciated the man in him. Her caprices fell from her, and she was the shrewd woman of the world, a deft creature of courts, a cunning weaver of the delicate skeins of intrigue and politics. A glint of craft and purpose struck from the gray eyes, as in preparation for battle. Her mischievous bantering had really been fraught with design, and by it she had revealed to herself this man. But the change in her came when he proved an antagonist, as she now supposed him to be. For in the uncloaking he stood forth a Confederate. His cause was lost. He was in Mexico. He was on a mission, no doubt. One question remained, what could the mission be?
Abrupt frankness, with its guileful calculation to surprise one into betrayal, was the subtlest diplomacy. "Let us see," she mused aloud, "you, your comrades, monsieur, you have no country now? Bien, that accounts for your interest in Maximilian?"
"And what is your interest, Miss—Jack-leen?"
She staggered before the riposte. The "Jack-leen" was innocent blundering, she knew that. He had heard Rodrigo address her so, and he used it in all respect. But there was her own question turned on herself. By "her interest" he of course meant the interest she was showing in himself; he was not referring it to Maximilian. And yet the double meaning was there, just the same. He had struck back, that was certain, but because she could not tell where, nor even whether he had wounded, she was afraid to parry, much more to venture another thrust. Those who had sent the rustic evidently knew what they were about. He could shoot well, which was exhilarating. To redeem one's country's discredited bills, was quixotic. She rose to that, because she was French. But to fence with herself—well, that was quality. Instinctive, inbred, unconscious, and unregistered in any studbook of Burke or Gotha—but quality. And she recognized it, for there was deference in the silence which her baffled diplomacy now counseled.
They passed many natives plodding on to Valles with market stuff, going at the Inditos' tireless foxtrot, now a man in loincloth stooped under a great bundle of straw or charcoal, or a family entire, including burro and dog. Of a gray-bearded patriarch with a chicken coop strapped to his back, Driscoll inquired the distance to an hacienda of the region which had the name of Moctezuma. "Probablemente, it will be ten leagues farther on, senor," the Huastecan replied.
"We are going," Driscoll now informed his companions, "to drop in on Murgie—the hospitable old anaconda."
They acquired a pineapple by purchase, and stopped for their morning coffee at a hut among numberless orange trees, and at another farther on for their midday lunch, where they learned that the Hacienda de Moctezuma was only just beyond the first hill, and only just beyond the first hill they learned that they had six leagues more to go. They covered three of these leagues, and were rewarded with the information that it was fully seven leagues yet. Geography in Mexico was clearly an elastic quantity. But towards three o'clock a young fellow on a towering stack of fagots waved his arm over the landscape, and said, "Why, senor, you are there now." Yes, it was the hacienda, but how far was it to the hacienda house? Oh, that was still a few little leagues.
In the end, after nightfall, they rode into a very wide valley, where two broad, shallow rivers joined and flowed on as one through the lowland. Here, on the brow of a slope, they perceived the walls and the church tower of what seemed to be a small town. But after one last inquiry, they learned that it was the seat of Anastasio Murguia's baronial domain.
THE HERALD OF THE FAIR GOD
"Les grenouilles se lassant De l'etat democratique, Par leur clameurs firent tant Que Jupin les soumit au pouvoir monarchique." —La Fontaine.
A wide country road swept up the slope of the hill, curved in toward the low outer wall of the little town on the brow, then swept down again. The portico of the hacienda house was set in the wall where the road almost touched, so that the traveler could alight at the very threshold of the venerable place. Mounting the half-dozen steps, Driscoll crossed a vast porch whose bare cement columns stood as sentinels the entire length of the high, one-storied facade, and on the heavy double doors he found a knocker. Visitors were infrequent there, but at last a surprised barefoot mozo answered the rapping, and in turn brought a short man of burly girth and charro tightness of breeches. This chubby person bowed many times and assured Their Mercies over and over again that here they had their house. Driscoll replied with thanks that in that case he thought that he and the other two Mercies would be taking possession, for the night at least.
The man was Murguia's administrador, or overseer. He took it for granted that the French senor (in those days Mexico called all foreigners French) and the French senoras were friends of his employer, and Driscoll did not undeceive him. The trooper's habits were those of war, and war admitted quartering yourself on an enemy. He brought the news, too, that Murguia had come safely through his last blockade run, which alone insured him a welcome without the fact that ranchero hospitality may be almost Arabian and akin to a sacrament.
Plunging into apologies for every conceivable thing that could or might be amiss, Don Anastasio's steward led them into the sala, a long front room, the hacendado's hall of state. To all appearances it had not been so used in many years, but the old furnishing of some former Spanish owner still told the tale of coaches before the colonnade outside and of hidalgo guests within the great house. There was the stately sofa of honor flanked by throne-like armchairs, with high-backed ones next in line, all once of bright crimson satin and now frazzled and stained. The inevitable mirror leaned from its inevitable place over the sofa, but it was cracked and the gilt of the heavy frame had tarnished to red. At the other end of the sala, a considerable journey, there hung a token of the later and Mexican family in possession. The token was of course the Virgin of Guadelupe in her flame of gold, as she had gaudily emblazoned herself on the blanket, or serape, of a poor Indian. Murguia's print was one of thousands of copies of that same revered serape.
Urging them to be seated, clapping his hands for servants, giving orders, ever apologizing, the overseer finally got the travelers convinced that it was their house and that supper would be ready now directly. With a glance at his two companions, Driscoll inquired for the senoras of the family, whereupon a sudden embarrassment darkened the administrador's fat amiable features.
"Dona Luz, Your Mercy means? Ai, caballero, you are most kind. And you tell me that her father will come to-morrow, that he will—surely come?"
"Might we," Jacqueline interposed, "pay our respects to Senor Murguia's daughter?"
The poor fellow begged Their Mercies' indulgence, but Dona Matilde, the senora aunt of Dona Luz, lay sick in the house. As for Dona Luz, yes, Dona Luz had gone to the chapel, as she often did of an evening lately, to pray for her aunt's recovery. Dona Luz had vowed to wear sackcloth for six months if her dear patron saint, Maria de la Luz, would but hear her petition. Out of compassion, Jacqueline said no more.
Next morning Driscoll was astir early. He wandered through a thick-walled labyrinth of corridors and patios, and came at last into a rankly luxuriant tropical garden, where the soft perfume of china-tree blossoms filled his nostrils. Keeping on he passed many of the hacienda buildings, a sugar mill, a cotton factory, warehouses, stables with corrals, and entered a tortuous street between adobes, where he found the hacienda store. Here the administrador was watching the clerks who sold and the peons who bought. The latter were mostly women, barefooted and scantily clothed. Their main want was corn, weevil-eaten corn, which they carried away in their aprons. They made tortillas of it for their men laboring in the hacienda fields, or on the hacienda coffee hills. The store was a curious epitome of thrift and improvidence. One wench grumbled boldly of short measure. She dared, because she was comely and buxom, and her chemise fell low on her full, olive breast. She counted her purchase of frijoles to the last grain, using her fingers, and glaring at the clerk half coaxingly, half resentfully. But an intensely scarlet percale caught her barbarian eye, and she took enough of it for a skirt. A dozen cigarettes followed, and by so much she increased her man's debt to the hacienda.
A shrunken and ancient laborer was expostulating earnestly with much gesturing of skeleton arms, while the administrador listened as one habituated and bored. The feeble peon protested that he could not work that day. He parted the yellow rags over one leg and revealed decaying flesh, sloughing away in the ravages of bone leprosy. He showed it without emotion, as some argument in the abstract. And he was arguing for a little corn, just a little, and he made his palm into a tiny cup to demonstrate. The administrador opened a limp account book, held his pudgy forefinger against a page for a second, then shut it decisively. "No, no, Pedro, not while you owe these twelve reales. Think, man, if you should die. You have no sons; we would lose."
"But, mi patron, there's my nephew."
"True, and he has his own father's debt waiting for him."
"Just a wee little," begged the man.
The overseer shook his head. "When you've worked to-day, yes. Then you may have six cents' worth, and the other six cents of the day's wages counted off your debt. There now, get along with you to the timber cutting."
The administrador brightened on perceiving Driscoll. "How was His Mercy? How had His Mercy passed the night? How——"
"Where," interposed Driscoll, "might one find the nearest stage to Mexico?"
Almost nowhere, was the reply. What with the French intervention and guerrillas, the Compania de Diligencias had about suspended its service altogether. "Then," said Driscoll, "could we hire some sort of a rig from you?" The administrador believed so, though he regretted continuously that Their Mercies must be leaving so soon.
With a nod of thanks Driscoll turned curiously to the loaded shelves, and gazed at the bolts of manta, calico, and red flannel. "Jiminy crickets," he burst forth, "is there anybody on this ranch who can sew?"
Yes, the wife of one of the clerks was a passable seamstress. She did such work for the Donas at the House.
"And can she do some to-day, and can you send it on to overtake me by to-morrow?"
Then Driscoll invested in a number of varas of calico print. It was the best available. But the light blue flowering was modest enough, and there was even a cheery freshness about it that called up mellowing recollections of bright-eyed Missouri girls. Yet each time he thought of the costumes he had ordered, he blushed until his hair roots tingled.
Intent once more on departure, Din Driscoll hastened back to the House. But he only learned that Jacqueline and Berthe were not up yet. He mumbled at such looseness in discipline, until he remembered that they were not troopers, but girls. And since girls are to be waited for, he did it in his own room. From his saddlebags he laid out shaving material. The Old Brigade had advised these things, while speculating with dry concern on what was correct among emperors. After much sharp snapping of eyes, for the razor pulled, the clean line of his jaw emerged from lather and stubble. "Just in case any emperor should happen in," he tried to explain it, taking a transparently jocose manner with himself.
Eight o'clock! Even civilized people do not stay abed that late! Yet he found only Berthe in the dining room. She had come on a foraging expedition. He watched the little Bretonne's deft arranging of a battered tray, and offered droll suggestions until she began to suspect that he really did not mean them. Berthe was a nice girl with soft brown hair, and a serious, gentle way about her.
The maid found mademoiselle not only still abed, but stretched on a rack of torture as well, her helpless gaze fixed on a Mexican woman with a hot iron. It was a flatiron, and it was being applied to Jacqueline's poor rumpled frock. The dress was spread over a cloth on the floor, and the woman strove tantalizingly, and Jacqueline was trying to direct her.
"Madame is served," Berthe announced.
Madame raised herself on an elbow and looked at the tray, at the sorry chinaware, at the earthen supplements. "Served?" she repeated. "Berthe, exaggeration is a very bad habit. But child, what are you about? This is not a petit dejeuner!"
"I know, madame, but he told me to bring it. He said we'd be traveling, and there wouldn't be time for a second breakfast."
"He? Who in the world——"
"Why, the, the American monsieur. He said just coffee wasn't enough, and for me to bring along the entire contest of marksmanship—the, the whole shooting match—and for madame to hurry."
"Berthe! one would say you thought him a prince."
"He—he is a kind of prince," said the little Bretonne doggedly.
Madame whistled softly. Still, she ate a hearty breakfast.
Meantime, outside two resplendent horsemen were galloping up the curving sweep of the wide road. Their haste smacked of vast importance, and the very dazzling flash of their brass helmets in the sunlight had a certain arrogance. The foremost jerked his horse's bit with a cruel petulance and drew up before the hacienda house. Several natives were basking on the steps, and he cut at them sharply with his whip.
"Wake, you r-rats!" A Teutonic thickness of speech clogged his utterance, and he turned to his companion. "Tell this canaille," he snarled in Flemish, "to go fetch their master here at once."
The administrador came hurrying, and was overcome. His hospitable flow gushed and choked at its source before the splendor of the two cavaliers. They were Belgians. The first wore a long blue coat bedecked with golden leaves and belted with a sash. Crosses and stars dangled on his breast. His breeches were white doe, and his high glossy boots had wrinkles like a mousquetaire's. Heavy tassels flapped from his sword hilt. A brass eagle was perched on his helmet. Altogether, here was a glittering bit of flotsam from the new Mexican Empire. But a narrowness between the man's eyes affected one unpleasantly. It was a mean and a sour scowl, of a fellow lately come into authority. The other man graced the ornate uniform of an aide in Maximilian's imperial household.
"Your Mercy is—is the Emperor?" stammered the poor fat administrador.
He had, indeed, heard rumors of Maximilian on one of his ostentatious voyages. The first Belgian, however, was in no way embarrassed at the question. It was a natural mistake, in his opinion.
"Explain to this imbecile," he ordered, "since there's no better here to receive us."
The aide explained. His Imperial Majesty, Maximiliano, was returning to his capital. Fascinated by the beauty of the tropics, as well as ill of a cough, he had lingered for a week past at the adjoining hacienda of Las Palmas. He had also been deep in studies for the welfare of his people. But now the business of the Empire demanded that he relieve the Empress of her regency. Accordingly, His Majesty and His Majesty's retinue had left Las Palmas that very morning, and would shortly pass by the hacienda of Moctezuma. His Majesty, when en voyage, always took a loving interest in his subjects, and a sincere ovation never failed to touch his heart. So Monsieur Eloin—here the aide glanced with some irony at the first Belgian—so Monsieur Eloin thought that the master of La Moctezuma would be grateful to know of His Majesty's approach, in order to gather the peons from the fields to welcome him. It would be as well, perhaps, to reveal nothing to the Emperor of this thoughtful hint.
"To make it quite plain," concluded the speaker, "can you assemble enough men within an hour to do a seeming and convincing reverence to your ruler?"
"And tell him," interrupted Monsieur Eloin, "not to forget the green boughs waving in their hands. Make him understand that there will be consequences if it's not spontaneous."
As they galloped back to rejoin Maximilian, the imperial aide was thoughtful. "I can't help it," he said aloud, "I feel sorry for him. How his blue eyes glisten—there are actually tears in them—when he talks to these Indians of freedom and a higher life! He thinks they love him! And all this elegance—no wonder they believe that the Fair God is come at last to right their sorrows."
"The loathsome beasts!"
"But I do feel sorry. He really believes that he will verify the tradition and be their savior. It's his sincere goodness of heart. Man, how exalted he is!"
"But where's the harm?"
"Because, because the poor devils were fooled once before. And their new Messiah may deceive them as bitterly with unwise meddling as Cortez did with greed and cruelty."
"Messiah for these pigs!" Eloin sneered. "What pleasure it gives him, I can't see."
"... a bearded man, Pamper'd with rank luxuriousness and ease." —Dante.
The Emperor was coming—elaborately, by august degrees.
First, and far in advance, arrived a haughty pack liveried in the royal green of ancient Aztec dynasties. New tenants might have been moving on this bright May day, for the flunkies attended a small caravan of household stuff, which they crammed through the gaping doorway as nuts into a goose's maw. The stuff was all royal, of royalty's absolute necessities. There were soft rugs, and finely spun tapestries, and portieres to smother a whisper. There was a high-backed chair, and a velvet-covered dais for the high-backed chair. There were brushes, whose stroke caressed gently and purringly the Hapsburg whisker. There was a Roman poet, fastidiously bound, and then—there was the Ritual.
The Ritual was a massive tome, of glazed, gilt-edged paper, of print as big for the proclaiming of truth as the Family Bible, of weight to burden a strong man, of contents to stagger a giant brain, unless the giant brain had in it the convolution of a smile. Maximilian and Charlotte had reigned a year, and so far the Ritual was the supreme monument to the glory and usefulness of their Empire. It decreed, by Imperial dictation and signature, the etiquette that must and should be observed in the courtly circle. But alas, you can't codify genuflections, nor yet a handshake.
The next degree in the imperial advent was the imperial courier, who proclaimed from a curveting steed what everybody suspected. "Our August Sovereign" was approaching.
Several hundred peons stared with open mouths. Gathered before the house, they prattled to one another in childlike expectancy of the Senor Emperador. Most of them were learning for the first time that they had an emperor. Still, it sufficed to know this was an occasion for auto-inspiring vivas, like once when the Ilustrisimo Bishop came. They took new hold on the green boughs they were to wave. A handkerchief here and there fluttered from a bamboo pole. Down in an adobe village by the river junction, every gala scrap of calico print, whether shirt or skirt, pended from cords stretched across the street; and cotton curtains, some of crude drawn work, hung outside the windows. All the poor finery of the Indians was on exhibition to do honor to a gorgeous Old World court. But the fiesta air had already gotten into the susceptible native lungs, and that alone, with only a trumpet's blare, would make for a hurrah in genuine fervor.
The roomy porch of the old mansion was crowded with the chief people of the hacienda, clerks, foremen, house servants, besides the administrador and the chaplain. Behind a remote column were the three wanderers in the wilderness; the Storm Centre, the Marchioness, and the Maid. They were to have been gone by now, and yet it was not the coming of the emperor that had stopped them. The cause was nearer at hand. Smoking a long black cigar, "grizzled and fierce, as ornate in braid and decorations as a bullfighter," Colonel Dupin had delayed them.
His Cossacks thronged the colonnade. The brick-red of their raw leather jackets splotched every other color with rust. The Contra Guerrillas were many things. They were Frenchmen and Mexicans. They were Americans, Confederate deserters, Union deserters. They were Negroes and Arabs. They were the ruined of fortune, now soldiers of fortune. They were pirates and highwaymen. They were gold hunters, gamblers, swindlers. They were fugitives from the noose, from the garrote, from the guillotine. But they were all right willing desperadoes. And there was not a softened feature on a man of the troop. Only a tigerish ferocity could lead them, could hold them.
They surrounded the Missourian on the hacienda portico. If only for his debonnaire indifference, they knew him for a "bad man" such as none of them might ever hope to be. And they watched him like lynxes, though he was unarmed. Yet he did not look "bad." He merely looked bored. He was a prisoner, but not the only one. Anastasio Murguia fidgetted among the Cossacks on his own porch. His restless eyes roved incessantly over the crowd, seeking his daughter, but they were steadily baffled.
Down in the valley, where the Rio Moctezuma joined its course with the Panuco, a dusty mist moved nearer along the old Spanish highway, and faintly there came the sound of clarions. An eager murmuring arose from the throng on the hillside. It swelled more confidently to a buzz as the far-away dust lifted at the ford and revealed the beaded stringing of a numerous company. The distant bugles rang clearer on the pure air. "Yes, he comes," the people cried, "There! Seest thou, hombre?—There! Viva el Senor Emperador!"
For Colonel Dupin the cloud of dust would shortly evolve into a staying hand of mercy, into the exasperating stupidity of mercy. He had captured the American not ten minutes before, and here was interference in a gauzy haze of dust. He signed to one of his men to follow with Murguia, and he himself placed a gauntleted hand on Driscoll's shoulder. "Now," he said.
But a white figure of Mexican rebosa and silken instep moved swiftly from behind a column and touched the Tiger's arm. Both Jacqueline and Berthe had been watching the Cossack chief rather than the spectacle in the valley. And as he turned on his prisoner, Berthe half screamed and clutched at the bosom of her dress. It was Jacqueline who gained his side. She addressed him sharply as one who hates to reopen a tedious argument.
"Monsieur Dupin," she cried, "have I not already permitted myself to tell you—yes, I repeat, you are mistaken. He is in no sense whatever an accomplice of Rodrigo Galan."
The Tiger heard, no doubt, but he did not stop. He kept on toward the door, Driscoll beside him, and his men around him. He meant to pass through the house. Some secluded corral in the back would do for the execution. Driscoll seemed as indifferent as ever, though there was a lithe, alert spring in his step. Behind him Murguia was moaning, praying to see his daughter. Berthe followed, bewildered, and silently wringing her hands. But the death march was so business-like, and every one else was so intent on the approach of a royally born person, that the crowds shoved aside by the little group never once suspected that they had just brushed elbows with tragedy in the making.
Jacqueline caught her breath, sucked it in rather, in a pang of angry despair; and plucking up her skirts she ran ahead until she could oppose her slender figure squarely in front of the burly Frenchman. If he were to move on, he must trample her down. Her eyes, usually so big and round and shading to a depth of blue with their lively mischief, were all but closed, and through the narrowed lashes they gleamed like white steel. Her voice, though, was clear and even, of a studied courtesy.
"Yes, I know, Monsieur le Coronel, suspicion with you is quite enough. But," she went on in contempt and feigned surprise at his dullness, "this rage of yours at being outwitted by Rodrigo Galan blinds you to something else.—Pardon, monsieur, a Frenchman does not jostle a woman.—Thank you."
"But the jostling by a woman's tongue, mademoiselle.—Well, what is it? Have mercy, be brief, since I am not even to breathe while my lady talks."
"I was thinking, dear monsieur, of the feelings of an artist, to which you are very, very blind."
"Feelings, artist? Name of a name, mademoiselle!"
"Precisely, Maximilian's feelings. You know how he abhors the sight of blood. Ma foi, and I agree with him."
"Go it, Miss Jack-leen!" Driscoll abetted her. Never a word of their French did he understand, but he knew that she had a power of speech. Dupin evidently knew it better yet, for though he laughed, he did not laugh easily.
"Never fear," he said, "His Majesty's delicate prejudices are safe. It will be all underground before he comes, and no muss at all."
"But you forget," Jacqueline cried testily, "you forget the imagination of a poet."
"And he will imagine——"
"Yes, because I shall tell him."
"And possibly he would brace his feelings to a second aesthetic horror as a rebuke for the first. In a word, my colonel, there will be one more body to follow—underground. Now is this quite clear, or—do you require my promise on it?"
The savage old brow manifested the desire to make her a victim as well, but in this extra blood-thirst she knew that Driscoll was safe. "I understand, Mademoiselle la Marquise," he said, laying on heavily the suave gallantry of a Frenchman. "Yes, I understand. Prince Max values Your Ladyship's good taste so highly—— Pardi, I believe he would certainly shoot me if you told him to."
"Exactly," Jacqueline coldly assented.
"And Monsieur l'Americain may congratulate himself on the influence of mademoiselle, the arbiter elegantiarum—with His Majesty."
"As Monsieur le Tigre may congratulate himself that the American does not understand this insult, sir."
Behind her rose a dry hysterical cackle of renewed hope. "The Little Black Crow!" she exclaimed. "See, my colonel, he is not worth an execution all to himself, so do we all go back to contemplate Prince Max's loving ovation."
"The Emperor arrives!" she cried gayly, returning to the porch. With the others she was once more behind the remote column, an end of the rebosa hanging over her arm ready to be flung across her face. "But what—Helas, I haven't my Ritual with me."—The Ritual classified every movement, every breath of the Court, as rigidly and with as little consciousness of humor as Linnaeus did his flowers.—"It can't be a Minor Palace Luncheon of the Third Class," she mused, "and it isn't Grand Court Mourning of the First Degree. Ha, I have it, He—that 'H' is a capital, please, not as a sacrilege, but to be Ritualistic—He is out on a voyage of the Minor Class, Small Service of Honor, Lesser Cortege. Now then, all's comfortable; no room for plebeian misconceptions."
On they came, each rigidly after his kind, a Noah's procession of Dignitaries with the August Sovereign first of all. To bring on the majestic climax so early was illogical, of course, but dust having happened to be created before precedence, the Cortege was changed the other way round for a voyage, so that the First Category people breathed what the August Sovereign kicked up and kicked up some additional for the Second Category, and the Second did the same for the Third, and so on down to the Ninth, or "And all others," who breathed the best they could and paid the bill.
Nothing preceded the royal coach except the royal escort, and that by exactly two hundred paces, in which interval a canonical obligation was laid on the dust to settle. It was a particularly gallant royal escort. The Empress's Own, or the Dragoons, or Lancers, or Guardsmen, or Hussars, or whatever they were, were picked Mexicans; and they were frankly proud of their rich crimson tunics; also, perhaps, of their heavily fringed standard worked by Carlota herself. A cavalry detachment in fur caps with a feather completed the body guard. Mexico is a hot country, but that was no reason why an Austrian regiment should sacrifice its furry identity.
"Belgians too!" exclaimed Jacqueline. "And the Mexican emigres! They came back when we made it safe for them. But where, oh where, are the French?"
"Everywhere," growled the Tiger, "in mountains and swamps, dying everywhere, fighting for this Austrian archduke. But he doesn't like to be seen with them."
Behind eight white mules of Spain, four abreast, rolled the coach of the Emperor, solitary and marked as majesty itself. There were postilions and outriders and footmen arrayed in the Imperial livery with the Imperial crown. And on the coach door flashed Maximilian's escutcheon, his archducal arms grafted on the torso of his new imperial estate. There were the winged griffins with absurd scrolls for tails. They had voracious claws, had these droll beasts of prey, and they clutched at an oval frame ruthlessly, as though to shatter it and get at a certain bird within. Poor bird, his shelter looked very fragile, and he about to be smothered under an enormous diadem as under an extinguisher. He was none other than the Mexican eagle perched on his own native cactus, and he desired only peace and quiet while he throttled the snake of ignorance in his talons, which snake had been his worry ever since the Aztec hordes from the north had first caged him in. Beneath the Imperial arms was the motto, "Equidad en la Justicia," but it seemed an idle promise.
In the huge traveling coach, with a greyhound at his feet, sat one lone man. He had a soft skin, rosy like a baby's, and blue eyes, and what some called a beautiful golden beard. The huzzas swelled and surged from all sides, and he smiled on the people. But he gazed beyond them, and into the blue eyes came the light of exaltation such as is inspired by music that starts a heartstring in vague trembling.
The Cortege followed in carriages one hundred paces apart. The first held the First Grand Dignitary, the only Dignitary of Third Category rank, and hence the only one who could stand near the throne after Highnesses, Grand Collars, and Ambassadors. He was the Grand Marshal of the Court and Minister of the Imperial Household. His privileges consisted of seeing "His Majesty when called for," and of "communicating with Him in writing." But he could not see Him when not called for. In reality the Grand Marshal was a quiet old Mexican gentleman who seemed ill at ease. He was General Almonte, one of those conservatives who had sought their country's tranquillity in foreign intervention. But Maximilian had bespangled him into a Dignidad, and thus lost to himself an able politician's usefulness. The real man of affairs was an obscure Belgian who openly and insolently despised everything Mexican. He also sang chansonettes. He was the sour-browed Monsieur Eloin already mentioned.
Dignidades enough to make up the Lesser Cortege were not lacking. Riding alone was the Chief of the Military Household, who could return no salutes when near His Majesty except from First and Second Category personages. Under the circumstances, recognition of his own father would have been rank heresy. Then there was the Grand Physician, the Grand Chaplain, and Honorary Physicians and Chaplains, who could wear Grand Uniforms and a Cordon and eat at the Grand Marshal's table; and there were Chamberlains and Secretaries of Ceremony and Aides. Many surreptitiously peeped into a monster volume as they rode. It was not a mass book nor a materia medica. It was the Ritual.
The Sixth Grand Dignitary of Cabellerizo Mayor helped His Majesty to descend from His coach. He did it mid vociferous cheering and waving of boughs and agitation of handkerchiefs on bamboo poles. Aides and Deputy Dignitaries worked industriously driving back the simple Inditos.
"'The General Aide de Camp,'" Jacqueline quoted reverently, "'will keep the people from the Imperial coach, but without maiming them.'"
HE OF THE DEBONAIR SCEPTRE
"And let us make a name."—Genesis.
The flame of lofty resolve burned with a high, present heat in Maximilian's dreamy eyes. But the thing was not statesmanship. The danger dial pointed to some latest darling phantasy.
When the young prince—he was but thirty-three—descended from his carriage, he signed that the Cortege should not form as yet. And instead of mounting the colonnade steps, he turned and mingled with his humble subjects. A pleased murmur arose among the Indians. "Que simpatico!" they breathed in little gasps of admiring awe.
The unusually tall and very fair young man, in the simplicity of black, with only the grand cross of St. Stephen about his neck, moved about among the ragged peons. Now and again he spoke to one and another, questioning earnestly. Anxious orderlies were quick to brush aside the touch of an elbow, but to those outside the circle, watching what he would do, he seemed alone with his people. And in thought, he really was. There was a great pity upon his face, and it was the more poignant because these timorous children could not comprehend the wretchedness which so appealed to him.
"And thou?" he demanded of an aged man whose tatters hung heavy in filth.
A look of poor simple craft came into the Indian's face. "I, senor? Maria purisima, I am cursed of heaven. But the rich senor wishes to know—see!" and ere Monsieur Eloin could prevent, he bared a limb of rotting flesh. "If it were not for my leg, Your Mercy——"
"Animal," snarled Eloin in his ear, "can't you say 'Your Majesty'?"
"Your—Majesty, or if I had children, I could make my debt—oh, grande, grande, twenty reales, maybe. And then, and then I should have a red and purple scrape, with a green eagle, like my nephew Felipe has.—He owes," the man added in a kind of pride, "thirty reales, my nephew Felipe does."
But his wiles failed. The rich senor turned toward the colonnade, his sailor's easy swing giving way to a tread of determination. Also, the pure flame burned consumingly.
From the top of the steps, between files of dismounted Dragoons, Maximilian looked over the people, beyond, in some far away gaze of the spirit.
Jacqueline hid the golden gleam of her hair under the rebosa. "Silencium!" she whispered, laying a finger across her lips. "For now we'll have the mountains to frisk, and the little hills to skip. In all the Orient there blooms no flower of eloquence like unto his."
The monarch's inspired look promised as much. "Mexicans," he began. The peons huddled closer, their responsive natures quickened. His sonorous voice was electrical, despite an accent, despite the German over-gush of stammering when words could not keep pace with the vast idea. But the one word of address gave the peons a dignity they had never suspected.
"Mexicans: you have desired me. Acceding to the spontaneous expression of your wishes, I have come to your noble country—our dear patria—to watch over and direct your destinies. And with me came one who feels for you all the tenderness of a mother, who is your Empress and my August Spouse."
"But not," murmured the sententious lady of the rebosa, "august enough to appear before Him unless He sends for Her."
Proceeding, the speaker solemnly told them of his divine right as a Hapsburg, as one of the Caesars, and of his anointment by the Vicar of God at Rome, so that to God alone was he responsible. As a Mexican he gloried with them in their liberties, in the True Liberty he brought, for had not the Holy Father said to him, "Great are the rights of a people, but greater and more sacred are the rights of the Church?" Hence he burned with Heaven-given fire to lift them, his subjects, into the vanguard of Nineteenth Century Progress.
Here Maximilian paused mid cheers, and thinking on his next words, his delicate hand of a gentleman clenched.
"Mexicans," he began again, now in the vibrant tone of an overpowering emotion. "I pray to fulfil the mission for which God has placed me here. There are six millions of you, a sober and industrious race. Cortez found you so, and you astounded him with your civilization. But the conditions that followed have enslaved you. Enslaved, I repeat, for you are bound by debt. Your hacendado master contrives that you cannot pay even his usurious interest. The food you eat, you must buy from him, at his prices, of the quality he prescribes. And if your debt be not sufficient, that is, if there seems a chance of your paying it off, then you must increase it to obtain your daily bread. Your very children are slaves at birth, since with their first birth they inherit your chains. And if you or your children run away, you or they may be brought back as runaway slaves. It is thus that I find you, Mexicans. And I find you awaiting a liberator, waiting vainly through the centuries. But now, at last, the reward of your suffering and your faith has come. In a word, which shall be formally recorded in the Journal Official, We this day decree——"
"I knew it," exclaimed Jacqueline, "he always coins his inspirations."
"——We this day decree your debts extinguished, and each and every peon in all our beautiful country—a free man!"
"Yet with not," said Jacqueline, "a foot of land to be free on. But you know, messieurs, that Utopia is an asylum for the blind."
"It's a spider on his ceiling," muttered Colonel Dupin, touching his own head significantly.
The emancipator's face was beatific. He heard the peons acclaim him, as gradually they began to understand that there was to be no more unhappiness. But it was curious how far, far away the sweet music sounded, even when some belated "Viva el Senor Emperador!" cracked in ludicrous falsetto. For the poet-prince these human chords might have been the strings of a harp, softly touched. And as far away as posterity.
Jacqueline fell to clapping her hands noiselessly. "Oh, la-la," she cried, "if we are not to have an epic flight from Monsieur Eloin!"
It was true in a degree. Five minutes of stupendous history making had just elapsed, and some graceful tribute was due. The royal favorite had foreseen the need, and he was prepared; but whether by borrowing or originating, it is impossible to say.
"'Vous l'avez releve; votre main souveraine L'a rendu d'un seul coup a la famille humaine. De ce premier bienfait, Sire, soyez content: L'Indien fera de vous MAXIMILIEN LE GRAND!'"
"Parbleu, why not?" demanded Jacqueline. "If only he were as great as his decrees, poor man!"
Maximilian by this time remembered that he must be somebody's guest. "Who receives Us here?" he asked. But none of his court knew. Even Monsieur Eloin could only point to the administrador. "Why is your master not present?" inquired General Almonte. The administrador opened his mouth, and it stayed open. Colonel Dupin had promised to shoot him if he breathed a word of Don Anastasio being a prisoner.
But someone whispered something to a person on the outskirts of the entourage, who passed it on to the very centre till it came to the ear of Col. Miguel Lopez of Her Majesty's Dragoons. The someone who initiated the message was Don Tiburcio, the watchful herder over one golden goose. As a result, an aide rescued Murguia from the claws of the Tiger.
Maximilian looked the weazened old man over in disappointment. Here, then, was the lord of Moctezuma, an hacendado, and hence one of the heavy timbers for his empire building. Don Anastasio scraped awkwardly and craved many pardons for not being on hand to welcome His Majesty. Overcoming a curious aversion to the man, the emperor straightway invested him with the newly created order of Civil Merit, and Don Anastasio, without a peon to till his fields or to oil his machinery, quaked under the honor of a copper medal.
"And," pursued the monarch, "We find a need of stout officials, for We have been grieved to learn of hacendados who secretly aid the prowling rebellious outlaws that infest our country.—And as We must have a prefect in this district of an integrity like your own, it pleases Us, dear caballero, to name you jefe politico."
The new jefe's greenish eyes contracted in terror. He thought of the brigands whom magistrates were supposed to discourage, and he tried to frame excuses.
"Accept, you fool," someone whispered. "Mexicans can't refuse office—that's decreed." It was Don Tiburcio, his sombrero against his breast. To Murguia the Roman sword on the crown seemed more than ever emblematic of "Woe to the conquered." In a veritable panic he accepted.
As it was fitting that this day of a people's emancipation should be commemorated by public praise to Almighty God, the Lesser Cortege formed, and careful of precedence, went to worship their Maker. The freedmen trooped after, waving jubilee branches.
The little church of the hacienda stood on a barren knoll, mid chaparral and graves. The curate's white adobe adjoining was the only near habitation. A stone walk as wide as the church itself approached for a hundred yards, sloping up from a pasture below. The one tower opened on four sides for the better ease of the bell ringers. Its bright mosaic peak rose peaceful and still in the clear air.
The Emperor and suite arranged themselves within, and the Inditos gaped stolidly outside, to hear the Te Deum for their broken shackles. At the most solemn moment, the Grand Chaplain availed himself of his exclusive privilege, which was to present the Gospel to the royal lips. Assisting him in the general service was the hacienda curate. This curate, obscurely found in the Huasteca wilds and yet not a Mexican, was a large sleek man whose paunch bulged repulsively under the priestly surplice. His flabby jowls hung down, and gave his head the shape of a pea, in the top of which were the eyes set close together. They were restless fawning little eyes and they roved constantly. But more than aught else, they were adventurous; two bright, glowing beads of adventure. From the folds of dull yellow flesh they peered forth at the august worshipers. They hovered first over the Emperor before his cushioned prie-dieu. Then, in hungry search, they began to roam. They lingered with General Almonte for a moment, but darted on, unsatisfied. They fluttered yet longer over Miguel Lopez, the gorgeously uniformed colonel of Dragoons, and left him only reluctantly. But when they lighted on Monsieur Eloin, they gleamed. There was no longer uncertainty. They laid bare the man as the print of a mass-book, and found him profitable reading. After that, the adventurous orbs returned to their larger prey, the Emperor, and gorging themselves, scintillated more adventurously than ever.
And such a feast as the unconscious Hapsburg afforded the ghoul of a priest! It was a loathsome surgery; greedy fingers trembling on the knife, the victim's soul flayed, each nerve of a vanity, or tendon of an ambition, or full-throbbing vein of hope, each and all lifted one by one from the clotted mass and scrutinized exultantly. There was not a feature but held a revelation as sure as vivisection. The high, broad forehead of a gentle poet was often shaded by a dreamy melancholy, but never once did it furrow in either craft or cruelty. In that the priest knew his man for a devout mystic, knew him for a child confidingly looking to a Destiny to inspire his every footstep. Then there was the beard. It was too great a wealth of whisker, its satin, glossy flow of too dandified a precision. The delicate finger tips stroked it softly, affectionately, to the left; then softly, affectionately to the right; and always dreamily. But the most shameless traitor of all was the lower lip. It was the Hapsburg lower lip, heavy and thick and sensuous, and ill-fated. Hanging partly open under the silken drooping moustache, it revealed the spoiled child of royalty, who mistakes obstinacy for decision, and changes whims with despotic petulance. Maximilian believed in his star. But a lower lip is more potent than predestination. He need only have leaned close to his mirror. Then he might have seen what the priest saw so clearly.
Maximilian paused on coming out. The freedmen were just rising from their knees among the thorns and stones. Then it occurred to the liberator that their participation in the rejoicing was not exactly, ah—conspicuous. "Would you not think it well, father," said he to the Grand Chaplain, "that these poor people partake of the holy communion on this day that has been so eventful for them? If you approve, let it be ordered that——"
Maximilian turned quickly, a pleased smile on his lips. The interruption came in his own tongue, in German. And he who had spoken was a German. It was the hacienda curate. His voice was soft, and purring with deference. He wished to say, with permission, that the holy sacrament for the Inditos was out of the question; scarcely one of them had been baptized.
"Not baptized!" Maximilian exclaimed. "And this, is this fulfilling your sacred obligations?"
The curate bowed his head. He had found them thus, when he first came, a few weeks ago.
"And you came——"
"From Durango, sire, where as secretary I served His Senoria Ilustrisimo, the Bishop of the state." But, as he meekly explained, he had sought the Lord's service among the Huastecans. Pastors were said to be needed, yet never had he imagined——He stopped short, in naive embarrassment.
Maximilian appreciated his delicacy in not wishing to reflect on the Huasteca bishop. But from others he learned that neither baptism nor other spiritual office had been performed in the community for years and years, and that the bishop resided in the capitol, because among his flock he had neither comforts nor a befitting state.
"But why," Maximilian demanded sternly, "have you not put to use the few weeks you have been here?"
The curate's small eyes leaped to adventure. But he lowered them hastily, and folded his hands over his rounded soutane. He had heard that His Majesty might come, he said, and he had presumed so far as to hope that His Majesty might deign to act as godfather for the poor Indians, and so he had waited.
Nothing could have pleased Maximilian more, and he looked at the good priest with an awakening favor. "Then let it be this afternoon," he commanded. "I will stand their sponsor."
"——Before God, who will bless Your Majesty," murmured the priest.
And to be brief, let it be recorded that they were baptized by the hundred, with hurried pomp—"pompes a incendie," as the godfather himself described it.
RATHER A SMALL MAN
"Besides the queene, he dearly loved a fair and comely dame." —The Ballad of Fair Rosamond.
Jacqueline was protesting to a worried personage in Grand Uniform. The personage was the Cerberus of the Emperor's antechamber, and he barred her way. He was newly a personage, and did not know Jacqueline.
"But, Senor Oficial de Ordenes," she insisted, "don't you see that if I put my name in your old register there, the man will be shot while your Dignitaries are deciding to grant my audience!"
"Shot?" vaguely repeated the monarchial flunkey. He was a Mexican, and took his unfamiliar responsibilities seriously. He turned to the Book of Court Etiquette on the centre table.
"I tell you," exclaimed the impatient girl, "you won't find any precedence for shooting in that thing. A doomed man hasn't any, take the word of the Dama Mayor."
"Dama Mayor?" This was more tangible, and the Grand Uniform seized on it gratefully. "But," and he quoted from the Ritual in triumph, "no Dama can present herself except on matters of service."
Jacqueline hedged guilefully. "Of course not," she agreed, "and it's precisely that why I must see His Majesty. It's about, about a piece of valencienne he wished me to bring the Empress from Europe."
The Oficial de Ordenes hesitated. "But the man to be shot?"
"No matter, the lace is my business."
With which assurance, the Grand Uniform presumed to announce la Senorita Marquesa d'Aumerle. He reappeared at once from the inner apartment. The Emperor's order to admit her that instant rather disturbed his faith in the Ritual and the leisurely decorum it prescribed.
Hardly had she stepped within the portieres than someone caught her hand, and she saw Maximilian bending over it. There was an involuntary warmth in his formal courtier grace. The only other occupant of the hacienda sala was Bebello, the greyhound. He sprang up from a Hungarian bear rug, and frisked about her joyfully. Her greeting to him was equally sincere. Quietly releasing her hand, she patted him fondly, and cooed endearing French. "My little Tou-Tou! Pauvre petite bete!" Then, raising her head, she seemed to perceive His Majesty, "Isn't a bit older, is he, sire?"
"Mademoiselle!" the man exclaimed reproachfully.
All the time he was staring at her. He stared at the tempestuous ruffling of her petticoat, which had a wanton air that was most disturbing, at the rebosa tossed rakishly over her shoulder, with the waistline beneath as languorously suggested as though she were Spanish-born to rebosas, and lastly, at a freckle on the very tip of the creamy nose. He admired extravagantly, but he was no less amazed to see her at all. A moment before he had supposed her demurely breaking hearts at St. Cloud, and Paris under her feet. He knew how capable she was. It had happened to him. How he had sought her, before she left! And how maddening she was! He could recall nothing of encouragement, and yet, blind, susceptible fool, he had never ceased to be encouraged. She was a master craftsman, since her art was hidden. Then she had gone back to France; some said because of a note from Napoleon. But he was of the gloomy opinion that she had simply ceased to amuse herself. Yet for all that, here she was again, and the astonished prince was eager to suffer yet more, if it amused her still.
She explained in a word, as though their meeting in the Huasteca were nothing extraordinary. Away from Mexico, she had discovered that she wanted to return to Mexico. The man left in Mexico would have augured much from this, but at her matter-of-fact tone the glad light faded from his eyes. Jacqueline, by the way, was a good manager. She reminded him that she had no mother nor father nor other relative in France—which disposed of France. Then, though he winced, she added that the experiment of a New World court was a novel spectacle and she enjoyed it more than the conventional affairs in Europe. Accordingly she would resume her place as first lady of honor. At Tampico she had wearied of ocean travel, and—well, that was all.
Maximilian shuddered. He imagined the terrors she must have encountered. "But, mademoiselle, the bandits? You did not come alone through that terrible coast country?"
"Of course not, sire. And that's why I reveal myself to Your Majesty. You are to save the person that brought me."
"Have mercy, mademoiselle. One must leap too far who hopes to understand you."
"But there's nothing to understand. Your Majesty has only to keep Colonel Dupin from shooting him."
Maximilian frowned heavily at the Frenchman's name.
"On the porch just now," Jacqueline explained, "when you finished speaking, he—the man I am speaking of—announced that he wanted to see you, but the Tiger drew his pistols to shoot him if he moved."
"Then naturally your friend did not move?"
"Your Majesty does not know him. But he stopped for me."
"Were you so afraid Dupin would lose his prisoner?"
"I had no desire to see the prisoner commit suicide. But I had to promise him that he should see Your Majesty later."
"He is not one to whine for his life, sire. It is other business he means. But Your Majesty need not hear his business. Your Majesty need only see him. Besides, it would hardly be court usage, granting him an audience so informally, would it?"
"N-o, but if I am not to hear him, why should I see him?"
"To save his life, parbleu!"
"And why, since he is not concerned about that?"
"But I am, sire, and I count on Your Majesty to help me repay an obligation."
Maximilian was quick at clemency, but no one likes to have his weaknesses played upon.
"Mademoiselle, who is this man? What has he done?"
"An American, sire." Maximilian frowned. "A Confederate, I believe." The frown vanished. "And Colonel Dupin believes him to be an accomplice of Rodrigo Galan. But he is not. He fought Rodrigo Galan, in—in my behalf."
Maximilian frowned again. "And so," he said, trying to do it lightly, "I have this unknown American to thank for the pleasure of seeing you, mademoiselle? Otherwise, I should not have known that you were here, and——"
He stopped. The gray eyes were laughing at him. Was his jealousy then so apparent? And was it jealousy? Evidently, since she had discovered it. And that vexed him, because he had supposed that he was hiding his pique under a great self control. Angrily he stepped toward her, but the saucy eyes only grew merrier. Then his mood changed. He resolved grimly on open fighting. He meant to have either decisive honors or a decisive repulse. For it was his tantalizing doubts of her that made her laugh at him. Yet, when he spoke, he could not help the quaver of entreaty in his voice.
"Mademoiselle, tell me, why have you returned?"
The question was so abrupt and so stern, she thought in a flash that he must have penetrated that Napoleonic intrigue which had flung her back upon the Western shores. But Maximilian believed he knew another reason for her pallor, and was encouraged.
"You have already given one answer, mademoiselle," he hurried on, "and in too great a humility to dare hope it otherwise, I took you at your word. But now that you mock me—ah, you shall confess, you are back in Mexico on my account!"
"And would that merit this august displeasure, sire?"
Her words sprang from relief; he suspected nothing of her secret mission. So the color might flood to her cheeks again, the mischief to her eyes, and with it a most perilous daring.
For the Hapsburg, it was coy surrender.
Her name! The old nickname fondly given her in childhood, when she was a torment, and an anarchist to all law, and got innumerable scoldings, and basked unperturbed in love and adoration! Her name, that only Mexico had tainted! For the first time it passed his lips. But the sweet, quaint syllables had long been in his thoughts, with something, too, of the early worship in their bestowal.
Curiously enough, a whimsical hardy figure in homespun gray took acute shape in her mind's eye. The features were oddly sharp and clear. There was even the rough trooper's disdain, which had been in his expression when first he saw her, but which she had not noticed at the time. She brushed the vision aside haughtily, as she would have done had the man himself intruded. But she could not stem so easily the wave of self disgust that swept her back from this other man, a prince of Europe. And when she smothered that self-abasement, it was a matter of will. She recalled her interview with the Sphinx in the Tuileries. She recalled her country, and the empire she meant to win, a gift to France, worthy of Napoleon, of the Great Napoleon. Then her will became as a master outside of self, and horrid in its iron cruelty. She half lifted her hand, and allowed the royal prince to possess it.
The tapestry behind them parted and fell. A light step crossing the room was suddenly arrested, and a low bewildered cry, half stifled in the utterance, arrested them.
The Emperor straightened and wheeled. Turning round, Jacqueline placidly surveyed a young girl, and her brows arched. She was not deceived. There was recognition in the startled gaze of the newcomer, and of Maximilian too. Only for Jacqueline did the situation hold aught that was amusing.
She was Mexican, a beautiful Mexican. She might have been Spanish too, or Moorish even, or perhaps to say that she seemed a gentle, drooping Egyptian would give the better idea of her dark loveliness. Under her skin, under a faintest tinge of brown, the rich blood drove its color through, and blending with that other shade, made the cheeks a dusky ruby, and seemingly softer and warmer. Her figure had prettily rounded curves, and her wine-red dress and the filmy black shawl over her shoulders deepened the tender, trusting depths of two large black eyes. The long lashes were wet with tears. She looked once at the calm French woman, as though afraid of her, and then at Maximilian, and at Maximilian alone. Her gaze was vacant, groping, non-comprehending, yet with a something of heartbreak in the beginning of comprehension.
To the Hapsburg came the dignity of proud generations, exalted above mere human scrutiny. He turned to Jacqueline, "As you see, mademoiselle," he said coldly, "the stupid lackeys outside have admitted a second visitor. If you will excuse us——"
This time the girl's moan throbbed with questioning. She was as far from understanding as before. But she noted unconsciously his princely bearing, his European dress, and the luxury about him in the transformed hacienda sala. Her eyes, in spite of grief and doubts, shone with timid, admiring love. "Que elegante!" she breathed. "Oh, is he not, truly, a caballero!"
"Fernando?" murmured Jacqueline. "Bonte divine, this is bucolic!"
"But Fernando," the girl persisted, "who is there to—to admit me? I only come from my room." With a tremulous gesture she indicated a door which the imperial scene shifters had covered with portieres. Maximilian's surprise at the existence of such a door was genuine. "And I find," she cried, "I find you here, you, Fernando?"
"There, there, senorita," said Jacqueline kindly, "His Majesty, I imagine, can explain——"
"Majesty?" exclaimed the girl. "Don Fernando—Majesty?" Yet a third time she repeated it, as by rote; and, very slowly, understanding grew into the words, and with understanding, terror. The dark innocent eyes went appealingly from one to the other, and the lids began to flutter wildly in a kind of spasm. "Majesty? Majesty?" Then, suddenly, she flung both hands to her face, and a piteous shivering racked her body.
"Catch her, stupid!" cried Jacqueline. "Don't you see, the child is fainting!"
But it was into Jacqueline's readier arms that she fell, and it was Jacqueline who let her slip gently into the high-back chair that was the imperial throne en voyage, under the claws of the oaken Hapsburg griffins.
"Get water! quick—Majesty, you—your cologne flasks!"
A mist was in the prince's eyes. "Pobrecita, pobrecita," he muttered helplessly.
On Jacqueline depended what was next to be done. She ran to the door by which the girl had entered. "See, there's a corridor here," she cried, "and that must be her room, there at the end, where the door is open. Help me carry her—unless," and she deliberately punctuated her scorn, "unless Your Majesty desires to call for aid?"
But His Majesty was so far from desiring anything of the kind that he nodded gratefully, impatiently. So to her own room they bore her between them, and laid her on the bed there. A pewter waiter with napkin and coffee service was on a little table. But the tiny loaf of pan de huevo lay untouched. Her thoughts rather than appetite had possessed the girl when she awoke that morning, and they had kept her until she emerged to stumble upon an emperor in her father's house.
"Out of here," ordered Jacqueline. "I am going to call the servants." She had no sympathy for his wistful, forlorn gazing.
"It's the end, the end of my idyl," he murmured.
"Are you going?"
He came nearer instead, and looked in profound melancholy at the girl. The ruby flush was no longer there, and the face was olive and waxen. The lips were parted, baring teeth that were marvelously white. The shawl had fallen to the floor, and an ivory cross on a chain about her neck caught his eye. He turned it over in his hand, and on the gold, where the chain was attached, he saw an inscription.
"Maria de la Luz," he read. "So, that is her name. But I never asked it. Identity would have blighted the idyl."
"Sire," Jacqueline protested angrily, "this poor child needs help. I shall——"
"One moment, mademoiselle, I wish to say that I still do not know who she is."
Then, with a last sorrowful look, he turned back to his apartment of state.
Jacqueline's lip curled as she watched him go.
"And you wish me to find out who she is?" she apostrophized his back. "But I shall not tell you. And she—no, she is not the kind that would, knowing who you are."
LITTLE MONARCHS, BIG MISTAKES
"How now, good fellow? wouldst thou speak with us?" "Yea, forsooth, an your mistership be emperial." —Titus Andronicus.
For the moment, Colonel Dupin had established headquarters in the granary, which was a long, low adobe among the stables, with a pasture between it and the House. The pasture opened on the highway through a wide gap in the hacienda wall, and the coaches and steeds of the imperial party which had passed in that morning gave the old cow lot a gala air. The colonel was seated before a box, improvised into a desk, and his rusty jacketed Cossacks lounged everywhere. Tiburcio and other scouts were reporting on the dead and wounded of yesterday's raid. A maimed enemy brought a chuckle deep in the Tiger's throat, but any mishap to one of his own darlings got the recognition of a low-growled oath. He was busy over this inventory of profit and loss when Jacqueline appeared with the Emperor.
Dupin arose and saluted after the grim manner of an old soldier. The half-dozen of obsequious courtiers he did not see at all, but to Jacqueline he bent from the waist with a duellist's punctilio. His countrywoman was the one adversary whom he never thought of cursing.
There was an opening innuendo. "No, Colonel Dupin," Maximilian reproved him sternly, "I have not come to interfere with justice. I merely desire to see what prisoners you have here."
Driscoll and Murguia were brought in. Maximilian stared dumfounded at his new magistrate in the role of criminal. Don Anastasio looked apologetic. They had locked him up in his own stable, bronze medal and all. Dupin explained. This Murguia, like many another hacendado, had long been suspected of aiding the guerrillas, and yesterday morning he had actually set him, Dupin, on a false trail. The Contras were tracking one of Rodrigo Galan's accomplices in the abduction of Mademoiselle d'Aumerle. The accomplice was the other prisoner, the American, whom they had found at last taking refuge at Murguia's own hacienda. Here he had had the effrontery to welcome them as mademoiselle's rightful escort, had even seemed surprised when a dozen Contras pounced upon him from behind and disarmed him. Dupin added that mademoiselle herself was deceived by the American's cunning, and he did not doubt but that she still persisted in his innocence. He might speak further of the fellow's part in the ambush and murder of Captain Maurel near Tampico, but he confessed that that required further investigation.
No one could say that Maximilian had so much as listened. Such tangles had long since become irksome, though he never ceased plunging into the mesh. To unravel details, and incidentally confuse them more, was a notorious mania with the poet-prince. But his thoughts now were all for a girl who had fainted. Murguia he would leave to a court martial. If guilty, the medal should be torn from his breast. Don Anastasio's terrors, however, ran on the other penalties of court martial.
"Now you," Maximilian turned to the American, "I understand that you wish to see me. But you must know that law prevails in Mexico at last, and that even the Emperor may not keep a man from trial."
Driscoll's chin lifted eagerly. "Certainly not, but my business with you, sir——"
"Not 'sir,'" whispered Jacqueline. "You must call him 'sire.'" Little she cared for etiquette, but she did not propose that Driscoll should broach his errand.
Maximilian overheard and smiled. "Yes," he said, "one tiny letter added, and you change a man into a sovereign."
Now Jacqueline, for her purposes, had thought to disconcert the man unused to courts. But it struck her at once that nothing of the kind would happen. His easy naturalness was too much a part of him, was the man himself. And she was glad of it. She was glad of the something distinguished which his earnestness gave to the clean-cut stamp of jaw and forehead. He had stopped and looked at them inquiringly, as an eager speaker will when interrupted. Then his brown eyes deepened, and there was a tugging at the corners of his mouth. He seemed to comprehend. If this was their humor, he would play to it. A diplomat must be all things to the people he is after.
"'Sire?' W'y," and his drawl was exquisite, "that's what we call the daddy of a horse."
Jacqueline turned quickly, clapping her hand over her mouth. Maximilian was always uneasy when Jacqueline did that.
"To be sure," he observed affably, "our American friend is not so far wrong. Listen, am I not the father of my people?"
The entourage buzzed admiringly at the imperial cleverness; all except Jacqueline, who now that she should laugh and relieve the situation, obstinately pulled a long, blank face.
Maximilian's tone changed. He meant to wound now, and did. "So," he added, with chilling stress, "it's 'sire,' if you will be so good as to remember."
Driscoll flushed as though struck. He became aware that it was all some patronizing rebuke.
"There is one," he answered gently, "who taught me manners at her knee, or tried to, and she never hurt a mortal human being by a word in her life, but that, that, sir, seems to be where you have missed it. Now look here," he went on, kindling in spite of himself, "I respect any man who has grounds—discoverable grounds—for respecting himself, and if you are a man, then 'sir' won't overtop you any."
Colonel Lopez of the Dragoons nudged him anxiously. "Don't say 'you'; say 'Your Majesty.'"
"Better let him alone," Maximilian interposed wearily. "He recognizes in me a man, and—it's not unpleasant. But which," he added, "gives me leave to hope that as a man himself he will not cringe before the drum-head."
"May I," said Driscoll quietly, "have one minute with you alone? It's not about myself, I promise you that. But for you, sir, it's of the very greatest importance."
Instantly all stirred with curiosity, except Maximilian. All there were keenly affected by the stranger's mysterious business with the Emperor, except the Emperor himself. And each man's wits were straightway alert, according to the hates and ambitions of each. Even Miguel Lopez, dense of understanding, had his suspicions. Murguia's yellow features darkened malevolently. The hacienda priest whispered to M. Eloin, and M. Eloin, brushing the man of God aside as though he had been thinking of the very same thing himself, tried to get a word with Maximilian. But Jacqueline spoke first to the Emperor. She knew the susceptibility of the royal ear. Maximilian nodded at what she said, and Eloin bit his lip. Maximilian glanced at the American's clothes. Homespun did not correspond with pressing business of state, to his mind.
"My good man," he said, caressing his beard, "it's not regular, you know. Another time, perhaps, when you can have yourself inscribed by Our Grand Chamberlain and when your application for an audience——"
"But if these senores shoot me before then?"
Maximilian shrugged his shoulders. In any case, the Ritual would suffer no outrage.
"But I tell you," cried the exasperated Missourian, "this thing is serious. And it can't wait either, not if it's to help you any. I may be too late now. I don't know what's happened since I started down here three weeks ago. Richmond was in danger then. And the Army of Northern Virginia—General Lee——"
"Have surrendered," calmly interposed the Emperor.
Driscoll stiffened as he stood, his lips parted as his last word had left them. He wondered why these foreign, unsympathetic beings of Austria and France and Belgium and Germany and Mexico looked so blurred to him. He never imagined that there were tears in his eyes.
"It is really true," continued Maximilian, addressing them all. "A courier brought me the news this morning. Yes, my friends, the North is free at last to attack our Empire. But," he added blandly, "let us not fear, not while we are sustained by the unconquered legions of France."
"How he remembers us now!" thought Jacqueline.
She thought too of him who had sent the legions. The entire fabric of Napoleon's dream of Mexican empire was builded on the dismemberment of the American Union. But, as the Southerners began so well by themselves, Napoleon had left them to do his work alone. He just failed of genius.
"Oh, mon petit, bien petit Napoleon," she cried in her soul, "how terribly you have miscalculated!"
The room had filled with murmurs, with awed whispering, with frightened questioning looks at one's neighbor, with ambitions and hates gone panic-stricken. Driscoll came forward. The fellow of homespun held the Empire in his hand, if they but knew it. "Now let me deliver my message," he said earnestly. "And, afterward, on with the drum-head, I'll not complain."
"There, there," spoke the unseeing monarch, though affected by the dignity of sorrow, "you shall have no cause. I came here, meaning to pardon."
"Pardon?" came the Tiger's growl. "Your Majesty saves so many enemies, does he fear that soon he will have none left?"
"Perhaps, Colonel Dupin, since my imperial brother, Napoleon, sends me so efficient a bloodhound. But I thought the prisoners were already tried and condemned. That must come first, of course. Yet We are constrained to find another judge, one without preconceived notions of guilt, to hold the court martial. Ah yes, as Monsieur Eloin here suggests, I name Colonel Lopez.—Colonel Lopez, you will stay behind with a company of your own men. Finish the trial to-night, if you can, and overtake me before I reach the city.—Colonel Dupin, I have to request yourself and men as escort, to replace the Dragoons left with Colonel Lopez. And you, Mademoiselle d'Aumerle, shall have a carriage. We start this afternoon. You will be ready, mademoiselle?"
"Is Your Majesty quite resolved," Jacqueline asked in French, "that the American must be tried? He can easily be found guilty, I warn Your Majesty."
"And is that not reason enough?"
"Reason enough that he should not be tried, since he is not guilty. But perhaps Your Majesty has thought of sending him under guard to the frontier, back to his own country, where he would not longer be an annoyance?"
"My dear young lady," returned the Emperor, "it seems that you expect me to blot out the processes of law simply because even I cannot make them infallible. But you do not answer my question. I offer you protection to the City?"
"He must stand trial then?"
"Yes—but will you be ready to start this afternoon?"
"Your Majesty should know that I cannot accept."
"Does this trial interest you so much, mademoiselle?"
"Thanking Your Majesty," said Jacqueline coldly, "I should rather not accompany him."
Maximilian swung on his heel and called Lopez aside. "Mi coronel," he said, "when you follow to-morrow, you will offer to bring the Senorita d'Aumerle, if she desires it.—And Lopez, you remember the young Mexican girl we used to meet near here, during the last few evenings?"
"When you and I, sire, would ride over from Las Palmas incognito?"
"Yes. She was able to—to tell me much about the peon life, and I should like to reward her in—in some way. Do you know, Miguel, I suspect she lives on this very ranch. It was at the church here that we would meet her, you know? And now, since I must leave, I wish you to find her. Induce her to come with mademoiselle to the City under your escort. Assure her that she shall have an honored place at court.—Jove, there's my new order of San Carlos for women! She shall have that for—for aiding my researches among the peons. Now, Miguel mio, do your best!"
With which words Maximilian turned back alone, and as he went, he thought how as a simple man he had won a maiden's heart. He had been learning that a prince may miss one or two very dear things in life. "It's ended, the little ranchero idyl," he murmured. "But there's been no harm. She shall not regret it."
A TARTAR AND A TARTAR
"But all's brave that youth mounts and folly guides." —As You Like It.
As Maximilian crossed the pasture, he suddenly had to jump aside with considerable sprightliness. A brace of horsemen came swerving through the gateway from the highroad and tore down upon him as though the Day of Judgment galloped behind. They were abreast, ten feet apart, but the oddest thing was a lariat that dangled between them, from saddle-horn to saddle-horn.
The thunder of hoofs brought Dragoons and Cossacks and Dignitaries, and emptied the granary. Even insane horsemen could see that the Empire was encamped over that cow lot. And as nearer they rushed, the two maniacs seemed to recognize the fact. One was straightway more anxious to arrive; a directly opposite effect was apparent in the other. And there was the rope between them, from saddle-horn to saddle-horn. Their opinions on destination, unexpectedly diverging, promised something. And since one wanted to stop and the other to hasten, the something was not long in happening.
One of the horsemen—he wore a sombrero—leaned back frantically. The other—who wore a battered soldier cap—passed ahead like the wind. The lariat twanged, but held. Sombrero's horse got its feet planted. The horse of Soldier Cap slowed to a standstill, and panted. Sombrero flung out his pistol, Soldier Cap his. They aimed at each other, the triggers snapped, no report. They looked amazed, embarrassed; and tried again. Same result. "Por Dios!" "Sacre nom!" They hurled the pistols, each at the other's head. Both ducked. Sombrero wheeled, drove home the spurs, and headed for retreat. Soldier Cap and horse braced themselves against the shock. The spectators, running nearer, now perceived that the lariat was tied round each man's waist as well as wrapped over his pommel. Soldier Cap weathered the jolt, next plunged suddenly closer, and in the instant of the slack, unwound the rope from his saddle and leaped to the ground. In two leaps more he had Sombrero about the neck. They fell together, rolling and fighting, while Sombrero's horse reared and plowed the soil with them. Dragoons and Cossacks heaped themselves on all three. It was quite an energetic mystery altogether.
Under the soldier cap, under dust and blood and scratches, Jacqueline caught glimpses of a happy face.
"Oh la-la, it's—it's Michel!"
"Rodrigo Galan!" roared the Tiger, in his turn recognizing Sombrero. "Here, up with him! Six of you, quick there, in line, shoot him!"
It was near the sweetest moment of the old warrior's life.
"One moment, colonel!" someone spoke quietly. "Is it a Huastecan custom, by the way, to shoot a cavalier the instant he—ah—dismounts?"
"But this scoundrel is Rodrigo Galan, Your Majesty. And that black horse, sacre tonnerre, that is Maurel's horse. Captain Maurel, sire, whom he murdered!"
Don Rodrigo straightened pompously. "Your Most Opportune Majesty—" he began.
"Also, Colonel Dupin," Maximilian continued, "he waylaid the Belgian ambassador, sent by Leopold, brother to Our August Spouse."
"The more reason to shoot him, pardi!"
"Without doubt, monsieur. But his execution must have eclat. Europe must know that Mexican outlaws do not go unpunished.—Colonel Lopez, you will take charge of Our prisoner. Guard him well, and bring him with you to the City. He shall be tried there, with every ceremony."
Colonel Dupin, that policeman of the backwoods forced upon Mexico by Napoleon, could only grind his teeth, which he did.
"Now then," said His Majesty, "let Us see this brigand-catcher who excels the redoubtable Contra Guerrillas.—As I live, the young man is a Chasseur d'Afrique! Step nearer, sir, and tell Us who you are."
"Michel Ney, at Your Majesty's service."
"The Prince of Moskowa!" exclaimed the Emperor. In his court, he was grateful for even a Napoleonic prince.
"Sergeant, Your Majesty." It looked as though Ney were hinting to be made something else.
"I see," said Maximilian. "And so Our Empire of romance is to hold a baton for another of the family of Ney. But to start more modestly, how would a lieutenancy suit, do you think?"
"Your pardon, sire, but I report to His Excellency, Marshal Bazaine."
Maximilian's white brow clouded. The French occupation was ever a thorn in his side. He could never quite be Emperor in fact. He could not even promote a likely young man. He had to "recommend" to one Bazaine, who had carried a knapsack.
"Quite so," he answered coldly. "I shall inform Our dear Marshal how well you deserve."
"The fact is, Your Majesty," said Ney in some confusion, "I did not—exactly—capture him. It was, uh, sort of mutual."
Everybody stared curiously. There was the rope, the unloaded pistols. It was a queer puzzle. How did it happen? Ney began with an apology. Would Mademoiselle d'Aumerle forgive him? But he had worried though! He should not have left her, day before yesterday!
"Because of a greater attraction?" the young woman suggested.
Ney demurred so earnestly that Jacqueline laughed outright. "Don't make it worse, Michel," said she. "I know how you regretted the death of the terrible Rodrigo. Then you learned that he was alive. Oh no, I couldn't have held you.—But go on. Did he prove interesting?"
The Frenchman told his story. It appeared that, on deserting mademoiselle two days before, he went at the best speed of his horse up the ravine she had so graciously indicated. He hoped to overtake the fugitive bandit, and after an hour, at a turn in the arroyo, did meet him, face to face. Both were equally astounded. Rodrigo was retracing his steps, having been blocked by a dried waterfall. Either man drew and covered the other. The Mexican did not fire. Seeing Ney, he supposed the Contras at no great distance, and a shot would bring them on his heels. But after a time the thing commenced to grow ridiculous, and Ney laughed.
"Monsieur Rodrigue," he said, "I hope you will come along quietly."
Fra Diavolo mistook the Gallic humor for an assurance of armed backing near at hand. "Where to?" he asked.
"The devil take me if I know! Where would you suggest?"
It dawned then on the puzzled brigand that the other knew nothing of the country, and accordingly they struck up an armistice; which, for the rest, the alert revolver of each made imperative. Their protocol's chief clause required the prisoner to conduct his captor to some neutral point. Rodrigo suggested Anastasio Murguia's ranch, and Ney agreed. But as to what might happen on arriving, they left in blank. Michel had a duel in mind, if honest seconds were to be had. The craftier Rodrigo hoped to find some of his own men lurking about the hacienda.
A cessation of hostile moves was further stipulated, though treachery of course warranted the instant drawing of weapons. Should the prisoner try to betray the captor to guerrillas, this was to constitute treachery. Ney for his part insisted on his rights as captor. That is, he could call for help if he got the chance. Rodrigo assented willingly. He knew the neighborhood. He would avoid the Cossacks, and the Frenchman might shout to his heart's ease. To do him justice, the outlaw had no desire to kill Ney, even if Ney gave him leave. A duke and prince in one was too valuable. A pretty ransom loomed brightly. Ney suspected as much, but not being ingenuous enough to obviate the risks, took a huge delight in them.
Conforming to the terms of the truce, each man, simultaneously, put his gun in his holster. Then, good company enough one for the other, though with eyes ever on the watch, they proceeded along tortuous bridle paths until twilight, meeting no one. They camped in the same forest which that same moment held Murguia, Driscoll, and the two girls. They tethered their horses together and made a bed of leaves for themselves. Each laid his pistol a comfortable distance away, so that if either tried to arm himself while the other slept, there would be much snapping of twigs under his feet. Again simultaneously, they sat down and talked, and smoked cigarettes in lieu of supper. Ney progressed in his Spanish that evening. Fra Diavolo wished to impress on the companionable Frenchman that he, Rodrigo Galan, was a more terrible person than Colonel Dupin. He seemed envious, even of the compliment implied in the Tiger's nickname.
During a pause the brigand said, "Now don't jump, caballero, because I'm only getting out my flask."
"The beautiful idea!" returned Ney. "I'll do the same."
But each stopped with the liquor at his mouth. It was consolation for lack of food, but if one refrained and the other partook—well, there would be a light sleeper and a heavy sleeper. With the tempting fumes in their nostrils, they waited, each for the other, to quaff first. And neither did. Finally Rodrigo proposed that they equalize the perils of indulgence. Accordingly each lowered the contents of his flask by three swallows, after which they compared the extent of the ebb tide in either bottle.
"But, voyons," Ney objected, "you haven't taken as much as I have!"
Rodrigo admitted the impeachment, and amiably took another draught. But the swallow proved too large, and Ney in his turn tried to balance that one, only to fail likewise. This entailed another effort from Rodrigo, which resulted in still another exaggeration.
"Now you've had more than I have," Michel complained, growing vague on the real point at issue.
"Bien, senor, suppose you try a little of this. It's catalan, genuine, too, smuggled at Tampico."
"Mine's cognac," said Ney. "Have some?"
They exchanged flasks, and that night in the forest their snores were discordant and loud. Ney half awoke once, and remembered that he seemed to have heard the tramp of many horses. Toward morning, when it was not yet light, he was aroused for good by a savage tightening around his waist and a tremendous pull. He sat up, and heard his prisoner scuffling and swearing near him.
"You've tied me, you sneaking animal without shame!"
"It's you that's tied me, tete de voleur!"
But as Rodrigo wrested in the dark, Ney found that the brigand's stumblings corresponded with the tightening about himself. He clutched at his waist, and discovered a rope.
Both men groped vengefully forward with the line, and lurched into one another's arms. Each had thought to come on a tree, only to discover himself tied to the other. In the first start of suspicion, and in no good humor from splitting headaches, one reached for his knife, the other for his sabre. But the knife was gone, the sabre was gone. Forthwith they grappled and strained and breathed by jerks and tumbled and rolled and wound themselves in the lariat, until at last they lay exhausted on their backs and blinked up at the beautiful innocent morn peeping through the trees.
"Now don't you untie yourself till I get untied," ordered Ney.
"Or you yourself," retorted the other.
"Let us both untie at the same time."
"But one might finish first," objected Rodrigo. The brigand had grown amiable again. He saw advantages in the rope. It was well to have his prospective ransom never more than a few feet away.
They discussed the problem at length, but were not equal to it. So the modus vivendi was stretched a rope's length, and the treachery clause expanded to include any untying or attempted untying before their arrival at Murguia's. Scrupulously simultaneous, they arose, found their pistols, and mounted their horses. To guard against any sudden varying in rapidity of travel and its consequences, each wrapped the lariat once about his saddle-horn. Where necessary, the brigand rode in front, since Ney insisted that the other way would reverse their roles of prisoner and captor. Rodrigo got some tortillas from a charcoal burner, and they lunched and rested within the forest's edge till dark. But they traveled all that night in the open country, and approached Murguia's before noon of the next day. Hoping to find friends about the hacienda's stables, Rodrigo suggested that they race up the highway into the pasture. He was thinking that then the Frenchmen might be overpowered the more easily. Ney fell into the trap. He accepted the challenge and was keen for the sport. Thus it happened that they all but ran down the Emperor of Mexico himself, and instead of guerrillas, Rodrigo saw Cossacks and Dragoons. But the mystery of the rope, added to that of the unloaded pistols, rested unexplained.