"It is an American. They will shoot him, monsieur!"
"Ah, one who interests the young person now before me, eh?"
"And I want you to stop them, monsieur! I want——"
"Child, child, whom am I to stop?"
"Colonel Lopez, monsieur. The American escaped once, but mademoiselle gave him up again. He'd saved mademoiselle's life, too. And mine."
The veteran soldier rubbed his finger tips on his bald, bullet-like head. "He saves her, and she gives him to Lopez. He must be an important species of American!"
"Yes, yes, monsieur."
"There, don't worry. His Majesty will pardon your friend to-morrow—if," he added to himself, "only from habit."
"But Lopez will shoot him before the Emperor knows."
The marshal had shrewd eyes, and now they opened wide. "Getting more important, our American!" he grumbled uneasily. "Berthe, did your mistress know that Lopez would shoot him before he could be pardoned?"
"Oh yes, monsieur."
"Name of a name, what does she want him killed for? Why is this drole of a Lopez in such a hurry?—See here, child, you know something more. What did you mean by my regretting——"
"Because, because everybody seemed to think that the poor brave American had come with an offer of aid for Maximilian, and as you need more troops, I thought——"
"Who, in all mercy, is this American?"
"A Confederate officer, monsieur."
Not one man, but two, paced the floor because of Jacqueline that evening. The second was the marshal of France, and he went at it now, on hearing of the first man. "A Confederate officer?" There were twin creases over his straight nose, furrows of vexed and intense thinking. The lone Southerner was linked intimately in his reflections with the parliament of a great nation. The people of France had never warmed to the Mexican dream, and the Chambers already were clamoring for the return of the troops. And now, for every Confederate enlisted, a pantalon rouge could be sent back home. But why—name of a name—should Jacqueline try to prevent?
"Did she," he asked, but not very hopefully, "did she have any cause to dislike this American?"
"Oh, monsieur!" The cry was pained surprise. That her mistress could or would pay a grudge! "On the contrary," she protested vehemently, "I have never seen her so moved, never, and if you had seen her, monsieur, as we left Tuxtla! I thought she must surely lose her mind. One cannot imagine her terror. She cried to the driver, to the outriders, to lash the mules, harder, faster, till it's a miracle we did not crash over a cliff. And all the time she would look back, and at every sound she would clap her hands over her ears and cry out to know if that was shooting. And then she would pound at the window to them to go faster. She wanted to get out of hearing, monsieur. It was only when we were really here in the City that she quieted, but that was worse. She lay and moaned. I cried, I could not help it, hearing her. She would mutter things, too. 'France, France!' she said once, and it made me shudder. One almost thought she had a dagger in her hand——"
"Never mind, what else did she say?"
"She said, 'Oh, I hate thee, my country!' but she wasn't in her mind, oh no, monsieur. Then she grew very still, and that frightened me more yet. Once I even thought she was dead, and I put my arm about her. But her heart was beating, and her eyes were open, wide open and dry. I could see, for we were passing between the Paseo lights. I laid her head on my breast, and after a while I heard her lips move. 'God bless him! God—Oh, I hope there is a God, just for this, to bless him, and keep him!'"
"H'm'm," said the marshal, and went back and forth again, more perplexed than ever.
Berthe watched him anxiously, jealous of each moment lost. Once she started to speak, but his gesture for silence was such that she did not dare a second time. There was no other sound in the room except the tramp, tramp on the soft carpet. Even the occasional turning of a leaf behind the screen had ceased. Bazaine was groping cautiously in the mystery. A state reason, and no personal one, had compelled Jacqueline; that much was certain. Direct from the Tuileries, she was weighted under some grievous responsibility, and this night, back there at Tuxtla, she had been true to it. And whatever it was, it exacted imperatively that no Confederate aid should reach Maximilian. Such was Napoleon's wish, however contradictory to official instructions. But the marshal was sufficiently a disciple of the little Napoleonic statecraft to beware of meddling. He fretted under methods whereby the whisper of the Sphinx reached him through private and unofficial agents, but it was a great deal to catch the Sphinx's whisper at all. Besides, he owed his elevation to this enigma of Europe, and he meant to be loyal.
"Berthe," he said at last, "there's just one man who can interfere where Mademoiselle d'Aumerle disposes, but he is rather far away. I mean the Emperor of France."
The little Bretonne looked, comprehended, and burst into tears. "My dear mistress!" she sobbed.
There was the sound of a book dropped on a table, and the screen was brushed aside.
"Perhaps," came a softly ironical voice, "a woman might so much as veto our mighty Jacqueline. At any rate, suppose we try it, Don Pancho."
Bazaine had forgotten his wife, his bride, who, to be near him, often retired behind the screen when he was busy with others. Hers was the loving ambition of a Lady Macbeth, in that a husband's secret was never one for her.
"Step into this little room," she said to Berthe, opening a door. "It will not take long," she added, an assured light in her dark Spanish eyes.
"You will save him, madame? You——"
"Against all the marshals of France, child. Go, wait in there."
The marshal of France present smiled on his bride indulgently, admiringly, as she closed the door and faced him.
She was less than half his age, the girl wife of a gray-haired veteran, and as his wife she was second lady of the land. A Mexican aristocrat, small and slender, of a subtle, winsome beauty, with the prettiest mouth and the most pyramidal of crinolines, she had reminded Bazaine of his first wife, and he had courted her. At the wedding Maximilian had stood padrino for the groom, and Charlotte madrina for the bride. The imperial gift to groom and bride was Buena Vista, as the white mansion and gardens in San Cosme were called. Naturally, then, Madame la Marechale approved of Napoleon's official instructions, which directed that Monsieur le Marechal was to establish the Mexican empire solidly and for all time.
Now her manner of calling the marshal Pancho was considerable of an argument, especially when, archly formal, she made it Don Pancho. What if this Confederate aid were to go to the Mexican rebels, as it surely would if the emissary at Tuxtla were shot? And, without either French or Confederates, the Empire would fall, the rebels would win; and then, she wanted to know, what would become of their beautiful home, of their high position? Moreover, the United States was threatening to drive the French from Mexico, and Madame la Marechale believed it a very good thing for the French to have at their side some of the very men who had held those Yankees back for four long years.
Bazaine wavered. Then he smiled. This Mexican bride of his was Mexican all the time; and French, sometimes not at all. She had not the big trust in the pantalons rouges when it came to those Yankees.
"But, Pancho mio," she went on softly, "now for the real reason, the one that holds you back. It is your Emperor Napoleon, verdad? You think that he does not want this offer to reach Maximilian. Bien, have you had any intimation of what he wants? Any orders? Of course you haven't. Then save this American. Look at me—Don Pancho, I say-if——"
"Sapristi, call the girl in! No, first I must have——"
When madame could free herself from what he must have, she opened the door and triumphantly called to Jacqueline's maid.
A half-hour later, in one of the marshal's own carriages, Berthe returned to the castle of Chapultepec. At once she hastened to her mistress's apartments, and confessed what she had done. Still in the blue flowered calico, with the dust of their frantic ride still on her, Jacqueline was seated before a little desk. Her head was buried in her arms, and her loosened hair fell like a shower of copper over her shoulders. She did not move as Berthe entered, nor give any sign. But when in a word the story was told, she got to her feet and stared blankly at the girl. Berthe expected dismissal, but the next instant two arms were about her, and lips were pressed to hers, and hot tears, not her own, wetted her cheek.
"Berthe, you little addle-pated goose! You—oh you little ninny, you, you——" Her phrases were broken by laughter, then by an uncontrollable peal that was near a shriek, "Little, little fool, dost thou know, thou hast this night lost to France fifteen thousand leagues of empire? Thou—thou——" Yet kisses were again the portion of the thief of fifteen thousand leagues.
"But do you think they will be in time, Berthe? Yes, yes, you've answered that once. And Michel leads them, you say?"
"Oui, madame, Monsieur Ney was most eager to go, above all when His Excellency gave him Frenchmen to command. They are the cuirassiers. They will surely save the American monsieur."
"But will they be in time? Yes, yes, I think I've asked that already."
Her hysteric glee, changing to anxiety, now changed as quickly to something else. Her face went deathly white, the pretty jaws set hard, and there was the glint of resolution in the gray eyes. She seized a cloak and threw it about her.
"Come," she said to the maid.
"Madame is going——"
"Yes, to undo your mischief. Bazaine must send to overtake Ney, must command him not to interfere with the execution. Bazaine will do this, when I see him."
"But you will not find His Excellency to-night. Madame la Marechale ordered the carriage for them both, as I was leaving there."
"Indeed? Then she knew you were coming here to me? Then she did not mention where they were going?"
"Of course not. Oh, she is cunning, your Madame la Marechale!"
Alas for Jacqueline! She might conquer herself, but add to herself a second woman against her, and she was beaten. She confessed defeat by throwing off the cloak.
"Tuxtla is far, you think they will—will——"
"Oh I think they will, madame!"
"Say you know they will! Say it, Berthe, say it!"
"Oh, I hope so, madame. Monsieur the American is lucky."
The American? Somehow the blood swept hotly into Jacqueline's cheeks. "Say they will not save him, Berthe. Say no, no, no!" she commanded, and imperiously stamped her foot, but stamp as she would, her furious shame was there still, flaunting its glorious color. She was thinking of her letter, of her avowal to a doomed man. After that, any man was under obligations to get himself shot. Only, this one was of a contrary fibre.
In such an April mood, Jacqueline was capable of yet another caprice. "Berthe," she cried, even as the whim came, "one is tired after playing the goose, n'est-ce pas? Do you, then, rest—yes, yes, while I comb your hair."
"Madame!" Berthe protested with what breath astonishment left her.
"Do ye call me chief?" demanded the mistress. "Then, de grace, sit still! And why shouldn't I, parbleu? If it took our big French Revolution to throw me up an ancestor out of the common kettle, there has just now been another revolution here"—she pressed a hand against her breast—"to stir me back among the people again. Do you know, dear, that your hair is beautiful!"
And so they were two girls, girl-like, passing the evening together.
Of a sudden Jacqueline stopped, the braiding arrested by a most startling thought.
"Grands dieux," she told herself slowly, for it had to be believed, however improbable, "until this very moment I've never once stopped to think of all the emotions I have been having this day. I've never once examined them, and such emotions—Oh, la, la, they're a collection, a veritable museum of creeps! And here I've hurried through that museum, till I've even forgotten my umbrella at the check stand!"
"Quand on est aime d'une belle femme, on se tire toujours d'affaire." —Zoroaster, vide Voltaire
The Storm Centre chafed under a mad desire to verify his name, which was not unusual. But it was the first time he had ever craved active danger as an antidote for his thoughts. The sound of bars lifting came as a relief, and he shook off the dark mood and was himself. Before the door opened, he thrust her letter into the candle flame. He had kept it till the last minute, but now he burned it, as she knew he would.
Instead of executioners, he beheld a tray, gripped by chocolate hands. Involuntarily he looked up to the face above the tray.
"Johnny the Baptist!" he exclaimed. "Well, well, how goes it itself to Your Mercy this evening?"
"Pues bien, senor," returned the Baptist, grinning sheepishly. "Would, would Y'r Mercy like another bath?" The grimace was not unamiable. It betokened that this time he, and not the prisoner, might have a game to play.
"A thousand thanks," replied Driscoll, "but I'll try to make that other bath answer."
"But senor, you wasted it."
"Well, perhaps so. You see, Johnny, it was this way. I had only one bath coming, and on the other hand there were two things to save. Do you know, Johnny, I've been mortified ever since, to think how I squandered my one bath in saving just my life, and how I left my soul to bustle along for itself."
The Baptist drew nearer. "But suppose, senor," he whispered, "suppose the need of absolution was again postponed, even now?"
Driscoll's fork stopped half way to his mouth. There was no superstition in the affair this time. The once gullible Dragoon, moreover, was playing all the leads. "Of course," Driscoll agreed heartily, "I'd certainly like it right well," and he went on eating. But his wits were in a receptive state, alert for the meaning when it should come. The opening innuendoes exasperated him, for the guard was a clumsy agent. The man must needs feign a great dread of discovery, and tremble lest his colonel, Don Miguel Lopez, should find him out. As though supper, instead of a shooting squad, did not belie it all?
"Still your move, Johnny," Driscoll had to remind him.
In the end it was to be gathered that Don Benito Juarez, the fugitive Senor Presidente of the fugitive Republic, might welcome an offer of Confederate aid, and 'twas a pity that the condemned senor should have no chance to escape. But if he did escape, he might find his way to the Senor Presidente far off in the state of Chihuahua.
So, the cards were dealt at last. Driscoll looked over his hand. He recognized a crooked game, a game of treachery and dark dealing; but even so he perceived that a trump or two had fallen to him, perhaps unwittingly, and he decided to "sit in for a spell."
He began, with coy hesitancy, to beat his scruples around the bush, which was not a bad lead. Supposing he turned his offer from Maximilian to President Juarez, wouldn't it, well, look as though he did so to save his hide? Brown Johnny opened his eyes as at something unfamiliar. Driscoll went on. If he were shot, how was he to go to Juarez? But if he, uh, happened to get loose, he might just possibly be influenced to think of the Juarez proposal. But actually buying his way out would look dishonorable. "Now," he concluded abruptly, "run along, and put it that way to whoever sent you."
The man protested, and in some genuine alarm, that he had no employers.
"Oh all right," said Driscoll easily, "then you're bound to help me. Because if you don't, I'll sure tell Lopez what you've just been trying to hatch up here."
The trap worked beautifully, for the guard tried hard to quake. But his fright was not spontaneous enough. Driscoll smiled. Now he knew the real player in the game.
"Cheer up, Johnny," he spoke soothingly, "I'd not tell on you. But hadn't you better go and think it over by yourself a little?"
The Baptist would hasten straight to Lopez, and Lopez, Driscoll foresaw, would interpret his scruples into a disguised acceptance. The crookedness of the game left the American no other trump, and he played it—against immediate death. Lopez, of course, would send him under guard to Juarez, but Driscoll thought he could trust that staunch old Roman, when once informed, to call for a new deck and an honest deal.
Juan Bautista "thought it over" outside, and directly returned with an answer. But when he again left Driscoll, he did not bar the door behind him. Within ten minutes thereafter Driscoll was creeping past a sleeping sentinel, on between rows of maguey, toward the road. Around him hovered five or six shadows. They were to be his escort and take him to Juarez. They would join him openly a safe distance away, at a place where their horses waited. But as he emerged upon the road, for the moment alone, a voice in French challenged sharply. "Halte-la!"
The shadows hesitated an instant, then showed themselves with energy. They sprang out and closed on their "escaped" prisoner. They handled him more roughly than did the Contra Guerrillas, who had first cried "Halt," and who were now appearing as by magic. The blended anger and gratification of the shadows over the escape and recapture was vociferously sincere.
"Take them all, mes enfants," a huge tone of command filled the darkness. It was Colonel Dupin. He had that moment arrived. Jacqueline's message had reached him in the City not an hour before. The American had escaped, it said; he was at Tuxtla. The Tiger, knowing nothing of Lopez lying in wait for the same American at the same place, had dismounted his men, surrounded town and farms, and was closing in, when Driscoll himself fell among them.
The interview between Dupin and Lopez brewed stormy at first. The latter turned gray under his ruddy skin when Dupin walked in upon him in the front room of the farmhouse. But seeing that his own men were holding Driscoll, he nervously congratulated them upon the capture.
"How did he escape this second time?" demanded the Frenchman. "It seems to me, mon colonel, that the question would occur to you too."
Lopez was sufficiently alive to his peril. He quickly sent two Dragoons to the temporary guard house to investigate. Dupin curtly ordered two Cossacks to accompany them. Soon they brought back the sentinel who had been conveniently asleep when Driscoll slipped past. The sentinel rubbed his eyes as he faced Lopez. So far everything had passed according to arrangement, and he looked for a severe mock examination. But the Tiger had been left out of the calculations, and the Tiger forthwith shouldered himself into the inquisition.
"Do you understand, Colonel Lopez, that your guard here was asleep? Si, senor, asleep! What now, mon colonel, is the little custom as to guards who sleep?"
Lopez glared at the sentinel. It was a fine simulation of outraged discipline, and so life-like that when he spoke of a court martial, the culprit weakened. He opened his mouth. At that Lopez's stern anger became real. He feared the sentinel would tell all he knew.
"Si senor," cried Lopez, "we don't have to be taught, we Mexicans. We shoot them. Here, six of you, out with him! Quick, before he can whine!"
"Go with them," added Dupin quietly to six of his Cossacks.
The sentinel was dragged out. His cries, whether for mercy or not, were smothered first by a sabre belt, and then for all time by musketry. The Cossacks returned and assured their chief that the execution was bona fide. This allayed Dupin's suspicions.
"Permit me to suggest, Colonel Lopez," he said courteously, "that you likewise honor our friend the American. I came from the City to do it myself, but it is a pleasure to give way before your superior vigilance."
It had already occurred to Lopez that Driscoll also might talk. "You are very amiable, Senor Dupin," he replied. "My court martial found him guilty, and as a matter of fact, he would have paid the penalty by now had Your Mercy not arrived. Between us, Colonel Dupin, he will hardly escape a third time."
At his command six of the crack Dragoons stood forth. They were brown, and Mexicans. Lopez bowed to Dupin, who called forth as many Contras. The Contras were of variously hued races, but they were all the Tiger's whelps. The file of Dragoons was jaunty crimson, the other corroded red. Driscoll fell in meekly between them.
"Sacred name of a dog, you are honored, senor!" Dupin exclaimed reprovingly. It angered him when a victim quailed. The present one ought to appreciate, too, that he was answering for two besides himself, for Murguia and Rodrigo, whose escape had wrenched the old warrior's bowels.
The Storm Centre glanced at the picked hussars, at the famously infamous Cossacks, and assented modestly. So plain in gray, he did indeed look colorless among them. The Contra at his elbow was an American, whose brutish, swaggering scowl meant the world to know what a bad man he was. The type gives the decent citizen a mad desire to be bad himself just once, only long enough to prove the tough a contemptible sham. Driscoll's neighbor leered ferociously, that the prisoner flanked by sabres and muskets might respect him and be cowed. Driscoll kept him in mind, and in the tail of his eye.
There was one anxiety for the Storm Centre. If they should bind him! But they had not, he was so docile. And as they marched out the door, he exulted, and could hardly wait. Wouldn't it be a lovely row, though! Just one good, last good time! He did not feel hard toward them, not when they had left off the ropes. He felt that he was to have value received, and all the while he figured out his desperate campaign.
As they passed outside beyond the window's sphere of light, docility changed to whirlwind. A blow with his left, a jerk with his right, and he had the tough's carbine. He swung it between the two files, a grazing circle. He got blows in return, but not a man fired. That was because of the darkness, and a first shot would inspire a wild, general fusillade, endangering them all. As it was, the blows were impartial, except one, which came down with pointed favoritism on the tough's cranium. After that Driscoll helped one side or another, and when they were nicely mixed, he ran. He got as far as the road, but to find a troop of cavalry charging down upon him. Changing ends with the carbine, he fired from the waist at the leader of the new arrivals. This leader dropped his sabre, plunged heavily, and was dragged by the stirrup. Driscoll had not the time to change back to club musket, he used the barrel as such. But being for the instant alone, he was marked out, and Cossacks and Dragoons threw themselves upon him and brought him down.
"It was lovely," he muttered under the heap.
They brought him back to the house, swathed in a mesh of lariats. Lopez awaited them, frothing oaths. Dupin was there too, and he looked an epicure's satisfaction as they stood his victim against the wall. He did not regret the incident, since it had turned porridge into so choice a morsel.
"'Tis you, monsieur," he confessed with rugged grace, "who have honored us."
"Oh, your grandmother!" said Driscoll.
"Well, be patient. It will be all over in a minute more."
The Tiger was, in fact, ordering the shooting squad, when through the open door glittering helmets and excited French and clanking sabres flooded the room. It was still another wondrous uniform for Driscoll, this of the cuirassiers, with so much of brass, and a queue of horse's hair, and loose pantaloons that merged into gigantic black boots. In they strode, an agitated host of bristling moustaches, while outside was the restless sound of many hard breathed horses. The cuirassiers bore their wounded leader, and laid him on the iron bed in the room. But the man struggled to his feet. He called loudly for "Monsieur le Colonel," and only by force, though gentle, could they hold him quiet.
"What is it?" responded both Dupin and Lopez.
"I, I mean the American Colonel. He—he——"
"Hello, Mike!" cried Driscoll.
He could not see for the others, nor move, but he recognized the voice of Michel Ney. He knew, too, that Michel must be the cavalry leader he had just shot. "Darn it, Mike!" he exclaimed, "I'm sorry! But weren't there enough of 'em without you?"
"Monsieur Ney," the Tiger interrupted, "let your men tend you here, and we will be back at once to see what can be done for your hurt. But just now——"
He signed to Lopez, and Cossacks and Dragoons caught up the prisoner and started for the door.
"Wait!" Ney moaned feebly.
"Tonnerre, mon prince, your wound must be paid for, first. Hurry there, Messieurs les Imbeciles!"
"Wait!" Ney gasped. He half raised himself, but sank back with closing eyes. He made a gesture to his breast. All halted as in the presence of death.
"Help him, you there!" cried Driscoll. "Open his coat!"
The cuirassiers, eager, awkward nurses, fluttered round the bed, and tore away the sky-blue jacket, thinking to find the wound beneath. Instead, they drew out a paper. One of them read the address on it.
"Al Senor Coronel Don Miguel Lopez."
Lopez broke the seal, frowned, and put the message in his pocket. "Nothing—oh, nothing important," he volunteered. "Now, once for all, let us finish our work."
"Wait!" a faint whisper came from the bed.
"He says to wait," doggedly repeated a cuirassier.
"Yes, wait," Driscoll pleaded suddenly. "Just a minute, before I go, before we both go, perhaps,"—he thought in a flash that it might be a last word from Jacqueline—"perhaps, gentlemen, he, he has something to tell me."
But Ney's head, moving weakly on the pillow, was a negative.
The prisoner's voice grew firm again.
"Then hurry up!" he ordered in the old querulous drawl. "Don't you know I'm in a hurry?"
Ney opened his eyes as he heard the shuffling of feet. Men were carrying out the prisoner. With feeble anger he brushed aside the hand of a cuirassier who was trying to staunch the blood at his groin.
"I—I——" His lips barely moved.
The cuirassier sprang to his feet. He looked to his fellows, spoke to them. Puzzled, mystified, they rushed to the door and barred the way.
"We don't know why we came," stammered one, "and he can't speak. But his signs are enough for us. It's, it's——"
"It's something to do with the American," declared a second cuirassier.
Dupin pounded back his half unsheathed blade. Brusquely he wheeled and faced the colonel of Dragoons. "Lopez," he roared, "what was that message?"
"N-nothing, mi coronel, absolutely."
"If it was from Maximilian, I'd know it to be a pardon, and not blame you. But I recognized the marshal's seal, and that's different."
Lopez blanched, yet insisted again that the message was nothing. "Besides, senor," he added, "I do not take orders from His Excellency, the marshal."
"But I do," thundered Dupin. "And I see them obeyed too. Oh, you can protest to your Emperor afterwards, my royal guardsman, if you want to, but a marshal of France is the law when I am near."
Grunting contemptuously, Dupin turned to the bedside. The cuirassiers had gathered cobwebs from the rafters, and were dressing the wound. Michel tossed and groaned in the beginning of delirium. Dupin muttered with vexation, but he took hold of the lad's wrist, and firmly closed his hand over it.
"Listen," he said, very distinctly, putting into his tones every timbre of quiet, compelling will. "Listen, hear me!"
Slowly the feverish man grew still.
"Hear me," said Dupin. "There are two questions—two, only two. You are to answer them.—You will shake your head, 'Yes,' or 'No'—do you hear me?"
The Chasseur's eyes opened wide, and they were calm.
"Good, that's the brave gentleman! Now then, steady. The first question: Shall we shoot this American?"
Slowly, painfully, the head rocked on the pillow, from one side to the other.
"It's 'No'!" cried a score of men.
"Silence!" roared the Tiger. "Now, the second question: Does this order come from Marshal Bazaine?"
Michel's chin sank to his breast. He groaned, he could not lift it again.
"Yes, thank——" Ney himself, his voice!
Dupin swung round. "Colonel Lopez," he ordered savagely, "you will turn your prisoner over to Sergeant Ney, at once, sir! Open your mouth, you dog, and every Dragooning dandy of a Mexican among you——"
The Tiger's pistols were drawn. His whelps looked hopeful. The cuirassiers bristled in sympathy.
Cracking his finger nails, fawning to the marrow, Lopez agreed.
"Unbind the prisoner," ordered Dupin.
"Thank God!" came faintly from the bed.
THE WHISPER OF THE SPHINX
"La politique, premiere des sciences inexactes." —Emile Augier.
Jacqueline had divined in Bazaine another obstacle to her mission. And yet it seemed preposterous that he should not be her staunchest ally, since Napoleon had found a marshal's baton for him in his knapsack, just as he had transformed his own policeman's club into a sceptre. Nevertheless Jacqueline had her doubts, and they were homage to her sex. In other words, she returned to Mexico to find that His Excellency had married again.
The very day after her arrival she called to see her dear friend, now Madame la Marechale. The two women were hardly more than girls, but who shall fathom the depth of their guile? They kissed each other affectionately on the cheek, and while the marshal was in the other room, reading the packet Jacqueline had brought him from Napoleon, they expressed earnestly their joy at meeting again.
When Bazaine returned, madame rose to leave them to their "stupid state affairs." The marshal smiled, knowing how ravenous was his bride for the same stupid affairs of state, but Jacqueline agreed that indeed they were wearisome. Of course she might tell His Excellency much about Paris, but as to politics—and her little shrug bespoke a Sahara of ignorance.
In the packet delivered by Jacqueline, the Sphinx had by no means turned oracle, and Bazaine wished to know what his crafty master would have said between the lines. But the first topic of their conference was Driscoll.
"Your prisoner is incommunicado then?" said she.
"Have no fears, he is comfortable, here in this very house?"
"He has sent no word to Maximilian of his arrival?"
"Not as yet, mademoiselle."
"And why not, pray?"
"Because I anticipated the honor of seeing you before permitting him so much. I must know the campaign better. A plain soldier is dense at guessing, mademoiselle, while you—you have talked with Napoleon. If——"
"Oh, don't be tedious. You alone hold the knight that means royalty triumphant or checkmated, and you know that you do."
"But you who are inspired, tell me how I shall play."
"You forget that I left this man to be shot?"
"Then I am to destroy him?"
Jacqueline shuddered. "That was my only way, but you, monsieur, you can lift him off the board entirely."
Bazaine rose from his chair and stood before her. "I am no poet," he said, "and these flowers of speech hide the trenches. My American means that I may have thousands more like him, and he is a good one to be multiplied even tenfold. Mademoiselle, what am I to understand?"
"Does Napoleon's letter satisfy none of your doubts?"
Without a word he handed her the packet. It was from Napoleon's minister of finance, and it exuded woe. The French loans were exhausted by Maximilian's luxury and mismanagement, and therefore Bazaine was instructed not to advance a cent further. He was, moreover, to take charge of the Mexican ports, and administer the customs. Here, then, was the annihilation of Maximilian's sway. Here was the whispering of the Sphinx. France herself would take over the Empire.
"Hardly," returned the marshal, "but we will frighten His Majesty into bettering his finances," and he handed her a confidential missive that had accompanied the other. Bazaine was therein authorized, when the security of the Mexican Empire absolutely demanded it, to advance ten millions of francs.
Jacqueline sank back disheartened. Not even Napoleon would help her. The Sphinx had not the courage of his own designs, and she contemptuously flung him out of her way. She would strive alone, and against him, Napoleon, among the rest. First of all, there was his captain general, the man before her.
"Monsieur le Marechal," she began, as impersonally as though quoting a dry paragraph of history, "there is a party among the Mexicans who fear the republicans and what the Republic would do. Yet their hope for the Empire is gone, and they want no more of it. These, monsieur, are the moderate liberals, and strange to say, they are the clericals too; in a word, the great landowners. They are for what is good in Mexico. They demand order. But they would not take it from the United States. They look to France—to France, which is Catholic, and liberal."
"I know," said the marshal. "They have already hinted at annexation."
"Annexation to France, of course. Now then, monsieur, if we stay at all, we shall have to fight the United States. But do you imagine that we would undertake such a fight for Maximilian? Parbleu, the French people would mob Napoleon over night. But, supposing we were to do it for ourselves, and not for an impecunious archduke——"
His Excellency's eyes blazed. "Ah, it would be a fight superb!"
"And you commanding, Monsieur le Marechal. And behind you, with our own pantalons rouges, those Confederates against their old enemies. Then would be the moment to set your knight on the chess board. And," she added insidiously, "France would need a viceroy over here."
The plain soldier started as though shot.
"Mademoiselle," he gasped, "you—you are Napoleon! The great Napoleon, I salute you, mademoiselle!"
"Helas, monsieur, that I am not in a position to credit Napoleon III. with what I have said!"
"Yet you wish me to believe that you are only inspired by him? Pardon me, mademoiselle, but he is the inspired one, and—mon Dieu, I do not blame him!"
"But it's very simple," said Jacqueline, "and honorable too. Maximilian's bad faith nullifies our treaty with him. Tres bien, we are free, free to withdraw our troops. At least we may threaten as much. Then he will, he must abdicate, unless—well, unless he first sees Your Excellency's prisoner."
She arose, feeling that she was leaving a good Frenchman behind her. But Madame la Marechale appeared to bid her adieu, and Madame la Marechale looked sharply from one to another, noting especially Bazaine's flush of enthusiasm. The good Frenchman straightway became uneasy. And Jacqueline, riding back to Chapultepec in her carriage with its coronet and arms and footmen, did not know that Driscoll had not been incommunicado against Madame la Marechale. Who could be? And Madame la Marechale betimes had paid her respects to a third woman, who also was but little more than a girl. She and the Empress Charlotte had discussed both the prisoner and Jacqueline.
"Receive then this young hero with all becoming state; 'Twere ill advis'd to merit so fierce a champion's hate." —Nibelungenlied.
In his bedroom at Buena Vista, the marshal's residence, Driscoll the next day received a personage, and offered him a cigar. Declined, with bow from shoulder. Hoped he would have a nip of peach brandy? Declined, with sweep from hips. He was a personage. Driscoll noted regalia, medals, cordon; and apologized for the temerity of Missouri hospitality.
"Especially," he said, "as you're a Grand Divinity."
"Dignity, senor," the hidalgo corrected him, "Grand Dignity."
"You'll have to pardon me again," said Driscoll, "but I really didn't intend any short measure at all."
It was the Imperial Grand Chamberlain himself. There were no incomunicado doors before him; he came from the Emperor. The Empress had spoken to His Majesty, having just had her discussion aforementioned with Madame la Marechale, so that Monsieur le Marechal had had to lift from his prisoner the ban of the incomunicado. But monsieur had been extremely reluctant about it.
The Chamberlain's name went well with his exalted fourth degree of proximity to the throne. It was Velasquez de Leon, a very bristling of Castilian pride. He looked over the battered American in homespun gray, and wondered where the mistake was. For, as arbiter of precedence, appraiser of inequality between men, and supervisor over court functions generally, he had been sent in the way of business. Driscoll felt sorry for him.
"Just tell them to let me out of here," said the prisoner, "then I'll call in on the Emperor whenever it's convenient for him."
"But, senor," the don objected testily, "with what status, pray? Has your country a representative here? You must obtain a letter from your ambassador, or have him present you."
Driscoll shook his head. "Can't," he said, "haven't any country."
The minion of etiquette despaired.
"But," Driscoll added, "I've got as good as credentials from what used to be my country."
Velasquez de Leon grasped at the straw. "Then," he cried, "we can register you as an ambassador."
"Bringing my country with me," Driscoll suggested.
So it was all straightened out pleasantly, and quite in the orthodox manner, too. The American's status was defined. His reception would fall under the rubric: "Private Audience." There remained only one grave drawback. The protocol allowed no hints as to the un-protocol aspect of an ambassador's wardrobe. The hidalgo could only finger nervously the Imperial Crown in his Grand Uniform, and with stiff dignity take his leave.
The ambassador who was his own country rode in the marshal's landau to court, with a retinue of Lancers that was also his guard. Soon they entered the Paseo, which Maximilian was making beautiful at inordinate cost as a link between the City and his summer palace, the alcazar of Chapultepec. Turning into the wide, stately boulevard, Driscoll was that moment plunged into an eddying splendor of Europe transplanted, and he blinked his eyes, half humorously. There were mettlesome steeds, and coaches with a high polish, and silver weighted harness, and the insolence of livery, and armorial bearings, and the gilt of coronets on carriage panels. There were silk hats and peaked sombreros, lace mantillas and Parisian bonnets. A lavish use of French money was doing these things, and the Mexicans, believing in their aristocracy since the revival of titles never heard of in Gotha, believed also that such brilliancy of display made their capital the peer of Vienna, or of the Quartier St. Germain. The Mexicans were very happy and arrogant over it.
"I wonder how they can fight and yet keep their clothes so pretty," thought the Missourian.
The gallant carpet-knighthood of uniforms was bothering him again. They were dashing, militant, these paladins, a bal masque of luxurious oddity and color. They twisted waxed moustaches, and their coursers cantered to and fro in the gay parade, and among them only the charro cavaliers with a glitter of spangle let one guess that this could be Mexico. There was the Austrian dragoon with his Tyrolean feather, and the Polish uhlan, fur fringed, and the Hungarian hussar, whose pelisse dangled romantically, and there were some fellows in low boots and tights and high busbies, who were cross-braided on the chest and scroll-embroidered on the front of the leg, and looked exactly like Tzigane bandmasters or lion tamers. The Slav, the Magyar, the Czech, and yet others of the Emperor's score of native races, all were here out of the nearer Orient, with curved swords and ferocious bearing. There were the countrymen of the Empress, too; the Belgians, who were as bedecked of sleeve as a drum corps. And as to the French, there they were in green and silver, in sky blue, in cuirassier helmets, in the zouave fez, or in any of the other ways in which they bore their chips on the shoulder.
Shelby's ragged Missourians had tossed on straw for the lack of quinine, and yet were presuming to save this gorgeous empire of golden spurred gentlemen. The thought of his mission gave Driscoll an ironic twinge.
But there was the pantalon rouge, the little soldier boy of France who did the work, and the sight of him put the American into a friendly humor. He was everywhere, the little pantalon rouge, streaming the walks, dotting the cafes with red, and every wee piou-piou under the great big epaulettes of a great big comic opera generalissimo. His huge military coat fitted him awkwardly, and the crimson pompon cocked on his little fighting kepi was more often awry, and he could not by any effort achieve a strut. He was only bon enfant, this unconquered soldier lad; so he gave over trying to be martial, and left to his officers the role of the Gallic rooster, taking it all as a droll joke on himself, while his vivacious eyes danced with fun.
The ambassador's coach passed under the cypresses and wound round the Aztec hill of the Grasshopper, and came at last to the castle on the summit. And as Guatemotzin had once ventured to this place to plead with Moctezuma to save his empire, and to show him how to do it, so Driscoll now entered the portals of Chapultepec on a very similar errand.
The superb Indian lord was never so hedged in with barbaric ceremony as was his Teuton successor of three centuries later. But Driscoll was patient. He advanced as the red tape gave way, humming under his breath "Green Grows the Grass," a schottische which the American invaders of '48 had sung in taking this same fortress, which also had given all Americans the name of "Gringo."
Guardias Palatinas saluted the Missourian at the entrance. Two Secretaries of Ceremony, Grand Uniform, with cordon and the Imperial eagle, bowed before him in the Gran Patio. One stepped to his right, the other to his left, with all the ceremony of which they were secretaries, and the three walked abreast the length of the Galeria de Iturbide, where they were joined by the Lesser Service of Honor. Thus, swelling by cumulative degrees of impressiveness, Trooper Driscoll came at last into the Sala de Audiencias, and gazed with admiration at its beautiful Gobelin suite.
The Emperor was there, tall, white browed, refined. He bowed. Driscoll bowed, and started toward him, for they were scarcely in speaking distance. But His Imperial Highness bowed again. He was absent-minded, evidently, but Driscoll bowed also, and pretended not to notice. Then yet a third time the monarch bowed. And with true courtesy the American overlooked what was growing ridiculous, and did likewise. Thus the ritualistic three obeisances were accomplished.
Maximilian dismissed the Lesser Service, and he and his guest were alone. Now Driscoll supposed, considering the discommoding interest his mission had awakened in everybody except in the Emperor, that the Emperor himself would this time be concerned enough to "get down to business." But not so. There were yet the formalities.
"I understand, Senor Embajador," Maximilian began in the language of his court, "that Your Excellency——"
"Thank you, sir, but my name is Driscoll."
"That Your Excellency comes accredited from a government that no longer exists. But We will waive that, since the said power existed at the moment of Your Excellency's departure."
This was to harmonize the absurdity with the Ritual. Maximilian liked to play at receiving an American representative. It grieved him sorely that the United States had never recognized his dignity, but that it had consistently rated him as merely "the Prince Maximilian."
Driscoll's first words cut short the make-believe.
"You'd hardly call them credentials," he said. "Our president, it is true, helped me on my way, but I have nothing from him to you. And yet I bring more than Mr. Jefferson Davis could send. Here," and he produced the memorandum from the Confederate generals of the Trans-Mississippi department, which in his belt Jacqueline had had restored to him with his other effects.
Maximilian took the note handed him, but stared at the emissary. Charlotte had induced the monarch to grant the audience. She had hinted at its importance, but not until now did Maximilian recognize his guest. Driscoll was attired in the full uniform of a lieutenant colonel of cavalry, which, by the way, was what he had carried so jealously in the bundle behind his saddle. From the dignified young officer in gray back to the desperado young giant in homespun proved considerable of a reach for the Hapsburg; but at last, by virtue of much caressing of his silky beard with delicate finger tips, he arrived.
"So, it was you the marshal saved!" he exclaimed. "Yes, yes, I should have remembered sooner. Colonel Lopez told me. A capable, faithful officer, is Lopez! I could not but approve the finding of his court martial. And yet, against his urgent advice, I have decided to pardon you."
"To apologize, you mean?"
The Emperor looked hurt. As a foil for his royal clemency, there should be humble gratitude. Maximilian often mistook fawning for such.
"Isn't it a bit odd," Driscoll queried whimsically, "that an ambassador should be arrested?"
"Jove, that's a fact! I hadn't thought."
"Certainly. But if it don't occur again, we'll just let the apology go."
"No, no," protested the monarch. "You must have your apology. You will receive it from the Grand Chamberlain to-morrow, and it will appear in the Journal Officiel."
"Oh, all right," said Driscoll, "anything to clear the way." Whereupon he plunged and stated his business.
With debonair Prince Max it was not a question of even who talked best. It was who talked last. And Driscoll, being for the moment an exhorter of both descriptions, drove home conviction as a sabre point. He spoke bluntly, earnestly; and, at the scent of opposition, he spoke fiercely. The South was defeated, he said, and the North would now make good its threat to drive out the French. And the French would go, too. Suppose they were even willing to undertake a great war for Maximilian, yet they would go just the same. And why? Because they had fought the Russians. They had fought the Austrians. And they were keeping the Italians out of Rome to help the Pope. So they had not a friend left, not one, to help them against the enemy they must soon fight, which was Prussia. Consequently they would draw every bayonet out of Mexico, and Maximilian would be left alone to face his rebels. But Maximilian could not face the rebels alone. They had been dominant before the French came. To replace thirty thousand French, Driscoll offered fifty thousand Southerners, fifty thousand well-equipped, splendid veterans. Twenty-five thousand were already on the frontier, he meaning those under General Slaughter at Brownsville, and Shelby and the others were not far behind.
"But," said Maximilian, smiling bitterly, "you forget that the United States would still object to my poor Empire."
"Not when the French leave, they wouldn't. We would become citizens. We would not be a foreign intervention. You would be backed up by Mexicans against Mexicans, and the North could not interfere. But, suppose that the French remain, wouldn't they have to fight? And they would need our aid to do it, too. Don't you see, sir, that in any case you should make us very welcome?"
"There is assuredly no other way to look at it!" admitted the prince uneasily.
Dreaming himself a monarch of chivalry days, Maximilian was subtly enthralled by the idea of a band of heroes flocking to his standard, their swords on high. Stouter than those warriors who had helped Siegfried to his bride, they would hold for him a treasure greater than that under the Rhine. Themselves and their children forever, they would be the real mainstay of the dynasty founded by Maximilian the Great. They were Anglo-Saxons, Germanic, his own kindred, and to him they came for new homes and a new country. They would be his landed gentry, his barons, his hidalgos. It was a prospect for an emperor; above all, for a poet emperor. As he looked now on the young Confederate officer, on him who had seemed a desperado, Maximilian thought that here stood one who was the instrument of Destiny.
"Can—can they really come?" he demanded breathlessly.
Driscoll smiled. "Of course, there's no time to lose," he replied. "For instance, if I'd had your answer there at Murguia's ranch, I'd have gotten back in time to head off whole regiments who've probably given up their arms since then. But you can still count on an army west of the Mississippi that hasn't surrendered yet. At least my general hasn't, not Old Joe, and he won't either. But you must say 'yes' pretty quick. We're restless, and might conclude to run the French out of here. We haven't forgotten how Napoleon forgot to help us."
It was a cunning stroke. Maximilian would have asked nothing better than independence from his "dear imperial brother," and just this was the bribe so temptingly held out by the instrument of Destiny. But the Hapsburg of the heavy, trembling underlip credited wavering as statesmanlike prudence.
"To-morrow," he said, "no, the day after, you shall have my decision."
Jacqueline witnessed the ambassador's departure. Hidden among the roses of the fortress rock, where she sat with a book, she peeped out as he came down the steps to the marshal's landau. The glacial Secretaries of Ceremony flanked him on either side, and the statuesque Palatine Guards saluted. She could not be mistaken, the corners of his mouth were twitching. It was such an inimitable commentary on the Ritual that she had much to do not to dart out and laugh with him in gleeful mischief.
Then, she noted his uniform. After the ornate regimentals of all Europe, what a relief was the simple gray! There was the long coat, the belt, the dragoon sabre, the unobtrusive insignia on the collar, and she murmured her verdict advisedly. It was beautiful! Next she noted the man—as though she had not in the first place. His easy frame still had that charm of gaucherie, and the rollicking daredeviltry lurked quiescent in the brown eyes, but enough to recall the rider of fury, her chevalier de Missour-i, plunging through a wall and cloud of dust on a big-boned yellow charger. And though now he was in this beautiful simplicity of gray, she looked in vain for some hint of martial stride or pompous chest.
She wondered for a moment why he had worn the uniform. It signified nothing, since the Confederacy had fallen. Then she understood. He had not surrendered. Nor had those he represented. The gray, for him, still had its reason, and was a power yet; the power to decide an empire's fate. It was the grave dignity of a lost cause; striving, before being doffed forever, to leave behind a new cause. Or, if failing, to accept the lot of surrender. In either case, her chevalier de Missour-i was wearing the dear uniform for the last time. With her keenness for intuition and sympathy, Jacqueline knew. She knew what it must mean. And he looked so strong, so splendid! Her eyes unexpectedly dimmed in tenderness for him.
Driscoll, being now a free man, established himself at a hotel near the diligencia office in the busy Plateros street. He drilled through the following day with tedious waiting for the day after, when he was to have the promised reply. Used to men who knew their own minds, he hoped for strength in this emperor fellow. Then, his mission successful, he would be in the saddle by the next night, perhaps by noon, and hastening toward the border with tidings of homes and more fighting for his comrades of the Old Brigade. But the next morning, even as he was mounting Demijohn to go to Chapultepec, a thin man in riding breeches entered the hotel patio and accosted him.
"I am Monsieur Eloin," the stranger announced in English that could be understood, "of Her Majesty's household. Also aide and secretary in private to the Emperor. I see, you go to horse. It is well, sir. Mine is outside."
"What's the answer?" asked Driscoll. "I'm not up on conundrums."
"It is that we go to Cuernavaca."
"You don't say! Now where's that, and what for?"
"Cuernavaca is His Majesty's country sit-down, about a douzaine of leagues from here. You have not read of this morning the Journal Officiel? Here it is. The court went there yesterday. His Majesty has to need rest."
"But he was to see me to-day! What's the matter with him?"
M. Eloin's brow contracted narrowly, and he shrugged his shoulders. "His Imperial Highness is much worked. He is worse of good health. Her Majesty sought at having him stay, to give you that same-self answer he had promised already. And the Marshal Bazaine, sensible this once, did talk yesterday night before last, after you were there, and beseeched him to accept your offer. And they all beseeched, Her Majesty and Madame la Marechale, and I.—But, what would you?"
"I'm sure I don't know. What the devil——"
"No, not him! But her, sir, her!"
"Why, her. We all talk, argue, beseech; and she, in one little whisper, she only tell His Majesty he has to need that rest—and, poof! off they all go to Cuernavaca, and I know nothing. Her Majesty leave me a note. I bring you it here."
"But who is the 'she?' You don't mean——"
"Yes, we others call her Jacqueline. She did it, against everybody who beseech. But we—how you say?—we fool her, you and me. Come, we are there to-night, at Cuernavaca."
"Just that little girl——" Driscoll murmured wonderingly.
"Der sicherste Weg nicht sehr ungluecklich zu sein ist das Glueck nicht erwarten."—Schopenhauer.
Everybody he met seemed to twist Driscoll's business into a vital personal issue, and it did not take him long to place M. Eloin. The supercilious Belgian of the rancid brow, as Driscoll mentally described him, wanted the perpetuation of the empire, and he wanted it for the very simple reason that the favorite of a realmless prince does not amount to much. Hence he intrigued for the acceptance of Driscoll's offer and for the confusion of Jacqueline.
A small escort of Belgians joined him and Driscoll at the garita, or little customs house, on the edge of the City. Accompanying them was a burly priest with a head shaped like a pear. The padre had very small eyes for so large a man, but they were exceedingly bright and roved adventurously. They would settle with crafty calculation on Eloin time and again, though his manner toward the favorite was always a thing of humble deference.
"His Dutch Holiness from Murgie's!" Driscoll observed to himself.
But there might be an ecclesiastical college along, for all the Missourian cared. His own thoughts were battalions. "When it's over, one way or another," he kept deciding, "I'll speak to her, yes I will! What's there to be afraid of? W'y, she's—only a girl." It might be an unfair advantage, his not dying after the confession in her farewell letter to him, but he would have her, he would have her! The Lord be good to him, he had to have her!
Late in the afternoon they arrived at the quaint old Aztec village of Cuernavaca, which had been the country seat of Cortez, and was now that of a second fair god and a second Hernando. After dismounting at the hotel near the conquistador's palace, Eloin hurried Driscoll across the plaza into the beautiful Italian gardens where Maximilian made his home. At the villa, Charlotte's own residence in the gardens, Eloin had himself announced to Her Majesty. The American reflected that women seemed to have a great deal to do with the reigning business. In the drawing room, the Empress received them.
She was a slender young woman whose lips were thin and proud, whose eyes were dark and lustrous. Her hair was black and very heavy, coiled in the old fashioned style away from a high forehead that was beautifully white. She could not be older than twenty-five, and there was even a girlishness in her bearing. But she had a steadiness of gaze—one eye seemed the least heavy lidded—and there was a firmness to the slightly large mouth, which gave an impression of strong lines to what was really a soft, oval face. Yet the temperament could not be mistaken. She was a woman of acute nerves. She was tensely strung, inordinately sensitive.
Driscoll believed now what he had heard, that the Empire fared better when Charlotte was regent and her lord on a journey. Maximilian dreamed, while she realized. The Hapsburg cadet, gazing over the Adriatic from the marble steps of Miramar, had brooded fondly on what Destiny must hold for him. He would be king of a Poland born again among the nations. Then Louis Napoleon whispered of another throne in the building. Whereupon she began the study of Spanish; she decided her half hesitating spouse to accept, however loftily they both scorned the adventurer who helped them to it.
Carlota, for so the natives called her, amiably greeted the Missourian. She was a woman of tact, and though one Din Driscoll was for her as impersonal a thing as some opportune event, yet events must be neatly turned to account.
"His Majesty and I have discussed your presence in our country, sir," she began in English, "and feeling that he desires to see you again, I requested M. Eloin to bring you to Cuernavaca."
"Why, thank you, ma'am," said Driscoll.
She all but reproved the form of address. But, for her at least, common sense was beginning to prevail. The rigid court punctilio, largely of her own enthusiastic designing, had gone hard with her. Her husband had proved no more than consistent to the medieval revival. He was but true to that old chivalry which distinguished between the divinely fair damsel to be won and the mere woman won already. He was the monarch, she his consort. Classifying others, the Empress found herself classified. He was her liege, and she might not even enter his presence unannounced. But how much happier was she in the blithe sailor prince who came a-wooing, who wooed for love, in accordance with that same ancient chivalry!
A princess of the Blood, of the House of Orleans, Charlotte had had that nicest poise of good breeding, the kind that is unconscious. But here among the Mexicans, she had to proclaim a superiority not taken for granted, and the nice poise was gone. In her the generations—Henry IV., the Grand Monarch, and all of that stately line—in her they stooped. And an element of sheerest vulgarity, as plebeian as a Jew's diamond, crept in perforce. Poor tarnished escutcheon of Orleans! Poor princess of the Blood, become menial with scouring it! She was weary. Over this New World there floated too much of obscuring democratic dust. So she allowed "ma'am," like a homely fleck, to settle unreproved on the ancestral doorplate.
Driven to expediency for her very Empire's sake, she herself trampled on the Ritual. Waiving all formalities, they would go and seek out His Majesty. He must be somewhere in the gardens, perhaps beside the pond with its fringe of deep shadows from the trees. There they expected to find him, breathing the air of orange blossoms, gazing enraptured into the water, and on the gold fish and the swans and the fountains. He would be teasing Nature for a sonnet's inspiration.
Driscoll went ahead, since Carlota and Eloin talked earnestly in French, intent on their plot for the persuasion of the Emperor. But as the American parted a clump of oleanders and laden rosebushes that hid the little lake, he stopped, his eyes wide on something just beyond. In the instant he fell back, and confronted the other two with such a look on his face that both started in vague alarm. They saw the sickened look of one who turns from a revolting sight. A wretch stricken suddenly blind may know at once the fact of a terrible grief, yet he cannot quite at first gather to himself the fullness of the horror. He is only aware that, afterward, the meaning will slowly take shape, like a gradually darkening despair.
Driscoll gazed uncertainly at the Empress, as though she had somehow arrested his thoughts. Then, as a strong man rushing from danger, he comprehended that here was a frail woman near the same peril.
"You will not go, ma'am," he ordered in a kind of terror for her.
Eloin had already hastened on to the screen of roses. Being a fellow of the arras and closets, he scented a royal secret. The Empress lifted her shoulders and would have followed, but Driscoll did not hesitate. He took her by the elbow and gently turned her the other way.
"You must not!" he said again, with that same scared manner on him.
She bridled indignantly, but when she saw how white he was, and how earnest, something there awed her. In a flash she understood. Her lip curled, baring teeth of the purest pearl, and a sneer quivered on the highbred nostrils. But suddenly, in piteous tumult, her breast heaved once, and betrayed the wound. It gave him to know the knighthood which covets blows in a woman's behalf. But she, with a will that held him in admiration and reverence for her, spoke to him, and her tone was even, was unbroken.
"I dare say you are right," she said, and turned to retrace her steps. But, as if to drink deeper of the bitter cup, she paused, and forced herself to a last word.
"I suppose I should thank you," she went on, and her eyes, still dry of tears, were lustrous as they lifted to his, "but a gentleman—and I have never known one more than you, sir, this minute past—will understand that I cannot—There, I am going now. And after—after this that you have just beheld, I shall never see you again, sir. Alas, it's the more pity. Such as you are rare, even in—in my world."
Driscoll watched her blankly as she left him, her head poised high, her step as slow as dignity itself. His own face was cruelly drawn, with the first sickened ghastliness still on him. He stumbled to a bench, and sat down. But there was nothing to think about, nothing he could think about, just then. Yet his brain was full to throbbing, and he had no consciousness of where he was, nor of the passage of time.
THE WOMAN WHO DID NOT HESITATE
"The soul of man is infinite in what it covets."—Ben Jonson.
Stealthily Eloin drew aside the bushes, and peered through. The tiny pond with its crystal surface sunk deep in foliage, its flowering island in the centre, looked not unlike a mirror on a dining table luxuriantly wreathed by garlands. The Belgian stared greedily. He did not see quite what Driscoll had seen, yet he saw enough to draw his brow to a narrowing fold of keenest interest. Jacqueline was seated on the raised edge of the basin, pensively dipping a hand into the water. Her plump wrist showed rosy, like coral, and glancing sideways now and again at a poor agitated prince striding up and down, she looked as she did that day in the small boat, while tempting a shark. As she leaned over, the line of her waist and neck was stately and beautiful; and there were the maddening baby tendrils of soft, glowing copper. Maximilian had evidently found her there, in a reverie perhaps, and was at sight of her lured to some act bold and desirous; for just as evidently, if his flushed face and the way he bit his lip were tokens, he had that moment been repelled. Eloin watched them avidly, the tall archduke pacing up and down, the demure lady seated on the basin's edge.
"It was but the lowly homage of a prince," Maximilian cried out peevishly. Such was his apology.
"Homage of a play-king," she corrected him with exasperating sweetness.
He turned on her angrily. "Why do you say that—a play-king?"
"Whose embassies," she proceeded calmly, "cringe for recognition. Like beggars they prowl about that White House at Washington, yet never cross the threshold."
Maximilian was too amazed for denial. "How do you know?" he exclaimed.
"While at the same time," she went on, "the same neighbor receives the minister of the Mexican republic, and sends one in turn. But no matter. The marionettes of empire can dance, so long as Napoleon holds the strings. Was the princely homage a make-believe, too?"
"But—but, if I should convince you, mademoiselle, that the majesty which only asks to kneel is genuine?"
Her eyelids narrowed, and she looked at him with the oddest smile.
"You know—sire—that I only ask to be convinced. Where will Your Imperial Highness begin?"
"Know then that the American peasant named Lincoln, who would not recognize a Hapsburg, is dead. He has been assassinated. He will no longer encourage our rebels in Mexico."
"That poor gentleman whom you call a peasant," she returned with galling frankness, "was greater than any Hapsburg. He was fifty million people, and one million are still under arms. Your rebels know it. They still cry, 'Viva la Intervencion del Norte!' But go on, sire."
He chafed under her mockery in the title. But sitting there, goading an imaginary shark, she was no less inciting than when he had ventured his caress.
"They are of no consequence," he burst forth, "neither the Americans, nor the dissidents. Your own countrymen, mademoiselle, will, and must, assure my empire."
"H'm'n," she ejaculated, with a quick shrug. "Even the marshal, greatly against his will, has had to inform Your Majesty that we will shortly withdraw."
"Then I shall depend on my subjects alone!"
She contented herself with repeating, "Viva la Intervencion del Norte!" That too, was ample comment as to the loyalty of his subjects. The Emperor paused in his walk. "Alas," he sighed wearily, "a Hapsburg sacrifices himself to regenerate a people, and—they do not appreciate it."
Jacqueline bent her head to hide a smile. She dreamily made rings in the water, and seemed to fall into his mood of poetic melancholy. "A comedietta of an empire," she mused sympathetically, "a harlequinade, nothing more. Grands dieux, I do not wonder that Your Highness finds it unworthy!"
There is no such incense to a man as when he imagines himself understood by a pretty woman.
Yet the temptress now found herself the harder to master. It was the thought of what she must yet do. But she gave her head an impatient toss, and the tears that had come were gone. The lines of her mouth tightened, and the dangerous glint shone in her eyes. "So," she added, almost in a whisper, "you did not mean it, sire, when you offered only a play-empire—to me."
She knew that he started violently, and was looking down at her. But she kept her gaze averted, that he might not see the hard expression there that was merciless for them both. He did see, though, the long lashes, and the warm pink of her forearm, so tantalizing for shark or man.
"These imperial gardens, they are beautiful," she went on softly, "but, helas, they are not the Schoenbrunn. Nor is Chapultepec more than a feeble miniature of the Hofburg. Oh, the wretched farce! The wretched farce, sire, in your pretension to—to honor me! A wooer from the throne, indeed? A straw throne—no, no, I do not like it!"
Then she let him see her eyes. Half raised, half veiled; they held the daring suggestion hidden in her words.
"And if," he cried, "and if we were in the Schoenbrunn——"
"Yes, yes," and she clapped her hands with delight, "yes, where the heroic figures on the crest of the hill are silhouetted against the sky, where——"
"Never mind the heroic figures! But where I shall be really an emperor, the Emperor over Austria, over Hungary. Then, what then? Jeanne—Jacqueline, tell me!"
She had brought him to it. Yet her face clouded pitifully, as that day in the small boat, when she told Ney that a woman might only give. Such a woman too, would be lost for the reason that she would not hesitate. Here was the errand of the Sphinx, and achievement at her hand. Dainty flower of France, yes! But in truth, what was she?
"And then?" she repeated, and the maddening promise in her voice thrilled him. "Why, sire, I suppose that I could not help but listen to you. Yet first," she hastened to add with subtle emphasis, "first, you would have to give up your play kingdom here."
His blue eyes flashed. "I will!" he cried. "It shall be mine, the Roman empire of Charles V. They are tired of my brother Franz. Already they cry out for me. Our mother made an uncle abdicate for him, I will do as much for myself. I will, Jeanne, I will!"
Eloin behind his screen moved uneasily.
"The devil go with her!" the eavesdropper muttered. "She'll have him abdicating himself in another minute. She must be stopped, she must!"
He tiptoed back, and once out of hearing, he ran. He found Driscoll on a bench, slowly passing his fingers through his hair, and staring fixedly at the ground.
"Coom," said Eloin, "coom quick! He is alone. You find your chance. He is that happy, he say yes to anything."
Driscoll got heavily to his feet. There was his mission. For the sake of that, for the sake of comrades depending on him, he would go and once more offer succor to this libertine princelet.
"No, not that way," the Belgian directed. "The path here, it leads the more direct at the pond, so. Quick!" He knew that foliage would hide the couple until Driscoll should turn the corner of the hedge and burst on them squarely. The American hastened down the walk. "A nice surprise, mutual." Eloin chuckled to himself.
Jacqueline did not falter before her victory. She knew that Maximilian rated the Mexican throne as a stepping-stone to another in Europe. She knew of a certain family pact among the Hapsburgs and how it rankled in Maximilian's breast. Therein he had, on accepting the Mexican throne, solemnly renounced all right of inheritance to that of Austro-Hungary. But she knew also that he considered his oath as void, since Franz Josef had forced it on him. Craftily she pictured the Mexican enterprise, how instead of enhancing his prestige at home, it but turned him into a sorry and ridiculous figure. And so she won the child of Destiny. Yet, when in a sudden fervent outburst he came and sat beside her, and would have taken her hand, she still did not falter. Napoleon would have the glory, and she a shame unexplained, but for all that her country would have Mexico. Her country would have Mexico! Would have a vast expanse of empire, greater and more enduring than any won for her by Bonaparte himself.
Nevertheless, she brushed away the gallant's arm with more vigor than her coy role demanded. "No, no," she moaned faintly, "not yet!"
"Not yet, not until I know that you will try to win in Austria, not until—you abdicate here!"
"But, I shall sail this very month, I——"
"And never return, never to Mexico?"
Frankly, then, she placed her hands in his.
That moment Driscoll turned the corner of the hedge, and was before them. He fell back, and reddened as though himself caught in wrongdoing. It was strange how he noted, at such a time, that she was clothed in light blue, in the very dress he had given her. But no, he perceived at once that it was of some delicate silk from Japan. Yet the pattern was so nearly the same. She must have selected it—she had selected it!—with him in mind. And now, against a girl's love so quaintly, shyly revealed, to behold this contrast, her hands there, wantonly surrendered!
Instantly she tore herself free and confronted him.
"Oh, why, why," she cried fiercely, "did you not let them kill you?"
Suddenly her hands flew up to her hot face. "Then," she moaned, "then you would not have lived to see!"
The Emperor stepped between them. Tall, severe, he was cold in anger.
"It's the intrusion of a rowdy, mademoiselle." To Driscoll he said, "Now, go!"
Utterly confused, the trooper turned to obey. But at the first step he swung round, looking as he had never looked in the bloodiest of cavalry charges.
"I am here for your answer, sir," he said.
"Answer? What answer, fellow?"
Driscoll breathed once, he breathed twice, and yet again. It may be he counted them. Then he spoke.
"You understand, of course, that I might call you a puppy? Or break you over my knee? But I've got something harder on hand. It's to make you honor your promise. I've ridden forty miles for what you were to give me six hours ago at Chapultepec. Now then, shall I bring the men to save your empire? Think well. You need not take the question from me. Take it from them, from an army of fifty thousand men. Now, answer! And remember, you can save your empire."
"Save my empire?" Maximilian repeated the words.
There was a reluctant note in the query. Jacqueline heard. And the bravest act of her life was when she raised her head and faced her shame, with him to see. She must begin her fight all over again.
"Yes, your play empire, sire," she said, wielding two weapons, the mockery in her voice, the seduction of her eyes.
Driscoll saw his cause forlorn against eyes like those.
"It's unfair!" he protested involuntarily.
She turned on him in defiance. "It is not unfair! And you, monsieur, of all men, know that it is not. You, and you alone, know what I, what I would give—what I tried to give—that I might win in this!"
He could not help a thrill of admiration. She was battling against all men and women to change the destinies of two continents.
"W'y, I take it back then," he said.
She stared at him in wonder, and drew farther away. It was his tone, altered as she could never have thought possible, nor had she known that aught on earth might hurt her so. She heard a decent man addressing some unavoidable word to a strumpet. All vestige of respect was gone, gone unconsciously, except that respect for himself which would not allow that the word be coarse or an insult. She looked in vain, too, for a trace of anger. Once she had sought to kill him, but that had not changed his big heart. While now! How much—oh, how much easier—was that other sacrifice of hers than this!
"Perhaps, sir," she found the strength to say, "perhaps I have even, in my humble opinion, favored the acceptance of your offer. But His Majesty knows far better than I under what conditions he might accept."
Driscoll turned to Maximilian direct. "Name them."
"There is but one. We cannot give refuge to the enemies of the United States——"
"Therefore, to avoid complications, your men must lay down their arms on entering Mexico. Then we would deliver the arms to the United States on their recognizing Our Empire——"
"Trade us off, you mean?"
"Or, in case the United States still held aloof, then, as citizens of Mexico, you could take up your arms again."
Driscoll looked at Jacqueline. She, the inspiration of such a condition, knew quite well beforehand that he would not submit.
"This is final, is it?" he demanded.
"It is, because We cannot provoke war with the United States, but," Maximilian urged querulously, "you have only to surrender your swords."
"After refusing them to the Federals, to the men who fought for them? And now we are to give them up to a pack of——" Driscoll stopped short and took another breath. "By God, sir, no sir!" he cried.
A SPONSOR FOR THE FAT PADRE
"Every man is as heaven made him, and sometimes a great deal worse." —Cervantes.
When Driscoll had gone, Jacqueline would not linger. Maximilian sought to detain her, but something had happened that he could not fathom. She was no more the same person.
"Not even a token to bid me be brave so far away in Austria?" he pleaded.
"There have been tokens enough," she returned shortly. "I ask Your Majesty's leave. Good-night."
She gained her room, and worked till late on a cipher dispatch to Napoleon. Its purport was, that now, if ever, Maximilian must be discouraged absolutely. Following on what she herself had done, such would bring his abdication. She implored, above all things, that Bazaine be kept from meddling, from extending false hopes. Poor girl, after what it had cost, she was passionately bent on success. A courier took her packet to the City the next day, whence the message was to be sped to Paris.
"That foolish Prince Max," she thought, "if he does give it up and go, I am really saving him from terrible sorrow. But, who will save me from mine, I wonder? Mine, that is come already! God in Heaven cannot."
Maximilian had watched her as she left him, till her stately girlish figure was lost in the dusk under the trees. Then with a sigh he turned away. At the villa he found his wife. She was seated apart from her maids, and Eloin was talking to her, in tones low and swift. Charlotte only half listened. Her agitation was nearly hysterical. Her eyes gleamed wildly, and sometimes they would close, as though they ached for the soothing that tears might bring.
"Who," demanded Maximilian, "has had the presumption to introduce a spy on these grounds?"
Eloin glanced quickly at the Empress. "A spy, sire?" he said uneasily.
"I mean that American, sir. But shall I ask the sentinels at the gate?"
"That, Ferdinand," Charlotte interposed icily, "is not necessary. Monsieur Eloin, at my command, brought the American here. You should know why."
"To save my play-empire, I suppose?"
"An empire," she cried, catching up the word the more hotly because she knew it to be Jacqueline's own gage of battle, "an empire, August Sire, to be gained by fighting, as your forefathers, as mine, won theirs. And that is nobler, I suppose, than puny inheritance. I do not know what the Hapsburg may be fallen to, but a daughter of Orleans still has the right to expect a crown from her husband. If not, she is unworthily mated."
Maximilian thought of that other empire, which that other temptress exacted of him. It seemed that he had many realms to conquer. But the grimmest humor of all was that he blithely imagined himself capable of satisfying the whims, not of one woman, but of two. Deluded Prince Max!
But the Emperor was not there to discuss empire building, much less to face the tigerish light in his lady's eyes.
"Monsieur Eloin," he said, "this is my first personal complaint against you, but there have been others, long, insistent ones, from French and Mexicans alike. You lose me my friends, sir, however I assure them that you have not the slightest influence over my policy. So, after the awkward intrusion of to-day, I am resolved that you had best leave us."
"Your Majesty desires——"
"That you leave the country at once, Monsieur Eloin."
"But," protested Charlotte, "that is open disgrace. At least cover it with the pretext of some mission."
The downcast courtier took heart. Watching his master with narrowed sycophant eyes, he said, "But it need not be a pretext, sire. Since I must leave Your Highness, permit me, then, to find my mission, and one in which I can still serve my sovereign, though in spite of himself."
Imperceptibly Maximilian fell under the spell of the old fawning.
"And what mission could that be, my good friend?"
"To feel the Austrian pulse, sire. To know when the time is ripe, to hasten the time——"
"The time for what?"
"For Your Majesty's return. Even now the unpopularity of His Imperial Highness, Franz——"
"Eloin!" Maximilian stopped him sharply. But he could not hide the flash of his own blue eyes.
"What would Your Majesty? In Vienna, in Budapest, in your own Venetia, sire, they long for you; at least as regent till the crown prince shall come of age. Would you rebuke them also, as you do me?"
Charlotte stared at the Belgian in amazement and distrust. He had only just warned her how Jacqueline had kindled Maximilian's Austrian hopes in order to get him out of Mexico, and here he was borrowing that woman's guile. And here was Maximilian, too, softening under the enervating blandishment, softening behind his frowns for the officious meddler.
"There, there, Eloin," he said, "you know that I must be inexorable. But in the Journal Officiel it will appear that you are gone on a secret mission, though you have no mission at all. None at all, do you understand, sir?"
Eloin protested that he understood.
"None," repeated the Emperor, "except to win back my confidence. When you have taken leave of Her Majesty, you may come to my cabinet to bid me farewell."
As Maximilian left them, Charlotte turned on the favorite. "Indeed, Monsieur Eloin?" she said in utter scorn.
"But, Your Majesty——"
"Is Napoleon, then, so liberal a paymaster?"
"Your Majesty!" and in genuine distress the courtier hurried on. "If you would listen, Madame! 'Tis true that Jeanne d'Aumerle has found the surest lever to pry His Highness out of Mexico——"
"So good a lever, that you would use it too, to topple over my throne."
"Not so, Madame. It's a cunning lever, yes; but I shall use another fulcrum."
"Really, monsieur, if I were in the mood for riddles and such pretty trifles, I'd ask you to favor Us with a chansonnette."
"But this is as plain as day. First, our little intrigante knows that if His Majesty tries for the Austrian throne, he must leave Mexico. That is her lever to move him. But suppose we shift it to my fulcrum. Then, whatever encourages his hopes for Austria, will make him but the more determined to cling to Mexico. For to succeed in Austria, he must triumph first in Mexico. He must prove to Europe that he can reign brilliantly. But if he abandons Mexico, as Jacqueline would persuade him, what of his prestige then? What of his glory to dazzle the Austrians? If Your Majesty would suggest to him this phase——"
"And you, meanwhile in Europe?"
"Oh, I shall find his chances good over there, but conditional on his success here."
"Monsieur Eloin, I find that I must congratulate you. More, I even regret that you are going, for I dread that some other will replace you in favor with the Emperor who——"
"Who may not be in accord with our views, Your Majesty would say? But if you will permit, Madame, I believe I know quite a different man. Moreover, he has already made an impression on His Highness, during our brief stay at an hacienda in the Huasteca. Now he is here. I brought him to commend as a future loyal follower."
"Pray, who is the paragon?"
"A priest, Madame, a German priest, who perhaps would not refuse the Bishopric of Durango. The hope of that rich see would insure his devotion. His name is Fischer. He is a clerical, he is an imperialist, he is resourceful. Our Jacqueline will have much to do to outwit him. This corpulent padre, Madame, would wheedle the sulky pope himself into a good humor with us. If I might venture so far as to present him before——"
"Oh, I suppose so," said Charlotte wearily.
THE ROSE THAT WAS A THORN IN THE LAND OF ROSES
"The rugged battle of fate, where strength is born." —Emerson.
"... and should a man full of talk be justified?"—Book of Job.
At the hotel in the City of Mexico where Driscoll stopped, the entrance was big enough for a stage coach to drive through. But as to height, it did not seem any too great for the attenuation of Mr. Daniel Boone, who therein had propped himself at his ease, delightfully suggesting a tropical gentleman lounging on a veranda under the live oaks. One shoulder was impinged on the casing of the archway, from which contact his spare frame drifted out and downward, to the supporting base of one boot sole. The other boot crossed it over, and the edge of the toe rested on the pavement of the Calle de los Plateros, familiarly so-called.
Mr. Boone hailed from Boonville, but in Missouri, with Kentucky for ancestral State, such was not a strained coincidence by any means. An individual there of the name of Boone, and a bit of geography likewise distinguished, are bound to fall together occasionally. For instance, a flea's hop over the map, and Mr. Boone and Boonville both might have claimed the county of Boone. Under the circumstances, Daniel's Christian name was the most obviously Christian thing his parents could do, and followed (to precede thereafter) as a matter of course.
Now, Missouri, in the beginning of the Civil War, was a very Flanders for battles, and this sort of thing had ended by disturbing Mr. Boone considerably in the manipulation of an old hand-press, dubbed his Gutenberg, which worked with a lever and required some dozen processes for each impression of the Boonville Semi-Weekly Javelin. Finally, when Joe Shelby and his pack of fire-eaters were raiding Missouri for the second time, Daniel plaintively laid down his stick in the middle of an editorial on Black Republicans, and what should be done to them. The shooting outside had gotten on his nerves at last. That blazing away of Missourians back home made him homesick. He was like the repressed boy called out by the gang to go coasting. And he went. An editorial by example, he went to do unto the Black Republicans somewhat personally. The Javelinier was a young man yet.
"There's been rumors hitherto about the pen and the sword," he mused, "but type, now—that's hot!" Wherewith he emptied his cases into a sack, took down a squirrel rifle, chased off his devil, locked in the Gutenberg, and joined the raiders. Flinging his burden of metal at General Shelby's feet, he said, "There sir, is The Javelin in embryo for months to come. Now it's pi, which we'll sho'ly feed out by the bullet weight, sir."
From then on the newspaper man followed his proclivities and turned scout, and it was a vigilant foe that could scoop him on the least of their movements, whether in the field or in their very stronghold, St. Louis itself.
At the present moment Mr. Boone was retrieving a lost familiarity with good cigars. There was a black one of the Valle Nacional in his mouth, and also in his mouth there was a wisp of straw. The steel-blue smoke floated out lazily, which his steel-blue eyes regarded with appreciation. It was an Elysium of indolence. The cigar, the not having to kill anybody for a few minutes, and a place to lean against, these were content. Troubadour phrases droned soothingly in his brain. Of course he had to apostrophize the snow-clads:
"Popo, out there, grand, towering, whose frosty nose sniffs the vault of heaven, whose mantle of fleecy cloud wraps him as the hoary locks of a giant, whose—Sho', if I had some copy paper now, I'd get you fixed right, you slippery old codger!"
The wisp of straw hardly tallied with poesy of soul, nor did the lank figure and lean face, nor the cavalry uniform, badly worn, though lately new, nor yet the sagging belt with dragoon pistols. But the eyes did. Those eyes held the eloquence of the youth of a race. They were gentle, or they flashed, according to what passed within. It did not matter necessarily what might be going on without. They would as likely dart sparks during prayer meeting, or soften as a lover's mid the charge on a battery. Shaggy moustached Daniel, not yet thirty, was a scholar too, of the true old school, where dead languages lived to consort familiarly with men, and neither had to be buried out of the world because of the comradeship. Once, in Pompeii, Daniel blundered suddenly on that mosaic doormat which bears the warning, "Cave canem"; and before he thought, he glanced anxiously around, half expecting a dog that could have barked at Saint Peter himself. From which it appears that the editor had traveled, and it would not be long in also appearing that he had gathered enough of polite and variegated learning to fill a warehouse, in which junk-shop he was constantly rummaging, and bringing forth queer specimens of speech wherewith to flower his inspirations.
Streaming back and forth before the shops in lively Plateros street were elegance and fashion and display, the languishing beauty of Spain, the brilliancy of the Second Empire, the Teuton's martial strutting, the Mexican's elation that Europe had come to him and with the money to pay for it. The toughened Boone gazed on the bright morning parade of ravishing shoppers and ogling cavaliers with the unterrified innocence of a child, or of an American. He had the air of doing nothing, such as only a newspaper man can have when really at work. He did not look as though he were waiting for some one. But only a half-hour before he had gotten from the saddle. He had just ridden four hundred and fifty miles for the express purpose of waiting for someone now.
Finally the keen, lazy eyes singled out an immense yellow horse and rider from among the luxurious turnouts. "Jack!" he exclaimed gladly. "The Storm Centre," he improvised, as the new comer approached, "straight as Tecumseh, a great bronzed Ajax, mighty thewed, as strong of hand as of digestion—w'y, bless my soul, the boy looks pow'ful dejected, knocked plum' galley-west! I never saw him look like that before."
Man and horse had come all night from Cuernavaca. But Din Driscoll never tired, wherefore Boone knew that something was the matter. At the doorway Driscoll flung himself from the saddle, gave the bridle to a porter of the hotel, and was following, his face the picture of gloom, when he heard the words, "How' yuh, Jack?" His brow cleared in the instant. "Shanks!" he cried, gripping the other's hand.
Mr. Boone untwined his boots and for the first time during a half-hour stood in them. As he shook Driscoll's hand, he shook his own head, and at last observed, in the way of continuing a conversation, "It was the almightiest soaking rain, Din, for the land's sake!" And he shook his head again, quite mournfully.
Driscoll had not seen Mr. Boone since leaving Shelby's camp back in Arkansas. He naturally wished to know what was being talked about. But his woeful friend only kept on, "It wet all Texas, heavier'n a sponge, and," he added, "they ain't coming."
"Shanks! You don't mean——"
"Don't I? But I do. They're a surrendered army. The whole Trans-Mississippi Department of 'em, pretty near. But not quite, bear that in——"
"But the rain? What in——"
"What did you come down here for, I'd like to know? To say how the Trans-Mississippi wouldn't surrender, didn't you? Well?"
"Oh, go on!"
"Well, it rained, I tell you. Didn't it rain before Waterloo? Didn't it now?"
Mr. Boone believed in trouble as an antidote for trouble. When he had stirred Driscoll out of his dejection enough to make him want to fight, he deigned to clear the atmosphere of that befogging downpour in Texas.
"You rec'lect, Din, that there war god we put up in Kirby Smith's place, who so dashingly would lead us on to Mexico?"
"Him, Simon Bolivar B., whose gold lace glittered as though washed by the dew and wiped with the sunshine——"
"Now, Shanks, drop it!" Driscoll was referring to the editorial pen which Mr. Boone would clutch and get firmly in hand with the least rise of emotion. Against his other conversation, the clutching always became at once apparent.
"Anyhow," said Daniel meekly, "he wilted, did our Simon of B. B. calibre, and he gave back the command to Smith. And Smith's first order, his very first order, sir, was that the Department, the whole fifty thousand, should march into Shrevepoht and—and surrender, by thunder!"
"Dan, you're not going to tell me——"
"That we surrendered, we, the Missourians, the flower of 'em all? Now s'pose you just wait till Joe Shelby gets back to us in Arkansas, after that conference with the other generals? Then you'll see what he does. He proclaims things, on wall paper. The Missouri Cavalry Division will march to Shrevepoht, will depose Smith for good, will head off the surrender, will lead the other divisions on to Mexico. And we started to do it too. And then, and then—it rained. Rained, sir, till our trains and guns were mired, and we couldn't budge! And all the time we knew that regiment after regiment was stacking arms off there at Shrevepoht. Did Little Joe rave? Opened Job his mouth? He did. His fluency gave the rain pointers. I sho'ly absorbed some myself, me, that have language tanks of my own. Well, I reckon all our hearts pretty near broke. But we had our Missouri general and our Missouri governor, and the Old Brigade just decided to come along anyhow. And we're a coming, Din, we're a coming!"
Driscoll's face went blank. He thought of the scant welcome his homeless comrades would get. But Mr. Boone did not notice. He had only stretched his canvas, a big one, and there was a picture to paint. His long body began to straighten out, and his eyes glowed. From Xenophon to Irving's Astoria, from Hannibal crossing the Alps to Marching Through Georgia, he ransacked both romance and the classics for adequate tints, but in vain. The colors would have to be of his own mixing.
"Din Driscoll," he began solemnly, "you know that devil breed? Of coh'se, you're one of 'em. You're a chunk of brimstone, yourself. And you'll maybe rec'lect they did some fighting off and on. There was that raw company, f'r instance—boys, hardly a one broke in his yoke of oxen yet—and they hadn't even gotten their firearms, but they took a battery with their naked hands, and got themselves all tangled up in the fiery woof of death. But you'll not be rec'lecting that that there Brigade ever lost a gun. And those raids, Din, back into Missouri, a handful back into the Federal country, when men dozed and dropped from their saddles and still did not wake up, and some went clean daft for want of sleep, and fighting steady all around the clock too, fair and square over into Kansas! And there was the night they buried eight hundred!"
In all this Daniel might have said "We," but reportorial modesty forbade.
"And," he went on, gaining momentum, "I don't reckon you'll be forgetting Arkansas, and the ague and rattlesnakes? And how the small-pox swooped down on that camp of cane shacks? And how the quinine gave out, and—and the tobacco? Lawd!—And how those boys forgot how to sew patches, their rags being so far gone! And how they made bridles out of bark, and coffee out of corn! And how they kneaded dough in old rubber blankets and cooked it on rocks! Well, Jack, there they were, in Arkansas like that, and the War was over at last, and Missouri was just a waiting for 'em. And then, to think that they had to face square around another way entirely! Din, you'll just try to imagine that there devil breed facing any other way except to'ds home!"
"Don't, Shanks, you——"
"Devils? They were the wildest things that are. It's a mighty good thing they didn't go back. Think of their neighbors across the Kansas line, getting ready for 'em with every sort of legal persecution under the sun, and carpet-bag judges to help! Outlaw decrees? Well, I reckon those decrees will make a few outlaws, all right, and there'll be unsurrendered Johnny Rebs ten years from now. Shelby's boys had the look of it. Your own Jackson county regiment would have flared into desperadoes at sight of a United States marshal. They were all in just that sort o' mood, as they turned their backs on Missouri. And after four years, too! But there, it's a stiff wind that has no turning, so cheer up! They did, as soon as that deluge got done with and they were headed for Mexico, one thousand of 'em. Soldiers mus'n't repine, you know. For them, Fate arrays herself in April's capricious sunshine."
Driscoll had to smile. "Careful, there, Dan, don't stampede."
"I ain't, but if now 'I hold my tongue I shall give up the ghost,' and I want to tell you first that Texas is a handsome state. We—they—were considerable interested all the way through it."
"But, Meagre Shanks, where'd you leave 'em?"
"Back in Monterey, drinking champagne with Fat Jenny. Alas, 'who can stay the bottles of heaven?'"
"Now you wait. They've got heaps to do in Texas yet, before they get to Fat Jenny. First, they helped themselves out of their own commissary departments, horses, provisions trains, cannon, everything. Decently uniformed for the first time, and the War over! You should of seen 'em, a forest of Sharpe's carbines, a regular circulating library of Beecher Bibles. There were four Colts and a dragoon sabre and thousands of rounds of ammunition to each man. They had fighting tools to spare, and they cached a lot of the stuff up in the state of Coahuila. And they fed, and got sleek. This ain't editorial, my boy. It's God's own truth. Adventures every step of the way only did 'em good. They saved whole towns from renegade looters by just mentioning Shelby's name. They fought all day and danced all night. San Antone was the best. There they gathered in generals, governors, senators, and even Kirby Smith, all yearning to join Old Joe—our Old Joe, who ain't thirty-four yet."
The speaker paused, and when he began again, there was a light ominous of inspiration in his eyes.
"At the Rio Grande," he said, solemnly, "they crossed out of the Confederacy forever, so it was meet and right that there, in midstream, they should consign their old battle-flag to the past. They had not surrendered it, but as a standard it existed for those gallant hearts no more. Woman's loyal hand had bestowed it. Coy victory had caressed its folds mid the powder pall and horror of ten score desperate fields. And now it floated over the last of its followers, ere the waves should close over it forevermore. With bowed heads, they gathered sadly about——"
"Lay it down, Shanks, lay it down," Driscoll pleaded. He was referring again to the pen in hand.
"All right, Din," Boone answered hastily. "Yes, I know, we all got kind of weepy too. No wonder Colonel Slayback wrote some verses. Reckon you can stand just one? This one?
'And that group of Missouri's valiant throng, Who had fought for the weak against the strong— Who had charged and bled Where Shelby led, Were the last who held above the wave The glorious flag of the vanquished brave, No more to rise from its watery grave!'