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The Missourian
by Eugene P. (Eugene Percy) Lyle
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Jacqueline was delighted. "If it were just conventional heroism," she exclaimed, "one might talk of lieutenancies. But sire, this——"

"Never fear," replied Maximilian. "I cannot make him captain, but he shall have his reward.—Monsieur le Prince, I will leave you a half company of my Austrians, if, though a Chasseur, you will deign to command them. In a word, I desire you to have the honor of escorting mademoiselle to the City."

"And I thank you, sire. Parbleu, the sergeant is happier with such an order than—than the captain without it."

"Michel," cried Jacqueline, "and where in the world now did you get that?"

"Why—out of my own head. Really, mademoiselle."



CHAPTER XX

IN THE WAKE OF PRINCELY CAVALCADES

"... Now swell out, and with stiff necks Pass on, ye sons of Eve! vale not your looks, Lest they descry the evil of your path." —Dante.

The Grand Equerry was again the Dignitary of the hour. He held the Emperor's stirrup, while the Emperor, fittingly attired, swung gracefully astride a curvetting charger. Behind was his coach, ready for him when he should tire of the saddle. It was already late in the afternoon, and he meant to travel all night. Flatterers begged him to consider the importance of his health, which but made him unyielding. Some slight martyrdom for his country appealed to Maximilian. No, he said, grave affairs might be afoot since the Confederacy's surrender. The capital needed his presence, and he reminded them that the State came first, as always.

The retinue climbed into carriages. The escort, Dragoons, Austrians and Contra Guerrillas, formed in hollow square about their prince. Colonel Dupin scowled because he was going. Colonel Lopez, when unobserved, scowled because he was left behind. And Monsieur Eloin, at the Emperor's side, thought well of himself in substituting for a rival favorite one so distant from favoritism as the Tiger. The Dragoons and Austrians who were to remain presented arms on the hacienda porch, and Lopez gave them the cue for a parting viva. The emancipated peons, still wet from spiritual grace, swelled the din gratefully and stridently, lured to it by their thoughtful pastor, the hacienda curate.

But Maximilian still lingered. He looked from window to window under the colonnade, and seemed expectant. But Lopez signaled to the buglers, and the trumpet call and the redoubled huzzas of a people thrilled him out of his melancholy. With a sigh he gave over his private loves and poesy. He breathed deep and his eyes flashed. And as the grand monarch and good, he departed with the acclaim of posterity in his ears, conscious that the superb figure he made was for History's contemplation.

At this time the Marquise d'Aumerle was half way up a ladder in the garden. She was picking the fragrant china blossoms, tossing them down to Berthe's apron, and humming "Mironton, mironton, mirontaine" in blissful indifference to many things, to princes among them.

Nor was the other girl behind the hacienda shutters. Yet she, at least, saw him ride away. High up in the chapel tower, between the bell and the masonry, crouched a sobbing little figure. She gazed and gazed, with straining eyes. Over there below, in front of her father's house, were glittering swords and dazzling helmets, and the sheen of gilded escutcheons on coach doors. And as the beautiful pageant wound its way along the highroad, she watched in fawn-like curiosity. The sobs were only involuntary. She was not thinking, then, that this was matter for grief. Her dark eyes, that had been weeping, and were now so dry, held to a certain one among the cavaliers, to the very tall and splendid one with the slender waist, and they kept him jealously fixed among the others, and were ever more impatient of the blurring distance. But when finally he was lost for an instant in the general bright haze of the company, and she could not be quite sure after that which was he, then indeed the eyelids fluttered in a kind of despair. Yet only after the last carriage had vanished under the giant banana leaves of the hill beyond, did the tears come and tremble upon her lashes.

"He is married, the Emperor," she told herself, as though the fact were that second written across the burning sky. At last, full, grim comprehension was hers.

The stones of the tower glowed like a brazier in the sun, but the girl, with her head on her arm against the parapet, shivered as with cold; and a numbness at her heart grew heavier and heavier, like weighted ice.

Below her the barren knoll, where an hour before swarthy stolid hundreds had crowded awaiting baptism, was lonely as the grave. The peons were dispersing to their village down by the river junction, or to their huts near the hacienda store, and on the air floated the falsetto nasal of their holiday songs, breaking ludicrously above the mumbling bass of loosely strung harps. Nearer by, the only life was an old man with a fife and a boy with a drum, who marched round and round the chapel, playing monotonously, while a second urchin every five minutes touched off a small cannon at the door. They did these things with solemn earnestness. It was to achieve an end, for San Felipe's day would come soon, and meantime each and every lurking devil had to be driven off the sacred precincts. But there was one hideous fiend who grinned, and pinched, and shrieked. His abode was the girl's heart, and he shrieked to her gleefully, that she could never, never in life, wed the man she loved. The fife and drum and the stupid little cannon simply made him the merrier.

* * * * *

The imps were left in peace for the night, and all about the chapel was dark and silent and desolate. But a man was working stealthily at one of the rear windows. It was a square, barred window, near the ground. The man chipped away at the granite sill with short, quick blows. The butt of his chisel was padded in flannel, so that even a chuckling that escaped him now and again made more sound than the steel. Soon he dropped his tools, and wrapping either hand around a window bar, he braced both feet together against the wall, and pulled. The two bars scraped slowly toward him across the stone. Then, with a sharp, downward jerk he tore them out. Quickly he climbed inside and cut the ropes of a man who lay bound on the floor. Both men emerged noiselessly through the window.

"Have a care how you step," whispered the rescuer. "Your faithful guards are busy sleeping and don't want any disturbance."

"That candle-stinking sacristy!" grumbled the rescued.

"But it's the only stone calaboose on the ranch. In fact, I suggested it, since Don Rodrigo should be kept tight and safe. That's why Dupin left me behind." The rescuer chuckled as before. "Careful, hombre, there's a guard there, lying right in front of you!"

Rodrigo made out the prostrate form, and lifted a boot heel over the upturned face. But his liberator jerked him aside.

"Fool, you'll wake the fat padre, and he doesn't like my jests, says they're inspired of the Evil One."

"Thinking of the Bishop of Sonora's waiting maid, was he?"

"Well, what of it? Didn't he elope here with her?"

"And you, Don Tiburcio?"

"Of course; she naturally wanted to correct her first bad taste."

"By running away with you? If you call that good taste——"

"I call that a good joke on the padrecito."

Having by this time come safely to the front of the church, Rodrigo was for making certain his escape at once. But Tiburcio interposed. "There's some talk still due between you and me," he said. "Sit down, here in the doorway."

"Well?" said the brigand uneasily.

"Well?" repeated his jocular friend.

"Well, there isn't even a moon and we can't deal monte, as if that weren't the same as giving you what you want, anyway."

"I risk my hide saving you for money, then?" Don Tiburcio's tone was aggrieved.

"Oh no, for friendship," the sardonic Rodrigo corrected himself, "and I think as much of you in my turn, amigo mio. Not half an hour ago I was wrapped in anxiety, imagining you trying to collect blackmail, and I not near to keep my patriots from your throat. Oh, the sorrow of it!"

"God be praised that a dear friend came and eased your worries! But you are not an ingrate. Since the Confederate Gringo took all my money the other morning——"

"Tiburcio, on oath, I haven't had money either, not since our last game at cards. There was Murguia, I know, but I let him off for bringing me that French girl. She was good for a big ransom, only your same Gringo—curse the intruder! If ever the Imperialists catch him, and Murguia is there to testify against him——"

Tiburcio moved nearer on the church step. "And then?"

"That's our secret, Murguia's and mine."

"But Rodrigo, he is caught. They are trying him and Murguia both this very minute. And do you know what for? For being your accomplices."

The outlaw started exultantly. "Then, if you want him shot——"

"Well?—Oh don't be afraid, maybe I can help."

"Were you with Captain Maurel when we ambushed them near Tampico?"

"I can't remember," said Tiburcio tentatively.

"If you will hurry down to this court martial, perhaps you will remember better. Go, and I'll leave you."

"Not quite so fast, Rodrigo. You forget that your devoted rescuer is penniless."

"So am I, I tell you. We'll both have to go to work, Don Tiburcio."

"What's the lay? Tell me." The humorist's tone was unmistakable.

Rodrigo looked about him in the dark. "Listen," he whispered, "there's a bullion convoy out of San Luis before long, but—you shall hear no more unless it is agreed that I am to meet them first."

"Of course, hombre! How else could I threaten to expose them for contributing to the rebels?"

"Bien, it's next week. You will meet them this side of Valles, some time Thursday or Friday.—Now I'm off. Adios."

"Stay. You'll find your horse down by the river. The administrator is waiting with it. And Rodrigo, don't you want your pistol? Be more careful another time, and keep it loaded."

Something in his tone nettled the brigand. "What do you mean? Give me my pistol."

Tiburcio pointed it at him instead. "When you cool a little, yes. But it takes a good marksman to hit a Frenchman with an empty pistol—especially when one wakes up and finds himself tied."

Rodrigo stiffened. This was menacing to his dignity.

"Both lassoed," Tiburcio went on, "and no telling which was heifer and which vaquero, stampeding down on poor Max.—Ai de mi, I never thought it could be so funny!"

"Give me my pistol!"

"Slumbering like two babes in the wood, and your sweet innocent breaths perfuming the woody forest. I'd have covered you with leaves, like the little robins, only——"

"Was it you tied us, you——"

"Just like two babes, but," and Tiburcio pointed his thumb to his mouth and shook his head sorrowfully, "that's bad, very bad. Why didn't you leave me some? Of the cognac, especially?"

"If you don't explain——"

"Softly there, amigo. Yes, I tied you."

"Another of your jokes——"

"Inspired of the Evil One? Oh no, it was—precaution. Yes, that was it, come to think; just precaution. You see, I and Dupin had scattered your guerrillas, and I was scouting ahead, to stir up any ambush waiting for us—which I did later, when we chased them, and burned Culebra. But going along, I heard snoring, and found you two, like two——Now sit still!"

"Why didn't you wake me? Then we could have roped the Frenchman."

"And have him identify me after we'd gotten the ransom? Oh, no, I'm a loyal Imperialist. Now listen a minute, will you?—Our Contras were following me not a half mile behind. That meant I had to work quick. You see, I wanted to find you both there when I could come back alone. And meantime, I didn't want you to hurt each other. If either got killed, there'd be no ransom. So I took your knife and his sabre. Then I tied you both with my lariat. I was going to get your lariat too, and tether the pair of you to a tree, hoping you'd hold each other there till I got back. You would do it, for I meant to pin a note on your sleeve, explaining. But just that minute the Frenchman stirred, for the Cossacks were getting into his ears, so I had to run back and turn them into another path."

"So long as it wasn't any of your infernal farces?"

"Well, it was worth a ransom, the way it turned out.—Sit still, will you? You know I take you too seriously ever to think of any joke with you! Here's your artillery and cutlery. Quick now, clear out!"

Both rose to go, each to his respective deviltry, but not six steps ahead in the black night Tiburcio stumbled over a soft, inert mass. He recovered himself, half cursing, half laughing.

"One of your guards, Rodrigo," he muttered. "He must have got this far before the drug worked into his vitals."

"Your mescal probably killed him," said Rodrigo indifferently. "But a little knife slit will look more plausible in the morning, for you it will."

Getting to his knees on the stone walk the outlaw groped over the body for a place to strike, holding his knife ready. But all at once he stopped and got up hastily, without a word. He only rubbed his left hand mechanically on his jacket.

"Well, what ails you?" asked Tiburcio.

Rodrigo gave a short, apologetic laugh. "It—it's a woman!" He quit rubbing his hand, seeming to realize. "There's blood," he added.

"Here," said Tiburcio, "you keep back, and run if anybody comes. I'm going to strike a match."

By the flare they saw that it was a girl and that her head was crushed. Kneeling on either side, they peered questioningly, horrified, at each other. Their great sombreros almost touched. Their hard faces were yellow in the flickering light between, and the face looking up with its quiet eyes and dark purplish cleft in the brow was white, white like milk. With one accord the two men turned and gazed upward at the tower, whose black outline lost itself far above in the blacker shadows of the universe. They understood.

Tiburcio shrugged his shoulders, a silent comment on the tragedy from its beginning to this, its end. He threw the match away and arose, but Rodrigo still knelt, leaning over her, holding the poor battered head in his hands, half lifting it, and trying to look again into those eyes through the darkness. He would touch the matted hair, as if to caress, not knowing what he did, and each time he would jerk back his hand at the uncanny, sticky feeling. Roving thus, his fingers touched an ivory cross, and closed over it. With no present consciousness of his act, he placed the symbol in his jacket, over his breast.

Tiburcio touched him on the shoulder. "I'll go now, and bring her father," he said.

"Yes," returned the other vaguely, stumbling to his feet.

"It's going to kill the old man," murmured Tiburcio, "or—God, if it should not kill him! He is a coward, but once he slapped you, Rodrigo, for so much as looking at her. And now, the Virgin help—may the Virgin help whoever's concerned in this!—But here, you must go, do you hear?"

"Yes."

"Then go, go!"

"Yes," said Rodrigo again, moving slowly away.

"By the river, remember. You'll find your horse there."

"Captain Maurel's, the fine black one?"

"Yes, I slipped it out of the stables for you."

"The fine black one?"

"Yes, yes, hombre!"

"And—and she never—she never saw—how magnifico I look on—on that fine black horse."

He was still muttering as he reeled and staggered down the hill.

When he was gone, and no alarm of sentinels rang out, Tiburcio took off his serape and laid it over the dark blot on the stones. Then he too stole away, to tell her father.



CHAPTER XXI

THE RED MONGREL

"Be this the whetstone of your sword; let grief Convert to anger; blunt not the heart, enrage it." —Macbeth.

"Where," inquired Din Driscoll, with a benevolent interest in their doing the thing right, "is the judge advocate?"

Colonel Miguel Lopez resented what he took for a patronizing concern. It festered his complacency, for his was the code of the bowed neck to those above and the boot-tip for those below. Luckily for him, he did not strike the helpless prisoner. He turned to his judge's bench instead, which was none other than the frayed and stately sofa of honor from the hacienda sala, deemed requisite to his dignity. The satin upholstery contrasted grotesquely with the adobe walls. Pungent tallow dips lighted the granary to a dull yellow, and mid the sluggish tobacco clouds were a shrinking prisoner in clerical black, and the mildly interested prisoner in gray, and red uniforms surrounding.

Lopez flung his sword across the empty box that was to serve as desk, and filled the crimson seat with pompous menace. Lopez was a Mexican, but did not look it. He had red hair and a florid skin, and he was large, with great feet and coarse hands. Yet the high cheek bones of an Indian were his. The contrast of coloring and features unpleasantly suggested a mongrel breed. The eyes had red lids, out of which the lashes struck like rusted needles, and the eyes themselves, of a faded blue, seemed to fawn an excuse for Nature's maladjusting. But he had a goodly frame on which to hang the livery of a king's guardsman. And as the cross of the Legion of Honor ticketed his breast, he must have been a goodly man too, and his Maker's insignia only a libel. Once Maximilian had said, "What, Bebello, and art thou a better judge of men than I, thy master and the master of men?" For it seemed that Bebello, the simple hound, had read Nature's voucher instead of Napoleon's, and being thus deceived, would ever snarl at the Colonel of Dragoons. Maximilian of course knew better. What looked like toadying was only profound deference for himself. The royal favorite could discriminate. He could also be the thick-headed, intolerable martinet. The sandy lashes bristled as the American inquired a second time if he were to have counsel.

"Being president of this court," Lopez announced, "I am judge advocate."

In the tone of congratulation Driscoll blandly said, "Well, then, I challenge the president."

"Challenge?"

"Certainly, Your Honor. It's my right, either on the ground of inexperience, malice, or—but I reckon the first two will do."

"This is insolence!" cried the president, and glaring angrily, he maintained that it was a regular court martial for the field, and that as he was the ranking officer at hand, there could be no appeal beyond himself.

"A regular drum-head," Driscoll observed. "Well, let it go at that. I'm in a hurry."

Lopez called a lieutenant of Austrian cavalry to his right upon the sofa, and the Dragoon color sergeant to his left, and the three of them sat thenceforth in judgment. The charges were read, and next a deposition, gathered that day from Michel Ney. Therein appeared the American, reinforcing Rodrigo Galan at Tampico, and in so far aiding the abduction of Mademoiselle d'Aumerle.

"The complicity is evident," stated Lopez, and his colleagues, blinking at the candles on the box, nodded wisely.

"It's straight so far," Driscoll agreed, "but the story goes a little further. Does the ma'am'selle herself happen to have left any deposition?"

She had, admitted the president, but it merely corroborated the foregoing. Driscoll, in sole charge of his own defence, insisted that her deposition be read, but Lopez would permit no such waste of time. He was brooding on Monsieur Eloin usurping his own place near the Emperor, and he wanted to finish the present business so as to overtake them both.

Dupin's written evidence provided the rest of the abduction story, seemingly, and there remained only the other charge, that of assisting at the ambush of the murdered Captain Maurel. For this there was no evidence, and the accused himself was examined.

"Your name?" asked the court.

"Driscoll."

"Your full name, hombre?"

"John Dinwiddie Driscoll, Your Honor."

"Din—whatever it is—that's not a Christian name?"

"It was, when I got it. Maybe I've paganized it since."

"Devil take you, this is solemn!"

"Yes, this is solemn."

Lopez cracked his long nails irritably against each other.

"You came here via Tampico," he began anew. "What days were you in Tampico?"

"From about the twenty-third or twenty-fourth, till we left a few days ago."

All three judges bent over a memorandum which the president pointed out among his notes. Captain Maurel was killed about April 26th.

"How did you occupy yourself while in Tampico?"

"Mostly trying to persuade Murgie here that it was his move."

"But your horse needed exercise. Did you at any time ride across the river?"

"I didn't notice. Have you anyone who saw me cross?"

"Goot!" blurted out the Austrian who was one of the judges, so suddenly that everybody half jumped. "Ya, das iss die cosa, sabe! Who has him seen cross?"

The court floundered. The witness demanded by the accused was lacking. Murguia, a restless, huddled form on a straw-bottomed chair, was watching hungrily every step in the examination. Now he shifted excitedly, and his sharp jaws worked with a grinding motion. Then his voice came, a raucous outburst.

"Search him, Your Mercy!"

Lopez browbeat the meddler, and—took his advice. Driscoll submitted tolerantly to their fumbling over him, and all the while Murguia looked on as a famished dog, especially when they pulled out the whiskey flask. But when they tossed the thing aside, he sank deep into his black coat and gave vent to mumblings.

"Of course we find nothing," Lopez complained, "since his accomplice recommended the search."

It seemed, too, that the state's case must fall.

"The Captain Maurel charge cannot hold," announced the court.

"Ya, goot—mucha bueno!" exclaimed the Austrian with enthusiasm, while the color sergeant, who had a red nose, wet his lips hopefully. He believed that an acquitted outlaw, if a gentleman, would stand a bottle.

"And as to the first charge," continued the president, "here is the deposition of the Senorita d'Aumerle, which I have held till now for this purpose. Read it, and you will note that though the marquesa bears out the Senor Ney, she further testifies to the prisoner having later saved her from this very Rodrigo Galan at peril to himself. Bien, senores, have you any further questions?"

The Austrian crinkled his brow, and after a momentous pause, shook his head till his cheeks rattled. The Dragoon promptly replied, "No, mi coronel." Then the three withdrew, and when they came back, the Dragoon wiping his lips, they informed the accused that he was not guilty.

"Which isn't news," said Driscoll as he thanked them.

Murguia's turn came next. The proof of the old man's guilt blossomed almost of itself. Jacqueline, to clear her protector, had been forced to depose how Murguia had willingly betrayed her into Rodrigo's hands. But she described the old man's reluctance. He would have saved her, except for his terror of the outlaw. The sole case for the defence was Murguia's character for stinginess; such a miser could not be accused of aiding the guerrillas. But this very point seemed to heighten Lopez's prejudice against him. Driscoll, being held to testify, only talked sociably, and told nothing, and when under the quizzing he finally lost patience, he said, "Oh, let him go! What's the use?"

But they were so far from any such thing that they condemned him to be shot.

Then a voice was heard at the door. The sentinel there stumbled back, and Don Tiburcio brushed by him into the room.

"Old man," he called, "come with me! Your daughter——"

Murguia started up, weakly swaying. The senile eyeballs, so lately parched by fear, swam in a moisture not of avarice. Someone was speaking to him of his daughter. He had not seen her yet. They would not let him. And now he must think of her in this new connection, which was his death. And her misery to learn it, and her misery, afterward! On the morrow they would be taking him to the capital, his sentence would be confirmed, he would be shot. Nothing of this he doubted. And he would never see her again.

Murguia stretched out his arms toward the president of the court, "You will let me go to her, senor? Your Mercy will let me go to her?" He murmured her name over and over, "Maria de la Luz! Maria—Luzita mia!" until the words became a kind of crooning. Then he would break forth again, entreating, commanding, "Your Mercy will let me see her? Senor, you will let me see her!"

At the first note of intrusion Lopez had brought the pommel of his sword down upon the box in front of him. But the syllables of the girl's name seemed to get into his memory, and he began to stare with a puzzled frown at the half-crazed old man. Lifting his eyes, he met Tiburcio's, and Tiburcio himself nodded in some deep hidden significance. Lopez straightened abruptly, as at an astounding revelation.

"Tell me, Senor Murguia," he said, "your daughter—Yes, yes, man, you shall see her!—But listen, what is she like? Has she large black eyes? Does she wear red sometimes? Come, senor, answer!"

The father gazed, wonderingly, jealously. How should an elegant officer from the City and the Court know aught of Maria de la Luz?

Tiburcio crept behind the sofa, and bending to Lopez's ear, he whispered, "Si, si, mi coronel, she is the one you have in mind, and she is his daughter."

Lopez swung round and searched the blackmailer's face. "And now——"

"You will let him come," said Tiburcio. "But bring two guards. And have four others with—well, with a stretcher."

Again Lopez searched the dark crescent that was Tiburcio's eye, and again Tiburcio nodded with deep significance. "Bring him," he repeated, "but tell him nothing. Seeing will be enough."

Murguia went, unknowing. He would see her, thanks to some freakish kindness in Don Tiburcio. He was torn between the joy of the meeting and the sharp grief of the parting that must follow. At the time he never noticed that they led him up the chapel walk instead of toward the hacienda house. Tiburcio was ahead with a lantern, but when near the top of the hill he turned back to them, yet not before the expectant Lopez had seen a black something on the pavement under the swinging light.

"You first, mi coronel," said Tiburcio.

"I, you mean!" cried Murguia, "I, senor!"

"But we wish to see first if she is here," said Lopez. "Don Tiburcio thought she might be at vespers."

"Vespers? There are no vespers to-night. Yet we come here! Why? Why do we come here?"

Tiburcio motioned to the guards. "Hold him until we return," he ordered.

A Dragoon reached out a hand indifferently to Murguia's collar, and that second the old man's ten fingers were at his throat. They overpowered him at last, but they would have fared better with a wildcat.

Tiburcio and Lopez went alone. They stopped before the covered thing near the church door.

"So," mused the colonel, "she ended it this way."

"From the tower," Tiburcio grimly added.

"His——"

"Well, say it. You mean His Majesty?"

"His Majesty need know nothing of the—of the finale."

"Who is there to tell him, por Dios? I won't. You won't."

"But you forget a third, Don Tiburcio. I mean the man who was with you several evenings ago, when you——"

"When I was carrying off the padre's sweetheart?"

"When somehow you two happened in this desolate neighborhood. Since you took his name out of my mouth just now, you must have recognized that it was His Majesty whom you saw talking to her almost where she now lies. I was near by, guarding his privacy, but you both escaped before I could stop you. Now then, who was that other intruder?"

The other was Rodrigo Galan, but Tiburcio replied, "The other will not have much to say. Poor Captain Maurel!"

"Bueno, bueno!"

"Not yet, mi coronel. Only we two know of Maximilian's part in this, but we must keep it from her father above all others. I am a loyal Imperialist, Don Miguel."

"What difference does that make?"

"The Empire faces a crisis."

The royal favorite started guiltily. Since the news of the Confederacy's surrender, Lopez's ambitions were clouded by a growing fear of the fugitive Mexican republic. The Republic would have a good memory for royal favorites, and he had been thinking on it. "Will Lee's surrender make such—such a difference?" he faltered.

"So much," retorted Tiburcio, "that to-morrow we will have more rebels yet. So much, that what with freeing peons and confiscating nationalized church lands and giving them back to the church—well, a very little more might decide between Empire and Republic."

"A little more? What do you mean?"

"I mean money for the rebels. Luz's father is rich. If he knew that Maximilian——"

"Hombre, hombre, he's a miser!"

"Just the same, I'm a loyal Imperialist, and if you are, too, you will take good care to tell nothing to Don Anastasio."

"You forget, senor, that I am the one to say that to you."

"Then don't forget, Colonel Lopez. Do not forget that she fell, that it was a simple accident."

"Yes, a simple accident. Wait here, I am going to bring her father."

On returning Lopez sent the guards away, and he and Murguia were alone together. The old man stood dazed, unresisting.

"One minute more," said Lopez. "First, I must tell you something. And afterward, you will remember. Yes, you will remember—afterward. You know who I am, that I command the Dragoons of the Empress.—Are you listening? But do you know that, in a way, I am Maximilian's confidant? Whenever he walks or rides, incognito, dressed as a ranchero, I alone go with him, as I did during the past ten days while we stopped at Las Palmas, three leagues from here. The very first evening there, we two rode out, with our cloaks about us. He likes to commune with nature, and gather curious flowers which he pastes in a book and labels with Latin names. But this time he was interested in peons, yet as he had a delicacy about prying into his host's business, we rode until we left Las Palmas behind us. His Majesty would gaze on the hills and look at the sunset, and he talked to me of a poetic calm about them which made him long for he knew not what. And Murguia——"

Here the speaker paused abruptly, and his faded eyes shifted and hardened.

"And Murguia, we came here, and—he met your child. He met her here, at this chapel, where she had been to pray for her aunt. Old man, do you hear me, the Emperor met your daughter! Then, next day, instead of going on with his journey, he complained of a cough, and stayed at Las Palmas. But every evening he rode here, he and I. Once I found a chance to ask her her name, but she would only tell her given name.—There, you will remember? Yes, you will—after you have seen her. Come, she is not far away."



CHAPTER XXII

EQUIDAD EN LA JUSTICIA

"... and I think I shall begin to take pleasure in being at home and minding my business. I pray God I may, for I finde a great need thereof." —Pepys's Diary.

An hour later the candles were still guttering in the court room, and here Colonel Lopez assembled his minions of justice a second time. In his manner now there was nothing of the uncertainty, nor the feigning of penetration, which had before marked his handling of the trials. He pounded the box with his sword.

"In the light of new evidence," he announced shortly, "the two cases of a while ago are reopened."

Din Driscoll strolled in. "I've come for my belt and pistols. Dupin took them," he said.

Lopez signed to the Dragoons to close round him. Then he gave vent. Did the Senor Gringo laugh so much at Mexican justice, since instead of escaping while he had the chance, he came back, coolly demanding his property? It was insolence!

"Gra-cious," exclaimed Driscoll in his counterfeit of a startled old lady, "what's the matter?"

But Lopez put on a mien of dark cunning, and replied that he would find out later.

Murguia's case came first. The stricken father was there, dragged from his dead by the petty concerns of this world which cannot bide for grief. He was as a sleep-walker. He had come into another universe. The hacienda sala, where his child lay mid tapers, where mumbled prayers arose, or this adobe, where uniformed men fouled the air with cigarettes and looked after the Empire's business—the one or the other, both places were of that other universe, dark and silent, in which his dazed being groped alone.

The new element in the court martial was Tiburcio, and Tiburcio had in mind one golden goose to save and one meddling Gringo to lose. He riddled the foregoing evidence with refreshing originality. He testified to the brigand attack for possession of the marquise. Had he not found Don Anastasio stretched upon the ground? Had not the dauntless anciano, the self-same Don Anastasio, fallen in defence of the two French senoritas? And yet, did he not keep Rodrigo at bay? Si, senores, he had indeed, until Colonel Dupin and the Contras arrived. He, the witness, was with them. He had seen these things. Now, let anyone say that the loyal Senor Murguia was an accomplice of that cut-throat without shame, Rodrigo Galan; whom he, the witness, loathed from the innermost recesses of his being; whom he, the witness, should be greatly pleased to strike dead. But let anyone again besmirch the character of Don Anastasio!

"No, no," vociferously growled the Austrian.

Lopez opposed nothing. He had a clear notion this time as to what he wanted. Driscoll marveled, and enjoyed it. Pigheadedness had made Don Anastasio guilty, why shouldn't perjury make him innocent? And it did. The mountain of suspicion and some few pebbles of evidence melted away as lard in a skillet. The verdict was acquittal.

Driscoll knew well enough that the presence of the loyal Imperialist with the baleful eye meant a reversal in his own case too. But the recent and very definite animus of Lopez against him he could in no way fathom. The blackmailer testified again. The prisoner, this Americano, had waylaid him in the wood two days before, and had robbed him of his last cent.

"Which you stole from Murgie," suggested the prisoner.

"I? I steal from Murguia?" cried Tiburcio indignantly. "Ask him! Ask him!"

Murguia was asked. Had the witness ever, on any occasion, robbed him? They repeated the question several times, and at last the rusty black wig, which was bowed over a chair, slowly shook in the negative. Perhaps he had settled a debt with the witness? The wig changed to an affirmative.

Tiburcio gleamed triumphantly. "An audacious defence!" he exclaimed. "But luckily for me, Don Anastasio is here."

"Oh, hurry up!" protested Driscoll.

Asked if he knew anything more of the prisoner, witness could not swear for certain, except that he recognized in the American one of the guerrillas who had ambushed and slain Captain Maurel near Tampico. Yes, witness was scouting for the murdered captain at the time. Naturally, witness was present.

"You wanted proof, Senor Americano, that you crossed the river?" said Lopez. "Well, are you content now?"

"Go on," Driscoll returned. He was bored. "Some people on earth are alive yet, but while Tibby is on the stand maybe I killed them too. I wouldn't swear I didn't."

Murguia was called next, but he did not seem to hear. His body was bent over his knees, silently trembling. A Dragoon pressed a hand on his shoulder, but a sobbing groan racked his frame, as of a very sick man who will not be awakened to his pain. The pause that followed was uncanny—a syncope in the affairs of men like a gaping grave under midnight clouds. Lopez spoke again. He regretted that they must intrude on a fresh and poignant sorrow, but the case in hand was a matter of state, before which the individual had to give way. It was very logical and convincing. But the feeble old shoulders made no sign.

Tiburcio leaned over and shook him gently, and whispered in his ear. Still Murguia did not move. Tiburcio gripped his arm. "You and Rodrigo," he said, so low that none could hear, "there was something arranged between you. What was it? Tell me! Tell me, I say, if you want the Gringo shot!"

He bent nearer, and against his ear came a muffled sound of lips. When he straightened, it was to address the court.

If he might ask a question, had they searched the prisoner? They had. But thoroughly? Thoroughly. But not enough to find anything? No. Then he would suggest that they had not searched thoroughly. The court seemed impressed, and Driscoll was fumbled over again. Still they found nothing.

"Whose flask is that?" Tiburcio demanded, pointing to where it had been tossed and forgotten. The prisoner's. "Look that over again," Tiburcio insisted. A guard handed it to Lopez, who squinted inside. "There is nothing," he said. It was only an old canteen whose leather covering was dropping apart from rot.

Murguia's head raised, and his eyes fixed themselves on the judge, and in their intense fixity glittered a quick, keen lust. It was hideous, loathsome, fascinating. The eyes were swimming in tears, but their hungered, metal-like sheen made the sorrow monstrous, and was the more foul and ghastly because it distorted so pure a thing as sorrow. Driscoll felt queerly that he must, must remove from the world this decrepit old man who bemoaned a dead child. The itch for murder terrified him, and he turned away angrily from the horrid face that aroused it. But Murguia's stare never relaxed while Lopez toyed with the canteen. And when Lopez, as though accidentally, thrust a finger under the torn leather and brought out a folded paper, the bright points of Murguia's eyes leaped to flame. But the head went down again, as once more his grief swept over him, and another sob caught at the heartstrings of every man there.

Lopez spread out the paper, and as he read, he started violently. He passed it on to the Austrian and the color sergeant, and they also started. But the most amazed was Driscoll, when he too had a chance to read.

"Ha, you recognize it?" exclaimed the president.

"Sure I do. It's an order from Colonel Dupin to Captain Maurel. Rodrigo had it in Tampico, making people think that he was Captain Maurel."

But the court was not so simple. "How came you by it?" demanded Lopez. "Have occasion to be Maurel yourself sometime, eh?"

With wrath, with admiration, Driscoll faced round on Don Anastasio. "Oh you pesky, shriveled-up gorilla!" he breathed. He was no longer amazed. This accounted for Murguia's borrowing his flask the night they were in the forest. It accounted for Murguia and Rodrigo plotting together in Tampico. But why tell such things to the court? The Missourian was not a fool like King Canute, who ordered back the waves. "Hurry up," he said wearily to the waves instead. Since he could not hold the tide, anticipation chilled more than the drowning bath itself.

The tide assuredly did not wait. It rolled right on, nearer and nearer. Murguia was lifted to his feet. He was remembering already what Lopez had told him, about his daughter and Maximilian, as Lopez had said he would. The American's easy, stalwart form in gray filled his blurred eyes. Here was a Confederate emissary come with an offer of aid for that same Maximilian. Such had been Murguia's suspicion from the first, and now it moved him with venomous hate. Yes, he would testify. Yes, yes, the prisoner had ridden out alone at Tampico. Yes, yes, yes, the prisoner was with Rodrigo there.

"But why, Don Anastasio," asked Tiburcio purely in fantastic mischief, "did you bring such a disturbing man to our happy country?"

"That will do," Lopez interposed. "The Senor Murguia could not know at the time that this fellow was Rodrigo's agent."

"And," Murguia added eagerly, "I was helpless, there at Mobile. The Confederates could have sunk my boat, and he held an order from Jefferson Davis."

"What's that?" cried Tiburcio, his humor suddenly vanished. "What's that, an order from Jefferson Davis?"

Tiburcio's was a new interest, now. He possessed a mind as crooked as his vision, and being crooked, it followed unerringly the devious paths of other minds. So, they had made a tool of him! Rodrigo and Murguia wanted the Gringo shot to help the rebel cause. And he, Tiburcio of the cunning wits, had just sworn away, not only the Gringo's life, but the possible salvation of the Empire. Coming from Jefferson Davis, the Gringo with his mission could mean nothing else. Then there was Lopez. Tiburcio did not love this changeling Mexican who had red hair. But what could be the mongrel's game? Why had he freed Murguia, if not to unleash a small terrier at Maximilian's heel? Why was he trying the American over again, if not to poison a friendly mastiff? And why either, if Don Miguel Lopez were not seeking to make friends with the Republic? Or perhaps he was at heart a Republican. Thus Don Tiburcio, a loyal Imperialist, read the finger posts as he ambled down the crooked path.

Yes, and here was Lopez putting on the final touch. Here he was, the traitor, pronouncing the death sentence, and poor impotent Don Tiburcio gnawing his baffled rage, as one would say of a villain. The execution was to take place the very next morning. His Majesty the Emperor would be asked to approve, afterward.



CHAPTER XXIII

A CURIOUS PAGAN RITE

"E un peccato che se ne va con l'acqua benedetta." —Machiavelli.

The Storm Centre looked round, about and above. He was as a fly in a bottle. A massive rough-hewn door, jammed tight, sealed him within adobe walls two feet thick. There was one window, cross-barred, as high as his chin, and only large enough to frame his head. They had brought him to the carcel, or dungeon, of the hacienda, where peons were constrained to docility. A wide masonry bench against the wall approximated a couch, but it was as blocked ice. By the flickering of a lone tallow dip, Din Driscoll noted these things with every sense delicately attuned to strategy. But his verdict was unpromising.

"Tough luck!" he observed.

The adobe was built among the stables that bordered on the pasture, and when not needed as a calabozo, it served snugly for the administrador's best horse. From the one stall came a tentative whinny. Driscoll jumped with delight. "Demijohn! W'y, you good old scoundrel, you!" The night before, he remembered, he had seen the horse bedded here. "Say howdy as loud as you want," he cried, slapping him fondly on the flank, "you'll not betray us. That's been done already."

Driscoll was cavalryman to the bone, and it heartened him unaccountably to find his horse. If, only, he could have his pistols too! Ever since the Federals had cut him off from his furloughs home, those black ugly navies were next to the nearest in his affections. The nearest was the buckskin charger. And now, only the buckskin was left, which simply made the dilemma more poignant. The condemned man gazed critically at the walls, the rafters, the ground, and shook his head. Supposing a chance for escape, could he bring himself to leave Demijohn behind? He got his pipe to going, sat down, and frowned ruefully at the candle.

"I don't want to be shot!" he burst out suddenly, with a plaintive twang. Then he grinned. The boy still in him had prompted the absurdity. And the rough warrior had laughed at it. Boy and warrior faced each other, either surprised that the other existed. The boy flushed resentfully at the veteran's contemptuous grunt. His eyes still had the boy's naively inquisitive greeting to the world before him. Next, quite abruptly, the warrior knew a bitterness against himself. If he could, but once, whimper as the lad about to be soundly strapped! He took no pride in his irony, nor in his hardened indifference to the visage of death. How far, how very far, had the few past years of strife carried him from the youngster who used to gaze so eagerly, so expectantly, out on life!

First, he was home from the University, from the pretty, shady little Missouri town of Columbia. But the vacation following he spent in bloodily helping to drive the Jayhawkers back across the Kansas line. And soon after, when the fighting opened up officially, and his State, at the start, had more of it than any other battle ground, how many hundreds of times did his life bide by the next throw of Fate? During one cruel winter month he had lain with other wounded in a hospital dug-out in the river's cliff, and there, wanting both quinine and food, he would peep through the reeds, only to see the merciless Red Legs prying about in search of his hiding place.

And then there was the wild, busily dangerous life with Old Joe's Brigade, with that brigade of Missouri's young firebrands. Once, stretched on the prairie, where he had dropped from exhaustion and hunger and loss of blood, the Storm Centre awoke to find a Pin Indian stooping over him for his scalp. On that occasion, the deft turning of the wrist from the waist outward, with the stripping of the pistol's hammer simultaneously, had enabled him later to restore to relatives certain other scalps already dangling from the savage's girdle.

And now here he was in an adobe with walls two feet thick, and numerous saddle-colored Greasers proposing to shoot him first thing in the morning!

"I'll be blessedly damned," he drawled querulously, "I object!"

It was the warrior who spoke now, and with him the boy joined hands. They became as one and the same person. The common foe was without. They would see this through together, with grim stoicism, with young-blooded daredeviltry.

The door opened, and one of the common foe, bearing a tray, came within.

"Well, Don Erastus, how goes it?" With a pang of homesickness the Missourian thought of darkies who carried trays.

"Juan Bautista, at Y'r Mercy's orders," the Dragoon corrected him.

"Don John the Baptist then, como le whack?"

"Bien, senor, bien."

"Any theory as to what you've got there?"

"Y'r Mercy's supper. The Senor Coronel Lopez does not desire that Y'r Mercy should have any complaint."

"Oh, none whatever, Johnny, except what I'm to die of. Set it down, here on the feather bed."

There were a few native dishes, with a botellon of water and a jar of wine. Driscoll tipped the botellon to his lips. His whiskey flask had contained poison, though the poison of ink, and as he drank, he pondered on why water should not be an antidote for the poisons that lurk in whiskey flasks. Then he wondered why such foolish conceits at such times persist in shouldering death itself out of a man's thoughts. And meanwhile, there stood the precursor of his end, in the emblematic person of a very brown John the Baptist. The fellow's gorgeous red jacket was unbuttoned, revealing a sordid dirty shirt. He was officer of the guard, and had a curiosity as to how a Gringo about to be shot would act. He waited clumsily, lantern in hand. But he was disappointed. There seemed to be nothing out of the commonplace. Some condemned Mexican, though a monotonously familiar spectacle, would yet have been more entertaining.

Driscoll looked at him over the botellon. That earthen bottle had not left the prisoner's lips. It had stopped there, poised aloft by an idea.

"See here," Driscoll complained, "where's the rest of the water I'm to have?"

"Of what water, senor?"

"For my bath, of course. Don't I die to-morrow?"

"Yes, but——"

"Here, this wine is too new for me. Drink it yourself, if you want."

"Many thanks, senor, with pleasure. But a bath? I don't understand."

"No? Don't you Mexicans ever bathe before you die?"

"We send for the padre."

"Oh, that's it! And he spiritually washes your sins away? But suppose you couldn't get your padre?"

The Indian shuddered. "Ai, Maria purisima, one's soul would go to everlasting torment!"

"There! Now you can understand why I count so much on ablution. It's absolution."

The native readily believed. Like others of his class, he thought all Protestants pagans, and none Catholic but a Mexican. "Must be something like John the Baptist's day, verdad, senor?" he said. "On that holy day, once a year, we must all take a bath."

"Quite right too," Driscoll returned soberly. "A man should go through most anything for his religion.—Haven't noticed my horse there, have you, Johnny?" The guard pricked up his ears. "Of course not," Driscoll went on, "you're worrying about my soul instead. Well, so am I. We Americans, you know, save our yearly baths for one big solemn final one, just before we die. And if I don't get mine to-night, I'll be associating with you unshrived Mexicans hereafter, and that would be pretty bad, wouldn't it? It's what made me think of my horse there. That horse, Johnny, is heavy on my soul. He's most too heavy to wash away. Now, I'm not going to tell you that I actually stole him; but just the same, if a good man like you would take him, after I'm gone—why, I'd feel that he was washed off pretty well."

The Mexican's sympathy grew more keen.

"But the other sins," Driscoll added, "they'll need water, and a great plenty, too."

Juan Bautista was feeling the buckskin's knees. Driscoll longed to choke him, but instead, he drove again at the wedge. "Another thing, I'll have to leave my money behind." He mentioned it casually, but his breath stopped while he waited for the effect. The guard straightened. Demijohn's knees seemed to be all right. He took up the tray, and opened the door, yet without a word. Driscoll's fist doubled, to strike and run for it. Then the fellow spoke.

"Does Y'r Mercy want soap too?"

The fist unclenched. "No," came the reply, almost in a joyful gasp, "this is for, for godliness only."

"One jar, senor?"

"Bless me, no! Two big ones, bigger'n a barrel."

With a parting glance at Demijohn, the guard stole forth to gratify the heathen's whim.

"I'll give him enough to buy a horse," Driscoll resolved.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE MAN WHO DID NOT WANT TO BE SHOT

"A horse and a man Is more than one, And yet not many." —Taming of the Shrew.

"Now Berthe—why, what in the world——" Jacqueline began.

It was her second morning to awake in the hacienda house, and the little Bretonne tripped into her room under a starchy mountain heaped high. "Clothes, madame," she replied.

"He mais——"

"They were made yesterday by some of the ranchero women. Madame will look?"

"Calico! Grands dieux!"

There were two dresses, one for each girl. The native seamstresses had slyly taken stock of mademoiselle the day before, only to discover that a "simple" frock from Paris was a formidable thing to duplicate. The marchioness smiled, and the maid also.

"But, for example, Berthe, who inspired this?"

"He did."

"He?"

"The American monsieur, of course."

"Oh, the American monsieur, of course! So, monsieur permits himself to observe that I need a wardrobe? But you, Berthe, you surely did not——"

"Oh, no, madame! I knew nothing, till just now, when the woman brought them. The monsieur ordered them yesterday, she said. And naturally, madame, if he could have found better material, I do not doubt——"

"There, child, I'll not be reproached by your even thinking it necessary to defend——"

"And madame will see, too, that they will do nicely." She spread the frocks on the bed, and began snipping here and there with the scissors and taking stitches everywhere. "By letting it out this way—voila, if madame will kindly slip it on?"

"Berthe, you can't mean—Oh nonsense!"

None the less the skirt passed over her head, and the maid's deft fingers kept on busily. "And why not?" she talked as she worked, "unless one likes rags better. And who will see? Only men. Poof, those citizens do not know percale from a Parisian toilette."

Jacqueline began to wax angry with the quiet tyranny of it. She looked at the horror and shuddered, then with both hands pushed the calico to the floor, gathering up her own lawn skirt instead. It was rather a woebegone lawn skirt. She gazed ruefully at the garment, then down at the blue flowering heaped about her ankles. Berthe, kneeling over the dress, raised her eyes. The puckered brow of her mistress spelled fury, and the maid tried not to laugh, at which Jacqueline stamped her foot. "Berthe," she cried, "shall I slap you?"

"Mais oui, madame. And madame, I was thinking, what will he say if you do not wear it?"

Jacqueline gave her a keen look. "Child, child," she exclaimed, "you seem to imagine that whatever he wants——"

"Oui, madame.—I think you can try it on again now."

And madame submitted petulantly. But to herself she had to confess the magic in Berthe's fingers. Though she pouted over the fresh, rustic effect, yet on her slender figure there was witchery in it.

An orderly knocked. He was one of her Austrian escorts come to say that everything was ready for departure. She gladly hailed the chance to escape this house of mourning. All night long old women in the death chamber had mumbled incantations, and the droning was in her ears as she slept. It was not nice. Because she could not blot out the inartistic shock of ugly mortality, in very self-hate she yearned to get away. The evening before, even while she loaned common sense to the crazed household, even while she pressed down the icy eyelids, she wondered—obstinately wondered, despite herself, what the dead girl could have thought, what she could have felt, during that one horrid, thrilling second of flight downward, and what, in anticipation of the second after. It was gruesome, this being always and always the spectator. Yet Jacqueline knew that, had it been she herself plunging from the tower, she still would have been that spectator. Too well she knew that she would have analyzed what she thought and felt. She would have rated even the second before eternity in its degree as a frisson; and, no doubt, would have been aware of a voluptuous satiety, while anticipating the second after. She hated herself, and she hated too the smart, ultra-refined life that had brought her to it. How many of those past years, or of the years to come would she not give to shed a few tears without interrogating them!

Ney met the two girls under the colonnade. At the steps was the coach and eight mules left by Maximilian for their use, and drawn up in stately line were Messieurs the Feathers and Furs, as Jacqueline called His Majesty's Austrian Imperial Guards. When she appeared, out flashed their curved blades. The queenly little lady in blue-flowered calico and a rakish Leghorn hat returned the salute with a smile.

"Where are the Dragoons, Michel?" she asked.

Ney did not know. But a Mexican with a crossed eye approached, doffing a silver-lettered sombrero. He had been waiting for her, he said. There was time. Otherwise he would have forced his way to wherever she was.

"Indeed, Seigneur Farceur?" said Jacqueline.

She recognized that most sinister of jokers, Don Tiburcio. He was eyeing her narrowly, and there was a vigilance in the baleful gleam, as though of late he might have been deceived by his fellowmen.

"But," he coolly proceeded, "only a few minutes are left now."

"My good man, whatever are you talking about?"

"And after the few minutes, we'll have the shooting. I came to invite Your Mercy."

"Shoot whom?"

"There is but one prisoner."

"You mean Senor Murguia? The American was acquitted, I believe."

"It's the other way, senorita. They were both tried over again, and then, the American was condemned."

"Mademoiselle," ejaculated Ney, "you are deathly——"

"I am not!" Jacqueline protested furiously. "It's the powder."

But Berthe knew better. Her mistress used it not, for all the roguish freckle on her nose-tip. Tiburcio, too, was satisfied as to her sudden pallor. She would save him the American, he decided. "Your Mercy had best hasten," he urged her frankly.

Jacqueline ran to the end of the portico, from were she could see the pasture. Within, a platoon of red jackets were filing toward the carcel.

"That scoundrel Lopez!" exclaimed Tiburcio, "he has advanced the time on us!"

Only for an instant did Jacqueline wring her hands.

"Michel, your horse!" she cried. "Quick, quick! Now hold the stirrup!"

But Tiburcio was the quicker. He bent his knee, on it she stepped, and up she jumped, and kicked her heel as a spur. The charger leaped, and down the road clattered girl and horse, she swaying perilously.

It was a hundred yards to the pasture gate, and as much again to the adobe inside. When her horse rose in his gallop, she caught glimpses over the wall. The Dragoons were drawing up before the carcel. Sentinels tugged at the huge wooden door, and Lopez goaded them on. He saw her coming, and would have it over with before she could interfere. He bellowed an order, and the shooting squad threw up their guns at aim. They would not wait. They would fire on their victim the second the door opened. The heavy oak began to give. But that moment swinging in through the gate, Jacqueline could see only the carcel's blank adobe wall. Yet she pictured the man just behind. She pictured the door opening. And—too late! Dieu, the muskets had volleyed already!

But—what made the shots scatter so? Scattered and flurried, they sounded. And no wonder! She saw a miracle in the doing. It was the most astounding sight of all her life long. Straight through the blank adobe wall, for all its two feet of thickness, she beheld a man on a great-boned yellow horse, both man and horse plunge mid a sudden cloud of dust, plunge squarely into the light of day.

The dumfounded shooting squad had blazed crazily against the half-open door; and for the critical quarter minute following, their weapons were harmless. Other Dragoons ran wildly out into the pasture, and as wildly fired at the horseman. Only one of the sentinels had happened to be on the side of the magic exit, but as the solid wall dissolved into a powdered cloud and the apparition hurtled past him, down upon his head crashed a gigantic water jar filled with earth. He who had sympathized with pagan ablutions the night before stood now with mouth agape. Some heathen god was having a hand in this, he knew.

Jacqueline wheeled to Driscoll's side as he dashed toward her. He was coatless. His woolen shirt was open at the neck, the sleeves were rolled to the elbows. His slouch hat sat upon the back of his head. The short cropped curls, gray with dust, fluttered against the brim. She had never seen a face so buoyantly happy.

"Morning, Miss Jack-leen! Race you to the river?"

They galloped through the gate together. He was for turning down the road, but she blocked his horse with her own. During a second the flight was stopped.

"I'm in a hurry just now," he panted, but made no effort to get by her.

"Up that way!" she cried. "Up that way, past the House!"

"But those pretty boys——"

"The Austrians? They'll not stop you, I promise."

"Then it's our move. Careful, little girl, don't fall!"

Jacqueline, waving her arm, signaled the Feathers and Furs to make room, and Tiburcio and Ney saw to it that they did. Man and girl raced through them.

"Wait here, Michel!" called Jacqueline, leaving Ney still with thumb to cap at salute. Tiburcio gazed after them.

Lopez ran across the pasture to the colonnade. His red face was redder than ever before. Tiburcio sardonically regarded him. Lopez glared at Ney.

"Why aren't you in pursuit?" he demanded hotly.

"And you, monsieur?"

"And I, and I! Who are you to question me, senor? Every girth has been cut!"

"Caramba, mi coronel," cried Tiburcio in dismay, "you don't say so!"

"And it will take ten minutes to tie up the cords, while you, you, Senor Frenchman, you stand there, your men mounted and ready! Obey me, I tell you!"

"Can't," said Ney doggedly. "Against orders."

"Orders? Whose orders?"

"Of Mademoiselle la Marquise, monsieur."

"Who runs away with a convict. A fit commander, por Dios!"

Off came the Frenchman's gauntlet, but he paused in the gesture of striking. Too quick at this, and not enough at wits, he might ruin her plans.

"As fit," he retorted instead, "as another who lets prisoners escape. I advise Monsieur the Colonel to look to his girths."



CHAPTER XXV

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER HORSE

"Yet am I sure of one pleasure, And shortly, it is this: That, where ye be, me seemeth, parde, I could not fare amiss." —Ballad of the Nut Brown Maid.

Din Driscoll had never remotely imagined that there could be such intoxication in a horseback ride. The person on the other horse made for the difference. How the joy of her filled him that instant of his bursting through the black prison wall into the bright morning of the world! She, the splendid first thing to gladden his eyes! Could liberty be really so glorious? Ravishing horsewoman, she was coming to save him. He had supposed her on her way to Mexico, and 'twas she whom he saw first of all.

And now, she rode beside him. They two, they were riding together, alone. The smell of the wild free air of the universe thrilled them both with an exquisite recklessness. Vague, limitless, subtle in mystery, the seduction of it was ineffable. Out of the corner of his eye he peeped at her. But wasn't she perched entrancingly on that dragoon saddle, wasn't she, though? The richly heavy coils of burnished copper had loosened, and they were very disconcerting in their suggestion of flowing wealth. If they would but fall about her shoulders! And the lace from the slanting hat brim, and the velvet patch near the dimple—the velvet patch called an assassin. And—what dress was that? Flowered calico? Yes, and light blue. His cheeks burned as of one surprised in crime, but the self-possessed young woman herself was oblivious. So was it this, a blue flowered gown, that made her so suddenly tangible, so tangible and maddening? The haughty Parisienne of imperial courts was gone. In fact, she had become so distractingly tangible that—well, he didn't know. But a lump got into his throat. She might be a Missouri girl, this moment. And there came to him the vision of one, of a Missouri girl molding biscuits, patting them, and her arms were bared, in a simple piquancy just like Jacqueline's now. He even saw the pickaninnies in the shade of the porch outside, worshiping the real Missouri girl from the very whites of their eyes. How he had loved to tease her! He could not help it; she was so daintily prim. That he should thus think of his sister, the while gazing on the one-time gilded butterfly—to say the least, it was a pertinent comment on the transmuting magic that lurks in blue flowered percale.

They slowed to a trot.

"Monsieur is my prisoner, yes," said she in her wonderful English.

He took the other meaning. "I don't know—yet," he returned soberly.

She laughed, and he realized that he had spoken aloud.

He turned on himself in dismay. "What's the matter with me?" he muttered.

"I think, monsieur," said Jacqueline demurely, "that I have the guess."

"You haven't—you can't guess either! I don't know myself."

"Just the same, I wish I knew so well my chances for heaven."

"But you're mistaken, I tell you. I'm not!"

"Not what, monsieur?"

"In, in—w'y, in love."

Jacqueline's laughter was the merriest peal. In the end he half grinned. Little use trying to convince the little witch! He had much to do convincing himself.

On the farther slope of a hill where coffee grew and the giant sheltering banana hid the road, they paused at a trail that crossed the highway and wound on down toward the Panuco river, where tropical stuff for Tampico was transferred from burros to dugout barges. Jacqueline listened. There were no sounds of pursuit as yet, nor was there any one in sight. Making up her mind, she changed to the path. Driscoll followed, with a delight in this new leadership over him.

When they gained the river, she stopped again, and he did too.

"But you must go, on, on!" she protested. "They may not be deceived, no. They may have you to overtake here." She held out her hand. "There, this path, you follow it to Tampico. Good bye. Yes, yes, you have not one minute!"

Driscoll took the little gauntleted hand readily enough. He saw that the lines of her face were drawn, but her manner was inexorable.

"How do you like your dress?" he inquired.

Had she been on her feet, she would have stamped one of them. "Monsieur," she cried, "here is no time to observe the replenishment of a lady's wardrobe. Do you go? I insist. I wish you bon voyage to your own country, monsieur."

"But it's so far away. I reckon I'd better rest a spell first. A month or so, prob'bly."

She watched him clamber down and tie Demijohn to the low branch of a live oak on the river's bank.

"There you are, getting stubborn again," she said. But the lines in her face had vanished.

"Of course I mean to see you back to your friends," he explained.

"Merci bien. But you will not. You will have this river straight to Tampico. I say yes!"

She turned her horse as she spoke, whereat he started to remount his own.

"I think, sir——" she began haughtily.

"The road is free."

"Oh, why have you to be so, so quarrelsome?"

"The temptation, I reckon."

"You really will go back with me?"

"I might be going back along about the same time. It's a public trail."

"Then I will stay, and you must! I will not permit you to go back there now. I will see that you do wait here so long until Lopez has the time to start to Mexico after you. Then you will be behind him. Have the goodness to hold my bridle. I think I shall take me a rest a little also."

Together they sat on a huge live-oak root and watched the sluggish Panuco flow by.

"No hurry now," Driscoll observed comfortably. "Our scarlet upholstered colonel won't get away for years yet."

Years, at least, were in his wishes, years in which to provoke her quaintly inflected English, and its quaint little slips. She had learned it in London long before, playing with wee Honorable toddlers while her father played France's diplomacy with grown-ups. That accent of hers, then, was as broad as Mayfair, and to the Missourian doubly foreign, and doubly alluring.

"I cannot understand," she said, "why it is the Dragoons have not followed you immediately?"

"Tibby's the reason, I reckon. That Tibby is a deep one."

She made him explain, and he told her. The blackmailing humorist, Tiburcio, had paid him a visit at his dungeon window during the night. Being chief witness for the prosecution, Tiburcio could pass the sentry unchallenged.

"Come for your money?" Driscoll had inquired, and Tiburcio seemed hurt.

"What is the matter," Tiburcio demanded, "with pointing a revolver at the Senor Americano right now, and making him deliver?"

Driscoll had not figured out what the objections might be, but he reckoned some would materialize.

"But," said Tiburcio, "I'm not doing it, and why? Simply because I want to know if you care to escape?"

"W'y," returned Driscoll, "I'll think it over, and let you know in the morning," at which lack of confidence Tiburcio was more hurt than ever.

"What's the use," Driscoll objected, "they'd catch me again?"

"Not if I fixed their horses, and if I do, will you promise to get out?"

And thus the bargain had stood, and thus it was fulfilled, though at the last the anxious Tiburcio had called in Jacqueline to help.

"Now," said the marchioness, settling herself for a treat, "I must know. Tame for me the miracle, explain it. I cannot longer hold my curiosity. But it was fine—exquis—however you have done it!"

"Weren't they a surprised lot, though?"

"But the miracle, monsieur! The miracle!"

"Well, it was this way. Being on the yawning brink—as old Meagre Shanks, friend of mine, would say—I figured it out that lacking in godliness, I'd try to get the next best thing."

"Please, monsieur!"

"That I'd try to get a bath."

"Of dust and mud, for example?"

At that Driscoll ceased all miracle taming and brushed himself off. But, putting him back into his dungeon, one will recall how he plotted to obtain two jars of water. This water he used simply to soften the hard, sun-baked adobes. First he hung his coat over the window. A suspicious guard naturally wanted to know why, and Driscoll appeared at the bars stripped to the waist. To keep out the cold air while he bathed, he said, and his teeth chattered. Then he went back to work. He handled his precious water with desperate economy. He began at the exposed end of one adobe brick, soaking it as needed and digging it out with a chip of earthenware knocked off one of the jars. The wall was two adobe lengths in thickness, but after he had gotten out his first brick, it was easy, by tugging and kicking, to tear out the others of the inside tier, since luckily they did not dovetail in with the outer ones. Soon he had an arch-shaped niche in the wall almost as high as his head when mounted on Demijohn. The really tedious part remained, and it was an all night job.

To deepen the niche without breaking through, he had to scrape it out piecemeal, wetting the dried mud as he toiled. He measured carefully just how much of the thickness to leave, because the weed stalks in the adobe could not be trusted to hold too thin a crust, and also he had to take care that the water did not soak entirely through and make a tell-tale blot on the outside when daylight should come. It was an infinitely laborious task, and even with completion at last, there was yet the question—which would break first, bone or masonry?

But he would learn when he should dash his horse's skull and his own against the shell that remained. He saddled Demijohn, filled an empty jar with the soft earth of his excavations, and waited. His dramatic appearance at the instant of the door's opening was not a coincidence. It was minute calculation. Already mounted, he faced the wall, with the heavy jar poised over his head in both hands, his spurs drawn back to strike. He waited until sentinels and shooting squad had gathered at the door. He waited to draw their fire, to empty their muskets. But he did not wait until the door should open enough to give them unimpeded aim. In the second of its opening he drove back the spurs, hurled the jar against the wall, and—crashed through his dungeon as easily as breaking a sucked egg.

"But," demanded Jacqueline eagerly, "how is it you did feel?" She was disappointed that the personal equation had had so little prominence.

"I don't recollect," said Driscoll, puzzled, "there was nothing hurting especially."

"No, no! Your sensations facing death, then escaping?"

He brightened. "W'y yes," he replied, happy to catch her meaning. "I felt toler'ble busy."

She sighed despairingly. Yet there was plenty left her for wonderment, and in it she revelled.

"Ingenuity!" she mused. "I declare, I believe the first human being to stand up on his hind legs must have been an American. It simply occurred to him one day that he didn't need all fours for walking, and that he might as well use his before-feet for something else."

"And a Frenchman, Miss Jack-leen?"

She flung up her hands.

"He!" she exclaimed. "If ever a compatriot of mine had gotten that idea into his—how you say?—pate, would he not carry it out to the idiotic limit, yes? He? He would try to walk without any feet whatever, and use all of them for other things. Already you have seen him doing the, the pugilat—the box—with every one of his fours. Voila!"

But time was passing. Lopez had certainly repaired his girths by this time. Driscoll arose. "There's a shorter way back," he announced. "The river junction can't be far down stream, and I'll wait for you there, Miss Jack-leen, while you scout on ahead to the hacienda house. If all's clear, you signal and I will advance with the heavy cavalry."

"C'est bien, mon colonel."

"Whatever that means, I hope it ain't mutiny."

At best it was only mock compliance. Jacqueline also knew that time was passing, but she had not mentioned the fact. Now the reason transpired. She harked back on their separation, with a grave earnestness and a saddened air of finality. He was to leave her here, she said. He was to go back to his own country. How badly had his reception fared so far? Why not, then, leave Mexico to ingratitude, and have done? The romantic land of roses was notoriously a blight to hopes. Why should he seek to thrive despite the mysterious curse that seemed to hover over all things like a deadly miasma?

Driscoll shook his head. "You know I have come to see Maximilian."

"But you are under sentence. You will lose your life."

"Miss Jack-leen, you said a while back that I was your prisoner. You have the Austrian escort. All right. You will deliver me to the Emperor," and he waved his hand as though the matter was arranged.

"But monsieur," she cried, "may not others have plans as vital as yours? And, perhaps—yes, you interfere."

He did interfere, in grimmest truth. Leaving the Sphinx of the Tuileries, she had come with her mission, and with an idea, too, of the obstacles that must be vanquished. But here, almost at landing, she encountered a barrier left out of her calculations, and which alone, unaided, she had to surmount. It was the surrender of the Confederacy, and what this upsetting complication meant against her own errand was embodied in the man before her. For in him lay the results of the Surrender as affecting the Mexican empire. In a word, he brought aid for Maximilian at the moment when Maximilian might be discouraged enough to give way to France; when the forgetful prince might gladly leave all to the generous nation which had placed him on his throne and which by him was cheated of the reward of its costly empire building. Should the French threaten to withdraw, should they in reality withdraw, still he would not abdicate, not with Confederate veterans to replace the pantalons rouges. Like the dog of the fable, Maximilian would cling to the manger.

"Oui, oui, monsieur," she repeated sharply, "you interfere!"

"In that case," said Driscoll quietly, "I will leave you at the river junction. When I see that you are safely at the hacienda——"

"You will go back to America?"

"That need not worry you."

"Then you are not going back, back to your own country?" He would keep on to the City alone. She would have no chance to intercept him. After all Fate had been good to her—no, cruel!—to cast him in her path. "You might find the Austrian escort safer than going alone," she said enticingly.

He hesitated. What all this was about, he could not imagine. He knew nothing, naturally, of the dark intrigues of an enigmatical adventurer far away in the Tuileries, nor how they could affect him. And so he put away as absurd the fancy that she in her turn might interfere with him. Besides, he was tempted.

"It's a go!" he said.

She for her part was thinking, hoping, rather, that perhaps she was mistaken. Perhaps he only bore the offer of a paltry few hundred, a handful of homeseekers from his regiment. She hoped so. She would have prayed for it, had praying occurred to her.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE STRANGEST AVOWAL OF LOVE

"Nae living man I'll love again, Since that my lovely knight is slain." —Lament of the Border Widow.

Back once more at the hacienda, Driscoll recovered his coat still hanging over the dungeon window. Lopez would have called it insolence, had he been there instead of scouring the country toward Mexico. Jacqueline and Berthe settled themselves in the traveling coach left for their comfort by Maximilian. Driscoll's effects, including his gray cape-coat and the bundle he had carried behind his saddle, were found in his room at the House. Jacqueline took them into the carriage with her, along with that absurd little valise that she had brought from the ship for an hour's jaunt on shore. Driscoll rode with Ney and the Austrians, and was once again headed toward the capital, still sixty fair Mexican leagues southward.

For six days it was an uneventful journey, seemingly. By day there were sierras, and valleys, and wayside crosses marking violent deaths. By night they accepted either ranchero hospitality or put up at some village meson. But within himself, adventures were continuous and varying for the Storm Centre. He could not account for the strange, curious elation that possessed him, especially when Jacqueline would take Ney's horse and ride at his side, perhaps for an hour, when the sun was not too hot. Driscoll never knew how long these occasions lasted. He did not know that they were long at all. As a matter of fact, he had ceased using ordinary standards of measurement. The universe, and sordid accessories such as time, radiated entirely about one little velvet patch near a dimple satellite.

There came to be long silences between them as they rode, either boy or girl content to have it so, and neither the least bit lonesome. And they talked too, naturally, though this was not so significant. She would slyly provoke him. To her mind, there was never anyone quite so satisfying at a quarrel. She would pause in delighted expectancy to see his eyes grow big when she thrust, and then to see his mouth twitch at the corners as he caught her blade on his own keen wit. She had forgotten that he was rustic, except for the added zest it gave. Nor was there a false note in him, so happily and totally unconscious was he of self. And as for a certain gaucherie, that was the spice to his whole manner.

They talked of many things; rather, she made him talk. She learned that his name was John, as hers was Jeanne, and she wanted to know why the horse was Demijohn.

"Because, Miss Jack-leen," he answered, "he's my other half, and sometimes the better one, too." He remembered that once, when he had drooped limp over the saddle, the buckskin had carried him out of the fighting to the rear. "You see," he added, "we were both colts when our little shindy up there broke loose."

"And you both went? Ah, Monsieur the Patriot, you did go, you did affront the tyrant? Yes!" She had the explorer's eagerness. Perhaps she might discover in him her own especial demon of self-introspection.

"N-o," he replied, "I reckon we went mostly for the fun of the thing."

"Fi donc!" she cried. "But wait till you are old. Oh yes, we have them too, those blessed, over-petted veterans of the Grande Armee. They are in the Hotel des Invalides, with medals to diagnose their glory. Oh, la, la, but there's a pleasant fashion! The people, the politicians, they forget the hot blood that fought simply because there were pretty blows to strike. They see only the gray hairs. 'Honneur aux patriotes!' You wait, monsieur. You, too, will be made into the hero, ex post facto, and you will believe it yourself. Yes, with the wolves, one learns to howl."

"N-o," said the young Confederate, "we—we got licked."

They talked—he rather—of Missouri. He was not reluctant to have stirred the memories of his home, not with one who could listen as she did. In his heart settled a warmth that was good, and the glow of it shone on his face. He became aware that the gray eyes were upon him, taking conscious note of his hair, his mouth, his chin, as though she were really seeing him for the first time. What made a girl do that way? He felt queerly, it being thus brought to him that he had awakened interest in a woman, but the tribute she paid him was ennobling, and a deep thankfulness, though to whom or for what he had not the least idea, made more kindly and good the cheery warmth around his heart. The gray eyes had never sparkled on him in coquetry as they sometimes did on other men, and now they were grave and sweet. It was a phase of Jacqueline that only her maid had known.

The marquise gathered that Missour-i, as she called it, was an exceedingly strange and fascinating region. She learned that it was a state, like a department in France, like her own Bourbonnais for instance. But there the comparison ended. The rest was all startling versatility. For the inhabitants had not only taken both sides during the Civil War, but through their governor had proclaimed themselves an independent republic into the bargain. They must be unusual citizens, those Missourians.

But they were strangest because they did not seem to be actors. They did not refine living into a cult, with every pleasure and pain classified and weighed out and valued. No, they actually lived. It was hard to realize this, but in the end she did, and with ever increasing wonder, with also a beginning of envy and hunger. But there was still another thing even more indefinable. It centered in the word "home," which she knew neither in French nor Spanish, but which she came to know now, as its meaning grew upon her. It was more than a "maison" or a "casa," or a "chez nous." It was a manner of temple. And the high priest there was a grim lord. How very grim, indeed! There was no compromise, no blinking, no midway gilded dais between the marriage altar and the basest filth. As grim, this was, as that original Puritanism which has become a synonym of American backbone. Grim, yes; but the woman there, where the high priest blinked not, was a divinity. She was a divinity in the tenderest and most devoted sense of the word. And the Puritanism was purity enshrined, as a simple matter of course. The longing, if only to know more of this odd country, rose in her mysteriously, and stronger and stronger.

When on one occasion she went back to the coach, she found that Berthe also was enjoying the change to horseback. Jacqueline was glad of it. Now she could be alone, and she believed that she wanted to think. But she could not pin down what she wanted to think about; because, no doubt, there was so very much. Instead, she looked vacantly at the Storm Centre's cartridge belt and pistols on the seat in front of her. They were grim, too, these playthings of a boy.

Dupin had left the weapons with Ney, back at the hacienda, and Ney had turned them over to Jacqueline as to the real strategic chief of the expedition. And Jacqueline had kept them, perhaps to look at, perhaps because of a whim that a prisoner should not be armed. She liked to hear Driscoll mourn for them, not knowing where they were, and she held back the surprise as one lingers before an anticipated pleasure. She picked up the great, black revolvers with a woman's fascinated respect for the harsh, eternal male of her species, who is primeval and barbaric yet, and ever will be, to hold his mate his very own. Her touch was gingerly, but there was a caress in her fingers on the ugly things.

She lifted the belt. How heavy of metal it was! Idly, she thought she would count the leaden missiles. When finally she laid the belt aside, a bullet remained in her lap. It had fallen there out of its shell. Starting to fit the bullet in again, she suddenly dropped both bullet and cartridge. Her hands trembled. This particular shell contained no powder. But it contained a tightly rolled slip of oiled paper. The cartridge was a dummy, a wee strong box for some vital document.

It was not for scruples against looking that she paused. On the contrary, it was that she must look, absolutely, in sacred, patriotic duty bound, that finally decided—nay, compelled her to look. Still she hesitated before drawing out the paper. She dreaded what it might tell her. Concealed thus, and revealed only by a hazard, the paper held, she felt certain, the secret and the significance of the American's errand to Mexico. And she did not want to know. She reviled bitterly the cruel chance that had thrust it on her.

She read. The paper was a communication addressed to the Emperor Maximilian by the Confederate generals of the Trans-Mississippi department. Foreseeing Lee's surrender, they had gathered from Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas, at a place in the latter state named Marshall, and there they had decided that they would not surrender. They would seek homes and a country elsewhere, swords in hand. At this meeting, which had been inspired by Gen. Joe Shelby, they had deposed the cautious general commanding, Kirby Smith, and they had put in his stead Simon Bolivar Buckner. The Trans-Mississippi department numbered fifty thousand men. There would also be fugitives from Lee's and Johnson's corps, besides Jefferson Davis in person, should he contrive to pass the Federal lines. Many thousands of veterans would shortly be marching across the Rio Grande. In Texas, at the Confederate arsenals and depositories, they would seize what they needed: guns, ammunition, horses, provisions, money. In Mexico they would become citizens, and they would defend their new homes against outlawry, rebellion, or invasion. The signatory generals prayed the Emperor Maximilian to consider this, and "to do it quick."

Jacqueline put the letter back in the cartridge, and everything looked as before. But no genii, once out, can ever quite be bottled up again. That stray bullet had wounded her to the heart.

"As bad as fifty thousand!" she cried half aloud. "And they will become citizens, too—Mon Dieu, that is a nation!"

With them Maximilian would have a people behind him, and his throne would be as a rock. He could, and most certainly would, disdain the French army of occupation with its thirty thousand bayonets. The French might go back home. He would speed them cheerfully, and henceforth be Emperor in fact.

"But our treasure and our dead," sighed Jacqueline bitterly, "we cannot take them back. No, nor our hopes, though they weigh little enough now, for that matter. Oh dear, and I am one of those hopes!—Help me Heaven, else I shall hate my own country. Oh, I must be true!—Now, why couldn't those Missourians have sent—someone else?"

That evening she held a pen, but it would not move, not while her thoughts were upon it. So, by sheer will, she nerved herself not to think, and wrote mechanically. She wrote a message to Lopez, and another to Dupin, and yet a third. The third brought the tears long before it was finished. An Austrian took the first two, and rode all that night. She kept the other one herself.

This was the fifth day of their journey since leaving Murguia's hacienda. They had taken pains to keep behind Lopez. Their pursuer, ahead of them, had not made twenty miles the first day, for he had delayed in order to search here and there. But the second day, he had evidently accepted failure, and hastened on to overtake the Emperor. The Emperor himself, after traveling constantly for a night and a day, had rested a night and half a day to reflect on his late energy, and thereafter he was proceeding as roadside ovations would permit. Accordingly on this, the fifth night, Lopez was close behind the Emperor, and both were within a day of the capital, and less than a day ahead of Driscoll, Jacqueline and Ney.

All the next day Jacqueline kept to her coach. She was cross or nervously excited or melancholy, and by erratic turns in every mood that was hopelessly downcast, until her maid became well nigh frantic. At first Ney would hover near in helpless concern, but she ordered him away angrily. However, the storm broke at last when Driscoll reined in and waited at the roadside. She could see him through the little front pane of glass as the carriage drew nearer, and she watched with a fierce hunger in her eyes. All the time she stirred in greater agitation, and her breath came more and more quickly. At the very last moment, when a second later he might have seen her, she sprang to the window, looked once again, then in a fury snatched at the shade and jerked it down. Driscoll paused uncertain, but wheeled and galloped back to the head of the column. Berthe turned to her mistress. She was lying weakly against the cushions, staring at nothing and panting for air.

Toward dusk they reached Tuxtla, a little pueblo on the highroad set mid maguey farms that made the rolling hill slopes of Anahuac look like a giant's cabbage patch. In the distance, under two snow-capped peaks beyond, the mosaic domes and sandstone towers and painted walls of the capital glittered in the setting sun like some picture of an Arabian city vaguely known to memory. The travelers were not a dozen miles from their destination, but Berthe announced that madame her mistress would rest at Tuxtla for the night.

The Austrians were quartered in the village, and Ney and Driscoll found accommodations for the two girls and themselves farther down the road, at the house of a maguey grower whom they persuaded to vacate. While it was still light Driscoll amused himself strolling alone between the rows of the great century plants. Under their leaves, curving high above his head, he watched peons with gourds suck out the honey water from the onion-like bulbs into goatskin bags. After a time he wandered through the hacendado's primitive distillery and on back to the house, with a feeling for supper.

As he entered, he heard the clanking of a sabre in the dark room. He thought nothing of it, but almost at once something cut through the air and a noose fell over him. He swung round, but the rope jerked tight about his knees, and he lurched and swayed as an oak before the axe. He struck with his fist and had a groan for reward, but a second lariat circled his shoulders and bound his arms to his body. As he went down under the weight of men, the shutters were thrown open, and he looked up into the red-lidded eyes of Colonel Lopez. A troop of cavalry was passing on the road outside, and he caught the sound of wheels departing.

"You hear?" said Lopez. "The marquesa is going to the City, having decided not to wait for you. But she leaves a note, pour prendre conge, eh? You will perhaps have time to read it before the shooting."

Once more Driscoll found himself in an adobe with a sputtering candle for company. But he also had her note. It was the third of the messages which she had written the night before.

"Monsieur," it began, "I cannot let you die without telling you that it was I who betrayed——"

He jumped to his feet. "Oh—the pythoness!" he breathed fervently.

"——who betrayed you," the letter read. "That you know this, monsieur, that your last thought shall be a curse at me, such will be my punishment. It is a self inflicted one, because you need not have known what I have done. The telling of this to you is my scourge, but it is not penitence. Worse and more unbearable is my sorrow that the penitence will never come, that I can feel no remorse, no more than if some inevitable thing, like the fever, had taken you. I would always do again what I have just done; as pitiless as I must be for you, Fate is for me. Your life, monsieur, is but added to the hundreds already snuffed out in this country for France's sake. Those hundreds are my countrymen, and you, if you lived till to-morrow, would make their offering useless. I have tried to save you, monsieur, but you would not permit. You would not return to your own country, and—there was no other way. But do not think there will come emissaries in your place. Do not believe that I would so send you to death needlessly. There will be no emissaries after you. Your Confederates shall know that Maximilian's court martial executed you, and is it that your compatriotes will then desire to help Maximilian? Believe—only believe, monsieur—that it is a cruel duty not permitting that I shall listen to my heart. If you but knew, if you but knew—and you shall know. Monsieur Driscoll—oh, mon chevalier, it is that I love you. There, know then, dear heart cheri, the enormity of my sacrifice. Know the necessity of it. Know that I envy you, for you are going, and I must stay, all alone, without you. Mon bien aime, without you, through all my long life!"

She had signed it simply, "Jacqueline."

Again Driscoll was on his feet. He paced up and down the room. "There's one thing," he muttered, "and that is, there's nothing between her and Maximilian, not when she's keeping help from him." And on he paced, his fists opening and clenching. Suddenly he came to a dead halt.

"By God," he cried, "I'm not going to be shot, no sir, not now, not after—not after this letter!"

Here was neither boy nor warrior. It was very much in the way of a lover.



CHAPTER XXVII

BERTHE

"Il y a deux etres en nous: l'acteur et le spectateur." —Sienkiewicz.

The same evening, though two hours later, a public hack entered an outlying quarter of the City of Mexico called San Cosme, and drew up before a white mansion with beautiful gardens. A young girl with soft brown hair and gentle eyes got out, ran to the door, and brought down the ponderous knocker so terrifically that it abashed her, for all her present agitation. To the flunkey, who noted the public hack and was reproachful, she said, "I must see His Excellency. Here, I have written my name on Mademoiselle d'Aumerle's card. I am her maid. Say to Monsieur le Marechal that he will regret it, if I do not see him at once. Quick now, you!"

If possessed of guile, Berthe could not have done better. With Jacqueline's card, used only because it had a blank side, her admittance was certain and immediate.

She passed the lackey into a luxurious apartment, Marshal Bazaine's private cabinet. At one end there was a Japanese screen with a lamp behind, and at intervals came the sound of someone turning the leaves of a book. But Berthe thought solely of her errand. The marshal, thick necked, heavy cheeked and stocky, was standing, waiting for her.

"So," he exclaimed, "milady is arrived, eh, and you bring me her commands?"

"No, Your Excellency, my mistress does not know that I am here. When she learns, she will dismiss me. I——"

The marshal of France grew cold. "It was a decoy then, the card you used?" he interrupted. "And was that one also, young woman, when you threatened that I should regret——"

"You will indeed regret, monsieur, if you do not let me speak. There's a mistake to correct if—if it's not too late."

The chief of the Army of Occupation shrugged his shoulders until the back of his neck folded over itself. He had been correcting mistakes ever since Maximilian's landing. But he was a child of the people himself, and the distress in her eyes made him patient. "Well, what is it?" he asked.

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